Where to find Records for Sections 16 & 36 of Public Domain Land

August 8, 2012 at 1:04 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Researching Land Records | Leave a comment
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If your ancestor “homesteaded” or was the first purchaser of land in the Public Domain (states not including Texas, Hawaii, and the 13 Colonies), the place to go for records is the Bureau of Land Management website.  It is a super easy way to get the patent (deed) for free.  From there you can chase down the Land Entry Files (everything in his application file) at the National Archives.

There are a number of exceptions to this rule, and one is if your ancestor purchased land designated as “Section 16” or “Section 36” within a township/range under the Public Domain Land.  These lands are special in that they were designed to generate revenue for schools in each state.  The land wasn’t necessarily set aside as the property upon which to build the school, but it was left to the local authority to dispose of and use the proceeds to build schools.

The Section 16 & 36 Records

Unlike the “normal” research route for typical Public Land records, the Section 16 & 36 records are found in a whole different manner mostly because they weren’t sold by the Federal government.  They were sold – at least in Kansas – by the State of Kansas.  Isn’t that an eye-opener?  Therefore the records are stored on a local level and not with the Bureau of Land Management or the National Archives.  As you might expect there are seller and purchaser records, and they aren’t in the same place. Continue Reading Where to find Records for Sections 16 & 36 of Public Domain Land…


Really Cool Land Patent Maps for Genealogy Research

August 5, 2012 at 8:28 am | Posted in Researching Land Records | Leave a comment
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Many of my favorite genealogy subjects to research and understand are those of any ancestor that does something “first.”  I love the thought of someone being a pioneer in their family history.  First to go to college, first to go to high school, an immigrant to a new nation, or the first to own American soil (Native American land ownership notwithstanding).That’s why I love the study of patents.  Patents are the record signifying title or ownership of land to the first individual American to hold possession of it.  It clearly says, this ancestor was here and claimed stake to this land – first.  All subsequent owners of that property hold deeds, as to be distinguished from the first owner who held a patent.

Family Maps

I have recently discovered the most amazing series of published books that make patent research a whole lot easier and shed a most enlightening perspective on the lilfe and times of our forebearers.  Each book in the series is entitled Family Maps of “X County”, “Y State”, for example, Family Maps of Bates County Missouri, or Family Maps of Johnson County Missouri.   The books are by Gregory Boyd.  You can check out the authors and the series at their website, www.arphax.com.

What’s in the Family Map Books?

Greg and his wife, Vicky, Boyd have taken on the monumental task of mapping every patent holder  – regardless of when and how they acquired the land – in each section and township of many, many counties.  They are drawing on data from the Bureau of Land Management, so the information is most authoritative.  But imagine what they are doing for genealogists.  If your ancestors were the pioneers of a county or township, they purchased the land from the Federal Government and received a patent for 40, 80, 160, 460 or some quantity of acres.  That acreage was in a very specific location and can be – and has been – mapped by the Boyds.  Further, the other pioneers of that county or township did likewise and have been mapped, too – most likely right next to your ancestors.  And they may be kinfolk!

You can see on the map below the names of patent holders within their respective land plots and the year they received the patent.  How truly cool is that?

Family Maps - Ownership Map

Family Maps – Ownership Map

You may have seen Plat Maps on www.ancestry.com or at your state archives.  The maps are land ownership maps of a township.  The Boyds have done the same thing with their maps.  HOWEVER, the Family Map books are of that unique period in time – which may span decades depending on how long it to the land to be first purchased – when the property was first settled.  Unlike the Plat Maps which are for a specific year and may contain deed and patent holders undistingquished from each other.

Further, beyond these amazing maps of first patent holders, you will find two more maps of each township – one depicting the topography (lakes, streams, etc.), and one marking the major roads.  So you can easily compare and contrast the maps to get a pretty good handle on the lay of the land.  Below is the corresponding topography map for the above map.

Family Maps - Topography Map

Family Maps – Topography Map

Finally, in these spiffy books there are indexes.  Each township has an alphabetical listing of every person by surname that owns property in that township.  Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?  If your ancestor settled in one township, it would be super easy to scan the list to look for kinfolk.  (Don’t forget to look at nearby townships for kinfolk, too.)

Family Maps - Surname Index

Family Maps – Surname Index

AND, there is a cross reference index from the name list to “Appendix A,” which with a simple flip of the page will tell you under what legislative Act your ancestor acquired the land.  Did they purchase the land with cash?  Was it acquired under the Homestead Act?  But wait, there’s more.  Appendix A gives you a count of how many settlers in the county got land under each Act.  It will answer the question of how the county was settled – was it 90% Homestead Act, was the county a bastion of Bounty Land migrants, were they all cash sales?  HUGE information for understanding the world in which your pioneer ancestor lived in.  And it’s all available thanks to the Boyds.

Family Maps - Appendix A

Family Maps – Appendix A

Now the “Bad” News

The good news is that these books exist for townships, counties, and states within the Public Domain or Federal Land Grant area.  Those are all states EXCEPT the 13 Colonies, Texas, and Hawaii.

The “bad” news is that the Boyds have yet to document every county.  It is as I mentioned earlier a monumental task, so we should give them a break and some time as I know they are working diligently on the project.   You can find the list of what counties they have completed on their website (www.arphax.com), where you can also purchase any books you find relevant to your research.

But Wait!

Before you pull out your debit card, check first with your local library, archives, or genealogy center.  They may have a copy of the series for your reference.  I know the Midwest Genealogy Center has the full series, and I’m sure they will keep up with any new publications as they are released.

Final thoughts –

Maps are often the unsung hero of genealogy research simply because they aren’t valued for the rich genealogy treasures which they often hold.  These maps – if you’re into researching patent holders for your family or even the founding of a township or county – are a must for your research agenda.  Oh, one last tip, if “your” counties aren’t yet documented, don’t dispair, you can and are encouraged by the Boyds to put in your “vote” or request for a county.  Just email them – politely – through the contact page on their website.  They are always eager to hear where the interest lies, and where they should next turn their efforts.

Happy Researching.

Using Alternative Census Databases When Stumped by Ancestry.com

August 2, 2012 at 9:25 am | Posted in Genealogy Research Strategies, Genealogy Websites | Leave a comment
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The digital age has been an unquestionable boon to genealogy.  So many records are found so much easier.  However, it has pushed genealogists to learn how to “work” a database to find what we’re looking for.  And it’s not always easy.  Ancestry.com – the 10 billion record and county genealogy repository – is without question the first reach source for census records.  But as good as it is, there is still the human element in getting the information from household to census taker and from census record to indexer to overcome.  Learning and mastering ways to crack their database of census records can prove quite challenging.

The Alternative

I often talk about the other sources for census records in my classes because they are simply another tool to find those elusive ancestors, when you don’t first succeed with ancestry.com.

This truism played out in real time for me recently when looking for Pietro Cevetti.  Pietro Cervetti immigrated from Italy and settled in Polk County, IA.  As may be more familiar to most of us, Polk County is the home of DesMoines.  I knew from other records that Pietro probably was in Polk County, IA in 1920.  He had a child there in 1919 and again in 1922, and registered for the WWI draft in Polk County in 1918.

But try as I might with every trick I had, I could not find him in the 1920 Census on Ancestry.com.  I was certain the challenge boiled down to a translation or transcription issue.

I turned to Heritage Quest for a solution.  Heritage Quest is a free online database with US Census records up to 1930 (partial for 1930) available exclusively through libraries and other institutions.  (Midwest Genealogy Center has a subscription.)  You can access it if you have a library card to this institution either onsite at the library or remotely at home.

What Makes Heritage Quest Awesome

It uses a different type of database than Ancestry.com.  Both repositories are good.  Both have their place.  But you can do things in Heritage Quest that you can’t do in Ancestry.  Things like sort the results page by age, location, birthplace or name.  And things like see the count of how many people fit your search criteria by county for that state.  For example, I can search for all Italian born people living in Iowa in 1920.  The results will tell me that there are 911 in Polk County, IA,  and only 126 in the next most dense county of Webster.  All of this to say there are a number of ways you can look at the data to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Pietro Cervetti

I found Pietro not by looking for either his first or last name in the search.  I didn’t even try looking for anyone named “Peter” in Iowa.  Instead I looked for all of the Italian-born residents living in Polk County, IA in 1920.  And as I mentioned there are 911.  To narrow that down I looked at the results list only for those last names that started with “C”.

This is what I saw:

Pietro Cervetti - 1920 US Census for Iowa - Index

Pietro Cervetti – 1920 US Census for Iowa – Index

“Peter Charvich” seemed to fit the description of the person I was looking for.  There is NO way I could have found that name by playing with the spelling variations of “Cervetti.”  And this is exactly why I hit a brick wall searching in Ancestry.com for him.  But this was indeed “Pietro Cervetti.”  The listing matched dates, locations, and family members consistent with what I knew about him.

Transcription Error?

You may be wondering how he came to be listed in the census as “Peter Charvich.”  Was it a translation or a transcription error?

Pietro Cervetti - 1920 US Census for Iowa

Pietro Cervetti – 1920 US Census for Iowa

Can you see the name for the head of household in the above image?  The name was written, then written over by the census taker, who was trying to correct the spelling or make the letters clearer.  As a result the name became virtually illegible.  As a transcriber I would have NEVER gotten “Cervetti” out of that.

Fortunately, with a little creative searching and a little known tool like Heritage Quest, the family was found in 1920 in Polk County, IA, just where they were expected.

Here’s to creative search techniques!

Happy Researching.

Revolutionary War Genealogy Websites

August 2, 2012 at 12:57 am | Posted in American Military Genealogy Resources, Genealogy Websites, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Family Tree Magazine has published a wealth of articles on Revolutionary War Genealogy Research.  Now one writer for Family Tree Magazine has compiled a wonderful list of the articles and linked the reader to them.

The articles focus on websites, so many of them are lists of Revolutionary War websites.  Some focus on one group – Loyalists or Hessians.  And some focus on where to find and access the records.

It’s a great list, well worth the time to investigate.

Check it out here.

Happy Researching

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