Alabama Land Records
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This entry was originally written by Robert S. Davis and Mary Bess Paluzzi in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Alabama is a Public-Domain State.
Colonial settlers acquired title to Alabama lands from the French, the Spanish, the British, and the Native Americans. Original copies of these grants from the first three groups may be found, respectively, in the Archives Nationales in Paris, the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, and the Public Record Office in London. When land title was transferred from Great Britain to the United States in 1783, following the American Revolution, preemptive landowners were required to file proof of their land title with the U.S. General Land Office (GLO). Abstracts of the files are found in the American States Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress, Class VIII, Public Lands (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832–61). These volumes are indexed in C.I.S. U.S. Serial Set Index, Part I, American States Papers and the 15th–34th Congresses, 1789–1857 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Information Services, 1977).
Title to previously ungranted lands was vested in the federal government, and titles were conveyed to individuals either by sale, by bounty-land warrant, or homestead. The Land Act of 1800, as amended in 1803, simplified the claiming of land titles by authorizing local public land offices to survey and auction lands within their charge. Sales were sanctioned through thirteen land offices including St. Stephens (established December 1806, transferred to Mobile, 1867); Huntsville (established at Nashville in March 1807, transferred to Huntsville, 1811, transferred to Montgomery, May 1866); Cahaba (established at Milledgeville, Georgia, August 1817, transferred to Cahaba, October 1818, transferred to Greenville, 1856); Tuscaloosa (established May 1820, transferred to Montgomery, 1832); Sparta-Conecuh Courthouse (established May 1820, transferred to Montgomery, 1854); Montgomery (established July 1832, closed 1927); Mardisville-Montevallo (established July 1832, transferred to Lebanon, 1842); Demopolis (established March 1833, transferred to Montgomery, March 1866); Lebanon (established April 1842, transferred to Centre 1858); Elba (established April 1854, transferred to Montgomery, April 1867); Greenville (established 1856, transferred to Montgomery 1866); Centre (established 1858, transferred to Huntsville 1866); and Mobile (established 1867, transferred to Montgomery June 1879).
Indexes to Alabama land grants originating with the BLM are widely available. These indexes do not include pre-1820 land grants on credit, military bounty warrants (1842–58), and homestead applications that were not completed. The National Archives has an index to all of these grants and other federal land states, which should also be consulted for the otherwise omitted land grant records. These may contain significant genealogical information. Researchers should note that persons who gave aid to the Confederate cause were barred from receiving homestead land grants from 1866 to 1876.
When the land offices were closed, their original records were sent to the Washington, D.C., office. Photocopies of the original records may be requested from the Washington National Reference Center at Suitland, Md. (see page ). Presidential patents are available and can be searched and copied for free from the Bureau of Land Management website. The BLM Eastern States (750 Boston Blvd., Springfield, VA 22153-3121 has additional files and materials relating to Alabama lands. Duplicate copies of some of these records are located in the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the office of the Alabama Secretary of State, and the University of Alabama library’s special collections. Plat maps and field notes for these original land grants are also available at these repositories. The Southern Historical Press has published Marilyn Davis Hahn Barefield’s incomplete abstracts of several of the land offices’ records including those of Centre, Demopolis, Elba, Huntsville, Lebanon, Mardisville, Sparta, St. Stephens, and Tuscaloosa counties; Southern University Press has published her abstracts from the Cahaba Land Office. Abstracts for north Alabama counties published by Margaret M. Cowart abstracts are for Colbert, Franklin, Jackson, Limestone, Madison, and Morgan counties.
Tract books indicating the original sale of property from the federal government, or the state of Alabama in case of a sixteenth section, are housed in the county probate judge’s office. The books, arranged by legal description, include the name of the purchaser, the number of acres purchased, the price, date of purchase, certificate number, and whether or not the land was obtained under a military act. These records do not include lands cut away to form new counties or subsequent sales of original tracts.
All subsequent title transactions following the original title transfer from the federal government are recorded in the probate judge’s records of the county in which the property lies. These records include conveyance records, which detail the transfer of property either by sale or donation.
In some counties, mortgages were recorded in the same volumes as outright conveyance of real property, while in others, liens and deeds of trust are recorded separately as “Mortgages.”