Land Case Files

Owning Institution: UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

About this Collection

In 1851 the U.S. Congress passed "An Act to Ascertain and Settle Private Land Claims in the State of California" which required all holders of Spanish and Mexican land grants to present their title for confirmation before the Board of California Land Commissioners. Land from titles not confirmed became part of the public domain. This Act placed the burden of proof of title on landholders and initiated a lengthy process of litigation that resulted in most Mexican Californians, or Californios, losing their titles. While 604 of the 813 claims brought before the Board were confirmed, most decisions were appealed to U.S. District Court and some on to U.S. Circuit Court and the Supreme Court. The confirmation process required lawyers, translators, and surveyors, and took an average of 17 years to resolve. The records of the District Court cases, the Land Case Files, were deposited on permanent loan in The Bancroft Library by the U.S. District Court in 1961. There are 857 total cases: Northern District Cases 1-458 and Southern District Cases 1-399 (see "Additional Notes on the Collection" for a note on case number discrepancies). Materials include transcripts, witness depositions, materials presented as evidence, and other legal documents. Most maps were transferred to the Map Collection of The Bancroft Library for separate cataloging (see: Maps of private land grant cases of California). View collection guide.

Type of Item