Searching Sāmoan land records
We hold some historical records relating to the sale and purchase of land in Sāmoa, as well as records of title disputes. However, most of the Land and Titles Court records are held by the Land and Titles Court in Sāmoa, and not with us. What we hold is patchy and spread across the records of the various administrations that governed Sāmoa - the main collection coming from the German Colonial Administration. The originals are held in Wellington. Most have been microfilmed, and some have been digitised.
Auckland hold most of the microfilm versions. However, the Wellington microfilm numbers do not always match up with the microfilm numbers used in Auckland. It is important to be aware that the records are very fragile, and may be written in German, Sāmoan or English. In most instances there are no translations of letters written in German or Sāmoan, making research very difficult.
Timeline of Sāmoan administration
Records from and about Sāmoa have been created by many different administrations. This timeline shows the agency codes that are used to find the records they created on Archway, our online search tool.
This image shows a timeline of Sāmoan administration and the agency codes that are used to find the records they created on Archway, our online search.
The dates, agencies, and codes are as follows:
1847-1916 - British Consul [AEHA]
1857-1918 - Western Pacific High Commission [AEND]
1870-1900 - German Consulate [AGCS]
1877-1985 - Prime Minister's Department Imperial Affairs; External Affairs; Foreign Affairs [Series 950]
1887-1914 - Samoan Government [AEHC]
1889-1932 - British Military Occupation [ACGM]
1894-1938 - Crown Law [ADOI]
1900-1914 - German Administration [AGCA]
1900-1914 - Samoan Self-Government [AAKV]
1901-1975 - Island Territories [ACGA]
1914-1920 - Army Department [AAYS]
1914-1920 - War Archive [WA]
1915-1938 - New Zealand Samoan Administration [AEHB]
British Consul Deeds 1856-1915
Purchasers of land, including traders and missionaries, registered their purchases with the British Consul. These are recorded in Volumes 8-12 of the British Consul Deeds Registers and the WPHC Lands Register. They are copies of the original Deeds and contain the names of the parties and where they were from, the date, location and boundaries, the amount paid, and the names of witnesses.
The Deeds Registers have been digitised and are now online.
This WPHC Land Register Index (XLS 26KB) notes the register number, date, sellers and buyers, the name of the land, where the land is situated, and general remarks.
German Colonial Administration of Sāmoa Files 1900-1914
Some land files can be found in records of the German Colonial Administration of Sāmoa. The files are mainly in German and are fragile, so most are on microfilm (although some have been digitised). Series 6051 contains some files on purchases of land, registration, estates, cultivations and plantations, and can be found using the term ‘land’ in an advanced search on Archway.
Land and Titles Commission Files 1903-1921
In 1903 the German Colonial Administration of Sāmoa set up a commission to investigate land and titles disputes between Sāmoans. This was known as the Land und Titel Kommission (Land and Titles Commission, known herein as the Commission). The items below are the most important and high-use records of the Commission held by us. Most of these have been digitised and can be viewed online. The rest are held in Sāmoa.
Series 6069: Administrative Files - Land and Titles Commission 1903-1914
This series contains ‘general’ files relating to the running of the Land and Titles Commission, as well as ‘miscellaneous’ files.
The miscellaneous files contain correspondence relating to cases heard by the Land and Titles Commission and other land and title matters. Most of the correspondence is written in Sāmoan, and dates from 1903-1912. Items 865 , 866 , and 867 (Parts I – III) contain an index at the beginning of each folder, noting the names and village of the parties. Researchers can use the index to find the pages of the file they need. Because the originals are very fragile there are microfilm copies available.
Series 6070: Registers of Land Files 1903-1921
This series consists of two registers documenting the cases heard by the Commission. Arranged by LK case number, they name the claimants, the defendants, the title and/or land under dispute, and remarks on any decisions made.
Item 871 (313 pages) is in Sāmoan and covers 610 cases (1903-1921).
Item 872 (71 pages) is mainly in German and covers 289 cases (1903-c.1912), as well as some additional correspondence.
The Sāmoan Register often contains additional information not recorded in the German Register, and vice versa.
Series 6071: Register of Decisions 1903-1911
This is a single Register of Decisions (Item 870, 112 pages) from the Commission. Written in German, the cases are given a running decision number and cross-referenced with LK case numbers, and names the claimants, the defendants, the title and/or land under dispute, dates, and remarks on any decisions made. It can contain extra information to that found in Series 6070.
Series 6080: Papers Relating to Land 1901-1913
This is a folder of papers and correspondence relating to land and title matters, and later, about land and title cases heard by the Land and Titles Commission (Item 852, 152 pages).
The file is mostly written in Sāmoan with some English translations, and some German. Pages 0001-0002 are an index of some of the items contained in the folder and relate to the numbers in blue pencil that were recorded on the spine of each case. However, many of the cases are now out of order.
From Page 0117 the papers are organised by LK number, the number given to each case heard by the Land and Titles Commission. Page 0138 contains a family tree of Uliuli (Tuatagaloa Uliulileave Fuimaono) and Afoa (Sinapaepaefoa Patea).
High Court Case Files 1914-1920
Series 18976 (Samoa-BMO4) contains German High Court case files that the British Military Occupation took over in 1914. Most of the records are in German, although there are post-1914 records in English.
The most relevant files relating to land appear to be C: Property Disputes (1900-1920), although Arbitration and Inheritance cases also deal with land. The records are not indexed but are organised by year, so knowing the date of the dispute or inheritance is ideal.
Land Section Registers - Apia
There are nine Land Section Registers from the Apia Municipality that list instrument numbers, location, descriptions of land, and sometimes agricultural information. They are all in German with Samoan and English names.
[Miscellaneous Registers - Register of Land Section Owners in the Municipality of Apia, Samoa]Distrikt Tuamasaga, Gemeindebezirk Apia, Flur 3 [Tuamasaga District, Municipality of Apia, Corridor/Lot 3]
[Miscellaneous Registers - Register of Land Section Owners in the Municipality of Apia, Samoa] Distrikt Tuamasaga, Gemeindebezirk Apia, Flur 4 [Tuamasaga District, Municipality of Apia, Corridor/Lot 4]
[Miscellaneous Registers - Register of Land Section Owners in the Municipality of Apia, Samoa] Distrikt Tuamasaga, Gemeindebezirk Apia, Flur 5 [Tuamasaga District, Municipality of Apia, Corridor/Lot 5]
This german map of 'Upolu from 1914 shows the location and owners of land blocks, especially in the Tuamasaga District. It also shows villages, roads and boundary lines.
Although it has less detail, this 1921 map of ‘Upolu shows Native land, European land, Crown land and Crown Estates.
This 1922 map of Savai’i also shows Native land, European land and Crown Estates.
In 1977, Ashby J. Fristoe created a useful finding aid to the records created in Sāmoa. Although much of this information is now listed online, it contains a useful alphabetical index and can be used to locate items in our holdings.
Other research tips
Try searching the name of the village or district on Archway - village files from Series 18973 have been digitised and can be viewed online. Also try family surnames, although most results will be Immigration files. Use the Index at the back of Ashby Fristoe’s finding aid (PDF, 7.05 MB).
The Alexander Turnbull Library’s Pasifika – Family History Guide has a lot of useful information on Sāmoa, including birth, deaths, marriages, genealogies and other family history sources.
Last updated on 21 July 2021