Michigan Land and Property

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United States Land and Property>Michigan

A pastoral farm scene near Traverse City, Michigan


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.

Michigan 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.

Early Settlers

Michigan was settled by the French in the early days. In 1702 Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac found the area we now call Detroit and took possession of the land for France. He built a fort called Fort Pontchartrain and encouraged agricultural development around the fort. By 1763, the British gained control of the land. One of the biggest attraction to the area was the availability of the Detroit river and Great lakes which provided ease of trade by water. Some of the earliest records in Michigan, including lists of early voters, petitioners, taxpayers, and landowners, are recorded in The American state papers (see below). The following resources may be helpful as you search for these early land records.


  • 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
  • Michigan Circuit Court (Mackinac County) Miscellaneous records, 1805-1841 Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1974. Contains oaths of office, deeds, wills, marriages, 1805-1820; court journal, 1823-1841. FHL 955819item 2.
  • Historical Records Survey (Michigan); Michigan State Library (Lansing, Michigan); Daughters of the American Revolution, Louisa St. Clair Chapter (Detroit, Michigan) Early land transfers, Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan ... 1703-1869 State Library and Daughters of the American Revolution, Louisa St. Clair Chapter, sponsors. (n. p.) 1936-1940. Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1973. FHL 926988items 2 - 3 through 926998. Includes index.
  • Wayne County (Michigan) Register of Deeds Deed records, 1766 - 1918 Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Uth, 1974. FHL 926443

Land Office Records

When the U.S. acquired the area, unclaimed land became the public domain. Land was surveyed and distributed through land offices. The first office opened in Detroit in 1818. The records of all of the land offices are at the National Archives, at the Michigan State Archives, and on microfilm at the Library of Michigan.

The Bureau of Land Management has an online index to land patents in Michigan. The patent search usually provides a digital image of the original patent.

The Michigan State Archives also has plat and tract books, landownership maps, and numerous tax rolls. The Bentley Historical Library has copies of the plat and tract books. Original land entry case files are at the National Archives. Land patents are at the Bureau of Land Management (350 S. Pickett Street, Alexandria, VA 22304).

The Family History Library has on compact disc:

United States. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Land Management. Michigan Cash and Homestead Entries, Cadastral Survey Plats. Version 7.3. Springfield, Virginia: BLM Eastern States, 1994. (Family History Library compact disc no. 22. Not available at Family History Centers.) These records are patents issued by the federal government. Researchers can search for land title information through any one of six categories—land description, patentee name, patent authority, land office, certificate number, or county.

The Bureau of Land Management has an index and digital images of the original survey plats for Michigan. The original survey creates land boundaries and marks them for the first time.

County Records

After land was transferred to private ownership, subsequent transactions were recorded in each county. The register of deeds has records dating from the creation of the county and grantor (seller) and grantee (buyer) indexes.

The Family History Library has microfilm copies of warranty deeds and some mortgage records for over 50 counties, dating from county creation to about 1900. For example, from Wayne County, Michigan, the library has 220 microfilms of deeds and indexes for 1700 to 1918. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under MICHIGAN, [COUNTY] - LAND AND PROPERTY to see which records are available.

Web Sites




http://www.michlist.com/ http://www.michlist.com



Michigan Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2006.

NOTE: All of the information from the original research outline has been imported into this Wiki site and is being updated as time permits.