Utah Land Records
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This entry was originally written by Patricia Lyn Scott, CA and Gary Topping Ph.D. for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Utah is a Public-Domain State.
The arrival of the 1847 emigration of the Mormons marked the first settlement of non-natives in Utah. Following the war with Mexico, Utah came under United States jurisdiction in 1848, but from March 1849 until it was declared an official U.S. territory in 1850, it was known as part of the Provisional State of Deseret. The Homestead Act did not affect Utah until the first federal district land office was opened in Salt Lake City in 1869. Both Mormon land holding practices and federal distribution of land played important roles in land transactions for the state. Jaussi and Chaston’s (1974) and Arrington’s publications, described under Background Sources, and Lawrence L. Linford’s “Establishing and Maintaining Land Ownership in Utah Prior to 1869,” Utah Historical Quarterly 42 (1974): 126-43, provide an excellent context for researching Utah’s land records. See also Utah State Archives’ detailed online research guide “Original Land Titles in Utah Territory” at www.archives.utah.gov/referenc/land2.htm.
Before the Homestead Act became effective in the territory, land was distributed by the leaders of the LDS Church in lots that could easily be maintained by a family. With the creation of a Federal Land Office in Salt Lake in 1869, legal titles were granted to land that had been previously held. Since it is a federal land state, division of property was based on a rectangular survey emanating from either the Salt Lake Meridian or a smaller meridian in the Uintah Basin. For Utah there is a master card index for the cash entry files of U.S. lands sold by the Salt Lake Land Office accessible at the National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Washington, D.C. (see page 6).
Although the office was created earlier, the county recorder’s deed books did not become the predictable location for land transactions until after 1874. Earlier land records can be found among many classes of documents in the county seat including county court and probate records. But after that date, separate books for land transactions have been continuously kept. All counties will have indexes for their land holdings, usually referred to as grantee and grantor indexes, although they may not encompass all time periods.