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Archived Articles
Formerly published by

UsingLand Recordsin Genealogical Research - USA
Column published: 18 October 2006.
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Many of our ancestors owned land, and finding these records will help us trace them even further back in time. Land Recordscan provide information that is unavailable anywhere else. I was one of those individuals who did not want to bother with land records. At one time I felt they were dull and boring. After a good friend sat me down and rather bluntly explained to me that I was really missing the boat if I didn't start using land records, I came around. I will have to confess that she had used the gentle approach with me before and I hadn't paid any attention to her advice. Now I will have to admit that one of the lectures I enjoy doing most is the one onLand Recordsbecause I now realize their importance.

If you can, visit the area in which your ancestors lived. Go to the court house and find the office that houses the land records. They may be called by different names in different areas. Ask to see the books for land records. In most cases they will have indexes that are called the Grantee or Grantor indexes. If you are looking to see if your ancestor bought land look for them in the Grantee index. The entries will be alphabetically indexed by name. If you are looking to see if your ancestor sold land look in the Grantor's Index. When you have the information from the index you will want to ask to see the actual land deed.

The deeds are absolute gold mines of information. Don't be put off by the handwriting and terminology. You will find many answers to many of the questions that you may have had about the family. Get a photocopy of the deed so that you can read it in comfortable surroundings. Years later you may find yourself reading that deed again. Because you now recognize the significance of some of the names mentioned in the deed it may have an entirely different meaning to you.

If you are lucky enough to have ancestors in Eaton Co., Michigan you can still see the courthouse that was in use in 1845 when your ancestors may have gone there to conduct their business. I believe that Eaton Co. is the only county in the country that still has two original courthouses that are still maintained as well as the courthouse where they currently do their business. It is such a thrill to go into one of these old courthouses and know that your ancestors were there in that very same spot.

We have two types of land systems in use in the United States:
  • Meets and Bounds: Land in the original thirteen colonies, plus Maine, Vermont, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, West Virginia, and parts of Ohio were surveyed with the Metes and Bounds surveying system.

  • Rectangular Survey System: The Western United States uses the rectangular survey method. This is also true of Canada with a few added quirks. There are some exceptions to this rule, the most important one being certain parts of Texas and Ohio.
I particularly enjoy the quote by Will Rogers who said, "Buy land. They ain't making any more of the stuff." Our ancestors took him at his word and they did. We need to find those records.

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

Suggested reading:
  • BOOK - Bockstruck, Lloyd, Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants by State Governments, 1996
  • BOOK - Eichholz, Alice, Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • BOOK - Hatcher, Patricia Law, Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records, Betterway Books, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • BOOK - Hone, E. Wade, Land & Property Research in the United States, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Incorporated
  • BOOK - Ontario Land Registry Office Records: A Research Guide. By Fawne Stratford-Devai & Ruth Burkholder. Published by Global Heritage Press.Land Recordsare essential to understanding the history of Ontario and its peoples. The purpose of this guide is to explain the various types ofLand Recordsthat can be found in Local Land Registry Offices in Ontario, and to provide specific examples of where to locate the records and how to use them.
  • BOOK - Loyalists and Land Settlement in Nova Scotia. Compiled by Marion Gilroy under the direction of D. C. Harvey, Archivist (originally published 1937) The list of United Empire Loyalists who appear in this book, was compiled from the land papers in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia and checked with the land papers in the Department of Lands and Forests of the province. The general purpose of this publication was to collect in as compact a form as possible all the information that has survived on Loyalist settlements in Nova Scotia and to make this accessible to the descendants who are interested.

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