Editor’s Note: In a recently revived two-part post by the late Carolyn Barkley, she discusses the importance of land records to genealogical research. In Part II of those posts there is brief mention of the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM website has a huge amount of original source information. Ms. Barkley wrote another post on utilizing the BLM site as an information goldmine. We have updated and edited her post as much as possible as the search functions she describes have changed. However, the information is still incredibly relevant and meaty, so we are presenting it in two parts. Part I, below, gives an introduction to the types of records you can find in the BLM’s General Land Office and an example of Federal Land Patents, one type of those records. Part II continues the discussion with the two other types of records that are most useful for genealogical research, Federal Survey Plats and Field Notes and Federal Land Status Records.
BLM – General Land Office
As mentioned in an earlier post on land records, the Bureau of Land Management website offers such a significant collection of original source documentation it deserves a fuller exploration. 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 may find it helpful to read Graphical Display of the Federal Township and Range System and Range Maps for Dummies before you begin to search. For a very quick overview with little explanation, see here for a graphical display of the federal township and range system. Additional background information can be found on the BLM site’s Understanding Land Patents and searching the Glossary section. A principal meridians and base lines map for public land surveys may be viewed online as well.
The General Land Office records includes four separate sections: Federal Land Patents, Federal Survey Plats and Field Notes, Federal Land Status Records and Control Documents Index Records. We will discuss the first type below, and the two additional types (Federal Survey Plats and Field Notes, Federal Land Status Records) that are most useful for genealogy in a later blog post.
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 Document” from the top navigation bar of the General Land Office Records page. This will bring you to a search page where you have access to all four record types. Select “Patents” on the left side navigation. If you wish to search land patents for a surname in a specific state and county, complete the information requested. 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, you can use wildcard options as discussed in this search guide, which I highly recommend reading before you get bogged down with any issues. 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 for a nominal fee.
To see how this section works, 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.
Image credit: A U.S. General Land Office land patent for 40 acres of land in Dixon, Illinois, dated September 1, 1845. It is signed on behalf of President James K. Polk by Col. J. Knox Walker, the President’s private secretary and nephew. By US General Land Office. (The Cooper Collection of Historical US Documents.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.