Looking Through Land Records
The purchase and sale of land is one of the most well documented sources you may find in your genealogy research. In the U.S., the sale of public land can be traced back to the beginnings of westward expansion and the passage of the Homestead Act. In many cases, you can even trace the ownership of land back to when America was first colonized and land grants were distributed to early settlers. After the American Revolutionary War, the newly formed U.S. government obtained ownership of all the land owned by Great Britain. People could obtain the patent to these lands by purchasing them from the government. Let’s take a look at how these records can prove helpful in your research.
What can these records tell me?
An interesting characteristic about land records is that they leave a trail genealogists can follow. These documents link not only the individual owner of the land, but also other individuals involved in the sale or transfer of land ownership. If the piece of land was inherited, you can find the names of the heirs listed on the deed. You may discover a deed naming your ancestor’s wife as a widow, finally giving you a name that has eluded you in your genealogical research. For example, In many cases, land was passed on within the same family, so you may find the names of several generations by tracing the change in ownership. Also, pay attention to the amount the land was purchased. If you notice a piece of land sold for $1 or gifted, it is likely that the owner and buyer were related.
By taking note of the date the deed was issued, you may be able to establish a time frame of how long your ancestors were living in on the property and perhaps even in that region. Records indicating the sale of their property may let you know when your family may have left the area.
Land records will also often include maps of the property, which plot neighboring land owners. Take a look at the neighbors; you may find they are related or other records linking to your ancestors.
Even if you don’t think your ancestors’ owned any land, it may be fruitful to look through these records anyway. It’s possible you may discover a record showing your ancestors rented land from someone else.
Where can I find land records?
Start by checking local court houses and county records. State and federal archives or online databases may also be helpful in finding these documents. You can also try the Bureau of Land Management, the official federal land records site, which holds millions of land patents, survey plats and field notes.
And don’t forget to record and share any information you may find with others on Geni!