Understanding the Process of Acquiring a Land Patent
When the United States government acquired land through purchases or treaties, these lands became public lands. The states established within these areas were referred to as public-land states. Subsequently, the US government sold this public land to private individuals or firms through land patents. To obtain a land patent, individuals had to apply for a specific parcel of land, and a survey was conducted to determine the boundaries of the parcel. Once the boundaries were established, the applicant either made a cash payment or provided proof of credit and received a receipt for the purchase.
After a waiting period, during which the applicant was required by law to improve the land, they could apply for a title to the parcel. The land office in the respective area would review the request and issue a title to the owner. Additionally, the owner had the option to request a copy of the land patent document.
Accessing Land Patents Digitally
The General Land Office (GLO) of the Bureau of Land Management has successfully digitized over 5 million land patents. These patents are now searchable on the GLO Records website at glorecords.blm.gov. The majority of these patents cover Eastern states such as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Florida. Some Western states are also included, but only after 1908. For pre-1908 patents in Western states, it is advisable to contact the BLM land office specific to that state. In case an online patent for Eastern public land states cannot be found, an Eastern States Patent Request form can be obtained here.
Extracting Valuable Information from Land Patents
Upon acquiring your ancestor’s land patent, it is crucial to note the information about the section, township, and range where the land was located. Land entry case files, which are available from the National Archives for a fee, may contain application materials, including correspondence, copies of receipts, and even marriage documents. Copies of the case file can be ordered online at archives.gov/forms.
Here are some key points to consider:
- The patent provides the name of the applicant and their place of residence at the time of the application.
- The location of the land office can assist in locating additional documents.
- The legal land description of the parcel being applied for is given in terms of quarter, section, township, and range. This information is useful for requesting the land entry case file and identifying the land on a plat map. When using a plat map, it is advisable to start with the largest area (range), followed by the township, section, and finally, the quarter or lot.
- This line confirms that the applicant is legally purchasing the specified lot or section.
- The patent serves as confirmation that the purchaser is the legitimate owner of the land and has the right to bequeath it to their heirs indefinitely.
- The execution date of the patent can assist in narrowing down the location of families in census and vital records around that time. However, it is important to note that the land patent might have been executed long after the ancestor filed the claim, due to GLO backlogs and waiting periods.
- The form is issued by the authority of the US President but is signed or initialled by the Commissioner of the General Land Office or a clerk.
Obtaining a land patent involves a systematic process that requires careful attention to detail. Utilizing online resources such as the digitized land patents on the GLO Records website can significantly simplify the search. Once acquired, these land patents offer valuable information about ancestors and their properties, potentially leading to a greater understanding of family history.
This article is a focused and informative guide for individuals interested in exploring their family’s connection to land patents. For further assistance and information, visit Garrity Traina, where our experts can provide comprehensive guidance on this topic.