California Land and Property

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Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Bureau of Land Management - General Land Office Records

  • The General Land Office Records (GLO) at Bureau of Land Management - search for patents for California private land claims; search by name, or by "Grant-Spanish/Mexican" Authority; click on "Related Documents" to download and see the document.

Indexes and Records


Maps

Timeline for Land Ownership[edit | edit source]

  • 1769-1821 Lands were granted by the Spanish
  • 1822-1846 Mexico administered land grants
  • 1850- California statehood, land distributed at federal level; then, at the County Recorder's office

Spanish and Mexican Records[edit | edit source]

Land was granted by the Spanish during the colonial period, 1769-1821. Beginning in 1822, Mexico granted land. This process ended after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. In 1848, governance passed to the United States and a commission was established in 1852 to process the claims. The system of governance needed to include the adjudication of private land claims (PLCs) that originate when a foreign government grants land in areas that later comes under jurisdiction of the United States. Settlers desired to retain these lands and wanted their ownership recognized by the new government. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war and guaranteed the land rights of existing settlers.[1]

The fight over the rights given by occupancy was a constant battle between the occupiers, the land offices, the state government, the congress, and many others. Settlers held the view that their rights were reflected in the Preemption Act of 1841 (5 Stat. 453). This act was in effect in other public land states. Until private land claims were adjudicated, and the boundaries established by the Surveyor General, the land offices could not grant land effectively, though they did in many cases. Consequently, many of the private land claims litigated involved ejectment requests relating to settlers improperly on rancho land. Congress attempted to deal with this issue with the passage of an Act of 3 March, 1853 to provide for the Survey of the Public Lands in California, the granting of Preemption Rights therein, and other purposes (10 Stat. 244). This confusion and the resulting contests lasted many years.[2]

Locating the Records[edit | edit source]

Land records from this period were widely dispersed and many were lost. In the book, Spanish and Mexican Records in the American Southwest, Henry Putney Beers provides a detailed description of the process of gathering the provincial records in California. The basic records relating to private land grants are the records held by the grantees or claimants and those held by the provincial government. Beers also describes the provincial records relating to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.[3]

Most of the records of the provincial authorities were collected by U.S. military forces in 1846 and 1847. They were eventually deposited with the U.S. Surveyor General for California. Congress passed the Act of May 18, 1858 (11 Stat. 289) that required for the arranging and keeping of the Spanish and Mexican Archives in the office of the U.S. Surveyor General for California. These case files or “expedientes” are what constitute the Spanish Archives. Some were destroyed in the San Francisco fire of 1906. A list of the surviving case files held by the National Archives can be found in the Expedientes, California Board of Land Commissioners, Record Group 49: Records of the General Land Office. Because so many of these cases were litigated and information copied for the courts, there are alternative sources for the lost records.[4]

Complicating land title adjudication was the Gold Rush that began in 1848. The influx of people overwhelmed the infrastructure of the area, making governance and settling land titles difficult. Squatters were a significant problem. Statehood came in 1850 and Congress passed the Land Act of 3 March 1851 (9 Stat. 631) creating a Board of Land Commissioners. The board operated for five years and accepted 813 claims and confirmed 514. Congress made the actions of the board appealable to federal courts. The courts adjudicated all but 3 of the 813 claims and approved 604 cases. Many of these claims were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Of the 813 cases, 582 received patents.[5]

The commission was just a screening process for claims and the process was not in the favor of the original grantees. An average claim took 17 years to adjudicate. The commission and the courts created a body of records filled with genealogical information. Some records were lost in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Many land records held by the federal government were destroyed including private land claims, other records of grants, and “original” township plat maps. The General Land Office Washington copies of the township plat maps were copied and provided to the federal district land offices and are online at the General Land Office website. Also, the court case files for both federal districts in California can be found at the Bancroft Library.[6]

Federal and State Records[edit | edit source]

The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) was also happening at the same time with the adjudication of private land claims. All unclaimed land in California was surveyed under this system and title granted by federal land patents. This system was administered by the federal land district offices. Once the land was granted by the federal government the records of subsequent transfers will be found at the county level.

  • The General Land Office Records (GLO) at Bureau of Land Management - search for patents for California private land claims; search by name, or by "Grant-Spanish/Mexican" Authority; click on "Related Documents" to download and see the document.[7]

The first general land offices were established in Los Angeles and Benicia in 1853. The land entry files associated with these transactions are located in the National Archives at Washington, D.C. Additional federal land records relating to California are located in the National Archives at College Park, at San Francisco, and at Riverside. Use the National Archives catalog to identify these records.

District Land Office[8] Opened Closed
Los Angeles 1853

1869

1865

1946

Benicia 1853 1857
Marysville 1855 1905
San Francisco 1857

1911

1906

1927

Humbolt 1858 1899
Stockton 1858 1906
Visalia 1858 1927
Sacramento 1867 1946
Aurora (NV) 1869 1873
Susanville 1871 1925
Shasta 1871 1890
Independence 1873

1887

1878

1925

Bodie 1878 1887
Redding 1890 1912
Eureka 1899 1925
Oakland 1906 1911
El Centro 1916 1925

The Bureau of Land Management and General Land Office (BLM-GLO) has an on line Land Patent Search which is an index to millions of ancestors in federal land patents from 1788 to the 1960s at the National Archives.

  • California State Office
    2800 Cottage Way, Suite W-1834
    Sacramento, CA 95825-1886<r>Telephone: (916) 978-4400
    TDD (916) 978-4419
    Contact us by Email

The National Archives has the original tract books, plat maps, and land-entry case files. These include cash entries and homestead entries.

Records of state land grants are located at the:

  • State Lands Commission
    100 Howe Ave.
    Suite E 100 S.
    Sacramento, California 95825
    Telephone: 916-574-1900
    Website

County Records[edit | edit source]

After land was transferred to private ownership, subsequent transactions have been filed with the county recorder. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of deeds and mortgages for some counties. Visit the Land and Property section of the individual California County Wiki pages for additional information.

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

  • Avina, Rose Hollenbaugh. Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in California. 1932. Reprint. New York, NY: Arno Press, 1976. At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Beers, Henry Putney. Spanish and Mexican Records in the American Southwest. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1979. At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Cowan, Robert G. Ranchos of California: a list of Spanish concessions, 1775-1822 and Mexican grants, 1822-1846. San Bernardino, Calif: Borgo Press, 1985. At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Hoffman, Ogden and Numa Herbert. Reports of Land Cases Determined in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California June Term, 1853 to June Term, 1858. United States District Court (California: Northern District), 1862. Online at: Google Books; At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Hone, E. Wade. Land & Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, Ut: Ancestry Publishing, 1997. At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Kvasnicka, Robert M., compiler. The Trans-Mississippi West, 1804–1912, Part IV, A Guide to Records of the Department of the Interior for the Territorial Period, Section 3: Records of the General Land Office]. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2007. Online at: Hathitrust; At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Perez, Cris. Grants of land in California made by Spanish or Mexican authorities. [Sacramento, CA] (1807 13th St., Sacramento 95814): The Commission, 1986. (176 pages) At various libraries (WorldCat)
  • Robinson, W.W. Land in California : The Story of Mission Lands, Ranchos, Squatters, Mining Claims, Railroad Grants, Land Scrip, Homesteads. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1948. At various libraries (WorldCat)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. California Land and Property by Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA, 2022; used with permission
  2. California Land and Property by Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA, 2022; used with permission
  3. California Land and Property by Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA, 2022; used with permission
  4. California Land and Property by Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA, 2022; used with permission
  5. California Land and Property by Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA, 2022; used with permission
  6. California Land and Property by Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA, 2022; used with permission
  7. California Land and Property by Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA, 2022; used with permission
  8. California Land and Property by Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA, 2022; used with permission