Louisiana Land Records
This entry was originally written by Beth A. Stahr, CGRS and Sharon Sholars Brown for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Louisiana is a Public-Domain State.
One of the most fantastic real estate deals of all time was made in 1803 when the infant United States acquired 544 million acres from France for the sum of $15 million. The land of the famous Louisiana Purchase was bought for approximately three cents per acre.
By the Act of March 26, 1804, Congress divided Louisiana into two parts: the territory of Louisiana and the territory of Orleans. The territory of Louisiana consisted of that area above the 33rd degree latitude, and the territory of Orleans covered that part below the 33rd latitude, or what is now essentially the state of Louisiana.
The governor and his legislative council used the powers granted by the act to divide the territory of Orleans into twelve counties: Acadia, Attakapas, Concordia, German Coast, Iberville, Lafourche, Natchitoches, Opelousas, Orleans, Ouachita, Pointe Coupee, and Rapides.
In 1807 the territory was redivided into nineteen parishes. These boundaries followed the old ecclesiastical boundaries used by the Spaniards. When Louisiana became a state in 1812 the state constitution referred to both counties and parishes. By the time of the 1845 state constitution the term “counties” had been dropped and Louisiana became the only state to use the term “parishes.”
An act of congress of 2 March 1805 gave three important provisions:
First, it allowed individuals to obtain legal possession of their land or to acquire land. Congress appointed district land registers and opened the United States District Land Office in New Orleans for the eastern division of the territory of Orleans and a land office at Opelousas for the western division of the territory of Orleans. Later, for the convenience of inhabitants, other land offices were opened in Ouachita, Natchitoches, and Greensburg. These land districts are still used today for identifying land by districts.
Second, inhabitants with French, Spanish, or British land grants had to appear before a board of commissioners with their proof of ownership. If approved by the board, the evidence was then forwarded on to Washington, D.C.
Third, surveyors were to go to the territory of Orleans to establish a system of subdividing the vacant public lands. By 1807 the United States surveyors had established a meridian and base line. Thus Louisiana land measurements changed from metes and bounds to section, township, and range.
Colonial grants can be found in various Louisiana parishes and in France, Spain, and England. As has been shown, after the Louisiana Purchase people had to prove their landownership. American State Papers: Documents Legislative and Executive of the United States, 32 vols., Public Lands, 7 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832–61) is the best source for these re-patented lands. A guide to these papers is Phillip W. McMullin, Grassroots of America (Salt Lake City: Gendex Corp., 1972).
The state land office and the offices of clerks of courts in the parish courthouses have state and federal tract books listing the original landowners. These books are not in alphabetical order; the land record itself will have to be obtained from the State Land Office in Baton Rouge or from the National Archives Division, Bureau of Land Management, Suitland, MD 20409 (see page 12). The Louisiana State Land Office provides an online brochure by Ory G. Poret, “History of Land Titles in the State of Louisiana” at www.state.la.us/slo/default.htm.
Land records may be found in notarial records or deeds. Each of the early communities had its own notary public that drafted wills, deeds, marriage contracts, and all estate papers. These transactions were filed loosely, and numbered consecutively as they happened, regardless of the type of record. Many of these records are now in the clerk’s office in the parish courthouse, some are in the state archives in Baton Rouge, and the Notarial Archives of New Orleans are in the Civil Courts Building in New Orleans. Other land records in the courthouses will be found in the conveyance books.