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Archives - Land Records - Tract Books

Tract books were originally maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and its predecessor, the General Land Office. Beginning in 1800, these ledgers were used to record entries, leases, withdrawals and other actions affecting the disposition of the public domain. This information allowed federal land officials to determine the status of lands and minerals. In the 1950's the Bureau of Land Management abandoned tract books in favor of a new system. This evolved because of changing duties and responsibilities in public land and resource management. Tract books continue to be a valuable historical reference and the microfilmed collection are those maintained in the local district land offices of the General Land Office, later the Bureau of Land Management. Another set of tract books are found in the National Archives.

Understanding the organization of a tract book page is necessary to be able to comprehend the entries made by federal land officials. The records include:

  • Description of tract: legal land description
  • Type of transaction: homestead, desert, forest entries
  • Content column: exact acreage of an entry
  • Rate per acre: if the land was sold, the price per acre
  • Name of purchasers: if a purchase, settlement or other action
  • Number, receipt and certificate of purchase: number identifies the case file kept on the entry in question
  • To whom patented: Prior to July 1, 1908, the number and date referred to the final certificate, not the patent. The final certificate was the document issued by the land office indicating that the individual had met all requirements and was entitled to a patent. After July 1, 1908, the number and date referred to the patent. If an entry did not go on to patent, there is reference to the date of cancellation or relinquishment. An explanation is seldom given for this action.

The Tract books are not indexed and the researcher needs the legal description of the land being searched to find the citation. The index to the tract volume required is found on a map at the Reference Desk.

The General Land Office web site contains an index to land patents at

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