[Editor’s Note: here begins a series of interviews with various genealogy industry personalities who are presenting sessions at the upcoming RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, UT, February 10-12, 2011]
Here is a brief interview with Roberta “Bobbi” King who will present Guidance to Online Federal Land Records on Friday, February 11, 2011. Bobbi is a Board member for Federation of Genealogical Societies and the owner of Miss Congenealogy, a genealogical instructional service.
Why are Federal land records important to genealogy and how long have they been available on the Internet?
A patent (deed for a tract of land from the government to a settler) can locate exactly where an ancestor settled on an exact date, leading the researcher to a new locality for more research on the family. There is rarely pure genealogical information in the land records, but we can place a family in a specific locality, then research the records of that locality. Just from reading a patent for the first time, seeing, for the first time where a man or woman was located during that time period, can lead us to marriage records, tax records, newspaper notices, all the information available about that family in that locality during that time period. And sometimes, reading a digitized image of an ancestor’s patent for the first time is the first discovery of the whereabouts of a man or woman, and then discovery of related families.
Only within the past ten years have land records been widely available online for us genealogists. The first site was the BLM site, www.glorecords.blm.gov which sparked research on recipients of patents and bounty land warrants. Of the millions of homestead records, only a very few are digitized and available online now, but this effort is gaining momentum and continues to progress toward having more patents and related records online.
Located here and there, there are various indexes online, of names of patentees, placed online by county courthouses and historical societies. There are indexes on the names contained with the tract books, found here and there online. The dedicated searcher can find quite a lot of useful information online, but it requires diligence and determination sometimes.
Nowadays, Google Earth and Earthpoint can take us there. Within a few minutes of discovering an ancestor’s federal land patent land description, a researcher can “fly” there and see the landscape that shaped his or her ancestors’ lives. The hills, the prairie, the mountains, the desert; thanks to the Internet, we can see the homeplace and marvel at what their lives must have been like in faraway places.
What types of information can a genealogy researcher find in a Federal land record?
Certain federal land records, such as the homestead records, are filled with details such as: “built a log house with board roof” or “I moved here from Texas in 1907 with my husband who died in 1909.” The homestead records are rich in personal detail of a settler’s efforts to establish a home, presenting data such as the kind of crops grown, livestock owned, farm implements, descriptions of disasters such as the home burning down or grasshopper infestation or drought; details which paint an intimate portrait of daily life during that time period. Homestead records also contain military record details of a veteran who used his war record to satisfy homestead requirements.
Bounty land warrants are tied to war service. These tracts of land were offered to veterans in lieu of cash as payment for military service, so reading a land warrant can offer clues to military service details.
Tract books can answer the question: “My grandmother said Grandpa took out a claim in Idaho but didn’t make it. How can I find out where they were?” Tract books contain the name of every settler who bought, homesteaded, or otherwise acquired a federal public land tract when those lands were opened up and acquired through the local land office.
Would a researcher with ancestors in a specific geographical area have more success with Federal land records than another researcher? Ex: New England vs. the Midwest?
After about 1800, the public lands, that is, land acquired by the new government after the Revolutionary War, were opened up to settlement. Territories and states were organized, and land disposal was recorded by the federal government. The New England states, (the “state land” states) having already been organized, would not have their land records in federal government files. Pre-Revolutionary land records would not be in federal custody. So it’s the land records of the Midwestern and Western states, essentially, that contain information useful to us.
Finally, give us your thoughts on RootsTech and its importance to the genealogical community.
RootsTech revives the spirit of the old Gentech days. Exciting new technologies within the electronic world pull us genealogists along and we need to learn how to refine the tools and utilities to serve our purposes. It’s always fun to see the new gadgets (not even Dick Eastman can write about then all!) and see the new software up on the wide screens. For the generation that didn’t grow up with computers, it’s like a Giant Toy Box.
Disclosure: I have been designated as a RootsTech Official Blogger which entitles me to certain perks including free registration and more. Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with RootsTech, FamilySearch and other genealogy vendors.
©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee