GenToday-L Archive

Land Records

Every state has different practices that govern the form and recording of land deeds. Familiarize yourself with those type of records and the recording of those records for the state and time frame of your ancestors. There is help from the state archives, state libraries, genealogical libraries, and historical publications.

In early colonial transfers (1600's), there were applications, certificates, grants (patents), surveys (plats), and warrants, etc. Most of these are indexed and located in the state archives or Division of Land Records.

Later transfers (1700's) the land grants or patents are usually recorded in the counties and located at the state libraries or archives. Determine the state your ancestor was in, narrow down to the county, then find the establish date of that county and what counties it was established from. You may find some land that is in one state today, was in those days, a territory of another state or county.

Bounty land grants from the military was to reward service. Colonial legislatures gave land but these were mostly private acts passed to reward meritorious service to the colony. Some states did not grant land bounties. Those who got warrants from the federal government were not eligible for the state's. Some states allowed soldiers to take both federal and state land bounties. Some warrants were assignable, meaning the soldier could sell his warrant and not wait to take the land. The soldier or heirs had to apply for the warrant. The warrant applications are in Record Group 15 in the Military Service Records section in the downtown Washington building of the National Archives. In seeking various records related to a federal bounty-land warrant, you need to learn the warrant number, the acreage claimed and the act used.

Land deeds record transactions between private owners. They are recorded in most states at the county courthouse, the county clerk, county recorder or county register's office. However, there are exceptions, they may be at the state library or archives and not in the county offices. Another exception would be "independent cities". There were close to forty independent cities established in Virginia which were separate from the county they resided in. These cities had their own courthouses and record repositories. Some of these cities took over the county records and housed them in the city courthouse!

The procedure of recording was different from state to state. When Tennessee land passes by inheritance, without a will or probate action, there is no deed that records the transfer or gives the names of the heirs. If Tennessee land passes through a probated will, the will is recorded and acts as a deed. If no will, Tennessee land that passes through probate of the estate, then the probate is recorded. Now in Pennsylvania, if there is a will there is no recording. For early Virginia land, sometime the court record book may have will and probate records and sometime they are in the will book. This is often a source of frustration for the researcher.

Another source of land records are the state's tax lists. These lists show the taxpayer's name, acreage, value of land and tax. Sometimes these lists will give additional information concerning the location of the land. These tax lists are found in the state libraries or archives.

Land descriptions often vary also. Descriptions in hilly, wooded states frequently use metes and bounds measurements. These boundary lines describe names of bordering neighbors, and geographic features such as rocks, rivers, mountains, and roads, etc. Other descriptions are according to its position within a section in township and range.

Land records offer the possibility of finding genealogically data. They may be able to confirm father-son relationships, give names of the heirs or marriage data. The witness depositions at the end of some land deeds can give clues about an ancestor's death or their migration.

Sometime land records hold a surprise document that is recorded with the deeds, such as a assignment for Justice of the Peace; Power of Attorney; Affidavit of Possession or the name of a wife to release dower interests in the property.

As you can see there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from land records, so do not overlook this valuable resource in your quest for your ancestors.

Tip of the Month

Did you know that until the last century, a mother had no legal custody of her children, so the term "orphan" could mean only that the father was dead.

Another Tip

I want to encourage everyone that have someone that they can not locate look in nursing homes and personal care homes as well as state hospitals and state schools. I have seen numerous people that know they have family but do not know whwre this family is nor can they remember where they are. It breaks my heart to know that someone's 77 year old mother could be dying and she knows she has someone but they do not care to keep in touch or want to. They don't want to be worried. All people like this want is contact with family and to know they belong. Individuals do have a way of losing records like this, so remember this. (joe)


Seeking info: Joseph Davis died North Carolina 1790 md Goodrich co.,va. toGlaphery Cox/Cockes 16 sep 1759(both listed from st james northern parish, from the DOUGLAS EGISTERY) Who were their parents, place of birth, & siblings,

Looking for information on my grandparents, FERDINAND (FERD) WHITE born around 1875 in Natchez, Ms. or New Orleans, La. HANNAH (BONA OR ANNA) WALKER WHITE. Born in Natchez, Ms. around 1875-1881

Looking for the children of Benjamin SLOT (SLOAT) and Sarah DEMAREST who went from NJ to Conewago Settlement in PA then to KY c 1780. Their sons Samuel, Jacob, Benjamin, Peter & John changed the name to LOCKE. Some to IN.

BLOY, Richard, died 1773 Morningthorpe, Norfolk, "aged 65". Possibly born Mulbarton, Norfolk. Baptism/birth and connection to Morningthorpe sought. Neil Bloy

Additional Articles:

  • Help from Public Officials
  • Church Records
  • African-American Genealogy

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