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
  • English, William Hayden Conquest of the country northwest of the river Ohio, 1778-1783, and life of General George Rogers Clark : with numerous sketches of men who served under Clark and full list of those allotted lands in Clark's grant for service in the campaigns against the British posts, showing exact land allotted each Washington [District of Columbia] : L.C. Photoduplication Service, 1986. FHL 1454567items 3-4
  • Ainsworth, Fern Private land claims, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin [Natchitoches, Louisiana : F. Ainsworth, 198-?]. This book contains a private land claims docket index for the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. FHL 6100813


When the area that is now Michigan became part of the United States, a few prior land claims by early pioneers were settled in the courts, though most of the land was unclaimed. This unclaimed land became the public domain, was surveyed, divided into townships (36 square miles), range and section (one square mile within the township)and then sold through land offices. Michigan 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. 


  • The Bureau of Land Management and General Land Office (BLM-GLO) has an on line Land Patent Search which is an index to millions of ancestors named in federal land patents and warrants from 1788 to the 1960’s located at the National Archives. This is the best place to begin when searching for a land patent because of the ease of navigation when searching for an ancestor. This internet web site also provides many images of patents.
  • United States. Bureau of Land Management. Card Files. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Land Management, 19—. On 160 Family History Library films beginning with FHL 1501522. Each card contains the following information: Certificate number District Land Office Kind of entry (cash, credit, warrant, etc.) Name of patentee and county of origin Land description Number of acres Date of patent Volume and page where document can be located . Because these index cards are arranged by township and range within each state, the researcher will need to already have an approximate legal description in order to access these cards.


Wisconsin uses the rectangular land survey system of section, township, and range.The townships were six-mile square blocks of land, divided into 36 one-mile squares called sections. The township was numbered north and south, starting from the center line, and the range was numbered east and west starting from the center line.

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.