United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books (FamilySearch Historical Records)
|Access the Records|
United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-c. 1955 .
|This article describes a collection of records at FamilySearch.org.|
|Flag of the United States of America|
|Location of the United States of America|
What is in the Collection?
This collection consists of 3,907 United States federal tract books containing the official record of each parcel of public land until it was transferred from federal to private ownership in 28 of the 30 federal land states between the years 1820 and c.1955. The federal tract books for Alaska and Missouri are lost.
The collection described here does not include any tract books maintained by territorial, state, or county governments, even when the property they describe may partially overlap. Nor would federal tract books list land transactions between private citizens after obtaining the land from the federal government. Private transactions are between individuals cited in county land records such as deeds and plat maps. For further information about non-federal and county deeds and plat maps, see United States Land and Property.
Why they were created. These federal tract books show the federal government transactions and status of each parcel of surveyed public land. These books indicate who obtained the land, and include a legal description of the property and where the land is located. The type of transaction is also recorded such as cash entry, credit entry, homesteads, patents (deeds), timberland rights, or mineral rights granted by the federal government, and other conveyances of title such as Indian allotments, internal improvement grants (to states), military bounty land warrants, land grants from previous foreign governments, railroad grants, school grants, and swamp grants.
Why genealogists use them. These tract books show details about when and where an ancestor first obtained land from the federal government. Tract books provide information to help find further federal (case files) and local land ownership records which sometimes hold clues about an ancestor's residence and family members. Also, after finding where an ancestor lived, a researcher can search for a variety of non-land records of the ancestor in that area. Tract books also can be used to find information about neighbors—people who sometimes turn out to be relatives. Tract books even show when an ancestor applied for federal land but failed to obtain it.
Tract books lead to case files. Tract books also help researchers find information to access over ten million land entry case files preserved at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC. These case files show the application papers of each individual who attempted to obtain a private claim to some public land, whether they succeeded or not. Successful claims received a patent (original title) and are indexed in the BLM Land Patent Search 1820-1908 for all federal land states. Unsuccessful claims still have case files, and tract books are one of the best ways to find the information needed to obtain a case file from the two million otherwise unindexed land entry case files that were never finished, forfeited, rejected, or cancelled.
Arrangement. Tract book volumes are organized by state, in some states by land offices, and then by township number and range number. Within each tract book volume, the land entries are in order by their legal land description (section, township, and range); terms from the rectangular surveys used in the Public Land Survey System used for most parts of 30 federal land states. Typical tract books list the land entries for anywhere from one to 30 townships; about five townships per tract book seems to be the most common. Within most townships the order is usually by section number.
Each land entry in a tract book was recorded across two pages. Each page set covers part or all of one township; tract books rarely have two different townships listed on the same page. The townships usually only change one range number or one township number at a time after several pages within a tract book volume listing several townships.
- For a list of the townships (described with both a township number and a range number) and land offices included in this collection, see the Tract Books Coverage Table. For example:
- For a detailed list of this collection's contents by film number, see the FamilySearch Catalog entry:
|You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-c.1955.|
Storage of the original tract books. The National Archives in Washington, DC has the original tract books for 16 western states. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Eastern State Office, 7450 Boston Blvd, Springfield, VA 22153 has custody of the tract books for the 12 eastern federal land states (AL, AR, FL, IL, IN, IA, LA, MI, MN, MS, OH, and WI).
Information found in this collection may include:
*Name of purchaser *Description of the land *Date of transaction *By whom patented *Date of patent
Additional items of information included in the tract books are as follows: number of acres, date of sale, purchase price, land office, entry number, final Certificate of Purchase number, and notes on relinquishment and conversions.
How To Search the Collection
The Federal Tract Book collection, 1820 to 1955 is not well indexed, so you must browse the collection to find your ancestor. The more information you know of the land your ancestor owned, the less searching you will have to do:
- Clicking on this link will take you to the State selection page of this collection. Clicking on a State link will take you to the Volume selection page. Clicking on a Volume link will take you to that Volume containing the actual images.
- Selecting a page will take you to a particular Township, Range and Section. Each Section image shows all the entrees for land made within that section, whether or not they resulted in a Patent. Hopefully you will find your ancestor among those entrees.
- Make a copy of the tract book Section that you found.
- Also copy the Sections around the one you found, many times family lived nearby.
- Write down the State, Volume, page, Land Office, Township, Range, and Section for each section you copy. This information is important, so write it down now on the same page as the section. Without this documentation, you might later have to do the search all over again.
The information that you need to know to do a search.
- The State where the land is located
- The Volume covering the land entry
- The Land description (Township, Range and Section) See Rectangular surveys for an explanation of these terms.
- The Name of your ancestor who filed the claim, officially known as the entryman.
- Sometimes it is also helpful to know the Land Office where the claim was filed and the County the land is in.
Sources which show the land description.
- Land patent. If your family still has the patent (original title) for a piece of property, that patent will show the land description.
- BLM land patent search. The online index to eight million land patents 1820-1908 and military bounty land shows each entry's land description. However, this index does not include the two million case files which were never completed.
- Seven states index. The seven states index at the National Archives in Washington, DC, also gives each entry's land description. The index covers Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and Utah for pre-1908 case files both patented and unpatented.
- Other indexes. Selected states may have indexed their own land records. Use Internet search engines like Google to find statewide land indexes that can be used to find legal land descriptions by section number, township number, and range number. For example, see the Nebraska 1860-1954 Tract Books Index.
Determine which tract books to search. The following sources can help narrow the number of tract books to search.
- Coverage table. Use the description of the townships and ranges covered in each tract book as described in the Tract Books Coverage Table to narrow down the volumes you will need to view to find an ancestor's land entry.
- Index. Or, if you have access to the National Archives in Washington, DC, use the Index to Tract Books, RG 49, MLR# UD2321, to each state's tract books which allows researchers to identify the tract book number that covers the area in which they are interested.
- Townships and ranges in each county. In addition, Appendix A in Land and Property Research in the United Stateslists each present-day federal land state and county together with its farthest north-, east-, south-, and west- township and range for that county, and the meridian(s) that applies. This information can help you narrow down the number of tract books you will need to search.
- Land offices. Tract books for some states, such as Alabama and Ohio are organized by land office. Others are organized for the whole state. Appendix B" in Land and Property Research in the United States shows the varying land office boundaries in each state over many years.
What To Do Next?
- Check the information you learn from the Tract Books and compare with the other information you know about your ancestor.
- Record any new genealogical information along with sources in the genealogy records of your family.
- Share the new information with members of your family.
- Add this new information into public records like Family Search, Family Tree.
- Use this new information to help find further records. For example:
- Case files. Every entry in a tract book should have a corresponding case file. Use the tract book information to order copies of the land entry case files from the National Archives. For $50 the National Archives will copy a land entry case file if you properly complete form NATF-084 (pdf) and submit it. They prefer online orders but will accept mail orders. Instructions are on the form.
- Other related files. Case files are usually only part of the iceberg. Patents, warrants, surveys, and newspaper notifications are among the kinds of records that may be found outside of case files. Look for extra land records at the federal, state, or county levels.
- Disposal of the property. Find out how your ancestor disposed of the property as a way of finding clues about possible relatives. For example, your ancestor may have sold or given land to his or her heirs before death, or the heirs may have sold the land after the individual died. For daughters, the names of their husbands are often provided. For sons, the given names of their wives may be included. Heirs may have sold their interest in the land to another heir even though the record may not indicate this.
- Nearby property transactions. Look for your ancestor acquiring, or disposing of nearby property. Also, look to see if the ancestor disposed of property at a previous residence before moving to this property.
- Neighboring people. Use tracts books, other land records, and censuses to find neighbors. Neighbors sometimes turn out to be relatives.
- Other non-land sources. Use the residence and names to locate other records in the area such as church and census records.
- Similar surnames. Search for records of people in the area who shared a similar surname. These may have been the couple’s parents, uncles, or other relatives. Your ancestor may have been an heir who sold inherited land that had belonged to parents or grandparents.
- Earlier or later time periods. Search the land records for years before and after an ancestor's land transaction. Families are sometimes part of a chain migration. In such cases one family moves into an area and some years later their old neighbors or relatives join them, or leave for another new home. Studying older and newer land records may help show this.
What if you Can't Find Who you are Looking For?
- Re-try the BLM Land Patent Search using variant spellings of the ancestor's name.
- Check for an index among the tract book volumes. Sometimes a separate index volume exists for all the tract books from the same land office.
- Hunt for the land records of relatives. Sometimes one ancestor would obtain land through the name of a relative, or even a neighbor.
- Look for county land records if an ancestor obtained land from an individual rather than from the federal government.
- Look for county land records showing an ancestor disposed of a parcel of land in order to learn where he or she first obtained the land from the federal government.
- Search alternative local record types like census, church records, cemeteries, court records, and tax records to find ancestor information.
Known Issues with this Collection
| Problems with this collection?|
See a list of known issues, workarounds, tips, restrictions, future fixes, news and other helpful information.
For a full list of all known issues associated with this collection see the attached article. If you encounter additional problems, please email them to email@example.com. Please include the full path to the link and a description of the problem in your e-mail. Your assistance will help ensure that future reworks will be considered.
In the Research Wiki
- Tract books history, preparing to use them, how to use them, content, access, and associated case files. A more generic alternative explaining much of the same material covered in this Wiki article.
- Tract Books Coverage Table lists the state, volume, land office, township numbers and range numbers in each federal tract book 1820-1908.
- Grants from the Federal Government (Public Domain) explains public lands, how individuals claimed some of it, and the paperwork created during the process.
- BLM Land Patent Search discusses the index to eight million patented (finished) land applications, and military bounty land papers. Each entry in this index includes the land description useful for finding an ancestor in a tract book.
- Land entry case files describes the 10 million files in the National Archives created to document individual claims to federal land using cash entry, credit entry, homestead, military bounty land, private land claims, mineral or timberland rights. A case file exists for each tract book entry.
- Rectangular surveys includes a section about tract books. This article shows how principal meridians, baselines, townships, ranges, sections, and aliquots are used for land descriptions found in tract books and other property records.
- United States Land and Property page is a general discussion of land record research for genealogists. It serves as a table of contents to related Wiki pages about American land records including tract books, related land entry case files, and the BLM land patent search.
On the Internet
- Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records includes the Land Patent Search, instructions, and search tips.
- Form NATF-084 (pdf) used to order land entry case files from the National Archives.
- Land Records: Introduction and Links to Resources on Land Entry Case Files and Related Records National Archives explain land record research.
- NARA Reference Information Paper 114 Research in Land Entry Files of the General Land Office
- NARA American State Papers Public Land Claims 1789-1814 Reference Report
- Federal Land Office Records Cincinnati Ohio Memory
Citing this Collection
Citing your sources makes it easy for others to find and evaluate the records you used. When you copy information from a record, list where you found that information. Here you can find citations already created for the entire collection and for each individual record or image.
- "United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-c. 1955." Images. Family Search, http://FamilySearch.org. Citing Bureau of Land Improvement. Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, Washington D.C.
|The image citation is available by clicking on the Information tab at the bottom left of the screen. You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-1908.|
- E. Wade Hone, Land and Property Research in the United States (Salt Lake City, Utah : Ancestry Pub., c1997), 113. At various repositories (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 R27h.
- Kenneth Hawkins, Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office: Record Group 49, Reference Information Paper, 114 (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2009), 1. Internet version (pdf) At various repositories (WorldCat) FHL Ref Book 973 J53hrL
- Hone, 113-14.
- Hawkins, front inside cover, and page 6.
- Hawkins, 6.
- Hawkins, 4-5.
- Hawkins, 5-6.
- Hawkins, 3-4.
- Index to Tract Books, RG 49, MLR# UD2321, maps arranged by state. Copies of these maps are available for consultation in room G28 of the National Archives Building, Washington, DC, as cited in Hawkins, page 6.
- Hawkins, 4.
- Hone, 213-67.
- Hone, 269-497.
| We welcome user additions to FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles. We are looking for additional information that will help readers understand the topic and better use the available records. We also need translations for collection titles and images in articles about records written in languages other than English. For specific needs, please visit WikiProject FamilySearch Records. |
Please follow these guidelines as you make changes. Thank you for any contributions you may provide.