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Federal Land Records
When the United States acquired Wyoming, most of the land that comprises the present state became part of the public domain. The federal government surveyed available land and began transferring much of it to private ownership through local land offices in a process called "land entry." The first land office was established at Cheyenne in 1870.
Land entry in Wyoming was either based on cash payment for the land (cash entries), or on conditions of settlement (homesteads). Anyone who was twenty-one years old, or who was a head of household (including widows), could purchase land. Free homesteads could be obtained after 1862 by those who settled and cultivated the land for at least five years. A homestead applicant either had to be a U.S. citizen or must have filed his intention to become a citizen.
The local offices recorded each transaction in a section of land in tract books. They also created township plats, which are maps of land entries within each township.
After a settler completed the requirements for land entry, his case file was sent to the General Land Office in Washington, D.C., where a patent (first-title deed) was issued. 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 from county land records. You may also be able to pinpoint the exact location of a tract by searching the entries in the tract book covering the approximate area concerned.
For copies of the tract books, township plats, and patent records, contact:
Wyoming State Office of the
Bureau of Land Management
2515 Warren Avenue
P.O. Box 1828
Cheyenne, WY 82003
The National Archives also has the original tract books, plats, homestead entry files, and cash entry files. The Family History Library has copies of the tract books on microfilm. The National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region (Denver) also has some of the land office records.
A guide to the land office records at the Denver branch and a history of the federal land system in Wyoming is Eileen Bolger, Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming (Denver, Colorado: Federal Archives and Records Center, 1983; Family History Library book 978.7 R2b).
County Land Records
After land was transferred from the federal government by sale or grant to private ownership, it could be sold again, inherited, lost by foreclosure of a mortgage, or distributed through a divorce. These transactions are recorded by the district courts in the form of deeds and mortgages. You can obtain copies of the records by contacting the appropriate clerk's office in each county.
Most of the county land records begin after 1869. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of important land records from about half of the counties in the state. From Laramie County, for example, the library has 75 microfilms of deeds, mortgages, indexes, railroad deeds, corporation records, bills of sale, and mining deeds. These records date from as early as 1867 to as late as 1961.
Wyoming Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.