Land Office

The Secretary of State’s Office is the place to start when researching land acquisition in Kentucky. All chain of title in the Commonwealth traces back to Virginia land patents and Kentucky land patents. Most people are familiar with the term ‘deed.’ In fact, all Kentucky deeds eventually trace back to an original patent recorded in the Kentucky Land Office.

The Secretary of State is charged with the security and preservation of these historical documents. We assist a variety of researchers such as historians, genealogists, and applicants for honorary societies. Our clientele also includes attorneys, mineral rights researchers and land owners tracing the history of their properties.

Researching land patents is as easy as determining the surname of your ancestor, when he may have obtained a land patent, and the area in which he might have been located. A number of publications can help you determine if your ancestor was involved in a land patent. To understand the patent process, we offer this overview of the history of land patenting so the researcher will have a better understanding of Kentucky land appropriation.

A Little History about the Land Office:

The Virginia Land Law of 1779 required the establishment of a Land Office for claims to property in what was then called Kentucky County, Virginia.

When Kentucky separated from Virginia in 1792, the Kentucky General Assembly voted to maintain the Land Office and all documents pertaining to the patents in Kentucky were transported by wagon from Virginia to Frankfort before 1800.

The Land Office has had a colorful history in Kentucky government. In 1898, the duties of the Land Office Register were merged with the Auditor of Public Accounts. Then, in 1934, the Kentucky General Assembly transferred the duties of the Land Office to the Secretary of State. Less than 10 years ago, voters approved a constitutional amendment which removed the Office of Land Register from the Kentucky Constitution. By statute, the Kentucky Secretary of State’s Office maintains and preserves all records pertaining to Kentucky land patents including those prior to 1792.

The Secretary of State’s Office also assists in issuing new land patents.  KRS Chapter 56describes the legal requirements for patenting unappropriated land.

Since Kentucky is considered a state-land-state, which means land appropriation is handled on the state level, the patent process remains the method of land appropriation for property within Kentucky.   Kentucky does not have properties subject to claim under the federal land program. For a listing of public domain states that participate in federal land sales, contact the Bureau of Land Management at 7450 Boston Boulevard, Springfield, Va. 22153.

It is also important to note that the state Land Office cannot provide a listing of properties subject to sale for collection of delinquent taxes. Contact the local property valuation administrator to determine what, if any, lands are subject to sale.

Land Patenting Process

“Patenting” refers to the system of land appropriation used to transfer land from the Commonwealth to an individual or group of individuals. The patent process consists of four steps: (1) Warrant(s) — authorizing surveys to be made (2) Entries — reserving land for patenting (3) Survey — actual field survey describing metes and bounds, and (4) Governor’s Grant — finalizes patent and conveys title to the individual.

After a grant is issued, subsequent conveyances of the property are filed with deeds and wills on the county level. There is no central registration of deeds in Kentucky, although the Kentucky Department for Libraries & Archives, Coffee Tree Road, Frankfort, KY 40601, makes a concerted effort to microfilm county records.

This patenting process was introduced by King George III of England in his Proclamation of 1763 as a method of paying veterans of the French & Indian War. The same system of awarding bounty land to veterans was adopted after  the Revolutionary War.

The Virginia Land Law of 1779 expanded the land patent system to include warrants other than those issued for military service. In totality, military warrants comprise only a small percentage of Kentucky land patents. Other patents were authorized by such warrants as Treasury Warrants, Certificates of Settlement, and Preemption Warrants, Acts of the General Assembly, etc.

Warrants do not convey title nor do they define a specific tract location.

As mentioned earlier, to patent (or acquire) land, all four of these steps must be followed:


How the Patents are Grouped

The patent series indicates what type of warrant(s) were used to authorize surveys. Each series is based on time period and land location. The nine major groupings are as follows:

  • Virginia Series (Grants issued prior to 1792) — 9,441 surveys
  • Old Kentucky Series (Grants issued from 1792-1815) — 7,668 surveys (Patents in the Virginia and Old Kentucky Series were authorized by French and Indian War Warrants, Treasury Warrants, Importation Warrants, Acts for the Relief of Certain Poor Persons, Acts for the Establishment of Academies and Seminaries, Warrants for Finding Salt, Warrants for Clearing Roads, Certificates of Settlement, and Preemption Warrants)
  • South of Green River Series (Grants from 1795 forward) — 16,664 surveys (This series opened the Military District to settlement by non-veterans.  County commissioners approved the issuance of warrants/certificates to residents purchasing no more than 400 acres of unappropriated land. Applicants had to meet age and residency requirements and  they had to have occupied the land one year prior to application. An improvement, such as a cabin or a crop, was also required. The original 1795 Act of the General Assembly required the applicants to be 21 years of age or older. The minimum age was lowered in 1798 to 18. Due to errors in patent series assignments, a number of patents in the South of Green River Series are located outside the region. Some are as far north as Pendleton County.)
  • Tellico Series (Grants in southeast Kentucky) — 590 surveys (This area was purchased from the Cherokee Indians in 1805. Under the Act of 1810, settlers meeting the six-month residency requirement could patent up to 200 acres of land by paying $40 per 100 acres. Due to errors in patent series assignments, a number of patents in the Tellico Series fall out of the Tellico Region.)
  • Kentucky Land Warrant Series (Grants from 1815 — 26,080 surveys (These warrants were purchased or issued by the Kentucky Land Office. Many were authorized by the General Assembly for the development of Kentucky’s infrastructure, i.e., proceeds of warrant sales were used to build roads.)
  • South of Walker’s Line Series (Grants from 1820 forward) — 4,327 surveys (These patents are located in northern Tennessee. They generally run to the 36 degrees 30 minute parallel or the baseline of the Jackson Purchase. The Kentucky Land Office has patent records for the following Tennessee counties: Sumner, Smith, Robertson, Macon, Montgomery, Stewart, Jackson, Claiborne, Clay, Fentress, Pickett, Scott and Campbell.)
  • West of Tennessee River Military Series — (Grants from 1820) 242 surveys (This area was purchased from the Chickasaw Indians in 1818. A number of Revolutionary War soldiers occupied the land, known later as the Jackson Purchase, without having clear title. In 1820, the Kentucky General Assembly advised the veterans to immediately file for patents.)
  • West of Tennessee River Series (Grants from 1820) 9,308 surveys (While the Revolutionary War veterans were patenting their land, the Jackson Purchase was being mapped in ranges, townships and sections by William Henderson. In 1821, the General Assembly authorized the auctioning of “odd sections” in the West of Tennessee River area. Sales would be held in Princeton. Upon presentation of a receipt, the Register issued a certificate authorizing the grant. In 1825, public sales were authorized in Waidsborough in Calloway county. The state set a minimum price per acre for the land sales. By 1835, that price had been reduced to 12.5 cents per acre.)
  • County Court Order Series (Grants from 1835 to present date) 70,238 surveys. (In 1835, the General Assembly granted county courts the right to issue warrants authorizing surveys. Fees are set locally, however, the law requires a minimum of $5 per 100 acres of unappropriated land. An individual may apply for a maximum 200 acres per year. This series is currently being indexed for the Secretary of State’s Office by the state Department for Libraries & Archives. The index will eventually be placed on our web site.)

Key Points to remember:

  •   Warrants do not identify a certain tract or location. Neither warrants nor surveys convey title. Every step in the patent process must be followed.
  • Military grants comprise a small portion of Kentucky land patents. Most patents were authorized by purchasing treasury, state, or county warrants/certificates.
  • The only military warrants honored in Kentucky were for service in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War.
  • Kentucky did not honor warrants for service in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, or subsequent conflicts. Those warrants had to be used in federal public domain states, such as Missouri or Illinois. (This partially explains the move westward by some Kentucky veterans or assignees; they had to relocate to a state that honored federal bounty land warrants.) Contact the Central Reference Division, National Archives, Pennsylvania Avenue, 8th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20408 for information regarding military service, federal bounty land, and pension applications.
  • The Secretary of State’s Office is the repository for over 100,000 warrants, surveys, and grants. Researchers do not have to travel to Virginia to research Kentucky lands prior to 1792. Those records were sent to Frankfort shortly after Kentucky separated from Virginia.
  • Kentucky county formation must be considered when researching any facet of Kentucky history.
  • There is no central registration of deeds in Kentucky. Deeds are filed on the county level with the county clerk, along with wills and marriages. Courthouse disasters, such as fires or thievery, are just that — disasters. Records not previously microfilmed or removed for preservation are lost.

A listing of available research materials regarding Kentucky Land Grants is available.

County tax lists, available from the Kentucky Historical Society and the Department for Libraries and Archives, provide critical information regarding original patent recipients.

Be creative when researching land patents! Names were spelled phonetically in many instances. Research all land grant series for your ancestor. If you have established that he or she settled in northern Kentucky in 1798, it is possible the patent was filed with the South of Green River Series. From 1795 to 1815, the land office issued patents under three separate series — Old Kentucky, Tellico & South of Green River. Mistakes were occasionally made.

Patents were issued to women as early as the 1700s. In some instances, they were heirs finishing patents initiated by their husband or a family member. In 1820, the Kentucky General Assembly allowed poor widows to patent up to 100 acres of land without fee payment.

Land Office holdings are  limited to land patents only. None of the series required an application listing parents, family history, etc. There are a number of Kentucky agenciesthat specialize in genealogical and historical research.

Land patent research helps identify how and when land was acquired. Research time is minimal. If no patent is located, then you start the process of researching deeds, wills and court records.

There is no master patent map that depicts patent locations. Researchers plotting these surveys should be aware that there will be overlaps.

Research materials differ in format. Publications by the Kentucky Historical Society, such as the “Master Index to Virginia Surveys and Grants,” index by survey name with a cross-index for grantee. Hammon’s “Early Kentucky Land Records” lists early entry and survey filings, Land Commissioner’s Records and Military Surveys. Jillson’s “Kentucky Land Grants,” now in reprint, is indexed by grantee. Jillson’s “Old Kentucky Entries and Deeds” references early entries in Jefferson, Lincoln, and Fayette counties as well as the military district. (Entries for Kentucky County, Virginia, are recorded under the “Jefferson County Entries” section.) We strongly encourage researchers to study all available formats. Please don’t use one book and decide your ancestor was not involved in a land patent. It is possible that he or she filed an entry that was later withdrawn or perhaps had a survey made and then assigned it to another person who received the grant. Remember that all four steps of the patenting process must be followed. If you do not have access to any research publications, we will be happy to work with you. Simply complete the fourth section of our order form giving us the surname(s) you are studying, the time period in which they lived, and the area or county of residence.