California Land and Property

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Spanish and Mexican Records

Until 1822 Spain granted land to settlers. From 1822 to 1846 Mexico granted land and processed claims for the earlier Spanish grants. Many of these early records are at the California State Archives and the Bancroft Library. One set of surviving records, dating from 1833 to 1845, is the Spanish Archives Record Group available at the California State Archives and the Family History Library (FHL films 978888-901; indexes are on FHL films 978888-890). The National Archives also has some early claim records, such as the "Mexican Expedientes, 1822-1846." The following give names of early landowners:

Avina, Rose Hollenbaugh. Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in California. 1932. Reprint. New York, NY: Arno Press, 1976. (FHL book 979.4 R2m.) This publication gives a history of land distribution and a list of pre-1847 ranchos.

Cowan, Robert G. Ranchos of California, A List of Spanish Concessions, 1775-1822, and Mexican Grants, 1822-1846. Fresno, California: Academy Library Guild, 1956. (FHL book 979.4 R2cr.)

When the United States acquired California in 1848, it agreed to recognize earlier claims. A commission was established in 1852 to process the claims. The National Archives has these commission records, including petitions and translations of Spanish documents. These are indexed in J.N. Bowman, Index to the Spanish-Mexican Private Land Grant Records and Cases of California, 1958, Reprint (Berkeley, California: Bancroft Library, University of California, 1970; FHL film 833343).

The Family History Library and the National Archives have records of private land grant cases from U.S. circuit and district courts from 1852 to 1910. There are no records of gold rush claims except those that were contested in the courts.

Federal and State Records

Unclaimed land became the public domain. Portions were surveyed and sold by the federal government through land offices. The first general land offices were established in Los Angeles and Benicia in 1853. Some land office records are at the National Archives—Pacific Region (San Bruno) and the National Archives—Pacific Region (Laguna Niguel).

Federal land patents, and copies of tract books and township plats, are at the Bureau of Land Management:

California State Office
2800 Cottage Way, Suite W-1834
Sacramento, CA 95825-1886
Telephone: (916) 978-4400
Fax: (916) 978-4416
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

County Records

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 and is presently acquiring records of other counties. For example, for Sacramento County the library has deeds (1848-80s) on 59 films, and an index (1849-1910) on 97 films.

San Francisco Records

The library has copies of original pre-statehood records for San Francisco, 1838 to 1851, on 21 films. These include Spanish grants and early Alcalde deeds. The original records are at the San Francisco County Courthouse.

After the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, a law was passed to establish the ownership of land. A claimant filed the proper papers with the superior court, which, if approved, gave him title to the land. These claims are called the McInerney actions. The original records are at the San Francisco County Courthouse. The Family History Library has copies of these claims for the years 1906 to 1984 on 880 microfilm rolls. They are indexed by the name of the plaintiff (claimant).

The library also has 332 microfilms of deeds (1849-1900) and land indexes (1850-1916) from San Francisco County.