The Importance of Land Records in Genealogical Research

 The value of the information found in land records to a genealogist is immeasurable. I have had many people tell me they do not bother with searching land records in their research. They do not believe there is any valuable information to be obtained from these documents, therefore they limit themselves and their research by missing this important research opportunity.

    You may be asking yourself, “What kind of information could possibly be found in land records?” The answers are numerous. Some documents contain names of parents, siblings, spouses, as well as neighbors. Neighbors may not seem that important in research but they could become the deciding factor in identifying the person you are researching. If you can connect these people to a document that is not in question (perhaps a census record) would verify the document is concerning the person you are seeking.

    There are numerous types of land records and it is important to distinguish what type of land record you need to search. Below we will go over five different types of land records that can be used in genealogical research.


a grant of land, usually 50 acres to a settler, given by certain colonies and companies in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Beginning in the Jamestown Colony in 1618, the headright system was established to solve the problem of labor shortages. The process to obtain a headright required the individual to obtain a patent for the land. The patent would then go to the local official such as the county court or governor to approve the qualifications of the applicant. After approval, the land was selected and surveyed. Once completed the land description was taken to the colony’s secretary who created the patent that was then approved by the governor.

    Only the head of house could apply for the headright but was awarded 50 acres per household member. This process was largely the reason for slavery in America, as each slave or indentured person that was living on the property was worth the headright of 50 acres. By 1699, after an influx of slaves, it was decided that a headright would only be granted to free individuals to slow the bringing of slaves to the colonies.


The federal government provided bounty land for those who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Indian wars between 1775 and 1855. It was first offered as an incentive to serve in the military and later as a reward for service.

This is part of a bounty land grant given to my ancestor for his service in the Revolutionary War. He received a total of 404 acres in Rowan County, North Carolina for his service as Captain under Colonel Polk’s 4th North Carolina Regiment. You will notice not only where his land is located as well as a map along with the names of his neighbors.

A land patent is a supreme title to land which was originally acquired within the United States of America by a treaty. It grants the rights to the described land under the treaty to the individual person named on the patent and to their heirs and their assigns forever.

    This is my ancestor Lawrence M Cottrell. We were always told he was from Arkansas but there were no vital records to prove this. His birth was during the Civil War and he was orphaned early on. All records found for him started in Oklahoma. I was on a mission to prove that he lived in Arkansas at one time. When all other research attempts proved futile, I decided that searching for land patents was my only hope. 

To my astonishment, I went to the Bureau of Land Management website and did a search for any Cottrell’s in Arkansas. Within minutes I had the proof I needed. That was when I realized the importance of searching land records. If not for this one record there would be no proof that he ever set foot in Arkansas.


A written instrument, which has been signed and delivered, by which one individual, the grantor, conveys title to real property to another individual, the grantee; a conveyance of land, tenements, or hereditaments, from one individual to another.

This is the most common land record for the past century. The purchase of property from one individual to another will list the names of the seller and purchaser as well as the plot of land that is being purchased. 


A surviving spouse’s right to receive a set portion of the deceased spouse’s estate — usually one-third to one-half. Dower (not to be confused with a dowry) refers to the portion to which a surviving wife is entitled, while curtesy refers to what a man may claim.

Found in Europe in earlier times, a dower is a portion of money set aside for the wife if her husband leaves her a widow. This is something that would have been agreed upon before the actual marriage but the husband and the parents of the bride. The dower would include a “Dowager House” and a monthly or annual allowance that no one could touch except the dowager or widow. 


Published by Green Briar Girl

For 13 years I was a single mother until I married my handsome husband. Fast forward five years and we have added 3 sons and a daughter to our household. With all those kids I rarely have time to myself but my love of writing will always find a way. I have written books in the past. My range of genres is from romance novels to nonfiction historical, poetry, and children's books. I am currently working on a mystery book that should be a very exciting read I hope! I also love genealogy and have created my own forms which I will post later for people to download to use. I hope you enjoy my writings and recipes that I plan on sharing with you here.

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