How to Use Land Records for Ancestry Research

Use land records ancestry research.

What are land records?

One of the significant factors influencing individuals coming to America was the availability of land. There is a high likelihood that the individual or family you are researching can find inland records. It is estimated that by the mid-1800s, about ninety percent of all adult white males owned land in the United States.

Search Land Records for Historical Family Research. Introduction to finding and using land records when conducting individual and family historical research. Learn about the information found in land records, their value to researchers and terminology used in these records.

There are many types of land records that are created with land records which include—title abstracts, land purchases, grants, and more. Land records are typically kept from the earliest days in a settlement. These may be the only records available when other records are not. Land records will provide information on relationships between individuals, approximate relocation dates, and the financial state.

Information Found on Land Records

What information will you find in land records?

Use the land records to find death date and place; find residence; find names (and addresses) of descendants; learn details to search for land records; discover other places where the individual may have held property; discover relationships; get a feel for an individual’s economic standing; look for clues about an individual’s feelings toward family members; find clues to the deaths of other family members; sort out adoptions, guardianships, and other unclear relationships; learn names of stores and vendors frequented by an individual; and find an individual’s signature, occupation, citizenship, and marital status.

What type of land records will you find? The following is a brief overview of some of the land records you will find.

  • Deeds. Deed books will provide records of the ownership and transfer of property, usually real estate.
  • Bounty-land Warrants. The federal government provided bounty land for those who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Indian wars between 1775 and 1855. Bounty lands were offered as an incentive to serve and as a reward for service. Veterans or their heirs claimed bounty land. The federal government reserved tracts of land for this purpose. New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia also set aside tracts of bounty land for their Revolutionary War veterans. Look for Federal bounty land applications and warrants for the Revolutionary War online and on microfilm. They are available at the National Archives, its regional branches, and the library and online system.
  • Donation Land Records. In 1850, to lure settlers to the new western lands, the government gave lands to would-be settlers in Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington Territories. These land grants were known as donation lands. In order to claim this land and receive a patent, settlers were required to live on and improve and cultivate the land for four years. Unique to the donation lands were the limits placed on arrival time rather than the time of application. The young children who came with their families between 1850 and 1855 could claim their land when they became adults.
  • Homestead Records. In 1862, the first homestead law was enacted and was intended to encourage settlement in the west. As with the Donation Lands, the only requirement was to live on and improve the land through cultivation, and only a small filing fee was required. Although only an estimated 780,000 people received patents under the Homestead Law, two million applications were made, dispersing approximately 285 million acres.

What are some research insights for land records? Start by determining the time and place the individual and family might have owned property. Begin your search at the smallest jurisdictional level—usually the county (except in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, where town clerks have kept the records). First, look at the indexes. You will want to check both the grantor or direct (seller) and grantee or indirect (buyer) indexes for all possible entries of the individual you are searching for. Once you find them, copy the references, which you will use to look up land transitions in the appropriate books or volumes and page numbers. Review every detail when you find the transaction, including dates, names, relationships, and property descriptions. Make a handwritten photo or digital copy of the entire entry.

Other Records to Help in Ancestry Research

Where can I learn more about how to trace ancestry?

The following are important articles for learning about ancestry and historical research.

Where can I learn more about records to trace ancestry?

The following is an overview of 15 types of vital, government and historical records I have found constantly valuable in my individual, family, and narrative research. These records provide vital and biographical information on individuals and families. When I mastered researching these resources, I could quickly expand my research to other records to help me connect the pieces for writing narratives and other historical research.

For each record type, I have included what you will find, how to use the resource, and research insights for each record type. I would encourage you to use this article as a starting point from which you can search out and find other record tutorials guides and help to provide deeper insights.