Texas Land Records

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This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D. FUGA for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Texas Family History Research series.
History of Texas
Texas Vital Records
Census Records for Texas
Background Sources for Texas
Texas Maps
Texas Land Records
Texas Probate Records
Texas Court Records
Texas Tax Records
Texas Cemetery Records
Texas Church Records
Texas Military Records
Texas Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Texas Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Texas Immigration
Texas Naturalization
Native Americans of Texas
Republic of Texas Settlers
African Americans of Texas
Hispanic Americans of Texas
Texas County Resources
Map of Texas

Texas is a State-Land State.

Texas land records were created under various governmental jurisdictions in the course of including Spain, Mexico, and both the Republic and State of Texas. Eleven land districts, each encompassing a number of counties, were established in 1836 under the Republic of Texas, and a central GLO was organized at Austin. The first district office was located near the Red River. The others were at San Augustine, Liberty, Nacogdoches, Matagorda, Washington-on-the Brazos, Cameron, Bastrop, Gonzales, San Antonio, and Victoria. The system of land districts continued when Texas became a state with previous grants being acknowledged. Nearly 150 million acres of state public land in Texas were distributed after 1836.

Texas is not a federal public land state; consequently, there are no federal government original land records. Texas's GLO continues to maintain its own archives and records division, housing all early land grants including those dated in the 1700s and original grants issued by both republic and state governments. Indexes to the original land records are maintained at the Stephen F. Austin State Office Bldg., Rm. 800, 1700 N. Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701-1495 www.glo.state.tx.us/archives. Requests for index entries for an individual name with arrival date and county are responded to for a minimum fee. Normal response time about two weeks. Among the various types of original grants were:

Headright grants. Issued to encourage immigration'but not awarded to African Americans or Native Americans'and organized in several classes. Texas issued these grants between 1836 and 1842 to individuals and families who settled in Texas. Class 1 are Spanish or Mexican grants issued to settlers whose arrival was before 2 March 1836. Land allotted was one league and one labor (4,605.5 acres) per family or one-third league (1,476 acres) for unmarried men. Second-class headright grants were given to those who arrived after 2 March 1836 and before 1 October 1837. They received 1,280 acres per family, or half that for unmarried men, with a requirement of three years residence. Third-class headright grants for those who settled from 2 October 1837 to 1 January 1840 were issued for half the acreage allotments but with the same residency requirements as second-class grants. Fourth-class headright grants were issued between 1 January 1840 and 1 January 1842; acreage given was equal to that of third-class headrights. Those awarded equivalent to third-class headrights included colonists in Peters, Mercer, Castro, and Fisher-Miller colonies.

Pre-emption (squatter) grants. Issued between 22 January 1845 and 1854 for no more than 320 acres. Minimum requirement was residence on a particular parcel for three consecutive years after 22 January 1845. After 1854 a limit of 160 acres was established for married men, and half that for single men after 1870. The last pre-emption grant was issued in 1898.

Bounty grants. From 1837 through 1888 Texas issued land in payment for military service to the Republic. The number of acres granted varies as several legislatures modified requirements. Participants in any battle qualified. Later donation lands were awarded to widows and surviving (as of 1881) veterans. Eligibility was limited to one grant. Scrip, a means of awarding or selling public land, was granted to disabled Confederate veterans or builders of railroads, canals, roads, mills, or factories.

Contracted grants. Both the Republic and State of Texas contracted with various individuals to establish colonies in Texas and receive payment in land. Large grants were made directly to contractors, although individual grants of 640 acres were also given to heads of families and 320 acres to single men.

Miller's work, cited below, gives a complete account of the acquisition and disposition of public land in Texas to 1970. Fraudulent claims and legislation enacted to address these problems are also discussed.

Gillford E. White compiled a series of volumes, The First Settlers in [County], Texas, copied from originals in the GLO; these often include maps. Most were published by Ingmire Publications, St. Louis, Missouri, between 1981 and 1984. A few were published elsewhere. The state land office has microfilmed copies of federal land sales to individuals up through the 1900s. Only original sales are maintained by state; all other subsequent sales are under county jurisdiction. In addition to the Ingmire and Ericson volumes cited in Background Sources, see:

  • Abstract of Land Claims: Compiled from the Records of the General Land Office. Galveston: Civilian Book Office, 1852. Arranged alphabetically in districts, lists grants from Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the state.
  • Abstracts of Land Titles of Texas Comprising the Titled, Patented, and Located Lands in the State. 1878. Reprint. San Augustine, Tex.: S. Malone, 1985. County arrangement for the period 1833 to 1877.
  • An Abstract of the Original Titles of Records in the General Land Office. 1838. Reprint. Austin, Tex.: Pemberton Press, 1964. Details headright grants for 1791 to 1836.
  • Bascom, Giles. Abstract of All Original Grants and Locations Comprising Texas Land Titles to August 32, 1945. 8 vols. Supplements A, B, C, D, E, F, G, & H. 8 vols. Austin, Tex.: General Land Office, 1945'80. This set is somewhat difficult to locate. The General Land Offices does sell out-of-print volumes on microfiche. Another publisher reprinted the first volume as Texas Land Title Abstracts Volume 1-A. Paris, Tex.: Wright Press, 1984.
  • '. History and Disposition of Texas Public Domain. Austin, Tex.: GLO, 1945.
  • Bowden, J. J. Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in the Chihuahuan Acquisition. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1971. Covers the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Reeves, Jeff Davis, Pecos, Presidio, and Brewer in Texas plus six more in adjacent New Mexico.
  • Burlage, John, and J. B. Hollingsworth, Abstract of Valid Land Claims Compiled from the Records of the General Land Office and Court of Claims of the State of Texas. Austin, Tex.: J. Marshall, 1859.
  • Ericson, Carolyn Reeves. Nacogdoches Headrights: A Record of the Disposition of Land in East Texas and in Other Parts of that State, 1838'1848. New Orleans: Polyanthos, 1977.
  • Gould, Florence C., and Patricia N. Pando. Claiming Their Land: Women Homesteaders in Texas. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1991.
  • Miller, Thomas Lloyd. Bounty and Donation Land Grants of Texas, 1835'1888. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1967.
  • . The Public Lands of Texas 1519'1970. Norman, Okla.: Oklahoma University Press, 1971. Excellent source describing Texas land records and land history.
  • . Texas Confederate Scrip Grantees, C.S.A. N.p., 1985.
  • Purl, Benjamin F. Republic of Texas Second Class Headrights, March 2, 1836'October 1, 1837. Houston: A. N. W. Barnes, 1974.
  • Sadler, Jerry. History of Texas Land. Austin, Tex.: GLO, 1964.
  • Scott, Florence Johnson. Royal Land Grants North of the Rio Grande, 1777'1821: Early History of Large Grants Made by Spain to Families in Jurisdiction of Reynosa Which Became a Part of Texas after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848. Rio Grande City, Tex.: La Retama Press, 1969. Concerns suits recorded in deed books containing the chain of title and lines of descent and heirship for the counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy, Kenedy, Brooks, Kleberg, and Nueces. Includes maps.
  • Taylor, Virginia H. Spanish Archives of the General Land Office of Texas. Austin, Tex.: Lone Star Press, 1955.
  • The Texas Family Land Heritage Registry. 10 vols. Austin, Tex.: Texas Department of Agriculture (1974' ). These are accounts of farms that have been in agricultural production for a century or more in the same family (not limited to agnate descents) and as such are rich in genealogical detail.
  • Todd, William N. Guide to Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in South Texas. Austin, Tex.: Texas General Land Office, 1988.
  • White, Gifford E. Character Certificates in the General Land Office of Texas. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1989.
  • '. 1840 Citizens of Texas. 3 vols. Austin, Tex.: the author, 1983'88. Volumes 1 and 3 list land grants; volume 2 includes tax rolls and name index to volume 2.
  • Williams, Villamae. Stephen F. Austin's Register of Families from the Originals in the General Land Office, Austin, Texas. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1989.

Once land was initially granted, all succeeding land transactions fall under the jurisdiction of the county in which the land is located at the time each record is created. County boundaries have changed over time, as have county names. By law, all deeds are indexed by grantor and by grantee. Transcribed deeds from parent counties may be maintained in separate volumes. County land transactions, including deeds and mortgages, are located at the respective county clerk's office.

Century farm records for those families who worked the same land for 100 years or more are available on microfilm at Department of Agriculture, Century of Agriculture Program, P.O. Box 12847, Austin, TX 78711.