Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records Online An Essential Web Site for Genealogical Research
By Carolyn L. Barkley
My post for October 22, 2008 discussed the importance of land records to genealogical research and briefly mentioned the website of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Because this site offers such a significant collection of original source documentation, it deserves a fuller exploration here as my latest installment in an occasional series of articles about major research websites. The BLM’s General Land Office (GLO) Records site provides “live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States… [and] image access to more than three million Federal land title records for Eastern Public Land States issued between 1820 and 1908.” In addition, the BLM is currently adding images of Military Land Warrants.
Federal land states are those in which land was initially controlled and dispersed by the United States government: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. These land records cover a wide variety of types of records including those for homesteads, military bounty lands, mining claims, and agricultural and timber management. Public lands were first granted to individuals in 1785, with the first land office opening as early as 1797. The government’s intent was to raise revenues to compensate for the costs of the Revolutionary War, grant lands (rather than financial payments) to soldiers, and sustain burgeoning migration to the west.
If you are unfamiliar with the federal township and range system, you will want to read Graphical Display of the Federal Township and Range System and Range Maps for Dummies before you begin to search. Additional background information can be found on the BLM site’s “Understanding Land Patents” and “Glossary.” A principal meridians and base lines map for public land surveys may be downloaded in pdf format.
The General Land Office records includes three separate sections:
- Federal Land Patents. These records are the richest source for genealogists, allowing you to associate a specific individual (a patentee, assignee, warrantee, widow, or heir) with a specific piece of land at a specific point in time. Please note that the states included do not include the original thirteen colonies, territories, and some other states. Select “search land patents” from the navigation bar at the top of the General Land Office Records page. If you wish to search land patents for a surname in a specific state and county, complete the information requested for the “basic search.” A drop down box will provide you with a list of the states available as well as the counties available within each state. You may also search across all counties within a state. If unsure of specific state information, however, choose the “standard search” option which will allow you to search for a surname either in a specific state or across all states at one time. Please note that the “all states” option is at the bottom of the state-name drop down box rather than at the top. I entered my standard “Barkley” and “Barclay” searches which yielded 18 pages (about 25 entries per page) of Barkley patents and 16 pages of Barclay patents. Digital images are available for all images except those printed in italics as they are not yet indexed. Certified copies of documents may be ordered online at a cost of $2.00 each.
I looked at two Barkley/Barclay entries:
David Barkley patented 39.75 acres in the “southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 23 in Township 6 north of Range 17 west.” This acreage represented all but a quarter acre of the 40 acres contained in a Bounty Land Warrant (#82038) for 40 acres originally granted under the Scrip Warrant Act of 28 September 1850 (9 Stat. 520) to Thomas Owens, a Private in Captain Padgett’s Company Florida Militia in the “Florida War.” The land was located in Holmes Co., Florida, and the transaction was handled by the Tallahassee Land Office. The assignment of this land to Barkley was dated 2 November 1854.
Charles Barclay received a patent from the Glasgow, Montana, Land Office for 320 acres in Roosevelt County in that state on 24 April 1914 under the authority of 20 May 1862 homestead legislation (12 Stat. 392) which secured “homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain.” Subsequent legislation in 1910 (36 Stat. 583) stated that there was reserved to “…the United States all coal in the lands so granted, and to it, or persons authorized by it, the right to prospect for, mine, and remove coal from the same..” The land description stated that the 320 acres were in 4 parcels, located in the “northwest quarter, the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter, the north half of the southeast quarter, and the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section twenty-eight in Township thirty north of Range fifty-eight east of the Montana Meridian…”
I also looked at a Barkley related entry:
James B[arkley] Yellowly, of North Carolina, received a patent on 27 February 1841 for 241.15 acres in Attala County, Mississippi, as a cash sale under legislation of 24 April 1820 (3 Stat. 566). The acreage was in 3 parcels, described as the “East half of the North East quarter, the West half of the North West quarter, and the East half of the South West quarter of Section nine, in Township twelve North of Range five East in the District of Lands subject to sale at Columbus, Mississippi…”
In each of these three examples, a digital image of the patent document was available and could be printed or saved to my computer. Printer friendly options allowed for quick printing of textual information.
2. Federal Survey Plats and Field Notes. These records represent the “official survey documentation used when land title was transferred (via a land patent) from the Federal government to individuals. For each survey, the plat illustrates the acreage used in the legal description of a tract of public land. A survey search requires that you have a legal land description. If you have located a patent through the federal land patent search (described above), complete the search screen by entering the state, county, township number and direction, range number and direction, and meridian information that you found on the patent. While you will probably want to search across “all types of surveys,” you may also choose a specific type of survey such as small holding claims, mineral surveys, homestead entry surveys, township surveys, etc. A successful search will allow you to view plat details, an image of the actual plat(s), and the applicable field notes (if available). If field notes are available for your survey, they may include names of settlers living in the area surveyed as well as descriptions of land details found at the time of the survey. Field note reports may be downloaded in pdf format.
When I searched for surveys for the David Barkley and the James B. Yellowly patents, I was able to locate plat images for original surveys and for subsequent surveys conducted at later dates. A plat image was not available for the Charles Barclay patent.
I also looked for all surveys available for Virginia and from the resulting list, I looked at at two dependent resurveys which are defined as “the retracement and reestablishment of the lines of the original survey to their true original positions according to the best available evidence to the positions of the original corners.” One survey dealt with a wetlands boundary at the Malvern Hill Unit of the Richmond National Battlefield Park in Henrico County; the second with a Dulles International Airport access road bordering the Wolf Trap Farm Park in Fairfax County.
Using the patent search and the survey search in combination with one another will provide you with the opportunity to find a specific patent document as well as the survey information and plats pertaining to the piece of property described in the patent.
3. Federal Land Status Records. Master title plats for Colorado, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota are recent additions to the BLM site. These plats are large scale “graphic illustrations of current Federal ownership, agency jurisdiction and rights reserved to the Federal government on private land within a township.” These files are quite large and unless you have a very specific research need, will be of less interest than the patent and survey search portions of the site.
I highly recommend the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records web site as a “favorite” for your browser. Be sure to check out the “General Research Links” section that provides links to individual state genweb projects, Bureau of Land Management state offices, state libraries and archives, historical societies, and state land offices. Users are invited to submit sites for various categories including the thirteen original colonies and the District of Columbia.
You may also wish to refer to Land and Property Research in the United States by E. Wade Hone (Ancestry 1997) and Dividing the Land: Early American Beginnings of Our Private Property Mosaic by Edward T. Price (University of Chicago, 1995). In addition, Clifford Neal Smith’s four-volume Federal Land Series (Clearfield, 1972, reprinted 2007) contains a “calendar of archival materials on the land patents issued by the United States Government, with subject, tract, and name indexes.”