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Federal Land Records
When the United States acquired South Dakota, most of the land became part of the public domain. The federal government surveyed available land into townships and transferred it to private ownership through local land offices. The first land office was established at Vermillion in 1861. See the United States Research Outline for more information about the land entry process.
Land could be obtained through cash payment (cash entries), or by homesteading (after 1862). After a settler completed the requirements for land entry, his case file was sent to the General Land Office (GLO) in Washington, DC, where a patent (first-title deed) was issued. The local land offices recorded transactions for each section of land in tract books. They also created township plats, which are maps of land entries for each township.
(Picture to the right: Homesteaders in Western South Dakota)
To locate the land-entry or homestead case file for your ancestor, you will need to know either the patent number or the legal description (range, township, section) of the land. The county recorder of deeds may be able to tell you the legal description of the land, or you may be able to pinpoint the exact location by searching the entries in the tract book covering the approximate area concerned.
The original patents and copies of the tract books and township plats are at:
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
P.O. Box 36800
222 North 32nd Street
Billings, MT 59101
The National Archives has the original homestead entry files, cash entry files, tract books, and township plats. Patent records since the 1960s of the BLM districts are also at the National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region at Denver.
After land was transferred from the government to private owners, it could be sold again, inherited, lost by foreclosure of a mortgage, or redistributed through a divorce. These transactions have been recorded by the registrar of deeds in each county. The Family History Library does not have copies of the land records at the county courthouses in South Dakota.
Individual Land Transfers
Once a parcel of land was transferred from the 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 creating new records. These person-to-person transactions are an important resource to the genealogist. The potential for an ancestor to be recorded is high. These records may offer genealogical clues, such as the given name of the wife, 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 also be in-laws or relatives. It is important to trace the purchase and sale (or the acquisition and disposition) of each parcel of land an ancestor owned.
The original records are filed in the county clerks’ or recorders’ offices or in IRAD depositories. Be aware that, as new counties were formed and boundaries changed, transactions were then recorded in the new county, while the parent county retained the records previously created.
Family History Library Resources
A clear, comprehensive description of public domain lands and the value and use of deeds and other land records is:
- Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1997. Ancestry is a trademark of Ancestry, Inc. (Family History Library book 973 R27h).
At various times, early settlers and others made written claims to the government for lands. Those claims frequently included statements by relatives, heirs, neighbors, or friends and sometimes contained additional genealogical information. Records of these and other claims are in:
- United States. Congress. American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States. La Crosse, Wisconsin: Brookhaven Press, 1959. 38 Volumes. (On 29 Family History Library films, beginning with 1631827.) Classes 8 and 9 of these records deal with public lands and claims for the years 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. Nine Volumes. 1832–1861. Reprint, Greenville, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1994. (Family History Library book 973 R2ag 1994.) A comprehensive index to Classes 8 and 9 of both of the above records is:
- McMullin, Phillip W., ed. 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.) Salt Lake City, Utah: Gendex Corp, 1972. (Family History Library book 973 R2ag index; fiche 6051323 [set of 6]).
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of most of the county records and is continuing to microfilm deeds of other counties up to about 1900. Contact the county clerk or recorder for records that have not been microfilmed.
Land records can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search under: (*Most of the sources found under the state search for land and property are Bureau of Indian Affairs records.)
SOUTH DAKOTA - LAND AND PROPERTY
SOUTH DAKOTA, [COUNTY]- LAND AND PROPERTY
South Dakota Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.