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The availability of land encouraged westward expansion. Land ownership was generally recorded in an area as soon as settlers began to arrive. Land records are primarily used to learn where an individual lived and when he lived there. They often reveal other family information, such as the name of a spouse, heir, other relatives, or neighbors. You may learn where a person lived previously, his occupation, if he had served in the military, if he was a naturalized citizen, and other clues. Sale of the land may show when he left and where he was moving.
was a 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 first federal and state transactions were recorded and the paperwork kept at the federal and state level, while all future transactions were recorded at the office of the county register of deeds. Family History researchers usually use land records from county offices, however, records from federal and state offices may 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.
Early Settlers including Claims to French and Spanish Grants
In the early 1800s many land claims were filed as Missouri residents tried to document claims to lands previously granted by the French and Spanish. In 1805, the U.S. Congress established a Board of Commissioners to confirm earlier grants.
Some of these records have been published in sources such as the American State Papers. This along with other resources for early settlers are listed below:
- United States Congress American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States La Crosse, Wisconsin: Brookhaven Press, 1959. 38 vols. On 29 films beginning with FHL 1631827; classes 8 and 9 are also on films FHL 899878–85. Volumes for classes 8 and 9 deal with public lands and claims for 1789 to 1837 and may name siblings or heirs of original claimants. Classes 8 and 9 have been republished in:
- United States Congress. American State Papers, Class 8: Public Lands; Class 9: Claims: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. FHL 973 R2ag1994). The American state papers include many of the private land claims for the early time period prior to statehood
- McMullin, Phillip W. and United States Congress Grassroots of America: a computerized index to the American state papers: land grants and claims (1789-1837) with other aids to research (Government document serial set numbers 28 through 36) Greenville, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1994, c1990. FHL 973 R2agindex 1990. World Cat
- Lowrie, Walter Early settlers of Missouri as taken from land claims in the Missouri Territory. Easley, South Carolina : Southern Historical Press, 1986. Reprint of part of the original American State Papers, volume 2 published Washington: Printed by Duff Green, 1834. The facsimile title page is erroneously for volume 1, not correctly for volume 2 (June 12, 1809 - February 14, 1815). Includes index. FHL 977.8 R2e
- First Settlers of the Missouri Territory. Two Volumes. Nacogdoches, Texas: Ericson Books, 1983. FHL 977.8 R2f.
- Land claims in Louisiana and Missouri 1795-1806 : House of Representatives report number 273, 15th Congress - 1st session. Book:FHL 973 R2LL and Film:FHL 2401879item 3
- Land claims in Missouri and Arkansas : records from 10th Congress, second session, House of Representative Document Number 534 Document dates run ca. 1800-1825. The records from the 10th congress may be involved but other congresses are probably also included. Includes new index. FHL 973 R2Lc
- Louisiana Territory Recorder of Land Titles. Record books, 1795-1808; index to French and Spanish land grants, 1795-1812 Jefferson City, Missouri : State of Missouri, 1970. FHL 984777
- United States General Land Office Indemnity swamp land documents, 1800's Jefferson City, Missouri: State of Missouri, 1969. Microfilm of original records in Jefferson City. FHL 984899 Original selections, new selections, and sales, 1800's FHL 984820
Land claims have been explained and documented in:
- "Private Land Claims in Missouri", in State Historical Society of Missouri; Missouri Historical Review. Columbia, Missouri: The Society; Vol. 50, p. 132-44. FHL 977.8 B2mr.
- Missouri Land Claims. New Orleans, Louisiana: Polyanthos, 1976. Book:FHL 977.8 R2m] and film: FHL 1036517item 2. This volume is a reprint of the 1835 Congressional Report, and has land claims for 1796-1835
Federal Land Grants
After the United States obtained possession of the area that became Missouri, land was surveyed and distributed through eight federal land offices, the earliest of which opened in 1818.
This distribution occurred as the surveyed land was divided into townships (36 square miles), range and section (one square mile within the township)and then sold through land offices. Iowa land office records began in 1838, when Iowa became a territory and land offices were established. Iowa is termed a Federal land state(public domain), and the government granted land through cash sales (entries), homesteads, military bound land warrants as well as granting other claims such as mining and timberland claims. Federal land purchases are contained in a case file held at the National Archives. In order to obtain the case file, a legal description of the land is needed which may be found in a deed, plat map, tract book, or patent books. To learn how to obtain this land description, see the wiki article under United States Land and Property - Federal Land - Obtaining a Legal Description of the Land.
This process has been explained in Gary W. Beahan, Missouri's Public Domain: United States Land Sales, 1818-1922 (Jefferson City, Missouri: Records Management and Archives Services, 1980; Family History Library book FHL 977.8 R22ip.
Records of the local land offices are in the Missouri State Archives. Tract books, plat maps, and land patents are in:
Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Office
7450 Boston Boulevard
Springfield, VA 22153
To search the Bureau of Land Management's land patents click here.
War of 1812 bounty land warrants were also issued for Missouri lands. The Family History Library has copies of the warrants and their indexes (Family History Library films 983163-77). Homestead records for the 1860s and later years are at the National Archives.
Many additional documents dealing with early land transfers are available at the Family History Library:
- Record books, 1795 to 1808
- U.S. land patents, 1800s to early 1900s
- Tax deeds, 1847 to 1878
- Miscellaneous land records in French, Spanish, and English, 1700s to 1800s
- Swamp land records for the 1800s
- Land plats and index for the 1800s
- General Land Office sales, 1818 to 1903
State Land Patents
During the nineteenth century, the United States government, by various acts of Congress, donated some 6.5 million acres of federal land in Missouri directly to the state. This public domain land was then sold by the state, with profits designated for various internal projects or improvements. The state, rather than the federal government, issued the land patents, verifying title and ownership to the parcels sold, for purchased sections of this donated land. The patents list the name of the person(s) who acquired the land, the purchase date and patent date, as well as a legal land description including township and range, name of county, and number of acres sold.
The Land Patents database contains over 35,500 transcribed patents containing information from the state-issued land patents which can be useful in placing an individual in a specific location at a specific time. The information contained in the land patent database includes:
• name of purchaser
• date of purchase
• legal land description
• microfilm location for copy of full entry (reel number, volume and page number).
County Land Records
After land was transferred to private ownership, subsequent transactions have been kept by the county recorders of deeds. The Family History Library has copies of most pre-1900 deeds from each county courthouse. From St. Louis County, Missouri, for example, the library has over 900 microfilms of deeds and indexes for 1804 to 1901. Additional land records may be obtained from the Missouri State Archives and the various county courthouses.
Missouri Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.
- NOTE: All of the information from the original research outline has been imported into this Wiki site and is being updated as time permits.
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