California Land and Property
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 (Family History Library films 978888-901; indexes are on Family History Library 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. (Family History Library 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. (Family History Library book 979.4 R2cr.)
Names of early California residents are indexed in the California State Archives collection titled Spanish and Mexican Land Grant Maps, 1855-1875. This index may be accessed at no charge and provides the identification number, grant name, name of confirmee, acres and patent date.
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; Family History Library 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).
The Bureau of Land Management and General Land Office (BLM-GLO) has an on line Land Patent Search which is an index to millions of ancestors in federal land patents from 1788 to the 1960s at the National Archives. Start with this index to get the information needed to obtain the applications for land patents which may be a rich source of genealogical information about a family.
- 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
- Internet: http://www.slc.ca.gov/
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.
A wiki article describing an online collection is found at: