While land records are not an obvious source of family history, they can provide valuable clues to an ancestor’s wealth and status, militaryservice, migration patterns, family inheritances, and direct relationships.
Owning land was a good indication of an ancestor’swealth. Many immigrants came to America with the dream of achieving this goal.The more land an individual owned, the wealthier they could become. Withwealth, an increase in status generally followed. For many immigrants, thedream of owning land in their native countries was nonexistent. The middle and workingclasses, peasants, and the younger sons of land owners never had theopportunity to own land until they came to America. Land provided a level ofself-sufficiency and security many immigrants had never known. In contrast, thelack of land ownership can indicate an ancestor’s lower social classand wealth.
One way of earning land was through militaryservice. Between the years, 1775-1855, the United States government encouragedvolunteer enlistments and rewarded military service by granting land warrants.Soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, as well asseveral other military conflicts were eligible to receive land warrants. There are many different sources for discovering whether or not your ancestor receiveda military land grant. The first step is to determine if your ancestorserved in the military. With the availability of military pension records fromthe Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 on websites such as Fold3, it isbecoming easier to find a military ancestor.
During the nineteenth century, western expansionof the United States created more opportunities for land ownership. The HomesteadAct of 1862 allowed any adult citizen to claim 160 acres of land, provided theyremained on the land for five years. Many took the deal and moved west. Severalhomesteading acts followed: the Southern Homestead Act of 1866, theTimber Culture Act of 1873, and the Kincaid Amendment (1904). If your ancestormigrated west to states such as Kansas or Nebraska, perhaps they benefited fromone of these Homesteading Acts.
In some cases, the best part about using landrecords is finding evidence of familial relationships. Parents often deededland parcels to their children, or even to their grandchildren. Occasionally, agedparents gave away land before their deaths to avoid the probate process or as awedding gift when grown children were married. This would ensure that the landstayed in the family for future generations as well as keeping children (andgrandchildren) close by.
While Family Search has a wonderful collection ofland deeds online, not all states are available. Eventually, the collectionwill be expanded. Currently, over a third of the United States is not represented.Some states such as Indiana or Nebraska, which played a huge role in variousperiods of western expansion, military land grants and homesteading, are yet tobe digitized. The records are available only on microfilm or through localarchives. The states whose land records are available are not indexed and mustbe browsed individually. Luckily, Genealogists.com has a network ofprofessional genealogists and researchers who can track down land records andrelated documents wherever they may be found. What buried genealogical treasureis waiting for you in a land record?
by Deborah Sweeney © 2015, Genealogists.com, All rights reserved
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