Now that we established the difference between Public and Private Land States in my previous post, let’s take a look at the different search paths to locate information about Public Land patents. The main point to discern is whether you are dealing with an Eastern or Western public land state, because the relevant records are in different locations. These records are all part of Record Group 49, Records of the Bureau of Land Management.
As defined by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Eastern land states included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. To locate land case files or patents in these states that date before July 1908, you will need to contact the Eastern States Office (ESO) at the BLM because they have retained custody of the original General Land Office tract books that index all land entry cases for the 13 Eastern land states. The ESO also has a computerized index of patented land entries dated after 1820 for all public land states; the index is available on the BLM web site at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/. You can use the index to obtain the legal description of the land entry. The basic information you need to locate a case file is the name of the homesteader or entryman, the state, the land office, the type of land entry (whether it is credit, cash, homestead, timber, or mineral file), and the final certificate number. You can also obtain this information by contacting the ESO directly at the Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Office (BLM-ESO), 7450 Boston Boulevard, Springfield, VA 22153. Once you have the necessary information, you can obtain the original case file from the National Archives.
Western land states included Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. NARA holds the original tract books for these states; otherwise, the search path is the same as above for the Eastern states. Examine the tract books to the find land office, type of land entry, and final certificate number. Some tract books do not identify the appropriate land office, so you will need to consult an additional index to land offices that is also part of the accessioned records. Again, once you have the necessary information, you can get the original land entry case file.
To locate land records dated after July 1908 for all public land states, all you need is the name of the entryman or claimant and the land patent or final certificate number. Here, there is a two-step process to locate the information: 1) Search for your ancestor by name in the “Alphabetical Index to Case Files” (RG 49, Entry UD2137) to obtain the appropriate application number and land office; 2) Using the application number and land office, search the “Numerical Index to Case Files” (RG 49, Entry UD2136) to obtain the appropriate land patent number for your ancestor. All of the indexes and case files are at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC (although some General Land Office (GLO)/BLM records are also held at NARA’s regional archives).