Inside Sources: State Land vs. Public Land States

Inside Sources: State Land vs. Public Land States

Whether your ancestors lived in a state-land or public-land state affects the land records you'll look for. Learn which states fall into which category.

The types and locations of your ancestors’ land records depend on whether he lived in a state-land state or a public-land state. Before state-land states became US territories, entities such as Colonial governments controlled, surveyed and distributed their land. Early property-transaction records are usually in those states’ archives. The US government owned the land in public-land states before they entered the Union; the National Archives and Records Administration has records of federal government land sales.


• Alabama

• Alaska

• Arizona

• Arkansas

• California

• Colorado

• Florida

• Idaho

• Illinois

• Indiana

• Iowa

• Kansas

• Louisiana

• Michigan

• Minnesota

• Mississippi

• Missouri

• Montana

• Nebraska

• Nevada

• New Mexico

• North Dakota

• Ohio (parts were surveyed under earlier systems)

• Oklahoma

• Oregon

• South Dakota

• Utah

• Washington

• Wisconsin

• Wyoming


• Connecticut

• Delaware

• Georgia

• Hawaii

• Kentucky

• Maine

• Maryland

• Massachusetts

• New Hampshire

• New Jersey

• New York

• North Carolina

• Pennsylvania

• Rhode Island

• South Carolina

• Tennessee

• Texas

• Vermont

• Virginia

• West Virginia
Our Land Records 101 Family Tree University course will give you more details on public-land and state-land states, as well as where to find records of land transactions in each. You’ll also learn how to find your ancestors’ deeds (recording transfers between private individuals), how to use a legal land description to determine exactly where your ancestor’s land was, and more.

See a Land Records 101 course description and find out when the next session begins at Family Tree University.

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