If your ancestor “homesteaded” or was the first purchaser of land in the Public Domain (states not including Texas, Hawaii, and the 13 Colonies), the place to go for records is the Bureau of Land Management website. It is a super easy way to get the patent (deed) for free. From there you can chase down the Land Entry Files (everything in his application file) at the National Archives.
There are a number of exceptions to this rule, and one is if your ancestor purchased land designated as “Section 16″ or “Section 36″ within a township/range under the Public Domain Land. These lands are special in that they were designed to generate revenue for schools in each state. The land wasn’t necessarily set aside as the property upon which to build the school, but it was left to the local authority to dispose of and use the proceeds to build schools.
The Section 16 & 36 Records
Unlike the “normal” research route for typical Public Land records, the Section 16 & 36 records are found in a whole different manner mostly because they weren’t sold by the Federal government. They were sold – at least in Kansas – by the State of Kansas. Isn’t that an eye-opener? Therefore the records are stored on a local level and not with the Bureau of Land Management or the National Archives. As you might expect there are seller and purchaser records, and they aren’t in the same place.
The records your ancestor “touched,” such as the transfer ledger (an itemization of every owner of a single section over time), the deed book and deed index, the tract book (who initially purchased every piece of land in a section), and copy of the patent are stored and maintained at the county level, though the state archives may have copies. This makes sense because that’s where the purchaser did his business – at the county level.
I must say this has been the roadblock for me for months. If the Federal government didn’t sell the property, they wouldn’t have the application file or the equivalent to the Land Entry Files for this type of purchase. The logical source would be the “State.” But where in the state bureaucracy would you find this? Indeed most states have a lot of departments, and I’ve never heard of anything like “Department of Distributing Land to Homesteaders.”
But today I found the key I’ve been looking for to open this door. On the Kansas State Historical Society website (www.kshs.org), they have an enumeration of all of the state offices and a general description of the type and nature of the archives held for each department. Finding the pertinent department was as simple as reading all of the descriptions.
I found it. Would you believe there is a “State Land Office?” The State Land Office holds all of the records for any transfer of land from the state to an individual. Bingo! The description goes on to say “many of the records relate to the selling of school lands!!!” You can see the full description of the archive here. And where might that gold mine of records be? Of course, it’s in the State Auditor’s Office. Honestly, I would have NEVER guessed that one.
As excited as I am about this find, I don’t have the records in hand – yet. You see, the State Auditor’s Office files measure a mere 440 cubic feet. That’s one seriously large haystack. I suspect, based on further reading of the KSHS website, that the State Land Office records are a subset and may be devided by the Auditor’s term. I have an email into KSHS to find out how to crack this nut, but the long journey to this point seems to have made tremendous strides today.
The take away from this little narrative is a friendly “heads up,” should you be looking for the infamous Section 16 or Section 36 land records. Know that you’ll find the purchaser records on the county level and the seller records in of all places the State Auditor’s State Land Office (or similarly named department) at the state level.
As with all things, it’s easy to find when you know where to look.