Virginia Land and Property
Colonial and State Land Grants
Virginia has been a state-land state in which property has been distributed by the colony or state rather than the federal government. Various methods of distributing land have been used.
The Virginia Company of London, incorporated in 1606, granted land patents to settlers until 1623. These early patents have been lost or destroyed; however, much information on the persons (and their descendants) who received these patents is found in the Jester and Hiden source listed in the “Genealogy” section (also see the “Public Records” section).
In 1623 the Virginia Land Company was dissolved, and the crown then distributed land through the office of the secretary of the colony. Land grants from this office were given in two ways—to those who brought persons to Virginia (headright grants) or to persons who paid money into the treasury (purchases).
Headright grants were issued from about 1618 to 1732. A person was given a patent for a certain number of acres (usually 50 per person) for himself, his wife, servants, slaves, or any other passengers for whom he provided passage. This system was abused by some people who went to different counties and claimed the same persons for headright grants. The grants are listed in Nugent's volumes mentioned below.
After the Virginia Company was dissolved, settlers could purchase patents (grants) through a clerk of the county until 1921. (See Nugent's volumes.)
Obtaining a Patent. A settler petitioned a clerk of the county for a patent. The clerk made out a warrant certificate that was sent to the secretary of the colony where it was recorded, and a second certificate was made authorizing a survey. The surveyor sent his survey plat to the office of the surveyor-general which was established in 1623. The survey plat was returned to the secretary of the colony, and the original or a copy was kept by the surveyor-general's office. The secretary then made out the patent from the survey plat. The patent was approved by the council and governor.
After Receiving a Patent. After receiving a patent, the settler was required to build a house and plant crops. If this was not done in three years, the land reverted to the crown or the state and could be granted to someone else.
The individual who received a patent could sell it to someone else. In this case, the name of the second buyer was often written on the back of the patent and was recorded by the secretary of the colony's office or, after 1623, in the county court records.
Finding the Records. Lists of headright grants and the names of persons brought to Virginia from 1623 to 1732 were recorded in the county court records and in the secretary of the colony's records. The Library of Virginia has these records as well as other grant records and various card indexes. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of:
Indexes and digital images of these volumes are available on the Internet site for the Library of Virginia. See the link below in the Online Sources section.
Grants, 1779-1921; Index 1825-ca. 1921, Land Grants, blocks 74-124. On 150 FHL films beginning with 29360. Includes patents from 1775-1776, 1779-1781. Includes Land grants 1779-1921; index, 1825-1921-, on film 29308 item 2.
Many of these land grants are available on the Internet site for the Library of Virginia.
Northern Neck Surveys, 1786-1854. On 9 Family History Library films beginning with film 29533. Each volume is indexed.
Surveys, 1779-1878; Index, Land Surveys, 1779- 1924. On 92 FHL films beginning with 29542; index on films 29542-43.
Bounty warrants, 1779-1860. On 31 Family History Library films beginning with film 29821; index on films 29850-51. The warrants are in alphabetical order. These are bounty land claim papers and may include affidavits giving service information, assignment of warrant to another person, enlistment date and place, discharge or death information, petitions from heirs, and the dates when bounty land was allowed or rejected.
Register, Bounty Land Warrants, numbers 5479-9914; March 20, 1808-March 11, 1870. Family History Library film 29653 items 4-6.
Register, Military Warrants numbers 1321-1553, 4057-5478; and preemption warrants 1783-1787. On Family History Library film 29653 item 3.
Many of the records of headright grants and land purchases to 1749 have been indexed and published in:
Nugent, Nell Marion. Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants. Five Volumes. Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Print.: Virginia State Library: Virginia Genealogical Society, 1934, 1963, 1977-1979, 1994. (Family History Library book 975.5 R2n; volume 1 on film 1320779 item 5.) Volume 1 has 1623-1666, volume 2 1666-1695, volume 3 1695-1732, volume 4 1732-1741, volume 5 1741-1749. Helps determine residence and sometimes relationships. The Magazine of Virginia Genealogy continues to publish the remaining land patents. Nugent prepared volumes 1-3. The Virginia Genealogical Society prepared volumes 4-5.
The Family History Library has several other publications of Virginia land records. These include lists of pre-Revolutionary landowners that have been transcribed and published in:
Foley, Louise P. H. Early Virginia Families Along the James River. . . . Two Volumes. Richmond, Virginia: Louise P. H. Foley, 1974. (Family History Library book 975.5 R2f; film 1036802 item 5; fiche 6046679.) Helps locate pre-revolutionary families in Henrico, Goochland, Prince George, and Charles City counties.
Reprints and an index of many colonial land records dating from the 1600s to 1834 that were originally published in periodicals are in:
Virginia Land Records: From the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, the William and Mary College Quarterly, and Tyler's Quarterly. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1982. (Family History Library book 975.5 R2v.) See the “Genealogy” section of this outline for information about these periodicals.
Also see the “Taxation” section of this outline for information about quitrent and other records that help identify early Virginia landowners.
A history of early land companies and policies is in:
Robinson, W. Stitt. Mother Earth—Land Grants in Virginia, 1607-1699. Williamsburg: 350th Anniversary Celebration Corp., 1957. (Family History Library book 975.5 A1 number 81.)
Transfers of Land between Individuals
Land transactions after the original patent was issued have been recorded in county deed books. Many independent cities in Virginia also kept their own records. You can obtain copies by contacting the appropriate clerk's office—usually the clerk of the circuit court.
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of most of the pre-1880 land records and indexes of the independent cities and counties.
Virginia Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.