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# Wednesday, May 16, 2012
150th Anniversary of the Homestead Act: Genealogy Resources for Land Records
Posted by Diane

homestead act post Were your ancestors among the millions who claimed federal lands under the Homestead Act of 1862?

We're coming up on the 150th anniversary of this groundbreaking (pun intended) legislation that accelerated the country's westward expansion. Look for opportunities to learn more about your homesteading ancestors.

President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law on May 20, 1862. Beginning Jan. 1, 1863, a homesteader could receive up to 160 acres of public domain land by applying for a claim (which required a filing fee), improving the land, living on it for five years, and then filing for a patent.

Anyone who was 21 or older or the head of a family—women, immigrants and freed slaves included—who'd never taken up arms against the US government could file an application to claim land.

The first person to claim land under the act was Union Army scout Daniel Freeman on Jan. 1, 1863. The story is he'd met some officials of the local land office at a New Year's Eve party and convinced them to open the office shortly after midnight so he could file his claim before reporting for duty.

Homesteading ended in 1976 in most of the United States and 1986 in Alaska. The last claimant under the act applied for 80 acres on Alaska's Stony River and received his deed until 1988.

Only about 40 percent of those who ever filed completed the application process and received land titles. More than 2 million homesteads were granted, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Between 1862 and 1934, 10 percent of land in the United States was privatized under the act.

Use these links to research your ancestor's homesteading experience:

General Land Office Records Online
The BLM's General Land Office (GLO) was charged with overseeing the homestead application process. It's free to search for and view more than 5 million federal land patents issued since 1820. (If your ancestor applied for a homestead but never received title to his or her land, there won't be a record here.) You'll also find a reference center with a land records glossary, FAQ and more.

Using Land Patents
This free FamilyTreeMagazine.com article has tips for using the GLO online records website.

Nebraska Homestead Records
Fold3 is digitizing the National Archives' homestead records for Nebraska. You can search the collection, which is 39 percent complete, for free. The files, from the Records of the Bureau of Land Management, consist of final certificates, applications with land descriptions, affidavits showing proof of citizenship and more. And here's a video about the homestead records digitization project.



Homestead National Monument of America
This national monument near Beatrice, Neb., explains the Homestead Act and its impact on the United States. Click the History and Culture link to learn more about the act, see its text, view maps, "meet" well-known homesteaders and more.

BLM: Commemorating 150 Years of The Homestead Act
This BLM site has a Homestead Act timeline; videos about historic homesteads, building a frontier home and more; and a Q&A.

National Archives: Ingalls Homestead Records
This article from the National Archives' Prologue magazine (Winter 2003 issue) discusses my favorite homesteaders—the Ingallses and Wilders of Little House on the Prairie fame—and shows portions of the families' homestead records.

Family Tree Magazine resources to help you research your ancestors' land records (whether federal records such as land entry case files or  local records such as deeds) include:


Fold3 | Genealogy Web Sites | Land records | NARA | Research Tips
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:36:46 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
Thursday, May 17, 2012 1:16:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
The statement about Homestead National Monument location near "Broken Bow" Nebraska. The monument is actually located near Beatrice, Nebraska--some 150 miles south and east of Broken Bow.
Gary Burchfield
Thursday, May 17, 2012 3:58:26 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thanks, Gary, I'm fixing this in the post. Broken Bow is the first Nebraska land office whose records are digitized on Fold3.
Diane
Comments are closed.