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The value of land records lies in the fact that land was highly sought after and the transactions were recorded from the time settlers began to arrive. Therefore,they are consistent and continuous record of many ancestors' lives. Land records can be used to learn where and when an individual lived in certain areas, and often reveal useful and interesting family information.
Oklahoma is a “federal-land” (public-domain) state, where unclaimed land was surveyed, then granted or sold by the government through federal and state land offices. The first sale of a piece of land from the government was called a land patent and the first owner of the land was called a patentee. Later when the land was sold or mortgaged by private owners the document was called a deed. The transactions were recorded at the office of the county register of deeds. Family history researchers usually use land records from county offices. Records from federal and state offices can also have genealogical value. For detailed descriptions of land record types see United States Land and Property.
If you are new to land research, you may wish to read the Beginner’s corner and other articles included on the United States Land and Property page.
Records of Indian Lands
By the 1830s, the U.S. Government had begun moving many Native Americans from the southeastern states to Indian Territory. Each tribe had their own reservations or in the case of the Five Civilized tribes, Nations and capitals. Many tribal members received individual land allotments (see: Indians of Oklahoma). Treaties in 1866 and later years realigned boundaries of the Indian reservations and created the “Unassigned Lands” in central Oklahoma.
Federal Land Records
The “Unassigned Lands” in central Oklahoma became part of the public domain. The federal government surveyed this land and began distributing it to private ownership in 1889. “No Man's Land” (the Oklahoma Panhandle) was added to the public domain and made available for settlement in May 1890. Individuals could acquire land from the government through cash purchases or by homesteading the land. Claims had to be registered at land offices. The first land offices were established at Guthrie and Kingfisher.
Unique to Oklahoma were the famous land runs when entire districts were opened to settlement on a given day on a first-come basis. This created tremendous runs as individuals rushed to stake their claims to surveyed sections of land. The first land run was in the “Unassigned Lands” in April 1889. Additional lands were added to the new Oklahoma Territory and opened to runs in September 1891, April 1892, September 1893, and May 1895. The lands opened for the 1891 to 1895 runs had been reservations of various Indian tribes in the western part of the state (and not the Indian Territory nations of eastern Oklahoma belonging to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and other tribes).
Other western reservation lands were distributed through a land lottery in 1901, and at an auction in 1906. Those who obtained land in the lottery of 1901 are listed in Julie Peterson Hinton, and Louise F. Wilcox, El Reno District 1901 Land Lottery: Index to Names of Homesteaders Filings. El Reno, Oklahoma: J. P. Hinton, 1985. (Family History Library book 976.6 R22h; film 1,321,059 item 2.)
Records of the land offices
The records of the local land offices are at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, State Archives Division. The National Archives has the land entry case files, the original tract books, and the township plats of the general land offices. The patents and copies of the tract books and township plats are at the: Bureau of Land Management
Santa Fe, NM 87502-0115
Internet: http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/ The Oklahoma Historical Society has microfilm copies of the tract books. They have an index for surnames (not given names) in each county. The Oklahoma Genealogical Society is compiling a statewide index. The books are arranged by the location of the lands in each township. Smith's First Directory of Oklahoma Territory: For the Year Commencing August 1st, 1890 (see Oklahoma Directories) lists the names and addresses of residents in the territory in 1890. This may help you identify the township and county where a family lived.
County Land Records
After land was distributed to private ownership, subsequent transactions, including deeds and mortgages, were recorded by the county. You can
obtain copies by writing to the county clerk at the county courthouse. For contact details of these, see http://www.barnfield.net/oklahoma/ The Family History Library is presently acquiring microfilm copies of deeds and mortgages from the counties.
One of the best books of maps for Oklahoma is John Wesley Morris, Charles R. Goins, and Edwin C. McReynolds, Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, 3rd ed. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986. (Family History Library book 976.6 E3m 1986; 1965 edition on film 1000357 item 3.) The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have large collections of maps and atlases. The Family History Library has several maps, including some of the Indian Territory.
Oklahoma Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001. (NOTE: All of the information from the original research article has been imported into this Wiki site and is being updated as time permits.)
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