Land Records 101: Using Deeds, Plats, Patents and More

When you’re trying to pinpoint ancestral residences, determine wealth or even trace descendants, land records can often provide answers—once you get past unfamiliar terminology and survey systems. In this course, you will master the basics of US land records research, including what documents to look for (online and offline), how to “plat” land and how to make the most of these often-overlooked resources.

Check out this video from the course to get a taste of what you’ll learn:


$99.99 ($89.99 for VIP)

Course Length:

4 Weeks


Diana Crisman Smith

Start Date:

View upcoming course schedule for dates


“I learned a great deal about a subject I had no experience with. This was a good teach-yourself class and having the deadlines helped me commit to working through the materials. The materials and lessons provided were really good and right on target for my experience level.”


  • Definitions and terminology used in property and deeds
  • Locating and platting land using the “metes and bounds” method
  • Locating and platting land using the federal “rectangular survey” method
  • Special programs, such as military bounty lands and the Homestead Acts
  • Finding and using records at the Bureau of Land Management website
  • Finding and gleaning the most from land records


  • Genealogists new to US land records research
  • Experienced researchers who want to expand their knowledge of land records
  • Homeowners/residents who want to trace the history of their house
  • People interested in the history of land ownership and how it’s changed over the years


  • This course assumes you understand the basics principles of genealogy and have done some investigation into your family history. If you are a total beginner, consider taking the Discover Your Family Tree course before enrolling in this class.
  • A protractor or compass
  • Graph paper (although you can also use plain paper and draw your own sections)


Lesson 1: Definitions and Terminology
A. Terms found in land records
B. Exercise
Lesson 2: Deeds of Sale
A. Overview of deeds
I. Types of deeds
II. Structure of a deed
B. Finding deeds
I. Looking online
II. Searching at the Family History Library
C. Using deed records
I. Practice reading deeds
II. Recording deeds
D. Exercise
Lesson 3:  Land Survey Systems
A. Patents and grants
B. Metes and bounds survey system
I. Description
II. Practice
C. Public land survey system
I. Description
II. Practice
D. Exercise
Lesson 4:  Homestead Act of 1862
A. Bureau of Land Management/General Land Office History
I. Early land sales
II. Growth of the nation
III. Land Disposition Acts
B. Homestead Act of 1862
I. History
II. Provisions
III. Finding homestead records
C. Locating Original Land Entry Files
I. Records at NARA
II. Records in the GLO database
III. Other sources
D. Exercise
Lesson 5:  Military Bounty Lands
A. Bounty land warrants
I. Revolutionary War
II. War of 1812 and later
III. Scrip warrants
B.   Finding military bounty land records
I. Records at NARA
II. Records in the GLO database
III. Other sources
C. Exercise

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