There are several good websites for finding early land records.  The Bureau of Land Management website is a great resource for Land Patents, Surveys Plats and Field Notes, Land Status Records (LSR), Control Document Index (CDI), Tract Books, and Land Catalog.  

For today, we will be talking about Land Patents.  Click on “Search Documents” and this is where you will enter the state you are interested in searching.  You do not have to fill in all the information. You can also select the county, township, range, median, and section number.  You can fill in the Last Name, First Name, and Middle Name.

For example, I am looking for land owned by my ancestor, Nathan Fortner.  I have found him in the 1830 St. Clair, Alabama census.

I click on “Search Patents” and this is the result.

Now that I see Nathan Fortner, I can click on “image” on the left of his name.  

This patent was issued to Nathan Fortner of Marengo County, Alabama.  This patent can be downloaded or printed by hovering over the black area at the top.  You can also order a certified copy.

You can click on “Related Documents” to see other documents related to this one.  This list will be documents that match the land description in the patent.

Click on “Patent Details” and you will see “Map” in the lower left hand corner of the screen.

Click the box next to map and you can see where this land is on the map of Alabama.

You can zoom in or zoom out depending on what your needs are.

Sometimes you will find interesting details in the land patent.

This patent shows that Nancy Fortner is the widow of Nathan Fortner.  It also shows that Nathan served as a private in Captain Craig’s Company, 2nd Regiment, Tennessee Militia, War of 1812.  One word of caution, and this applies to whatever records you are looking at, make sure that this is your relative. For example, my ancestor, Nathan Fortner lived in South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi.  All the Tennessee Militia in the War of 1812 were from counties in Tennessee. Since my ancestor did not live in Tennessee, he cannot be the Nathan Fortner that received a land patent for his service in the War of 1812.

Not every state will be on this website, but they have a list of resources for other states.

Another really good site for land records is  There you can find The First Landowners Project and The Antique Map Collection.  For this site, you will need a subscription. Click here for for subscription options.  

I really like their map view because you can see your relative and all the neighbors.

Click on the map pin on the left side of the screen and you get a pop-up menu showing the parcel details.

The two options at the bottom of this pop-up menu take you to the Bureau of Land Management website.  You can also view this on Google Maps. The U. S. Boundary History is a good feature.

Here you can see that this area belonged to the Native Americans in 1790, 1800, and 1810.  Alabama became a state in 1819, so for 1820 until today it is part of Jefferson County, Alabama.

You can also save to “My people”.

You can use the search box at the top of the page to find every place in the United States where someone with your surname was a first landowner.

Each circle contains a number that lets you know how many people with your surname are there.

To get the most out of this website, I suggest that you watch the how-to-videos found in the Support section.  There are many more things you can do at the website, for example, read their blog, look at antique maps, or chart your ancestors migration.  


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