Mississippi Land Records
This entry was originally written by Kathleen Stanton Hutchison for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Mississippi is a Public-Domain State.
At different times, early Mississippi land records were granted by four different jurisdictions: France, Britain, Spain, and the state of Georgia. These four all owned parts of Mississippi before the area became part of the United States in 1798. Ownership of land based on a grant from a former jurisdiction is called a private land claim, and each landowner of these claims was required to file it with the federal government after Mississippi came under U.S. jurisdiction. These private land claim records are on microfilm (RG 28 SG 1) at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and can be accessed by consulting the department’s guide, “Index to Private Claims and Field Notes in Mississippi.” Further information is given in E. K. Kirkham, The Land Records of America … (see page 6) and Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (see page 11).
Mississippi is a public land state, which means that initial (first-grant) disposition of public owned land after 1798 became the responsibility of the federal government under the General Land Office (GLO), now the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Types of records contained here are field notes and surveys, tract books, official monthly abstracts, patents, and entry records. For the individual buying land directly from the United States government, the transaction was recorded in local federal land offices, and the legal description was entered into tract books. Mississippi’s eight land office districts and the chronological periods of operation within the state of Mississippi, as described in Harry P. Yoshpe and Philip P. Brower, Preliminary Inventory of Land Entry Papers…, No. 22 (see page 6), were the following:
St. Stephens (the district east of the Pearl River) was the first opened land office district (26 December 1806–17), and it was also the first closed. The district was located in what is now Washington County, Alabama. Transactions covered those for the southeastern district, including land Georgia ceded to the federal government in 1798 and 1802. Augusta became the land office serving the area.
The Washington land office (Adams County, or district west of the Pearl River) covered land including Choctaw sales of individual reserves (1807–61).
The federal land office at Huntsville, Alabama (1810-present), was created for the purpose of managing those lands acquired by treaties with the Chickasaw in 1805 and Cherokee in 1806; the office is located in Madison County, Alabama. See Marilyn Davis Barefield, comp., Old Huntsville Land Office Records and Military Warrants, 1810–1854 (Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1985). Between 1827 and 1836, the Jackson land office (Hinds County) was located at Mt. Salus and regulated land sales in west-central Mississippi.
The office at August (Perry County) was moved to Paulding (Jasper County) in 1860–61, having jurisdiction over lands in the lower portion of east-central Mississippi (1820–59).
The Columbus district (Lowndes County) encompassed lands in the northern portion of east-central Mississippi (1833–61).
The Chocchuma land office (now Grenada County) was located in the Choctaw District on the Yalobusha River (1833–40).
It moved to Grenada after 1840 where it continued operating until 1860, serving land in the vicinity of northwest Mississippi.
The Pontotoc office (Pontotoc County) served lands roughly in the extreme northeast of Mississippi (1836–61). By 1869, all were consolidated to one in Jackson.
When the land offices closed in Mississippi, the land records were sent to the BLM (see page 6); however, the original field notes and plat books are housed at the secretary of state’s office. Inquiries may be sent to the Public Lands Division, 401 Mississippi St., Jackson, MS 39205. This office is open to those who want to do research, but there is a fee for research done by the staff.
The best genealogical information pulled from the first-grant land records may be found in the various types of entry records. The private land claim, as previously explained, was the entry record that recorded claims to land from foreign governments. Military bounty land was issued as a reward for military service. “Credit” entries were simply those lands purchased with the intent of paying later, and the “Cash” entries signified those lands sold after 1820 when land was sold for cash only. Those lands given by the government for specific reasons were called donation entries. Homestead entries were created under the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave certain stipulations to settlers in exchange for land. An aid in deciphering these records may be found in Richard S. Lackey, “Credit Land Sales, 1811–1815: Mississippi Entries of the Pearl” (master’s thesis, University of Southern Mississippi, 1975: 185-222); and Robert V. Haynes, “Disposal of Lands in Mississippi Territory,” Journal of Mississippi History 24 (1962): 226-52.
Another type of land transaction involves the buying and selling of property among private citizens (subsequent sales). In Mississippi, these transactions are recorded as deeds at the county courthouse and filed by the chancery clerk; both the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City have large collections of these land records on microfilm, filed by county.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has copies of records taken from both the land commissioner’s office (first-grants) and the offices of chancery clerks (subsequent sales). The congressional records in the archives provide a considerable amount of information about land legislation, including petitions from individuals, land companies, and state and local governments regarding land claims from 1795 to 1872. Located in these documents are also copies of treaties with Native Americans regarding land cessions. Other information is dispersed throughout the provincial, territorial, state, and federal records found in the collection. The map file includes extensive land surveys for the area of the lower Mississippi Valley.
The documentation of ownership of land offers valuable information to the researcher, but it can be a complicated process in Mississippi. For a better working knowledge in the use of such records, see Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Backtracking Hardy Hunter: A Case Study of Genealogical Problem Solving Via the Preponderance of Evidence Principle,” Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly 1 (Spring 1986): 1-19; continued in 1 (Summer 1986): 1-20; and her “Land Titles: A Neglected Key to Solving Genealogical Problems—A Case Study,” Louisiana Genealogical Register 31 (June 1984): 103-23.