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Private land claims based on grants made prior to U.S. sovereignty are found for Mackinac and Detroit. These records are in the National Archives. Most were "ribbon farms," very narrow but very long to ensure river frontage.
The first public-domain land was purchased by settlers in Michigan in 1818. The Ordinance of 1785 had provided the methods for dividing and selling the recently ceded regions. The land was first surveyed into six-mile-square townships, each containing thirty-six sections. The townships were surveyed from an east-west line called a "base line" and a north-south line called a "principal meridian." These public domain lands were offered, at the first land office, in Detroit, for $2 per acre, with a minimum purchase required. "Installment plans" were available. In 1820 the cost per acre was lowered to $1.25, with "cash only" and a minimum purchase of eighty acres. Land was usually paid for with silver, gold, bank notes, or drafts. A "patent," usually signed by a clerk, for the U.S. president, would be sent to the landowner, giving title to the previously federal property. A "pre-emption law" in 1841 gave the "squatters" the right to purchase 160 acres at a minimum price.
Microfilm copies of the federal land patent records are at the Michigan State Library. These provide information on the first ownership of all federal lands in the state. The Office of the Great Seal, Department of State, 717 West Allegan, Lansing, Michigan 48918, has the original state land patent records. It is necessary to have an exact legal description of the property to utilize either of these valuable sources.
The State Archives of Michigan has numerous records of land transactions. They include the following sources of information (not inclusive) under various departments: tract books of swamp lands purchases, original maps prepared by federal surveyors that show cultural and physical features as they existed between about 1815 and 1855, abstracts of land grants ca. 1837-1900, surveys of private claims as early as 1807, and land tract books from 1818-1962.
Subsequent land transactions, no longer under federal control, are recorded in the appropriate county register of deed's office. Deeds for southeastern Michigan's "Toledo Strip", encompassing portions of Monroe, Lenawee, and Hillsdale counties, may have been recorded in Ohio and Michigan.
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Excerpts From the Book "Family History Made Easy"
U.S. House of Representative Private Claims, Vol. 1, Vol. 2 or Vol. 3
The right to own land has always been one of the great incentives for living in the United States. Yet researchers often overlook the importance of land records as a source of family history information. Written evidence of people’s entitlement goes back in time further than virtually any other type of record family historians might use.
Land records meet the needs of researchers in different ways and contain a variety of genealogical and historical data. They are a major source of information for many family histories and provide primary source material for local history as well. They are closely related to probate and other official court records and should be investigated in connection with them. Land and property are leading issues in the settlement of estates, and the majority of civil cases in the courts deal with real and personal property. Although land records rarely yield vital statistics, in many instances they provide the only proof of family relationships. Often they include the names of heirs of an estate (including daughters’ married names and a widow’s subsequent married name) and refer to related probates and other court cases by number and court name. In some places where other records are scarce, the land records take on extra importance. Occasionally these documents disclose former residences and more often provide the new address of the grantors or heirs at the time of the sale of the property.
Land records provide two types of important evidence for the family historian. First, they often document family relationships. Second, they place individuals in a specific time and place, allowing the researcher to sort people and families into neighborhoods and closely related groups. One of land records’ most important qualities is that they are sometimes the only records that allow us to distinguish one person of a common name from another.
The National Archives has bounty-land warrant files, donation land entry files, homestead application files, and private land claim files relating to the entry of individual settlers on land in the public land states. There are no land records for the original thirteen states or for Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Hawaii. Records for these states are maintained by state officials, usually in the state capital. Searching for the record of a particular land grant from the federal government requires contacting both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Archives (NARA).
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