JurisdictionUnited States
Mineral Title Examination III
(Feb 1992)


Gregory R. Danielson
Poulson, Odell & Peterson
Denver, Colorado





Federal Land Records

State land office (new records)

Original records, foundation for the plat books

Serial register pages

Control documents index

Case files

Other records

Other federal agency records

County records

Miscellaneous considerations

Conduct of Examination of Federal Lands

Scope of examination

Title examination

Master title and use plats

Historical index

Serial register pages

Survey plats

Case files

Mining claims index

Posting of availability

State Land Examinations



Mineral tract book

Surface tract book

Lease ownership cards

Right-of-way records books

Case files

Patent records

County records



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The vast public land holdings in the western United States require a title examiner to have a working knowledge of the records maintained by the state and federal government.1 This paper describes the records available for examination of federal and state lands. This paper also discusses how the various records relate to each other and effect of the records so that you may determine the scope of your examination and the possible risks associated with relying upon particular records. For illustration purposes, this paper also discusses the procedures for examination of title to a federal oil and gas lease.

This paper relies heavily on the paper presented by Peter Wall at the 1982 Mineral Title Examination Institute.2 As with the previous presentations, our emphasis will be on federal oil and gas titles because the examination of title to mining claims will be addressed in another paper presented at this Institute.3 Although a proper examination of these record repositories requires extensive knowledge of the substantive law, a discussion of

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specific title problems and substantive issues is beyond the scope of this paper.4


The disposal of the lands owned by the United States of America began with an ordinance enacted in 1785 permitting the U.S. Treasury Department to auction public lands as a source of revenue and thereby creating a need for a public record system.5 Upon its formation in 1812, the General Land Office assumed responsibility for the public land records including surveys, field notes, plats and status records.6 In 1946 the responsibilities of the General Land Office were transferred to the newly formed Bureau of Land Management. To fulfill its responsibility to manage the vast majority of federal mineral resources, the Bureau of Land Management initiated the Records Improvement Project in 1954 which began a state by state conversion of the antiquated records of the

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old General Land Office to a modern system which is in use today.7 In his 1971 survey of the land office records, Mr. Meek describes the need for a modernization program as follows:

Those who have worked with the land office records over the years are well aware of the illegible, brittle and generally poor conditions of the older records. Repair has often been impossible. Also, the old methods are antiquated and the entire reference system is inadequate to cope with the present and future requirements. Consequently, the need for a new system has arisen.8

The original land office records consisted of survey records including plats and field notes; status records which included tract books divided by legal subdivision, describing transactions affecting the public domain and serial registers9 ; control records which contained patents, public land orders and other laws affecting the public domain; and case records. These records are still available in Washington, D.C. and in the state land offices of the Bureau of Land Management.

The state land offices of the seventeen western states10 have completed the conversion to the new records system, which consists of (1) the master title plat showing ownership and survey dates; (2) the use plat showing current applications and offers; and (3) the historical index showing a chronological narrative of past and present actions affecting the public lands. The serial register and case files were maintained in the same form.

In 1988 the Bureau of Land Management announced that land status information would be computerized under a system referred to

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as an Automated Land and Mineral Record System (ALMRS).11 The new land information system transferred most serial register pages to a computer format and the plat books were reduced and placed on microfilm cards. This system is designed to provide greater access to the Bureau's records and more efficient and accurate processing.12

State Land Office (New Records)
1. Master Title Plat

The master title plat (frequently referred to as the "MT Plat") summarizes the current ownership status of a single township. The plat graphically identifies lands which are part of the public domain, lands which have been patented or conveyed to private ownership, rights reserved in the patented lands, lands re-conveyed to the United States and lands withdrawn or reserved by the United States for special purposes.

The master title plat, with a scale of thirty chains to the inch, is based upon but is not a duplicate of, the official plat of survey. In the event the township has been resurveyed, the master title plat is based upon a composite of the approved surveys.

Appendix B is a sample "explanatory township," which contains a narrative description of the master title plat, use plat and historical index, and explains the various lines, symbols and written data used by the Bureau of Land Management. A typical master title plat is attached as Appendix C.

Some information is difficult to display graphically. For example, some withdrawals affecting the entire township are described on the right hand side of the plat; survey information is placed in the top right hand corner of the plat; and a date of last revision is set forth in the bottom right corner. Where numerous actions affect a small area in the township, a supplemental plat accompanies the master title plat in order to show the small area on a larger scale.

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2. Use Plat

The use plat supplements the master title plat by graphically displaying mineral applications, leases, permits and licenses. The Bureau of Land Management always prepares a separate use plat for oil and gas leases while other minerals may be combined or shown separately. For example, you may find plats for oil and gas ("OG Plat"), coal ("Coal Plat"), sodium potash and phosphate ("Sod, Pot, Pho Plat"), uranium ("Ur Plat"), geothermal ("Geo Plat"), hard rock minerals ("Hard Rock Min Plat"), mining claims ("Min CL Loc Plat"), and environmental assessment records ("EAR Plat").

An example of an OG Plat is attached as Appendix D. The OG Plat shows the boundary of the lease. The right hand margin of the OG Plat conveys additional information, such as the areas included within known geologic structures, unit agreements, and communitization agreements.

3. Historical Index

Upon creation of the New Records System, the historical index was built from the Control Documents Index13 and it lists the history of the township in chronological order. Similar to the tract index in the county records, the historical index allows the title examiner to build a chain of title to determine the current status of the government's interest in the lands under examination. For mineral examination purposes, the index will provide you the necessary information to determine whether the lands are available for location or leasing.

The historical index lists in chronological order each action affecting the township, except KGS determinations, approval of unit agreements and range improvement projects.14 The index also includes closed or terminated actions, such as homestead entries which do not result in patents. The historical index consists of lines and columns. Each entry begins with the number of the section or sections (or a reference to the entire township) and is further divided by reference to the forty-acre subdivision. Subsequent columns show a brief description of the type of entry or action, the serial register or order number, the date of action, the date posted and remarks. The remarks column often describes the results of an action such as whether a patent was cancelled or a

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lease terminated. An example of the historical index is attached as Appendix E.

Most title examinations, whether for fee, Indian, federal or state lands, begin with the federal government's disposal of the public lands which is evidenced by the historical index. For fee lands, the historical index describes the patent conveying the lands to private ownership. For state lands, the historical index describes the means by which the state obtains its interest whether through the Enabling Act, or an in lieu selection or other transfer.15 For Indian lands, the historical index is one of the sources used to determine the laws, executive orders and proclamations affecting an Indian reservation.16 The index also describes the disposal of any allotted lands.17

Original Records — The Foundation for the Plat Books
1. Serial Register Pages

The land office assigns each action a serial number. The serial number provides a means for locating a short description and/or history of the particular action. The serial number corresponds to a page or set of pages in the serial register books which until recently were shelved in the public room. The serial register page describes the type of action (oil and gas lease, right-of-way, homestead entry, etc.), the name and address of the initiating party, a description of the land, the date of action, and a brief description of any other...

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