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California Deed History

California is the most populous of the fifty states. After America’s victory in the Mexican-American War in 1848, California became U.S. territory when Mexico ceded Alta California to the United States. California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. In January and February of 1850, the first 27 counties were formed. California has a total of 58 counties, the last of which, Imperial County, was added in 1907.

Los Angeles, one of the 27 original counties, is the most populated. The first county recorder was Ygnacio del Valle who was elected on April 1, 1850.

Under the terms of the treaty ending the Mexican-American war (the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo), the United States had to honor Mexican land grants. Almost all the goldfields formed during the California gold rush were considered public land, which is land that is owned by the U.S. government. During the beginning of the Gold Rush, there were little to no official laws governing private property, licensing fees, or taxes. Claims to land were staked by gold miners, but the claims were only valid as long as the land was being actively worked.

During the Mexican era of California (1821-1846), titles to plots of land were first granted to individuals. In 1851, U.S. Congress passed an act requiring all holders of Mexican and Spanish land grants to present their titles for confirmation before the Board of California Land Commissioners. This lengthy process required lawyers, translators, and surveyors. In many cases, landholders had to sell their land to pay for attorney fees. The Mexican land grant system has profoundly influenced and shaped California land ownership.