Accessing Land Entry Records
New to land entry records? Please see:
- Land Entry Case Files and Related Records for an introduction
- Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office for background information and an overview of important terminology
Land entry files (land patent files) are records of the U.S. General Land Office (GLO) that document the initial transfer of public lands from the U.S. Government to individuals, businesses, and institutions.
The National Archives Building in Washington, DC (Archives 1), houses land entry files from the 30 Federal public land states (all states in the United States except the original 13 states, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maine, West Virginia, Texas, and Hawaii). These records are part of Record Group 49, Records of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The information required to access and order copies of land entry files will differ depending on the type of land entry file.
Types of Land Entry Files
Land entry files at Archives 1 are divided into three rough categories: (1) surrendered military bounty land warrants, (2) pre-1908 general land entry files, and (3) 1908 and later land entry files.
Researchers can search the BLM's GLO Records website to find the information needed to request each type of land entry file. Note that the GLO Records website only indexes patented or completed land entries. The site does not index cancelled land entries or expired leases.
Prior to 1862, Congress passed a series of acts that either incentivized individuals to enlist in Federal military units or compensated them for past service.
Under these acts, veterans could apply for and receive a warrant granting them a certain amount of public land (typically in 40-acre increments) in exchange for their service.
Veterans whose applications were approved could surrender their warrant to the local land office to claim the land, although many who did not wish to move chose to sell their warrants to others.
The following information is needed to request a surrendered military bounty land warrant file on site at Archives 1:
- Act under which the land was granted*
- Acreage granted
*In the GLO Records database, this information is generally listed in the "Authority" field.
For bounty land warrant applications, see Pre-World War I U.S. Army Pension and Bounty Land Applications.
The broadest range of land entry files at Archives 1 record the day-to-day business of the GLO field branches to approximately 1908.
These records include credit files (up to about 1820), cash files (from 1820 on), homestead files (from 1862 on), and related records for both patented and cancelled land entries.
The following information is needed to request pre-1908 land entry records on site at Archives 1:
- Land office
- Type of patent under law*
*In the GLO Records database, the type of patent is generally listed in the "Authority" field.
**In the GLO Records database, the patent number is generally listed in the "Document Nr." field.
Select homestead records have been digitized and made available online through Ancestry.com (database title: "U.S., Homestead Records, 1863–1908"), Fold3.com (database title: "Homestead Records (NE)"), and FamilySearch.org (database title: "U.S., Homestead Final Certificates, 1863–1909").
Beginning in July 1908, the GLO revised its system of issuing patents, assigning each consecutive patent issued a unique number instead of assigning numbers by state and land office.
To request a serial land patent file on site at Archives 1, researchers only need the serial patent number. Serial patents at Archives 1 range from approximately 167 to 1,242,597.
In the GLO Records database, the serial patent number is generally listed in the "Accession Nr." field. The "Issue Date" will be July 1908 or later.
Note: While the serial land patent files at Archives 1 can include documents dating as late as the early 1970s, files dating from the early 1960s on are often housed at the appropriate NARA regional facility.
Land entry files are not the only type of Federal land records held by Archives 1 or by NARA as a whole. Other types of land records in NARA’s holdings include those relating to congressional special acts, mineral patent files dating from the 1870s and later, grants to railroads, and Indian allotments.
Tips for searching NARA's online catalog:
To find Federal land records in NARA's holdings, conduct an Advanced Search in our online catalog for Record Group Number/Collection ID "49."
Limit the results by location ("National Archives - Washington, DC - Archives 1 Textual Reference") to view descriptions of records housed at Archives 1.