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Land Records << Probate Records <<

| Go to the Land Records Guide |

Land Records

Since the first decade that Europeans came to the U.S., settlers have claimed ownership of land and have bought and sold it. Land transactions involved paperwork - deeds {take to definition in glossary} of ownership, a government record of sales and purchases, and maps and written descriptions of the land. Land records, then, can provide names of people and show when they lived and exactly where they owned property.

 Video Clip:
34kbps(56k modem) | 220kbps(DSL/Cable)

Ancestors expert Cyndi Howells talks about online land patent records that are available.

Much of the present U.S. started out as federal land, which the government sold to land owners. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintains records of more than 5 million land grants in 8,978 bound volumes. These records show transactions wherein private individuals obtained public lands, putting those lands forever in the private domain. Fortunately, the BLM is making these General Land Office Records (GLO) available online and at their Springfield, Virginia research room. Records for many states are ready, and more are being prepared all the time. At this point, more than 2 million of the records are available for searching online at www.glorecords.blm.gov. It is now remarkably easy to find out if a person bought or homesteaded on federal lands. If they did, you can read and print descriptions of the land and dates when it changed hands. In some cases, it is even possible to download a copy of the actual patent in the comfort of your own home!

The National Archives has even more paperwork generated by the granting of these patents, so both the BLM and National Archives should be contacted in looking for land records involving grants by the federal government. Additional information on land records resources is available online.

Several types of federal land grants produced the transfers of public-domain lands to private ownership. The best-known grant is the homestead, which, after 1862, private persons obtained at minimal cost by living on a parcel of land for five years and making improvements on it. The federal government granted lands to states, to railroads, and to military veterans (bounty lands). The government opened a case file on each person who obtained land, filing therein applications, affidavits, and correspondence relating to the transaction.

For information about federal land grants, contact the National Archives (Reference Service NNRS, National Archives and Records Administration, 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20408; Phone: 202-501-5400) in Washington, D.C., or obtain one of their guide booklets about federal land records. Also check with large libraries to view published volumes of transcripts and indexes for portions of federal land records, by state or by county.

For land transactions involving private properties, contact the local county recorder's office in the courthouse in the county where the property is located. Ask to see the deed and mortgage books; these have indexes. To inquire, you need to have an exact address and/or be able to identify the land's location in terms of the grid system of land surveys - what range, township and section number the property is in. Once again, it is worth searching the FHL Catalog by locality to see if perhaps the Library has microfilmed at least an index to the deed records that interest you.

 
 
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