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Land Records

Land records include a variety of types of documents. They are found at the State or Provincial level and at the county or local level. Deeds and similar records pertaining to the owning and buying and selling of land can contain clues to the former places of residence of the buyer (grantee) or seller (grantor), clues to the ancestry of the seller, clues to marriages, and data on the occupations of the parties involved. If the individual could not sign his or her name, the mark he or she made may be compared with similar marks on other deeds, to see if all the deeds involved the same individual.

The Land Office The Patent Process Lands No Longer in Maryland
Provincial and State Records County & Baltimore City Records Glossary
MDLandRec.Net: A Digital Image Retrieval System for Land Records Other Finding Aids Patents Index (S1426)

The Land Office

When King Charles I granted the Charter of Maryland to Cecil Calvert on June 20, 1632, he gave him ownership of all land within certain boundaries. Article XVIII of The Charter gave Lord Baltimore full authority to "assign, Alien, grante, demise, or enfeoff" any parcels [of the Province} to any persons willing to purchase the same.  Down to the time of the Revolutionary War, all land grants in Maryland came from the Lords Baltimore, and after the death of Frederick, the 6th Lord Baltimore, from his son, Henry Harford, the Proprietor. It was the custom to date legal documents by the Regnal Year of the British Monarch, and this phraseology gave rise to the unfounded myth that Marylanders had "land grants from the King." Between 1634 and 1680, the Calverts encouraged settlers by promising to grant each settler so many acres (usually 50 acres) for himself and for each other person he or she brought into the Province. In 1680 this "head right" system was abolished, but Charles Calvert, 3rd Lord Baltimore, created the Land Office MSA SH3.

For more information about the Land Office, see "Editor's Preface and Introduction" to Kilty's Land-Holder's Assistant, and Land-Office Guide, Volume 73 of the Archives of Maryland Online.

"The Land-Holder's Assistant and Land Office Guide occupies a special place in the history of early Maryland literature, as the first institutional history of any agency of colonial or state government. In writing a work intended to describe the origins, procedures, and practices of the land office, John Kilty addressed a subject that had been of primary importance to the Lords Baltimore and remained, in the early nineteenth century, of vital concern for a people whose primary asset or source of wealth was the land that they owned."

The Patent Process

At the provincial level were the records of transfers of land  (warrants, certificates of survey, and patents) from The Proprietor (Lord Baltimore and his successors) to private individuals.

Since all land in Maryland had been given by the King to Lord Baltimore, an individual who wanted a grant of land would have to apply to Lord Baltimore, or to Lord Baltimore's Land Office. Until 1680, the records might read that whereas "John Doe" was due so many acres of land, because he had brought himself, and/or family and or servants into the Province, an order (Warrant) was issued to the county surveyor to lay out so many acres of land. and to create a document known as a Certificate of Survey.

Step 1: Obtaining a Warrant. The earliest volumes of warrants also contain various records that were duplicated in the Patent Record series [MSA S11]. Some photostats, indexed. General index in Warrants, see MSA S22. Partially described in Land Office and Prerogative Court Records of Colonial Maryland (Annapolis: Hall of Records Commission, 1946), pp. 24, 30-31.

Indices of Warrants MSA S22

Step 2: Having the Land Surveyed. The certificates of survey, describing tracts of land in various counties, are arranged chronologically. They give the actual dimensions, or metes and bounds of the survey, and are usually accompanied by a scale drawing of the survey. Boundary trees and rocks, and bodies of water, may be indicated. MSA S25 contains Certificates, Patented series, (all counties) MSA S1188-MSA S1210, Certificates, Unpatented series (all counties) [MSA S1211-S1233], and Petitions series MSA S26. Entries give tract name, name of person for whom land was surveyed or who was filing the petition, and number of certificate or petition. Arranged by county and then by tract for certificates and individuals for petitions.

Indices to Certificates of Survey MSA S25

Step 3: Patenting the Land. Patents MSA S11 are documents granting ownership rights to some previously unpatented property. It has the nature of a deed and contains a description of the property and conditions of tenure. It sometimes happened that a man might apply for a warrant and have the land surveyed, and the would die before the land was patented. The warrant and certificate of survey might be in  the name of "Richard  Roe," and the patent might be in the name of John, Joseph, Mary, and Elizabeth Roe, children of Richard Roe, deceased. The patent records contain patents, certificates of survey, and some warrants of survey. Early entries also include probate records and records pertaining to indentured servants.

Indices of Patents MSA S1426

For more information on the Patent Process, see the Foreword to Carson Gibb's New Early Settlers of Maryland.

"Warrants and patents issued while the headright system was in effect contain the names of immigrants to the colony. Approximately 26,500 of these names can be found in The Early Settlers of Maryland, edited by Gust Skordas and published in 1968. The New Early Settlers of Maryland (2005), compiled by Carson Gibb comprises 34,326 entries combining Gust Skordas' Early Settlers of Maryland and Dr. Gibb's earlier Supplement to the Early Settlers of Maryland (1997). The Supplement, which was later rolled into the New Early Settlers, contained approximately 8,000 names not included in the Skordas volume or corrected erroneous entries in that work. Dr. Gibb's introduction also clarifies the varied circumstances by which rights could be claimed or assigned to others. The patent records thus document the arrival in Maryland of nearly 80 percent of the settlers estimated to have entered the colony prior to 1684. Claims for surveying or patenting land frequently recount inheritances or assignments that provide further genealogical information. "

Step 4: (optional) The Caveat Process. A caveat was a formal complaint protesting the issuance of a patent.  Caveat papers contain transcripts of testimony and other documents relating to caveat hearings before the Commissioner of the Land Office. See also the Caveat Docket series MSA S3 and the Caveat Opinions series MSA S24, arranged numerically by docket number. Caveat Papers in MSA S5. In 1967 caveats were consolidated into the warrant process; records after that date in Warrants series MSA S1285. Indexed by Caveat Papers and Record, Index MSA S1467. Plats indexed in MARYLAND INDEXES Plat References, Index MSA S466.

Confiscated Property. In 1780 the General Assembly passed legislation to confiscate property in Maryland belonging to British loyalists who had fled the state (Chapter 45, Acts of 1780). Another law in the same session appointed three commissioners to oversee the confiscation process. The law directed the commissioners to possess, preserve, and keep the confiscated property "from waste and destruction" (ch. 49). Lands previously issued to Lord Baltimore were often not patented. If this land was a part of the confiscated property, it would have only a deed and there would be no accompanying patent record.

From Kilty's Land-Holder's Assistant, and Land-Office Guide Book 2 Chapter 4: The completing of titles to purchasers of confiscated property had been hitherto but partially regulated. In 1785 an act passed (ch. 46) "ascertaining the mode of granting "titles to the purchasers of certain confiscated British property." By this it was provided, that the purchaser of any land lying within any manor or reserve, and sold by the intendant, or the commissioners of confiscated property, should "upon return of a certificate of survey thereof to the "land office for the western shore, and the same being "examined and passed, and after the expiration of six months "from the said return, and upon payment of the purchase "money, to be endorsed on the said certificate, be entitled" to a patent for such land, in fee simple, unless the "chancellor, upon hearing on any caveat to the same" should otherwise determine," and that such certificate and patent "should be recorded among the records of the land office:" it provided further that certificates returned at any time before the first of January 1787, by any person who had been appointed by the intendant to survey the said lands should be received by the examiner general, and be of the same validity as if executed and returned by the surveyor of the county. The time for these returns was afterwards extended by several acts, the last of which (November 1802, ch. 7) made the certificates in question receivable up to the first of November 1803, and no longer.

Lands No Longer in Maryland

Over the years, as explained in The Maryland State Archives Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland 1608-1908 by Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland's boundaries have shrunk and lands formerly encompassed in the Charter to Lord Baltimore of June 20, 1632, are now located in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Index 55, LAND RECORDS (Patents, Tract Index), lists tracts of land, indexed by tract name, that are now located in the District of Columbia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Provincial and State Land Records

Debt Books Index (S1430) Ejectment Papers Index (S550) Index to Provincial Court Land Records (S545) Rent Roll Index (S1428) Index to Provincial Papers (S1478)
Debt Books (S12) Ejectment Papers (S549) Provincial Court Land Records (S552) Rent Rolls (S18) Proprietary Leases (S16)

Rent rolls and debt books kept track of who owed taxes to the Proprietor for their land. After the Revolutionary War these were replaced by assessment lists. Transfers of property between private individuals and were recorded in the Provincial Court Land Records MSA S552 and after 1785 in the State Land Record Abstracts. Disputes between landlords and tenants are found in the ejectment papers. There is also an Ejectment Docket for the General Court of the Eastern Shore MSA S480 and an Ejectment Index for the General Court of the Western Shore MSA S493.

County and Baltimore City Land Records

At the county level of government. land records have always comprised the largest series of records. Leases and mortgages record temporary or conditional transfers of property. These land and property records, formerly deposited at the county court houses have been accessioned at  the Archives in the original record books or on microfilm.

Other land and property records at the county, or local  level, may be found under these headings:

  • Annual Valuations. Reports of officials who inspected the property of orphans and reported on its condition.
  • Assessment Records. Description of land and improvements.
  • Assignments or leases. Transfers of property for a specific period of time
  • Caveat Records. Also exists for Montgomery Co. MSA C1117 and for Queen Anne's Co. MSA C1364.
  • Chattel Records. The transfer of property other than real estate.
  • Ejectment (local) papers, or their indices may be found at the county level of government. There are ejectment papers for: Prince George's Co. for 1800-1850, and 1862-1869. There is an ejectment record for Baltimore City, 1871-1977 MSA T552, for Baltimore City Court of Common Pleas MSA T1430, and for Baltimore City Superior Court, 1977-1986 MSA T2340. There is also an ejectment record for Howard County Circuit Court, 1854-1857, MSA C976.
  • Land Commissions. Proceedings of commissioners appointed to take testimony as to the original starting point of tracts of land. For the index to BA and BC Chancery and Land Commission Papers, BA and BC, 1785-1908, See Index 81. MSA S1472.
  • Land Records. Records of conveyances of land. County land records with card indices in the Search Room include: (Land Records, AA, Index). 1653-1725, 1724-1759, 1759-1784. Index 71, 72, & 75. MSA S1443. (Land Records, AA, Tract Index). 1653-1759, 1759-1784. Index 73 & 76 MSA S1444 and (Land Records, AA, Subject Index). 1653-1759, 1759-1784. Index 74 & 77. MSA S1445.
  • Mortgages. Conditional transfers of property.

Block Books

Determining whether an individual bought or sold a specific piece of property in Baltimore City after 1851 is a bit more tricky. Before that date, consult the general land index for Baltimore County. The Archives has no name index for land records in Baltimore City after 1851 so you must utilize block books. Block books record all sales, leases, and mortgages on a specific city block in a specific time period. These books are on microfilm. Before looking at a block book, you must perform the following steps:

  1. Consult Baltimore City Directories - MSA SC 2898 (on microfilm) from when the individual who purchased land resided in Baltimore. If an exact year is not known you may need to consult a few directories to find the individual. Once you find the individual's name in the directory, write down their exact street address.
  2. Move to the street index section of the directory and use the individual's address to find which block the individual lived on. Write down the cross streets on either side of the individual's street. Be sure to determine which face of the block the address is on (i.e.. north or south, east or west). A good tip is that on a street running east to west the south side of a given block contains odd numbered addresses and the north side even numbered. On a street running north to south the west side of a given block contains even numbered addresses and the east side odd numbered.
  3. For blocks within the city limit prior to 1918 examine the block map for Baltimore City located in the map case in the search room and use the information from step 2 to determine the appropriate block number. After the 1918 expansion go to the circulation desk in the search room to request the annex map.
  4. Using the block number as your guide, go to the Baltimore City Superior Court Block Books on microfilm to find the transaction and the initials of the City Clerk who recorded the deed and the liber and folio (book and page) where the transaction may be found.
  5. There are two microfilm series that cover the block book series: MSA CM196 (1851-1888) and MSA CM197 (Block Books for the New Annex, 1918-1953).
  6. Remember that block books cover transactions on a specific block in a given time period. If you don't find a match in the roll of film you are looking at (i.e.. block 289, 1887-1904), then you will want to move to either the previous or next time period for that block until you find the transaction. Once you find a match, record the clerk's initials and the liber and folio (book and page) and go to the Baltimore City Superior Court Land Records MSA CM203 to find the actual land record on microfilm.


Alienation fee: a tax paid by the seller to the Proprietor when real property was transferred.
Grantee: the person who receives the land from someone else, whether by patent, sale, or gift.
Grantor: the person who conveys the land to someone else.
Head right: right to land for having immigrated.
Indenture: a written contract between two or more parties.
Plat: a scale drawing of the boundaries of a parcel of land.
Quitclaim: A deed conveying the interest of  the party at that time.
Quitrent: a tax on real property paid by the owner to the Proprietor.

Other terms can be found at Understanding Maryland Records.

MDLandRec.Net: A Digital Image Retrieval System for Land Records in Maryland

MDLandRec.net is a digital repository for all instruments recorded and verified for inclusion in land record volumes by the Clerk of the Circuit Court offices of Maryland’s twenty three counties and Baltimore City, and related indices. Records not specifically found in land record books and related indices are not included in MDlandrec.net. Among those not available are chattel records, tax liens and tax judgments, tax assessments, blue prints, and equity records. In some rare instances, certain other types of instruments were included in particular land record books, such as equity and chattel records. Information about tax bills and assessments cannot be found on the site and related questions should be directed to the State Department of Assessment and Taxation (SDAT) For additional information about the system please see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the MDLandRec.net site.

Other Finding Aids and Resources

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