Michael Hait, CG(sm), is a full-time professional genealogist, with over fifteen years of research experience across the United States, from Connecticut to Louisiana, Tennessee to South Dakota. His specialties include research in Maryland, African American genealogy, and records of the Civil War and Reconstruction era. Michael is a frequent contributor to genealogy magazines and journals, and a popular lecturer in the Mid-Atlantic area. For more information on Michael’s available services, visit http://www.haitfamilyresearch.com.
Researching Maryland land records online at no cost
© 2011 Michael Hait, CG
Few record groups contain as much information as do land records. Deeds of course report sales of land from one owner to the next. But deeds might also provide direct evidence of family relationships, when deeds of gift record transfers of land from father to child. This would of course include a father to his married daughter, providing direct evidence of the heritage of the often-unknown wives. Also recorded in deed books might be transactions concerning slaves, estate distributions, bonds for various public offices, etc.
Deeds can be even more useful in cases involving indirect evidence. Even when they do not explicitly identify family relationships, land records allow researchers to recreate entire neighborhoods of adjoining farms and resident families. These neighborhoods might help a researcher discover networks of associates and families of origin.
The state of Maryland was originally established as a proprietary colony in 1629, when King Charles I granted the land to George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. George died in 1632, and his son Caecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore actually received the charter and began sending settlers to the land in 1634.
The Land Office of the Lord Proprietor offered patents for land both through purchase in common soccage and through headrights awarded to settlers prior to 1680 when the headright system was retired. Warrants were first issued upon petition to the Land Office, then the tracts of land were surveyed and final patents issued. Each patent carried a name for the land tract. These names were usually unique—at least within individual counties—and remained with the land until resurveyed. This aspect of Maryland’s land records allows for following a tract of land through multiple owners, even when the exact metes and bounds descriptions do not appear in the deeds.
There are several online resources available for researching colonial Maryland land records, from headrights to surveys to patents to deeds.
(1) Dr. Carson Gibb, “New Early Settlers of Maryland,” online database, Maryland State Archives website
This database combines two earlier published indexes to Maryland warrants and patents in the Land Office records: Gust Skordas’s Early Settlers of Maryland and Carson Gibb’s Supplement to the Early Settlers of Maryland. The database can be searched by given or surname (including partial names), Liber, Folio, Description, or Reference. Obviously, the name searches will be most useful. The results of the search will include relevant settlement information. Some of these dates are taken from warrants and patents granted under the pre-1680 headright system, but other dates simply reflect settlement proved by the purchase of land warrants. Each entry provides reference to the Land Office patent record books, where warrants, surveys, and patents were recorded.
(2) “Digital Image Reference System for Land Survey, Subdivision, and Condominium Plats,” online database and digital images, Plats.net
This website requires the use of a user name and password provided by the Archives. The user name is “plato” (without the quotes) and the password is “plato#” (without the quotes). This is the same for all users.
The site is divided by county. Records for land lying in counties created after the land was patented may appear in either the original county or the new county.
The most effective method for using the site is to use the “Advanced Search” option under the “[County] Land Survey, Subdivision, and Condominium Plats” link on each county’s home page. Here you can search for the names of land tracts or land owners. The best part is that you can search using partial words (though not wildcards). You will still want to try a few different variants of the name, as names are not always transcribed perfectly, and of course spelling might differ.
The index contains references to most existing surveys and plats, including those appearing in deed books, plat books, land commission records, equity court proceedings, and patent records. Not all of these are digitized, but you will find the complete collection of the Land Office certificates of survey online, generally in TIFF format. These contain not only the original metes and bounds descriptions of each land tract, but also usually contain a hand-drawn plat of the tract.
(3) Archives of Maryland Online, online indexes and digital images
The Archives of Maryland series began in the late nineteenth century as a series of publications transcribing and preserving mostly colonial Maryland records. Since 2003 the Maryland State Archives has added hundreds of electronic-only volumes. There are now over 800 individual volumes in the online series.
Several volumes contain land record information. These volumes can be accessed directly from the “Land Records” hub page.
Volume 680, “Index to Maryland Provincial and General Court Deeds, 1658-1790” is the starting point for this series. This volume provides an alphabetical index, by the names of parties to deeds as well as the names of the lands transferred. Unfortunately, though organized alphabetically, it is not searchable and must be browsed to locate relevant entries. However, digital images of most of the volumes referenced in this index can also be found among the Archives of Maryland Online from the “Land Records” page.
Any researcher working with colonial land records should also read the seminal 1946 book by Elisabeth Hartsook and Gust Skordas, Land Office and Prerogative Court Records of Colonial Maryland, available as Volume 415.
(4) MDLandRec.Net, “A Digital Image Retrieval System for Land Records in Maryland,” online digital images
This website is also password-protected, however there is an automated system in place to provide users with a unique password attached to their email address.
Once you are registered, you will find that nearly all surviving deed books for all 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore City have been digitized, including all existing deed indexes. These deed books, recorded and maintained by the county courts from the colonial period until 1851 and the county circuit courts after 1851, contain most of the extant land records in the state. Most counties are up-to-date, with some counties making available deeds within the past seven days.
If you are researching in Maryland, from the seventeenth century through the twenty-first century, these four sites will provide you with almost every land record you will ever need!