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A great digitized resource

So The Legal Genealogist is heading off to Tampa today for tomorrow’s 2016 fall seminar of the Florida Genealogical Society (Tampa), in conjunction with the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative.

acostaAs usual in preparing for a road trip I started poking around in the legal history of my destination and, as reported yesterday,1 Florida has such a long and rich legal history… and some really neat records as a result.

Perhaps the most intriguing all the way around are the records known as the Spanish Land Grants, now digitized and online at the Florida Memory project of the State Library and Archives of Florida.2

As noted yesterday, Florida was Spanish, then British, then Spanish again before it was ceded to the United States in 1819 in a treaty called the by the Adams-Onis Treaty, also called the Transcontinental Treaty. Ratified in 1821, the treaty gave the United States territorial control over both East and West Florida in return for American assumption of $5 million in liability for damages done by Americans who had rebelled against Spain.3

But because so many people who were living in Florida had already obtained land from the Spanish authorities, the treaty had a unique provision. In Article VIII, it provided that: “All the grants of land made before the 24th of January, 1818, by (the King of Spain), or by his lawful authorities, in the territories ceded by his Majesty to the United States, shall be ratified and confirmed to the persons in possession of the lands” and that those prevented by circumstances from fulfilling the conditions of the grants “shall complete them within the terms limited.” Grants after January 24, 1818, were declared null and void.4

Now… How are you going to enforce and administer a provision like that? How do you ensure that a person claiming land really was entitled to it?

Answer: you set up a commission, charged with the task of collecting and reviewing the evidence that each specific claim was proper and should be allowed under the law.

And of course that means the one thing a genealogist likes best: records.

The Spanish Land Grant records include those records. As the state website explains, “residents had to prove that validity through documentation and testimonials. Therefore, these records were the dossiers filed by grantees to the U.S. government. They were either confirmed (found to be valid) or unconfirmed (found invalid) by the US government through land commissions, federal courts, or by the U.S. Congress.”5

These records have been digitized and are available online at Florida Memory and they’re amazing records:

The grants provide information on the settlement and cultivation of Florida during the Second Spanish Period (1783-1821) and the Territorial Period (1821-1845). Grantees had to provide the following information: description of land granted; date of grant; size of grant; property boundaries; and proof of residency and cultivation. Therefore the records contain surveys and plats, copies of royal grants, testimonials, correspondence, deeds, wills, and translations of Spanish documents.6

The digitized documents can be downloaded free — and while they’re far from the only records created as a result of Florida’s unique legal history, they’re among the most interesting and the most genealogically valuable for those with ancestors during either period of Spanish control.


Image: Florida Memory, Margaret Acosta land claim.

  1. Judy G. Russell, “Shedding light on Sunshine State legal history,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 Sep 2016 ( : accessed 20 Sep 2016).
  2. Spanish Land Grants,” Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida ( : accessed 30 Sep 2016).
  3. See “Acquisition of Florida: Treaty of Adams-Onis (1819) and Transcontinental Treaty (1821),” Office of the Historian, US Department of State ( : accessed 28 Sep 2016).
  4. Article 8, Adams-Onis Treaty (1819); html version, Avalon Project, Yale Law School ( : accessed 28 Sep 2016).
  5. Spanish Land Grants,” Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida ( : accessed 30 Sep 2016).
  6. Ibid.
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