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Happy birthday to the BLM GLO

If there’s one thing that’s for certain in The Legal Genealogist‘s world, it’s that the statutes of the United States and the states provide unlimited fodder for comment and — very often — a mass of records for us to look at.

The reality is, many of the sources we use on a day to day basis exist because some law required that they exist and be kept.

And all I can say is… thank heavens.

GLO statute

A case in point: Exactly 207 years ago, on the 25th of April 1812, a particular federal statute became law. It created a federal agency within the Department of the Treasury called the General Land-Office:

there shall be established in the department of the treasury an office, to be denominated the General Land-Office ; the chief officer of which shall be called the commissioner of the general land-office, whose duty it shall be, under the direction of the head of the department, to superintend, execute and perform, all such acts and things, touching or respecting the public lands of the United States, and other lands patented or granted by the United States , as have heretofore been directed by law to be done or performed in the office of the Secretary of State, of the Secretary and Register of the Treasury, and of the Secretary of War, or which shall hereafter by law be assigned to the said office.1

The law went on to require “a plat of any land surveyed under the authority of the United States,”2 and warrants to issue for military land bounties, and “such warrants shall be recorded in the said-land office, in books to be kept for the purpose…”3 — on top of keeping “all records, books and papers … touching or concerning the public lands of the United States.”4

The General Land Office was transferred to the then-brand-new Department of the Interior when that cabinet-level department was created in 1849,5 and it became part of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) when Interior merged it with the U.S. Grazing Service in 1946. “Today, BLM continues to maintain more than nine million historical land documents and records available to the public.”6

Ooooooh… Records.

There’s nothing a genealogist likes more than records.

And nothing a genealogist likes more than digitized records, freely available online.

And, yes, the BLM has a website for General Land Office Records where you can search by an ancestor’s name for federal land conveyance records of the public lands — patents, survey plats and more showing the transfer of land from federal ownership to individual ownership. It offers “image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1788 and the present.”7

If you navigate to the General Land Office Records site, and click on the link for Land Patents, or navigate directly to the Land Patents search page, you can enter the name of an ancestor and where you think he or she may have acquired federal land, and take a look at whatever documents the site has.

There’s a Survey Plats and Field Notes section for records of the survey that set off the boundaries of the public lands.

There are Tract Books used as a index to public land title research showing all transactions for surveyed public lands in 13 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

And check out the GLO Record of the Week, where it “releases a story map featuring unique records from the General Land Office (GLO) records collection.”

So we can wish a happy birthday today to the General Land Office — and more particularly to the records created and held there.

Because of one federal law, enacted 207 years ago today.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Federal land in general,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 25 Apr 2019).


  1. §1, “An Act for the establishment of a General Land-Office in the Department of the Treasury,” 2 Stat. 716 (25 Apr 1812).
  2. Ibid., §7, 2 Stat. at 717.
  3. Ibid., §7.
  4. Ibid., §5.
  5. §1, “An Act to establish the Home Department…,” 9 Stat. 395 (3 March 1849) (“there shall be created a new executive department of the government of the United States, to be called the Department of the Interior”).
  6. 8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bureau of Land Management,” Department of the Interior Blog, posted 13 July 2017 ( : accessed 25 Apr 2019).
  7. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records ( : accessed 25 Apr 2019).
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