Illinois Land and Property
The value of land records lies in the fact that land was highly sought after and the transactions were recorded from the time settlers began to arrive. Therefore,they are a consistent and continuous record of many ancestors' lives. Land records can be used to learn where and when an individual lived in certain areas, and often reveal useful and interesting family information.
Illinois was a “federal-land” state, where unclaimed land was surveyed, then granted or sold by the government through federal and state land offices. The first sale of a piece of land from the government was called a land patent and the first owner of the land was called a patentee. Later when the land was sold or mortgaged by private owners the document was called a deed. The transactions were recorded at the office of the county register of deeds. Family history researchers usually use land records from county offices. Records from federal and state offices can also have genealogical value. For detailed descriptions of land record types see United States Land and Property.
If you are new to land research, you may wish to read the Beginner’s corner and other articles included on the United States Land and Property page.
Before 1787, settlers in what is now Illinois lived in an area once controlled by France (1678-1763), Spain, Great Britain (1763-1778) or Virginia (1778-1784). Without moving, these settlers were in the Northwest Territory, Indiana Territory, Illinois Territory and finally the State of Illinois in 1818. “Throughout these periods, respective government agents registered land transactions. After the United States established its control over Illinois in 1784, the federal government eventually began a review process to determine the legitimacy of preexisting land claims. When examinations were completed in 1814, federal authorities had confirmed title to less than half of the claims presented to them.” (quoted from Illinois State Archives Genealogical Research Series Pamphlet No. 1 Land Sale Records)
Government Land Transfers
When the area that is now Illinois became part of the United States, a few prior land claims by early pioneers were settled in the courts, though most of the land was unclaimed. This unclaimed land became the public domain, was surveyed, divided into townships (36 square miles), range and section (one square mile within the township) and then sold through land offices. The first general land office to serve Illinois was at Kaskaskia, which opened for land sales to the general public in 1814.
Illinois is termed a Federal land state (public domain), and the government granted land through cash sales, homesteads, military bounty land warrants as well as granting other claims such as mining and timberland claims. Federal land purchases are contained in land entry case files held at the National Archives. Some of these files may contain valuable family information such as proof of citizenship, former residences, birthplaces and more. While not all files have pertinent information for the researcher, they are often worth obtaining. For further information regarding case files and how to order them, read the article Locating the Land and Its Associated Records. In order to obtain the case file, a legal description of the land is needed. Learn how to obtain the land description.
Both federal and state officials kept records regarding land transfers from government to private ownership, and personal information in the federal records may not be identical to information in the state records.
- 1800s – Present - Use the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land Patent Index to identify original Federal land transfer records including homestead, military warrants, and cash entry patents. These records help a researcher establish location and lead to National Archives’ records which may include genealogical information. Earlier land transfer records are at the National Archives.
- Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sale Database - An index to over 550,000 names of original land owners from sales records of the U.S. General Land Office, the Illinois Central Railroad, and Illinois officials. Search by name of purchaser or legal description. This index provides the name of the purchaser and record identification number; sale type (federal, military, Illinois Central RR, canal lands, or school lands); description of land by section, township, range, meridian and county; number of acres; and date of purchase.
- Indexes to land, pension, bounty land, and other claims presented to Congress from 1789 to 1909 are found in published summaries or digests (tables) at the National Archives and federal repository libraries (at major university libraries).
- Shawneetown Land District Records 1814–1820. N.p., 1978. This was transcribed and indexed by Lowell M. Volkel. Shawneetown land district covered the present counties of Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jefferson, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Saline, White, Williamson, and parts of nearby counties. Available at many libraries (WoldCat); FHL book 977.3 R2s.
- War of 1812 Bounty Lands in Illinois. Thomson, Illinois: Heritage House, 1977. Indexed by Lowell M. Volkel, this was originally published as House Document 262, 26th Congress, 1st Session, 1840. Available at many libraries (WorldCat); FHL film 1035624, Item 7; fiche 6051272; book 977.3 R2w.
American State Papers
At various times, early settlers and others made written claims to the government for lands. Those claims frequently included statements by relatives, heirs, neighbors, or friends and sometimes contained additional genealogical information. A land office was opened at Kaskaskia in 1804 for settling claims and land disputes. Records of these and other claims are in:
- United States. Congress. American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States. La Crosse, Wisconsin: Brookhaven Press, 1959. 38 Volumes. Classes 8 and 9 of these records deal with public lands and claims for the years 1789 to 1837, and may name siblings or heirs of original claimants. Available at many libraries (WorldCat); FHL Collection.
- United States Congress. American State Papers, Class 8: Public Lands; Class 9: Claims. Nine Volumes. 1832-1861. Reprint, Greenville, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1994. Many libraries (WorldCat); 1832-1861 edition, FHL film 899878 (first of 16 films); book 973 R2ag 1994
A combined index to the 1832-1861 edition is:
The Territorial Papers of the United States
An important source with historical information about persons involved in the settlement of Illinois from 1800 to 1818 is:
- United States. Department of State. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 26 volumes. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0721. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934–1962.
- - Volumes 2 and 3 pertain to The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, 1787–1803, which included present-day Illinois.
- - Volume 7 contains The Territory of Indiana, 1800–1810
- - Volumes 16 and 17 contain The Territory of Illinois, 1809–1818.
Each volume has an every-name index and contains thousands of names of residents in the area that is now Illinois. The volumes contain lists of residents, taxpayers, and petitioners, and information about persons associated with forts, land offices, Indian interpreters, express riders, and post offices. The original records are in the National Archives, M0721. The Family History Library holds copies of the series v. 1-28, FHL film 1421059 (first of 15 films); book 973 N2udt
Raymond H. Hammes Collection
The Raymond H. Hammes Collection, maintained at the Illinois State Archives, is an excellent collection of early land and other historical records from Kaskaskia in Randolph County and settlements along the Mississippi River, including the Cahokia settlement in St. Clair County, which at the time covered a large portion of present-day Illinois. Most of the Hammes collection has been microfilmed and is available at the Family History Library. The collection can be found as ten entries including a consolidated index.
|Consolidated index for collection 1678-1814||1790 -1797 Cahokia Record Book A|
|1671-1820 Cahokia books B and C||1807 Squatters|
|1720-1866 Illinois land transaction printouts||1807-1812 Land declarations and depositions|
|1722-1784 Land records||1813 Preemptions|
|1722-1812 Miscellaneous land records||1814-1816 Correspondence, Kaskaskia district|
Federal Township Plats of Illinois
- Illinois State Archives Federal Township Plats of Illinois (1804–1891)
- Illinois township plats for various years are available to view online at Internet Archive.
Individual Land Transfers
Once a parcel of land was transferred from the government to private ownership, it may have stayed in the family for generations or for only a few months. It may have been subdivided, sold and resold, with each transaction creating new records. These person-to-person transactions are an important resource to the genealogist. The potential for an ancestor to be recorded is high. These records may offer genealogical clues, such as the given name of the wife, a previous residence, names of children, or death information. Land records also offer clues to maiden names if a father deeded property to his daughter upon marriage. Witnesses and neighbors may be in-laws or relatives. It is important to trace the purchase and sale (or the acquisition and disposition) of each parcel of land an ancestor owned.
It is usually best to start a property search at the county level. Links to county pages appear below. The original records are filed in the county clerks’ or recorders’ offices or in IRAD depositories. As new counties were formed and boundaries changed, transactions were then recorded in the new county, while the parent county retained the records previously created. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of most of the county land and property records up to about the year 1900. Contact the county clerk or recorder for records that have not been microfilmed. Land records can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place-name Search for the county.
- Michael P. Conzen, James R. Akerman, David T. Thackery. Illinois County Landownership Map and Atlas Bibliography and Union List. Springfield Illinois: Illinois Cooperative Collection Management Coordinating Committee, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, 1991. Lists maps by county, describes the maps, and states where copies may be found. Available at many libraries (WorldCat); FHL book 977.3 E73c.
- Boyd, Gregory A. Family Maps series of Land Patent Books published by Arphax Publishing. The Family Maps books contain maps for original settlers whose purchases are indexed in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management database. To to the Arphax website to determine the availability of county maps for sale and to search if an ancestor is listed in the book of interest. Many of the books for Illinois counties are available in the Family History Library.
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land Patent Index to the records of the General Land Office.
- Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sale Database is searchable by name and legal description.
- Illinois State Archives has a database of public domain land
- Illinois Land Records and Deeds Directory lists counties with contact information for the county clerks or recorders of deeds. Also has links to some county indexes and land records.
- Illinois County Boundary Maps shows maps for various years from 1790 to 1859.
- Linkpendium links for Illinois Land Records. Also see their links under "Slaves, slave owners, and slavery in general."
- Ancestry databases related to Illinois Tax Criminal, Land, and Wills ($)
- Additional resources for Illinois land and property may be found in the Illinois–Land and Property topic page of the Family History Library catalog (FHLC). Copies of records on FHL microfilm and microfiche can be ordered for viewing at FamilySearch Centers. Also find Illinois Land and Property resources available at other libraries (WorldCat). Explore how to search WorldCat and the FHLC.