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Most Americans possessed at the very least some land leading up to the twentieth century, making individual land records a resource for genealogists. As a result, just about every researcher, regardless of 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 additional record might be discovered. Deeds are usually reasonably easy to identify and typically provide you with a wealth of information.
In 1803, the United States obtained 544 million acres of land in the Louisiana Purchase. That land, which belonged to France at the time, was sold to the United States for the incredibly low price of three cents for each acre. It was one of the best real estate deals ever made.
On March 26, 1804, Congress passed an act that split Louisiana into Orleans Territory and Louisiana Territory. Areas over 33 degrees latitude were in Louisiana Territory and areas below (where the state of Louisiana now is) were in Orleans Territory. The legislative council, headed by the governor, split Orleans Territory into the following counties at that time: Acadia, Attakapas, Concordia, German Coast, Iberville, Lafourche, Natchitoches, Opelousas, Orleans, Ouachita, Pointe Coupee, Rapides.
The territory was divided into 19 counties in 1807, using the old Spanish ecclesiastical boundary lines. The state constitution, which was enacted in 1812 at the time of statehood being gained, referenced parishes, as well as counties. In 1845 the new drafting of the state constitution removed references to counties. That made Louisiana the only state to exclusively use the parish system.
On march 2, 1805, a Congressional act was passed. That act contained the following three major provisions:
Provision one let people legally acquire or possess land. That also led to the creation of land registers in each district. New Orleans became home to a United States District Land Office. Another was opened at Opelousas to divide the western lands in Orleans Territory. Greensburg, Ouachita, and Natchitoches later became home to land offices as well. Land can still be identified according to those districts today.
The second provision stated that those who had land grants from Great Britain, French, or Spain had to present proof of their ownership of the land to a board of commissioners. If approved, offices in Washington D.C. recorded proof of that ownership.
The third provision state that vacant public lands were to be subdivided by surveyors. Those surveyors created a meridian as a base line by 1807. At that point, a system of sections, townships, and ranges replaced the existing system of metes and bounds that had been used to measure plots of land previously.
Many of the Louisiana parishes still hold colonial grants. Others can be found in England, France, and Spain. Lands that were re-patented are listed in "American State Papers: Documents Legislative and Executive of the United States, 32 vols., Public Lands, 7 volumes."
Federal and state tract books with listings of original owners of lands can be found in parish courthouses in the offices of the clerks, as well as in the state land office. Researchers should note that the Baton Rouge State Land Office must be contacted for the exact land record, or the record may be obtained by contacting the Bureau of Land Management's National Archives Division. Researchers should also note that record books are not generally organized alphabetically.
Deeds and notarial records may also hold land records. A notary public existed in each of the early settlement areas. It was the notary public's job to create and notarize estate papers, deeds, wills, and marriage contracts. Each of those transactions was given a number and recorded in "loose papers." Parish courthouse clerk offices in each parish now hold a large amount of those records. Some can also be found in Baton Rouge, at the Louisiana State Archives. The Civil Courts Building, which is located in the city of New Orleans, is home to the Notarial Archives of New Orleans. Conveyance books in the various courthouses may also contain records with useful genealogical information.