Spanish Land Records for the United States

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[[Category:The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy]]
[[Category:The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy]]
{{Template:Spanish series (The Source)}}
{{Template:Spanish series (The Source)}}
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'''This article originally appeared in "African American Research" by [[George R. Ryskamp]], JD, AG in ''[[The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy]]'''''
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'''This article originally appeared in "Colonial Spanish Borderland Research" by [[George R. Ryskamp]], JD, AG in ''[[The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy]]'''''
=Introduction=
=Introduction=
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The dioceses (bishoprics) of the Catholic Church generated a variety of administrative and canon law documents, as did the colleges, or central headquarters, of the various religious orders. Each college or diocese will have personnel records of the monks or secular priests who served within that jurisdiction, generally providing the birthplace and parentage of the individual cleric. Records such as marriage dispensations, ordinations of priests, censuses of communicants, tithing payment records, and records of bishop’s visits may be found in the diocesan archives for the particular diocese to which a parish belonged when the record would have been generated.  
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To promote settlement, the Spanish and Mexican governments liberally dispensed land grants. The procedure for obtaining a grant involved applying to the governor, who then sent an order of approval to a local officer to make an examination, survey, and appraisal of the land tract before placing it in the applicant’s possession. The notary recorded the receipt of the order and, with the commissioned officer and petitioner, certified the act. A visual inspection, survey, and demarcation of the tract was then made by the local officer, the applicant, appraisers, witnesses, and adjacent landowners. Finally, a written report of the proceedings, in which the applicant was put into possession, was prepared. All of these documents constituted the owner’s title, which for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California had to be approved by the viceroy of New Spain at Mexico City.  
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Marriage dispensations can prove particularly valuable to the family historian. Under Catholic canon law, a number of impediments to marriage may be dispensed with or forgiven by the bishop, including relationships within the fourth degree of consanguinity (blood relationship) or affinity (relationship by marriage) as well as spiritual relationships such as a godparent. In addition, if an individual came from a residence not within the diocese, a dispensation was required. There are also dispensations that do not relate to marriage records, including a number that may be required for an individual to receive the priesthood. An excellent discussion of those records and detailed analysis of the parts thereof can be found in ''Index to the Marriage Investigations of Diocese of Guadalajara, Provinces of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Nuevo Santander, Texas, Volume 1: 1653–1750'', which contains marriage dispensations for the state of Texas and related states in Mexico for the period of 1653–1750.8 A general discussion of diocesan records is found in Chapter 11 of ''Finding Your Hispanic Roots''.
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Land record files, or ''expedientes'', were archived locally and sent to Mexico City, New Orleans, or Cuba. During Spanish rule, local officials permitted settlers to occupy land long before the legal requirements had been fulfilled. Surveys were generally not made and title papers not completed, so the ''expedientes'' remained incomplete. Transfers, exchanges, donations, and partitions of land were made before the local ''alcalde'' or provincial governor, then recorded in their archives. Because boundaries of the grants were natural landmarks and very vague, and because final title papers were often not issued, controversies would inevitably arise. Disputes over titles to lands, boundaries, and water rights were heard by the same officials, and eventually those documents were filed in the same local archives.
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A marriage dispensation record generally outlines the relationship of the individuals involved, in many cases extending backward into the third or fourth generation (to a common great-grandparent), with extensive genealogical data. In those cases where there is a relationship by affinity with a deceased spouse, that spouse will also be identified and the date of death and burial provided. Where the petition is for dispensation because the groom is from outside the diocese, the year and place of birth will be given as well as information concerning the arrival date and even the ship taken to the New World. Although the ultimate dispensation was issued by the bishop and, therefore, these records are contained in the diocesan archives, they are intensely local in nature, generally involving families who have resided in a given locality for several generations. Although somewhat difficult to use because of the length and variety of each document as well as the general lack of indexes to the records, the treasure of information found in a single marriage investigation makes the search well worth it.
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Spanish land grant records contain a variety of documents, including the following:
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Diocesan records are both extensive and available to the public. For example, the archdiocese of Durango, begun in 1606, has an archival collection of 1,120,000 pages—three percent from the 1600s, thirty-two percent from the 1700s, and fifty-nine percent from the 1800s. The entire collection has been microfilmed by the Rio Grande Historical Collections, held at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Jack Calligan has published two volumes transcribing New Mexico dispensations in the collection.9
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*Acts of possession
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*Boundary proceedings
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*Circular letters
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*Correspondence
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*Decrees
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*Decisions and reports of the departmental assembly
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*Claims for lands
 +
*Compromises
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*Controversies of land
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*Confirmations of grants
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*Conveyances
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*Copartnerships
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*Deeds
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*Distributions of estates
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*Donations of lands
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*Dowers
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*Exchanges
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*Gifts and grants
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*Grants of lead mines
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*Inventories and partitions of estates
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*Lawsuits
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*Laws and regulations relating to lands
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*Letters
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*Mining regulations
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*Mining suits
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*Mortgages
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*Orders for possession
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*Orders for the settlement of towns
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*Partitions of lands
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*Petitions for land
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*Petitions for permission to remove
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*Powers of attorney
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*Proceedings for locations
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*Proceedings regarding contested wills
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*Proceedings regarding the establishment of towns
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*Proceedings regarding the settlement of estates
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*Protests against the sale of lands
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*Registrations of mines
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*Reports
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*Revocations of grants
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*Titles
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*Trespasses
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*Wills
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Records of the diocese of Guadalajara have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Marriage dispensations and some other documentation for the decade during which the diocese of Louisiana and Florida was in existence are available on microfilm at the University of Notre Dame. A guide exists for the twelve rolls of microfilm, as well as an index prepared by Elizabeth Gianelloni. Most of the colonial records for the dioceses of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, and Hermosillo, Sonora, have been lost. The few remaining records from the diocese of Hermosillo, Sonora, have been filmed as part of the University of Arizona Film Collection #811. The following descriptions identify the geographical areas of the dioceses to which the modern-day states within the United States belonged during their history as part of the Spanish Empire and/or the Mexican Republic.10
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Beginning with Louisiana in 1803 and ending with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, each of the former Spanish colonial areas were transferred to the United States as a result of treaties specifically providing for the legal recognition of titles to land owned by individual Spanish or Mexican citizens and others under Spanish and/or Mexican authority. Similarly, each treaty provided for the handing over of land title documents from Spanish archives to the American authorities. In most cases, such as in New Mexico, the archives were seized by the Americans at the time of conquest and retained in situ. In Florida, the withdrawing Spanish officials packed up the materials and shipped them back to Cuba.
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=Arizona=
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In each of the former Spanish colonies, a board of land commissioners was established by the U.S. government for the purpose of evaluating land claims and determining their validity. As each board of commissioners completed its work on a claim, it filed a detailed report of its final determinations.
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The missions in Arizona were under control of the Jesuits from 1731 to 1767. Following the Jesuit expulsion from the Spanish Empire in 1767 until sometime after 1780, the missions were run by Franciscans from the Franciscan college at Queretaro, Mexico. From 1780 to 1868, the area of Arizona was part of the diocese of Sonora. It should also be noted that during the time period when the area was under the control of missions, the Bishop of Durango made a number of attempts to obtain control of this area. It is possible, therefore, that during the time period 1731 to 1780, there may be Church records concerning Arizona in the diocesan archives of Durango.
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These procedures were followed in Texas without federal intervention as the determination of land claims was made initially by the Republic of Texas and, subsequently, as all public lands remained in the hands of the state after annexation by the state government of Texas. There, land records acquired by the General Land Office have been classified, indexed, and bound into 175 volumes, covering the years 1720 to 1836.  
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=California=
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The two books mentioned previously by Henry Putney Beers will prove helpful in describing the great variety of land documents for all states but Florida. Those interested in Florida land records should consult ''Spanish Land Grants in Florida, Volume 1, Unconfirmed Claims: A–C''.<ref>''Hsitorical Records Survey Division of Community Services Program, Work Projects Administration'' (Tallahassee, Fla.: State Library Report, 1940).</ref> Each of the above sources describes existing documentation in land grant files and the process whereby the grant was reviewed and confirmed, as well as the history of the obtaining, retaining, or recapturing of the original Spanish documentation. Each also serves as a starting point for using these claims as they appear in the following:
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From the founding of San Diego in 1769 until 1779, California belonged to the diocese of Guadalajara, when it then became part of the diocese of Sonora until 1836. At that time California was divided into two dioceses: San Diego and Los Angeles.  
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*''American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States''. 38 vols. Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1832–61.
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*''American State Papers: Public Lands and Claims''. 9 vols. Reprint, Greenville, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1994.
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*McMullin, Phillip W., ed. ''Grassroots of America, A Computerized Index to the American State Papers: Land Grants and Claims (1789–1837)''. Reprint, Conway, Ark.: Arkansas Research, 1990. Originally published 1972, by Gendex Corporation, Salt Lake City.
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=Florida=
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The short abstracts in the American State Papers do not adequately describe the potential richness of documentation of a land claim file, which may contain any, and in some fortunate circumstances all, of the following:
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Both east and west Florida, including what is now the Gulf Coast area of Alabama, belonged to the Santiago de Cuba diocese from 1565 until 1787, when the Havana, Cuba, diocese was created. It remained part of the Havana diocese until 1793 when the diocese of Louisiana and Florida was created. Florida then continued in that diocese until the 1803 transfer of the Louisiana area to the United States. From then until sometime between 1810 and 1821, depending on which part of Florida remained under Spanish dominion, the area belonged to the diocese of Havana, Cuba.  
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#A petition, generally in Spanish, to the Spanish governor requesting land.
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#The governor’s order requesting testimony or information concerning the petitioner.
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#Responsive documentation to the request for testimony, usually identifying family, slaves, ages, and other pertinent information concerning the ability to work the land.  
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#A certificate of service indicating the reason for the particular claim, generally showing military or public service by the petitioner.  
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#A grant by the governor or the captain general, and a notarial attestation thereof.
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#In those cases where the grant of land was conditional, such as requiring cultivation and/or habitation for a certain time, there may follow a report on the fulfilling of the conditions and a granting of absolute property rights.
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#A verification of the documentation in Spanish by the U.S. government official.
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#A warrant or order of survey.
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#The survey plat.
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#Deeds of sales, gifts, wills, requests, and exchanges showing the subsequent passage of property from the original grant deed to the then current claimant.
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#An application to the U.S. Board of Commissioners for recognition of the claim.
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#The decree of the commissioners or proceedings of the U.S. courts approving or denying the claim.  
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=Louisiana=
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It should be stressed that the specific documentation, order of presentation of the documents, and the very existence of documents will vary dramatically from one file to another, but the genealogical potential is so rich that it justifies the search.
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Louisiana was part of the diocese of Quebec, Canada, from 1659 to 1771. With the transfer of Louisiana to Spain, including the entire Mississippi River Valley and the West Florida parishes on the Gulf Coast up to and including parts of modern-day Mississippi, Louisiana became part of the diocese of Santiago de Cuba from 1771 until 1787. As with Florida, Louisiana became part of the creation of the diocese of Havana, Cuba, in 1787 and remained part of that diocese until 1793. From that time until 1803, it formed part of the diocese of Louisiana and Florida. Parts of the Gulf Coast that made up the West Florida parishes and what is now the present-day Gulf Coast area of Mississippi became part of the diocese of Havana, Cuba, in 1803 until takeover by the United States.
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=New Mexico=
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From its founding in 1598 until 1620, New Mexico belonged to the diocese of Guadalajara, Mexico. With the creation of the diocese of Durango in 1620, New Mexico became part of that diocese, where it remained until 1850. It should be noted, however, that in many cases the thousand miles of distance between Durango and Sante Fe caused diocesan affairs to be handled at a local level, resulting in a number of records typically found in the diocese, including marriage dispensations, found in the records of the modern diocese of Sante Fe instead. It should also be noted that, in the early years, the missions of New Mexico were under control of the Franciscans.
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=Texas=
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From 1703 to 1777, Texas was part of the diocese of Guadalajara, and from that date until 1836, it belonged to the diocese of Linares. Likewise, the portion of Texas south of the Nueces River retained by Mexico until the war with the United States ended in 1848 also belonged to the diocese of Linares. The El Paso area was not originally part of the Spanish province of Texas and Coahuila but formed part of the province of Chihuahua until 1840. It formed part of the diocese of Durango from 1620 until 1846.
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=References=
=References=
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Coming soon...
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<references/>
=External Links=
=External Links=

Current revision as of 18:05, 21 December 2012

Colonial Spanish Borderland Research

This article is part of a series.
Overview of Colonial Spanish Borderland Research
Catholic Sacramental Records
Padrones
Civil Legal Documents
Military Records
Catholic Church Diocesan Records
Spanish Land Records for the United States
Locating Colonial Records of Genealogical Value
Colonial Records of Texas
Colonial Records of New Mexico
Colonial Records of Arizona
Colonial Records of California
Colonial Records of Florida
Colonial Records of Louisiana
Colonial Records of the French and Spanish in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi
List of Useful Resources for Colonial Spanish Borderland Research
Topics

This article originally appeared in "Colonial Spanish Borderland Research" by George R. Ryskamp, JD, AG in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Introduction

To promote settlement, the Spanish and Mexican governments liberally dispensed land grants. The procedure for obtaining a grant involved applying to the governor, who then sent an order of approval to a local officer to make an examination, survey, and appraisal of the land tract before placing it in the applicant’s possession. The notary recorded the receipt of the order and, with the commissioned officer and petitioner, certified the act. A visual inspection, survey, and demarcation of the tract was then made by the local officer, the applicant, appraisers, witnesses, and adjacent landowners. Finally, a written report of the proceedings, in which the applicant was put into possession, was prepared. All of these documents constituted the owner’s title, which for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California had to be approved by the viceroy of New Spain at Mexico City.

Land record files, or expedientes, were archived locally and sent to Mexico City, New Orleans, or Cuba. During Spanish rule, local officials permitted settlers to occupy land long before the legal requirements had been fulfilled. Surveys were generally not made and title papers not completed, so the expedientes remained incomplete. Transfers, exchanges, donations, and partitions of land were made before the local alcalde or provincial governor, then recorded in their archives. Because boundaries of the grants were natural landmarks and very vague, and because final title papers were often not issued, controversies would inevitably arise. Disputes over titles to lands, boundaries, and water rights were heard by the same officials, and eventually those documents were filed in the same local archives.

Spanish land grant records contain a variety of documents, including the following:

  • Acts of possession
  • Boundary proceedings
  • Circular letters
  • Correspondence
  • Decrees
  • Decisions and reports of the departmental assembly
  • Claims for lands
  • Compromises
  • Controversies of land
  • Confirmations of grants
  • Conveyances
  • Copartnerships
  • Deeds
  • Distributions of estates
  • Donations of lands
  • Dowers
  • Exchanges
  • Gifts and grants
  • Grants of lead mines
  • Inventories and partitions of estates
  • Lawsuits
  • Laws and regulations relating to lands
  • Letters
  • Mining regulations
  • Mining suits
  • Mortgages
  • Orders for possession
  • Orders for the settlement of towns
  • Partitions of lands
  • Petitions for land
  • Petitions for permission to remove
  • Powers of attorney
  • Proceedings for locations
  • Proceedings regarding contested wills
  • Proceedings regarding the establishment of towns
  • Proceedings regarding the settlement of estates
  • Protests against the sale of lands
  • Registrations of mines
  • Reports
  • Revocations of grants
  • Titles
  • Trespasses
  • Wills

Beginning with Louisiana in 1803 and ending with the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, each of the former Spanish colonial areas were transferred to the United States as a result of treaties specifically providing for the legal recognition of titles to land owned by individual Spanish or Mexican citizens and others under Spanish and/or Mexican authority. Similarly, each treaty provided for the handing over of land title documents from Spanish archives to the American authorities. In most cases, such as in New Mexico, the archives were seized by the Americans at the time of conquest and retained in situ. In Florida, the withdrawing Spanish officials packed up the materials and shipped them back to Cuba.

In each of the former Spanish colonies, a board of land commissioners was established by the U.S. government for the purpose of evaluating land claims and determining their validity. As each board of commissioners completed its work on a claim, it filed a detailed report of its final determinations.

These procedures were followed in Texas without federal intervention as the determination of land claims was made initially by the Republic of Texas and, subsequently, as all public lands remained in the hands of the state after annexation by the state government of Texas. There, land records acquired by the General Land Office have been classified, indexed, and bound into 175 volumes, covering the years 1720 to 1836.

The two books mentioned previously by Henry Putney Beers will prove helpful in describing the great variety of land documents for all states but Florida. Those interested in Florida land records should consult Spanish Land Grants in Florida, Volume 1, Unconfirmed Claims: A–C.[1] Each of the above sources describes existing documentation in land grant files and the process whereby the grant was reviewed and confirmed, as well as the history of the obtaining, retaining, or recapturing of the original Spanish documentation. Each also serves as a starting point for using these claims as they appear in the following:

  • American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1832–61.
  • American State Papers: Public Lands and Claims. 9 vols. Reprint, Greenville, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1994.
  • McMullin, Phillip W., ed. Grassroots of America, A Computerized Index to the American State Papers: Land Grants and Claims (1789–1837). Reprint, Conway, Ark.: Arkansas Research, 1990. Originally published 1972, by Gendex Corporation, Salt Lake City.

The short abstracts in the American State Papers do not adequately describe the potential richness of documentation of a land claim file, which may contain any, and in some fortunate circumstances all, of the following:

  1. A petition, generally in Spanish, to the Spanish governor requesting land.
  2. The governor’s order requesting testimony or information concerning the petitioner.
  3. Responsive documentation to the request for testimony, usually identifying family, slaves, ages, and other pertinent information concerning the ability to work the land.
  4. A certificate of service indicating the reason for the particular claim, generally showing military or public service by the petitioner.
  5. A grant by the governor or the captain general, and a notarial attestation thereof.
  6. In those cases where the grant of land was conditional, such as requiring cultivation and/or habitation for a certain time, there may follow a report on the fulfilling of the conditions and a granting of absolute property rights.
  7. A verification of the documentation in Spanish by the U.S. government official.
  8. A warrant or order of survey.
  9. The survey plat.
  10. Deeds of sales, gifts, wills, requests, and exchanges showing the subsequent passage of property from the original grant deed to the then current claimant.
  11. An application to the U.S. Board of Commissioners for recognition of the claim.
  12. The decree of the commissioners or proceedings of the U.S. courts approving or denying the claim.

It should be stressed that the specific documentation, order of presentation of the documents, and the very existence of documents will vary dramatically from one file to another, but the genealogical potential is so rich that it justifies the search.

References

  1. Hsitorical Records Survey Division of Community Services Program, Work Projects Administration (Tallahassee, Fla.: State Library Report, 1940).

External Links

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