Tracking Your Past

Curious about the history of your land? The Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior offers a website, https://glorecords.blm.gov/default.aspx, that documents land patents. If you have the legal description of a parcel, you can often find the names of the individuals who originally purchased the land or who perhaps received it as a soldier’s or veteran’s grant.
On the website, click on “Land Patents” in the left margin. Use the drop-down menus to enter your state and county. In the “Land Description” box, enter the legal description of your property from a property tax statement or other land ownership record. (Hint: For “Township” you would enter a numeral, for example, “8” followed by “North” or “South” from the drop-down menu. For “Range” you would enter another numeral, say, “3” followed by “East” or “West” from the drop-down menu.) The section number can also be found in your land records, as well as on a plat map.
Hit “Search Patents” for a list of land acquisitions. You should see a list of federal land transactions, specifying the dates, buyers and specific property descriptions. Look for the property description that matches the one you are searching for, such as “NE1/4SE1/4,” in other words, the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of that section.
When I searched for information on the Iowa County acreage where we live, I found that one piece of our land was part of a parcel purchased by Abner Nichols and a partner on Jan. 5, 1841. Another piece was part of a parcel bought by David W. Jones on the same date. These sales were handled by the federal land office in Mineral Point.
Were these men speculators? Farmers? Miners?
An online search revealed that Jones was born in Wales in 1815 and emigrated to Pennsylvania with his family. He moved to Mineral Point in 1836 and worked in the land office. Jones later became an attorney and served as Wisconsin’s secretary of state in the late 1850s.
Nichols appeared in several online references. His descendent, author and journalist John Nichols, dedicated one of his books to his father, whose ancestor “Abner Nichols, the Cornish tin miner … came in 1824 to mine lead at Mineral Point.” Abner Nichols also fought in the Black Hawk War, was the proprietor of the Mansion House in Mineral Point, and served in the Wisconsin State Assembly.
You never know. Your own land patent search may lead in unexpected directions.

Doris Green is the author of “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and a new edition of “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels in and Around the Badger State.” Both are available from http://henschelhausbooks.com. Reach Doris via https://dorisgreenbooks.com.