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Land patents from 1788 to the 1960s show information about people who obtained the title to their land directly from the government (rather than from another individual). This includes land obtained through military bounty land warrants, land grants, cash entry sales, credit entries, homesteads, mineral or mining, and timberland claims.
Several million federal land patent records are available online at the Bureau of Land Management – General Land Office Records (BLM-GLO) site.
Value of Land Records
Land records were created by the government to prevent or help resolve ownership disputes. They can be used by genealogists to determine residence. If the land was later passed to relatives, you may be able to use wills or deeds showing the transfer as evidence of personal relationships. In some cases the patent application papers contain genealogical information.
Patents show the name of the patentee, date, legal description of the land, patent number, and the land office that issued the patent. This information can be used to obtain land patent application papers. It may also help you locate papers showing the subsequent disposal of the land.
Application papers for federal land patents may have detailed information about family members and previous residence as shown in dozens of papers including land application forms, citizenship applications, Family Bible pages, marriage or death certificates, newspaper clippings, and affidavits.
Value of the BLM-GLO Land Patent Search
The Land Patent Search is an index to millions of ancestors in federal land patents from 1788 to the 1960s at the National Archives. Start with this index to get the information needed to obtain the applications for land patents which may be a rich source of genealogical information about a family. The same Internet site also provides access to images of patents.
The thirteen original colonies and their five daughter states (Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) are considered state land states. Texas and Hawaii have unique histories and are also state land states. The remaining thirty western states are federal land states. The online BLM-GLO Land Patent Search is primarily for goverment-to-individual land conveyances in federal land states west and south of the original thirteen colonies.
Land transfers from a state land state to an individual, or later transfers from individual to individual in any state are found in their respective state or county land offices and are not part of the BLM-GLO Land Patent Search. Those types of land transactions can usually be researched in the land and property records at county courthouses or state archives.
For land in Texas, check out their General Land Office online, especially the Land Grant Database Search
For land in Pennsylvania, check out Land Records at the Pennsylvania State Archives
Who Is in the Land Patent Search
The BLM-GLO Land Patent Search index only lists people who were actually granted a federal land patent. All military bounty land, grants, cash, pre-emption, and credit entry patents should be indexed. Among homesteaders only about 40 percent of initial applicants finished the process and received a legal title (patent) to their homestead. Among timberland applicants only about 25 percent received their patent.
Homesteaders who never obtained a patent because they did not finish are not in the Land Patent Search, but they are in the application papers. It is possible to get copies of unfinished applications. However, to see such application papers you must figure out another way to obtain the legal description of the land they started to homestead.
Using the Land Patent Search
Open the General Land Office Patent Search. You may be asked to enter your zip code. Select -- Any State -- Enter the last name of the person receiving the Land Patent. More advanced users may also enter the Land Description and other Miscellaneous information. Then click the Search Patents button at the bottom.
If the results list is too long redo the search using one or more of the following
- a particular state
- a particular state and county
- a first name
- a first name and middle name
- a Land Description
- other Miscellaneous information
If the results list is too short redo the search changing one or more of the following
- delete the middle name
- delete the middle name and first name
- change a particular county to -- Any County --
- change a particular state to -- Any State --
- delete other details. The fewer the search parameters, the larger the result list will be.
- use wildcard symbols in names: % in place of multiple characters; _ in place of single character
- Look for a spelling variation of names. For ideas see Guessing a Name Variation
If an ancestor is on the results list click on the Accession number to view Patent Details
- Click the Printer Friendly button to print
- Click on Patent Image tab to view, save, or print
- Click on Related Documents tab to view, save, or print
To obtain the application and support documents, known as the case file check out
- The Reference Center at BLM, select Document Requests, Land Entry Case File.
- The Land Records page at NARA.
Other Sources for Finding Land Patents
- The BLM Eastern States Office has an index to all patents issued after 30 June 1908.
- Eastern States Office
- 7450 Boston Boulevard
- Springfield, VA 22153
- Telephone: 703-440-1600
- Fax: 703-440-1609
- The Family History Library and the Eastern States Office have an incomplete card file that indexes pre-1908 patents issued in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and Wisconsin. These are on 160 microfilms.
United States. Bureau of Land Management. Card Files. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Land Management, [19--]. (FHL films 1501522-681.)
- The pre-1908 land patents are also being indexed and placed on compact discs for computers. The Family History Library and other repositories have copies for Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. They are found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - LAND AND PROPERTY.
- Indexes for the same states along with Missouri are available on the Internet. For an information packet, telephone the Bureau of Land Management at 703-440-1564.
Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records Home Page
Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records Land Patent Search
Constance Potter “Genealogy Notes: De Smet, Dakota Territory, Little Town in the National Archives, Part 2” Prologue (Winter 2003), 35:4 at http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2003/winter/little-town-in-nara-2.html
GeoCommunicator provides, searching, accessing and dynamic mapping of some BLM activities, such as the Public Land Survey System (PLSS).
The Family Maps series of Land Patent Books and Texas Land Survey Maps series. County maps "for original settlers whose purchases are indexed either in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management database of the Texas General land Office database." (Arphax Publishing)