Land Records and How to Use Them

Land Records


Land record can be a very good resource. Land records can give you husbands and their wives, their children, their parents and other relatives. Land records can tell you where your great grand parents lived, where they worked and where they where born. Land records can give you information about what person sold land and structures to another person. We hope this information can help you with your family tree. Places to fine land records may be County Records, Libraries, Archives and Museums.

Here are some of the categories of land records:


Abstract or an Abstract of title – A title search is usually done by an abstractor, who summarizes the information as an abstract of title, which lists all recorded documents chronologically, from the root to the present time, and lists all liens and encumbrances along with their current status. There is also, a list of all public records that were examined in writing the abstract of title as a record of what was actually examined.


Acre Grants – 500,00 acre grants, from 1843 to 1951 after an Act of Congress land was granted to the State of Missouri, in September of 1841. a board of commissioners selected specific sections of land in counties of Platte, Buchanan, Andrew and Holt counties. These tracts of land were reported to the appropriate land offices and removed from the ongoing sale of public lands by the United States. Any head of a family, widow or single man over the age of twenty-one was eligible to purchase the land at a cost of not less than $1.25 per acre, total of 160 acres. The proceeds from the sale of the land within the 500,00 acre grant went into the state’s internal improvement fund. Settles were allowed the pre-emption rights on up to 160 acres, provided they had filed statements with the appropriate land office within three months of their settling the land.


Bible Records – Bible records can be different from other records. These records may have have almost no family information or the Bible could be filled with so much information, that the book will not close. Sometimes there are extra pages placed in the Bible. The Bible information may include:


Dates of Births

Dates of death

Dates of marriage



Education of family members

Family origins, other places, other states or other countries.

Histories of family members

Honors for family members

Lists of awards for the family members

Lists of friends

Lists of lands owned by the family

Lists of positions

Lists of residences

Local stories


Nationalities of family members

Occupations of family members

Places of Birth

Places of Death

Places of Marriage

Places of work

Poems or poetry

Relations of family members

Times of Birth

Times of Death

Times of Marriage

Very old information


Biographies – Biographies may contain:

Date of Birth

Date of Death

Date of Marriage

Documents of his or her Life

An Extensive Genealogy

Parent’s Names


Family Origins

History of his or her Life

History and Information on Family Members


Interesting Stories

List of Awards

List of Friends

List of Land Owned

List of Positions

List of Residences



Place of Birth

Place of Death

Place of Marriage

Places of Work

Poems or Poetry Written

Relationships with Family and Friends

Time of Birth

Time of Death

Time of Marriage


Bounty and Donation Lands


Bounty Land Warrants – The Colonial and United States governments awarded bounty land warrants to soldiers as an inducement to or reward for service. Bounty land warrants assigned rights to land in the public domain to soldiers, who met eligibility requirements related to their service. For example, a September, in 1776 resolution provided the following land grants to men, who served until the end of the war: noncommissioned officers and soldiers received 100 acres of land, Ensigns received 150 acres of land, Lieutenants received 200 acres of land, other officers received varying amounts, Colonels received up to 500 acres of land, Generals were added in 1780. Later, acts of Congress increased the scope of benefits, and applications can include supporting documents and affidavits from witnesses. None of these amounts listed followed a hard and fast rule. These records may vary widely.

A November 1800 fire, apparently destroyed some Revolutionary War pension and bounty land warrant applications and papers related to them submitted before that date. Some files contain cards noting that further papers are not available.

The Files of the Bounty Land Warrants offer a variety of records to support an application. The information of genealogy interest includes:

The Application of Heirs

The Soldier’s Application

The Soldier’s Age

The Soldier’s Date of Birth

The Soldier’s Date of Death

The Soldier’s Name

The Soldier’s Place of Birth

The Soldier’s Place of Death

The Soldier’s Place of Residence

The Soldier’s Rank

The Soldiers Time of Service, The muster in and the muster out.

The Soldier’s Unit

A Widow’s Application may also, include her maiden name.

Some additional information may come from files, containing:

Account Records


Commissions Records


Discharge Records

Family Bible Records


Marriage Certificates

Military Orders

Muster Rolls



Service Records



These Files Are Divided into Categories or Designations Including:

B. L. Rej. Represents Rejected Bounty Land Warrant Application Files

B. L. Reg. Represents Rejected Bounty Land Warrant Application Files

B. L. Wt. Represents Bounty Land Application Files

Bounty Land Warrant Record Cards Represents Pre 1800 Bounty Land Warrant Application Files for Enlisted Men

Dis   Represents No Paper or Pre 1800 Disability Pension Application Files

R   Represents Rejected Pension Application Files

Rej. B. L. Represents Rejected Bounty Land Warrant Application Files

Rej. Represents Rejected Bounty Land Warrant Application Files

S   Represents Survivor’s Pension Application Files

W  Represents Widow’s Pension Application Files



Bureau of Land Management Land Patents


Case Files – Case files contain a variety of types of records. Military bounty land case files, will have different kinds of records. Some of the Records include: homesteads, cash entries, mining cases, timberland cases. Case files contents have varied over time. Case files before 1840 usually listed only the entryman or applicant, location, acreage, price, date and place of the land entry. After 1840 case files often contain contain the entryman’s age, place of birth, citizenship, military service, economic status and similar information about family members. They could also, show land title, land use, rights of way, land surveys, crops, improvements and conflicting claims.


Cash Entries – Cash entries may include: applications, receipts, warrants for survey, surveys, testimonies, affidavits, newspaper notifications, naturalization papers


Cemetery Records – Cemetery Records can be very useful. Many people, when visiting the cemetery just look at the graves. Some cemeteries have an office. Some do not. If there is no office at the cemetery, that you visit, then the cemetery records can be at a local funeral home, the court house, a library, a museum an archives. Any of these places, should know where the location of the  records. Always check the cemetery records, because the gravestone will have some information, the cemetery records may have so much more. Sometimes just the first two initials are on the gravestone, along will the surname. The full name may be in the cemetery records. This is an example of the information that you might find in cemetery records. There is so, much more to find.


Census Records


Character Certificates


Church Records


Citizenship Records


City Directories  City Directories may be available, from a number of years ago. Before telephones, City Directories had other information, such as: Names, addresses, occupations, Places of employment, the associations of which he or she is a member, his or her title, his wife, a list of the children’s names, among other information.


City Histories – Most Cities begin as small towns. City histories might contain:

Architecture Structures of the Area, that are Unique


Biographies of Important People in the Community

Biographies of Military Heroes from the Community

Environmental Concerns

Land Owners of Large Areas


Local Art

Local Culture

Local Industries

Military Units From the Area

Military Camps


Natural Features of Nature in or Near the Area

Notable Features of the Town or City

Parcels of Land of Interest

Places Where Notable Events Happened, in the Community

Population of the Area at Regular Times

Private Schools

Public Schools

Railroads and Train Depots and Trains

Regional Stories of Interest

Schools, Colleges and Universities

State Colleges

State Universities

Trade Schools

Well to do Families from the Community


Confederate Scrip Lands


County Court House


County Directories – County directories may be available, when no city directories or town directories have been printed. Directories may be filled with useful information about the residences. This information may include: Names, Addresses, Telephone Numbers, after telephones were common. Occupations, Places of Employment, The Associations of which he or she was a member, his or her title, his wife, A list of the of the children’s names, among other information.


County Histories – County histories may include: the counties military history, a list or the soldiers, who went to the military campaign, of that time. Counties are usually very proud of their soldiers or hometown boys. Biographies of prominent citizens, and their families, natural land features, industries, pioneer history, The county’s beginnings.


Deeds and Deed Indexes – Deeds are usually indexed in cumulative form, sometimes spanning over decades. They may be listed in only a few large volumes, while marriages and other records may be spread across many, many volumes. Going through a Grantor or Grantee index does not take as long as other records.

For early periods, deed indexes act as a list of residents in a county to give in a county to give you a good overview of who lived there, including neighbors you have noted from the census or tax records. It is a way of getting a yes or no answer to the question of the right county, where a person lived. It is an excellent way to retrace a trail your ancestor followed. This is based on a ninety percent chance that your ancestor owned land. If a man is not listed in a deed index, the chances are great that he did not live in that county.

Deed indexes sometimes make reference to a case number for some civil action, regarding property or a probate court action. Probate and civil court case files are excellent sources of genealogical information; but poorly indexed. Therefore, going through the deeds first may present the only clue that other records exist in another part of the courthouse.


Emigration Records


Extinct Counties – Almost all states have extinct counties or changes in county names and county boundaries. Many states were territories before they were states. The territories were divided into large counties. When the territory became a state, then the large counties were divided into smaller counties. County boundaries changed then numerous times.


Federal Tract Books 1820 to 1908


French Land Grants, 1790 to 1803 – At various times between the 1680’s and 1803, the French government controlled the land of the Upper Mississippi River, from which the State of Missouri would later be formed. During that time, land grant were issued to the settlers in the area. The United States’ purchase of the area in 1803 gave rise to contentious and often bitter struggles over actual ownership of many tracts of land. This collection contains the grants of land from the French government, as well as the records from various United States land offices, which determined the ownership of the land after the Louisiana Purchase. Many of the documents in this collection date through the 1860’s. These records may be found at the Missouri State Archives.


Gazetteers – Gazetteers can be helpful in many ways. Gazetteers may contain:

Businesses of the Area





Directions to Other Places

Distance to Other Places

Founder or Founders Names


Latitude and Longitude


Mountain Ranges

Names of Places

Natural Features

The Population at Regular Intervals

Private Schools

Public Schools



Railroad Stations





Genealogy Records


General Land Office


Headright Grants


Immigration Records


Land Entry Files


Land Grants from Great Britain


Land Grants from Mexico


Land Grants from the Republic and State of Texas


Land Grants from Spain


Land Grants from the United States of American, from each state, after the American Revolution.


Land Office Records


Land Ordinance of 1785 – The Land Ordinance of 1785 was adopted by the United States Congress of the Confederation on May 20, 1785. It set up standardized system whereby settlers could purchase titles to farm land in the undeveloped West. Congress at the time did not have the power to raise revenue by direct taxation, so land sales provided an important revenue source. The Ordinance set up a survey system that eventually covered over three-fourths of the area of the continental United States.

The Ordinance of 1784 was a resolution written by Thomas Jefferson, a delegate from Virginia, calling for Congress to take action. The land west of the Appalachian Mountains, north of the Ohio River and East of the Mississippi River was to be divided into ten separate states. However, the 1784 resolution did not define the mechanism by which the land would become states, or how the territories would be governed or settled before they became states. The Ordinance of 1785 put the 1784 resolution in operation by providing a mechanism for selling and settling the land, while the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 addressed the political needs.

The 1785 Ordinance laid the foundations of land policy passage of the Homestead Act in 1862. The Land Ordinance established the basis for the Public Land Survey System. The initial surveying was performed by Thomas Hutchins. After he died in 1789, responsibility for surveying was transferred to the Survey General. Land was to be systematically surveyed into square townships, six miles on a side. Each of these townships were subdivided into thirty-six sections of one square mile or 640 acres. These sections could could then be further subdivided for resale by settlers and land speculators.

The Ordinance was also, significant for establishing a mechanism for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today, are still located in section sixteen of their respective townships, although a great many of the school sections were sold to raise money for public education. In later States, section 36 of each township was also, designated as a school section.

At the beginning of the 1785 Survey was where Ohio, as the eastern most section of the Northwest Territory, Pennsylvania and Virginia, which is now West Virginia, met, on the north shore of the Ohio River near East Liverpool, Ohio. There is a historical marker just north of the site, at the state line, where Ohio State, Route 39 becomes Pennsylvania Route 68.


Land Patent – Land patents show the description of the land.


Land Record Repositories – Land Record Repositories include: Court Houses, Archives, Libraries and Museums. The Items in the Repositories Might include:

Boundary Lines

Colonial Land Grants and Patents

Deed Indexes


Federal Land States

General Land Office Records

Headright Grants

Land Ordinance of 1785

Land Records

Metes and Bounds

Military Bounty Land Grants

National Archives

Private Land Claims

Property Values

Public Domain Land Entry Values

Public Land Acts

Public Land States

Rectangular Survey System

State Land Grants

State Land Patents

Township Land Ownership Maps

Township Plat Maps

Tract Books


Local Histories


Located Lands




Major Repositories of land records and where to find them. Places to find land records include:

City Libraries

City Museums

Colonial Land Grants or Patents

County Archives

County Boundary Records

County Libraries

County Museums

Deed Indexes


District Archives

District Libraries

District Museums

Federal Land States

General Land Office

Headright Grants

Land Ownership Maps

Land Ordinance of 1785

Local Archives

Local Libraries

Local Museums

Metes and Bounds

Military Bounty Land Grants

National Archives

National Libraries

National Museums

Private Land Claims

Public Land Acts

Public Land States

Rectangular Survey System

Regional Archives

Regional Libraries

Regional Museums

State Archives

State Land Grants

State Land Patents

State Libraries

State Museums

Town Libraries

Town Museums

Township Plat Maps

Tract Books

University Archives

University Libraries

Value of Land Records

Value of Public Domain Land Entry

Where to find land Deeds


Migration Records


Military Bounty Land – Military bounty land case files, may include: applications, exchange certificates, treasury certificates and warrants.


Military Records


National Archives – The National Archives preserves over ten million land entry case files, which document each transfer of federally controlled public land parcel which changed to private ownership.


National Histories


Naturalization Records




Online Records




Plat maps


Probate Records


Property Records


Property Transactions


Public Land Survey System – In the United States land surveying under the Public Land  Survey System or the PLSS, a section, usually one square mile or 2.6 square kilometers, containing six hundred and forty acres or two hundred and sixty hectare, with thirty-six sections making up one survey township on a rectangular grid.


Quit-claim Deeds and Deed Releases – Another type of deed is known as a Quit-claim deed. This type of document is used for transferring property, when an issue of ownership might not be clear. Essentially, a Quit-claim deed said a person relinquished any interest in a particular property. The deed is a legal document, but all it says is that a person is releasing his interest in the property. A Quit-claim deed does not prove that a person actually owned the property. In recorded land records, Quit-claim deeds often reveal genealogical information. These deeds were often used by lawyers, who were attempting to clear title on a property, and avoid the chance of a claim against it. One use can be when a person died without a will and the court needed to establish the legal heirs of a deceased land owner. This is when one might find a son, grandson or other relative. Sometimes relatives file a Quit-claim deed relinquishing their interest in the property of the deceased.

A similar record is called a Deed Release, which is used in almost the same way as a Quit-claim deed, but usually in cases when a deceased’s written will specifies his heirs. During the probate process, the heirs may choose not to divide the property as specified in the will. A judge will allow modifications to the provisions of the will if all of the parties agree to a different method. Deed releases are a method, in which a person specified as an heir in a will can release his interest in the property to another person.


Recorder’s Office – one may find many recorded documents including these:

Real property – Deeds, Leases and Notices of Completion

Financing Documents – Trust Deeds, Notices of Default, Reconveyances and Financing Statements

Maps – Subdivisions, Parcel Divisions and Surveys

Mining Claim Records – Notices of Location and Proofs of Labor

Military Discharge Papers

Declarations of Homstead

Mechanics’ Liens

Tax Liens


Seminary and Saline Land, from 1820 to 1825 – The federal government gave a quantity of land, situated in the United States Western Land District and not exceeding two townships, for the use and support of a seminary of learning or a state university. The land was sold for not less than $2.00 per acre. Up to twelve sections of land, with six sections of land attached, were set aside for the state and 5% of the net proceeds were designed for creating public roads and canals. This land was also, sold for not less than $2.00 per acre. The saline lands were situated in the Counties of Pike, Ralls, Cooper, Saline, and Howard and were offered at public sale.


Seven States Index includes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada and Utah


Spanish Land Grants, 1790’s to 1803 – At various times between the 1680’s and 1803, the Spanish Government controlled the land of the Upper Mississippi River, from which the State of Missouri would later be formed. During that time, land grants were issued to settlers in the area. The United States’ purchase of the area in 1803 gave rise to contentious and often bitter struggles over actual ownership of many tracts of land. This collection contains the grants of land from the Spanish government, as well as the records from various United States land offices, which determined ownership of the land after the Louisiana Purchase. Many of the documents in this collection date through the 1860’s. These records may be found at the Missouri State Archives.


State Histories


State Records


Swamp Land, from 1850 to 1945 – These are for  land situated in southeast Missouri and granted to the state by the Act of Congress in September, of 1850. The counties affected were New Madrid, Scott, Cape Girardeau, Dunklin, Mississippi, Wayne, Butler, Stoddard and Ripley. The Governor appointed a board of commissioners to examine the condition and situation of swamp or overflowed lands in those counties. The lands were selected and reported to the Bureau of Land Management, which then transmitted a list of swamp land to Missouri for the ultimate sale by the state. The land was sold for not less than $1.25 per acre, maximum purchase of 2,000 acres. The net proceeds, after costs, were paid to the county treasury to become part of the common school fund for that particular, after costs, were paid to the county treasury to become part of the common school fund for that particular county. There is a history of corruption in the selection and sale of the swamp lands, as speculators vied for cheap investments.


Tax Records


Title Records – Title records are public records, usually found at the county courthouse, which lists ownership, encumbrances, liens and other real estate interests and their priority for each parcel of land within the county. Title records are maintained by recorders of deeds, city or county clerks, county treasurers, collectors and clerks of court and include written documents, such as deeds and mortgages. Other records, such as taxes, marriages, probate records, judgments, that may affect the title of a property. Title records are important in establishing the ownership of property, and provide notice of any encumbrances or interest held by third parties. Thus, these records are usually searched, often by title companies, who ensure good title to the property, prior to the purchase of the property


Townships – Each western township contained thirty-six square miles of land, planned as a square measuring six miles on each side, which was further subdivided into thirty-six lots, each lot containing one square mile of land. The mathematical precision of the planning was the concerted effort of surveyors. Each township contained dedicated space for public education and other government uses, as five of the thirty-six lots were reserved for government or public purposes. The thirty-six lots of each township were numbered accordingly on each township’s survey. The land closest to the center of each township corresponded to lot numbers, fifteen, sixteen, twenty-one and Twenty-two on the township survey, with lot sixteen dedicated specifically to public education. As the Land Ordinance of 1785 stated: There shall be reserved the lot number sixteen, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools within the township.

Sections numbered eight, eleven, twenty-six and twenty-nine were reserved for future sale by the Federal Government when it was hoped, they would bring higher prices, because of the developed land around them. Congress also, reserved one third part of all of the gold, silver, lead and copper mines for its own use, that did not work in Ohio lands. The Ordinance also, said that tree townships adjacent to Lake Erie be reserved, to be hereafter disposed of by Congress, for the use of officers, men and refugees from Canada, and the refugees from Nova Scotia, who are or may be entitled to grants of land under resolutions of Congress now existing. This was not possible, as the area next to Lake Erie was the property of Connecticut, so the Canadians had to wait until the establishment of the Refugee Tract in 1798.


Township School Land, from 1820 to 1900 – The federal government gave Missouri the land in each of the sixteen sections, in every survey township, in the state to benefit public education in the various counties. The land was sold, with profits going to build schools and or pay teachers. This land was authorized to Missouri, in the Act of Admission to the United States.


Tract Books – Tract books are easiest to use, if you have an ancestor’s land description with the section, township number, and range number and state, to help you quickly turn to the page where an ancestor should be listed.


United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, from 1800 to 1955 – A description in 3,907 tract books containing official records of the land status and transactions involving surveyed public lands arranged by state and then by township and range. These books indicate who obtained the land, and include a physical description of the tract and where the land is located. The type of transaction is also recorded such as cash entry, homesteads, patents, deeds granted by the Federal Government, and other conveyances of title such as Indian allotments, internal improvement grants to states, military bounty land warrants, private land claims, railroad grants and swamp grants. Additional items of information included in the tract books are as follows: number of acres, date of sale, purchase price, land office, entry number, final Certificate of purchase number, and notes on relinquishments and conversions. Original documents are located at the Bureau of Land Management in Springfield, Virginia.


United States Land and Property


United States Land Sales from 1818 to 1903 – These records give the legal land description of land purchase from the United States government between 1818 and 1903. The legal description gives the name of the purchaser, the amount of the land that is purchased, the section, township and range number for locating the actual site and area of the property. More information can be found by writing to the Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Office, 7450 Boston Boulevard, Springfield, VA. 22153.


Vital Records – Normally one will find birth and death records along with marriage certificates at the Vital Records Department. In smaller areas, such as some counties and small communities one may find vital records and land records under the same roof.