A genealogist can usually gain two main bits of information from land records. The first bit of information is the location of people in a certain place and time. That allows the genealogical researcher to extrapolate connections between groups of people. So, neighbors and related groups of people may be linked.
The second bit of information is a potential link between family members. Some pieces of land were jointly sold by multiple heirs, which shows kinship or similar ties between heirs.
It's also important to note that land records can help to differentiate between two people of the same name who live in the same general area. For example, a land record might list one person named John Smith as the son of Christopher Smith, while another John Smith might be listed as the son of James Smith. Tax lists, land grants, deeds, and location references can all help with separating one person from another person with the same name. Almost all free men of age were land owners before the Civil War began. Therefore, if land records for an area exist, but do not mention an ancestor's last name, that ancestor may not have lived in the area at all.
Keep in mind that the South did not keep vital records as well or as often as the New England states. So, land records for the South have a lot of genealogical importance because they can help to place certain ancestors in a specific area at a certain time.
A lot of land records have either been transcribed and placed on the Internet, or been microfilmed. County deeds, some city deeds, and state land grants are constantly being transferred to microfilm by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Originally, the Genealogical Society of Utah only placed records on microfilm for 1850 and prior years. The collection was later expanded to include Civil War records and, in some cases, records from later years. There are also some cumulative deed indexes in existence that have not been placed on microfilm. Therefore, although the Genealogical Society of Utah has a huge inventory of land records, that inventory is not complete.
Other archives and libraries have also collected manuscripts of papers from private land companies and other records. The Bureau of Land Management also features microfilmed records for millions of land patents granted by the federal government.
Most Americans owned at least some land prior to the twentieth century, making individual land records a treasure trove for genealogists. Therefore, almost every researcher, whether a seasoned professional or weekend hobbyist, has required land records to document the existence, association, or movement of an individual or ancestral family. Deeds, legal records for transferring land or property from one individual to another, are the most used of the land records, and can provide a reliable method of tracking ancestors when no other record can be found. Deeds are relatively easy to locate and often provide a wealth of information.