The land records that are generally of most interest
to genealogists are the land entry case files. These are records that
document the transfer of public lands from the U.S. Government to
There are over ten million such individual land
transactions in the custody of the National Archives. These case files
cover land entries in all 30 public land states.
The case files were filed as either military bounty
land warrants, pre-1908 general land entry files, or as post-1908 land
entry files. The information required to access and order copies of the
records will differ depending on which of these 3 categories the
transaction falls into.
For land records in the remaining 20 states that
were never part of the original public domain, check the State Archives for that particular state. This
includes the original 13 colonies, plus Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine,
Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia.
There are also
tract books available relating to the land entry case files. These are
arranged by the legal description of the land: by township, range,
section, etc. Tract books are divided into two geographical areas,
Eastern States and Western States
For the Western States, the tract
books are located in the National
Archives Building in Washington, DC. This
includes the states of: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho,
Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma,
Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
For the Eastern States, the Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) has the tract books and patents. This includes
the states of: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa,
Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and
For these Eastern State tract books, contact:
Eastern States Office, Bureau of Land
Department of the Interior
7450 Boston Boulevard
Springfield, VA 22153
Land patents are the legal documents that
transferred land ownership from the U.S. Government to individuals. Now
you can search for land patent records online, for both Eastern and
Western states. See the Bureau of Land Management's Land Patent Search
Please note that this includes only patented or
completed land entries. Those case files that were cancelled or
relinquished will not be there, and may contain just as much useful
information for the researcher. For this information, researchers will
need to access the tract books.
How Land Records Can Help You:
Land case entry files can contain a wealth of
genealogical and legal information. Depending upon the type and time
period of the land entry, the case file may yield only a few facts
already known to the researcher or it may present new insights about
ancestors, family history, title, and land use issues. For example, the
records may attest to the one's age, place of birth, citizenship,
military service, literacy, and economic status, and may even include
similar information about family members. But even the smallest case
files can establish locations of land ownership or settlement and dates
essential to utilize other resources at NARA, such as census, court, and
military service and pension records.
Submitted by C.