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September 27, 2019
SOS Press Office
(916) 653-6575

California State Archives Digitizes its Complete, “Diseños Collection” of Hand-Drawn Spanish and Mexican Land Grant Maps

SACRAMENTO, CA – The California State Archives has digitized its entire Diseños Collection, hand-drawn sketches of maps used during the land grant process before and after statehood. Click here to browse and search the Diseños Collection.

“While California entered the Union in 1850, our history begins much earlier,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “By digitizing this collection, the State Archives is preserving some of our oldest records. Creating a browsable, searchable digital collection will allow greater access to these maps and sketches—illustrating California’s transition from the Spanish, Mexican, and United States governments.”

This collection contains images of 493 hand-drawn sketch maps that were originally created from 1827-1846. The hand-drawn sketch maps, or diseños, were used by the Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. governments to demonstrate land grant boundaries for individuals. Following California’s statehood, the original records were transferred to the U.S. Surveyor General of California and later the National Archives, as was the practice with other U.S. land grant records. The diseños in the State Archives’ collection are complete and accurate copies of the original hand-drawn maps and were created in the 1860s as directed by the California Legislature. This is the first time that the State Archives’ collection has been digitized and available online in full color. 

Each diseño includes naturally occurring boundaries—such as rivers, mountains, rock outcropping, and trees—as markers. Many of the diseños have labeled neighboring properties, show existing travel routes, locations of houses, and local place names. The diseños are part a larger collection of Spanish and Mexican land grant records at the California State Archives which also include expedientes, or written documents pertaining to the grant petition, and other related title documents.

Following California’s statehood in 1850, Congress passed the Land Act of 1851 creating the Board of Land Commissioners. The Board used the diseños, expedientes, U.S. Surveyor General surveys, and other related title documents from landowners to verify individual land ownership and boundaries. Hundreds of grant claims were ultimately made using these records.


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