Illinois Land and Property

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United States Gotoarrow.png U.S. Land and Property Gotoarrow.pngIllinois Gotoarrow.pngLand and Property

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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, it is 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, as well as often revealing 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.

Early Settlers

Cahokia monks mound HRoe 2008.jpg

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


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. (On 29 Family History Library films, beginning with film 1631827, FHL Collection 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.
  • 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. FHL Collection, book 973 R2ag 1994; 1832-1861 edition on films FHL Collection, films 899878-85. WorldCat entry. A combined index to the 1832-1861 edition is:
  • 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). The Family History Library has the alphabetical digests for 1789 to 1871:
  • United States Congress. House. Digested Summary and Alphabetical List of Private Claims Which Have Been Presented to the House of Representatives. 1873; reprint Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1970. (FHL Collection, films 899874-77.) WorldCat entry.
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,but the Family History Library holds copies of the series v. 1-28, FHL Collection, book 973 N2udt or film 1421059.

Federal Township Plats of Illinois

These hand drawn plats were made in preparation for the Federal government's sale of public lands and are available to view at the Illinois State Archives Federal Township Plats of Illinois on-line database.

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 10 entries including a consolidated index.

The Raymond H. Hammes Collection available at the Family History Library
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

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 (entries), homesteads, military bounty land warrants as well as granting other claims such as mining and timberland claims. Federal land purchases are contained in a case file held at the National Archives. In order to obtain the case file, a legal description of the land is needed which may be found in a deed, plat map, tract book, or patent books. To learn how to obtain this land description, see the wiki article under United States Land and Property - Federal Land - Obtaining a Legal Description of the Land.

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.

State Records

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 was created in 1984. Originally called the Public Domain Computer Conversion Project, it indexes the documents classified as "Record Groups 491 and 952" in the Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the State of Illinois. 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.  All volumes are available at the Illinois State Archives and accessible by name of purchaser or legal description through their website entitled Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sale Database. Volumes 661-716 are available at the Family History Library at FHL Collection, films 899766-782, with the land tract record index on fiche 6016848 (144 fiche).

Federal Records

The Bureau of Land Management and General Land Office (BLM-GLO) has an on line Land Patent Search which is an index to millions of ancestors in federal land patents from 1788 to the 1960s at the National Archives. Start with this index to get the information needed to obtain the applications for land patents which may be a rich source of genealogical information about a family. The same Internet site also provides access to images of patents for the eastern federal land states.

Case Files

The Case File is the accumulation of paperwork gathered during the federal land transactions when the land is transferred from the U.S. Government to private ownership. These files are kept 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, you may wish to read the article Locating the Land and it's Associated Records  at the United States Land and Property wiki page.

Helpful Publications

Shawneetown Land District Records 1814–1820. N.p., 1978. (Family History Library book 977.3 R2s, FHL Collection. 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.

War of 1812 Bounty Lands in Illinois. Thomson, Illinois: Heritage House, 1977. FHL Collection, book 977.3 R2w, film 1035624 Item 7, and on fiche 6051272. Indexed by Lowell M. Volkel, this was originally published as House Document 262, 26th Congress, 1st Session, 1840.

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 also 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.

The original records are filed in the county clerks’ or recorders’ offices or in IRAD depositories. Be aware that, 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 records and is continuing to microfilm deeds of other counties 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 Search under:




  • Michael P. Cozen, 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, c1991. FHL Collection, book 977.3 E73c. Lists maps by county, describes the maps and states where copies may be found.
  • 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." (quoted from To access information regarding the availability of county maps for sale, see the arphax.comweb site. Many of the books for Illinois counties are available in the Family History Library. To learn what is available in the Family History library catalog for a county being researched, use a place search under, Illinois- [county]-land-maps

Internet Resources

Illinois State Archives has a database of public domain land that is searchable by name and legal description.

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.