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September 03, 2020

Did Your Ancestor Own Land?

Written by: Nancy Massey, Indiana Room Coordinator

Land records can be an invaluable resource for genealogists. At the August genealogy roundtable, attendees mentioned that land records are one of their favorite genealogy resources.  At the very least, they document your ancestor in a specific location at a specific time. Sometimes, but not always, family relationships can be found in land records.

Land records include deeds, land grants, mortgages, and even tax records.  Everyone who owned land had to pay taxes on it.

Some land records are online, such as the Federal land grants at the Bureau of Land Management. Federal Land Patents offer researchers a source of information on the initial transfer of land titles from the Federal government to individuals.
The website also has the survey plat which is the graphic drawing of the boundaries involved with a particular survey project, and contains the official acreage to be used in the legal description.  Field notes associated with the survey plat may sometimes be included.


Other types of records associated with federal land, include applications for public domain land grants, Homestead Act applications, Freedman’s Bureau land records, and bounty land warrants and applications for veterans.

Land records at the county or town level are still held at the local county courthouse or archive, if they survive. Many jurisdictions have digitized their land records and made them available online, in many cases for free.  Many of these land records were filmed by Family Search and are in the process of being digitized to access at FamilySearch.org. Most of those are not indexed but you may browse the microfilmed records.  Sometimes the microfilmed copies will have indexes at the beginning of each volume.  To find what land records are available, search the catalog for the location and then scroll down the page to land and property to see what has been digitized. You should find lots of deed records.

Cyndi’s List has several links to websites which may have the land records for your ancestors’ locations.

To learn more about land records, how to use them, and where to find them, join Amber Oldenburg on Saturday, September 19, at 10am as she shares her expertise on land records.  This is a virtual program and you need to register for it to receive an invite to the ZOOM program. As our genealogy roundtable members recommend and Amber’s program title suggests, Land Records: A Family Historian’s “Bread and Butter” this is one genealogy resource you do not want to ignore.