Land Records

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Collection Information

Land records provide two types of important evidence. First they often document family relationships. Second, they place individuals in a specific time and place, allowing you to sort people and families into neighborhoods and closely related groups. One of land records’ most important qualities is that they are sometimes the only records that distinguish one person of a common name from another. Bounty land warrants can alert you to your ancestor’s military service and can contain details about the military unit in which he served.

The right to own land was a great incentive for many of our ancestors to immigrate to the United States.

In the days before civil registration, the record of their acquisition of property in some cases can help link generations, as that property passed from one generation to the next.

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Search Tips

  • Look for clues in census records that might indicate land ownership. Censuses from 1850-1870 include questions about the value of real estate, and the 1910-1930 censuses asked about home ownership.
  • Your ancestor’s location in census records and the birthplaces of any children can suggest places where they may have owned land. For example, if your ancestors were born in Illinois, but their children were born in Indiana and Kansas, search for land purchase records for those three states. Use the birth dates and birth places of the children to suggest a possible range of land purchase years for each location.
  • A land record may contain important details about the landowner, so if you find a transcription or index entry for your family, look for the link to "Learn more" from the search results. Check the collection description for information on the location of the original records.
  • If your ancestor owned land in the U.S., you may be able to find the exact location in the U.S. County Land Ownership Atlases, 1864-1918 or Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000. Use "Browse" to select the state and county where your ancestor lived, then view the Table of Contents in the atlas to find the town you want