Hawaii Land Records
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This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Hawaii is a State-Land State.
Prior to 1840 there were no land titles in Hawaii. The society was feudalistic and all land belonged to the king. King KamehamehaiI had conquered the entire Hawaiian Islands and partitioned the lands among his chiefs. The king received revenue from the chiefs. The chiefs in turn did the same to persons under them by dividing out arable land among the common people. Under this system land allotments could be taken away at any time.
The advent of foreigners and foreign business methods created a change in the land system in Hawaii. This transitional period called the “Great Mahele” of 1848 provided the way to acquire real estate. The Board of Commissioners to Quiet Land Titles was established in 1845. By decision of the king and the chiefs, the king was given his own property, and the remainder was divided equally between the government, the chiefs, and the tenants.
This land commission went to the various islands to meet the people and to prepare them for awarding their claims. This involved the hearing and taking of testimony in connection with nearly 12,000 individual claims. An index to these claims and the Hawaiian terms used in the claims is found in the volume entitled Indices of Award Made by the Board of Commissioners to Quiet Land Titles in the Hawaiian Islands by the Office of the Commissioner of Public Lands of the Territory of Hawaii (Honolulu: Territorial Office Building, 1929). These claims cover the period of 1848 to 1852 and are valuable to native Hawaiians for the genealogical material contained in the actual records. A more recent work is Dorothy B. Barrere’s The King’s Mahele: The Awardees and Their Lands (Hawaii: D.B. Barrere, 1994). Another excellent reference tool on the subject is Jon J. Chinen’s The Great Mahele: Hawaii’s Land Division of 1848 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1958). The Hawaiian Historical Society has an extensive reading list on the topics of Hawaiian lands on its website (see Archives, Libraries, and Societies).
If the claim was approved by the land commission, the claimant received an award, which was then presented to the minister of the interior, who issued a royal patent. The royal patent gave the individual sole ownership of the land once he paid an assessment of cash or land to the government.
The Bureau of Conveyances is part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kalanlmoku Bldg., 1151 Punchbowl St., Honolulu, HI 96813. At www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/bc/bc.html are records of the original royal patents and the records of the “Great Mahele” (division of lands) of 1848. These records are for all islands, and since transfers were often made between parents and children or grandparents, statements of relationship are often in these records.
Records in this office begin in the 1840s and include the following record types: grantors index books (1845–1961), with subsequent records on card file or in the daily entries book; recorded deeds in Libers (1845–1961), with subsequent records on card file or in the daily entries book; land court transfer certificates of title; document and land court maps, which are called the “file plan”; liens; and private abstractors. This office is open to the public. Many of these records have been microfilmed and are on file at the FHL in Salt Lake City and the Hawaii State Archives. The state archives has a “land file” of letters and documents dating from the 1830s, regardless of the office concerned. The “land file” (1830–1900) is filed chronologically, and is one of the most completely translated and indexed group of records in the archives. This collection consists of letters addressed to the Commission to Quiet Land Titles, award books, testimony, and registers of the land documents.
Other records from the Department of Land and Natural Resources include award books (1836–55), patents (1847–1961), foreign testimonies (1846–62), native testimonies (1844–54), native registers (1846–48), and patents upon confirmation of land commission (1847–1961). These are also on microfilm at the FHL.