Vermont Land Records
This entry was originally written by Scott Andrew Bartley and Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Vermont is a State-Land State.
Much land in the state was originally granted by Vermont, New Hampshire, or New York; some were in competing claims. When Vermont declared itself independent in 1777, all land came under its jurisdiction. Consequently, there was no other way to obtain an initial grant of land except through the auspices of the legislature, which first granted the town to a group of individuals called proprietors. The proprietors then met— although not necessarily in the town or even in Vermont—devised a plan for dividing up the land, and drew lots to determine who owned which lots. From then on, that piece of land was identified in deeds (if the descriptions are detailed enough) as the “original right” of that proprietor.
“Original right” is a term found often in deeds, often delineated as being the first, second, third, fourth, or sometimes fifth division right of the proprietor since not all of a town was divided up at one time. A division usually contained lots of equal acreage. For example, first division lots might be 100 acres, second division lots fifty acres. Some lots were set aside for the ministry, schools, and the governor to use at their discretion, though most of that was later sold in tax sales or leased by the town selectmen.
Occasionally, towns defined “divisions” using a grid of ranges and lots. For example, a first division might include “Lot #5 in 6th range.” Once the general plan for numbering the lot—whether by divisions or ranges or a combination—was made, land tended to be sold as portions of the lot such as “south half of Lot #5.” Metes and bounds descriptions were added later when land divisions did not fall neatly into portions of the original lot. Such metes and bounds descriptions often indicated names of roads, streams, or neighbors. The town is the primary legal jurisdiction for land records in Vermont. Consequently, original copies of land records are at the town clerk’s office (see Vermont Town Resources). Each town has separate indexes for the grantees and grantors. Very few women owned land in their own right. They occasionally witnessed deeds but sometimes were asked to release their dower’s right. A few land records were recorded by counties and are available at the county courthouse (see Vermont County (Probate) Resources), although they are primarily for those towns as noted in the Town Resources that have no formal organization.
With no statewide master index or abstract of land records in the 251 towns, this valuable genealogical information has to be searched out town by town, but it can be done centrally with microfilm copies. Land records for towns whose records were extant in the 1940s had those deed books and indexes microfilmed from inception through 1850. They are available and at The Vermont Public Records Division, and through the The Family History Library (FHL). Fortunately, only a few towns had lost their land records in fires or floods by that time. The Vermont Public Records Division is always expanding its microfilm holdings of town records beyond those done in the 1940s, and its collection now includes many town records from 1850 to the present, some of which may also be found in the FHL microfilm collection.