The Dusty Genealogist
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This Land Was Your Ancestors

I recently attended a meeting where the Registrar of Deeds was speaking. He is an elected official. I thought this was going to be more politically oriented. I was pleasantly surprised otherwise. When he introduced himself was the first and only time he mentioned he was an elected official. After that, he pointed out how passionate he was about his job and helping the people of his county. Now, you wouldn’t think a person could get to passionate about registering a deed. You either register a deed, or you don’t. The deed is either paid for, or not. Pretty matter-of-fact stuff.

This gentleman had gone above and beyond his appointed task. He was an explorer. He took the concept of “make local government more accountable to the community” to heart. He and his staff were determined to provide great services to his community. He ensured that all of his staff were public notaries; therefore, during any time of the day the office was open, someone was available to notarize whatever was needed, for a very small fee. That money was put in a special fund in the Registrar of Deeds office.

He took it upon himself to apply for a grant for the purpose of digitizing land grants from 1665 until 1715. Filling out any grant requires time, determination, accuracy, and patience. Generally, any grant will have many other applicants seeking the same grant money, so competition is fierce. As with grant money, the grant donor wants the receiver to have a stake in the success of the project; that usually means matching funds. The matching funds he used were the collection of the small notary fees he had in the special fund.

His project was based on the number and verity of public inquiries he had received for genealogical information. Apparently, his county was a wealth of genealogical and historical information. His genealogical clients were particularly interested in land grants.

Colonial land and property records can provide great insight into the men and women who received land grants. The concept that women could not have or hold property or financial wealth over the centuries is totally not true. Many women may not have had the temerity, determination, wherewithal, means, ability, money, or sheer grit to believe they could manage to hold on to what they had. But it wasn’t that they could not receive, own, and hold property and wealth. Often love or law got in her way.

Witness that the Salem Witch Trials mainly involved single or widowed women with wealth or property who died during a “witch trial” and then whose property became divided up among the men who had accused and tried her.

These colonial land and property records include land that originally belonged to England, Spain, Mexico, Russia, and France, which later became part of the U.S. After the United States was established, the lands that had been claimed by the colonies were ceded to the new federal government. The federal government then allowed the colonies to become states and to retain their land. These states were then in charge of re-granting their land or selling each colonial state’s land. The colonial states became known as state land states. Public domain land became available west of the Appalachian Mountains.

It is important to note that a sovereign nation must own land that belongs specifically to that nation, not the people of the nation. That is why the U.S. owns federal land. That is true of any sovereign nation on the planet.

Unfortunately, a Native American Indian tribe in California found that fact out the hard way. They decided that because their tribe was so small, the best thing they could do was to divide up their land and give a portion to each member of the tribe. They accomplished the land transfers. The next thing that happened was the U.S. notified the tribal council that they were no longer a sovereign nation.

Some of the land grants may also be referred to as land-entry, which is the final process that culminates from several documents used to apply for the land. This includes federal military bounty, land offered to U.S. military and/or their widows from the many wars and military actions in which the U.S. has been involved. The paperwork leading up to these land-entry efforts, to include colonial times, are included in a case file.

Certainly, any information you gain about your ancestors is worthwhile. There have been over 1,031,000,000 acres of public domain lands distributed to include lands that were sold very inexpensively to encourage settlement since 1785 to 1908 including in Florida, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

The National Archives ( had accumulated as much of this paperwork as possible. Of course, states and counties have legal land paperwork necessary to maintain their property records. Some of these case files are fascinating. Others are pretty straightforward. If you are interested in researching property records, the first step is to locate the land patent. The Bureau of Land Management set up a Land Patent search online for anyone named in a federal land patent or warrant from 1788 to the 1960s. The minimum information is the name of the person obtaining the land patent and the state in which you are searching.

The National Archives requires that you request copies of the land patent and case files in writing. You can, of course, visit the National Archives in Washington, DC, which is more fun in the fall or winter. It’s hot in DC in the spring and summer!

To obtain copies of land patents or case files, go to the National Archives website or the Bureau of Land Management- GLO website ( You will need the following information: name of the purchaser (pick an ancestor) and the state where the land was purchased. It is helpful to know the present day county (pick the ancestor’s residence) and the name of the land office (look up the Recorder of Deeds in that ancestor’s place of residence). There will be a question about the type of certificate (homestead, cash, bounty-land warrant, military, mining, timberland, etc.) and the certificate number or patent number.

The Family Search website offers a tutorial on searching land records and there are land site reference books available at many Family History Centers. My suggestion is to walk through the National Archives instructions, and when you reach a road block, call the National Archives. They are like very serious librarians, always ready, willing, and able to help you find what you are looking for.

Bio: I am a Certified Genealogist and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe that the hobby of genealogy is fun, exciting, and very satisfying. Through researching genealogy, you may add skills, meet new friends, and gain new respect for those who have gone before you. You may reach me via email at ‘’ with questions or comments. I thoroughly enjoy the hobby and hope that you will too. Print your photographs of family, don’t just leave them in cyberspace. If you insist on leaving your family pictures in cyberspace, label them and mail them to your email or other locations. Label your photos with a first and last name, an approximate date, and a possible location if known. Please look for a new book from this author to be released in 2018.


By Marjory Regan

A brief bio of Marjory Regan: I am a member of the Williams Mills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and a “Certified Genealogist’ Thank you for your questions, comments, problems and successes. Email me at I think genealogy is a fascinating hobby; I hope you will, too. Get Started. Do something small every day, it all add up. Label the photos! First & Last names and approximate date of the photo. Do it for an hour while watching TV.