Before traditional land records, you’ll find the Spanish Land Grants. These records, created from 1820 to 1822, were settlers’ claims to the US government that they’d received land from Spain. You can search digitized versions at http://www.floridamemory.com/collections/spanishlandgrants and use the published five-volume transcript Spanish Land Grants in Florida (Florida State Library Board, 1940).
In addition to federal census records that begin in 1830 and continue decennially until the most recently released, 1930, a few fragments of colonial, territorial and state censuses have survived for Florida. Most can be found at the state Bureau of Archives and Records Management, 500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399, (850) 245-6700, http://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/barm/index.html. Ten of the Spanish colonial censuses are reproduced in The Spanish Censuses of Pensacola, 1784-1820: A Genealogical Guide to Spanish Pensacola by William S. Coker and G. Douglas Inglis (Perdido Bay Press, 1980). Some of these censuses are also available online through subscription site Ancestry.com. One census often misidentified as a state census was taken in 1885. This was actually a census conducted by the federal government, but it is an excellent resource for filling the void left by the 1890 US census, which was destroyed due to fire.
Other useful land records include homestead applications from 1881 to 1905, housed at the Florida State Archives. These records, along with the Homestead Contest Dockets (1887-1891), Homestead Occupying Claimant Files (1881-1904), and Homestead Swampland Claim Files (1846-1918), are available on microfilm through the Family History Library (FHL).
Birth and death records at the state level are generally available beginning in January 1917 and can be requested from the Bureau of Vital Statistics of the State Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, (Box 210, Jacksonville, Florida 32231) http://www.doh.state.fl.us/planning_eval/vital_statistics. Vital records before this time are incomplete, though you will certainly want to investigate in case your ancestor’s records were filed. In addition, you may want to check with the health department in your ancestor’s county, as some of earlier records may be found there. The state vital statistics office also has marriages, divorces and annulments from June 6, 1927. Look for marital events before then in county courts. For a copy of the marriage license application, then contact the county clerk where the marriage took place.
The Florida State Genealogical Society has a program to honor those descendants who can prove relationship to a resident who was living in Florida before March 3, 1845. A list of established pioneers is at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~flsgs/pioneer_program.htm. The packets for those descendants who applied before 1995 are on 54 rolls of microfilm through the Family History Library. These packets contain copies of original records to prove the applicant’s descent from a Florida pioneer.
An often overlooked alternative to vital records is the WPA-compiled Register of Deceased Veterans Buried in Florida (Veterans’ Graves Registration Project, 1940-1941). These volumes cover 51 of the 67 counties in Florida. Among other repositories, the Orlando Public Library has a complete set in its Genealogy Department. Staff can’t do look ups for you, so you’ll need to visit in person or hire a professional genealogist in the area.
- Florida Voter Registration Lists, 1867-68 (Tallahassee Genealogical Society, ca. 1992)
- Florida Voters in Their First Statewide Election, May 26, 1845 by Brian E. Michaels (Florida State Genealogical Society, ca. 1987)
- Florida’s First Families: Translated Abstracts of Pre-1821 Spanish Censuses by Donna Rachal Mills (Mills Historical Press, ca. 1992)
- Havana, USA; Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959-1994 by Maria Cristina Garcia (University of California Press, ca. 1996)
- Index to passenger lists of vessels arriving at miscellaneous ports in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, 1890-1924 (US Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1957)
- Passenger lists of vessels arriving at Key West, 1898-1920 (US Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1946)
- English Land Grants in West Florida: A Register for the States of Alabama, Mississippi, and Parts of Florida and Louisiana, 1766-1776 by Winston De Ville (W. De Ville, ca. 1986)
- Florida Land: Records of the Tallahassee and Newnansville General Land Office, 1825-1892 by Alvie L. Davidson (Heritage Books, ca. 1989)
- Private Land Claims, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida by Fern Ainsworth (F. Ainsworth, 1978)
- Spanish Land Grants in Florida by the Historical Records Survey (State Library Board, 1940-1941)
- Spanish Plat Book of Land Records of the District of Pensacola, Province of West Florida, British and Spanish Land Grants, 1763-1821 by Billie Ford Snider (Antique Compiling, ca. 1994)
- A Chronology of Florida Post Offices by Alford G. Bradbury and E. Story Hallock (Florida Classics Library, 1993)
- Florida Atlas and Gazetteer (DeLorme Mapping, ca. 1987)
- Florida, Atlas of Historical County Boundaries by Peggy Tuck Sinko (Charles Scribner, ca. 1997)
- Florida Place Names by Allen Covington Morris (University of Miami Press, ca. 1974)
- Florida State Gazetteer and Business Directory by R.L. Polk and Company (R.L. Polk, 1907/08)
- Compendium of the Confederate Armies by Stewart Sifakis (Facts on File, ca. 1992-1995)
- The Defenses of Spanish Florida, 1565 to 1763 by Verne E. Chatelain (Baltimore Press, 1941)
- Index to compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served in organizations from the state of Florida by the US Adjutant General’s Office (National Archives, 1958)
- Register of Florida CSA Pension Applications by Virgil D. White (National Historical Publishing Co., ca. 1989)
- Cemetery Records of Florida by E.H. Hayes (Genealogical Society of Utah, 1946)
- Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Florida by the Historical Records Survey (Florida Historical Records Survey, 1941)
- Guide to Supplementary Vital Statistics from Church Records in Florida (preliminary) by the Historical Records Survey (Florida Historical Records Survey, 1942)
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