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UMass Amherst Libraries


A guide to selected genealogical resources at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library.


Land records exist from the first permanent settlements in America. These records are among the best-preserved, largest, and most comprehensive genealogical record groups in the United States. Because land was inexpensive and readily available, 90% of adult free males were landowners before 1850.

Most land records consist of deeds and deed books. A deed is a legal document by which title to real property is transferred from one party to another. The deed establishes ownership; describes the property; lists the sellers (grantors), buyers (grantees), and their addresses; provides  witnesses' names (who may be family members or neighbors); lists heirs of inherited property; and notes the consideration (monetary or otherwise). Deeds offer important clues to family relationships and may be the only records in which a wife's name appears. Deeds place an individual in a particular locality at a specific time.

A deed book contains transcriptions of original deeds. Not all deeds concern the sale and purchase of real estate. Because slaves were once considered property, deed books may include records of the buying or trading of slaves. Deed books may also contain copies of indentures, cemetery lot sales, records of births, ownership of church pews, trust deeds (mortgages), powers of attorney, etc. In most states land records are kept at the county level.

Two basic divisions of the fifty states exist for land records. The original Thirteen Colonies plus Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Vermont are State Land States. These states initially retained the rights to ownership and distribution of their land. State Land States divided property in a town system of lots and used the metes and bounds surveying system, a method which relied on natural landmarks to describe the property.

The remaining thirty states are Public Domain or Public Land States. They were formed from the public domain - land originally acquired and owned by the federal government. These states used a grid system of townships and sections to establish and identify property.

Genealogical researchers should check this website's Tax Records section since tax records are also part of land records.

The W.E.B. Du Bois Library owns numerous and varied examples of land records.

Selective List of Materials in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library

American state papers. [Documents, legislative and executive, of the Congress of the United States. Selected and ed. under the authority of Congress.]
Call Number: Microprint 34-35
"An extraordinary mine of genealogical information for a period which antedates nearly all other available sources...regarding claims in areas where no census enumerator had ever ventured." Consists of thirty-eight volumes of important legislative and executive documents from the first fourteen Congresses from 1789-1838. Does not include House and Senate journals.

The more than 6,000 documents/publications which cover almost 80,000 land claims in early America are arranged in ten topical classes or series. Every volume contains an index, but those volume indexes are incomplete and unreliable.

Of particular interest are the eight volumes in Class VIII (Public Lands, 1789-1837) which contain references to approximately 50,000 individuals who obtained land from the federal government. These volumes cover refugees from Canada and Nova Scotia, military bounty lands, some Indian Nation agreements, and many denied applications. Public Lands Volume I references most Spanish land claims made prior to 1837.

Class IX (Claims, 1789-1823) pertains to claims against the government not directly related to Land/Land Claims.

Grassroots of America (Call Number: J 33 M3) is a more reliable and complete computerized every name index to Class VIII Public Lands and Class IX Claims. It lists the volume and page references for each name entry.

A second index, Part 1 of the Congressional Information Service (CIS) U.S. Serial Set Index (Call Number: Government Documents Z 1223 Z9 C65 1975) covers American State Papers and the 15th-34th Congresses, 1789-1857. There is a two-volume "Index of Subjects and Keywords" and a volume of "Finding lists" that includes "Private relief and related actions - Index of individuals and organizations." This "is an alphabetical index to names of persons and organizations cited [in publication titles] as recipients of proposed relief or related action."
Because the distinction between public and private actions is not always clear one should consult both CIS indexes. Lengthy lists of names appear under the heading "List" in the Subject/Keyword index volumes. Each of these indexes provides the ASP volume number. "Although the CIS index is not as comprehensive as Grassroots of America for individual names, it can lead to information in the other classes of the American State Papers...that is not contained in Classes VIII and IX."

Authentic list of all land lottery grants made to veterans of the Revolutionary War by the State of Georgia, taken from official State records in the Surveyor-General Department, housed in the Archives and Records Building
Call Number: F 290 G45
An alphabetical list which "includes all those veterans (2069 in number) who were 'fortunate drawers' in the Third (1820), Fifth (1827) and Sixth (1832) Land Lotteries."

Cavaliers and pioneers; abstracts of Virginia land patents and grants, 1623-1666 - Nugent, Nell Marion
Call Number: F 225 N842 1969
Gives "the full names of the grantees and patentees, the number of acres, locations and dates of settlement, names of relatives and relationships, and includes mention of wills, marriages, and other legal documents." Contains a name index.

Dividing the land: early American beginnings of our private property mosaic - Price, Edward T.
Call Number: H 31 C514 no. 238
A detailed study of the diverse land division and distribution patterns in the original thirteen colonies plus Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas.

Early Pennsylvania land records: minutes of the Board of Property of the Province of Pennsylvania
Call Number: F 148 P43 1976
Reprints Minute books "C" through "I" recorded by the Pennsylvania Land Office, 1685-1739. Originally issued as Pennsylvania Archives, Volume 19, Second Series. "In each case the history of the property on which the Board is asked to pass is given in detail, often providing a great deal of genealogical information about the family owning the land." Contains a surname only index.

Federal land series; a calendar of archival materials on the land patents issued by the United States Government, with subject, tract, and name indexes - Smith, Clifford Neal
Call Number: KF 5675 A73 S6
A calendar and index of early land grants, with emphasis on land patents, "the first transfers of title from governmental (mainly federal) entities to private persons - for land in states other than the thirteen original ones." Offers a means of precisely locating individuals in sparsely settled areas before the first decennial federal censuses were taken. The first federal land was available in Ohio.
Volume 1 (1788-1810) covers land offices and tracts for Ohio. Includes a calendar of the archival documents; Ohio tract maps; and name, subject, and tract indexes. Contains lists of "Connecticut Sufferers," those whose property was destroyed by British troops during the Revolutionary War and who, in turn, were compensated with land in the Connecticut Western Reserve of Ohio.
Volume 2 (1799-1835) lists federal bounty land warrants granted in the United States Military District of Ohio for military service in the American Revolution, plus warrants later exchanged for scrip. The USMD was the only place federal Revolutionary warrants could be used until 1830. Includes a calendar of archival material, name and tract indexes, and a USMD map.
Volume 3 (1810-1814) continues Volume 1. Covers land offices and tracts in Ohio, Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Offers a calendar of archival material; tract maps; and name, subject, and tract indexes.
Volume 4 (Parts 1 and 2) "summarizes and indexes land grants made by the Commonwealth of Virignia (not federal) to Virginia veterans of the American Revolution." Provides indexes by county, township, and watercourses; and summaries of land grant entries for the Virginia Military District of Ohio.

How to read old title deeds, XVI-XIX centuries - Cornwall, Julian
Call Number: KD 979.4 C6
Offers "a practical introduction to the reading of [British] title deeds of land belonging to the period approximately 1536-1845."

Index, The papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 - Butler, John P.
Call Number: Z 1238 B87 +
A comprehensive index covering all the Papers of the Continental Congress except for the Journals and two manuscript indexes (Reels 1-3 contain three separate alphabetical Card Indexes by name and subject. Nine Bound Manuscript Indexes appear on Reels 4-7). "All persons and all important places and subjects are indexed in one alphabetical sequence." Volume 5 contains a chronological list of the documents.
Where possible each entry includes a document description, date, name of the sender or originator, and reference to the exact location on the microfilm (Microfilm D 7).

Land & property research in the United States - Hone, E. Wade
Call Number: CS 49 H66 1997
"In America, land and property records apply to more people than any other type of written record." This volume offers an excellent, detailed overview of such records, including those of state-land-states, federal-land-states, and Native American lands. "The most comprehensive and useful review of land and property research for genealogists to date." Includes examples, maps, and an index.

Land ownership maps, a checklist of nineteenth century United States county maps in the Library of Congress
Call Number: Government Documents LC 5.2: L22
Lists the 1,449 United States county land ownership maps in the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. Provides an historical introduction to these maps and includes an index to county names, cartographers, surveyors, and publishers.
Massachusetts county maps are available in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library on Microfiche 168.

List of ancient deeds Series E (L.R. 14)/Exchequer, Office of Auditors of Land Revenue
Call Number: CD 1043 A23 v. 181
Arranged by deed number. Lists grantor, grantee, date, place or subject, and county.

The land records of America and their genealogical value - Kirkham, E. Kay
Call Number: HD 197 1964
Explains the genealogical importance of land records and describes types of land records and where they exist. Includes a glossary and examples of land records.

Maryland Revolutionary records; data obtained from 3,050 pension claims and bounty land applications, including 1,000 marriages of Maryland soldiers and a list of 1,200 proved services of soldiers and patriots of other states - Newman, Harry Wright
Call Number: F 185 N48 1967
Includes a "Brief Resume of Maryland Federal Bounty Land Warrants," an alphabetical list of names which includes the individual's rank, acreage received, date of issue, and warrant number.

Original patentees of land at Washington prior to 1700 - Gahn, Bessie Wilmarth Brown
Call Number: F 197 G25 1969
Contains a name index.

Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
Call Number: Microfilm D 7
Reproduces "Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention record group 360 in the National Archives." The 204 reels (known as Microfilm Publication M247) "contain numerous petitions, memorials, and reports regarding land matters."

The Penn patents in the forks of the Delaware - Chidsey, Andrew Dwight
Call Number: F 157 N7 C53
On March 4, 1681, King Charles II granted William Penn the charter for the Province of Pennsylvania, "a real estate development which staggers the imagination...35,000,000 acres." Volume contains nine maps with more than 580 names of the first and early settlers in the Forks of Delaware. Shows property outlines and names of adjacent owners. Includes an alphabetical list of names with map locations, descendants of William Penn, and The Penn title. "All of the territory covered was within the original limits of Northampton County."

Pennsylvania Archives
Call Number: F 146 P41
Third Series Volume I Minutes of the Board of Property and other references to Lands in Pennsylvania
Includes map and surname index.
Third Series Volumes II and III are not in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library.
Third Series Volume IV Draughts of the proprietary manors in the Province of Pennsylvania as preserved in the Land Department of the Commonwealth
Contains a list of 76 Proprietary Manors and draughts of some.
Third Series Volume VIII Commissions issued by the Province of Pennsylvania with offical proclamations
Includes Commissions issued by the Province of Pennsylvania with official proclamations
Reproduces patents issued to assorted individuals. Includes a name index.
Third Series Volume IX Commissions issued by the Province of Pennsylvania with official proclamations
Includes deed transfers and additional patents. Has a name index.
Third Series Volume XXV Warrantees of Land in the Several Counties of the State of Pennsylvania 1730-1898
Alphabetical list by name for each county. Includes the number of acres or lot number and the survey date.
Third Series Volume XXVI Warrantees of Land in the Several Counties of the State of Pennsylvania 1730-1898
same arrangement as Volume XXV. Also contains "Last purchase warrants."
Third Series Volume XXVII General Index to Volumes XI - XXVI
Third Series Volume XXVIII General Index to Volumes XI - XXVI
Third Series Volume XXIX General Index to Volumes XI - XXVI
Third Series Volume XXX General Index to Volumes XI - XXVI
Reff-Zylor, Index to maps, and Name index errata.

Research in the land entry files of the General Land Office: Record Group 49
Call Number: Government Documents AE 1.113:49
Overview of the General Land Office records available in the National Archives and Records Administration - land entry case files, tract books, and bounty land warrants.

Sixty million acres: American veterans and the public lands before the Civil War - Oberly, James Warren
Call Number: HD 240 O24 1990
In the 1840s and 1850s the United States government awarded more than a half million land warrants, mostly for 160 acres, to veterans of American wars.

The Territorial Papers of the United States - Carter, Clarence Edwin
Call Number: E 173 T4
"The Territorial Papers are similar to the American State Papers, containing minutes of the territorial matters presented before Congress. The records contain numerous petitions for a variety of issues...The petitions often include the names of the earliest land holders. They document individuals on federal lands before a designated office was established to record such arrangements. At times, the petitions provide detailed descriptions of the migrations of an entire group of individuals." "The Territorial Papers of the United States consist of the official records of those Federal territories which ultimately became States of the Union." Volumes II - XVIII each cover one or more geographic regions and contain a name, place, and subject index.

Warrants for lands in South Carolina, 1672-1711
Call Number: F 272 S69 1973
"Although the record ends in 1711, it is the most complete single guide to early land settlement." "The warrants alone are not a complete guide to those applying for land, although the majority of landholders came by their grants through the warrant-plat-grant system." The warrants "are an invaluable clue to the social history, genealogy, and elementary demography of early Carolina. Since land was commonly granted on the basis of immigrant headrights, warrants often gave the number in a family, together with their indentured servants, their Negroes, and the date of their arrival. Occupations and nationalities sometimes appear, and family relationships frequently are mentioned." Contains a name and subject index.

Westmoreland County - Crozier, William Armstrong
Call Number: F 232 W4 C7 1962
Offers a chronological list from 1653-1793 with name, date, and number of acres in this Virginia county. Contains a surname index.

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Search the Five College Catalog by Subject. Examples of subject searches:

  • Bounties, Military - United States - History - 19th century
  • Deeds - England
  • Land grants - Virginia
  • Land titles - Pennsylvania
  • Real property - United States
  • Separate property - United States - History
  • Military pensions - United States - Revolution, 1775-1783
  • Public lands - South Carolina
  • Public lands - United States - History - 19th century