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Wisconsin Genealogy Resources

Land Records

Wisconsin is a federal-land state.  Wisconsin was divided into a grid of 1,554 townships by the General Land Office (GLO) survey crews. The earliest land office was at Mineral Point, opening on 10 November 1834. Land that is presently Grant County, with the exception of mineral land, was available at that time. The local records of the nine GLO district offices are at the Commissioner of Public Lands, P.O. Box 8943, Madison, Wisconsin 53708-8943 (127 West Washington Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53703).

Many records of the Commissioner of Public Lands are in the State Archives, Wisconsin Historical Society. These include copies of original federal survey plat books, 1834-58, and various other records. The State Archives holds copies of all Wisconsin Local Land Office Tract Books, showing original owners or recipients of most land in Wisconsin.

The Bureau of Land Management Eastern States Land Office in Springfield, Virginia, has patents, copies of tract books, and township plats < www.glorecords.blm.gov >. An online searchable index and downloadable images of Wisconsin land patents are also available. The National Archives holds the land-entry case files.

See Alexander F. Pratt, "Reminiscences of Wisconsin," in Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, vol. 1, Lyman Copeland Draper, ed. (reprint, Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1855), 137, regarding claims to associations near Milwaukee in the late 1830s.

Subsequent land transactions after initial ownership are recorded in the county's register of deeds. Most counties have grantor/grantee indexes to their records. Some are available at the Area Research Centers of the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Family History Library.

The patentee was the first owner of property after the initial survey. Once the patent was issued, the land became private property and was then sold with a deed. The townships, the six-mile-square land blocks which were the original divisions of land from the federal land grants, were then divided into 36 one-mile squares. The township numbering was the north-south numbering, starting from the center line. The range numbering was the east-west numbering, starting from the center line. The section is the one-mile-square portion (approximately 640 acres) of a township. That was was also generally divided into 36 equal squares (each of which might be divided another 36 times).

Land records are normally kept in the Register of Deeds office. Many of these early court records have been transferred to the Area Research Centers.

For additional information:

  • Ainsworth, Fern C. Private land claims, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin / by Fern Ainsworth.
    [Natchitoches, La. : F. Ainsworth, 198-] 28, 18, 38 p. ; 28 cm.
     
  • Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Land Patent Records Site.
     
  • Bureau of Land Management. Wisconsin, 1820-1908 Cash and Homestead Entries, Cadastral Survey Plats. Springfield, Virginia. BLM Eastern States, 1994.
     
  • Deeds. When the State of Wisconsin purchases land, the deed with related documentation for the property is filed in the Office of the Secretary of State. Lands purchases include property for state forests or parks, for miscellaneous wildlife areas, and for land with buildings. If a record cannot be located in the Secretary of State's database, a search of the Archives at the Wisconsin State Historical Society is suggested.
     
  • English, William Hayden. Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio, 1778-1783, and Life of General George Rogers Clark: With Numerous Sketches of Men Who Served Under Clark and Full List of Those Allotted Lands in Clark's Grant for Service in the Campaigns Against the British Posts, Showing Exact Land Allotted Each. 2 volumes. Indiana: Bowen-Merrill, 1896.
     
  • Gates, Paul W., "Frontier Land Business in Business," Wisconsin Magazine of History 52 (1962): 306-27
     
  • Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997.

  • Land Economic Inventory Maps (Bordner Survey). Wisconsin Historical Society. The Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory is a Depression-era project that mapped Wisconsin's land resources between 1929 and 1949. The goal of the project was to promote using land resources more effectively. This is also known as the "Bordner Survey", named after its director, John Bordner. Each map covers one survey township.

  • Land Ownership Maps and Atlases. Wisconsin Historical Society. Wisconsin land ownership maps and atlases identify local landowners of a county and provide information about its topographic and cultural features. They were compiled from local land records and supplemented with the mapmakers' own surveys. The maps and atlases were commercially produced based on supply and demand within the geographical area. Publishers often referred to these as plat maps or plat books. The earliest plat map for Wisconsin was published in 1857.
     
  • Land Records: AL, AR, FL, LA, MI, MN, OH, WI. [s.l.]: Broderbund, 1996. CD-ROM.
     
  • Native American Land Patents - Wisconsin  - A listing by state and Tribe of land patents.
     
  • The Official Land Patent Records - pre-1908 homestead and cash entry patents from the Bureau of Land Management's General Land Office (GLO) Automated Records Project
     
  • Property Records - University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Special Collections

  • Public Land Survey System Township Indexes. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Provides County and regional Public Land Survey System (PLSS) Township indexes for the state of Wisconsin. These indexes are simple graphics intended for viewing purposes, and are not geographic data layers.

  • Real Estate Collection. The Real Estate Collection is intended to provide online access to scholarly research, teaching materials and examples of commercial work in real estate done by celebrated University of Wisconsin professor James A. Graaskamp and others.
     
  • Rootsweb Message Boards for Unknown County

  • Surveyors' Notes and Plats. U.S. General Land Office Surveyors' Field Notes and Plats. Wisconsin Historical Society. The land that is now known as Wisconsin was surveyed by the federal government between 1833 and 1866. The survey was done in order to divide the vast public domain into salable-sized lots that could be sold, or otherwise divested, to raise funds for the federal government and to encourage settlement. The land was divided into 6-mile-squares called towns. The towns were subdivided into 36-mile-square sections. As surveyors traveled, they took field notes that became the official record of the surveys. They recorded vegetation, especially tree cover; land features such as soils, streams and rock outcroppings; and evidence of human habitation including villages, cabins, trails and roads. Mapmakers at the U.S. General Land Office used these surveyors' notes to create official plat maps. The plat maps were used to sell or grant land to settlers, railroads, speculators and other interested parties.
     
  • Trowbridge, Frederick N. "Confirming Land Titles in Early Wisconsin," Wisconsin Magazine of History 26 (1942): 314-22.
     
  • United States. Bureau of Land Management. Wisconsin Land Records. [database on-line] Provo, UT: Ancestry.com, 1997-. Original electronic data from: United States. Bureau of Land Management. Wisconsin Pre-1908 Homestead & Cash Entry Patent and Cadastral Survey Plat Index. General Land Office Automated Records Project, 199x.
     
  • Wisconsin BLM Land Patents - This database was extracted from data generously provided by the Bureau of Land Management. It included every homestead, mining and timber claim, as well as cash sales and Indian allotments. Not included are parcels still owned by the U. S. Government, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Forest Service, and the National Park System.
     
  • Wisconsin Land Records - Ancestry.com
     
  • Wisconsin Land Records - Rootsweb Interactive Search
     
  • Wisconsin Land Records - Interactive Search - This is an interface to the Pre-1908 Homestead and Cash Entry Patents from the Bureau of Land Management's General Land Office (GLO) Automated Records Project.
     
  • Wisconsin Public Land Survey Records. Original Field Notes and Plat Maps.