Illinois Land Records

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This entry was originally written by Carol L. Maki and Michael John Neill for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the Illinois Family History Research series.
History of Illinois
Illinois Vital Records
Census Records for Illinois
Background Sources for Illinois
Illinois Maps
Illinois Land Records
Illinois Probate Records
Illinois Court Records
Illinois Tax Records
Illinois Cemetery Records
Illinois Church Records
Illinois Military Records
Illinois Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Illinois Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Illinois Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Illinois
Illinois County Resources
Map of Illinois


In 1791 a special act of Congress gave 400 acres to those who were heads of families in the year 1783 at Vincennes or in the Illinois country. This included the region west of Vincennes, Indiana, across the Wabash River. A later act in 1813 provided preemption rights to land occupied in the state.

But the major land disbursements in Illinois occurred based on its status as a public-domain state. The first General Land Office opened at Kaskaskia in 1804 and began selling land ten years later. There were a total of ten land districts. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Eastern States Office has patents, tract books, and township plats. Land-entry case files are at the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Sale of public land was first conducted under a credit system, which proved to be unmanageable. Many purchasers overextended their ability to pay. In April of 1820 the credit system was abolished, requiring full payment for land at time of purchase. The same legislation reduced the minimum purchase from 160 acres to 80 acres and increased the minimum price per acre from $1.25 to $2. Several acts of Congress provided for further credit and extensions on the previously unpaid accounts. For further information on this aspect of land sales in Illinois, see Victoria Irons and Patricia C. Brennan, Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the State of Illinois (Springfield, Ill.: Illinois State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State), Record Group 952. These files, listed as “U.S. General Land Office Records for Illinois” are extensive and include a wide variety of material from “Circulars Received from General Land Office” to lists of names of persons eligible for militia grants and ancient French and British grants affirmed by the Board of Commissioners.

An index created by the Illinois State Archives to the Illinois public domain land sale records is in three parts: 1) a statewide alphabetical listing by name of purchaser; 2) a county-by-county listing arranged alphabetically by purchaser; and 3) a geographic listing arranged by section, township, and range. Over a half million names appear in these records, including lands sold by the ten federal land district offices; lands sold by the Illinois Central Railroad; and certain school, canal, and internal improvement lands sold by the state. The alphabetical listing by purchaser is available for sale as a set of microfiche from the Illinois State Archives. Copies of the entire microfiche are found at the Newberry Library, the National Archives—Great Lakes Region, and other research facilities. This index is also available online at the Illinois State Archives website.

For information on the War of 1812 bounty land warrants in the military reserves of Illinois, see Lowell M. Volkel, War of 1812 Bounty Lands in Illinois (Thomson, Ill.: Heritage House, 1977) and Theodore L. Carlson, Illinois Military Tract: A Study of Land Occupation, Utilization and Tenure (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1951).

In some counties there are county recorders to register all property transactions. Smaller counties give the responsibility to the county clerk. Land records usually have grantor and grantee indexes, with property records beginning with the creation of the county. Some Illinois counties have a tract or parcel index in addition to the name indexes. This index lists parcels geographically, typically by quarter section in rural areas. More information on using land records can be obtained in Michael John Neill’s article “Using a Tract Index for Land and Other Records” (Illinois State Genealogical Quarterly 29 [1997]: 195).

Illinois Central Railroad land records are in the appropriate county courthouses.

The is a collection of Illinois Public Land Purchase Records searchable at Ancestry.com.

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