What Is A Land Patent? All About Land Patents and Property Ownership

If you are interested in the history and ownership of land in the United States, you may have come across the term “land patent”.

What Is A Land PatentCourtesy:(National Archives)
What Is A Land Patent
Courtesy:(National Archives)

But what exactly is a land patent and what does it mean for landowners today?

In this article, we will explain what a land patent is, how it was created, and how it can be useful in establishing ownership interests in real property.

What Is A Land Patent?

The federal government issues a legal document known as a land patent, or letters patent, which grants an individual the title to land held by the government.

Once acquired, a patent can undergo treatment similar to any deed.

A land patent is the highest evidence of right, title, and interest to a defined area.

A central, federal, or state government usually grants it to an individual, partnership, trust, or private company.

One should not mistake the land patent for a land grant.

Lands that have been patented might have been granted by a sovereign authority in exchange for services rendered or alongside a title, or they might have been given freely.

These lands could also be lands that a government, individual, or legal entity purchased privately from their previous owners.

Patent is both a process and a term.

As a process, it is somewhat parallel to gaining a patent for intellectual property, including the steps of uniquely defining the property at issue, filing, processing, and granting.

Unlike intellectual property patents, which have time limits, a land patent is permanent.

Other terms for the certificate that grants such rights include “first-title deed” and “final certificate”.

In law, we know a land patent as “letters patent,” and the original grantee and their heirs usually receive it, holding it forever.

The patent assumes the highest authority over the land’s title since it confirms that all pre-issue date evidence of title had undergone review by the sovereign authority under which it was sealed, and was sealed as irrefutable.

Thus, the land patent itself so becomes at law the title to the land defined within its four corners.

History of US Land Patents

As England, later to become Great Britain, began to colonize America, the Crown made large grants of territory to individuals and companies. In turn, the companies and colonial governors later made smaller grants of land based on actual surveys of the land.

In 1785, Congress created the first federal land office to sell public lands to those willing to venture out west not by deed but by patents. These patents served as the early forms of title and they allowed people to assert their ownership against all others.

Throughout the 1800s, the United States government created various programs and acts that encouraged people to move westward and settle on public lands. Some of these programs and acts include:

  • The Homestead Act of 1862: This act granted 160 acres of public land to anyone who would live on and cultivate it for five years.
  • The Timber Culture Act of 1873: This act granted 160 acres of public land to anyone who would plant trees on at least 40 acres of it for 10 years.
  • The Morrill Act of 1862: This act granted 30,000 acres of public land for each member of Congress to establish colleges for agriculture and mechanical arts.
  • The Railroad Act of 1862: This act granted public lands to railroad companies to build transcontinental railroads.

These programs and acts transferred millions of acres of public lands to private ownership through patents.

How to Find and Use Land Patents

Today, most land patents are historical documents that have little practical use for current landowners.

However, they can still be valuable sources of information for genealogists, historians, researchers, or anyone who wants to trace the history and ownership of their land.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the agency that maintains and administers all land patent records in the United States.

You can access these records online through the BLM’s General Land Office (GLO) Records website.

Also You can search for patents by name, location, date range, document number, or other criteria.

You can also view images of original patents and related documents.

If you find a patent that relates to your land or your ancestors’ land, you can use it as evidence of your ownership interest or heritage.

You can also use it as a starting point for further research into other sources of records such as deeds, maps, census records, court records, or newspapers.

However, you should not rely on a patent alone as proof of your current title or rights to your land.

A patent only shows the initial transfer of land from the government to the first owner.

It does not show any subsequent transfers or transactions that may have occurred over time.

It also does not show any liens, encumbrances, easements, or restrictions that may affect your land.

Therefore, you should always consult a title company, a surveyor, or a lawyer to verify your current title and rights to your land.

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