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View history, dates, and rules for Land Claims

HOW TO: To find a legal description (Township, Range/Section) for a particular location on-line, use the maps at Geographical Locator. Some common maps, such as the Thomas Guide, show Townships, Ranges, and Sections. If you are researching your own home, your deed/mortgage documents will have this information. This legal description is key for identifying previous owners of a particular piece of land through county records.

Donation Land Claims are especially interesting history. These original land claims were filed throughout the 1850s and were, by modern standards, huge swaths of land. Each is now covered by subdivisions and many homes.

HOW TO: To use land records for genealogical research, most of us begin research with just a name and a vague notion of place. Most original records accumulated year by year, sometimes indexed by DLC# (Donation Land Claim Number) or the legal description. Many claims were not filed until years after the pioneer arrived in Oregon. It's difficult to search them for a particular family name without knowing EXACTLY when a claim was made with a good idea of where (what county, town).

Fortunately, there are various indexes to help you research using only your ancestor's name. Your goal is to find the Donation Land Claim number (for original owners prior to 1860s) or a legal description (Township, Range/Section) of the property owned by your ancestor. In your own family records, you may find tax documents, wills, probates, or other papers to provide the DLC# or the Township-Section/Range of the property.

If not, begin with a visit to the Oregon Pioneers web site. Here you'll find lists of pioneers organized according to the year of arrival in Oregon (1792-1855). Many of the names on the list include the Donation Land Claim number of the land where the pioneer first settled. Also, try the Oregon State Archive’s Surname Search Engine to search through Clackamas County Probates, 1844-1928; Clackamas County Widow's Pensions, 1913-1930; and Clackamas County Women's Property Register, 1859-1909.

The website of the US Government Land Office has searchable land patent (claim) records for the United States but (as of spring 2006) had not yet posted any records for Western lands dated before 1908. LOOKUPS: the State Archives, historical libraries, public libraries, and genealogical societies will do a hands-on search for about $10 if the the search does not take more than a half-hour or so. See the Libraries and Societies page for details.

Best Bet: Libraries have indexes organized by surname. Resources for Clackamas County include:


Index to Oregon Donation Land Claims 1850-1903; by surname; created by the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, 1987. Information was abstracted from four Oregon land offices: Oregon City (5,289 records); Roseburg (2,141 records); The Dalles (five records); and La Grande (2 records). At the Genealogical Forum or the Clackamas County Historical Society Library (Museum of the Oregon Territory).

Another index, "Donation Land Claim and Homestead Papers Index" is available at the Clackamas County Historical Society; alphabetized by surname, this index lists geographic locations of claims as well as numbers.

UNIQUE SOURCE: Another unpublished index at the Clackamas County Historical Society Library, "Clackamas County Index to Land Abstracts" alphabetizes surnames and matches them to a land claim number (to a particular piece of land). This number refers to packets of records held at the Society. On the packet is a list of all owners of a particular property, listed in sequence of ownership. This index is the easiest way to find out who owned the land before and after a particular claim was taken.

Genealogical Material in Oregon Donation Land Claims, 5 vols.; volume one alone contains 2500 claims (early settlers registered their homesteads for the first time after 1850); taken from Oregon City Land Office records; by the Oregon Genealogical Society, 1957-1959. At the Clackamas County Historical Society Library.

Supplement to Genealogical Material in Oregon Donation Land Claims; indexes maiden names; by the Oregon Genealogical Society, 1973-74. At the Genealogical Forum or the Clackamas County Historical Society Library (Museum of the Oregon Territory).

Geographic Index for Volumes I and II of Genealogical Material in Oregon Donation Land Claims; abstracted from applications to the Oregon City land office; also lists home of origin; by the Clackamas County Genealogical Forum, 1978. At the Genealogical Forum or the Clackamas County Historical Society Library (Museum of the Oregon Territory).

Land Laws and Early Settlers of Oregon: Map and Genealogical Data of Pioneer Families; abstracted from the records of the State Land Office; prints and explains the homestead laws; detailed maps with owner's names on plats (for Township 3 South, Range 1 East, Willamette Meridian, for Township 5 South, Range 1 East, for Township 5 South, Range 1 East, and for Township 4 South, Range 1 East); by the Canby Historical Society, 1970. At the Clackamas County Historical Society Library (Museum of the Oregon Territory).


Land Claim Registers, 1844-1857, (Microfilm, one-half cubic foot); does not have an index but does have unique information. This series documents land claims recorded with the provisional recorder and the territorial secretary. (Before Oregon became a state, the Provisional and Territorial Oregon governments registered claims). The Land Claim Register entries show claimant's name, description of claim, county name, date recorded, and recorder's certification. The series also includes some loose land claims. Series is not arranged.

Oregon City Assessment Roll of 1846; not alphabetized; names the head of household, the town lot number, and the value of carriages, mills and wagons, cattle and hogs, clocks, watches, and merchandise.

Pioneer Families of the Oregon Territory, 1850; lists surnames with the Oregon Donation Land Claim location (by county section); by the Oregon State Archives, 1961. Also at the Clackamas County Historical Society Library (Museum of the Oregon Territory).

Land Record Clackamas County [Land Claims-with index], 1850-1853 (microfilm) at the Oregon State Archives

Plat Book Index [includes land descriptions, land claim information, and related transcribed documents], ca.1851 (1 volume) at the Oregon State Archives.

Land Record Clackamas County [Land Claims], 1850 (1 volume); 1850 (microfilm) at the Oregon State Archives.

Clackamas County Women's Property Register, 1859-1909 . At the Clackamas County Historical Society Library (Museum of the Oregon Territory). Same as the Oregon Archive's Register of Married Women's Separate Property (with index), 1859-1909 (1 volume); Search this record 1859-1909 for surname.

Women's Separate Property Rights Record [one page only], 1909 at the Oregon State Archives.

Index to Locations of All Files in Clackamas County Surveyor's Office; this indexes Donation Land Claims, surveys, corner restorations, roads, subdivisions, partitions, and miscellaneous maps], a single volume with no date for when it was compiled; at the Clackamas County Sunnybrook Service Center, Surveyor's Office Public Research Room.


It's less convenient and more tedious-- but not impossible--to use the other indexes and records listed below. Before 1974, Clackamas County did not keep a consolidated index (of all names, all years, and all locations in one index). County record keepers recommend that " research land records, legal descriptions are necessary. (Old addresses may not work since many addresses and street names have changed.)" If only a surname and year is known, "grantor/grantee" records, "direct/indirect" records (these terms just mean seller/buyer) are organized by name rather than number or legal description. (A"quit claim" records the names of both buyer and seller; and a deed has the owner's name). Searching by year alone or a surname alone is never recommended.

You also may need to go into these records if you wish to see the actual deed or are hoping for more information from the original record.

Even those surname records that are organized alphabetically have drawbacks. They are usually still divided by year or a short range of years. And "alphabetized" may mean only that all names beginning with the same letter are together (but otherwise in no particular order). Be prepared to turn a lot of pages or scroll through a long roll of microfilm.

It's easier to do this in a library/archive or a genealogy room collection than in a government storage facility (although the record storage staff is very helpful). The following list begins with records at the Oregon State Archives (many of these are the same as those in public libraries and genealogy collections). Almost all of the Archive records are also to be found in county facilities. A list of other records kept by the county follows the Archive list.


Deed Index; Direct and Indirect (that is, Seller and Buyer) 1850-1911 (these 28 volumes may have different titles); at the Oregon State Archives.

Deed Record (the title on each volume varies), B-Z, (volumes #27-#72), 1855-1900 (71 volumes in all, this is the count as it appears in the Archive catalogue) with:
Deed Records 1900-1902 (#74-78, 5 volumes); 1901-1910 (#80,1 volume); 1902-1903 (#83-84, 2 volumes); 1903-1905 (#86-93, 8 volumes); 1906-1907 (#95-97, 3 volumes);1907-1910 ( #99-111, 13 volumes); 1909-1911 (#113-121, 9 volumes); 1911-1914 (#123-136, 14 volumes); 1914-1917 (#138-146, 9 volumes). Check Clackamas County Clerk Records for missing volumes.

Records [Quit Claim Deed Book-with index], 1850-1853 (1 volume).
Record of Conveyances [Quit Claim Deed Book-with index], 1853-1868 (1 volume);

Deeds [Miscellaneous-includes a small number of land patents], 1859-1957(microfilm)
Receiving Book [documents the recording of deeds, mortgages, and land patents], 1890-1910 (4 volumes);

Homestead Grant Records, 1916-1938 (microfilm);

Oregon California Land Grant Records [Railroad], 1921-1935 (microfilm);

Receiving Book [documents the recording of deeds, mortgages, and land patents], 1890-1910 (#1-4, 4 volumes).


.......................Where to find a particular record........................Addresses of records facilities


Indirect Deeds [Index], 1851-1885 (1 volume).
Deed Index [Direct--seller], 1851-1972 (23 inches of microfilm jackets);
Deed Index [Indirect--buyer], 1851-1972 (23 inches of microfilm jackets).
Deeds [Alphabetical Register and Index], 1961-1969 (9 volumes).
Index to Deeds Direct, 1969-1971 (1 volume).
Index to Deeds Indirect, 1969-1971 (1 volume).
Grantee [buyer Deed Index], 1971-1972 (1 volume).
Grantor [seller Deed Index], 1971-1972 (1 volume).

Deed Books, #A-Z (#27-698) 1850-1966 (20 feet of microfilm jackets).
Deed Record [includes parts of volumes--possibly pages that are illegible on microfilm--with gaps], (#242-388) 1937-1946 (20 volumes).

[Deeds to County Owned Land], 1909-1957 (1 reel of microfilm);

[Deeds], #A-Z, 27-568, 1850-1960 (294 reels of microfilm);
[Deeds-Land Ownership Book-title varies], 1959-present (ca.1471 volumes).

Clackamas County ELECTIONS DIVISION OFFICE, Back Storage Room Loft:
Deed Books [copies], #561-585, 1959-1961 (25 volumes);
Deed Record [title varies] (#147-190, 192, 194-205, 207-212, 214-219, 221-224, and #227-560)
1916-1959 (407 volumes).

MUSEUM OF THE OREGON TERRITORY (Clackamas County Historical Society), Collections Storage Room:
Deed Record [title varies on these books] 1901-1902 (#79, 1 volume); 1901-1903 (#81-82, 2 volumes); 1903-1904 (#85, 1 volume); 1905-1906 (#94, 1 volume); 1906-1907 (#98, 1 volume); 1914 (#137, 1 volume).

Clackamas County Sunnybrook Service Center, SURVEYOR'S OFFICE Public Research Room:
Maps may have handwritten notations of owner and Oregon Donation Land Claim number.

Index to Locations of All Files in Clackamas County Surveyor's Office [this indexes Donation Land Claims, surveys, corner restorations, roads, subdivisions, partitions, and miscellaneous maps], a single volume with no date for when it was compiled; at the Clackamas County Sunnybrook Service Center, Surveyor's Office Public Research Room.

Index to File Drawers A Thru Z (indexes A to Z Letter Series maps--i.e. NOT A to Z surnames, and DTM plats, LP corner maps, and some surveys), ca.1853-ca.1985 (1 volume);

"Miscellaneous Maps and Survey Plats-A to Z Letter Series"--i.e. NOT A to Z surnames, 1853 to present (ca.1000 maps); 1853-present (40 inches of aperture cards).

"USBT" [United States Bearing Tree Maps] 1999-present (ca.125 maps). Bearing Tree maps show confirmation or restoration of a surveyed corner. These often are marked with a brass cap set into the ground at the precise corner.

Clackamas County RECORD CENTER:
"Bearing Tree-Record"1851-1988 ( #1-12, 1.50 inches of microfiche).


The first settlers of the Oregon Country in the late 1820s and 1830s were few and far between. The frontier itself-- the land beyond civilization-- brought these early settlers who trapped for fur, taught Christianity, dealt in trade goods, or simply trail-blazed their way to the end of their adventures. These pioneers, many with Native American wives, took up farming as a second career. Miles of open country separated each tiny settlement. Dr. John McLoughlin, stationed at the Hudson's Bay Company's Ft. Vancouver, maintained the only establishment within the future borders of Clackamas County. His mill site at the Willamette Falls got a new (and later troublesome) neighbor in 1840 in the form of a Methodist mission outpost.

The beginning of the 1840s brought a small number of new emigrants from the States, the first who came with the intention to settle farms. The newcomers gave the oldtimers a preview of the thousands who would follow on the Oregon Trail. Until then "claims"--marked by custom, natural landmarks, or cultivated land-- hadn't mattered much in the middle of boundless empty lands. But things were about to get crowded. Some of the early pioneers such as Dr. McLoughlin (who was already contending with the mission over the ownership of a river island) and Robert Moore (across the river from McLoughlin's place) quickly platted towns and declared their property.

McLoughlin and Moore (and later the missions) claimed a thousand acres each. But most settlers expected to claim 640 acres, equal to one section of a township. This was the customary maximum acreage of a claim in the township grid system that the pioneers had left behind in the United States. (Each township measures 6 square miles and is divided into 36 sections) When claims were first recorded by the Oregon Provisional Government (1843-1849) not even the international boundary between Britain and the US was clear. Without a formal survey (or survey equipment) land was measured in "metes and bounds" that is, by paces or a measure of rope with corners determined by compass or right angles. Because a township grid did not fit the varied Oregon landscape as well as it did the Midwestern plains, the 640-acre (more-or-less) claims weren't necessarily square and rarely adjacent.

The Provisional Government (1843-1848) registered Provisional Land Grants of 640 acres under a law that awarded 320 acres to each white or half-white/half-Indian male over age 18 and another 320 to each wife. Single women could not claim land and only males could apply, but the 320 acres was in the woman's name, her property in case of divorce, widowhood, or abandonment. Marriageable women were highly valued in Oregon. When the British recognized the Provisional Government (1845) and the international border was settled (1846), the few objections to ownership by "foreigners" (Canadians and British) were quelled, at least legally. But the status of former mission property and McLoughlin's claim to Oregon City remained contentious.

The main features of this system were preserved by the US Donation Land Act of 1850, passed the year after Oregon became an official US Territory. According to Oregon Donation Land Claim law, any provisional claim filed before December 1, 1851 (by whatever nationality) was preserved with the stipulation that the claimant had to be in Oregon already and occupy the land for four years. The old claims were grandfathered-in allowing irregular shapes, odd sizes, and sprawling over future section lines. Over 2500 claims, many from the old-timers, were filed in 1850 alone.

By law, newcomers after 1850 could claim a half-section of land if married or a fourth-section if single. Ideally the Donation Land Claim system, with regular surveyed claims, was to end in 1853. But the official survey, which set a north/south meridian and an east/west baseline (marked by the Willamette Stone in the hills west of Portland) wasn't finished until June of 1851. And the US Land Office did not begin taking claims until 1852. The Donation Land Act was extended to anyone arriving before December 1, 1853 and the lesser amount of acreage (half-sections) applied to newcomers of 1854 and later. DLCs (all 7437 of them) were still being processed in 1868.

Before the Land Office had finished recording Donation Land Claims, Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1862 which was, in 1868, extended to Oregon. A one-time $34 fee replaced the DLC's charge of 25 cents and heads of households, or single men over 21, could claim only one-fourth section (160 acres). Homesteaders had to "prove up" their claim: they could reside on the land for six months and pay $1.25 per acre; or build a residence and cultivate the land to gain free title after five years. A new Homestead Act, in 1910, created more new applicants in Oregon than the Donation Land Claim system or the Homestead Act added together.

Early records labeled "Clackamas County" include all of what is now Multnomah County (until 1850), all of the counties north of Marion (Champoeg) and east of the Cascades (until 1856), parts of Washington County, and even a portion of Washington State. This site's Changing County Borders page details when and how areas were subtracted or added to Clackamas County.

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Patricia Kohnen