United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books (FamilySearch Historical Records)Edit This Page

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Record Description

This collection consists of 3,907 United States federal tract books containing the official record of each parcel of public land until it was transferred from federal to private ownership in 28 of the 30 federal land states between the years 1820 and 1908. The federal tract books for Alaska are lost.[1]

The collection described here does not include any tract books maintained by territorial, state, or county  governments, even when the property they describe may partially overlap. Nor would federal tract books list land transactions between private citizens AFTER obtaining the land from the federal government. Private transactions between individuals should cited in county land records such as deeds and plat maps. For further information about non-federal  county deeds and plat maps, see  United States Land and Property.

Why they were created. These federal  tract books show the federal government transactions and status of each parcel of surveyed public land. These books indicate who obtained the land, and include a physical description of the property and where the land is located. The type of transaction is also recorded such as cash entry, credit entry, homesteads, patents (deeds), timberland rights, or mineral rights granted by the federal government, and other conveyances of title such as Indian allotments, internal improvement grants (to states), military bounty land warrants, land grants from previous foreign governments, railroad grants, school grants, and swamp grants.[1]

Why genealogists use them. These tract books show details about when and where an ancestor first obtained land from the federal government. Tract books provide information to help find further federal (case files) and local land ownership records which sometimes hold clues about an ancestor's residence and family members. Also, after finding where an ancestor lived, a researcher can search for a variety of non-land records of the ancestor in that area. Tract books also can be used to find information about neighbors—people who sometimes turn out to be relatives. Tract books even show when an ancestor applied for federal land but failed to obtain it.

Tract books lead to case files. Tract books also help researchers find information to access over ten million land entry case files preserved at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC.[2] These case files show the application papers of each individual who attempted to obtain a private claim to some public land, whether they succeeded or not. Successful claims  received a patent (original title) and are indexed in the BLM Land Patent Search 1820-1908 for all federal land states. Unsuccessful claims  still have case files, and tract books are one of the best ways to find the information needed to obtain a case file from the two million otherwise unindexed land entry case files that were never finished, forfeited, rejected, or cancelled.[3]

Arrangement. Tract book volumes are organized by state, in some states by land offices, and then by township number and range number. Within each tract book volume, the land entries are in order by their legal land description[1][4] (section, township, and range); terms from the rectangular surveys used in the Public Land Survey System used for most parts of 30 federal land states. Typical tract books list the land entries for anywhere from one to 30 townships; about five townships per tract book seems to be the most common. Within most townships the order is usually by section number.

Each land entry in a tract book was recorded across two pages.[5] Each page set covers part or all of one township; tract books rarely have two different townships listed on the same page. The townships usually only change one range number or one township number at a time after several pages within a tract book volume listing several townships.

  • For a list of the townships (described with both a township number and a range number) and land offices included in this collection, see the Tract Books Coverage Table. For example:
    Tract books coverage table example.png
  • For a detailed list of this collection's contents by film number, see the FamilySearch Catalog entry:
You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-1908.

Storage of the original tract books. The National Archives in Washington, DC has the original tract books for 16 western states. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Eastern State Office, 7450 Boston Blvd, Springfield, VA 22153 has custody of the tract books for the 12 eastern federal land states (AL, AR, FL, IL, IN, IA, LA, MI, MN, MS, OH, and WI).[6]

Record Content

Example tract book headings, left page.
Example tract book headings, right page.

Information found in this collection may include:[7]

  • Name of purchaser
  • Description of the land
  • Date of transaction
  • By whom patented
  • Date of patent

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.

How to Use the Record

What it helps to know. To begin your search of federal tract books it is helpful to know (or guess) the following:

  • Name of the entryman (person who filed a claim)
  • State
  • Land Office location
  • County
  • Land description (section, townhsip, and range) See Rectangular surveys for an explanation of these terms.

Sources which show the land description.

  • Land patent. If your family still has the patent (original title) for a piece of property, that patent will show the land description.
  • BLM land patent search. The online index to eight million land patents 1820-1908 and military bounty land shows each entry's land description. However, this index does not include the two million case files which were never finished, forfeited, relinquished, or cancelled.
  • Seven states index. The seven states index  at the National Archives in Washington, DC, also gives each entry's land description. The index covers Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and Utah for pre-1908 case files both patented and unpatented.[8]
  • Other indexes. Selected states may have indexed their own land records. Use Internet search engines like Google  to find statewide land indexes that can be used to find legal land descriptions by section number, township number, and range number. For example, see the Nebraska 1860-1954 Tract Books Index.

Determine which tract books to search. The following sources can help narrow the number of tract books to search.

  • Coverage table. Use the description of the townships and ranges covered in each tract book as described in the Tract Books Coverage Table to narrow down the volumes you will need to view to find an ancestor's land entry.
  • Index. Or, if you have access to the National Archives in Washington, DC, use the Index to Tract Books, RG 49, MLR# UD2321,[9] to each state's tract books which allows researchers to identify the tract book number that covers the area in which they are interested.[10]
  • Townships and ranges in each county. In addition, "Appendix A" in Land and Property Research in the United States  lists each present-day federal land state and county together with its farthest north-, east-, south-, and west- township and range for that county, and the meridian(s) that applies.[11] This information can help you narrow down the number of tract books you will need to search.
  • Land offices. Tract books for some states, such as Alabama and Ohio are organized by land office. Others are organized for the whole state. "Appendix B" in Land and Property Research in the United States  shows the varying land office boundaries in each state over many years.[12]

Search the Collection

To browse the 28-state online federal tract book collection 1820-1908, click here.

⇒Select the "State"
⇒Select the "Volume." In some states the land office is mentioned with the volume number. Clicking on a volume takes you to the images.

Options depending on what you know.

  • If you know the land description, locate land entry in the appropriate tract book volume under the appropriate numbered section, township, and range listed on the left side of each page in the volume.
  • If you do NOT know the land description, browse each appropriate tract book volume line-by-line and page-by-page for the name of an ancestor in order to find the accompanying land description. Use "Appendix A" in Land and Property Research in the United States[13] to help determine which tract books cover a given county.

Using the Information

Once you find an ancestor's tract book land entry, be sure to

  • photocopy both tract book pages  of the entry
  • write down the exact title, volume number, and page number  (source information) of the tract book volume in which the ancestor's entry was found

This information is important to helping the National Archives retrieve the land entry case file for you.

Evaluate and record the data. Evaluate each piece of information given. Assess its accuracy and likelyhood. Compare and contrast the new data with previous information about the ancestor. Try to explain contradictory data.

Add any new genealogical information and source footnotes to your personal records of the family. For example, add a custom event for a land transaction to the ancestor's family group record. Also, share the new genealogical data and source footnotes in public records like FamilySearch Tree.

Follow-up sources. Then use the new information from the tract book to help find further records. For example:

  • Case files. Every entry in a tract book should have a corresponding case file. Use the tract book information to order copies of the land entry case files from the National Archives. For $50 the National Archives will copy a land entry case file if you properly complete form NATF-084 (pdf) and submit it. They prefer online orders but will accept mail orders. Instructions are on the form.
  • Other related files. Case files are usually only part of the iceberg. Patents, warrants, surveys, and newspaper notifications are among the kinds of records that may  be found outside of case files. Look for extra land records at the federal, state, or county levels.
  • Disposal of the property. Find out how your ancestor disposed of the property as a way of finding clues about possible relatives. For example, your ancestor may have sold or given land to his or her heirs before death, or the heirs may have sold the land after the individual died. For daughters, the names of their husbands are often provided. For sons, the given names of their wives may be included. Heirs may have sold their interest in the land to another heir even though the record may not indicate this.
  • Nearby property transactions. Look for your ancestor acquiring, or disposing of nearby property. Also, look to see if the ancestor disposed of property at a previous residence before moving to this property.
  • Neighboring people. Use tracts books, other land records, and censuses to find neighbors. Neighbors sometimes turn out to be relatives.
  • Other non-land sources. Use the residence and names to locate other records in the area such as church and census records.
  • Similar surnames. Search for records of people in the area who shared a similar surname. These may have been the couple’s parents, uncles, or other relatives. Your ancestor may have been an heir who sold inherited land that had belonged to parents or grandparents.
  • Earlier or later time periods. Search the land records for years before and after an ancestor's land transaction. Families are sometimes part of a chain migration. In such cases one family moves into an area and some years later their old neighbors or relatives join them, or leave for another new home. Studying older and newer land records may help show this.

Unable to Find Your Ancestor?

  • Re-try the BLM Land Patent Search  using variant spellings of the ancestor's name.
  • Check for an index among the tract book volumes. Sometimes a separate index volume exists for all the tract books from the same land office.
  • Hunt for the land records of relatives. Sometimes one ancestor would obtain land through the name of a relative, or even a neighbor.
  • Look for county land records if an ancestor obtained land from an individual rather than from the federal government.
  • Look for county land records showing an ancestor disposed of a parcel of land in order to learn where he or she first obtained the land from the federal government.
  • Search alternative local record types like census, church records, cemeteries, court records, and tax records to find ancestor information.

Known Issues with This Collection

Important.png Problems with this collection?
See a list of known issues, workarounds, tips, restrictions, future fixes, news and other helpful information.

For a full list of all known issues associated with this collection see the attached article. If you encounter additional problems, please email them to support@familysearch.org. Please include the full path to the link and a description of the problem in your e-mail. Your assistance will help ensure that future reworks will be considered.

Related Wiki Articles

  • Tract books history, preparing to use them, how to use them, content, access, and associated case files. A more generic alternative explaining much of the same material covered in this Wiki article.
  • Tract Books Coverage Table lists the state, volume, land office, township numbers and range numbers in each federal tract book 1820-1908.
  • Grants from the Federal Government (Public Domain) explains public lands, how individuals claimed some of it, and the paperwork created during the process.
  • BLM Land Patent Search discusses the index to eight million patented (finished) land applications, and military bounty land papers. Each entry in this index includes the land description useful for finding an ancestor in a tract book.
  • Land entry case files describes the 10 million files in the National Archives created to document individual claims to federal land using cash entry, credit entry, homestead, military bounty land, private land claims, mineral or timberland rights. A case file exists for each tract book entry.
  • Rectangular surveys includes a section about tract books. This article shows how principal meridians, baselines, townships, ranges, sections, and aliquots are used for land descriptions found in tract books and other property records.
  • United States Land and Property page is a general discussion of land record research for genealogists. It serves as a table of contents to related Wiki pages about American land records including tract books, related land entry case files, and the BLM land patent search.

Related Websites

How You Can Contribute

We welcome user additions to FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles. We are looking for additional information that will help readers understand the topic and better use the available records. We also need translations for collection titles and images in articles about records written in languages other than English. For specific needs, please visit WikiProject FamilySearch Records.

Please follow these guidelines as you make changes. Thank you for any contributions you may provide.

Citations for This Collection

Citing your sources makes it easy for others to find and evaluate the records you used. When you copy information from a record, list where you found that information. Here you can find citations already created for the entire collection and for each individual record or image.

Collection citation:

"United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-1908." Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 3 December 2015. Citing Bureau of Land Improvement. Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, Washington D.C.

Image citation:

The citation for an image is available on each image in this collection by clicking Show Citation at the bottom left of the image screen. You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-1908.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 E. Wade Hone, Land and Property Research in the United States (Salt Lake City, Utah : Ancestry Pub., c1997), 113. At various repositories (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 R27h.
  2. Kenneth Hawkins, Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office: Record Group 49, Reference Information Paper, 114 (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2009), 1. Internet version (pdf) At various repositories (WorldCat) FHL Ref Book 973 J53hrL
  3. Hone, 113-14.
  4. Hawkins, front inside cover, and page 6.
  5. Hawkins, 6.
  6. Hawkins, 4-5.
  7. Hawkins, 5-6.
  8. Hawkins, 3-4.
  9. Index to Tract Books, RG 49, MLR# UD2321, maps arranged by state. Copies of these maps are available for consultation in room G28 of the National Archives Building, Washington, DC, as cited in Hawkins, page 6.
  10. Hawkins, 4.
  11. Hone, 213-67.
  12. Hone, 269-497.
  13. Hone, 213-67.


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  • This page was last modified on 8 January 2016, at 00:10.
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