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Spanish and Mexican Grants
The first land grants in New Mexico were given by Spain and Mexico. When the United States acquired the area in 1848, they agreed to recognize these claims relating to Spanish and Mexican grants. The claims were processed by the U.S. Surveyor General from 1855 to 1890, and by the U. S. Court of Private Land Claims from 1891 to 1903.
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the following records of claims. These are located at:
Bureau of Land Management
New Mexico State Office
1474 Rodeo Road
P.O. Box 27115
Santa Fe, NM 87502-0115
Miscellaneous Archives Relating to New Mexico Land Grants, 1695-1842. These are in Spanish. (FHL films 1016947-48; use Donaciano Vigil's index for 1681 to 1846 on film 1016949.)
Records of land titles, 1847-1852. Kept by the Secretary of the Territory. (Family History Library film 1016950.)
Record of private land claims adjudicated by the U.S. Surveyor General, 1855-1890. These are indexed and written in English and Spanish. (Family History Library films 1016950-74 items 2-4.)
Letters received, 1854 to 1892 from the New Mexico Territory. (Family History Library films 1017566-67; an index is included.)
Private land claims adjudicated by the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims, 1891-1903. (Family History Library films 1016975-96.) The first film has a list of the cases.
Twitchell Archives, 1685-1898. These are records compiled by Ralph E. Twitchell, including land disputes, appeals, grants, wills, mine claims, and judgments, in English and Spanish. They are records of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. (Family History Library films 1016940-45.)
For further information about Spanish and Mexican grants, see the Beers book listed under “Archives and Libraries” section of this outline.
U.S. Public Domain Grants
Various laws provided for the distribution of unclaimed land in the public domain:
The pre-emption law, passed by Congress in 1841, applied to New Mexico when it became a territory. Under this law, a head of a family (including a widow) could stake a claim and buy it from the government.
The Donation Act of 1854 granted free land to settlers. Persons claiming Spanish or Mexican land grants were not eligible.
The Homestead Act of 1862 gave free land to settlers who lived on the land for five years or who purchased it within six months of filing a claim for it.
Land was also available through timber-culture grants, soldiers' and sailors' homesteads, mining grants, coal grants, desert grants, railroad grants and education grants.
The land was distributed through land offices. The first general land office was established in 1858 at Santa Fe. The land entry case files, indexes to pre-1908 patents, and original tract books and township plats of the general land offices are at the National Archives. Land records of the Santa Fe office are at the National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region (Denver). The patents and copies of the tract books and township plats are the Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico State Office.
Further information on the donation, homestead, and other acts affecting land records is in Victor Westphall, The Public Domain in New Mexico, 1854-1891 (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico, 1965; Family History Library book 978.9 R2w).
After land was transferred to private ownership, subsequent records, including deeds and mortgages, were recorded by the county clerk. The Family History Library does not have copies of the deeds or other property records available in each county. You can obtain copies by contacting the county clerk's office.
New Mexico Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.