The National Archives holds many types of land records, including bounty lands and lands purchased through the Homestead Act. For many African-Americans, those Homestead Land records hold valuable nuggets of information about our ancestors.
What might you find in a land record?
Each land record contains the application for the land, including the name of the applicant, possibly his current residence, and the price paid for the land. For Homestead files, the record will also contain the affadavits of neighbors and the applicant detailing how long the applicant lived there, what improvements were made to the land and the relationship of those neighbors to the applicant.
For example, I discovered that my ancestor, Rinaldi Reddick, had planted 3 acres of corn, peas, and garden. He also built a two-room "box house." There's also a witness affadavit from a James Brown who claims to be Rinaldi's nephew. Have to investigate that. I found similar information for Major Reddick.
I also found something really neat in Rinaldi's file: a letter from his son, Alberta B. Reddick. Alberta wrote to the government after Rinaldi died to inquire about the legal status of the land. Here I have:
- A letter in my great-great-grandfather's handwriting.
- Confirmation of his given name, which has been listed as Alford, Albert, and Albertus in the census.
- His address. This led me to two other census records for him and the discovery of his second wife.
- Confirmation that Rinaldi Reddick did not leave a will. Now I have to search probate records to see what happened to Rinaldi's 120 acres.
- Confirmation that the A.B. Reddick I have seen in records is likely Alberta B. Reddick.
- Confirmation that Alberta was the sixth child of Rinaldi and that all his younger siblings had died by 1942, the date of the letter.
- Further evidence that Nallie Reddick and Rinaldi Reddick are the same person.
All that in one letter!
If you'd like to order land records, first find the patent that describes the land. You can search land patents on Ancestry.com (you can soundex search there) or go to the source: http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/. Once you've got the description, head over to NARA's Order Online Area, register, and order. Happy hunting!