New York Land Records
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New York is a State-Land State.
The Calendar of N.Y. Colonial Manuscripts Indorsed Land Papers..., 1643–1803 (1864; reprint, Harrison, N.Y.: Harbor Hill Books, 1987) lists documents relating to applications for land patents and other government grants, including warrants or descriptions of surveys, warrants for patents, returns of surveys, certificates, petitions, affidavits, and claims. Microfilm of the material is at the New York State Archives along with the land patents (which are also on microfilm at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society). The Secretary of State Deeds, dating from colonial times and including some private conveyances up to about 1775 (fewer to about 1830) and mostly for property in New York City and adjacent areas), are on microfilm at the state archives and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, with the usual grantor and grantee indexes. Charles F. Grim’s An Essay Towards an Improved Register of Deeds, City and County of New York to December 31, 1799 “Inclusive” (New York: Gould, Banks & Co., 1832) indexes those Secretary of State Deeds pertaining to New York City property.
Abstracts of early deeds for Kings and Westchester counties have been published in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, beginning in volumes 48 and 50 respectively. Fred Q. Bowman, Landholders of Northeastern New York, 1739–1802 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983) covers the counties of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Warren, and Washington. Isaac N. P. Stokes’ superb Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498–1909, 6 vols. (1915–28; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1967) is based heavily on land records and includes detailed maps. It is well indexed.
Bounty land in the central part of the state was awarded by lottery to New York Revolutionary War soldiers, although most sold their allotments rather than settled on them. The successful drawers are listed in The Balloting Book, and Other Documents Relating to Military Bounty Lands in the State of New York (Albany, N.Y.: Packard & Van Benthuysen, 1825).
To help understand the settlement of western New York, see Orsamus Turner, History of Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase and Morris’ Reserve (1851; reprint with supplements and indexes by LaVerne C. Cooley and George E. Lookup, Interlaken, N.Y.: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1976). Turner also wrote Pioneer History of the Holland Land Purchase of Western New York (1849; reprint with Cooley’s index, Interlaken, N.Y.: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1976, and Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1991). See also William Chazanof, Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company: The Opening of Western New York (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1970); Ruth L. Higgins, Expansion in New York with Especial Reference to the Eighteenth Century (1931; reprint, Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, 1974); and William Wyckoff, The Developer’s Frontier: The Making of the Western New York Landscape (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988). Microfilm of the archives of the Holland Land Company is available at the Daniel E. Reed Library, State University at Fredonia, Fredonia, NY 14063; Research Guide No. 55 explains these records. Karen E. Livsey’s Western New York Land Transactions, 1804–1824, …1825–1835, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1991, 1996) is an index to early Holland Company sales. Other land company records are in the state library in Albany and scattered among various repositories.
In the counties are deeds and mortgages and corresponding indexes to each type of record (published indexes covering into the nineteenth century are available for New York and Albany counties). These records in the county clerk’s offices begin mostly with the formation of the county, but sometimes colonial deeds were recorded in town records, and some counties have copies or abstracts of deeds originally recorded in their parent county/counties pertaining to land now in the “child” county. Also, many land transactions were not recorded in earlier times since there was no state law strongly requiring such until 1823. (The recording of deeds was required in new counties in northern, central, and western New York from the 1790s and in New York City from 1811. Mortgages were required to be recorded from 1753.) Additionally, it may have been a long way to the courthouse, or the family moved on before the document could get recorded. Furthermore, with some New York lands in dispute, deed holders were reluctant to bring them in for recording. Many early New Yorkers simply leased land from individuals or families who held vast acreage. Evidence of residency in those cases might be found in the private papers of manorial families such as the Livingstons, Van Rensselaers, and Van Cortlandts. Unfortunately, there is no guide to the location of all manorial records, but very helpful is Henry B. Hoff, “Manors in New York,” The NYG&B Newsletter 10 (1999): 55-58, 11 (2000): 13-17; also Sung Bok Kim’s Landlord and Tenant in Colonial New York (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978) includes an excellent overview and a good bibliography. The Livingston papers are available at the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City and are on microfilm at the Family History Library; the Van Rensselaer papers are in the state library in Albany.