The General Land Office (GLO) – Eastern States Office houses the Secretary of the Interior’s copies of over 9 million GLO records. To preserve and make these records available to the public, the “General Land Office Automated Records Project” is scanning and indexing originals on a free database as part of the Bureau of Land Management: www.glorecords.blm.gov Currently, these include Patents, Survey Plats, Field Notes and Land Status Records. The database provides access to people receiving lands under many federal programs, not just the Homestead Act of 1862. Records can relate to the survey plats and field notes back to 1810 with land title records between 1820 and the present.
The database only covers states termed “Federal Land States” which were set up on the township, section and range system. This includes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio (part), Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The other states are known as “State Land States” and they alone with parts of Ohio are measured in metes and bounds.
The BLM website has a handy glossary of terms you will find in the records. There is also a handy explanation to the Rectangular Survey System (Township/Range, Section Number, Aliquot Parts). Basically, a section contains 640 acres, half section 320 acres, a quarter section 160 acres, half of a quarter 80 acres, and a quarter of a quarter 40 acres.
Land can be searched by state, county, name of the person, or by coordinates (land description). If using the coordinates you will be able to view your ancestor’s neighbors. They may be friends are family members from Ireland.
If you find a record of your ancestor receiving land, then the next step is to contact the National Archives to obtain the Land Entry Case Files: www.archives.gov/research/land/index.html They cover the pre-1908 period, and are the records of most interest to genealogists. Sometimes these provide more intimate details such as birth places!