Several months ago I wrote a blog post about French and Spanish settlers in Missouri. In the blog post I offered a number of sources to identify the claims and your ancestors. Because the land was surveyed differently, measured differently, and recorded sporadically with the Spanish Government making a claim to the American government for lands purchased previously through Spain was arduous and imperfect. Which only makes our challenge to decipher the process and the records as genealogists all the more challenging.
I have since found a nifty map, which helps shed light on the whole “Spanish Land Grant” experience. The map isn’t so detailed as to list your ancestor’s name, but we can learn a few things from it to aid in our research. The map can be found in Milton D. Rafferty’s Historical Atlas of Missouri.
What We Can Learn from the Spanish Land Grant Map for Missouri
- It is very clear from the map, where the Spanish Land Grants were. First we can see where they were along the major waterways. (Recall my blog post about the significance of the Missouri Waterways.) They settled along the Missouri (near what is now Columbia) and the Mississippi.
- Second, we can know that if we’re looking for our ancestors having purchased land from the Spanish anywhere else in Missouri, the search may be a bit futile. We have quickly defined the negative space.
- Importantly, we can see that the land grants did not follow the Rectangular Survey System set out by Thomas Jefferson in 1795. The land grants are not all square or on a north/south grid system. They follow the topography of the land, not unlike the metes and bounds system used in Colonial America. What does that mean for the researcher? That means because Missouri is a Public Land State, it was surveyed post-territory (1821) with the Rectangular Survey System in grid fashion. HOWEVER, any land claimed by the setters prior to that and purchased by the Spanish would not follow the grid system and would break up / interrupt the grid. So on a map you’ll find an organic shape property in the middle of a grid-plotted community. Want to bet there were overlapping claims and claim disputes that arose from this?
- Finally, we can see in the map that not all land grants were of equal size. In the post-American distribution of land, grants or purchases tended to be 160, 80, 40 acres. Here you can see that the grants – at least some of them – were gargantuan. No doubt these were for land speculators or land barons to later sub-divide.
The map is an interesting finding aid and a great support tool when piecing together the history of your ancestor. It, too, can help tell the story as well as any document or narrative piece.