United States Private Land Claims

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See also Grants from the Federal Government (Public Domain)

Land was granted to individuals who could establish prior ownership or had titles previously granted by Spain, Mexico, or France. When new areas were acquired by the United States, special commissions or courts were appointed by the U.S. Congress to resolve these claims and report to Congress. Many claims were presented directly to Congress.

The original 1789 to 1908 case files of private land claims in parts of 15 states are at the Textual Reference Branch (Textual Reference Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20408; 
Telephone: 202-501-5395). The files of some states have been microfilmed and are available at state archives and at the Family History Library.

Many of the applications, petitions, and memorials presented to Congress from 1789 to 1837 have been published and indexed in:

  • United States Congress. American State Papers, Class 8: Public Lands; Class 9: Claims. Nine Volumes. 1832-1861. Reprint, Greenville, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1994. (FHL book 973 R2ag 1994; 1832-1861 edition on films 899878-85.

A combined index to the 1832-1861 edition is:

  • McMullin, Phillip W., editor. Grassroots of America. Salt Lake City, Utah: Gendex Corporation, 1972. (FHL book 973 R2ag index; fiche 6051323.)

Indexes to land, pension, bounty land, and other claims presented to Congress from 1789 to 1909 are found in published summaries or digests (tables) at the National Archives and federal repository libraries (at major university libraries). The Family History Library has the alphabetical digests for 1789 to 1871:

  • United States Congress. House. Digested Summary and Alphabetical List of Private Claims Which Have Been Presented to the House of Representatives. Washington, DC Library of Congress, [19--]. (FHL films 899874-77.)