Select Page

Arkansas documents its lands

The one thing the New World had in abundance that the Old World didn’t was running room.

Land in abundance was the siren call of the New World, promising ownership to thousands who couldn’t have dreamed of owning land in the Old.

The records of that land are among the great genealogical treasures we use, day in and day out, to try to build out our family histories.

And, every so often, somebody makes that a little bit easier for us.

ark-landLike the Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands and a fabulous set of digitized records called Historical Documents, Maps & More.”1

The Legal Genealogist‘s friend Larry Head provided the link to the website, and it’s a gem — well worth the time and effort for anyone with Arkansas roots to explore. It tracks the land developments in Arkansas from the time of the Louisiana Purchase all the way forward into the 1868 survey of counties, with many digitized images and records.

For the Louisiana Purchase, the site includes images of “the original survey field notes of the Louisiana Purchase. These are the actual notebooks that were carried, signed and dated by the surveyors themselves.”2

Next are the Spanish Land Grants, including records of the lands granted by both Spain and France from the 1600s to 1803. Images include registers and certificate books.3

The Military Bounty Lands (1812) were lands granted by the federal government to eligible veterans for their service in the War of 1812. The original books, organized by Township and Range, “with name, legal description, warrant number and date of patent,” are digitized and available online.4

The New Madrid Claims (1815) stem from an Act of Congress allowing settlers to relocate to other lands if their property had been affected by the New Madrid earthquakes. There’s an index to the claims prepared in the 1930s-1940s, and “an alphabetical index to New Madrid claims and Spanish claims that refers you to the correct page number in each journal.” Then individual claim records that have been digitized.5

The Seminary Lands (1827) were sold to support universities and, later, common schools. Records include the seminary lands sales book register and plats.6

The Lovely Donations (1828) records resulted from the Cherokee Treaty of 1828 and the resettlement of white settlers from Cherokee lands. “Each head of household displaced by the Treaty was allowed to claim up to 320 acres of new land in the Arkansas territory free of charge.” The register of claims has been digitized.7

The 16th Section Lands (1829) were “lands that were reserved for the benefit of public schools.” The lands were sold and the funds raised dedicated to public education. The records online include “eleven plat books and three patent books. Looking on the plat will show you which patent book contains the patent information. The first image of each plat book will show a diagram of the counties contained in the book and will help by showing what page a particular township and range is located.”8

The Saline Lands (1832) were reserved lands that contained a salt spring or brine seep, with the federal government allowed to “lease the springs and property to prospective salt makers with the funds going to improving roads in the territory.” By 1847, the federal government was out of the salt business and states were allowed to sell the lands. Records include plats and a sales book.9

The records of the State Bank Lands (1836) include registers and plats reflecting one of the more charged moments of Arkansas economic history: the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas whose activities were marked by “a decade of corruption and accusations regarding who was responsible.”10

The Internal Improvement Lands (1841) records include an original record, sales record and plats, together with a newer journal, from lands the Congress allowed Arkansas (and other states as well) to sell for the purpose of making internal improvements.11

The Swamp Lands (1850) records resulted from a federal law that ceded vast amounts of federally-owned swampland to state ownership. “The state(s) then issued patents on these lands (at little or sometimes no cost) on the condition that the lands had to be drained and put back into productive use — presumably for agricultural purposes. Arkansas was the third largest benefactor of this legislation putting over 7.6 million acres into private ownership trailing only Florida (20.3 million) and Louisiana (9.4 million).” Records include entry books, patents, patent books and plats.12

Finally, the 1868 Report was a survey of all of Arkansas’s counties including “agricultural yields, transportation methods, type and cost of lands, timber and water prospects, wildlife as well as the general health of the public.” Its aim was to attract immigrants to the state; the documents reflect life as it was in 1868 throughout Arkansas.13

It’s a great website for Arkansas research overall, well worth the time to read through carefully… and see what you can find on your ancestors who spent time there in the Land of Opportunity.


  1. Historical Documents, Maps & More,” Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands ( : accessed 5 Feb 2017).
  2. Ibid., “Louisiana Purchase.”
  3. Ibid., “Spanish Land Grants.”
  4. Ibid., “Military Bounty Lands (1812).”
  5. Ibid., “New Madrid Claims (1815).”
  6. Ibid., “Seminary Lands (1827).”
  7. Ibid., “Lovely Donations (1828).”
  8. Ibid., “16th Section Lands (1829).”
  9. Ibid., “Saline Lands (1832).”
  10. Ibid., “State Bank Lands (1836).”
  11. Ibid., “Internal Improvement Lands (1841).”
  12. Ibid., “Swamp Lands (1850).”
  13. Ibid., “1868 Report.”
Print Friendly, PDF & Email