Land Records

For many families, the solution to genealogical mysteries lies in a thorough study of land records. According to William Dollarhide in his article “Retracing the Trails of Your Ancestors Using Deed Records” published in the Genealogy Bulletin (Issue No. 25, Jan-Feb 1995), land records serve as a county-wide surname index to virtually every land owner in America since the early 1600s. Dollarhide goes on to state that since census records started in 1790, we have in the United States almost 200 years more information in land records. Besides that, we have a 90% chance of locating your ancestor in land records because nine out of ten families owned land before 1850. In England, land records go back to, for example, the “Domesday Books” which are property tax lists gathered by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Some Scandinavian land records go back as far as 950 A.D.

Land records are likely to be accurate and the record type most often recorded. No one wants to risk losing their land because of a faulty deed. Even if the courthouse in your area burned, you may find owners of land bringing in their deeds to be re-recorded so that a proper chain of title will exist.

Genealogical clues to names of wives and relatives, prior residences, and military service abound in land records. They can be used to separate men with the same name. Pinpointing the residence of your ancestor may help you find likely cemeteries, churches, schools, courthouses, etc. If your ancestor was an immigrant, he or she would have to be a naturalized citizen before they could own land in the United States. Land Entry Case Files held by the National Archives often have information on immigration and naturalization that can not be found any place else. This is a rich and rewarding file to request.

In this country, land may be obtained from a governmental authority, or transferred via a deed from person to person. Each type requires different research technique. Transferring ownership from a government to an individual creates many kinds of records. Among them are warrants, surveys, entries, patents, tract books, military bounty land requests, and homesteads. At the individual level, there are deeds and tax records associated with property.

Help Me! Check the Bureau of Land Management for purchases my ancestor made from the government.

Help Me! Compile a list of deeds from grantee/grantor indexes for my ancestor.

Help Me! Obtain copies of land records for my ancestor.

Help Me! Transcribe or abstract this land record.

Help Me! Find the definition of a term used in a land record.

Help Me! Find the address for a county recorder for deeds.

Help Me! Determine which county holds the land records for a particular time.

Help Me! Locate a town or landmark mentioned in a land record.

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.