Wednesday, May 14, 2014

One thing you need to know about the BLM records (okay, two things)

The Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records are a goldmine of information for anyone that does research in the Public Land states.  One thing you need to be aware of though is that these records only include the ORIGINAL land patents and land warrants.  These documents record the transfer of land owned by the federal government  to an individual.  If that individual then sold the property, that transaction would be recorded at the county level in a deed, not in the BLM records.

Some people get confused about this.  If you draw out a map of land patents you are looking at the original owners of the land.  That doesn’t mean that these people lived next to each other at the same time or for any length of time.  The federal lands were sold/warranted/homesteaded over a period of many years.  Also, much of this property was sold again or it changed hands in probate.   When you are looking at neighbors for possible familial connections you could make some false assumptions and end up going down the wrong research path.  Mapping out the original patents and then following up with a search of the county deeds will give you a much more accurate picture. 

There is another important thing you need to know.  The date that the patent was issued (the date you will find on the above website) does not tell you the whole story.  The patent could have been issued a long time after 1) the person started living on the land and/or 2) after the application was made. 

I am working on a case right now where a researcher assumed that a particular person didn’t migrate to Mississippi until 1849 when the land patent was issued.  When I received the land entry file from the National Archives it turns out that the first application was made in 1817.  Knowing when the person actually arrived in Mississippi is going to have a big impact on several assumptions and theories made about this man’s life.

I know I said that there are two things you need to know but there are actually three.  Looking at a single section, or even in a single Township/Range will mean you will miss out on possible connections.  Two pieces of land that sound like they aren’t close to each other could be adjoining.  For example, the following two sections in different ranges are right next to each other. 

T5N R13W Sec 13
T5N R12W Sec 18

These two parcels don’t look like they would be next to each other because of the section numbers but they are.

T5N R11W Sec 28 SW1/4 SW1/4
T5N R11W Sec 33 N1/2

I love mapping out parcels in the Public Land states but just knowing how to map them doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. One other thing is sometimes confused. The "warrant" was authorization for a surveyor to map out a specific parcel of land, or for a claimant to claim title to a parcel. Some of the Government Land Office patents were indeed issued under Warrants that were issued as Bounty Land Warrants for service in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, but these were small in numbers compared to the patents issued to settlers who simply bought land titles. And most military Bounty Land Warrants were not issued for land in States in which the Government Land Office was issuing the first-title patents.

    All Bounty Land Warrants were Warrants, but not all Warrants were issued for military-service Bounty Land.

    1. I have never seen the term warrant used outside of a military warrant.

      I know that there was land set aside specifically for bounty land but there were also plenty of warrants issued in states where the feds were issuing patents.

      And to add just a little more confusing, there are cash sales, credit sales and homesteads. So some people paid for their land with cash, some people were allowed to pay on credit (over 4 years I believe) and some got their land totally free.

  2. I, too, love working with land records. I like to enter the T,R, and Section without names to see the all original owners in an area. That's how I discovered that my GG-Grandfather, a Prussian immigrant, received land for his service in the Mexican War. When searching just on names you can miss entries due to variations in spelling, etc.
    I recently discovered the Original Survey images on the BLM site. In my home area, the ridges are indicated on these surveys and today's roads closely follow those original ridge lines!
    On another topic, the Family Maps series, while very helpful is misnamed. They should be called Original Land Owner Maps. I've seen too many people at the Archives wondering why they couldn't find their family, who they know owned land.

    1. Most of my BLM land records are in Mississippi. The Mississippi road department has maps of every county that also shows the township/range/sections so I can easily see EXACTLY where the land is located based on modern maps. I love it!

  3. That's a good idea, Nan - about entering the township, range, and section without names. I'm going to do that, too. Thanks!

    Very good article, Michele. Thank you.

  4. Property Tax Records: provides complete data about property tax including owner name, address, account number and more.

    Property Tax Records

  5. This is a PAID website. You can get this information from the county for FREE . It is public record. Many counties have their records online which makes it even easier.