Missouri School Land Records

My ancestor, Vincent Smarsh, purchased school lands in Kansas cerca 1872.  The journey to find the records was incredibly hard and held many twists and turns.

Had he purchased school lands in Missouri, my research journey would have been a whole lot easier.

What are School Lands?

During the era of “Manifest Destiny,” when the West was open and the settlers were flocking to lands unknown, the Federal Government established a plan to set aside lands gifted to the state for sale to raise revenue to build schools.  Most commonly these lands were Sections 16 & 36 in every township.  Further. even more lands were designated for schools of higher learning be they trade, agriculture, or university institutions.

So, when your fellow genealogists are “hurrahing” about their land patents (record of first purchase of land from the Federal Government) and your file folder is empty, have no fear.  The research answer may be in school lands purchased not from the Federal Government, but from the states!

Missouri School Lands Published Index

The School Land records typically reside at the state archives, but sometime you’ll find them in the county at the Recorder of Deeds.  Fortunately, there are amazing finding aids.

Sharon Kliethermes has created an index and published the book, Missouri School Land Sales (Dogwood Publications, Loose Creek, MO) 1987.  She has gone about the tedious work of indexing by purchaser’s name all of the land patents issued by the state and held at the Missouri State Archives regardless of where the land resided.  It’s a statewide index!

The index gives you the name of the purchaser, the county of the land purchased, the date of the sale (sometimes noted with a “p” for the date of the patent, which could be years later), and the volume and page the archivist or researcher will find the patent at the State Archives.  It does not give you Section, Township, and Range, but you will find that on the record.  More helpful to the researcher, she includes the county.  This should help distinguish records from persons of the same name and spare you from needing the Section, Township & Range description to find the record.

There are between 19,000 and 20,000 names in her index.  How easy does this make researching early school land records and ancestors in Missouri?

Once you find a record that is of interest, your next step is simply to write or email the Missouri State Archives.

Online Database

But wait, the search can be made even easier.  If you don’t happen to be near a library that has the above mentioned book, you are probably pretty close to a computer.

The Missouri State Archives under the direction of the Missouri Secretary of State has created an online database of early land holders using the original patents as their source material.  The database includes Township School Land patents dated 1820-1900.  However, the database is a work in process  So, the record you are looking for may or may not be in there.  Nonetheless, it’s well worth checking out.  Here’s a quick link to the database:

If your ancestors settled Missouri, it is possible they may have purchased land – school land – from the State and not the Federal Government.  I hope your experiences finding the records prove easier than mine!

Happy Researching!


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