Pennsylvania Land Records

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This entry was originally written by Roger D. Joslyn, CG, FUGA, FGBS, FASG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

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


Pennsylvania is a State-Land State.

The Land Records Office came into operation in 1682, keeping records about state boundaries, land granted by William Penn and the Commonwealth, and land still owned by Pennsylvania. Of greatest value are the warrants, surveys, and patents, including warrantee maps (see Maps), all available by mail for a modest fee from their current repository in the Pennsylvania State Archives. Research on Pennsylvania land is incomplete without consulting Donna Bingham Munger, Pennsylvania Land Records: A History and Guide for Research (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1991).

Some of the earliest records of Pennsylvania grants are held by the Philadelphia City Archives and are indexed in Warrants and Surveys of the Province of Pennsylvania including the Three Lower Counties 1759, compiled by Allen Weinberg and Thomas E. Slattery (1965; reprint, Knightstown, Ind.: The Bookmark, 1975). The “Lower Counties” were those that are now the state of Delaware. Warrantees of land for several counties for 1733 to 1896 are listed in Pennsylvania Archives, 3d series, vols. 2, 3, and 24–26, and are indexed in volumes 27–30; they are also now available on CD-ROM by Retrospect Publishing. See also William H. Egle, Early Pennsylvania Land Records: Minutes of the Board of Property of the Province of Pennsylvania, 1687–1732 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976), reprinted from the Pennsylvania Archives, 2d series, vol. 19, for references to pre-1733 purchases.

The southwest corner of Pennsylvania was contested with Virginia, and many records for this area are to be found at the Virginia State Archives (Richmond) and at the University of West Virginia (Morgantown). For further research refer to “Virginia Claims to Land in Pennsylvania,” in Pennsylvania Archives 3d series, vol. 3, 483–574; Boyd Crumrine, Virginia Court Records in Southwestern Pennsylvania…1775–1780 (1902–5; reprint with index, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1974); and articles by Dr. Raymond Martin Bell in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly 45 (1957), and The Virginia Genealogist 7 (1963) and 11 (1967).

Settlers from Connecticut came to the Upper Delaware and Wyoming valleys claimed by that colony from about 1753 to 1782. The records of the Delaware Company have not survived, but see The Susquehanna Company Papers by Julian P. Boyd and Robert J. Taylor, 11 vols. (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: Wyoming Historical and Geological Society; Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1930–71); William Henry Egle, Documents Relating to the Connecticut Settlement in the Wyoming Valley (of Pennsylvania) (1890; reprint, Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1990); and Donna Bingham Munger, “Following Connecticut Ancestors to Pennsylvania: Susquehanna Company Settlers,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 139 (1985): 112-25. Other material is at the Connecticut State Library and the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society in Wilkes-Barre.

Land in the western part of the state, called the “Donation Lands,” was offered to Revolutionary War soldiers of the Pennsylvania Line of the Continental Army. Also in this section of Pennsylvania were “Depreciation Lands,” auctioned for the redemption of Revolutionary War Depreciation Certificates. The claims to these lands were published with maps in volumes 3 and 7 of Pennsylvania Archives, 3d series. A helpful discussion of both of these land groups by John E. Winner appeared in the Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 8 (1925): 1-11. See also “The Depreciation and Donation Lands,” compiled by Nell Y. Herchenroether, in Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Quarterly 7 (1981): 127-33.

Most research in Pennsylvania land records will begin in the deeds and mortgages found with the recorder of deeds. Here will also be found the seller and buyer (grantor and grantee) indexes, sometimes arranged by the somewhat cumbersome Russell system (which is explained by William L. Iscrupe, “Using the Russell Index,” Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Quarterly 30 [2004]: 34-36). In Pennsylvania, deeds and mortgages are more often than not indexed separately. Chattel mortgages are also found with the recorder of deeds. Most county deeds recorded to about 1850 and corresponding indexes are available on microfilm at the state archives and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Some unrecorded deeds may be found in courthouses, and many have found their way from private hands into archives, historical societies, and libraries. Keep in mind that in Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, a deed may have been recorded long after its execution and acknowledgment. In the southwestern part of the state, for example, some original deeds surfaced for recording when titles were being cleared for petroleum rights around the beginning of the twentieth century—some deeds dating over 100 years earlier. In earlier times many clerks were careful to copy German signatures into the deed books. This practice is of particular value, as in the text of the deed the name was usually anglicized.

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