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Land Records At The State Archives

Kansas is a public-domain land state, meaning the federal government gave away or sold the land in Kansas. The initial transfer of land from the federal government is recorded in the Kansas Tract Books. These books list the land by the legal description--section, township and range.

The Tract Books are not indexed by the landowner's name. They show the legal description of the tract, the name of the purchaser or grantee, the number of acres, the price per acre, the purchase amount, the date of sale and which law applied to the transaction. The Kansas Tract Book Guide (large PDF file) shows the townships and ranges covered in each volume of the tract books, which you need to know before you can use the Tract Books. The Tract Books are available online on the Family Search website without indexing, and the State Archives has a copy of the Tract Books on microfilm.

The land transfers recorded in the tract books include those to individual owners--by homestead, timber claim, military bounty land, land grant, or purchase, but roughly half the acres of land in Kansas were given to railroad companies to encourage railroad expansion. The railroad companies then sold this land to private individuals. The State Archives has the land-sales records of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Company, and the Kansas Town & Land Company, a subsidiary of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, for Kansas.

The State Archives has a set of the original Kansas land grant surveys, including the plat maps and field notes, and surveys of Indian lands. These are part of the records of the United States' Surveyor General of Kansas and Nebraska. These records do not show the land owners' name.  A few of these plat maps have been digitized for Kansas Memory. There are additional land records, including surveys of navigable rivers, and school land documentation, in the records of the State Auditor's Office. For more information see our page on the History and Laws of Land Surveying in Kansas.

Sales of land after the initial transfer from the U. S. government are recorded in the Register of Deeds Office for each county. If the State Archives division has microfilm copies of records for a Kansas county, it is listed on the county records on microfilm page. For counties not listed, contact the register of deeds office in that county.

Land owners are shown in the Kansas county plat atlases. Search the Archives Catalog for information about additonal maps. Search ATLAS, our online library catalog, for plat atlases for states other than Kansas.

The federal government is in the process of digitizing its land patent records, including cash entry, homestead and military warrants. You can search these records by name, place, or legal description on the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records website.

Legal Land Descriptions in Kansas

The map below shows the township and range grid system that was used when the U.S. government first surveyed the state, and is still used for the legal description on Kansas land deeds. Townships are 6 miles tall and are numbered north to south starting from the Nebraska-Kansas border. Ranges are 6 miles wide and begin numbering from the 6th prime meridian, which is roughly the path of Highway 81 (and bisects Wichita). Ranges east of the 6th prime meridian start with range 1 east and number toward the Missouri border; ranges west of the 6th prime meridian start with range 1 west and number toward the Colorado border. The combination of the township and range numbers pinpoint where the township is.

Map showing ranges and townships in Kansas

Drawing of township subdivisions















In addition, each square mile in a 6 x 6 mile township is assigned a section number, from 1 to 36, starting at the top right corner (see drawing above right). Each square mile equals 640 acres. Each section is divided into northeast (NE), southeast (SE), northwest (NW), and southwest (SW) quarters that equal 160 acres (see drawing below right). These quarters can be further divided into quarters, which equal 40 acres. The legal description begins by describing the smallest subdivison, for example: the SW 1/4 of the NE 1/4, of section 36, township 8 south, range 5 east.