In California, there are several ways to track properties:
1. Grantor/Grantee indexes.
2. BLM Federal Land Patents - searchable if your relative was the original
patentee or if you know what Section, Township and Range within a county or
base and meridian (ie. Mt. Diablo Base and Meridian).
3. Some county tax assessor's have what is called a Master Property Record
(or MPR) or Master Property File. Some of the counties information is more
recent than others. Just depends on how diligent the early assessor's were.
4. Official County Maps - many of these include the name of the land owner
noted on the tracts of land owned at the time the map was assembled. Often,
though, these might not be accurate as an assessor may have missed a resale
of the property, especially in cases where many years passed before a deed
was actually recorded.
5. Tax Assessment Rolls - some counties still have the old assessment roll
books. These are generally recorded alphabetically by the name of the
landowner. When the assessor couldn't identify an owner, it was listed
under "Unknown owner", John Doe and John Roe.
6. For townsites where Federal Townsite Patents were issued, the surveyor
often listed the name of the party claiming ownership. The townsite maps
were supposed to be recorded with the county clerk or recorder. The
Government Land Office (GLO - now Bureau of Land Management) also has a
record of the parcels of land on which townsite patents were issued, and
sometimes have copies of the official townsite maps. I know that BLM in
Sacramento (Cottage Ave.) has copies of these maps on microfilm. The
microfilm copies might be available at other BLM offices, but I can't say
for certain. Also, in relation to the townsite patents, the County Judge
(predecessor of the later Superior Court Judge) was required to keep a
logbook of the transactions performed in relation to issue the patents on
the townsite lots and blocks. After the judge completed the task of
patenting out the townsite properties, he was required to file the logbook
with the County Clerk or the Clerk of the Court. This was SUPPOSED to be
keep in public hands always. (In at least one county, we have found the
Judge's logbook was sold to a title company which was using it to help them
perform title work!)
7. When the government land surveyors began to work on the California
surveys around 1853-1854, they made the first official federal land survey
maps. These are often referred to as the GLO maps. The first surveys only
identified the exterior boundaries of the Townships. Later the section
lines were added. These are also referred to as "Rag Maps" by some counties
and some counties have copies of these maps in the recorder's offices or the
surveyor's offices. These maps identify the early communities and
occasionally show the name of the land owners where the surveyor was able to
determine the name. These maps can be very helpful, especially for locating
communities that no longer exist and roads as they were delineated at the
time. Most of these official surveys were not fully completed for many,
many years. The present USGS Quadrangle maps followed as the official
government maps sometime later, perhaps after the turn of the 20th century.
(Of this I've never attempted to find out when the present maps began to be
8. Sometimes property "abstracts" were performed for land owners. Some of
the title companies still have copies of those old abstract documents.
Again, though, you'd need to know the section, township and range
information. Or the town lot and block numbers.
I have never heard of a "tract index" in California.
Not sure how much help this will be for you. But this is what I know of
property tracking in California. It has been most helpful to me in
researching property titles for properties within which public cemeteries
Sue Silver, State Coordinator
California Saving Graves
----- Original Message -----
From: "Patty M." <ppmilich(a)calweb.com>
Sent: Saturday, April 12, 2003 4:54 PM
Subject: [CASantaCruz] Santa Cruz Co. Tract Index available?
Below is an excerpt from Michael John Neill's article from (Fw:
Weekly Digest, 12 April 2003), In it he discusses tract indexes. Does
anyone know if they exist for Santa Cruz Co.? I am looking for info on a
tract that was in the family from the 1880s to around 2000. I have done a
lot of the research using the grantee and grantor records. But this might
be another helpful source.
> This other finding aid is frequently referred to as the tract index.
> In some non-rural areas this index may be called an index to town
> lots or a lot index. These indexes are geographical in nature. This
> distinguishes them from the grantor/grantee indexes, which are
> alphabetical in nature. The geographic nature of this index may make
> its use more effective in certain situations. A tract index includes
> an index citation for every land record covering all or a part of a
> fairly specific geographic area.
> Given the geographic nature of the tract index, it is necessary to
> know where the property is located as precisely as possible in order
> use this finding aid. It is not as crucial to know the date the
> transfer of property took place. We'll discuss the tract index in two
> parts: rural areas and city or town lots.
> RURAL AREAS
> In rural areas, a tract index will typically cover a quarter section
> of property (160 acres) or in some cases an entire section (640
> acres). This index will typically start with a reference the initial
> patent and continue to the most recent transactions. If an ancestral
> family owned a piece of property for several generations searching
> the tract index for their land records may be more effective than
> searching though individual grantor/grantee indexes over a one
> hundred year time period.
> An example:
> Let's say that an ancestral family owned 40 acres that was a part of
> the southwest quarter of section 24 in Prairie Township, Hancock
> County, Illinois. This farm was owned by family members for one
> hundred fifty years and there were several deeds and mortgages
> involving this property. All of these records will appear in the
> tract index for the southwest quarter of section 24 in Prairie
> Township. Of course, since the family did own the entire quarter
> section (they only owned 40 of the 160 acres) there will be land
> transactions referenced in the tract for other families and other
> pieces of property. However, this index will typically result in a
> more efficient search when the property's location is known.
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