Florida Land Records
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This entry was originally written by the Florida Pioneer Descendants Certification Program Committee of the Florida State Genealogical Society, Inc. for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Florida is a Public-Domain State.
Spanish Land Grants. The Florida State Archives holds the records created from 1763–1821 for the use of the federal government in affirming or denying earlier Spanish grants of land. In many cases, these are the only surviving references to some of the pre-territorial residents of the area. The indexed documents are filed by claimant, and the amount of information they contain varies greatly, but the affidavits often tell when an individual arrived in Florida and how many were in his family, including names and ages. The acreage granted often depended on the number of “heads” in the family. The Florida State Archives is digitizing the land grants at www.floridamemory.com/Collections/SpanishLandGrants.
The original fragile records, largely in Spanish, are extant, but the Works Project Administration (WPA) published a five-volume transcript, Spanish Land Grants in Florida, which includes Spanish Grants, British Grants, and Private Land Claims. This set can be found at a number of libraries, as well as in an inexpensive microfiche edition from the state archives.
Armed Occupation Act records. The Second Seminole War officially ended on 14 August 1842. The federal government on 4 August 1842 approved a bill that was proposed by Senator Thomas Hart that granted lands to men able to bear arms. They were entitled to apply for 160 acres of land in certain unsettled areas of East Florida, as long as they built a dwelling, cultivated the land, and lived on it continuously for five years, protecting it from the Native Americans.
A permit to settle shows the name of the applicant, his marital status, the month and year he became a resident of Florida, and a description of the land. The actual scanned images of the permit can be found at the Division of State Lands website (see below).
The final application, after the five years had elapsed, can be found in the donation files at the National Archives. Items such as proof of residency, land and dwelling descriptions, family members, affidavits by neighbors and friends, and sometimes proof of marriage, naturalization, and other documents were included for final approval.
Division of State Lands Records. Florida uses the rectangular survey system. The original surveyors’ field notes and plats have been transferred to the state, along with the original tract books and records of all grants of land from the state to the initial grantee, whether by purchase or otherwise. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Division of State Lands, Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund Land Document System has placed millions of historical land transactions online at www.dep.state.fl.us/lands. The search engine is easy to use, and searches can be made by specific type of document, individual, land description (township, range, and section), and county.
“The Seven States Index,” a name index to the pre-July 1908 general land entry case files, includes Florida and shows the entryman’s name, state, and land office where the entry was made, type of entry, and final certificate or file number. For further detailed information of the Florida land records beginning in 1825, see National Archives publication Preliminary Inventory of the Land-Entry Papers of the General Land Office.
Homestead files. The homestead applications filed by Florida settlers, between 1881–1905, have been transferred to the Florida State Archives. Information contained includes name of applicant, place of residence at time of application, tract description, and number of acres granted. There is a surname index. Other homestead records included in this record group include tax receipts required to prove that claimants were paying taxes on their claims, unindexed miscellaneous and legal records concerning homesteads, and correspondence of the State Land Office (1858–1913).
A number of land records can be found indexed in Florida Land: Records of the Tallahassee and Newnansville General Land Office[s], 1825–1892 compiled by Alvie Davidson (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1989), which lists lands transferred from the federal government by grant and sale.
A pre-1908 Florida Land Records database is available at Ancestry.com.