News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 7, 2013

Genalogy: Land ownership, records in Missouri distinct

Tamie Dehler
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The land ownership and records in Missouri are distinctive to that state because of its unique history.

Between the 1680s and 1803, the land that is now the state of Missouri was owned and controlled by either Spain or France. Early settlers received land grants from the French or the Spanish, and these land transactions are housed in the Missouri State Archives. The collection “Recorder of Land Titles, 1805-1872,” contains the Spanish grants, and the collection “Livres Terriens” (“Land Books”) documents the grants made to the French inhabitants of St. Louis by France.

After the United States acquired this land in 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase, the early titles issued to settlers by Spain or France were often disputed and became a source of bitter controversy. The recording of land titles through the United States government began on Sept. 16, 1805 in St. Louis. Many of the early entries involved settlers who had previously obtained their land under the French or the Spanish and who now had to make a new claim through the United States to ensure their title to the land was free and clear.

In 1811, an earthquake of historic proportions originated in New Madrid, Mo. This event interrupted the recording of land claims for several years — until 1818. Settlers who owned land damaged by the earthquake were granted new land through an act of Congress.

During the War of 1812, some land in Missouri was reserved as bounty land for the veterans of the war. These lands were located at the northernmost bend of the Missouri River, the present-day Carroll and Chariton counties. The land was granted directly to the soldiers, their widows or heirs, by the federal government. In addition to the bounty lands, the federal government continued to sell land patents directly to settlers.

The federal government also gave public domain land to the state of Missouri for various purposes. This land totaled about 6.5 million acres. The state then sold the land to settlers. The land patents for these acres were issued by the state of Missouri rather than the United States. These include the following:

n Township land for schools, 1820-1900. The 16th section in every township was set aside by the federal government for the state to sell, using the profits to build and maintain schools and hire teachers.

n Seminary land, 1824. The U.S. government gave Missouri land equaling approximately two townships to sell for the support and maintenance of an institute of higher learning.

n Saline lands, 1824. The federal government gave Missouri up to 12 salt springs with attached land to be sold to the public for not less than $2 per acre. The proceeds were to go toward building public roads and canals. These springs were in Cooper, Howard, Pike, Ralls and Saline counties.

n Swamp Land. In 1850 the US granted federal lands in the southeastern counties of Butler, Cape Girardeau, Dunkin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Ripley and Stoddard to be sold to the public for not less than $1.25 per acre, with the profits used for a school fund. These sales often involved speculation and corruption.

n In 1841, the U.S. granted Missouri 500,000 acres of public land in Andrew, Buchanan, Holt and Platte counties. The land was to be offered to individual settlers for not less than $1.25 per acre. The settlers were also entitled preemption rights for up to 160 acres. The profits from the sale of these lands went to a state internal improvement fund.

To search for land patents granted by the state of Missouri, visit

archives/land. This database contains more than 35,500 grants. To search for federal land patents located in the state of Missouri, visit This database includes the War of 1812 grants.