Missouri Land and Property

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Adam-ondi-Ahman located above the Grand River in Daviess County, Missouri


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.

Missouri 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.

To see a coverage map of FamilySearch's holdings of Missouri county land and property records, click here.

It's also good to keep in mind that many land records sold on a personal level (after colonial times) are/were usually kept with the county courthouse with the Recorder of Deeds. Public Land sales can generally be found at GloRecords.blm.gov.

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, Class 8: Public Lands; Class 9: Claims: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. FHL Collection, FHL book 973 R2ag 1994).  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 Collection, FHL book 973 R2ag index 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 Collection, book 977.8 R2e.

Land claims have been explained and documented in:

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. Missouri 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; Worldcat

See also Index of purchasers, United States land sales in Missouri, by the United States, Work Projects Administration and the Ozarks Genealogical Society. Springfield, Missouri : Ozarks Genealogical Society (Missouri), c1985-1991. FHL 977.8 R22ip v. 1-3.

General Resources and Indexes =

  • Township School Land, 1820 - 1900. Land given by the federal government to Missouri to benefit public education.
  • Seminary and Saline Land, 1820 - 1825. The federal government donated land for a seminary of learning or a state university. The saline lands were set aside by the state and a percentage of the proceeds were designated for the development of roads and canals. These saline lands were located in Pike, Ralls, Cooper, Saline and Howard counties.
  • Swamp land records for the 1800s. Located in the counties of New Madrid, Scott, Cape Girardeau, Dunklin, Mississippi, Wayne, Butler, Stoddard and Ripley.


Missouri 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.

Tract Books

Tract books may also serve as indexes to the case files. They are arranged geographically by township and range, so you have to have some idea of the legal description of the land where your ancestor lived to be able to use them. Some legal land descriptions are included in county records.

Missouri, [name of county] – Land and Property


When federal land was finally transferred to private individuals, it was said to be patented.

    Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Office
    7450 Boston Boulevard
    Springfield, VA 22153
    Telephone: 703-440-1523
    Fax: 703-440-1599

Land Entry Case Files

Also known as Land Entry Files or Patent Files, the case file is the accumulation of paperwork gathered during the land transactions which occurred when the land is transferred from the U.S. Government to private ownership and are kept at the National Archives in Washington D.C. These documents are the most helpful records for researchers because some files contain valuable information and may include personal or family information, such as military discharge papers, proof of citizenship, former residences, birthplaces and more. While not all files have pertinent information for the researcher, they are often worth obtaining. For further information regarding case files and how to order them, you will want to read the article Locating the Land and it's Associated Records at the United States Land and Property wiki page. The physical address of where the records are kept at the National Archives is as follows:

  • Old Military Civil Records Branch
    National Archives and Records Administration
    7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20408
    Telephone: 202-501-5395
    Fax: 202-219-6273
    Internet: Archives

To obtain copies of a case file you will need the following information which may be found in the land patent records indexed at the BLM-GLO web site:

  • Name of the purchaser
  • State where the land was purchased.
  • Name of the land office.
  • Type of certificate (homestead, cash, bounty-land warrant, mining, timberland etc.)
  • Certificate number or patent number

 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
• county
• date of purchase
• legal land description
• microfilm location for copy of full entry (reel number, volume and page number).

Individual Land Transfers - County Records

After land was transferred to private ownership, all subsequent transactions, including deeds and mortgages, were recorded by the register of deeds and are generally kept at the county courthouse. These records usually date back to the time of the county's organization and frequently have grantor (seller) and grantee (buyer) indexes.

It is important to know which county the land was in at the time of the deed transaction. County boundaries do change over time. First, estimate the date the transaction took place. Second, check the Missouri Historical Counties, put in the estimated date in the upper right and hit Refresh Map. Then figure out the County the land is in. Third, check with the County Courthouse in that county. For older deeds, a visit is usually required. Some additional land records may be obtained from the Missouri State Archives.

Another possibility is to check with the FamilySearch Catalog, now updated as the Family Search Catalog in Beta. It 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. Land records for Missouri located in the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Web Sites

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