My parents had six kids. I’m the only girl with five brothers. I’m third in line, so I usually had two older brothers who beat me in games of speed, or strength, or wits. They also usually beat me in claiming “dibs” on just about everything.
For instance, when it was time to get in the nine passenger station wagon for a trip, my brothers would usually race to the car and grab a seat with “dibs” authority.
While they were claiming their territory, I must have been doing some extremely important last minute tasks like putting wayward hairs back in place, or getting the gunk out of my braces, because by the time I got to the car all the good spots were already occupied and I ended up climbing in through the tailgate to sit in the far back seat of the station wagon, the one that faced backwards!
Why am I telling you all this?
Because it was this “dibs” mindset that drove settlers to squat on land, improve it, and claim they were there first in order to obtain rights to own it. Rather than call them “Dibs Claims,” the government gave them the more respectable title, Pre-emption Claims. These squatters were claiming the right to purchase the land before others could.
Some pre-emption claims are found in the California mining areas where a miner lived off the land prior to the first transfer from the government. For instance, in 1860, Daniel Chaplin filed a Pre-emption claim for 160 acres of land in Butte County, California. Daniel Chaplin’s claim read thus:
“Land Claim of Daniel Chaplin. October 6th 1860 Notice is herreby given that I the undersigned have claimed a pasel of land not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres situate as follows on eather [either] or both sids of the uper part of the sky high ravine & betwixt the little North Fork & Middle fether Rivers in Butte Co Cal the afore said clame is designated by marked trees the lines runing in a north westerly & southerly directions & I hereby request the Recorder of Butte Co to duly record the same & Please send me the returns… (California, Butte Co., Pre-emption Claims C: 15, 1861-1875; FHL microfilm 1,685,724, item 4).
Private Land Claimswere filed by people who really did own the land first, only it was under a former government.
Private Land Claims are found in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, (Oregon and Washington are Private Land Claims but fall under the Donation Land Claims).
An example of a private claim would be a claim for ownership of land in California that had previously been under the Mexican government.
These records are housed at the National Archives. The files may contain generations of genealogical data to prove legal inheritance of the land. You may also find copies in the county record books many of which are on microfilm through the Family History Library.
So, did anyone in your family claim “dibs” on a piece of land?