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Land Records You May Have Missed

Public Domain States

Early on in my genealogical quest, I started using property records. They helped me determine when my ancestors settled in a place. They frequently gave me the name of a wife and sometimes the names and relationship of other members of the family.

First Land Patent
4 March 1788

A few years ago, my sister-in-law told me about BLM records. The Bureau of Land Management had begun posting the land patent records for what the BLM calls "Public Domain States." Some authors call these "federal land states" or "public land states."

I learned right away that there are some new terms to learn when working with these records. Fortunately, the BLM website has a glossary that is easy to use and understand.

Public Domain or federal land states are those states in which the United States government sold or granted property to individuals. All of the states except the original 13 colonies and the states created from them, Texas and Hawaii are federal land states.

What is a Land Patent?

A land patent is the granting of a piece of real estate (land) by a government to a private individual or business. The land patents were either sold at public auctions or granted to individuals for service to the government, sometimes in lieu of payment for that service. Many soldiers in the American Revolution were paid in this way.

The issuance of a land patent is the first step in the selling of a tract of land from one individual to another. Once the patent was issued, the patentee (the one who got the property from the government) was able to sell it to another individual.

Bureau of Land Management Records

The BLM has a website that allows you to search for land patents that have been granted to individuals.
On the BLM site you can look at and save images of the land patent documents. You can also in many cases find images of the original survey maps.

You can read about the history of the BLM in their extensive reference section, which includes the glossary mentioned above.

I Began My Search

I began searching for various ancestors on this site. Since most of my ancestors migrated to Texas in the late 1800s, I learned early on about federal land states and "state land states" (states whose lands were never part of the Public Domain.)

But when I began to look for my pre-Texas ancestors I found a number of records. Most of these are from Alabama and Missouri, but there are 30 states that were federal land states, so I had others to look through--Arkansas, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico and so on.

The ancestors I have found were the first purchasers of this property. I have discovered that some of them claimed their property before the federal government had actually opened up the land sales. Generally these certificates are called Pre-emption Certificates, meaning that they claimed the land by right of possession.

These were ancestors who in some cases had moved in amongst the Indians when the state was still a territory. Some of them purchased tracts of land that had not been sold at the initial auctions, sometimes many years after the sale.

The records I have found help me know just how early some of my ancestors moved into those areas. From this information I can search census and court records to help find their families and determine when they left an area or if they died there, which then can lead to probate records, where members of the family are identified.

I download the maps, when available, to help me pinpoint where my ancestor lived and who his neighbors were. Knowing the neighbors may help me identify other family connections.

What I Learned

I learned that not everyone purchased or received a land patent or grant.

I learned that some of the earliest land sale records in a county's deed books are the sale of these land patents almost immediately after purchase, before the land patent certificates were issued.

I learned that land speculators tried to purchase as much of the land as possible in the public auctions, even hiring "agents" to purchase for them.

I learned that the federal government tried to make sure that more people could become land owners by making the price cheap and by limiting how much land a single individual could purchase at one auction.

I learned that not all states are found on the BLM site. Only states known as "federal land" states have records posted there.

I learned that "state land" states issued their own grants or their grant process occurred before the American Revolution. These include the original 13 colonies and the five states created from them; Texas and Hawaii.

I learned that not all original survey maps can be found on this site.

I learned that I should keep checking back to see what records the BLM has imaged and posted to this site.

Whether you are new to genealogy or experienced, check out these tutorials.


Share your experiences with BLM Land Patents. Post a comment.

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