Samoa Land and Property

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About 90 percent of the land is communally owned by aiga. The existing tenure law on communal lands prohibits alienation of any real property except freehold land to any person whose blood is less that one-half Samoan. Unless the Governor approves the transfer in writing, it is unlawful for any matai of a Samoan family to alienate any family lands to any person or lease it for any term more than 55 years. ASG estimates that 1.5625 square miles of American Samoa's total area of 76.1 square miles are freehold land.

Most American Samoa land is still held communally. Family chiefs, or "matais" have the final say in land distribution. This has aided in keeping valuable land in the hands of idigenous people and in preserving ancient Samoan customs and traditions.

Inquiries about Matai Title and Land Claims, plantation ownership and records, and general land records should be directed to:

High Court of American Samoa
Tutuila, AS 96799.

The Marines and other U.S. military branches used the islands as a base of operation during World War II. War damage claims for the years 1946 through 1953 and other military records may be found at:

NARA Pacific Region (San Francisco)
1000 Commodore Drive
San Bruno, California 94066-2350

The Family History Library has the following sources:

  • Plantation records, 1942. Records provide the name of the plantation, the owner and who depended upon the plantation for support including the name, age, sex and relationship to the plantation owner). San Francisco Federal Records Center, San Bruno, California (FHL International film 1084654 Item 2).
  • Land claims, 1901-1965. High Court, Pago Pago, American Samoa (FHL International film Index 1084050 Item 3, 1901-1965 International films 1083316 - 1083330, and Land and title court index 1966-1973 International film 1083333).
  • Matai title court files, 1902-1973. High Court, Pago Pago, American Samoa (FHL 1902-1973 International Vault films 1083334 - 1083350, 1083374, 1083383 - 1083393).
  • War damage claims, 1946-1953. Includes applications for settlements of claims against the United States government for damages caused by the U.S. Marines, 1942-1944, on the Island of Tutuila, American Samoa with affidavits and other supporting documents. San Francisco Federal Records Center, San Bruno, California (FHL International films 1084793 - 1084800).
  • Land records, 1900-1959. Includes land appraisals, description and location of property. Office of Registrar of Titles. Federal Records Center, San Bruno, California (FHL International film 1084786).
  • Registers of Matai names and titles, 1895-1972. Includes claims of succession to Matai title with supporting affidavits and certificates permitting the usage of the title. The Matai name was the name taken taken by the head of the clan after election and entitled the clan chief to act in behalf of the clan to control and administer the communally owned property. Lands & Titles Division of the High Court, Pago Pago, Americam Samoa. Federal Records Center, San Francisco, California (FHL International film 1083950 and International Vault films 1083951 - 1083952, 1084046 - 1084048, 1084652 - 1084654 Item 1, and 1084049).

[United States Land and Property|United States Land and Property]]

Getting Started[edit | edit source]

Determine the time and place your family might have owned property.

Research should begin at the smallest jurisdictional level - usually the county (except in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, where town clerks have kept the records). These records are found in the local town or county office, or many times on microfilm at state archives or the Family History Library.

There is a high likelihood that your ancestor can be found in land records. “It is estimated that by the mid-1800s, as many as ninety percent of all adult white males owned land in the United States.”[1]

What’s the Next Step?[edit | edit source]

  1. Begin with indexes. Check both the grantor/direct (seller) and grantee/indirect (buyer) indexes for all possible entries for the ancestor of interest. Copy the references.
  2. Look up each land transaction reference in the appropriate books, or volumes, and page numbers.
  3. Notice the details of the transaction: dates, names, relationships, and property description.
  4. Make a reliable copy (handwritten, photocopy, or digital) of the full entry.
  5. Evaluate the results.

Finding Your Ancestor in the Record[edit | edit source]

If your ancestor is male, follow the steps outlined in “What’s the Next Step?”

Finding a female ancestor in land records can be more challenging because of property laws in earlier time periods. It is more likely to find your female ancestor in records of her husband’s property being sold. The wife often was examined separately because of laws pertaining to her “dower right.” (This term is NOT an indication that she brought land into the marriage, but rather it is related to her right to use of land following her husband’s death.) Therefore, look for her husband’s name in the grantor/direct (seller) index, then search in the related entry.

Land indexes only list the names of the grantor/direct (seller) and grantee/indirect (buyer). Therefore, search the indexes for names of other relatives and neighbors to assist you in finding a land record in which your ancestor might be named.

There are instances when an ancestor bought land from the government such as:
homestead grants, military bounty land warrants, lottery land, mining and timberland claims and more. If an ancestor received or bought land from the government, review the topics having to do with the "Government to Person" Land Acquisition Process as well as the topics named above to learn how to obtain these records. Return to the United States Land and Property page for information on these topics.

Tips:[edit | edit source]

  • Recognize that it may take time to navigate the complexities.
  • Land records exist in cases in which other record types didn’t. This is because the line of ownership has to be proven.
  • Names of neighboring property owners and witnesses might provide clues to other relatives.
  • The transaction might have been recorded at a much later date. This is especially true if the land remained in the family. Selling to a non-family member may have prompted the recording of the title decades after the initial owner died.
  • Remember that land may be in a different jurisdictions (aka counties) in different years as county boundaries changed and new counties were formed.
  • Notice if there is a record of the person selling land but no record of the purchase. This can be a clue that 1) the land was acquired by inheritance, or 2) the land was acquired from the state or federal government (which means that a higher jurisdiction needs to be considered.)
  • Plat each transaction. This may reveal additional acquisitions or divisions between transactions and identify mixed jurisdictions. It may also allow you to analyze what is happening to neighboring properties.

Websites[edit | edit source]

  • Land Records Search has many county and some state indexes to land records online.
  • General Land Office - Patent Search are searchable online and most have free images of patents to download. The minimum information needed for a search is the state where the land is located and the name of the person receiving the patent. Surveys and Land Status Records can also be searched here.
  • General Land Office - Track Book Search are searchable online. They contain the name and legal land description on all applications for land from the federal government. Even if that application did not result in a patent. This is a manual search, so a general idea of where the land is located is needed. Otherwise there is too much to search.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. William Dollarhide, forward to E. Wade Hone, Land and Property Research in the United States, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Inc., 1997), xi.