Tag Archives: land records

Maps: Visualizing Your Ancestors – Land Descriptions

When working with ancestral land records, there are a few things you need to know in order to attempt to find your ancestors’ land on a map. In the United States there are two types of land surveying systems. They are known as the “state land states” which use the “metes and bounds” system, and the “public land states” or the “federal land states” which use the “rectangular” survey system.

The states that fall into the state land state category are those states created from the original thirteen colonies and Hawaii and Texas. (As a side note, Texas has its own land survey system because Texas was a country of its own before joining the U.S., with their own survey system already in place. See the Texas General Land Office for more information.) Those states are:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
The states in red in the map above are State Land States, plus Texas and Hawaii.

The land obtained by individuals for the first time usually was given by the colony or state. Records for those first land grants are kept at the state level, usually at a state archive, though the locations will depend on the state. Again, the state land states were surveyed using the “metes and bounds” survey system.

The Federal land states or “public land states” was land obtained by the federal government after independence. This means the rest of the United States. Primarily the land west beyond the Appalachian Mountains. After the Revolutionary War, land claimed in this western portion by state land states were ceded to the federal government. Additionally, the United States obtained land through various means such as the Louisiana Purchase, the War with Mexico (1846-1848), and so forth.

The land in the public land states would then be granted to individuals by the federal government. Those records are held at the national level, and many are digitized and available at the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office website. The land in the public land states were surveyed using the “rectangular” survey system.

Map from Bureau of Land Management. This map shows the Principle Meridians and Baselines used in the rectangular survey system.

When looking at a land description, you can usually determine quite quickly if you’re reading a metes and bounds or a rectangular survey. We will discuss the metes and bounds system next and the rectangular system after that.

Research in the Equality State: Land

Wyoming is a big state, with big counties. The state only has 23 counties, and they are all fairly large in size.

Map from U.S. Census Bureau, 2000.

When we moved to Wyoming in 1988, we lived in Big Horn County, right up near the Montana border, in a little town called Cowley. When I went off to attend the University of Wyoming, we lived in Laramie, which is in Albany county, not Laramie County. My husband was born in Cheyenne, which IS in Laramie County… confusing, I know.

The land in Wyoming was part of the Public Land system. This was land, once obtained by the federal government was then sold by cash sale or given to settlers through various programs such as the Homestead Act. Once the land was distributed by the federal government it became the property of the individual. You can find the first disposition of the land at the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office website.

When you search for documents at the BLM website, you can search by the “authority” or the act by which the land was distributed.

BLM Website with a zoom in on the Authorities by which land was distributed with Homestead highlighted.

There was a female homesteader in Albany County named Susan Baily. She obtained 160 acres in two sections.

BLM website entry for Susan L. Baily in Albany County.
BLM website entry for Susan L. Baily in Albany County showing the map.

There is a great site called HistoryGeo (requires subscription) that has a “First Landowners Project” where they have pulled all of the individuals listed in the BLM database and placed them on maps beside each other. This allows you to see the neighbors, at least at the time of obtaining the land from the federal government. Looking for Susan Baily in this project showed me that several members of the Baily family obtained land near each other in Albany County.

HistoryGeo, Baily Family Entries
HistoryGeo, Baily Family Entries, Jason D. Baily is Susan’s father.

Homestead records for ten states have been digitized and are available on Ancestry: Alaska, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming. At that database, I was able to locate Jason Bailey’s homestead packet.

Homestead Packet at Ancestry for Jason D. Baily

In those homestead packets you often find genealogically useful information such as “I am a Native born citizen of the United States over the age of twenty one year and the head of a family consisting of wife and three children.” And that the land “is grazing and hay land, of timber, a few trees.”

Homestead Packet at Ancestry for Jason D. Baily

Once the land is obtained by the individual, and then later sold, those transactions are handled by the counties. Many of their records have been microfilmed by FamilySearch. Or contact the county to obtain records.

I’ve created an Ancestry Family Tree for Susan Baily as I work on her project. You can view it here.

Building a Locality Guide: More on Records, Land

We started the process of building the section on Records in my locality guide system. Let’s look at that in more detail. My main record sections include:

  • Land and Property
  • Newspapers
  • Vital Records
  • Probate and Court
  • Published Sources
  • and Miscellaneous (anything unique to the area that doesn’t fit in the previous categories)

You may decide you prefer other categories. That’s ok. This is just how I typically think about a new (to me) area that I’m researching.

For the land and property section, I typically do a few things before I get started. First, is this a state land state or a federal land state? (If you don’t know what those are, state lands were first owned by the state, mostly the original colonies, whereas federal land or public land were first owned by the federal government. See this map.)

Second, I determine what government office holds the deeds. Usually they are at the local county courthouse. I’ll note that entity’s address, hours, phone number, and website. I’ll also note if they are located offsite or at another facility. Some courthouses have moved some of their older records to research rooms or storage rooms and you may have to make an appointment to see them. Those details are noted in my locality guide in this section.

Third, I scan through the Family History Library Catalog for the particular county I’m working in, and noting all of the films they have. I note the title, the dates covered, and the film number. If the film has been digitized, I will give a link directly to the collection. I’ll also note if the digitized collections are open or locked (meaning you have to view it at a Family History Center or library.)

Example from my Wood County, Ohio locality guide.

I have not updated this guide since April 2019, and so you may find that some of the collections that say “not digitized” might now be.

We will look at the newspapers section next time.

Beginning Principles: Important Records Part 2

Last week we looked at a few of the “basics” when it comes to records a beginning genealogist should be looking for and possibly a few things beginners don’t realize when they are first starting out. This week let’s explore a few of the more “advanced” records that can be located for your ancestors. These records are where you can really start to dig in to the details about individuals.

  • Land Records – Deeds primarily fall into this category for the beginning genealogist, though there are other types of land records to be found. If your ancestors were farmers, like mine were, you are most likely going to find deeds somewhere along the way. These are held at the county courthouse for the most part though these days, they are likely digitized at FamilySearch. Take a look through their catalog for your county to see if they are there. Deeds will tell you when an ancestor bought or sold land, how much land, for how much money, and more importantly where that land was located.
  • Probate Records – Estates and wills are especially helpful when they can be located because they will often spell out family groups and relationships. You may also get very detailed information about the stuff your ancestors owned such as furniture and occupational equipment. Again, these are typically found at a county courthouse, though many may be digitized at FamilySearch.
  • Military Records – Draft registration cards or ledgers, pension applications, enlistment records, compiled military service records, and more fall into this category. These kinds of records are available in a lot of places, but a good starting point website is Fold3.

After these kinds of records, you really start digging into the details. But those are probably not records a beginning genealogist is going to dig into right away so we will address some of that later in another series. Next we will talk about how to start focusing your research.

What I Don’t Know, Part 7: Dimick’s Land in Hardin County

Similar to what I demonstrated in the last post regarding the Scroggins family land, I did a similar search for the Dimick family in Hardin County. Jeduthan and his wife Mary purchased land from the Federal government and the transaction is recorded at the General Land Office website:

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Jeduthan’s land was purchased in 1834. He died in 1837. Mary’s land was purchased in 1838, a year after his death. If you examine where each parcel of land was located you might notice something interesting. The entries in this database tell you where the land was located with what looks like a secret code. Jeduthan’s land is described as: NE1/4 of the NW1/4 in Township 12 South, Range 8 East in Section 32. Mary’s land is described as: E1/2 of the SW1/4 in Township 29, Range 8 East in Section 29.

Every township is numbered in the same way, beginning from the upper right corner of the township, moving to the left (west), then down and across to the right (east) and so forth. Each township is 1 square mile and consists of 36 sections or 36 square miles. If you examine Jeduthan and Mary’s land purchases on a map, they line up more or less like this:

2014-03-31 06.20.12 pmOk, the above map is not to scale but I know that the land they purchased lined up and gave the family a large farm. How does their land location compare to the Scroggins family? Using the GLO site’s map feature and Photoshop, I layered the two maps to line them up:

2014-03-31 09.39.29 pmSanders Scroggins land is within the green square on the left of the screen and Jeduthan and Mary Dimick’s land is within the square on the right. The families lived fairly close to one another, possibly attended the same church, social gatherings, or perhaps did business in the town of Rosiclare or Elizabethtown.

Using land records puts the families in a time and place and in relation to each other. By doing this exercise, you can see how your ancestors may have interacted or maybe determine if you are even working with the correct ancestors. If they lived too far apart, it might be a case of mistaken identity. However with names like Sanders Scroggins and Jeduthan Dimick, I think I’ve got the right men.

In the next several posts I will follow these men in vital, military and other records that are available online.

What I Don’t Know, Part 6: Scroggins’ Land in Hardin County

After reviewing the census and getting at least a beginning framework for the families I’m researching, I like to turn to land records and maps. This allows me to put the people in a physical location, and in relation to each other.

Illinois is a public land state meaning their lands were surveyed using the rectangular system. For my search I used two online databases to help locate the Scroggins and Dimick families:

These two databases seem to index the same information, however, you may find that one site is easier to use than the other. The GLO site has the advantage of having maps and original documents attached to the entries. Regardless of which site you use, always use the information to locate your research subjects on a map.

Beginning with the GLO records I found several Scroggins entries in Hardin County, Illinois.

2014-03-31 02.41.06 pm
Sanders Scroggins bought land with two other men in 1851.

2014-03-31 02.40.52 pm
Many men with the surname “Scroggins” obtained land from the federal government, including Chatten Scroggins in 1825.

2014-03-31 02.44.48 pm
In 1855 Sanders Scroggins obtains more land.

The area in green is where Sanders Scroggins 1855 land is located. (This map can be obtained at the GLO database site.)

2014-03-31 02.57.27 pm
The land is located northwest of Elizabethtown and Rosiclare.

I won’t bore you with all of the maps for all of the land transactions described above, but take a look for yourself if you wish. The GLO database is a rich treasure chest of information. You can find the original land patents and maps showing their locations.

The Illinois State Archives has an index of their Public Domain Land Sales. When searching for “Scroggins” I found the following entries:

2014-03-31 03.01.46 pmOften a capitalized “S” can look like a capitalized “L” so I am willing to bet that all of those “Landers” Scroggins are really Sanders’ land purchases. The Illinois Archive does not have digitized copies of the originals, instead you will get a transcription.

The next post will discuss the Dimick family’s entries and how the two families relate to each other on a map.