Hawaii Land and Property
Prior to 1840, land in Hawaii belonged to the king and the chiefs. There were no titles to land, and allotments could be taken away at any time. The Constitution in 1840 stated that the land belonged to the king but that it was not his personal property. The chiefs and other tenants were recognized collectively as co-owners of the land under the king's management.
Numerous foreigners eventually settled in the islands and began to dispute the king's ownership of all lands. This led to the establishment in 1845 of the Board of Commissioners to Quiet Land Titles, known as the Land Commission. By decision of the king and his chiefs, the king was given his own property and the remainder was divided equally among the government, the chiefs, and the tenants. This was the most important event in the distribution of land in Hawaii and is known as the Great Mahele.
To acquire ownership of land, an individual made a claim to the Land Commission. If approval was granted, the claimant received an award, which he then presented to the Minister of the Interior, who issued a Royal Patent. The Royal Patent gave the individual sole ownership of his land once he paid an assessment of cash or land to the government. The Hawaii State Archives has microfilm copies of many of these records. It also has a "Land File" of letters and documents dating from the 1830s. You may also search the online Grantor/Grantee Deed Index to determine if ancestors owned, purchased, or sold land. If an ancestor owned land at the time of death, you will also want to search for a will or probate records for that ancestor to determine if the ancestor left land to a family member.
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the:
- Award books (1836-55)
- Patents (1847-1961)
- Foreign testimonies (1846-62)
- Native registers (1846-48)
- Native testimonies (1844-54)
These records and subsequent land records are located at:
Bureau of Conveyances
1151 Punchbowl Street Room 123
Honolulu, HI 96813
P.O. Box 2867
Honolulu, HI 96803
The Family History Library has the Bureau of Conveyance deeds (1844-1900) and deed indexes (1845-1917) on 108 microfilms. FHL starting with film 986199
The following index and publications may be helpful:
- Office of the Commissioner of Public Lands of the Territory of Hawaii. Indices of Awards Made by the Board of Commissioners to Quiet Land Titles in the Hawaiian Islands. Honolulu, Hawaii: Hawaii Territorial Office, 1929. (Family History Library film 1321397 item 2.) This includes records of individuals receiving lands from approximately 1848 to 1890.
- Chinen, Jon J. The Great Mahele: Hawaii's Land Division of 1848. Honolulu, Hawaii: The University Press of Hawaii, 1974. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 996.9 A1 number 9
- Chinen, Jon J. Original Land Titles in Hawaii. N.p., 1961. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 996.9 R2c