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There are two types of land survey which vary chiefly by the part of country in which you are located.

1. Along the Atlantic coastal states land surveys were at one time strictly by metes and bounds. Thus you will see: "Beginning at an oak tree in the bank of X creek, proceed North by East 27 degrees for 16 chains, 6 links, to a large stone; thence ......" This entire system derived from the fact that people moved into the frontier and claimed land, marked by natural boundaries, which were later surveyed.

2. The other system is based on the Geodetic Survey and makes use of the latitude and longitude lines. This was in existence by the time US land grants were being made (but not the British).

a. This system breaks down the area into squares within squares. The largest square after latitude and longitude is located by Range (East or West from a Meridian) and Township which are North or South of a line).

b. Each of these squares is broken down into sections, numbered in a prescribed order.

c. Each Section is one square mile.

d. Now divide each Section into four equal parts with a + at the center. Label these NE, SE, SW & NW.

e. Now divide each 1/4 into four equal parts the same way. Each will contain 40 acres. Now lets describe the 40 acres in the NE corner of the section: "NE 1/4 of the NE 1/4, Section 16, Range 2 West, Township 3 North." A larger plot might be described as: "N 1/2 of the NE 1/4......" or "SE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 and NW 1/4 of SE 1/4 of...." Multiple 1/4's are each described before naming the section.

f. This is not to say that a surveyor might not at times follow other lines but he was required to orient the plot by this system, and his starting point will always be one of the corners in the system. In many parts of the country the four major corners of the section are marked with a concrete marker, properly labeled.

g. Fortunately most of the US now uses this system. This also explains why most of the lesser roads in a community run N-S or E-W with square corners. The other side is that they did not have as many hills and streams to go around.

With a deed and a topographical map, using the 2nd system you can walk directly to the spot described. (In the former, you get into all kinds of platting, and hope with enough research and knowledge of the neighbors, you can find it.)

One problem is that the deed maker did not always spell out all the words. Thus it helps if you know what he was abbreviating. Any good topographical map dealer can help you get on the right map and point you to the section.

Long Measure - 1 mile......80 chains/ 320 rods/ 5,250 feet

1 chain....4 rods or perches/ 66 feet/22 yards/100 links

1 rod.......varies from 5 1/2 yards to 8 yds./16.5 feet/ 25 links . May also be used to describe an area equal to 1/4 of an acre.

1 link.......7.92 in./ 25 links in a rod/ 100 links or 4 yds. in a chain/ 0.66 feet

1 pole.....16.5 feet.

1 perch...16.5 feet/5.5 yds/1 rod. It is sometimes called a "pole" or a "rod".

1 sq mile......640 acres/ regular section

1 mile..........5280 ft./ 80 chains/320 rods or 8 furlongs

1 acre..........10 sq. chains/ 160 sq. rods/ 43,560 sq. ft

1 sq. rod......30 1/4 sq. yds/ 272 1/4 sq ft.

1 sq. ft.........144 sq inches

1 furlong.......660 ft./220 yds/10 chains/

1 square chain...16 square rods/ 1/10 of an acre

Bounty-land warrants, which entitled their holders to free land in the public domain, were given to veterans or their survivors for wartime service performed between 1775 and 3 March 1855. Bounty-land warrant application files, which provide evidence of military service, are part of Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration.

Since most bounty-land warrants were transferable, an approved bounty-land warrant application is not evidence of land ownership. Bounty-land warrants surrendered for land in the public domain, usually by someone other than the veteran who applied for the warrant, document ownership of land at a given time and place. These surrendered warrants are part of Record Group 49, Records of the General Land Office.

A bounty-land warrant application is especially valuable in an instance where the veteran or his widow did not apply for a pension. Not all Revolutionary War veterans and widows met the qualifications for pensions during their lifetimes, and some who did qualify did not apply. Since there was no need requirement for bounty land, many of these veterans and widow did apply for bounty-land warrants.

In addition to his rank, military unit, and period of service, a bounty-land warrant application by a Revolutionary War veteran will give his age and place of residence at the time of the application. An application by a widow will normally give, in addition to her age and place of residence, the date and place of her marriage to him, and her maiden name. An application by a survivor may list all of the veteran's heirs at law.

In 1776, the Continental Congress promised land to officers and soldiers who engaged in military service and served until the end of the Revolutionary War or until discharged and to the survivors of those killed in the war. The amount of land varied with rank. Privates and noncommissioned officers were to receive 100 acres, ensigns 150, lieutenants 200, captains 300, majors 400, lieutenant colonels 450, and colonels 500. In 1780 the law was extended to generals, granting brigadier generals 850 acres and major generals 1,100. This was the basic law under which bounty land was granted for Revolutionary War service until 1855.

In 1788 Congress directed the Secretary of War to begin issuing warrants to eligible veterans upon application. This law provided that the veteran could transfer his warrant to another person, and most of the warrants issued under this and succeeding acts were assigned at least once before being surrendered for land.

Actual patenting of land in exchange for bounty-land warrants did not begin until about 1800. Until 1830 the U.S. Military District of Ohio was the only place a Revolutionary War bounty-land warrant could be used. Beginning in 1830 a bounty-land warrant could be exchanged for scrip which was receivable at any land office in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In 1842 all federal bounty-land warrants were made good at any land office.

In 1855 Congress amended the basic law governing bounty land granted for Revolutionary War service by making the minimum entitlement 160 acres regardless of rank and reducing the service requirement to fourteen days or participation in any battle during the war. A veteran or survivors who had previously received fewer than 160 acres could apply for the balance. In 1856 the benefits of the 1855 act were extended to Revolutionary War naval officers and enlisted men and their heirs. Many applications for bounty-land warrants were made under the 1855 act by persons who met the service requirement for the first time.

Claimants for bounty-land warrants based on Revolutionary War service forwarded their applications to the Secretary of War until 1841, to the Commissioner of Pensions in the War Department from 1841 to 1849, and to the Secretary of the Interior after the Pension Office was transferred to that department in 1849. Some applications were accompanied by affidavits testifying to the military service performed, marriage records, and other forms of evidence. When an application was approved, a warrant for a specified number of acres was issued to the claimant or his assignee. The holder of the warrant then selected the portion of the public domain he wished to have in exchange for the warrant and surrendered the warrant at the appropriate district land office. The papers were forwarded to Washington where the Treasury Department and, after 1849, the Interior Department issued a patent for the land.

Bounty-land warrant applications and related papers approved before the War Department fire of November 1800 are presumed to have been lost in that fire. These lost files are represented by 10" x 14" cards that show the name of the veteran, his rank, the state or organization for which he served, the symbol "B.L.Wt." followed by the warrant number and the number of acres granted, the date the warrant was issued, and the name of a person other than the veteran to whom the warrant was delivered or assigned. This information was transcribed from surviving registers of bounty-land warrants issued before 8 November 1800.

Files for bounty-land warrants applications approved after 8 November 1800 are in envelopes that have headings consisting of the name of the veteran, his widow's name if she applied for the warrant, the state or organization for which he served, the symbol "B.L.Wt." followed by the number of the warrant, the number of acres granted, and, in the case of applications made under the act of 1855, the number "55". Records in the files may include applications, family Bible records, marriage records, affidavits testifying to the veteran's service, and other papers.

Envelopes containing rejected bounty-land warrant applications are marked "B.L.Reg." (for bounty-land register) followed by the register number assigned to the application.

Bounty-land warrant applications and related papers have been consolidated with pension application files based on the service of the same veteran. Frequently a widow's approved pension application is consolidated with her approved bounty-land warrant application under the act of 1855. A veteran's pension application and bounty-land warrant application may be in the same file. Rejected pension application files may also contain approved or rejected bounty-land warrant application papers.

The Revolutionary War pension and bounty land warrant application files have been microfilmed on 2,670 rolls of National Archives Microfilm Publication M804. The files are arranged alphabetically by the surnames of the veterans. A pamphlet describing the contents of this publication roll by roll is available free of charge from the National Archives.

Microfilm Publication M804 is available to researchers at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and at the eleven National Archives field branches. Individual rolls can be borrowed for you by your local library through the Census Microfilm Rental program. The publication is also available at the LDS Genealogical Department Library in Salt Lake City and through its branch libraries. Microfilm rolls can be purchased from the National Archives.

As an alternative to using the microfilmed records, a copy of a Revolutionary War bounty-land warrant application file can be ordered by mail from the National Archives using NATF Form 80, Order for Copies of Veterans Records. Check "Bounty-Land Warrant Application" on the form and provide the name of the veteran, the war in which he served, the state from which he served, and, if you have it, the bounty-land warrant application file number.

"Index to Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives," published by the National Genealogical Society gives the name of the veteran, the state from which he served, the bounty-land warrant application file number, and, in the case of a widow's application, the given name of the widow. This index is available in many libraries and can be purchased from the Society.

Information found in a bounty-land warrant application file for your evolutionary War ancestor should be properly identified in your family records. A citation should include the following: (Descriptive title of the document), (name of the veteran), Revolutionary War Bounty-Land Warrant Application File (symbol and numbers), Records of the Veterans Administration, Record Group 15, National Archives Microfilm Publication M804, roll (number.)

A good page for US Public Land Survey methods:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Eastern States, General Land Office (GLO) Records Automation web site. This site provides live database and image access to more than two million federal land title records for the Eastern Public Land States, dating back to 1820:

If you get a 'hit' on a surname, then you will have the township, range and other numbers for the parcel of land. Now go back to the Search page and enter these numbers and do another Search. You will get an alphabetical listing of all the people given land patents in the area. Search the list carefully for like-sounding names or the surnames of in-laws. If you get a map of the area from one of the Internet map sites, you could enter all the surrounding property owners and get a better picture of the area at the time and see who were your family's neighbors and where marriage partners often came from.

From Land And Property Research in The United States by E Wade Hone:
The requirements for public land transaction (federal lands or BLM land) differed from act to act. There were certain basic elements involved in almost every public land transaction. When your ancestor desired a tract of land he went through these steps. (These are only for public domain lands; Ohio , Ill , Ark plus many more).

Step One: Application or entry: This step is accomplished through several different methods, depending on the area and time period involved. Sometimes payment itself was considered adequate for successful application. One requirement for eligibility was the need for the applicant to have been native born or declare an intention to become a citizen of the U.S. This applied to most federal land purchases except military bounty land warrants, some preemption or private land claims.

Step 2: Once the application was completed, cash was paid or arrangements made for credit, and a receipt was issued. The receipt may be all that is in the file of the earliest cases.

Step 3: Warrant for Survey was issued for the specified land entry.

Step 4: The survey was recorded in the township plat books.

Step 5: The information was filed in a Tract book by the registrar. This paperwork , together was all other records created by the Applicable acts of Congress was then transferred to the General Land Office ( today, Bureau of Land Management). These are called land-entry case files and MIGHT contain the following: Testimonies, declarations of Intent, affidavits, receipt copies, bounty land warrants, and proof of citizenship and naturalization. Specific birth dates, birthplaces, military rank, and enlistment information can be found, depending on the type of lands acquired. Case files also exist for those whose land claims were rejected, revoked, contested, or cancelled.These are often more graphic in historical content than those readily accepted.


Land ownership has long been a part of the American Dream. It motivated countless Americans to move within the country and countless other people to emigrate to the United States. Before 1900, a significant proportion of adult males owned real property. Because land records cover a high proportion of the pre-1900 population, they constitute a significant genealogical resource. Federal land records are a part of this resource.

The Official Land Patents Record Site contains an index to land patent records for eleven states (Illinois is due to come on line in December of this year). The following states are currently represented in the Official Land Patents Record Site: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The one distinct advantage to this site is the ability to immediately obtain a digital copy of the patent. Individuals who wish to order an actual photocopy of the record can also do that directly from the web site. Users of the site need to have an overview of the terminology and the federal land acquisition process in order to make effective use of the site.

Our discussion here is somewhat limited. Readers desiring more detailed information on the land acquisition process and terminology should refer to "The Source's" section chapter on land records or Wade E. Hone's book "Land and Property Research in the United States"

The patent is the official title to a piece of property, indicating that the acquisition process is complete. The patent is the first deed to a piece of property, where the government transfers ownership to a private individual. Subsequent deeds transfer ownership between private individuals and are local, not federal, records.

The warrant is an authorization for surveyors to mark or plat the property and to formally record a description of the piece of property. It was the result of a successful and completed application, not the result of the completion of the entire Federal land acquisition process. It is the patent that is the final document, not the warrant.

Patentee vs. warrantee. The patentee is the individual who received the land patent. The warrantee is the person for whom the land was surveyed. These individuals were not necessarily the same person.

Aliquot parts. This refers to the position of the property within a specific section of a township.

In Federal land states (such as those in the BLM site), original tracts of land were usually originally rectangular or square in shape. A piece of property is described in reference to its position relative to base lines and meridians. Base lines run horizontally and meridians run vertically. Some states have more than one base line and more than one meridian. The survey system in Federal land states attempted to place a grid upon the area of the country being surveyed.

The largest region is the township, generally a square of land six miles on a side. The township is described relative to its position to the base line and meridian. Townships are described as either north or south of a base line and east or west of a meridian. A description of T3N8W, means the township is 3 townships north of the base line and eight townships west of the principal meridian. There are many base lines and meridians. Wade Hone's book contains several maps indicating which base lines and meridians were used in which locations.

Congressional townships are townships that are a part of the meridian grid system. Land patents and deeds generally refer to these townships. Civil townships are a governmental region, and occasionally are confused with congressional townships (for understandable reasons). Civil townships may coincide with a congressional township, include just part of a congressional township, or include multiple congressional townships. Congressional townships are for surveying purposes and civil townships are for governmental purposes. Census records, or any record that provides an address which includes a township, most likely refer to a civil township and not to a congressional township.

Townships are broken up into 36 sections; a section contains 640 acres and is one mile on a side. Sections are divided into four quarter-sections, the Northwest, the Northeast, the Southwest, and the Southeast. Each quarter-section contains 160 acres. The thirty-six sections in a township are numbered beginning in the Northeast corner of the township, going west, going south one section, and then back east, working horizontally and continuing down until the final section is reached (in the southeast quarter to the township). Obtaining plat maps of the area being researched is a good idea for the researcher. A modern plat map will provide the general lay of the land and should provide the congressional township numbers for townships in the county. Genealogists who know the township names where their ancestors lived also need to become familiar with the township numbers as well.

Melissa Calhoun's site on the township range system provides an excellent graphic representation of the system.

The Bureau of Land Management's search interface allows users to enter in all or parts of the following information:

>From the Patent Description:
~ Document Number
~ Patentee last name, first name, and middle initial
~ Warrantee last name, first name, and middle initial
~ County Name (one or all counties)

>From the Legal Land Description:
~ Section Number
~ Township Number/Direction (or any township)
~ Range Number/Direction (or any range)
~ Meridian Name (or all meridians within the state)

Users can search for information on this site in more than one way. The most elementary way is to search for a specific name. One limitation is that searches can be conducted only one state at a time. For more researchers this is not a serious limitation. There are ways searches can be refined and customized.

By specifying search parameters, users can obtain a listing of all individuals who received patents/warrants in certain counties, certain townships, or even in specific sections, regardless of the name of the patentee/warrantee. Researchers can also search for specific names (or surnames) in specific geographic locations.

Broadening the search to adjacent townships or sections requires the user to work with the numbering scheme for townships and sections. Searching for the township "above," "below," to the left, right, etc. can be done if the user is aware of the township numbering scheme. Printed maps on paper or graphic images of the maps will assist the user in determining adjacent townships and sections. While they are not absolutely necessary, theoretical maps (available on Melissa Calhoun's site and the BLM site) are especially helpful.

As an example, township 3N5W has the following townships that border it. To the north is 4N5W (one more "unit" north); to the south is 2N5W (one less "unit" north); to the east 3N4W (one less "unit" west); to the west 3N6W (one more "unit" west).

Township number must also be taken into account. For example, section 15 in a standard township is bordered by section 10 on the north, section 22 on the south, section 14 on the east and section 16 on the west. Searchers should not solely focus on the bordering sections, but should include those relatively close to the section of interest.

It should be remembered that sections on the edge of the township will have bordering sections in adjacent townships. Searching for adjacent sections in this case will require searching in adjacent townships.

As another example, section 1 township A directly borders four sections:
~ Sections 2 and 12 in township A
~ Section 6 in the township to the east of township A
~ Section 36 in the township to the north of township A

The site provides results in one of two formats: Genealogical Search Results and Title Search Results. A search for entries under the surname of "LAKE" in Chariton County, Missouri, is illustrative.

The following data was extracted from the results page after using the Genealogical Search Results Option:

"There were 2 matches to your request. This is page 1 of 1. Click on the Patentee Name to view the Land Patent Report. You may begin the order process by clicking the 'Order' button associated with the patent."

LAKE, JOHN - - 04/01/1857 - - 5729 - - MO5020__.320

LAKE, SAMUEL - - 02/11/1819 - - 4951 - - MO6180__.034

Clicking on the patentee name will bring up more information obtained on the document and a link to view or download a scan of the actual patent. Users who do not have a graphics viewer are provided with a link to obtain one. The graphics can either be viewed within the web browser (using a plug-in) or downloaded to a hard drive and viewed with a stand-alone program. The scans are reasonably good, easy to view, and will print fairly well on a decent laser printer.

The following data was extracted from the results page after using the Title Search Results Option and again searching for "LAKE" in Chariton County, Missouri:

"There were 3 matches to your request. This is page 1 of 1. Click on the Aliquot Parts to view the Land Patent Report. You may begin the order process by clicking the 'Order' button associated with the patent.

E1/2NW - - 30 56-N - - 17-W - - 5TH PRINCIPAL MERIDIAN MO5020__.320

NWNW - - 30 56-N - - 17-W - - 5TH PRINCIPAL MERIDIAN MO5020__.320

NW - - 11 56-N - - 20-W - - 5TH PRINCIPAL MERIDIAN MO6180__.034

Information is listed in the following order: aliquot parts, section, township, township, range, meridian, accession number. On the title search results page, clicking on the aliquot parts pulls up more information about the patent. In this case, since the first two references have the same accession number, it appears that the two first parcels appear on the same patent.

Users who obtain search results (both for title searches and genealogical searches) will obtain them in tabular format in their browser. There is a limit to the total number of matches that can be displayed (200) and users get 20 matches per page. Users can save these files to their hard drives as text files and incorporate the data into a database (see Ancestry Daily News 7 October 1998 - - to learn more about converting Internet search results into spreadsheet format.

The following information was returned when the aliquot parts section was clicked on:

Cancelled: N
Document Nr. : 5729
Misc. Document Nr. :
Patentee Name: LAKE, JOHN
Warrantee Name:
Authority: April 24, 1820: Cash Entry Sale (3 Stat. 566)
Signature Present: Y
Signature Date: 4/1/57
Metes/Bounds: N
Survey Date:
Subsurface Reserved: N
Land Office: MILAN

Cancelled: N
Document Nr. : 4951
Misc. Document Nr. :
Patentee Name: LAKE, SAMUEL
Warrantee Name: LAKE, SAMUEL
Authority: May 6, 1812: Scrip-Warrant Act of 1812 (2 Stat. 728)
Signature Present: Y
Signature Date: 2/11/19
Metes/Bounds: N
Survey Date:
Subsurface Reserved: N
Land Office: MISSOURI
Comments: HEIRS

A complete listing of various aliquot parts is not possible here due to space considerations, but a few examples will serve to illustrate:

NWNW--the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter
N1/2 NW--the north half of the northwest quarter
SWSE--the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter

It should be noted that the aliquot parts description always begins with the smallest part of the description. The maps on Melissa Calhoun's site will explain with pictures what at times is difficult to do with words.

Researchers should note that the patents on this web site are not the only records that may be available. This is true for two reasons.

The first is that there are other records contained in the land-entry case file for each patent. The patent is not the only record that was created. Materials in these files can vary, depending upon what type of land was being obtained and the act under which the claim was filed. But the case file should be referenced if you determine that your ancestor obtained a patent. It's too bad Samuel LAKE is not the ancestor. Since it is indicated that his heirs completed the land acquisition process, information on them may be contained in the land-entry case file.

Additionally, subsequent land transactions (between private individuals) are filed at the county level. The patents obtained on this site are "first" land sales from the Federal government, where property transferred hands from Federal to private ownership. Records of subsequent land transfers frequently are at the county level, occasionally in a state or regional archives (Ancestry's Red Book would provide this information for the counties of interest to the reader). If the property in question was owned by successive generations, analyzing subsequent land transfers may provide more information. The BLM site does not have records on transactions between private individuals. It should be noted that these private transactions represent the vast majority of land transactions that have taken place in the United States.

Researchers should not limit their searches to Federal land records. Unfortunately, local records of subsequent transfers do not contain the detail that one may find in the land-entry case file. It should be noted that there are significant numbers of genealogists whose ancestors never obtained a Federal land patent (including me!). Just because you don't find your ancestors didn't obtain a land patent does not mean that land records will not help your research.

For more information on land records, readers should refer to "Land & Property Research in the United States," by E. Wade Hone. This book is especially strong on Federal land records. Ancestry's "The Source" also contains a wonderful chapter on land records.

The more I searched the site and learned about Federal land records, the more I wished at least one of my ancestors had obtained a land patent.

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the education columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing.

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