Friday, November 4, 2011

Berkeley Bancroft Library

Land Cases in California
If you are doing genealogical work in California and you haven’t perused the Bancroft Library collections, you are not panning for gold. There are original map surveys of the Ranchos, special collections, historical documents, and early maps of many counties. 

Ranchos ResearchOriginal Rancho papers and agreements are held at the Bancroft papers.  My favorite collection has become the Land Case Files circa 1852-1892  and the Land Case Maps, 1840 –ca. 1892

These Land Case files and maps are part of the private land claim cases. Land stealing and bickering led to the Act to Ascertain and settle Private Land Claims in the State of California in 1851.  “All holders of Spanish and Mexican land grants [had to] present their title for confirmation before the Board of California Land Commissioners,” or risk losing their land to public domain. There are 857 total cases that involved sometimes generations in families.  Since the average claim took 17 years to settle, you may find your ancestor buried in the paperwork as a witness, an opposing neighbor or in another legal capacity. This is also a great place to begin your early Mexican Californians (Californios) research.

Where Did They Live?The Bancroft Land Case File and Map collection (diseños) should not be overlooked if you are tracing your ancestor’s land plats. Using Google Earth Overlay functions I was able to pinpoint today’s landmarks on the historical diseños.  Many of the Land Case Maps are online.  With a quick Google Earth tutorial by Jenna Mills of Seeking SurnamesI was armed with the tools to overlay the historical map.

Keep in mind that the Bancroft Library has an extensive digitized collection. Many of the Finding Aid to Documents, Pertaining to the Adjudication of Private Land Claims in California and the Finding Aid to the Maps of Private land Grant Cases of California are available at the Online Archives California link.

Kathleen Brandt


  1. Kathleen, I know someone researching ancestors with gold mines in Arizona. I sent her the link to this post to see if she gets some ideas from reading the resources you posted.