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Most of the states in the United States are public domain states, which means the federal government controls the land. In state-land states, however, the state government appropriates all land within its borders. Alabama is a public domain state.
People who lived in the area that is now Alabama were governed by several different countries, states, and territories during various time periods:
- France (1710–1763)
- England (1763–1783)
- Spain (1783–1795, north of the 31st parallel, the mouth of the Yazoo River)
- Georgia (1795–1803, north of the 31st parallel)
- Spain (1783–1813, south of the 31st parallel, including Mobile)
- South Carolina (about 1783, until claim was given up in 1787)
- Mississippi Territory (1798–1817)
- Alabama Territory (1817–1819)
- Federal Government Land Sales beginning in 1806
Depending on when a person bought land, the records may be recorded under the following governments:
The original records are at the Archives Nationales in Paris. Volume one of the American State Papers contains some references to persons who lived in the area before 1763:
- United States. Congress. American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States. 38 volumes. Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton, 1832–1861. FHL film 899878, first of 7 films
For an index to the volumes involving public lands see:
- Grassroots of America: A Computerized Index to American State Papers: Land Grants and Claims 1789–1837, with other Aids to Research. Government Document Serial Set Numbers 28 Through 36. Salt Lake City, Utah: Gendex, 1972. FHL fiche 6051323; book 973 R2ag index
The records are at the Public Record Office in London. Transcripts of the records are on microfilms:
- Mississippi Provincial Archives, 1763–1783 English Dominion: Transcripts of Archives in the Public Record Office, London, England. Jackson, Mississippi: Department of Archives and History, 1969. FHL film 899981, first of 6 films This includes lists of inhabitants at Mobile in 1764, and land records from 1763 to 1783.
After the American Revolution, those who had purchased land from the English had to file a claim with the United States Congress proving their title to the land. These records are included in volume one of the American State Papers (see above), pages 598–908, under "Land Claims in the Mississippi Territory, 1809." Some claims regarding the English records are in volume eight.
Another publication listing claims derived from the British period is:
- First Settlers of the Mississippi Territory. Nacogdoches, Texas: Ericson Books, 19–?. FHL film 1421793 item 22; fiche 6051448; book 976 R2f At various libraries (WorldCat)This lists grants taken from the American State Papers, class 8, Public Lands, volume one, 1789 to 1809.
The area north of the 31st parallel (the mouth of the Yazoo River) was controlled by Spain from 1783 to1795. The area south of the 31st parallel, including Mobile, was controlled by Spain from 1783 until 1813.
The records are at the Archivo General De Indias in Seville, Spain. Some of the Spanish land records, 1763 to 1809, are listed in chapter one of:
- Hahn, Marilyn Davis. Old St. Stephen’s Land Office Records and American State Papers, Public Land, 1768–1888. Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1983. FHL book 976.1 R2ha See pages 1–10 for lists of Spanish land grants Book 1, 20 October 1763–1809.
These records are also included in volume one of the American State Papers (see above), pages 598–908, under "Land Claims in the Mississippi Territory, 1809."
An index to the Archives of Spanish West Florida is:
- Index to the Archives of Spanish West Florida, 1782–1810. New Orleans, Louisiana: Polyanthos, 1975. FHL book 976.3 A3a This is an index to the 18-volume translation of the transcriptions of the Spanish Government of West Florida, District of Baton Rouge. The area that is now Alabama was once part of this Spanish-controlled region. This includes sales, powers of attorney, court actions, depositions, probates, and other information.
- Feldman, Lawrence H. Anglo-Americans in Spanish Archives: Lists of Anglo-American Settlers in the Spanish Colonies of America; A Finding Aid. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1991. FHL book 973 X2fe After the American Revolution many settlers rushed to settle unclaimed Spanish land. This book contains lists of residents at Mobile, 1781, 1785, 1786, 1795 and Tombecbe, 1781, 1791.
Many claims that go back to the Spanish period are also listed in First Settlers of the Mississippi Territory cited above under "England (1763–1783)."
Georgia (1795–1802, north of the 31st parallel)
Georgia claimed land in the upper portion of what is now Alabama from 1789 to 1802. See volume one, page 218 of the American State Papers for a list of the land companies that were formed, such as:
- The Virginia Yazoo Company
- The South Carolina Yazoo Company
- The Georgia Company (middle present-day Alabama)
- The Upper Mississippi Company (upper western area)
- The Tennessee Company (upper eastern area)
- The Georgia Mississippi Company
- The Historical and Genealogical Atlas of North America by Richard C. Jackson has several maps of early Alabama. A map showing the location of land belonging to the Georgia Company, Tennessee Company, and Upper Mississippi Company is on page 93. Page 36 has a map from approximately 1787 showing the trading paths from Georgia to present-day Alabama. Records concerning purchases of these Georgia lands have been published in volume one, pages 215–246 of the American State Papers, cited above under "France."
If there is an indication that your ancestors were from Georgia, it may be useful to search the various statewide indexes to Georgia land grants.
South Carolina (from approximately 1783 to 1787)
South Carolina claimed lands in what is now northern Alabama. This was known as the "twelve-mile strip." There do not appear to be many records concerning land sales by South Carolina.
If records indicate that your ancestor may have come from South Carolina, it may be helpful to search South Carolina statewide land grant indexes mentioned in South Carolina Land and Property.
Mississippi Territory (1798–1817) and Alabama Territory (1817–1819)
In 1783, after the Revolutionary War, the United States gained control of the Mississippi and Alabama Territories. Those holding land at that time were required to file proof of ownership. The land claims for the Mississippi Territory are published in volume one of the American State Papers, pages 594–908, and indexed in Grassroots of America, cited above under "France."
Another publication listing early settlers (1768 to 1818) in what is now Alabama is First Settlers of the Mississippi Territory, mentioned above under "England." An index is included.
For 1798 to 1817, volumes five and six of The Territorial Papers of the United States contain records of the Territory of Mississippi which included present-day Alabama. These records include petitions, memorials, the 1809 census, and other lists of early residents in what is now Alabama. Also, volume 18 has records of the Territory of Alabama from 1817 to 1819. Volumes five and six, FHL film 929379; Volume 18, FHL film 874232, item 2
Federal Government Land Sales (beginning 1806)
When the United States acquired the area, unsettled land in the public domain became available and was eventually sold by the Federal government. Thirteen land offices were established, the first in 1806. When the land offices were closed, records were forwarded to Washington, DC. Copies were sent to the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
The Bureau of Land Management has an online index to land patents in Alabama at BLM Patent Search. The patent search usually provides a digital image of the original patent.
Pre-1908 General Land Office records have been indexed:
- United States. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Land Management. Alabama Pre-1908 Patents: Homesteads, Cash Entry, Creek Indian Treaty and Choctaw Indian Scrip. Springfield, Virginia: Bureau of Land Management Eastern States, 1996. (Family History Library compact disc number 46.)
- Land Records: AL, AR, FL, LA, MI, MN, OH, WI. Novato, California: Brøderbund Software, 1996. (Family History Library compact disc number 9 pt. 255.) This index lists the name of the patentee, document and accession number, acreage, land office, and the location of the land.
Patents, Tract Books, and Land Entry Case Files
The Bureau of Land Management has original patents, tract books, and township plats. Copies of some of these tract books and early records are at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The tract books for 1785 to about 1935 are on microfilm at the Family History Library:
- United States. Bureau of Land Management. Tract Books. Washington, D.C.: Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, 1957. FHL film 1445277, first of 1265 films The records for Alabama are on FHL film 1445277, first of 84 films The Land Records compact disc above or the web site can help you learn information you need, such as the land office and the range and township to use these records. The records list the buyer’s name, the amount of property, price of the property, date of purchase, and certificate number.
The original tract books for the area east of the Mississippi are at:
- Bureau of Land Management
- Eastern States Office
- 7450 Boston Boulevard
- Springfield, VA 22153-3121
- Telephone: 703-440-1600
- Fax: 703-440-1701
- Internet address: www.glorecords.blm.gov
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Land entry case files from 1785 to 1908 consist of the papers created during the process of transferring public land to individuals. They are often rich in genealogical information and may include depositions, receipts, affidavits, citizenship records, evidence of military service, and more. It is important to obtain the land entry file if you can. The files are arranged by the name of the land office and the type of certificate, certificate number, name of the certificate holder, and legal description of the land (township and range.) A completed NATF Form 84 must accompany requests for the case files. Files are available from:
- Textual Reference Branch
- National Archives and Records Administration
- 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
- Washington, D.C. 20408
- Telephone: 202-501-5395
- Fax: 202-219-6273
- Internet address: www.nara.gov
The records of the following land offices have been abstracted and published by Marilyn Davis Hahn Barefield: Cahaba, Centre, Demopolis, Elba, Huntsville, Lebanon, Mardisville, Montgomery, St. Stephen’s, Sparta, and Tuscaloosa. Each book covers varying years between 1768 and 1888. Military warrant records are also included. To find these books, use the Author Information Search of the Family History Library Catalog under Marilyn Barefield’s name. Each volume is well indexed.
The Bureau of Land Management has digital images of the original survey plats for Alabama. The original survey creates land boundaries and marks them for the first time.
County Land Records
Once a parcel of land was transferred from government to private ownership, it may have stayed in the family for generations or for only a few months. It may have been subdivided, sold, and resold, with each transaction requiring new records. It is likely that one of your ancestors was recorded in person-to-person transactions like these. These records may offer clues such as the given name of a spouse, a previous residence, names of children, or death information. Land records also offer clues to maiden names if a father deeded property to his daughter upon marriage. Witnesses and neighbors may be in-laws or relatives. It is important to trace the purchase and sale (or the acquisition and disposition) of each parcel of land your ancestor owned.
The original records are filed in the Judge of Probate’s office. As new counties were formed and boundaries changed, transactions were recorded in the new county, but the parent county retained the records previously created.
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of county land records for all except Morgan County, dating from when the county was established until about the 1900s to the 1920s.
Choctaw Lands Allotted East of the Mississippi River
The Choctaw Indians who chose to remain in the east could receive land allotments or, later, scrip for public lands in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, or Arkansas. The records are in the National Archives, Records Group 75. These are the records of the claims commission connected with the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The records of scrip certificates surrendered for land are in the Bureau of Land Management, Records Group 49. Most of these records have been microfilmed. A book that lists those who filed for land allotments or scrip is:
- Goss, Joe R. A Complete Roll of All Choctaw Claimants and Their Heirs Existing Under the Treaties Between the United States and the Choctaw Nation as Far as Shown by the Records of the United States and of the Choctaw Nation. 1889. Reprint, Conway, Arkansas: Oldbuck Press, 1992. FHL book 970.3 C451g At many libraries (WorldCat)
A helpful history of the Choctaw people from the 1500s to about 1930 is:
- Debo, Angie. The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic. The Civilizations of the American Indians Series; 6. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.FHL book 970.3 C451d At many libraries (WorldCat) The book contains an extensive bibliography and a map showing Choctaw land cessions between 1801 and 1830 in Alabama and Mississippi.
Land and property records are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
- ALABAMA — LAND AND PROPERTY
- ALABAMA, [COUNTY] — LAND AND PROPERTY