Patent Attorney Utah County

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This leaflet is designed to help researchers understand the legal processes involved in obtaining original title to land in Utah Territory. Understanding these processes will help researchers understand the meaning of land related documents and also provide ideas about where to look for them.

During the nineteenth century the federal government pursued a policy of transferring land in the public domain to private ownership as rapidly as possible. This policy was designed to encourage western expansion. governing land distribution were already in place before Utah settlement. At settlement, Brigham Young and the territorial government established a system of land distribution, which is documented by territorial land records, but which did not comply with federal laws. For the first 22 years after settlement, land ownership was based on the Utah . In 1869 Congressional legislation called for the establishment of a land office in Utah and of land titles. Additional records were generated out of that process. (See used in compiling this research guide.)

Federal Laws Governing Land Distribution

All land in Utah became part of the public domain when the United States signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848. This land came into the possession of the United States government with a clear and undisputed title. No state contested title, and no private rights had been established previously. Therefore every original land title in Utah can be traced to a patent or other document transferring that land from the federal government. Prior to 1848, Congress had already established laws governing the transfer of land from federal to private ownership. Federal laws governed the establishment of, methods of, and procedures for acquiring land by or, and later by .

Land Offices

Congress provided for the establishment of land offices in various districts throughout the United States to carry out the business of transferring land from public to private ownership. Regardless of the method used to acquire land, some basic interactions with the land office created universal documents. An entry made at the land office, was a notation in the records of that office that a particular applicant intended to acquire title to specific land. Entries included necessary payment or application. After making an entry an individual was entitled to occupy the land and make use of it as he saw fit, or as required to complete the application process. Whether before or after entry every title required a survey, which is a detailed description of the property including such things as boundaries, distances of the perimeter, and descriptions of natural or man-made features on the property. When application requirements had been met or full payment received the land office issued a certificate, which was verification that all of the necessary steps had been fulfilled and that the recipient held clear and undisputed title. Certificates were redeemable at the General Land Office, which held exclusive right to issue a patent or final title to the property.

Since the federal government was responsible for the process, entries, surveys, certificates and patents are in federal custody. The National Archives holds land acquisition case files. The Bureau of Land Management holds patents. However, individuals who completed the process of acquiring land should have had their certificate or patent recorded by the county recorder in the county where the land was located. Recorded copies of these documents are among the deeds and other land records in Utah county recorders' offices [see federal certificate images].

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