Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Ties to the Land: How to Use Land Records for Research

Map image is courtesy of
the Southwest Arkansas 
Regional Archives.
Land records are often overlooked as a genealogical resource because they require effort and beginneroften don’t know how to access and use them. However, these records can establish family residences, death dates, names and occupations. 

Land records include deeds, mortgages, land surveys, city plats, land grants and tax records. These records reveal the history of ownership and provide a glimpse of how communities and families changed over time. 

Historically, land ownership has been important because of several factorsLand wasn’t accessible to most people in Europe whereas, in America, it was more readily accessibleLand ownership became a primary factor for immigration and migration to and in America. A large segment of early America’s population were farmers, so land was important. 

Land ownership became rooted in family pride and identity. Property, particularly land, typically passed from generation to generation. Owning land also afforded people certain rights. For example, in many parts of the country, one had to be a landowner in order to vote or hold public office 
For researchers, land records can show a direct relationship between family members. These records also can help rediscover original family homesteads and allow genealogists to travel to and explore the actual land their families originally owned. 

The Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives has land records available on microfilm and in book form for all 12 of its Southwest Arkansas focus counties. Other land records may be recorded at county courthouses.  

Below are tips to help researchers get started with land records. 

Some tips for land research: 
  1. Focus on one research problem at a time. For example, choose one ancestor’s land to begin researching. 
  2. Review records already checkedFor example, if there was a value listed under the “real estate” column on the 1850 or 1860 census, then there are possibly land records available. 
  3. Create a timeline of when and where families were located. The timeline will help narrow the search to a specific time and place. 
  4. Is the county being researched the correct one for the time period?  When was the county formed?  What were its parent counties? Boundaries changed over time, so it’s important to understand the time period. For example, Hempstead County was formed in 1818. Lafayette County was created from Hempstead County in 1827. If an ancestor’s land is in the area of Lafayette County, but it was acquired prior to 1827, then a researcher would need to check Hempstead County land records. In other words, the county at the time the land records were created and recorded may be where the records are housed or retained today. 
  5. Review family group sheets to be familiar with extended family who may show up in records connected to the ancestor being researched. A family group sheet lists everyone in an immediate family, from parents to their children. These family group sheets are completed for each generation to give an extended view of relatives. 
  6. Create a chart that shows what property was owned by an ancestor, how and when the property was acquired, and how and when the property was disposed of. The chart gives researchers a rough time period of records to search within a specific location. 
  7. Make a research plan based on the timeline and property ownership chart and list sources and where to check.  
  8. Learn about and consult additional resources, such as “Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records” by Patricia Law Hatcher, a book that is available at the Arkansas State Archives and SARA 

SARA offers some research services and is open by appointment only in a limited capacity. To learn more about SARA, visit For more information or research help, contact the Arkansas State Archives branch at 870-983-2633 or