Finding land records in the United States

Your ancestors may have received land in the early United States in several different ways. Knowing more about the ways in which people acquired land historically can aid you in your research.

Your ancestor may have purchased land or received a grant of land in the public domain — often called bounty lands — in exchange for military service or some other service for the country. Either way, the process probably started when your ancestor petitioned (or submitted an application) for the land. Your ancestor may have also laid claim to the land, rather than petitioning for it.

If the application was approved, your ancestor was given a warrant — a certificate that allowed him or her to receive an amount of land. (Sometimes a warrant was called a right.) After your ancestor presented the warrant to a land office, an individual was appointed to make a survey — or detailed drawing and legal description of the boundaries — of the land. The land office then recorded your ancestor's name and information from the survey into a tract book (a book describing the lots within a township or other geographic area) and on a plat map (a map of lots within a tract).

After the land was recorded, your ancestors may have been required to meet certain conditions, such as living on the land for a certain period of time or making payments on the land. After they met the requirements, they were eligible for a patent — a document that conveyed title of the land to the new owner

If your ancestors received bounty lands in the United States, you might be in luck. The Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Land Office holds land records for public domain land east of the Mississippi River. Here's its site:

And the National Archives ( federal_records_guide/bureau_of_land_management_rg049.html) holds the land records for the Western states. For secondary land transactions (those made after the original grant of land), you probably need to contact the recorder of deeds for the county in which the land was held.

Here are some Web sites with information on land records:

1 History and Use of Land Records: i Legal Land Descriptions in the USA:

i Illinois: Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales

i Indiana: Land Office Records at the Indiana State Archives

i Louisiana: State Land Office Online Documents i Maryland: Land Records in Maryland land.html i Ohio: Introduction to Ohio Land History i Oklahoma: Federal Tract Books of Oklahoma Territory

i Oregon: Oregon State Archives Land Records i Texas: Texas General Land Office Archives

i Virginia: Introduction to Virginia Land History

i Wisconsin: Wisconsin Public Land Survey Records: Original Field Notes and Plat Maps

Because the topic of land records is so expansive, many books have been devoted to the subject. When you're ready to tackle land records in more depth, you may want to look at William Thorndale's "Land and Tax Records" in The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Ancestry).

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