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Illinois Genealogy Resources

Land Records

The availability of land attracted many immigrants to America and encouraged westward expansion. Land records are primarily used to learn where a person lived and when he or she lived there. They often reveal other family information as well, such as the name of a spouse, an heir, other relatives, or neighbors. You may learn a person’s previous residences, his occupation, if he had served in the military, if he was a naturalized citizen, and other clues for further research. You may learn a person’s previous residences, his occupation, if he had served in the military, if he was a naturalized citizen, and other clues for further research.

The county or town offices that maintain land and property records often have plat books containing maps of property boundaries and land ownership within the county.

The United States has been divided into sections called quadrangles by the United States Geological Survey (U.S. Department of Interior, Geological Survey, 1200 South Eads Street, Arlington, VA 22202). The USGS has produced highly detailed topographical maps  showing physical and manmade features in each quadrangle. These maps are available at most university libraries.

Once a parcel of land was transferred from the government to private ownership, it may have stayed in the family for generations or for only a few months. It may have been subdivided, sold and resold, with each transaction creating new records. These person-to-person transactions are an important resource to the genealogist. The potential for an ancestor to be recorded is high. These records may offer genealogical clues, such as the given name of the wife, a previous residence, names of children, or death information. Land records also offer clues to maiden names if a father deeded property to his daughter upon marriage. Witnesses and neighbors may also be in-laws or relatives. It is important to trace the purchase and sale (or the acquisition and disposition) of each parcel of land an ancestor owned.

The original records are filed in the county clerks’ or recorders’ offices or in IRAD depositories. As new counties were formed and boundaries changed, transactions were then recorded in the new county, while the parent county retained the records previously created. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of most of the county records and is continuing to microfilm deeds of other counties up to about 1900. Contact the county clerk or recorder for records that have not been microfilmed.

  • Ainsworth, Fern C. Private land claims, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin / by Fern Ainsworth.
    [Natchitoches, La. : F. Ainsworth, 198-] 28, 18, 38 p. ; 28 cm.
  • Carlson, Theodore L. The Illinois Military Tract: A Study of Land Occupation, Utilization and Tenure. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1951.
  • Conzen, Michael P., James R. Akerman, and David T. Thackery, comps. Illinois County Land Ownership Map and Atlas Bibliography and Union List. Springfield, Ill.: Illinois Cooperative Collection Management Coordinating Committee, Illinois Board of Higher Education, 1991.
  • Early Land Sales, Maps, Analysis, and Records
  • Erich Schroeder's Analysis of Public Domain Lands in Illinois
  • Felldin, Jeanne Robey. Landowners of Illinois, 1876 / compiled by Jeanne Robey Felldin and Charlotte Magee Tucker. Tomball, TX : Genealogical Publications, c1978. 64 p. ; 29 cm.
  • Federal Township Plats, 1804–1891 (2002), 102 Illinois counties with each county on a CD-ROM. $20.00 (per county, please specify county name)
  • Federal Township Plats of Illinois, 1804-1891. The passage of the Land Ordinance of 1785 created the rectangular survey system for the mapping and subsequent sale of the western public lands of the United States. In 1803, the first survey of lands began, which would later become the state of Illinois.
  • Genealogical Research Series Pamphlet 1: Land Sales Records
  • Hammes, Raymond H., editor. Squatters in Illinois: The First Americans to Settle Outside the American Bottom after the Revolutionary War," Illinois Libraries 59 (May 1977): 319-83.
  • Helm, April Leigh, Matthew L. Helm, Nicole L. Hoch, and Beverly M. Sanders. War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants 1815-1858, CD-ROM. Champaign, Illinois:, 2003.
  • Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997.
  • Illinois Public Land Purchase Records - Land sales from the Illinois public domain were recorded by a variety of persons employed by the federal, state or local governments. The records in this database were transferred to the Illinois State Archives and detail the sale of over 54,000 square miles of public land. Each entry includes the purchaser's name, purchase date, number of acres, price per acre, and in some cases the purchaser's sex and residence. Researchers will find information regarding over 538,000 land sales from the 19th Century. For those seeking ancestors from Illinois, this can be an extremely helpful source of information.
  • Illinois Public Land Sales - Searchable Index
  • International Internet U.S. Land and Property Research
  • Legal Land Descriptions in Federal Township and Range System
  • Map of Meridians and Baselines in Illinois
  • McMullin, Phillip W. Grassroots of America: A Computerized Index to the American State Papers, Land Grants and Claims 1789-1837. 1972; reprint, Greenville, South Carolina: Southeran Historical Press, 1994.
  • Moffat, Riley Moore. Occasional paper: Western Association of Map Libraries, no. 10. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Western Association of Map Libraries, 1986. Use a state map to find the quadrangle number. Then find the number in the state's map list to learn the name of the quadrangle.
  • Public Domain Land Tract Sales Database. A searchable database of more than 500,000 first sales of the public domain by the federal government to individuals. Each purchase entry includes the pruchaser's name, purchase date, number of acres, price per acre, numeric code indicating the county in which the land is located, legal land description (township, section, range), volume and page numbers of original entry, and variously, the sale type and the purchaser's sex and residence. Subsequent land sales are recorded in deed records. IRAD holds deed records for numerous Illinois counties.
  • United States. Geological Survey. Topographic Maps of the United States. Scale varies. Suitland, Md.: National Archives and Records Service, 1976-. These maps were originally published from 1884 to 1983. The maps are arranged by the name of the quadrangle within each state. States are not in alphabetical order.
  • United States. General Land Office. War of 1812 bounty lands in Illinois / with an introduction by James D. Walker ; indexed by Lowell M. Volkel. Lands in Illinois to soldiers of late war Thomson, Ill. (Rt. 1, Box 211, Thomson 61285) : Heritage House, 1977. xv, 648 p., [2] p. of plates : ill. ; 23 cm.
  • Volkel, Lowell M.  Shawneetown Land District Records, 1814-1820 / transcribed And Indexed By Lowell M. Volkel.  Springfield, Ill. : L.M. Volkel, 1978. viii, 141 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
  • Volkel, Lowell M. War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants 1815-1858, CD-ROM. Champaign, Illinois:, 2003.
  • Weible, Cherié L. "Illinois Land Records: Tracing Military Bounty Land." Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. 37:3 (Fall 2005) pp. 9-13.