Land sales from the public domain were recorded by field employees of the U.S. General Land Office, state and local officials, and clerks of the Illinois Central Railroad. These records were transferred to the Illinois State Archives for permanent retention in 1957. Because the records are arranged by legal description, a database was developed to allow the records to be searched by name.
The database contains information about nearly 550,000 land sales from the 54,740 square miles of the public domain sold within Illinois. Each purchase entry includes the purchaser's name, purchase date, number of acres, price per acre, numeric code indicating the county in which the land is located, legal description (township, section, range), volume and page numbers of original entry, and variously, the sale type, and the purchaser's sex and residence.
The exact location of a land purchase may be found on the Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales Map by using the legal description given in the database entry.
The rectangular coordinate system of surveys divides Illinois into 36-square mile townships that are located in ranges west of the 2nd Principal Meridian or east or west of the 3rd or the 4th Principal Meridian. Townships are further located as north or south of base lines that serve as reference points for each meridian.
Refer to the legal description from the database entry to find the meridian for the land purchase. Then use the numbers along the appropriate meridian and base line to count north or south of the base line and east or west of the principal meridian to locate the township in which the land is situated. For example, if the legal description is Township 28N, Range 6E 3rd P.M., begin at the intersection of the 3rd Principal Meridian and the Centralia Base Line and count 28 townships north and 6 ranges east to find a township in the middle of Livingston County.
This township will be divided into 36 sections of 640 acres. Each section is further subdivided into quarter sections, half-quarter sections, or quarter-quarter sections. Examples of these subdivisions within a township appear below. Use the figures below to determine location within a township and within a section.
NW - The northwest ¼ of a section (160 acres)
S2NW - South ½ of the northwest ¼ of a section (80 acres)
NENW - The northeast ¼ of the northwest ¼ of a section (40 acres)
The Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales Database contains information on the initial sales of public domain lands made in federal land district offices. Sales of federal lands resulted in land patents being issued at a later date by the U.S. General Land Office; patents for lands donated by the federal government to the state (i.e., school, saline, seminary, canal, and other internal improvement lands) were issued by the state. Lands donated to the Illinois Central Railroad never were conveyed by patents; clerks for that company executed deeds for those land sales. Today federal land patent records are maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (Eastern State Office), 20 M St., Ste. 950, Washington, DC 20003.
Further, the National Archives maintains land sale case files for those sales which resulted in federal land patents being issued. Inquiries for those case files should be addressed to: National Archives, Textual Reference Branch-Land (NWDT1), Washington, D.C., 20408. In writing the National Archives provide that agency the full entry referenced in the Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales Database as well as the type of land entry, the name of the land office where the business was conducted, and the final certificate number, all of which are provided by the Bureau of Land Management.
When the word "warrant" appears in the column headed "Total Price," the purchaser used military bounty land warrants instead of cash for payment. For the 1817-1819 warrants, the registers also include warrant number and military corps or regiment in which the veteran served. For the 1847-1877 warrants, the register provides warrant certificate number and date, and the name of the original recipient of the warrant, possibly someone other than the purchaser. Recipients of military bounty land warrants often sold them, and in such cases the names of purchaser and original recipient will be different.
When the name of a state other than Illinois is found in the column headed "County or State of Purchaser," a city or township may also be given.