United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books - FamilySearch Historical Records

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United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-c. 1955
This article describes a collection of records at FamilySearch.org.
United States
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Location of the United States of America
Record Description
Record Type Land Tract Books
Collection years 1820-1955
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites
  • Form NATF-084 (pdf) used to order land entry case files from the National Archives.
Bureau of Land Improvement. Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, Washington D.C.

What is in This Collection?[edit | edit source]

This collection consists of 3,907 United States federal tract books containing the official record of each parcel of public land until it was transferred from federal to private ownership in 28 of the 30 federal land states between the years 1820 and c.1955. [1]

The collection described here does not include any tract books maintained by territorial, state, or county governments, even when the property they describe may partially overlap. Nor would federal tract books list land transactions between private citizens after obtaining the land from the federal government. Private transactions are between individuals cited in county land records such as deeds and plat maps. For further information about non-federal and county deeds and plat maps, see United States Land and Property.

Why they were created. These federal tract books show the federal government transactions and status of each parcel of surveyed public land. These books indicate who obtained the land, and include a legal description of the property and where the land is located. The type of transaction is also recorded such as cash entry, credit entry, homesteads, patents (deeds), timberland rights, or mineral rights granted by the federal government, and other conveyances of title such as Indian allotments, internal improvement grants (to states), military bounty land warrants, land grants from previous foreign governments, railroad grants, school grants, and swamp grants.[1]

Why genealogists use them. These tract books show details about when and where an ancestor first obtained land from the federal government. Tract books provide information to help find further federal (case files) and local land ownership records which sometimes hold clues about an ancestor's residence and family members. Also, after finding where an ancestor lived, a researcher can search for a variety of non-land records of the ancestor in that area. Tract books also can be used to find information about neighbors—people who sometimes turn out to be relatives. Tract books even show when an ancestor applied for federal land but failed to obtain it.

Tract books lead to case files. Tract books also help researchers find information to access over ten million land entry case files preserved at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC.[2] These case files show the application papers of each individual who attempted to obtain a private claim to some public land, whether they succeeded or not. Successful claims received a patent (original title) and are indexed in the BLM Land Patent Search 1820-1908 for all federal land states. Unsuccessful claims still have case files, and tract books are one of the best ways to find the information needed to obtain a case file from the two million otherwise unindexed land entry case files that were never finished, forfeited, rejected, or cancelled.[3]

Arrangement. Tract book volumes are organized by state, in some states by land offices, and then by township number and range number. Within each tract book volume, the land entries are in order by their legal land description[1][4] (section, township, and range); terms from the rectangular surveys used in the Public Land Survey System used for most parts of 30 federal land states. Typical tract books list the land entries for anywhere from one to 30 townships; about five townships per tract book seems to be the most common. Within most townships the order is usually by section number.

Each land entry in a tract book was recorded across two pages.[5] Each page set covers part or all of one township; tract books rarely have two different townships listed on the same page. The townships usually only change one range number or one township number at a time after several pages within a tract book volume listing several townships.

  • For a list of the townships (described with both a township number and a range number) and land offices included in this collection, see the Tract Books Coverage Table.
  • For a detailed list of this collection's contents by film number, see the FamilySearch Catalog entry:

Storage of the original tract books. The National Archives in Washington, DC has the original tract books for 16 western states. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Eastern State Office, 7450 Boston Blvd, Springfield, VA 22153 has custody of the tract books for the 12 eastern federal land states (AL, AR, FL, IL, IN, IA, LA, MI, MN, MS, OH, and WI).[6]

Image Visibility[edit | edit source]

Whenever possible FamilySearch makes images and indexes available for all users. However, rights to view these data are limited by contract and subject to change. Because of this there may be limitations on where and how images and indexes are available or who can see them. Please be aware some collections consist only of partial information indexed from the records and do not contain any images. For additional information about image restrictions see Restrictions for Viewing Images in FamilySearch Historical Record Collections.

To Browse This Collection[edit | edit source]

You can browse through images in this collection using the waypoints on the Collection Browse Page for United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-c.1955.

Coverage Table[edit | edit source]

What Can These Records Tell Me?[edit | edit source]

Information found in this collection may include:[7]

  • The name of purchaser
  • The description of the land
  • The date of transaction
  • By whom patented
  • The date of patent

Additional items of information included in the tract books are as follows: number of acres, date of sale, purchase price, land office, entry number, final Certificate of Purchase number, and notes on relinquishment and conversions.

Collection Content[edit | edit source]

Sample Images[edit | edit source]

How Do I Search the Collection?[edit | edit source]

To begin the search it is helpful to know:

  • The name of your ancestor who filed the claim, officially known as the entryman
  • The state where the land was located
  • The land description (Township (T), Range (R) and Section (S)) See Rectangular Surveys for an explanation of these terms
  • The volume covering the land entry
  • It is also helpful to know the Land Office where the claim was filed and the county the land is in

Search the Index[edit | edit source]

Search by name on the Collection Details Page.
  1. Fill in the search boxes in the Search Collection section with the information you know
  2. Click Search to show possible matches

View the Images[edit | edit source]

View images in this collection by visiting the Collection Browse Page:
  1. Select State
  2. Select Volume (land office location) to view the images

The Federal Tract Book collection, 1820 to 1955 is not well indexed, so you must browse the collection to find your ancestor. The more information you know of the land your ancestor owned, the less searching you will have to do:

  • Make a copy of the tract book Section that you found
  • Also copy the Sections around the one you found, many times family lived nearby
  • Write down the State, Volume, page, Land Office, Township, Range, and Section for each section you copy. This information is important, so write it down now on the same page as the section. Without this documentation, you might later have to do the search all over again

Sources which show the land description.

  • Land patent. If your family still has the patent (original title) for a piece of property, that patent will show the land description
  • BLM land patent search. The online index to eight million land patents 1820-1908 and military bounty land shows each entry's land description. However, this index does not include the two million case files which were never completed
  • Seven states index. The seven states index at the National Archives in Washington, DC, also gives each entry's land description. The index covers Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and Utah for pre-1908 case files both patented and unpatented[8]
  • Other indexes. Selected states may have indexed their own land records. Use Internet search engines like Google to find statewide land indexes that can be used to find legal land descriptions by section number, township number, and range number. For example, see the Nebraska 1860-1954 Tract Books Index

Determine which tract books to search. The following sources can help narrow the number of tract books to search.

  • Coverage table. Use the description of the townships and ranges covered in each tract book as described in the Tract Books Coverage Table to narrow down the volumes you will need to view to find an ancestor's land entry
  • Index. Or, if you have access to the National Archives in Washington, DC, use the Index to Tract Books, RG 49, MLR# UD2321,[9] to each state's tract books which allows researchers to identify the tract book number that covers the area in which they are interested[10]
  • Townships and ranges in each county. In addition, Appendix A in Land and Property Research in the United Stateslists each present-day federal land state and county together with its farthest north-, east-, south-, and west- township and range for that county, and the meridian(s) that applies.[11] This information can help you narrow down the number of tract books you will need to search
  • Land offices. Tract books for some states, such as Alabama and Ohio are organized by land office. Others are organized for the whole state. Appendix B" in Land and Property Research in the United States shows the varying land office boundaries in each state over many years[12]

How Do I Analyze the Results?[edit | edit source]

Compare each result from your search with what you know to determine if there is a match. This may require viewing multiple records or images. Keep track of your research in a research log.

What Do I Do Next?[edit | edit source]

I Found the Person I Was Looking For, What Now?[edit | edit source]

  • Add any new information to your records
  • Check the information you learn from the Tract Books and compare with the other information you know about your ancestor
  • Record any new genealogical information along with sources in the genealogy records of your family
  • Share the new information with members of your family
  • Add this new information into public records like Family Search, Family Tree
  • Use this new information to help find further records. For example:
  • Case files. Every entry in a tract book should have a corresponding case file. Use the tract book information to order copies of the land entry case files from the National Archives. For $50 the National Archives will copy a land entry case file if you properly complete form NATF-084 (pdf) and submit it. They prefer online orders but will accept mail orders. Instructions are on the form.
  • Other related files. Case files are usually only part of the iceberg. Patents, warrants, surveys, and newspaper notifications are among the kinds of records that may be found outside of case files. Look for extra land records at the federal, state, or county levels
  • Disposal of the property. Find out how your ancestor disposed of the property as a way of finding clues about possible relatives. For example, your ancestor may have sold or given land to his or her heirs before death, or the heirs may have sold the land after the individual died. For daughters, the names of their husbands are often provided. For sons, the given names of their wives may be included. Heirs may have sold their interest in the land to another heir even though the record may not indicate this
  • Nearby property transactions. Look for your ancestor acquiring, or disposing of nearby property. Also, look to see if the ancestor disposed of property at a previous residence before moving to this property
  • Neighboring people. Use tracts books, other land records, and censuses to find neighbors. Neighbors sometimes turn out to be relatives
  • Other non-land sources. Use the residence and names to locate other records in the area such as church and census records
  • Similar surnames. Search for records of people in the area who shared a similar surname. These may have been the couple’s parents, uncles, or other relatives. Your ancestor may have been an heir who sold inherited land that had belonged to parents or grandparents
  • Earlier or later time periods. Search the land records for years before and after an ancestor's land transaction. Families are sometimes part of a chain migration. In such cases one family moves into an area and some years later their old neighbors or relatives join them, or leave for another new home. Studying older and newer land records may help show this

I Can't Find the Person I'm Looking For, What Now?[edit | edit source]

  • Re-try the BLM Land Patent Search using variant spellings of the ancestor's name
  • Check for an index among the tract book volumes. Sometimes a separate index volume exists for all the tract books from the same land office
  • Hunt for the land records of relatives. Sometimes one ancestor would obtain land through the name of a relative, or even a neighbor
  • Look for county land records if an ancestor obtained land from an individual rather than from the federal government
  • Look for county land records showing an ancestor disposed of a parcel of land in order to learn where he or she first obtained the land from the federal government
  • Search alternative local record types like census, church records, cemeteries, court records, and tax records to find ancestor information

Research Helps[edit | edit source]

The following articles will help you in your research for your family in the United States.

FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Historical Records[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Digital Library[edit | edit source]

Known Issues[edit | edit source]

Click here for a list of known issues with this collection.

Citing This Collection[edit | edit source]

Citations help you keep track of places you have searched and sources you have found. Identifying your sources helps others find the records you used.

Collection Citation:
The citation for this collection can be found on the Collection Details Page in the section Citing this Collection.
Record Citation:
When looking at a record, the citation can be viewed by clicking the drop-down arrow next to Document Information.
Image Citation:
When looking at an image, the citation is found on the Information tab at the bottom left of the screen.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 E. Wade Hone, Land and Property Research in the United States (Salt Lake City, Utah : Ancestry Pub., c1997), 113. At various repositories (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 R27h.
  2. Kenneth Hawkins, Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office: Record Group 49, Reference Information Paper, 114 (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2009), 1. Internet version (pdf) At various repositories (WorldCat) FHL Ref Book 973 J53hrL
  3. Hone, 113-14.
  4. Hawkins, front inside cover, and page 6.
  5. Hawkins, 6.
  6. Hawkins, 4-5.
  7. Hawkins, 5-6.
  8. Hawkins, 3-4.
  9. Index to Tract Books, RG 49, MLR# UD2321, maps arranged by state. Copies of these maps are available for consultation in room G28 of the National Archives Building, Washington, DC, as cited in Hawkins, page 6.
  10. Hawkins, 4.
  11. Hone, 213-67.
  12. Hone, 269-497.