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Military Records: Bounty Lands, Part 2

Complications abound when searching military bounty land warrants.


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See Military Records: Bounty Lands, Part 1 to get a broad overview of when and why land was distributed based on military service.

Based on an inventory of the number of bounty land warrants held in the National Archives, nearly 600,000 such warrants were issued following the Revolutionary War and up through 1855. There would have been at least one warrant application file created for each of these warrants—and it is the application file that genealogists need to obtain. Approved bounty land warrants establish proof of your ancestor's service in a particular war: Revolution, War of 1812, or the Mexican War. In addition, many of these applications were submitted by the heirs of the serviceman, so researchers may find a plethora of information on family members.

The normal procedure for obtaining copies of these applications is to submit National Archives Trust Form (NATF) 80 to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. With such a vast number of warrants issued, your chances of receiving the correct application file or files will depend on the information you submit. If you know the specific war, and the unit in which your ancestor served, you have a very good chance of coming up with copies of the records. But, if all you have is oral tradition and an ancestor with a common name, it will get more difficult. In the long run, an on-site search by you or an agent will produce the best results.

Complications abound when searching military bounty land warrants. In an effort to explain these complications, I am listing the following scenarios, one or more of which may fit your ancestor's profile:

No military bounty land records can be found for your ancestor, therefore he must not have served.

Not necessarily. Strange as it may seem, not all who served applied for land, nor did their heirs. In addition, congressional laws excluded some people from applying. Bounty land for service in the War of 1812 was initially limited to enlisted men age 18 to 45. If your ancestor was an officer, land was not given. If your ancestor was under age 18, or over age 45, he and/or his heirs also did not receive land until a special act of Congress passed in 1816. The "Abigail O'Flying Act of 1816" removed the age restrictions and also allowed enlisted personnel who were later promoted to officers to receive land. You probably won't find much about this rather important act on the Internet, but the story is quite interesting. Mrs. Abigail O'Flying and her husband were initially restricted from obtaining land because her husband was over 45 at the time of service, one of her son's was under age 18 at the time of service, and two of her sons who died serving their country in the War of 1812 had been promoted to officers shortly before their deaths. The facts of the case were brought before the 14th Congress and were presented to show the injustice of the original land bounty rules as they had been set down. A special act of Congress provided land to the O'Flyings and their heirs, which was preceded by the "Abigail O'Flying Act of 1816" which righted similar wrongs to others.

A bounty land warrant was issued for my ancestor in Ohio. That means he must have been there at one time even though I cannot find census data confirming this.

Not necessarily. Land warrants for those who served in the Revolutionary War were not actually issued until after 1788. The act that granted the land warrants also allowed the patents to be transferable. Land speculators pounced on the chance to acquire large tracts of land at low cost The warrants were often assigned to a new owner, who then filed the actual patent on the land. The warrant may have been signed on the back, transferring the warrant to another person, much the same way that we transfer title to cars or deeds to land nowadays. In his book History of Public Land Law Development, Paul Gates notes that less than one in ten serviceman actually used the land warrants they received.

The National Archives has found two files on my ancestor. I only need copies of one file, which will save me money.

Saving money may prevent you from learning many facts. First, one must consider fraudulent claims. There is more than one case on file where two disparate people or families filed applications. One case, noted in The Source, A Guidebook of American Genealogy by, outlines a case where a woman filed on behalf of her two children, the apparent heirs. Bounty land was granted. But, two months later, the man's mother filed as his heir and it was proven that on the supposed date of marriage in Mississippi in the first application, the subject soldier was hundreds of miles away in Maine. The first bounty land claim was cancelled.

Second, if there is more than one file, you may miss information on siblings, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. Some of the final land warrants weren't issued until the 1960s. (Yes, 1960s, not 1860s).

Part III of the series on Military Bounty Lands will address the Virginia Military District.

Other Articles in the Series:

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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