Spanish and Mexican Land Grants, 1855–1875

The State Archives holds official state copies of land grants from the Spanish and Mexican periods including transcripts of official correspondence and maps.

Index of United States Surveyor General for California Maps

When the United States took possession of California and other Mexican lands in 1848, it was bound by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to honor the legitimate land claims of Mexican citizens residing in those captured territories. In order to investigate and confirm titles in California, American officials acquired the provincial records of the Spanish and Mexican governments in Monterey. Those records, most of which were transferred to the U. S. Surveyor General's Office in San Francisco, included land deeds, sketch–maps (disenos), and various other documents. The Land Act of 1851 established a board of land commissioners to review these records and adjudicate claims, and charged the Surveyor General with surveying confirmed land grants. Of the 813 grants ultimately claimed, the land commission approved only 553.

The Surveyor General's Office for California ceased operation in 1925, whereupon its records were transferred to the Public Survey Office in Glendale, California. In 1937, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., acquired the bulk of these records, the rest falling into the hands of the Bureau of Land Management in Sacramento and the National Archives Pacific Region branch in San Bruno, with a few other copies going to other manuscript repositories in the state.

The California State Archives has two collections of Spanish and Mexican land grant records from the Office of the United States Surveyor General for California. The Spanish Archives collection (contact the Reference Desk for additional information) includes copies of the title papers and sketch–maps found at Monterey, transcribed and deposited in the Archives in 1871 at the request of the Legislature. Perhaps as early as 1937, the State Archives also acquired drafts and copies of 665 maps surveyed by the U. S. Surveyor General between the late 1850's and mid–1880's, covering California's many missions, ranchos, and pueblo lands, together with a few miscellaneous maps, including surveys of Indian reservations and government lands. Those maps are reflected here in this collection. The U.S. Surveyor General produced many of these maps for the California State Surveyor General in 1861 – probably for use by the state in determining Swamp and Overflow Lands. The maps show the boundaries on land grants as defined in mid– to late 1861, when they were created. The researcher should note that for some of these maps, the boundaries were altered during the final survey of the exact boundaries. Therefore they should not be presumed to be the official boundaries for the land grant – only as boundaries as of 1861.

The Mexican land grant system has had a profound influence on the history of California, shaping settlement patterns and land ownership. These maps are some of the earliest in California, and therefore are invaluable in understanding the complex system of land ownership in the Golden State today.