What is a Land Patent? 9 Things (2024) You Should Know

Land patents are one of the most misunderstood concepts of land ownership.

You may have heard a lot about these documents, but we’re here to break down the facts.

In this blog, we’re going to dive into what holding a patent means, how it was created, and how it can be useful in establishing ownership interests in real property.

Let’s get started.

1. What is a land patent?

A land patent, also called a letters patent, is a legal document issued by the federal government that grants an individual the title to land that is held by a government.

When a patent is obtained, it can be treated as any deed is treated.

2. What is the history of U.S. government-issued land patents?

Throughout the 1800s, the United States government created the General Land Office, which sought to move people off the east coast and into the woods out west through a series of land grants.

The Land Office sold public lands to those willing to venture out west not by deed, but by patents.

These patents served as the early forms of title, and they allowed people to assert their ownership against all others.

3. Who administers U.S. records pertaining to land patents?

In this article, you’ll hear us refer to both the General Land Office and the Bureau of Land Management.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the modern equivalent of the GLO.

Over time, the GLO became obsolete, and it was replaced by the BLM.

Today the BLM is the agency that maintains and administers all land patent records.

4. What information do U.S. land patents show?

Land patents show the name of the patentee, date, legal description of the land, patent number, and the land office that issued the patent.

5. What is the Land Patent Search?

The Land Patent Search is an index of federal patents from 1788 to the 1960s.

It is located at the National Archives.

The Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office (BLM-GLO) Land Patent Search is primarily for government-to-individual land conveyances in federal land states west and south of the original thirteen colonies.

These include:

bulletWashington

bulletOregon

bulletIdaho

bulletCalifornia

bulletNevada

bulletArizona

bulletUtah

bulletWyoming

bulletColorado

bulletNew Mexico

bulletNorth Dakota

bulletSouth Dakota

bulletNebraska

bulletIowa

bulletKansas

bulletOklahoma

bulletArkansas

bulletLouisiana

bulletMissouri

bulletWisconsin

bulletMinnesota

bulletIllinois

bulletIndiana

bulletOhio

bulletAlabama

bulletMississippi

bulletFlorida

bulletMichigan

The BLM-GLO Land Patent Search index only lists people who were actually granted a federal land patent.

Only about 40 percent of homesteaders finished the application process and received a legal patent for their homestead.

Even fewer (25 percent) of timberland applicants received a legal patent.

You can start by searching in this index to find the information that you need to obtain the application for patents, which may be a rich source of genealogical information about a family.

6. Are patents subject to property tax?

Yes, there’s a common misconception that you can use a land patent to renounce all federal benefits in order to avoid paying property taxes.

Unfortunately, this is not how it works.

A patent is merely useful in defining real property ownership.

It cannot appoint the property owner as king or establish a patch of land as a private fiefdom.

It does not grant you permission to dodge taxes or land use regulation.

The misunderstanding comes from the statement, “Land, protected by land patent, can’t be lawfully seized for debt or taxes.”

Individuals hear this statement and believe that patented land cannot be taxed, but this is not true.

Numerous court cases and Attorney General Opinions have ruled that owners with federal land patents are subject to taxation.

A list of a few such rulings are as follows:

bulletFlorida – Attorney General Opinion 2011-09

bulletOhio – Callison v Huelsman

bulletMinnesota – County of Steele v Phillip Brase

bulletWyoming – In the Matter of the Appeal of Taylor form a Decision of the Natrona County Board of Equalization

7. Are patent lands subject to planning and zoning and other ordinances and laws?

Yes, as noted above, having a land patent does not make you exempt from zoning or planning regulation.

Although individuals do try to claim or argue that they do not need permits for certain actions because of a patent, this is untrue.

8. What is the benefit of a land patent?

At this point, you are probably wondering: what is the benefit of a land patent?

Well, there are a few potential cases where patented land does still convey a superior ownership claim.

For example, in a Michigan Supreme Court Case (Klais vs. Danowski), the court ruled that land submerged under a public lake could not be claimed by the state.

If the land had not been patented, the state government would have been able to assert a claim to the submerged portion of the property under Michigan’s Submerged Lands Act.

Thus, the patent allowed for a claim that was superior to the state in this specific case and helped preserve an owner’s right to submerged land as well as other related interests, such as oil and gas rights.

9. How do you use the Land Patent Search?

Are you interested in using the Land Patent Search index to find out if one of your ancestors was issued a patent at one point?

Here’s how you can do it.

bulletOpen the General Land Office Patent Search

bulletEnter your zip code if required

bulletSelect any state

bulletEnter the last name of the person receiving the patent

bulletIf necessary, enter the land description or other miscellaneous information as request

bulletClick “Search Patents” at the bottom of the page

If the results list is too long, then you can opt to redo the search using one or more of the following to help narrow it down:

bulletA particular state

bulletA particular state and country

bulletA first name

bulletA first name and middle name

bulletA land description

bulletOther miscellaneous information

If the results list is too short, then you can opt to redo the search with fewer filters applied.

Here’s what you may want to do:

bulletDelete the middle name

bulletDelete the middle name and first name

bulletChange a particular county to –Any County–

bulletChange a particular state to –Any State–

bulletDelete any other details (the fewer search parameters you use, the larger the results list will be)

bulletUse wildcard symbols in names:

    1. % in place of multiple characters
    2. _ in place of a single character

bulletLook for spelling variations of names

If you locate an ancestor on the results list, click on the accession number to view the patent details.

You can then view, save, and print the documents related to the patent.

Final thoughts

While a land patent isn’t going to help you dodge taxes, it is a pretty cool concept.

If you can trace your property back to a land patent, make sure to do your research before you assume you can now stop paying taxes or complying with local laws.

There’s a lot of misinformation about what land patents are and how they affect land rights.

Please note: this article was based on my own research and consultation with several real estate lawyers. I am not a lawyer myself; therefore, please contact an attorney who specializes in land patents if you have questions about a specific case.

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

Erika

19 thoughts on “What is a Land Patent? 9 Things (2024) You Should Know”

  1. Hello, my name is Roger and I am interested in getting a land patent on my 2 acre family residence in the woods of northern Michigan, Roscommon County. Any help or advice, guidance you may be able to provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
    Sincerely, the Mater family

    Reply
    • Hello Roger, my apologies, but my understanding is that you cannot patent land, you can only trace your land’s title back to an original patent that transferred title from the US government to the first private owner.

      Reply
  2. Can my ancestors land patent be sold at a tax sale?

    Reply
    • Hello Roger, yes, I do believe that patented land is subject to taxation and tax sales.

      Reply
  3. Hello, I’ve researched my family and found that my 4th great grandfather has one of the documents on the website. I have looked over it but I’m curious, does this mean I could have the title transferred to me? Is the land mine if I claim it? How does it work? I’ve requested info on the land but no one has gotten back with me. Any advice helps.

    Reply
    • Hello Kourtney, no, I don’t believe this necessarily means that the land can be transferred to you, but you can always speak with a title company to see if you have any interest in the property.

      Reply
  4. My great great grandfather Bernardo Yorba in the 1800 had grants and Patton’s of land and 14,000 ac. Was given to our family from King of Spain besides 4 league of property that I have deed for.what can I do to reclaim the land of over 170 years ago when So.California was not a state it was called Alta California in 1843. I have a patient number and deeds with the wax seal and ribbon from the 1800’s but the government will not help me and said it can’t be real had it checked out and I have been told yes it is real and they said they don’t have any copies of it on file. Please I need direction to find the truth it has been hidden in my family storage of my grandmother that I found. We did own 198,788 ac. Of So. Cal in the 1800s.

    Reply
    • Hello Edward, I’m very sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t help answer your question. I would recommend speaking with a real estate attorney.

      Reply
    • Edward,

      I used to live in Yorba Linda and it is very beautiful (we lived across the street from Bernardo Yorba MS). You need to keep up the search. OC or the state probably won’t help as they would never want you to know what happened once Mr Yorba pasted. Please find a Real state attorney and let us know what happened.

      Reply
  5. Hi, my family are the missing heirs to the Refugio District of California a land in award of war land patent to a sovereign from a sovereign it was upheld by the USA. Look
    http://Www.ortegaranchorefugio.com
    This is what a land patent is in reality, it is how land is held for a body of people by a sovereign head of state. It is a very unique and real letters patent to a Pueblo of the California Chanel islands because Santa Barbara is a pre existing intellectual civilization with a pre existing history and identity. Jente de Razon the royal California Pueblo Rancharia Dons. Thanks

    Reply
  6. Hi Erika,

    I have a land patent from my mom’s estate, Her Mothers fathers farther perched these 40 acres before Wisconsin became a state. My ancestors had lived there and farmed it for a couple generations, then moved to better conditions in IL. Do you suppose there is any point in looking into any ownership on the land?

    Reply
    • Hello Alan, unfortunately, I would doubt that you have any ownership claim on the property, but you may want to look into it just for the sake of learning more about your family’s history.

      Reply
  7. The land patent itself says to the heirs and assign forever.

    Reply
    • Hello Roger, I would just kindly note that most deeds say this. It’s standard language when transferring property and it doesn’t mean you can’t sell the property or lose it in a foreclosure or tax auction.

      Reply
  8. My family owns property purchase by the BLM back in the early 60’s. This property is in Rio Blanco County Colorado. The BLM built the road going into several properties all originally bought by BLM. Now, this road was never recorded and it is unclear if it is private or has public access. My family has run into a legal problem because the road to our property has no legal access, and the bank do not like to make loans evidently.
    In some of the paperwork I have acquired it does mention “patent”,but if land patents are the same as deeds than why wasn’t it recorded? I would like to get this road recorded so it can have legal access. Please help!
    Warmly, Karen Temples-Craft
    970-282-1011

    Reply
    • Hello Karen, I’m sorry to hear about your difficulties. If the road is a BLM road, then I believe you would need to work with the local BLM office to try and get a recorded easement to proves you have legal access to the property.

      Reply
  9. Great presentation. As a Real Estate Broker I had never heard of or run across a Land Patent.
    I am pleased to have run across your information.

    Reply
  10. Hi, I live in Alabama . I would like to get a land patent on my property as it has been paid off for many years. What good would it do for me to do that? How would a land patent help me other than to show that someone else might have had one on my property some time back? Any info is appreciated.

    Reply
    • Hello Andrew, I would recommend speaking with a real estate attorney, but, unfortunately, I don’t think it is usually possible to get a land patent.

      Reply

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