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Investigating Land Records

Settling on one’s own property, homesteading as it is also known is the American dream.  However, do you know what pieces of property your ancestors applied for and eventually acquired?  Countless people have applied for and received millions of acres of land over the decades, dating back to the 1820s.

The United States General Land Office has records of such transactions which are also now available online to search. Their collections include the Federal Land Patents which show land title transfers. These transfers would include direct purchase of land, homesteaded property and land given for military service.

Another collection are the Survey Plats and Field Notes.  To know the size, description and exact location for a piece of property there is survey conducted. Here is a graphic drawing noting the boundary with a description.  With that are the Field Notes including a written record of the entire survey and the method used.

A third collection are the Land Status Records.  These documents are from the Bureau of Land Management of the Western States to mark the Federal lands vs. private ownership of property. There are also plats showing townships. The Control Document Index Records cover public land and any restrictions.

On the search online page the first collection is ‘Patents’, then ‘Surveys’, then ‘LSR’ and finally ‘CDI’ as described above. For any of the categories, make a selection of a state name under location. Note, not every state will have information. You can select from the bottom of that drop down, all states. Next put in a family surname. If it is a less common surname, keep with that.  If it is a more common name include a given name to narrow the list.  If the location is a smaller county, then just select the state and county name to view all the individuals who acquired property, usually just up to the 1920s. This way an ancestor’s name might appear you hadn’t considered. Don’t worry about filling in a land description or the miscellaneous sections. Just those two areas — state and surname could well turn up some information.

If you find one on the ‘Patent’s list, click the icon for image on the left.  A scanned copy of the signed

Official Document will be visible for that ancestor. In Patent Details is information on the total acreage,

its location and document number. On the tap, ‘Related Documents’ will be other property owners that border the ancestor’s land. Move then to Surveys with the same ancestor to view the original survey.  With this will be a wonderful scanned plat image with details illustrated of water ways, and other property.

Note that most lands handled by the federal government were west of the Mississippi. There were thirteen east and are the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  You can contact the Bureau of Land Management and request a copy of land ownership by an ancestor from one of the states not on the web search.

This is an important research tool to learn where a relative lived and acquired property.

The above plat is in Stuart, Martin Co., Fl in 1892, when it was still ‘frontier’ property.

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