- patents are those "first deeds" transferring ownership from federal to private hands
- the Bureau of Land Management only has patents for Federal Land States (basically the Northwest Territory and west...but that is a generalization)
- local county offices have the vast majority of land records--transactions between private individuals.
The search interface of these patents provides some wonderful searching options. An article on our site, "Get Wild at the BLM" discusses these searching options and how to make best use of them.
I've found three of my relatives in the database, none of whom were "early settlers" in the area. Keep in mind that in many federal land state, they were still selling federal land long after statehood.