About Land Records

BLM Office:
Eastern States Office
Bureau of Land Management
7450 Boston Blvd.
Springfield, VA 22153
Tel: (703) 440-1600
FAX: (703) 440-1599

Colonial settlers acquired title to Alabama lands from the French, the Spanish, the British, and the Native Americans. Original copies of these grants from the first three groups may be found, respectively, in the Archives Nationales in Paris, the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, and the Public Record Office in London. When land title was transferred from Great Britain to the United States in 1783, following the American Revolution, preemptive landowners were required to file proof of their land title with the U.S. GLO. Abstracts of the files are found in the American States Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress, Class VIII, Public Lands (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832€“61). These volumes are indexed in C.I.S. U.S. Serial Set Index, Part I, American States Papers and the 15th€“34th Congresses, 1789€“1857 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Information Services, 1977).

Title to previously un-granted lands was vested in the federal government, and titles were conveyed to individuals either by sale or by bounty-land warrant. The Land Act of 1800, as amended in 1803, simplified the claiming of land titles by authorizing local public land offices to survey and auction lands within their charge. Sales were sanctioned through thirteen land offices including St. Stephens (established December 1806, transferred to Mobile 1867); Huntsville (established at Nashville in March 1807, transferred to Huntsville 1811, transferred to Montgomery May 1866); Cahaba (established at Milledgeville, Georgia, August 1817, transferred to Cahaba October 1818, transferred to Greenville 1856); Tuscaloosa (established May 1820, transferred to Montgomery 1832); Sparta-Conecuh Courthouse (established May 1820, transferred to Montgomery 1854); Montgomery (established July 1832, closed 1927); Mardisville-Montevallo (established July 1832, transferred to Lebanon 1842); Demopolis (established March 1833, transferred to Montgomery March 1866); Lebanon (established April 1842, transferred to Centre 1858); Elba (established April 1854, transferred to Montgomery April 1867); Greenville (established 1856, transferred to Montgomery 1866); Centre (established 1858, transferred to Huntsville 1866); and Mobile (established 1867, transferred to Montgomery June 1879). Henry Land Mapping.

Bounty Land

Prior to the Revolutionary War, there was no central Federal government, not was there a treasury. In order to lure men to enlist in the military, land was promised as a form of remuneration for military service. Those men who enlisted and served the duration of their enlistment period were awarded a Bounty Land Warrant from the new government after the war. From 1781 until 1855, the federal government issued bounty land warrants to veterans or their heirs as a reward for service. The majority of these applications for Revolutionary War service and the original paper applications for other years are in the possession of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in various record groups. You can contact NARA for information about new form NATF-85 (Order for Copies of Federal Pension or Bounty Land Warrant Applications) and how to apply to locate and receive copies of these records for your ancestors.

When the land offices were closed, their original records were sent to the Washington, D.C., office. Photocopies of the original records may be requested by legal description (subdivision, section, township, range, survey meridian, and state of the land) from the National Archives Suitland Reference Branch (see page 9). Photocopies of the presidential patents are available by legal description from the U.S. BLM, Eastern States Office, 350 South Pickett Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22304. Duplicate copies of some of these records are located in the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the office of the Alabama Secretary of State, and the University of Alabama library's special collections. Plat maps and field notes for these original land grants are also available at these repositories. The Southern Historical Press has published Marilyn Davis Hahn Barefield's abstracts of several of the land offices' records including those of Centre, Demopolis, Elba, Huntsville, Lebanon, Mardisville, Sparta, St. Stephens, and Tuscaloosa; Southern University Press has published her abstracts from the Cahaba Land Office. Other abstracts for north Alabama counties are being privately published by Margaret M. Cowart of Huntsville; her abstracts are for Colbert, Franklin, Jackson, Limestone, Madison, and Morgan counties.

Tract books indicating the original sale of property from the federal government, or the state of Alabama in case of a sixteenth section, are housed in the county probate judge's office. The books, arranged by legal description, include the name of the purchaser, the amount of acres purchased, the price, date of purchase, certificate number, and whether or not the land was obtained under a military act. These records do not include lands cut away to form new counties or subsequent sales of original tracts.

All subsequent title transactions following the original title transfer from the federal government are recorded in the probate judge's records of the county in which the property lies. These records include conveyance records, which detail the transfer of property either by sale or donation.

In some counties, mortgages were recorded in the same volumes as outright conveyance of real property, while in others liens and deeds of trust are recorded separately as Mortgages.

Terms used in the Township and Range System:


Basic unit of the system, a square tract of line one mile by one mile containing 640 acres.


36 sections ar ranged in a 6 by 6 array, measuring 6 miles by 6 miles. Sections are numbered beginning with the northeast-most section, proceeding west to 6, then south along the west edge of the township and to the east.


Assigned to a township by measuring east or west of a Principal Meridian

Range Lines

North to south lines which mark township boundaries.

Township Lines

East to west lines which mark township boundaries

Principal Meridian

Reference or beginning point for measuring east or west ranges. Map of meridians & base lines from the BLM web server

Base line

Reference or beginning point for measuring north or south townships. Map of meridians & base lines from the BLM web server

Land Records Glossary

Bounty Grants

Grants issued to Revolutionary Soldiers or to Citizens (persons who stayed neutral during the Revolution). It cannot be determined from the grant itself, if the person did military service. However, application papers will reflect the status of the grantee (see also Loose Headright and Bounty Documents File).


A document that would entitle a person to a bounty grant. If the person was a Revolutionary Soldier, the paper would be signed by the commanding officer of his battalion or regiment, if he was a Citizen, it would be signed by the captain of the Militia District in which he resided. Upon receipt the governor would then confirm the man's eligibility with a numbered certificate that reflected his status.


A person who did not leave the state during the Revolution and could not be convicted of "plundering or distressing the country"; he was entitled to a bounty grant. This would have to be documented by a certificate.

Colonial Grants

Although issued under slightly different principles from those of the Headright System, they are considered a sub-category of the latter ones. Colonial Plats Ca. two thirds were lost during the Revolution.


Division for local government. New land cessions were first laid out into original counties" which were then subdivided into newly created counties  in a continuous process that lasted until 1924. Lottery grants are always cited by original county, while headright grants could also be issued in "modern" counties.

County Land Records

Records reflecting real estate transactions after the land was granted.  Includes deeds, plats, conveyances, indentures.


A land record on the county level; a legal instrument documenting transfer  of title to a parcel of land from one owner to the next.

Fifth Lottery

It was held in 1827 and distributed Lee, Muscogee, Troup, Coweta, and Carroll  Counties, bounded by the Chattahoochee. Before they received names these  counties were first called 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th section.

First Lottery

It was held in 1805 and distributed the first 5 districts of Baldwin County,  the first 5 districts of Wilkinson County, and the whole of Wayne County.

Fortunate Drawer

A person who won a "prize" (land lot) in the lottery. Not always identical  with the grantee to that land lot (see Grantee under Lottery System and  Reverted Lot).

Fourth Lottery

It was held in 1821 and distributed Dooly, Fayette, Henry, Houston, and Monroe  Counties, bounded by the Flint River.


Fractional lots were created by district or cession boundaries. They were not  thrown into the lottery (with the exception of the Cherokee lotteries), but sold at public auction. An alphanumerical index by county, district and lot number exists, but not a name index of the buyers.


See Land Grant. Grant Book

A bound volume that contains recordings of the grants. See also Headright Grant Book and Lottery Grant Book.


1) On the state level the first individual owner of a parcel of land, or the recipient of a grant; 2) on the county level any subsequent owner of  a parcel of land who acquired it by purchase or as a gift or by inheritance.

Grantee under the Lottery System

In most cases the grantee is the person who drew the land lot. However,  there are occasions when the lot would be sold at public auctions, e.g.,  the Reverted Lots or the Fractions. In this case the grantee is identical  with the highest bidder.


1) On the state level land was granted only by the King of England in Colonial times and by the State of Georgia after the Revolution. No land in Georgia was ever granted by the Federal Government or by the Native  Americans. 2) On the county level grantor and seller are synonymous.

Headright Grant Books

Their titles consist of letters of the alphabet, ranging from A to M,  DDD to ZZZZZ (Z-5), AB through AD. The grants are entered in roughly chronological order, but no systematic arrangement can be recognized. Most volumes have a randomly alphabetized index, i.e., names are only  alphabetized by their first letter. WARNING: Some volumes have duplicate  pages and there are two distinct volumes both with the title RRRRR or  R-5, each beginning with page 1.

Headright Plat Books

Similar to the Headright Grant Books, their titles are made up out of letters. Again, order of entry is roughly chronologial without a systematic arrangement.

Headright System

Land distribution system prevailing roughly east of the Oconee River from 1755 to 1909. The size of the land to be granted depended on the  number of "heads" in a household. In many cases settlers selected the  tract of land first and then applied for a grant. The surveying system  used was the Metes and Bounds System.

Land Court

A panel of judges to whom an applicant would apply for a land grant under the Headright System.

Land Grant

A deed from the government to the first individual owner of a parcel of land. Grants are one of the two major record groups originating from Georgia's distribution process of its public domain (the other group consists of plats). In many states these records are called "land patents".

Land Lot System

Surveying system used in connection with the lotteries. Before the lottery could be held any newly-ceded land had to be pre-surveyed, i.e., the land  was laid out first into original counties, these were subdivided into numbered land districts and these again into numbered land lots. One exception was the area of original Cherokee County; it was so large that it was first laid out into 4 sections, then these were subdivided into districts and land lots.

Land Patent See Land Grant.

Land Records

See State Land Records and County Land Records. Loose Headright and Bounty Documents File Records that were created during the land granting process, consisting of petitions, warrants, certificates, etc.

Lottery Applications

No written applications had to be submitted by potential drawers, only  an oral oath was required to prove eligibility.

Lottery Grant Books

The grants are arranged in the books by original county and land district,  but no further order is recognizable. The books' titles consist out of the same elements, e.g. Wilkinson, District 1. Often grants of more than one district of the same county are bound together in which case the title  of the volume might read Muscogee, District 13-14 or Baldwin, District 15,  16, 17. For each district, pagination starts with page 1, however, a comprehensive index at the beginning of each volume covers the grants of  all the districts this volume contains with names alphabetized only by their first letter. In addition to these "regular" grant books there are supplements and those for fractions and reverted lots.

Lottery Plat Books

Similar to those of the headright plat books their titles consist of letters. The arrangement is by original county, land district and land lot. However, the original counties are not arranged alphabetically, but chronologically (e.g. Wilkinson County comes before Gwinnett County).  To complicate matters, districts from different counties might be bound together in one volume or one district might be divided between two volumes.  However, the microfilm catalog cards are arranged in proper alphanumeric  order and need to be checked to secure a systematic approach.

Lottery System

Land distributed under this system was first laid out into a rectolinear  pattern of land lots identified by a numbering system. The land lots were  then given away in a raffle to fortunate applicants. While the Headright

System lasted from 1755 to 1909, the lottery system was confined only to a period of 27 years (from 1805 to 1832) during which 7 lotteries (see First Lottery, Second Lottery, ...) were held.

Memorials Book

A Colonial record book that revealed the current owner of a tract of land.  Every time land changed hands, beginning with the grant, this transaction  had to be recorded.

Metes and Bounds System

Surveying system used under the Headright System. The boundary lines of a tract were measured (metes) and described in terms of the adjacent land or  geographical features, i.e., a stream, a road, land owned by another person or unknown land. The land was never pre-surveyed as a whole, but piece by piece, as it was granted. In contrast to the metes and bounds system is the Land Lot System.

Militia District

A division within a county. All men between 16 and 60 (age varied) residing  within its lines were automatically enrolled in a company for military purposes under a captain.


A written application for a grant under the Headright System and also for  a Bounty Grant.


1) On the state level a survey or little map of the granted parcel, usually  drawn a few years prior to the issuance of the corresponding grant; 2)  on the county level a survey accompanying a deed.

Plat Book

A record that contains recordings of the plats, both at state and at county level. See also Headright Plat Book and Lottery Plat Book.


A man whose house had been ransacked by the British and who fled from the  state and who would then join the Militia Regiments of South Carolina and  North Carolina. He was entitled to a bounty grant.

Reverted Lot

A land lot not claimed by its fortunate drawer; the deadline within which grants could be taken up was extended several times by law, but finally the lot would revert to the state and would then be sold to the highest bidder, in whose name the grant would be issued. There is no index to the names of these highest bidders.

Revolutionary Soldier

Under the Headright System a revolutionary soldier was entitled to a Bounty Grant, provided he could prove his military status by a certificate. Under the Lottery System he had more draws than ordinary citizens and the letters "R.S." or "Rev. Sol." would appear on the grant behind his name.

Second Lottery

It was held in 1807 and distributed District 6-20 of Baldwin County and Districts 6-28 of Wilkinson County bounded by the Ocmulgee River.

Sixth Lottery

It was held in 1832 and distributed the area of original Cherokee County.  It consisted of 2 portions: the Gold Lottery (gold districts included 40-acre land lots) and the Land Lottery ("land" districts included 160-acre lots).

State Land Records

Records created during the distributing process of Georgia's public domain, such as Grants (including Colonial grants), Plats, surveyor's  District Plats, Loose Headright and Bounty Papers, Memorials, maps, etc.

Surveyor General Department

Second oldest state agency; only Governor's Office is older. Agency was in charge of surveying the public domain, before it could be distributed, and of keeping proper records on the state level. The office was consolidated with that of the Secretary of State in 1861 and is today a part of the Georgia Archives. Its surveying function expired in 1909,  when the existing law of granting land was repealed. However, its record keeping or archival function is still very much alive.

Third Lottery

It was held in 1820 and distributed Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Rabun,  and Walton Counties in the northeast and Appling, Early, and Irwin Counties in the south.


A headright land record; an order from the land court to the county surveyor to lay out a tract of land for an applicant.

Compiled by Jane Combs

AHGP Henry County


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