Every researcher will eventually have to look for land records. While our ancestors immigrated to America for a variety of reasons, the primary reason was land. Land meant wealth and power, and America had an abundance of it. While some stayed put, many more of our ancestors moved frequently, leaving traces of their movements in the land records. Sometimes these records are the only way to locate an ancestor in a particular place at a particular time.
Genealogical researchers are generally interested in two types of land records: tax records and deeds.
Tax records include assessment lists, which give the names of property owners and the value of each property, and tax lists, which record the taxes actually due and/or paid. In some states property such as livestock and furniture and even head or poll taxes on individuals were levied.
Although tax records rarely contain information on families, they can be useful in establishing when a family arrived in or departed from an area. Generally all adult males in a household were named on head tax lists.
Deed books record the ownership and transfer of property, usually real estate. Analyzed carefully, they can help determine family relationships, particularly spouses; distinguish your ancestor from another person of the same name; show military service; and give the researcher an idea of the ancestor's social standing. Sometimes the occupation, present residence, and sometimes past residence is given for the granters and grantees (sellers and buyers).
Until more recent times, deed records were usually copied by a clerk from the original, which was returned to the owner. Although generally accurate, even the most careful clerk occasionally made errors when copying from the original deed.
Most deeds were recorded in county indexes and many of these have been transcribed or microfilmed. Almost every county has a granter or direct index of the property sellers. Many also have grantee or indirect indexes listing the buyers. Other deeds, such as mortgage deeds, may not be indexed. Deeds where the government was the granter may also not be indexed.These deeds are usually found in separate books. However, locating an ancestor's tax records or deeds can sometimes be difficult.
Some transactions were just not recorded because the law did not require it.
Some indexes include all the names when several people are involved in a transaction, but most only index the transaction under the first buyer's and seller's names. Other persons are noted by "et al" (and others) or "et uxor" (and wife).
A great number of deeds were not recorded when they took place and may be indexed years later. Late recordings often happened when land, passed down through the generations by will or by intestate probate, were being sold and clear title needed to be established. Sometimes, after a courthouse burned, the county requested that deeds be re-recorded; but unfortunately, not all of the original deeds were.
Sheriff's sales can also complicate finding deeds when the deeds are indexed under the sheriff's name, not the owner's name.
To learn more about land records, what types of land records exist for a locality, and where you might find them see listings in guidebooks.
Men who had served in the military during the wars often moved at the war's end. Many moved to escape the devastation, many who had never left their home town got 'itchy feet' to see new places, and many were enticed by free land given in the form of bounty land warrants by the Federal Government in lieu of pay.
When the original 13 colonies were established, the land was owned by Proprietors who had been granted this land by the King or had purchased it from the Indians. This land was then sold or granted to individuals after being surveyed using the "metes and bounds" system. This system used descriptions of the physical features (creeks, roads) of the area, plant life (trees), and even the names of neighbors.
After the Revolutionary War, the new Congress provided for land settlement through the Land Ordinance of 1785. This ordinance defined the first "public lands" or "public domain". The existing 13 states were allowed to keep any unsettled land within their borders which became known as "state lands". Texas and Hawaii also have "state lands".
The first surveys of the new public lands were in Ohio where a large quantity of land was purchased using bounty land warrants or cash. 500 million more acres were added to the public domain with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. These public lands were surveyed using a grid system of townships and ranges.
The federal government offered land to those who would serve in the military during the Revolutionary War. Some states also offered their land as an enticement for military service.
The federal government reserved tracts in the public lands, and most of the original thirteen states set aside tracts of bounty land in their western holdings. Delaware, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont did not have bounty lands; they simply did not have enough unclaimed land to support warrants. Georgia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina either had no land in western territories or gave up their claims to the government. Any reserves for bounty lands lay inside their own borders.
Lands in the area that would later be Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Maine were controlled by eastern states. North Carolina did not issue bounty lands within its borders, but instead issued warrants to its western lands which later became Tennessee. Virginia also selected reserves outside its current borders, choosing bounty lands in an area that would become Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio before ceding its claims to the federal government. Massachusetts allotted its bounty lands in an area that was to become Maine.
Bounty land could be claimed by veterans or their heirs.There may be bounty land files for soldiers at both the federal and state levels. For details, state by state, regarding the bounty lands offered by the states, see Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Government by Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996).
A veteran requested bounty land by filing an application,usually at the local courthouse. The application papers and supporting documents were placed in bounty land files, kept by the federal or state agency. These files contain information similar to pension files - such as veteran's age and place of residence at the time of the application. When the application was approved, the individual was given a warrant. Delays in implementing the warrant policies caused some states to issue scrips which could be exchanged for a warrant at a later time.
Only a few soldiers actually received title to bounty land or settled on it. Holders of land warrants were allowed to sell or exchange the warrants, which most did. Land speculators bought up thousands of acres worth of land warrants.
Federal bounty land applications and warrants for the Revolutionary War have been microfilmed. They are available at the National Archives, its regional branches, and the Family History Library.
Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900. National Archives, Series M804, 2,670 rolls.
Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, by Virgil D. White, Waynesboro, Tenn.: The National Historical Publishing Company, 1990-1992. GEN R973.4 WHITE
Abstracts of the bounty land warrant application files.
Federal Land Series: a calendar of archival materials on the land patents issued by the United States Government, v. 2- Bounty Land Warrants of the American Revolution. C.N. Smith, 1999. GEN R 333.16 Smith.
The federal government reserved bounty lands in the Northwest Territory called the Military Tract in Ohio :
U.S. Revolutionary War Bounty-Land Warrants Used in the U.S.Military District of Ohio and Related Papers (Acts of 1788, 1803, 1806). National Archives, Series M829, 16 rolls.
Register of Army Land Warrants Issued under the Act of 1788 for Service in the Revolutionary War: Military District of Ohio. National Archives,Series T1008, 1 roll.
In 1850, in an attempt to lure settlers to the new western lands, the government gave lands to would-be settlers in Florida, New Mexico, and Oregon and Washington Territories, known as Donation Lands. Settlers were required to reside on and improve the land by cultivation for four years before receiving a patent. Unique to the donation lands was the limits placed on the time of arrival rather than time of application. Young children who came with their families between 1850 and 1855 could claim their land when they became adults. Microfilm copies of Oregon and Washington Donation Lands are available at the National Archives, the Seattle branch of the National Archives, the Family History Library, and the Oregon State Archive.
Washington Territory donation land claims : an abstract of information in the land claim papers of persons who settled in Washington Territory before 1856, a project of the Seattle Genealogical Society ; project committee, Marie Freeman... [et al.] ; assisted by others. Seattle, Wash. : The Society, 1980. GEN 979.7 WASHING
Genealogical Material in Oregon Donation Land Claims, by the Genealogical Forum of Portland, Oregon, 1957-1975. GEN 979.5 G286
The first Homestead law was enacted in 1862 and was also intended to encourage settlement in the West. As with the Donation Lands, the only requirement was to live on and improve the land through cultivation. Only a small filing fee was required. Although only an estimated 780,000 people received patents under the Homestead Law, 2 million applications were made, dispersing approximately 285 million acres.
Applicants initially had to be a head of household, over 21if single, a citizen or have applied for naturalization, and had not "borne arms against the government". Single women and widows could apply in their own right. The final application for the certificate of patent could be made five years after the completion of the residency requirements. If a homesteader died, his widow or heirs could continue to qualify for the claim, meeting the same requirements. Subsequent laws enlarged and expanded the homesteading provisions such as the one allowing Union veterans to apply their service time, up to 4 years, to the residency requirements. After 6 months, a homesteader could "prove up" and change his homestead to a cash-entry and pay for the land at $1.25 an acre. Once the final certificate was received, it entitled the claimant to a patent for his homestead.
Homestead application records are only available at the National Archives. They have not been microfilmed. Copies can be obtained from the National Archives using NATF Form 84 which can be ordered online. There is a fee for the files.
The Bureau of Land Management-Eastern States Office supervises the public land states east of the Mississippi River and the states that border the western side of the river. While most of the other states have their own state agency, some of the states share a common office. Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota are administered from the BLM office in Montana. New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma are administered from New Mexico; Oregon and Washington from the Oregon BLM office. Wyoming and Nebraska are governed from Wyoming. Records kept by the Bureau of Land Management for pre-1908 claims include field notes, survey plats, tract books, and patents.
Patents to federal lands for the entire United States are still maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. You can search for pertinent land records on the BLM's Official Land Patent Records website. Information from this site will allow you to request the land entry case files from the National Archives.
Land and Property Research in the United States, by E. Wade Hone, Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997. GEN 929.1072 HONE
The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Revised, edited by Loretto D.Szucs and Sandra H. Luebking, Salt Lake City : Ancestry, 2006. GEN 929.1072 SZUCS
Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources, ed. by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., C.G., Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 3rd edition, 2004. GEN 929.1072 ANCESTRY
The Researchers's Guide to American Genealogy, by Val D. Greenwood, 2d ed.,Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000. GEN 929.1072 GREENWO