Graphic from
Donald J. Huebner, Ph.D.
Department of Geography
University of Texas at Austin


Contents

 

History of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS)

Information from Donovan Yingst's Early Federal Land Records, ESO, Bureau of Land Management

The United States Public Land Survey System (PLSS) was enacted by Congress in the Land Ordinance of 1785 (reenacted in 1796) which established a Rectangular Survey System in the NW Territory . The ordinance required all Public Domain to be surveyed by the United States Government before title could be issued. First surveys of townships north of the Ohio River began in 1786 and the first land sale occurred in 1787; thereafter, land settlement on the frontier literally "boomed" as people moved westward.

All states,except the Original Thirteen, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and Texas are Public Domain States.

Here are some ways that public land records may be useful:
 
  • Establish a date a person arrived in a particular locale
  • Grouping of family members based on adjacent or nearby applications and/or patents;
  • Tracking a family as it moves to new locales where entries are made by family members;
  • Residence at time of entry and issuance of patent
  • Age, marital and citizenship status, and military service depending on the kind of entry;
  • Family relationships based on names contained in case records, marital statements, and probate proof where claimants died.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

Information from Donovan Yingst's Early Federal Land Records, ESO, Bureau of Land Management

TheEastern States Office of the Bureau of Land Management (ESO) has jurisdiction of public land records for the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. The BLM ESO maintains almost five million Federal land conveyance documents which precede and follow ratification of the constitution.

The ESO began computerizing it's land records as part of the Bureau's General Land Office Automated Records Project in 1989 to preserve and protect them and make access easier for the public. Go to Eastern States Office of the Bureau of Land Management (ESO) for details about available land records.

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

National Archives & Records Administration (NARA)

Information from Donovan Yingst's Early Federal Land Records, ESO, Bureau of Land Management

Onceland entry information is obtained from BLM, case materials may be ordered from the National Archives. Supply the following information in a request to the archives:

  • State
  • Name of Land Office  Kind of Entry (cash, homestead, etc.)
  • Land Entry File Nuber (usually the patent or warrant number)
  • Patentee's full name
  • Patent Date
  • Number of acres
  • Public Land Description
  • Meridian
  • Act under which land was granted (title authority)
  • Entry Classification (i.e., homestead, cash entry)

National Archives & Records Administration
Textual Reference Branch (NNR1-Lands)
Washington, DC 20408
Tel. 202-501-5400
Textual (Paper) Records and Presidential Materials

How the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) works

Information partially from
Donald J. Huebner, Ph.D.,
Department of Geography
University of Texas at Austin
There are 31principal meridians (north/south lines) and base lines (east/west) in the contiguous U.S. 

 

  See larger map of U.S.  

 

  See map of Southeast U.S.

 
The intersection of these lines is the origin or initial point.   Some meridians are numbered such as the Sixth Principal Meridian while others are named such as the Huntsville Principal Meridian.

The St. Stephens Meridian and Huntsville Meridian surveys cross into both Mississippi and Alabama, creating situations where the land offices in St. Stephens and Huntsville, Alabama and in Columbus, Mississippi sold lands in both states. Therefore anyone researching these areas should look for information in both states.

The following diagram from Alabama Maps illustrates how the PLSS works.

 

The following PLSS map of Alabama shows all townships.
Franklin County Townships in blue.

Graphic from Denis J. Dean, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Geospatial Science
Colorado State University

The following PLSS map of Franklin County shows Townships and Ranges.


The following Detail Maps by Township and Range shows individual sections.

T6S & R15W
T6S & R14W
T6S &  R13W
T6S & R12W
T6S & R11W
T6S & R10W
T7S & R15W
T7S & R14W
T7S &  R13W
T7S & R12W
T7S & R11W
T7S & R10W
T8S & R15W
T8S & R14W
T8S &  R13W
T8S & R12W
T8S & R11W
T8S & R10W
 

American State Papers

Information from Donovan Yingst's Genealogical Riches in the American State Papers.

TheAMERICAN STATE PAPERS (PAPERS) is a collection of documents that preserves executive and legislative writings from the archives and manuscript records of the Senate and House. The original 38 volumes were published by Gales and Seaton 1832-61 under authority of Congress. Southern Historical Press, Inc. reprintedPAPERS, Vols. 1-9 andGRASSROOTS OF AMERICA (GRASSROOTS), a computerized index 1789-1837, in 1993.

Volumes 1-8 of thePAPERScover various types of land claims onPublic Domain of the United States. Volume 9 pertains to claims against the government, usually not related to land. Nearly 80,000 diverse claims to land in early America (1789-1837) are treated generally giving genealogical/historical data such as: ages of claimants; previous places of habitation; names of children, wives, and other relatives; exact location of claims; and the time period of "cultivation and habitation".

The Papers makes family data accessible that formerly was unavailable to many researchers. The PAPERS span an early period of American settlement and opens new opportunities in areas where data is often difficult to find. The data in these volumes, when combined with early land transactions in both the State Land and Public Domain States, furnishes a large reservoir of largely untapped family information.

PAPERS often does not provide full family information, it furnishes stepping stones that lead to other research possibilities. The data, when combined with that in other sources, for instance, may demonstrate the movement of individuals and families successively from Colonial America to the West. Every family researcher with possible roots in early America should consult the PAPERS in the course of their investigations.

Several excellent links to pages describing PAPERS now may be found online. A good place to start is:

 

Land Records from the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM)

 

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Edited with Arachnophilia

2003 Gary Hester