20 November 2013

State Records are not Federal Records: Andrew Trasks's Two Illinois Purchases of Government Land

Confusion often results from a lack of knowledge.

Years ago, I located a relative in the "Illinois Public Domain Land Tract Sales Database" on the Illinois State Archives website as shown below.

Andrew Trask acquired property first in Clinton County, Illinois, and then in Mercer County, Illinois. Records in Mercer County clearly indicate the entries are for the same person. That's not really the question or the point of this post.

The problem is that when I searched the Bureau of Land Management website for Andrew, the only results I obtained were for ones in Clinton County, Illinois, as shown below.

No amount of clever searching located the Clinton County Mercer County entries.

Was there a mistake?


The problem was my lack of knowledge about the databases at the time. The property Trask purchased in Mercer County, Illinois, was in section 16 of the township. That section is part of the clue as to why the entries were not in the Bureau of Land Management database. The Northwest Ordinance of 1785 reserved section 16 of townships in the Northwest Territory for schools. This land (for schools and other general improvement) was donated by the federal government to the states and it was the state that issued a patent for the property, not the federal government.

That's what happened in Trask's case. His purchase of the property in Mercer County was not a federal transaction--it was a state one.

The Clinton County acquisitions were cash sales of federal land--that's why the entries in that location are in the Bureau of Land Management's database of patents.

The Mercer County acquisitions were also cash sales, but it was of state land--that's why those entries are not in the Bureau of Land Management's database.

Understanding the history and the origin of records can cause you to make fewer incorrect assumptions.