June 30, 2021
We are always looking for more information as we research our ancestors. Homestead records are one place to look. A homestead law was enacted in 1862 to encourage people to occupy western federal lands for farming. The original act gave the person applying up to 160 acres. The applicant filed an application, paid a fee, filed a deed of title and swore to improve the land over five years.
Applications usually mention family or neighbors and a previous residence. To obtain a copy of the application and related paperwork, you need to find a legal description of the land. One option is Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records website. The downside to this is that this website only lists those actually granted a federal land patent. Sixty percent of those who started the process didn’t complete it. The National Archives has copies of unfinished applications but require a legal land description.
Another option are the General Land Office tract books available from the Family History Library and the Bureau of Land Management. The National Archives also has these tract books. You might find a legal description in the county recorder of deeds (if you have an approximate idea of where the land may be located). Note Texas has an online land grant index. So does Missouri. Other states may have their own online version. Check online to see.
Did your ancestors take advantage of the Homestead Act? Let us know in the comments below!
Midwest Genealogy Center
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