As a general rule, I like reference books. They are so full of good, helpful information waiting to be shared.
Land and Property Research in the United States by E. Wade Hone published by Ancestry, Inc. is one of my favorite genealogy reference guides. If you’re just embarking on land research or if you’ve done it for years, this is a terrific, easy-to-read book that explains terms, lays out the relevant history, outlines tons of references and repositories, and has very helpful maps that you’ll only find here.
Hone very wisely breaks down land research into five sections:
- Pre-US Land Possessions – Land originally owned by the Mexicans, French or Spanish then acquired by England or the United States
- State-Land States – The Colonies
- Federal-Land States – Often referred to as the Public Domain, these are all of the states not including the Colonies, Texas, or Hawaii.
- Individual Lands – The three above categories speak to distribution of land from government to individual. Individual land records are all about deeds or the transfer of land from one individual to another.
- Special Interest – The final category is about Native American lands and the transfer of land from sovereign nation to individual.
Within these sections he’ll explain things that are really critical to a genealogist’s understanding of land records. For example, he’ll explain “metes & bounds” the survey method used in the State-Land States. He describes the Rectangular Survey System, the survey method used in the Federal Land States. He details how the lands were acquired by the settlers, what legislative acts distributed what land to whom, and what records were generated in the process.
Further, he gives the reader clear, step by step strategies to pursue the research, a list of other pertinent reference guides, definitions of common terms you’ll find in land records, many lists of repositories, sample documents, and lots of maps, charts, and tables to make even the most complicated subject seem clear.
Bonus Information: Land Office Boundary Maps
If you’ve ventured into Federal or Public Domain record research you may have come across the “Land Office.” Maybe you wondered what this is. A Land Office is kind of like a modern title office. It is the location where an early settler took his receipt or authorization to purchase land – obtained from the federal government – and exchanged it for a patent or title. The land offices opened and closed in one giant wave across the Public Domain as lands opened for settlement and were eventually settled. So, if we were to map the land offices it would be a fluid map changing over time (not unlike they constantly changing nature of county boundaries over time).
So, you may wonder, why is it important to know the land office? If you want to order the land entry files (all the paperwork they submitted to purchase land under any of 3,000 Acts including the Homestead Act) for your ancestor you need to know the land office. Why? Because the records are filed by land office, and the clerk pulling the records needs to know which land office to search for your ancestor’s file.
Knowing the appropriate land office for the time period your ancestor was settling and/or buying land can be very tricky. UNLESS, unless you have access to Hone’s Land and Property Research in the United States book. He has maps of the land offices, by state, by period for every state in the public domain. In order to find the appropriate land office all you need to do turn to Appendix B, find the state, then the time period in question and ta da! You have your answer.
Here’s an example:
If your ancestor settled in Kansas between 1875 and 1881, to find the Land Office he used, just look for his location on the map. It’s super easy.
I can’t recommend Hone’s book enough. Land records are a staple in American genealogy research because few were lost, they date to the earliest settlers, and they are prevalent in almost every family’s history. Using this book should help open whole new worlds of research and answers to many family history questions.