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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: The Government's Land
by Rhonda R. McClure

October 12, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

When learning about land records, we soon discover that there are different types of land records. Most of the time we are dealing with deeds. However even in the world of deeds there are different kinds of deeds such as warranty deeds and quit claim deeds. But you may have thought that there was only one kind of bounty land, and the federal government was responsible for dispersing that land.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the land records, you learned that the original states also offered bounty land. But where did the federal government get the land that it was offering as bounty? To look at this we need to go back a little into the history.

Learning the history of bounty land in the U.S. will give you a better understanding of land records.

Land Speculation

In 1747, we had some of the first land speculators. There were probably earlier ones, but this group would become involved in history in a major way. At the time, George Washington's brother Lawrence was part of a group that formed the Ohio Company. They obtained a land grant, from England, for acreage south of the Ohio River. However, there was just one teensy problem, the French were claiming the same land.

Because of this little detail, Washington would be sent out to visit Ft. Dusquesne (what would become Pittsburgh) to tell the French to leave. Along the march, Washington and his men surprised a small group of French soldiers. The ensuing scuffle would leave 10 dead and another 22 captured. Needless to say France was not happy. And this little scuffle would not only launch the French and Indian War in the colonies, but also the Seven Years War in Europe.

Proclamation of 1763

When all the fighting was done, Great Britain issued the Proclamation of 1763. This was one of the stipulations at the end of the French and Indian War. This proclamation restricted the colonists from migrating inward past the Appalachian Mountains. Land to the west of the Appalachian Mountains was devoted to the Native Americans. Of course, once the war was over, all prior bets were off.

Now, while the colonists were told they couldn't venture west, most of the original colonies claimed land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Not surprisingly, some of the states had rival claims. However, after the American Revolution, the newly-formed federal government was facing a problem, that of where to get money to operate. So, as part of their ratification of the Constitution the original states agreed to give up their claims to these lands.

Land for Sale

The federal government would divide the land. Part of what would become Ohio was some of the first bounty land acreage. And as new states were created and people began to move to those new areas, there were a number of ways to get land from the government. And thus we now have the Bureau of Land Management and their great searchable database.

Even some of the states, especially Virginia, that were offering bounty land would have some of their bounty land holdings in this area of the newly-formed country. This section of land, that eventually comprised most of the Midwestern states, was originally known as the Northwest Territory.

In Conclusion

The incentive to the states to donate this land to the newly-formed country's broke government, was a promise of no taxes. The government said that they would use the money from the sale of the land as its operating capital. This worked for almost 150 years and has resulted in some wonderful records for researchers in the process.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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