Utah Land and Property
Land records are primarily used to learn when and where an individual lived. They often reveal other family information, such as the name of a spouse, heir, other relatives, or neighbors. Also, you may learn where a person lived previously, his or her occupation, if he or she was a naturalized citizen, and other clues for further research.
The Pioneer Era (1847-1869)
In 1847 the area that was to become Utah belonged to Mexico. A year later it was ceded to the United States by treaty. But it was not until 1869 that a US General Land Office was established, which permitted "legal" ownership of public lands in Utah.
Instead of federal authority during this period, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) administered the distribution of land. The land was not sold, but was allotted to the first owners based on needs. After 1850, title could be obtained from either the Church or the county recorder's office.
After the initial distribution of land, the county recorder or probate clerk primarily recorded subsequent transfers. A few transactions were recorded in LDS Church records. Sometimes land was transferred without it being recorded at any Church or government office.
Pioneer land settlement in Utah is discussed in many articles and histories. Two are:
- Fox, Feramorz Young. The Mormon Land System, A Study of the Settlement and Utilization of Land Under the Direction of the Mormon Church. Logan, Utah: Utah State Agricultural College, 1955. FHL film 237848
- An in-depth study of the history of the Mormon land system. There are maps throughout the volume.
- Linford, Lawrence, L. Establishing and Maintaining Land Ownership in Utah Prior to 1869 in Utah Historical Society Quarterly, vol. 42 no. 2, Spring 1974: 126-43. FHL book 979.2 H2u
- A history describing how lands were divided. It is full of quotations from journals and newspapers. Primarily covering Salt Lake City.
Web Site: For a detailed history of Original Land Titles in Utah Territory
Federal Land Records (1869-Present)
Federal land surveys began in 1855. The first General Land Office to sell lands in the public domain in Salt Lake City was established in 1869. Other offices were located in Beaver (1876-77) and Vernal (1905-27). Land was available through the land offices to individuals (entrymen) who paid a down payment (cash entry) for a piece of property or to homesteaders who paid a small entry fee.
Land office officials maintained registers of land office business and kept separate files (case files) for each entryman. They listed information about entries in tract books (registers containing a written description of each entry) and township plats (maps showing the lots for each township).
After an individual completed the requirements for land entry, his case file was sent to the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. This office confirmed that everything was in order and issued a patent (official land title) transferring the rights of land ownership from the government to him.
Since land in Utah had been settled for over 20 years when the land office opened, it was often difficult to make the government land packages fit the existing town and farm lots. In many cases a "trustee" received the patent and then distributed the land among several others. Records of these secondary transfers should be listed in county recorder's office.
Barker, Joel. Preliminary Inventory of Land Management - Utah. Denver, Colorado: Archives Branch, Federal Archives and Records Center, 1979. (Family History Library book 979.2 R23b.) This book provides a history of the land dealings and surveys. It lists what is available, the dates, how it is arranged, and a description.
The following offices have federal land records for Utah:
Bureau of Land Management - General Land Office Records
The land patents from 1820 to the present are searchable online knowing at a minimum the name of the person receiving the patent and the state where the patent is located.
Bureau of Land Management - Utah State Office
324 South State Street Suite 400
Salt Lake City, UT 84111-2303
This office has copies of patents and tractbooks from 1869 to the present with survey plats and notes beginning in the 1850s, and township plats showing who the land was sold to.
The National Archives — Rocky Mountain Region
Building 48 — Denver Federal Center
West 6th Avenue and Kipling Street
P.O. Box 25307
Denver, CO 80255-0307
Telephone (General Inquiries): (303) 236-0817
(Genealogy Inquiries): (303) 236-0806
Fax: (303) 236-9297
The Denver Branch has land office records for Utah, including correspondence, surveys, homestead and cash entry registers, receipts, and final certificates. An inventory of their land records is in:
National Archives & Records Administration
7th Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20408
Civil Archives Division
Washington, D.C. 20408
The Washington National Records Center has the tract books of entries to about 1964, two indexed case files from 1869 to 1908, and the other file from 1908 to about 1973, and patents from 1869 to 1908.
State Land Records
At the time of statehood, the federal government granted the state of Utah four sections of land in each township. The state has sold or leased some of this land. State land is managed by:
Utah State Government
Forestry, Fire and State Lands
1594 W. North Temple Street Suite 3520
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-5703
This office has public sale files, patents, and certificates of sale since 1896. They also have lease files from the 1860s. Agreements and applications to purchase land since 1896 have been sent to the Utah State Archives.
The web site has a form to fill out to request records or to print out a Grama request form.
County Land Records
After the federal government transferred land to private owners, it could be sold again, inherited, or lost by foreclosure. In Utah, these transactions have been recorded in the county recorder's office. They are usually indexed by grantor and grantee for each volume.
To start a deed search, first figure out the county that covered the land at the time the deed was made. Then contact that county recorder's office. Also contact the county clerk and/or the Utah State Archives.
The Family History Library has a few of these records from some counties. Some are being digitized on the FamilySearch Historical Records. Look under your county for direction to what records that are searchable online. Also check the catalog under the county.
- Guide to Original Land Titles in Utah Territory at the Division of Archives and Record Service for the State of Utah.
- Guide to Researching Property History at the Division of Archives and Record Service for the State of Utah.
- Guide to Mining Claims at the Division of Archives and Record Service for the State of Utah.