U.S. Land Records Class Handout
Guide to land and property records as a genealogical source for researching ancestors.
Courtesy of Jill Shoemaker, Riverton FamilySearch Library
- 1 VALUE OF LAND RECORDS
- 2 DEEDS
- 3 VALUE OF LAND DEEDS
- 4 COUNTY BOUNDARY CHANGES
- 5 SEARCHING DEED INDEXES
- 6 WHERE TO FIND LAND DEEDS
- 7 COLONIAL LAND GRANTS OR PATENTS
- 8 METES AND BOUNDS
- 9 HEADRIGHT GRANTS
- 10 STATE LAND GRANTS
- 11 LOCATING STATE LAND PATENTS
- 12 PUBLIC OR FEDERAL LAND STATES
- 13 LAND ORDINANCE OF 1785
- 14 MILITARY BOUNTY LAND GRANTS
- 15 PRIVATE LAND CLAIMS
- 16 RECTUANGULAR SURVEY SYSTEM
- 17 PUBLIC LAND ACTS
- 18 THE VALUE OF A PUBLIC DOMAIN LAND ENTRY
- 19 GENERAL LAND OFFICE AND NATIONAL ARCHIVES
- 20 TRACT BOOKS
- 21 TOWNSHIP PLAT MAPS AND LAND OWNERSHIP MAPS
- 22 SUMMARY
- 23 WHERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LAND RECORDS
- 24 Bibliograpy
VALUE OF LAND RECORDS[edit | edit source]
Land records are the earliest, largest, and most complete type of record in the United States beginning when the colonists settled the land to show legal proof of ownership. With the opportunity of expansion west of the colonial states and because of the rural nature of America before 1850, as many as 90% of men owned land, making the possibility of finding an ancestor in land records very high.
- Land records show where an individual lived and the time period he lived there and may include other information such as a person’s age, the name of a spouse or an heir, parents, other relatives, and neighbors.
- Land records may also show a location where a person lived previously, his occupation, if he had served in the military, or if he was a naturalized citizen.
- Land records can help separate individuals or families with the same surname.
- Information from land records will lead to other types of records to search, such as probate or court records, marriage records, military records, or immigration and naturalization records to learn more about your ancestor and his family.
- In the United States, land is acquired either from the government or from an individual. The first sale of land from the government to a person is called a grant. Thereafter, the sale of that land from person to person is recorded in a deed. This means land records can be found at different government levels, including federal, state, and county.
DEEDS[edit | edit source]
- A deed is a written legal document transferring ownership of property from one person to another person. Deeds are kept at the county level except for Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island, where deeds are recorded at the town level.
- Deeds are public records and exist from the date the county was formed. Many counties have transferred their deeds to microfilm or microfiche or have digitized them. Some counties and entire states have placed all or some of their land deeds online.
- Deeds were usually written up by a county clerk, a lawyer, a justice of the peace, or someone else familiar with the needed legalities of a deed. The person selling the land, his wife, and two witnesses needed to be present at the time the deed was written. It was the buyer’s responsibility to see that the deed was recorded and to pay the recording fee. The buyer kept the original deed and the clerk wrote a copy of the deed into the deed book. The clerk also added the land location to local plat maps.
- A deed follows a certain format. Knowing the basic parts of a deed helps to interpret what is being said in the deed. The parts of a deed include:
- The type of legal instrument it is (warranty deed, quit claim, mortgage, trust, tax sale, sheriff’s sale)
- The date of the sale (usually at the beginning and at the end of the deed)
- The date of recording (which may take place many years later, indicating a change, such as a death or a change of location of the property owner.)
- Names of the grantee (buyer) and the grantor (seller)
- The county and state of residence
- The amount of money for the sale
- The property description (which could be metes and bounds or township and range)
- The nature, conditions, and considerations (such as an acknowledgment that the seller has been paid; a statement that the property can be sold or inherited; a statement that the title on the land is valid; a recital clause stating how the seller got the land; a warranty clause that the seller will be liable to the buyer in case of later problems with the land)
- A dower release (which is an acknowledgment that the wife is letting the land be sold of her own free will) or a courtesy right (where a husband has agreed to the sale of the property)
- Signatures (copied into the deed book)
- Names of witnesses.
- Deed books can contain a variety of documents besides a warranty deed. Common documents are indentures, bills of sale, sale or manumission of slaves, mortgages, leases, liens, quitclaim deeds, deeds of gift, powers of attorney, adoptions, livestock brands, apprentice papers, tax lists, wills and other miscellaneous documents. Or these legal documents may be in related books found in the county recorder’s office such as mortgage books, lease books, delinquent tax books, etc.
- To learn the meaning of the many legal words used in deed and land records, see the vocabulary list at the end of this article or United States Land and Property - Land Terms and Definitions. Or do a Google search for a particular term used in the land record you are studying.
VALUE OF LAND DEEDS[edit | edit source]
Deeds can provide many clues about your ancestor and their family. An individual may have sold land to their children or siblings. A deed may show the distribution of land of a deceased parent to their children as an inheritance (check probate records, also). The sale of a piece of property may give the first name of the wife (look for marriage records). A deed may mention the previous county and state of residence or a new county or state of residence. Deeds often give the names of adjacent property owners, who might be parents, cousins, children, or family friends. A deed could show the settlement of a probate decree, a sale by court order, a separation between two individuals, or may mention different types of relationships. Many civil suits are found in deeds—over half of the lawsuits in America before 1850 had something to do with land (check court records). Federal land patents may also be found recorded in county deed books.
Take note about whether or not a landowner sold the same amount of acreage he originally purchased. If he sold more land than he purchased, he may have inherited some land or acquired land through marriage. If he purchased more land than he sold, find out what happened to the rest of the land. Look carefully at deeds of people with the same surnames in the county you are searching, as these people may be related.
COUNTY BOUNDARY CHANGES[edit | edit source]
County boundaries have changed over time from how they were originally created and an ancestor may have deeds recorded in two or three counties although he may have lived in the same location for many years. Looking at historical maps of the time period you are searching will help you know which county to search.
One helpful website is Map of US . Click on the state in which you are interested and then click on the years you want to see the county boundary.
Other resources are
- Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920, by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide
- The Handy Book for Genealogists by George B. Everton (1971 digital version available at FamilySearch.org)
- Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources, by Alice Eichholz and William Dollarhide; and
- The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves. The last two books are available at Ancestry.com.
SEARCHING DEED INDEXES[edit | edit source]
Indexes to deeds are often divided into a direct index (grantor/seller) or an indirect or reverse index (grantee/buyer) and indexes list the parties, the type of instrument (warranty deed, quit claim, trust, etc.), sometimes a brief description of the property, date (sale or recording), and the deed book and page number where the deed can be found. It is important to search both the grantee and grantor index, as much can be learned by looking at both the purchases and the sales.
If there was more than one person associated with a land transaction, the Latin words et al, which means “and others” and et ux which means “and wife” were used as an abbreviation by the clerk in entries in which there were more than one name as the grantors or grantees. It may be necessary to look for all family members (parents, siblings, spouses) in land record indexes in order to find all the land records of an ancestor.
Often in deed indexes, surnames are grouped together by the first letter of the last name and are not in strict alphabetical order after that. In some deed indexes, names are also indexed by the first letter of the first name. Also, when a clerk was listing names into the index, he may have run out of room on that page and would write a notation that a particular letter was continued on another page. Copy all information on each entry found for your ancestor, including the grantee and grantor and the date, deed book, and page number for every deed indexed so that you can find all their land transactions in the deed books.
WHERE TO FIND LAND DEEDS[edit | edit source]
To find online land records:[edit | edit source]
- For each state there is an Online Genealogy Records page. Check this first under the subtitle "Land and Property Records".
- Do a Google search by typing your county and state with the words “online land records” after the name of the state being searched.
- At Ancestry.com, search the entire land records category.
- Search for land records at USGenWeb.
To find land records at the Family History Library:[edit | edit source]
Look in the FamilySearch Catalog to find the microfilm number of the deed books and indexes of more than 1,500 county and town courthouses of the 3,144 counties and county-equivalents in the United States. The county and town land records are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under "Land and Property" of the county being researched or "Land and Property" of the town in the case of Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island.
For counties which have not been microfilmed or are not online:[edit | edit source]
Call or write the county clerk or recorder’s office to find the correct department that will tell you how to access the deed indexes and records for the particular county you are searching. You may have to physically visit the county recorder’s office to learn about the land you are researching.
COLONIAL LAND GRANTS OR PATENTS[edit | edit source]
During the colonial era of the United States, England, Spain, Mexico, Russia, France, and the Netherlands granted charters in the colonies, either to companies or to individual proprietors. The companies or proprietors then issued land grants or patents to settlers coming into their colonies.
In the land patent process,an application or a petition had to be made first. If the application was approved, a warrant (a certificate that authorized the petitioner to receive a certain amount of land) was issued to the individual. Then a survey was made of the land describing the exact location and boundaries of the land. When the survey was completed, a patent or final certificate was issued to the individual giving him title to the land and the new owner could sell or assign the land to someone else. The process was recorded at the Federal or state level.
METES AND BOUNDS[edit | edit source]
The early surveys in the colonies used the English metes and bounds system to describe a piece of land. In these surveys, physical features of the land—such as trees, rocks, fences, roads, hills, and creeks were used to describe the property's boundaries. Metes are the angles or corners of the property and bounds are the boundary lines of the property. The distances along or between these features were usually described in terms such as links (7.92 inches), poles, perches, or rods (16.5 feet), chains (66 feet), or furlongs (664 feet). Metes and bounds property descriptions were not always completely accurate and the geographical or physical features could change over time, sometimes causing land disputes.
Platting the land of your ancestor may be helpful in determining how the land fit with the property of others in the county with the same surname and how it fit with neighbors with differing surnames who may be related.
- To learn how to plat or draw the property boundaries yourself, see the article “Land Platting Made Easy” by Kimberly Powell.
- A free online deed platter is at Tools Genealogy Tools.
- A commercial deed platter is at Direct Line Software.
- A free brochure, Maps Can Help You Trace Your Family Tree: How to Use Maps in Genealogy, by the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey is available.
HEADRIGHT GRANTS[edit | edit source]
To increase the number of settlers, the English colonies encouraged headright grants, where an individual received a grant of 50 acres for bringing people over from England. The person whose passage had been paid would serve as an indentured servant for seven years, receiving his freedom, 50 acres of land, and a certain amount of money when the seven years were finished. The Spanish distributed headright grants of land in their colonies according to the ages and number of family members and the number of slaves.
STATE LAND GRANTS[edit | edit source]
After the Revolutionary War, the individual colonial states that had granted land under the direction of a foreign power retained the rights to their state’s land and continued to issue land grants or patents for land that had never been previously claimed. A few other states also retained the right to sell their own land. The 20 state land states are the thirteen original colonies (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia), and also Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia.
LOCATING STATE LAND PATENTS[edit | edit source]
Since land in the state land states was distributed by the colonial or state government, there is no nationwide database for these early land records. Original land patent records are found in the state archives or equivalent repositories. Many early land patents and grants are being digitized and placed online. Do a Google search for historical “land records,” or “land grants” with the name of the state being searched to learn what is available online or go to the FamilySearch Wiki state page to find the website for the state archives. States that have some early grants and patents online are Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Missouri, and Alabama.
PUBLIC OR FEDERAL LAND STATES[edit | edit source]
At the end of the Revolutionary War, the 1783 Treaty of Paris enlarged boundaries of the United States from the Great Lakes on the north to Florida on the south, and from the Atlantic Ocean on the east to the Mississippi River on the west. Also at this time, some land that had belonged to individual colonies was ceded to the new federal government. In later years the United States acquired Florida from Spain in 1821, Texas, which was annexed in 1845, Oregon Territory from the British in 1846, the western states from Mexico in 1848, and the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853. Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867 and Hawaii in 1898. Over one billion acres of this acquired land became known as the public domain.
The thirty new states created from the newly acquired Federal land are commonly called Public Domain States, Federal Land States, or Public Land States. The 30 Federal land states are: 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.
Over the years, more than 1,031,000,000 acres of the public domain have been transferred to private or state ownership through several acts enacted by Congress. An estimated 6½ to 7 million land titles have been granted to individuals and states. Later laws established local land offices to distribute the land who worked under the direction of the General Land Office (GLO) which is now known as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
LAND ORDINANCE OF 1785[edit | edit source]
The Land Ordinance of 1785 was the first of over 300 laws that started the sale of lands in the Public Land States in the United States and was applied to the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the northeastern part of Minnesota). The objective of the ordinance was to get the land settled quickly and to form new states. The first tracts surveyed would be drawn for military bounty land which had been promised in the Congressional Act of 1776, and certain lands were set aside for educational purposes before the remaining tracts would be offered for sale at public auction. The ordinance also resolved Indian claims to public land and private claims by settlers who had received grants from Spain, Mexico, or France. The ordinance created the rectangular survey system to easily identify the land, provided for the survey and sale of tracts of land no less than 640 acres, and began the cash-entry system for federal lands.
MILITARY BOUNTY LAND GRANTS[edit | edit source]
The Land Ordinance of 1785 applied the Congressional Act of 1776 which established guidelines for granting bounty land to those who had enlisted in the Continental Army to fight in the American Revolution. Later, bounty land was also granted to soldiers of the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, and the Mexican War (1846-1848). To receive bounty land, the veteran first had to apply for a warrant and show proof of military service. After a warrant was granted, the veteran could use the warrant to apply for a land patent or he could choose to sell the warrant to another individual. The land patent was the document which granted him ownership of the land.
A bounty land packet will provide details of military service, including the individual's rank, military unit and period of service and age and place of residence at the time of application. If the application was made by the surviving widow, it could include her age, place of residence, the date and place of marriage to the veteran, and her maiden name.
Online bounty land grants can be found at Fold3.com, Ancestry.com, and HeritageQuest.com for the Revolutionary War. Fold3.com is in the process of digitizing military bounty land grants for those who served in the War of 1812. Fold3.com has the bounty land grants for the Mormon Battalion (Mexican War). An online index for bounty land grants for the Mexican War is at FamilySearch.org. Bounty land applications and warrants for the Revolutionary War and some warrants for the War of 1812 have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library. Bounty land packets, including those not microfilmed, are available at the National Archives. Use NATF Form 85 ("Military Pension/Bounty Land Warrant Applications") available at www.archives.gov.
PRIVATE LAND CLAIMS[edit | edit source]
A Private Land Claim was allowed to individuals who could establish prior ownership or had titles previously granted by Spain, Mexico, or France or to request a land title in an unusual way such as direct petition to Congress. A Private Land Claim was filed either through the State Boards of Commissioners or through the Federal Boards of Commissioners.
Documents included in the process of a Private Land Claim included the individual’s existing titles, descriptive maps of the property being proven, testimonies of neighbors, and other papers. Private Land Claims can be found at individual state archives. Many of these claims have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library. Private Land Claims made through the Federal Boards of Commissioners will need to be ordered through the National Archives, using Form NATF 84 available at www.archives.gov.
RECTUANGULAR SURVEY SYSTEM[edit | edit source]
The rectangular survey system measures land with townships, ranges, and sections. This system of land description leaves no confusion as to the precise boundaries of a property. The township is identified by a meridian (imaginary line running north to south) and base line (a line running east and west) and is a unit of land containing 36 sections. Each section is one square mile in area and contains 640 acres. These sections are further subdivided into smaller pieces such as halves and quarters called aliquot parts. The 36 sections are numbered in a snake-like pattern starting in the upper right hand corner and leading to the bottom right hand corner. The simplest method of identifying a fractional section of land is to begin at the end of the land description and work backward to the beginning—Section number, then township number, and last range number.
PUBLIC LAND ACTS[edit | edit source]
Over 300 laws were passed to govern the sale of federal land. Some public land acts required documentation of irrigation, while others required the planting of trees. In some programs, marriage entitled the applicant to additional acreage or other benefits. Some acts limited land purchases to cash sales only, while other acts accepted credit. One of the most genealogical useful land acts was the Homestead Act of 1862, which required proof of citizenship and impacted thousands of families when approximately 285 million acres or about 1/8 of the entire United States was dispersed.
THE VALUE OF A PUBLIC DOMAIN LAND ENTRY[edit | edit source]
The title or patent is the final result of the process of acquiring land in a Public Domain State, but it is the qualification process to get the patent that yields the most genealogical useful information. The documents generated during the process are put together in “Land-entry Case Files” and are kept at the National Archives.
Some of the documents found in the land-entry case files could include a testimony of the claimant showing he had complied with the requirements of that particular act, a declaration of his intention to become a citizen of the United States, installment payments, a period of residency on the land, witnesses, date of purchase, property descriptions, or other residences. Cash entries are generally the least genealogical useful of the federally-generated record sources.
GENERAL LAND OFFICE AND NATIONAL ARCHIVES[edit | edit source]
Public Land Patents can be searched at the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records Automation website. The images of patents are available at this website, as well as the information needed to obtain the land-entry case files. The information needed to get the case file is the name of the purchaser, the state where the land was purchased, the name of the land office, the type of certificate (homestead, cash, bounty-land warrant, mining, timberland etc.), and the certificate number or patent number. Then go to the NARA website and click on “order now” using Form NATF 84. It is necessary to register in order to complete the order. There is a fee to get the case file.
One website showing an interactive township and range map is the Bureau of Land Management GeoCommunicator website. Click on “PLSS” under “Interactive Maps” and then click on the township icon to type in the information about the township and range you are interested in seeing on a map, or zoom into the township and range for which you are searching.
TRACT BOOKS[edit | edit source]
Tract books record the written legal descriptions of all the lots or sections within a township or given area and are the most complete index available for the first purchasers of all federal lands. Tract books of the Public Domain States are arranged by property description of sections, townships, and ranges, and not by the name of the purchaser. The Bureau of Land Management Tract Books for 1820 to 1908 is digitized and available at FamilySearch.org. See the wiki article, United States, Bureau of Land Management Tract Books Coverage Table - FamilySearch Historical Records to find how to search this collection, which includes the states of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Dakota Territory (North and South), Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
TOWNSHIP PLAT MAPS AND LAND OWNERSHIP MAPS[edit | edit source]
A civil or geographic township (city) should not be confused with a public land survey township. Geographic townships (or cities) are used often in census headings and gazetteers, and are usually defined by name (e.g. Silver Springs Township).
Township plat maps are surveys of the first purchases of federal lands and may include names of settlers, patentees, and claimants. Township plat maps are available online at Ancestry.com and on microfilm at the Family History Library and include the states of Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. The other state township plat maps are housed at the Bureau of Land Management. While township plat maps focus on congressional townships, land ownership maps focus on civil townships. Therefore, these maps cover both state land states and federal land states. Some are indexed, though most are not. Some illustrate only the names and approximate locations of residence, while others define exact locations. The Library of Congress houses more than 1,400 land ownership maps for at least portions of all states except Wyoming. The maps represent about 1/3 of the counties in the United States. They are dated mostly from 1840-1900. All maps have been put on microfiche and are available at the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Family History Library. Ancestry.com has land ownership maps from 1860-1918.
SUMMARY[edit | edit source]
It may take a lot of “digging” into land records to find the land your ancestor owned, but in doing so, you may find a treasure trove of information about your family.
WHERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LAND RECORDS[edit | edit source]
- FamilySearch Wiki: Go to States Land and Property and click on the many links found in the article to learn about grants, patents, bounty land warrants, land ownership maps, and tract books.
- The Learning Center at FamilySearch.org: "Sections, Ranges and Townships" by Roberta "Bobbi" King, and “Colonial Land” by Beth Foulk.
- Direct Line Software is a commercial website that sells a program to map deeds and also offers useful information about United States Deed Records.
- The General Land Office (GLO) provides an index to public domain patents and the information needed to obtain the land entry case files from the National Archives.
- National Archives Records Administration (NARA).
- Land articles by Kimberly Powell at About.com Guide: Bounty Land Warrants, Land Platting Made Easy, and U.S. Land Records Online: Land Grants, Patents, Homesteads & Plats Online.
Bibliograpy[edit | edit source]
- FamilySearch Wiki; United States Land and Property.
- The Source; A Guidebook to American Genealogy; Edited by Szucs & Luebking.
- The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy; Val D. Greenwood; Chapters 15, 16.
- Land & Property Research in the United States, E. Wade Hone.
- Taking the Mystery Out of Land Records, by Linda Haas Davenport.
U.S. RESEARCH – LAND RECORDS – TERMS AND DEFINITIONS[edit | edit source]
Acre: A unit of land area equal to 4,840 square yards (0.405 hectare).
Alien: To transfer (lands, title) to another.
Alienation: A transfer of title or property to another.br> Appraiser: One who estimates officially the worth or value or quality of things.
Appurtenances: Easements, rights of way, or agreements attached to land.
Assigns: Anyone acting on behalf of or in place of the owner.
Cash entry: The process of purchasing land from the federal government.
Chattel: A physical article of personal property.
Consideration: The money or other property used to purchase the land.
Convey: To transfer property from one person to another.
Courtesy: A husband agrees to the sale of the wife’s property.
Covenant: A promise to do or not do something
. Deed: A legal document that conveys the title to property; also a contract.
Dower: A wife's interest in her husband's property, inheritable at his death.
Enfeeoff: To invest with an estate held in fee.
Enfeoffment: Giving ownership in fee.
Escheat: The reversion of property to the state, or (in feudal law) to a lord, on the owner's dying without legal heirs.
Et. Al: And others.
Et. Ux: And spouse.
Fee simple: Ownership of land that can be inherited by any heirs.
Feoff: Heritable land held in return for service to a lord.
General Land Office: A division of the federal government charged with the distribution and management of public land. It is now known as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Grant: The first sale of land from the government to a person.
Grantee: An individual receiving interest in another person's property. A person to whom a grant or conveyance is made.
Grantor: An individual transferring his or her interest in property to another person. A person or institution that makes a grant or conveyance.
Headright grant: Public land given to the head of a household or to an individual who paid another person's passage to America. Headright grants were given to early colonists of America and to early citizens of Texas.
Heirs: A person legally entitled to the property or rank of another on that person's death.
Hereditament: Anything that can be inherited.
Homestead Act of 1862: A law passed by the United States Congress that gave free land to settlers who lived on and improved the land for five years or who purchased it within six months of filing a claim for it.
Improve/improvements: To make land more valuable by clearing and planting.
Indenture: A written agreement.
Incumbrance/encumbrance: A burden on a property, generally one that affects the ability to transfer title, or one which affects the condition of the property.
Land grant: A piece of land given or sold to an individual or institution by the government.
Land ownership map: A map that divides and identifies land according to who owns it. Also called a cadastral map.
Lease: A contract in which a person gives another person the use of and possession of some type of property for a stated time and stated fee.
Lien: A charge or claim upon someone's property as security for a debt.
Lot: A small tract or parcel of land in a village, town, or city.
Metes-and-bounds system: Metes/bounds/chain/link/rods/degrees: A method of surveying land that uses compass directions and distances from one boundary to another. It is also called courses and distances or an indiscriminate survey. This method was commonly used in the United States before 1785 and has been continued in the 20 State Land States.
. Military bounty land: Federal land given to people for their service in the military.
Mortgagee: One to whom property is mortgaged.
Mortgagor: One who mortgages property.
National Archives: The building in Washington, D.C., where the United States government keeps its records that are no longer in regular use; also the agency charged with maintaining and providing access to those records.
Northwest Ordinance of 1785: The law that established the rectangular survey system as the standard for determining the legal description of land. Parcel: A piece of land. A tract.
Patent: A certificate that conveys ownership of a piece of land from the government to a private institution or individual. Also called a final certificate or first-title deed.
Plat book: A compilation of plat maps.
Plat map: A map that gives the legal description of a piece of land by lot, street, and block numbers. It shows townships and the divisions within them.
Preemption law: A law passed by the United States Congress in 1841 to protect the rights of those who had settled and improved public land before they had obtained a legal title. It allowed the head of a family, including a widow, to make a claim and purchase that land from the government.
Private land claim: A claim on a piece of property that is now within the United States but that was previously owned by another country and was allegedly sold or given to an individual by the other government.
Public domain: Land and water owned and managed by federal or state governments.
Range: Imaginary lines set apart the width of a township, running north and south.
Rectangular survey system: A method for surveying land in which land is divided into townships that are six square miles in size. Each township is divided into 36 sections of 640 acres each. Each section is divided into tracts of various sizes. Land descriptions are based on the location of the lot within the section and township.
Section, land: A piece of land within a township that is 640 acres (1 square mile) in size.
Seized: Legally owning and possessing real property.
Survey: A written, legal description of the location and size of a piece of land; also the process used to create the description.
Title: The right to own land; also a certificate showing ownership of land.
Township: A piece of land that is six miles on each side. A township contains 36 square miles of land.
Tract: A piece of land.
Tract book: A book used to track the sale/purchase of an individual piece of property from the first transfer of the property from a government or sovereign to the current owner. Found most often in public domain states.
Warrant/Warranty: A land warrant instructs a state to issue land to someone.
Warrant to survey: A document authorizing.