of the history of Pennsylvania, its population was made up of land owners.
Since 1682 there has been a land office selling lands of the Commonwealth
to private citizens.
There are four types of land
records in Pennsylvania, all of which are important to genealogical research
in Washington County:
Click here for some additional resources.
Government Transfers to Individuals
of lands patented by Pennsylvania to settlers are available from several
sources, and such maps exist for Washington County. But before you use
these maps, you will need to understand exactly how lands were obtained
from the government. Also, refer to the section on early
history to understand how the government of Pennsylvania, the Ohio
Company of Virginia, and the French and Indian Wars played a role in the
settling of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Government Grants to Veterans
The process of acquiring
land from the provincial government in the early days of Pennsylvania is
known as the application process. The application process
consisted of four steps:
Despite there being such a well-defined
method for acquiring land, the application process was not rigidly followed
by everyone. For one thing, the time at which the land was to be paid for was apt to change. As a result, many settlers never
paid for their
If you wanted to buy a piece of land you first had to make an application to the land
office, specifying how many acres you wanted and providing a rough description
of where the land was located.
Next, a warrant
was issued by the land office. The warrant authorized you, or a provincial
officer, to survey the tract.
Once the survey
was conducted, the results were returned to the land office. The survey
included a precise description of the tract and an equally precise map
of its boundaries. It also included the names of your neighbors who owned
the adjoining tracts.
The last step in the process
happened six months after the survey, when you finally paid for the land.
At this time you were issued a patent which officially gave
you clear title to the land.
Another problem was that
some settlers took the first two or three steps in the process, but would
never complete the transaction by acquiring the patent. In these cases,
however, just the fact that they had settled there first protected the
settler against claims from later buyers.
The third problem with the
application process was that the land office simply did not have the personnel
to administer the process.
Where to find these records
The originals of these records
are in the possession of the Pennsylvania Division
of Land Records and in the Pennsylvania
On-line transcriptions of those maps at this site:
Grants to veterans
followed a similar process as for sales to individuals (see previous section),
except that the lands were surveyed before the applications were made.
This meant that the patent could be applied for at the time the application
Patents and Warrants from Other States
Pioneers began settling
areas that are now within the Pennsylvania borders before those borders
were well-established. For instance, Virginia claimed most of southwestern
Pennsylvania at one point and issued patents.
Transfers Among Individuals
Many pioneers purchased their
land in the Washington County area from the colony of Virginia. In 1786,
the land claimed by Virginia was finally ceded to Pennsylvania. As part
of the deal, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania honored the claims of those
holding land under Virginia Certificates. The lands were resurveyed so
that patents could be issued to the owners. Very often, because of the
length of time between when the Virginia Certificate was issued and when
Pennsylvania issued the patent, two different people may appear on the
The Washington County land
warrant maps make note, for each tract, if the warrant was under a
Virginia Certificate. Original records for the many Virginia Certificates
can be found at the West Virginia Historical Archives in Morgnatown, WV.
These records are
kept at the county level by the Recorder of Deeds. They are indexed, and
the indexes and deeds are kept at the Washington
County courthouse. In addition, the indexes have been microfilmed by
the LDS church and the films may be rented through the LDS
Family History Centers.
Remember, you may not find
deeds for land transfers that occurred as a bequest in a will.
US Federal Land Patent Database
- For the Eastern states. This database contains information on the
initial transfer of land titles from the federal government to individuals.
Pennsylvania (that is, all of the 13 original colonies) are not on the
list. However, Ohio is.