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Page last updated on 03 Jun 2014

Land Records

Land Grants, Deeds, Patents, Homestead Records, Mortgages, Tax Records and Maps

Major Resources for Land Records

Bureau of Land Management California Office
2800 Cottage Way, Suite W-1834
Sacramento, CA 95825-1886
Phone: (916) 978-4400
Fax: (916) 978-4416 Search Land Patents

National Archives Pacific Region (See major repository page for contact information)

California State Archives (See major repository page for contact information)

County Recorder’s Offices

County Assessor’s Offices

Listing of County Websites

Early Land Records

Native American – See Church Records (Missions) and Miscellaneous (Ethnic)

Spain – (1769 -1821) Spain granted huge tracts of land to the Missions starting in 1769 (see Church Records). Starting in 1784, individuals were permitted to settle and were granted grazing rights to specific tracts of land, usually measured in leagues (approx. 4428 acres) but all title remained with the crown. Wikipedia Ranchos of California

Mexico – (1821-1846) California became part of Mexico when that country gained independence in 1821. The Governor of Alta California was given the right to grant lands in 1828 and with the Secularization Act of 1833, the Mexican government repatriated much of the land that had been granted to the Missions. Land was then available to grant to those that supported the new Mexican government. Those granted land by the Mexican government were required to live on the land and were not allowed to divide it or rent it out.

US Government – (1848 - )The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by which the US Government took possession of California required the government to honor legitimate claims to land of Mexican citizens residing in the area of their lands. The Land Act of 1851 established a board of land commissioners to review records and adjudicate claims. The government acquired the provincial records of the Mexican and Spanish government including deeds, maps (diseños), and other documents. Eventually 553 of 813 claims were approved.

Records pertaining to the original Spanish and Mexican Grants and to the patenting of those grants by the US Government can be found in the collections of:

NARA – California Private Land Claim Docket; California Spanish Archives; Index to Private Land Grant Cases; Index of Spanish-Mexican Private Land Grant Records; Bureau of Land Management Records; Mining; etc. Land Entry Case files and GLO Tract Books are found in Washington DC.

BLM – Rancho Records. Records of the various Spanish and Mexican land grants including GLO field notes and plats, as well as certain private land claim dockets, disenos, and indexes to land grant cases. Field notes and plats 1850+, Mineral Surveys 1850+, Tract books (Public Lands 1880s-1970s)

California State Archives – Official state copies of land grants from the Spanish and Mexican periods include transcripts of official correspondence and map

Bancroft Library Berkeley Finding Aid for Land Case maps and Files
BLM California Automated Land Records
Bureau of Land Management Land Patent Search
California State Archives Spanish and Mexican land Grants
California State Archives Index to Land Grants
California State Library Finding aid for U.S. Land Office, Sacramento, Records, 1858-1908
EPA California Tribal Lands Map
Family History 101 Research in Land Records
Google Books Description of Spanish Archives
National Park Service Homestead Records
UCLA Finding Aid for California Land Claims
University of the Pacific Finding aid of the Biblioteca Nacional de Mexico Photocopies of Selected Spanish California Archives

State Land Records

State Land Record Office – In 1858 the State Land Office was opened for the purpose of “ascertaining, protecting, and managing the title and claim of the state to any lands within its limits, derived by grants from the United States, or in any other manner.” The California State Archives has over 47 linear feet of records from the SLO. [County Treasurer Receipts, County Treasurer Reports, School Land Warrants, Registers Certificates, Numbered Registers Certificates, Unnumbered Registers Certificates, Certificates of Purchase, Certificates Issued by Secretary of State, Certificates Issued by Register, Mining Company Case Files, Location Applications, Real Estate Conveyances, Deeds, Patent Lists, Letters of Transmittal for Clear Lists and Patents, School Fund Apportionment Reports, Surveys, Abstracts of Title, County Treasurers, Apportionment Reports, Certificates of Transfer, Canceled Patents, Swamp and Overflowed Lands Locations, Swamp and Overflowed Lands Segregation Affidavits, Swamp and Overflowed Lands Reports and Correspondence, Tide Land Files, Boundary Surveys, Yosemite Files, Correspondence, Land Selection Lists, Unsurveyed Land Application Certificates, School Land Warrant Receipts and Correspondence, Legal Records]

Nash, Gerald D., The California State Land Office 1858-1898, The Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Aug., 1964), pp. 347-356 (article consists of 10 pages) Published by: University of California Press JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/3816629


California State Archives Inventory of State Land Office Files
California State Land Commission Records Requests
UC Davis Special Collections Holland Land Company Records

County Land Records – Most land records are created at the county level. Records might be kept in one book or in a variety of separate ledgers. While many counties have their land record collections intact, others have microfilmed the collections and sent them elsewhere. Check county, city and town archives, historical and genealogical societies and libraries for collections and indexes. Some counties have allowed their holdings to be filmed by the Family History Library . The following list describes some of the records you might find.

Official Records – Prior to 1920 recorded instruments were kept in a variety of different ledgers. From 1920 to the present you will find the many different types of records all recorded together in Official Records. You will find miscellaneous records, powers of attorney, sole trader and separate property of married women, deeds, patents, mortgages, leases, pre-emption claims, homesteads, mechanics liens, brands, attachments, transcripts of judgments, wills, orders, notices, decrees, indentures, satisfactions of judgment, certificates of tax sales, trust deeds, contracts, releases, easements, notices of action, and stipulations.

Deeds Recorded deeds to real property. Contains nature and terms of document, recorder’s number, description and location of property, names of grantor and grantee, date recorded, and fee. Recorded in official records after 1920.

Patents – Recorded land patents, authorized by federal and state land offices, granting transfer of title to real property. Contains name of grantee, location and description of land, amount of fees due, date recorded, proof of claim, and map of property. Recorded in official records after 1920.

Homesteads Recorded declarations, and usually abandonments, of homestead indicating intent to use property as a place of residence. For declarations, contains name of homesteader, statements on marital status, residence on property, and intent to use property as a homestead, description and estimated value of land, date recorded, and signature of homesteader. Abandonments include statement of voluntary release of homestead rights, date of homestead, and signature of homesteader

Declarations of Separate Property of Married Women – Recorded declarations by married women of separate ownership of property. Contains dates of declaration and recording, names of husband and wife, location and description of property, means of acquisition, and signatures of woman and witnesses. Often these records are combined with Sole Trader records.

Sole Trader Applications – Recorded applications of married women to engage in business in their own names and for and by themselves. Contains name and address of applicant, dates of application and recording, type and location of business, amount of capital invested, and name of court granting application. Recorded in official records after 1920.

Abstracts of Mortgages 1850+ – (Recorders Office; 1880-1917 Assessors Office) - names of mortgagor or trustor and mortgagee or trustee, location and description of property, original and assessed value, amount of encumbrance, date of recording, lot and block numbers, and reference to volume and page numbers in records.

Assignments of Mortgages – date of assignment, names of assignor and assignee, location and description of property, and date of recording. Early years may be combined with mortgages.

Recorded releases of mortgages – names of mortgagor and mortgagee, dates of mortgage, release, and recording, location and description of property, and reference to volume and page numbers in mortgages. Early years may be combined with mortgages.

Leases – Recorded leases of real property. Contains names of lessor and lessee, terms of lease, location and description of property, amount of rental, date of recording, and volume and page numbers in map books. Recorded in official records after 1920.

Lis Pendens – Recorded notices of pending civil court actions involving property. Contains names of plaintiff and defendant as grantor and grantee, date of notice, purpose of action, location and description of property, date recorded, and signature of attorney for plaintiff. Recorded in official records after 1920.

Pre-emption Claims – Recorded pre-emption claims of 160-acre tracts of land allowed to claimants under federal law. Contains name of claimant, location and description of land, statement of originality of claim, diagram of land, and date recorded. These are basically claims by squatters, those who were on the land before the government surveyed or divided for sale. Recorded in official records after 1920.

Mining Claims – claims to land for purposes of mining. [notice and date of claim, name of claimant, and location, description and size of land claimed] In counties with major mining activity, claims may be divided by type of mining (quartz, placer). Usually Recorded in official records after 1920.

Petitions for Reclamation of Swamp Lands – 1860s-1930s – Transcripts of requests to form and organize reclamation districts from swamp lands. Petition includes description and location of land, method of reclamation, name of owner, transcript of notice of public hearing, notice of approval by board of supervisors, date of petition and district by-laws

Swamp and Overflowed Lands – 1855-1930s – sales made to individual parties of swamp and overflowed lands made possible by act of September 1850. Includes name of applicant, date of petition, location of land and survey conducted by county surveyor

Tax Records

The arrangement and indexing of Assessors Office books can differ from county to county. Current records are generally found in the assessors office and many have online versions.

Secured Tax Rolls 1850+ Record of assessment of real property for tax purposes. These records will usually include: name, address, date, tax rate area, parcel number, lot size, lot value, improvement value, exemptions, and net assessment.

Delinquent Assessment Rolls 1850+ Record of delinquent assessments. Contains name of assessee, description and value of real estate and personal property, date, and amount of delinquency.

Unsecured Assessment rolls 1850+ Record of assessment on certain types of personal property, can differ from county to county. Rolls usually include name, valuation of property, date, tax rate area, description of property, exemptions, and net total assessment. Early record books might contain combined secured and unsecured assessment rolls. .

See County Pages for Collections and Indexes to Land Records



USGS – A major tool for all California researchers is the mapping capabilities of the US Geological Survey http://www.usgs.gov/ website. You can create individualized topographical maps, political maps and more. GNIS the Geographic Names Information System is available to search for elusive places, the National Map and National Atlas provide a variety of mapping opportunities and the website links to many other historical map collections. This is an ever changing website, be sure to visit and explore on a regular basis

Sanborn Maps – Fire Insurance Maps Information on Digital Collection available from some public and university libraries.

BLM Survey Plats
California Association of Counties Maps and Demographics
California State Land Commission Records Requests
CSU Chico Meriam Library Historic California Topo Maps
EPA California Tribal Lands Map
Library of Congress American Memory Collections
Roots Web 1914 US Atlas
UC Berkeley Historic California Topo Maps
University of Virginia Library Census Statistic maps
US GenNet 1895 US Atlas
USGS - National Atlas Indian reservations and federal lands
Cartography Associates David Rumsey Map Collection - California
University of Texas Libraries Perry Casteneda Collection - California

Maps to look for in County Record Offices

Base Maps (Planning Department) – these maps, usually dating 1960+, indicate basic boundaries for zoning purposes. Contains date of map, zoning boundaries and designations.

Land Use Maps (Planning Department) [date of adoption, index to land use (color-coded), boundaries of land use areas (residential, non-residential, commercial, industrial, public), open space designations (agricultural, agricultural resource), and transportation] information

Map Books (Recorders Office) – recorded and official maps of county property, including subdivisions, tracts, surveys, blocks, lots, and parcels. [map number, name of survey, date of filing,geographic features, names of street, block and lot numbers, name of person requesting recording, affidavit of auditor that no liens are held on property, approval of map by board of supervisors, title of map, and name of surveyor]

Plat Books (Assessors Office) – compiled from reports and field notes [date of map, block and lot numbers, township and range numbers, name of city/town, name of owner, amount of holding, subdivision and street names, property boundaries, footage, and estimated value of land]

Parcel maps (Assessors Office) – maps of land parcels within county [date of map, parcel book number, block and parcel numbers, tax area code, property boundaries, and street names]

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