Wisconsin Land and Property
Federal Land Grants
When the area that is now Wisconsin became part of the United States, a few prior land claims by early pioneers were settled in the courts. Most of the land was unclaimed. This land became the public domain and was sold through land offices. The first general land office was established at Mineral Point in 1834.
The early land office records are at
Commissioner of Public Lands,
127 West Washington Avenue,
Madison, WI 53703.
The original patents and copies of tract books and township plats are at:
Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Office
7450 Boston Blvd.
Springfield, VA 22153
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin also has copies of the tract books. The land entry case files and the original tract books and township plats of the general land offices are at:
National Archives—Reference Branch
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington DC 20408
All of these records are generally arranged according to the legal description of the land (see the United States Research Outline (30972) for additional information about these federal land records).
The Family History Library has two different compact discs that contain indexes to the Wisconsin pre-1908 land entry case files at the Bureau of Land Management. You can search these discs by the name of the patentee and learn the township and range, the date, and the patent number. With this information you can send for copies of the original records from the National Archives—Reference Branch. Ask for form 84. The two discs are:
- Index to BLM Records: AL, AR, FL, LA, MI, MN, OH, WI. Novato, California: Broderbund Software, Family Tree Maker, 1996. (Family History Library CD no. 9 pt. 255.)
- United States. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Land Management. Wisconsin, 1820–1908 Cash and Homestead Entries, Cadastral Survey Plats. Version 7.3. Springfield, Virginia: BLM Eastern States, 1994. (Family History Library compact disc no. 38. Not available at Family History Centers.) These records are patents issued by the federal government. Researchers can search for information about land titles through any one of six categories: land description, patentee name, patent authority, land office, certificate number, or county.
The Family History Library has the Bureau of Land Management tract books on microfilm. You need to know the township and range where the land was located before searching these tract books. You may find the township and range information in a county history or deed record. Tract books are available in:
- United States. Bureau of Land Management. Tract Books. Washington, D.C.: Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, 1957. (On 1,265 Family History Library films beginning with 1445277.)
The Family History Library also has an index to some of the Federal land patents. You need to know the township and range where the land was located in order to use this index.:
- United States. Bureau of Land Management. Card Files. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Land Management, 19—. (On 160 Family History Library films beginning with 1501522.)
The Bureau of Land Management has an index and digital images of the original survey maps for Wisconsin. The original survey creates land boundaries and marks them for the first time.
After land was transferred to private ownership, all subsequent transactions, including deeds and mortgages, were recorded by the register of deeds. These records usually date back to the time of the county's organization and frequently have grantor (seller) and grantee (buyer) indexes. They are available at the county courthouse. Many of the county indexes and a few of the deeds are on microfilm at the Family History Library. For example, the library has copies of Milwaukee County mortgage records and indexes (1836-1916) on 103 microfilms and Dane County deeds (1883-1886) and indexes (1835-1915) on 87 films. Look for these county land records in the Family History Library Catalog under WISCONSIN, [COUNTY] - LAND AND PROPERTY.
Wisconsin Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.