Sunday, April 30, 2023

Missing Ancestor's Land Record?

Map of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Engineer divisions and districts

Check Out Government Land Leases
In April 2023 a research project led the a3Genealogy to the Tulsa area - homeplace of the Tulsa District of the Corps of Engineers (COE) in the Southwestern Division. Well, what actually triggered it was crossing Tahlequah and settling in Cherokee County, OK on one of the beautiful Corps of Engineers Lakes, but I digress. 

A highlight of this road trip was an intriguing reminder of long term land leases along coveted Corps of Engineers' managed lakeside waters. The Corps of Engineers division (like other govt divisions) set aside land sector reserved for  US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) personnel and retired Corps of Engineers employees use. This land is technically not privately owned, but your ancestor may have:
1) worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers or 
2) was savvy enough to secure a 10 to 100 year lease along the Corps of Engineers public lands. 
(These practices continues today).

The federal government owns public lake and lakefront land managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Army established the Corps of Engineers as a separate, permanent branch on March 16, 1802. Their land portfolio is an impressive 12.4 million acres of public lands and waters across the USA.[1] This property includes campsites, over 425 recreational areas and trails, and wetlands to include grazing land. 

Grazing Land (vs Recreational)
Marietta Monitor, OK, 23 Dec 1949
Although public land used for camping and recreational activities, properties may have corporate leases or were perhaps developed by the Corps of Engineers, grazing leases is where we most often find ancestral land leases. These leases may have been passed to heirs. Note: not all of public land leases allowed for transfers to heirs.

Your ancestors may have secured a grazing lease by responding to a bid or negotiated with a land office sans bidding process. The General Land Office (GLO) responsible for managing public lands in the western U.S. was established in 1812, and later became the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

It was in the later 1800's that the GLO began issuing permits for grazing on public lands. Although not for perpetuity, these land leases offered by different government agencies may have been for up to 100 years to government retirees. Most however are for 5-20 years, often renewable.

5 Places to Uncover Ancestors' Government Land Lease 
Many early settlers migrating westward preferred the tax free -no to low cost - leases. The family researcher may need to delve into several record groups though to uncover the lease and ancestral information. Researchers may learn a lot about their ancestors through these records.  Not unlike government issued early patents, we suggest researchers begin with the BLM-GLO website, however, we usually have to correspond directly with the following agencies: 
1. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM maintains records of grazing permits and leases issued for public lands under their management. You can search for records online using the BLM's or you can contact your local BLM office for assistance.
2. U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The USFS also issues grazing permits and leases for public lands under their management. You can search for records online using the USFS's special uses database, or you can contact your local USFS office for assistance
3. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The NARA is the official repository for records of the U.S. government. If you are looking for historical records related to grazing land leases, you may want to search the NARA's online catalog or contact one of their regional archives for assistance.
4. State and local government offices. Depending on where the grazing land is located, you may need to contact state or local government offices to obtain records related to grazing land leases.
5. National Park Service or Wildlife Refuge land offices. If the land is located within a national park or wildlife refuge, you may need to contact the park or refuge office for assistance.
[1] U.S. Government Accountability Office; online access 29 Apr 2023:

Kathleen Brandt
Be Historically Correct
Accurate Accessible Answers

1 comment:

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