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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

State Land Sales vs. Public Land Sales -- Part Two

Facsimile of the first page of the original "Plimouths Great Book of Deeds" in the handwriting of Gov. Bradford
Colonial land in America was clearly subject to the ownership structure of the country claiming sovereignty. For the English colonies, the original land claims were based on several large companies that derived their claims from royal charters. Land divisions were initially made on the basis of the social standing of the settlers. The early division of the lands by the Colony of New Plymouth are contained in the following book:

New Plymouth Colony, Nathaniel B Shurtleff, David Pulsifer, Massachusetts, and General Court. Records of the Colony of New Plymouth, in New England. Boston: Press of W. White, 1855.

The land records are in Volume 12 of this important work. If we fast forward to the present, you can see the current land records on the Massachusetts Land Records website. Present land records are linked back to the original land grants in what is known as a "chain of title." The people (usually lawyers in the eastern part of the United States) who verify land ownership through searching the chain of title are called "abstractors" and the reports they provide are called an "abstract of title." In the most of the western part of the United States, the same function is provided by title companies. The report they provide is called a "title report." Both of these types of services require the payment of sometimes substantial fees. For example, the Massachusetts records go back to the original grants. The deed shown above is partially to one of my own direct ancestors, "Francies Cooke."

Because all of the land that was originally claimed by England was deeded out to various interests long before the colonies declared their independence. These original property claims were passed on to the individual states. The rest of the land in the country was claimed by the United States Federal Government during the years following independence. Here some maps showing the dates and names of the parcels acquired.

The Federal Government currently claims about 640 million acres of land which is about 28% of the total of 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. See Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data. The lands in the eastern part of the country are called "state lands" because ownership was retained by the colonies when they became states. Texas also retained ownership to its lands when it was admitted to the Union. The rest of the states derive their land ownership from the Federal Government and are called federal land states.

Here is a map showing the current land owned by the Federal Government.

Some of the land in the eastern part of the United States has been subsequently acquired by the Federal Government through purchase or through the declaration of national parks, monuments and national forests.

Each state in the United States also claims its own "state lands"

Genealogists need to be aware of the dates and history of the land sales and acquisitions in the areas where their ancestors lived.

See the previous parts of this series here:

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