Land patents are historical documents issued by the U.S. government that granted clear title to land, buildings and improvements to individual citizens. A land patent was believed by many to give the landowner an unassailable claim on his property, one that no government, taxing agency or court could override. If you're searching for the record of a land patent, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management is a great source of information.
History of Land Patents
From the early 19th century, the General Land Office issued land patents in order to encourage settlement and development of land the nation gained through treaties with others. In effect, the rights in the land were transferred from the federal government to individual owners who had to go through an application process to win the patents. In theory, the rights granted were superior to any claims by other individuals, public agencies or governments and granted in perpetuity.
Land Patents and Taxes
Over generations, the rights granted by land patents were conveyed by deed to the subsequent purchasers and heirs of the properties. Although land patents still exist as historical documents, and may in theory still be in effect, they won't relieve a property owner of tax liabilities or shelter him from a foreclosure due to mortgage default. In Florida and other states, property owners are subject to tax assessments unless they have been specifically exempted under state law. Petitioning to be removed from the tax rolls on the basis of a federal land patent will, in most cases, be met with a denial from the assessor and supporting opinion from the state's attorney general office.
Read More: Why Do Patents Expire?
Federal Records Management
The Bureau of Land Management succeeded the General Land Office as the federal agency responsible for handling federally-owned land. The BLM offers a dedicated website that enables you to search for land patents as indexed in the National Archives. You can search by state, county or township; the site can associate an original patentee, assignee, or heir with a specific tract and provide date of the original patent. Patents in the database run from 1788 to the 1960s. Homestead patents, military warrant patents, patents obtained by treaties and patents obtained through cash purchase all reside in the BLM's database.
Tracking Down a Patent
By searching through the BLM's land patent records, a researcher can find a wealth of genealogical information: original landowner, subsequent owners, how the land was granted or purchased and for what amount, and any claims to timber or mineral rights on the land. The site offers an image of the patent that can be downloaded and printed out; in addition, the BLM will issue a certified copy of the patent for a fee.
- U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management: The Official Federal Land Records Site
- U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management: Search Documents
- Florida Office of the Attorney: Advisory Legal Opinion - AGO 2011-09
- Forbes: Do Land Patents Trump Property Taxes?
- U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office
- Meinzahn/iStock/Getty Images