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Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 2, # 3

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for managing over 264 million acres of land -- about one-eighth of the land in the United States -- as well as 300 million additional acres of subsurface mineral resources. Most of these lands are located in the western United States, including Alaska, and are easily recognized by their vast range lands, forests, high mountains, arctic tundra, and deserts. Under the BLM umbrella are a wide variety of commercial, cultural, recreational, and wilderness resources in these federal public lands.

"Creativity is the key to maximizing the potential of land records. Land records were not designed to give specific answers to genealogical researchers. The answers need to be extracted." E. Wade Hone, Land and Property Research.

Of course, the early years and records of land management in the United States are the more important and most sought after for genealogical research. From 1776 when Congress promised land to Hessian deserters and for the next 25 years, it experimented to find a workable public land policy.

BLM's roots go back to the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. These laws provided for the survey and settlement of the lands that the original 13 colonies ceded to the Federal government after the Revolutionary War. As additional lands were acquired by the United States from Spain, France, and other countries, Congress passed legislation that allowed these lands be explored, surveyed and made available for settlement. By 1803, the major characteristics of the federal land system had been set. Georgia in 1802 was the last of the original states to surrender its western claims to the federal government. Before the federal grants could be made, Indian title had to be removed and the land surveyed into townships.

Congress established the General Land Office in 1812 and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Department of Treasury to oversee the disposition of these federal lands. As the country entered the 19th century, the available "land base" expanded further west with Congress continuing to encourage settlement in the public land by enacting a wide variety of laws, including:

  • military bounties
  • grants for the construction of wagon roads, canals, and railroads
  • the Homesteading Laws
  • the Mining Law of 1872
  • the Desert Land Act of 1877
  • the Timber and Stone Act of 1878

All these statutes served one of the major policy goals of the young country -- settlement of the Western territories. With the exception of the Mining Law of 1872 and the Desert Land Act (which was amended), all have since been repealed or superseded by other statutes.

The late 19th century marked a shift in Federal land management priorities with the creation of the first national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. By withdrawing these lands from settlement, Congress signaled a shift in the policy goals served by the public lands. Instead of using them to promote settlement, Congress recognized that they should be held in public ownership because they had other resource values.

The BLM provides a wide variety of duties in managing public lands. As researchers, the main area of focus is those records that were created and have been maintained during the earlier years of our nation’s history. Records which recorded original property and cadastral survey records of the United States. This is definitely a source that should not be overlooked in that not only does it give information on applicants who received lands but also those whose applications were rejected.

Genealogy Workshop

Fact: To perform computer searches for land patent and survey records, visit the BLM's General Land Records Office (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/) website.

Tip: Two excellent websites for more information can be found on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureau_of_Land_Management) and, of course, the Bureau of Land Management Facts site (http://www.blm.gov/nhp/facts/index.htm#history).

Genealogy News

The Huntsville Genealogical Computing Society's June meeting will be held Jun 18, 2007. The program is 'What DNA can tell you' and will be presented by John McKinley of the society.

Mark your calenders for October 27th! The Cherokee/Native American Research Seminar is coming! You don't want to miss it!

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