Federal land records from the United States Bureau of Land Management are one of those types of records that researchers sometimes overlook. BLM records utilized by genealogists usually were created during the process of transferring real estate from federal to private ownership. These claims, warrant applications, and the like are currently housed at the National Archives.
For the most part cash land sales usually don’t provide much in the way of genealogical information–just receipts. They may be helpful if your ancestor died before the title in the property could be transferred to him. Applications for federal land warrants (usually for pre-US Civil War service) were made based upon military service and are similar in content to pension applications. Homestead claims typically contain more information–the claimant may have had to prove his citizenship status in addition to “proving up” his claim.
Like most records, whether or not land records will be helpful depends on your specific problem and your ancestor. Generally speaking, ancestors who were urban dwellers tend not to appear in these records. Those who were not “early settlers” also tend to not appear in these records–although there are always exceptions. Images of United States federal land patents are searchable on Bureau of Land Management website. The issuance of a patent was the last step in the acquisition process. States with territory subject to Bureau of Land Management tend to be ones that were made US territories and states beginning with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
Six of my direct-line ancestors took part in the federal land acquisition process. It is always worth searching for these records, but your experience may vary depending upon your ancestor’s occupation, where they lived, and when they came to the United States.
- Focke Goldenstein–homestead in Dawson County, Nebraska, 1880s.
- John H. Ufkes–incomplete homestead claim in Franklin County, Nebraska, 1870s.
- William S. Newman–federal land purchase in Tipton County, Indiana, 1840s.
- Thomas J.Rampley–federal land purchase in Coshocton County, Ohio, 1810s.
- Augusta Newman–bounty land warrant–War of 1812 military service. His warrants were for two specific acreages. One was patented to his son. The other to someone whom Augusta sold the warrant.