Using Land Records


Land records are valuable for genealogical research because they may provide evidence of where an ancestor lived or owned property, the length of residence, any movement in location, and the given name of the spouse.  Many times, when a man purchased land in a new area, the former county or state of residence would be mentioned in a deed. Old county’s deed books are another source for locating ancestors because they give clues on when land was sold. Land records also show family relationships in the case of father selling to a son, or a mother selling to her children before remarriage. Also, the names of adjacent landowners are important in genealogical research.  Families may have relatives living close to their homestead or neighbors that are familiar to you. 

Homestead Records are extremely detailed in nature. The process of obtaining a patent, or title resulted in detailed land records. These are called land-entry case files, which include the building of housing, wells, crops, cleared trees and fences. Some mention other family members who lived on the land. If the claimant died, the next of kin, a widow or heir, would be listed along with an explanation of the relationship to the claimant and the date of death of the claimant. Land entry files are located in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 

Land records have two indexes, the grantor index and the grantee index. The grantor index is an index of individuals who sold land, while the grantee index is an index of individuals who bought. These records can be found on the local level at county/parish courthouses in which the land transaction was held. Deeds, leases, and mortgages can also be found in the local clerk of court archives where the transaction occurred. 

Tract books give the legal description of a homestead. Many states possess microfilm copies of tract books related to their state. Tract books include the name of the claimant and the legal description of the public land claimed. Tract books are difficult to decipher. However, if the researcher has a copy of the homesteader’s patent or know the legal description of the land by township, range, or section, then it should be easier to find the land of the ancestor.

Bounty land records are another source of land records. Bounty land was given as payment for a service. Information found in bounty land records are:

  • Ancestor’s age
  • Ancestor’s birthplace
  • Residences
  • Place of enlistment
  • Length of service
  • Rank
  • Copies of wills
  • Pages from a family Bible
  • Dates of marriages and deaths
  • Letters from neighbors
  • Letters from family members

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