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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Digging Into Homesteads: First Owners for Genealogists -- Part Two

Hultstrand 61 from 1898 A Milton, North Dakota, photographer took this picture of John and Marget Bakken and their two children, Tilda and Eddie, in front of their sod house in Milton in 1898. John Bakken was the son of Norwegian immigrants, who homesteaded and built a sod house in Milton in 1896. This sod house was used as the basis for the design of the Homestead Act Commemorative Stamp in 1962. Since living persons cannot be represented on US stamps, the children were blocked out by a haystack. Ironically however, John Bakken was still alive at age 92 when the stamp was issued. This photograph was also used by Norway on its postage stamp in 1975, to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Norwegian emigration to America. The children were left in the picture for this stamp, rendering a more accurate image of the original photograph. Desctiption from uncopyrighted webpage
In the midst of the Civil War in 1862, the United States began passing a series of laws that are collectively known as the Homestead Acts. Quoting from the Wikipedia article on Homestead Acts:
Land-grant laws similar to the Homestead Acts had been proposed by northern Republicans before the Civil War, but had been repeatedly blocked in Congress by southern Democrats who wanted western lands open for purchase by slave-owners. The Homestead Act of 1860did pass in Congress, but it was vetoed by President James Buchanan, a Democrat. After the Southern states seceded from the Union in 1861 (and their representatives had left Congress), the bill passed and was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln (May 20, 1862).[2] Daniel Freeman became the first person to file a claim under the new act.
Further quoting from the website for the Homestead National Monument of America in Nebraska:
Over the course of the Act's 123-year history, over two million individual homestead claims were made. Each and every one of these claims generated a written record known as a case file that was kept by the U.S. General Land Office. Today, these case files exist only as paper originals and are stored in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The complete collection of case files created under the Homestead Act contains over 30 million individual pieces of paper. These invaluable documents are subject to natural deterioration, fire and water damage. Since 1999, Homestead National Monument of America has been involved in a project that aims to eventually digitize all 30 million documents of the homestead case files collection.
It almost goes without saying that this vast assemblage of documents is a valuable resource for genealogical research. The current status of the digitization project is recorded on the Homestead National Monument website. The records are not easily accessible. Here is a description of the most important records and their availability.
The paperwork required of homesteaders before they could obtain a patent, or title, to part of the public domain resulted in exceptionally detailed land records. Called land-entry case files, these records describe improvements made to the property, including houses constructed, wells dug, crops planted, trees cleared, and fences built. Some case files mention family members who lived on the land. If the claimant died and a widow or heirs completed the homesteading process, a date of death is given and relationships are explained. Because military service could reduce the residency period, information regarding such service is sometimes included. Resident aliens who had declared their intention to become citizens provided information about their naturalization process and occasionally even mentioned place of origin. In other words, the land-entry case files of homesteaders are an important source of genealogical information.
Here is where the records are located:
All land-entry case files are held by the National Archives in downtown Washington, is no general name index to these files, they have not been reformatted in microform or digital form, and they are not available in any other repository. (A name index to the pre-July 1908 case files does exist at the Archives on file cards for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and Utah.) 
If you are researching Nebraska homesteaders, you can search for their homestead records at Homestead National Monument of America for free. You can also conduct these searches for free at University of Nebraska-Lincoln or at Family History Centers. You may also search for Nebraska homestead records from your own computer on, both of which require a subscription for these premium records. Nebraska homestead records were the first to be digitized, indexed, and made searchable in an online database. Nevada, Arizona, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana have been scanned and are awaiting availability online. Following these states will be Wyoming, Utah, Alaska, and Ohio which are in progress of being scanned. The rest of the states will follow, but it is a slow work in progress. For now, records from all other states must be requested from the National Archives. 
Access to and descriptions of the land records held in the National Archives is addressed in several webpages on the website. See the following pages.

There is a subscription website, available through some libraries and universities for students and faculty, called This website has an interactive map described as follows:
What is the First Landowners Project? 
Instead of looking at landowner maps township by township, imagine what it would be like to have a SINGLE, INTERACTIVE MAP containing over 12.3 MILLION LANDOWNERS among 30 states (all 29 of the public land states in the Continental U.S., plus Texas). Imagine constantly expanded map coverage, and having the ability to keep track of all the early homesteaders you're researching. Imagine...wait, you don't have to imagine. IT'S HERE, and AVAILABLE NOW to Our Subscribers!
This interactive map is available at the Brigham Young University Family History Library for patron use in the Library.

Here is the first segment of this series:

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