Discovery Your Family History

Using Homestead Records In Your Research

The homestead act of 1862, allowed settlers who migrated to the West to settle on a free piece of land , as long as they improved the parcel of land by building a home and farm site there, then after a period of five years , return to the local land office to file papers to proof the land. These land proof papers, are the records you turn to during your LDS family search to find out more about your ancestors who filed claims on their homesteads in the West. You will have a better understanding of the hardships and struggles of homesteading when you view your ancestors’ homestead packets. The Homestead Act required that potential land owners who have improved the parcel of land, consisting of 160 acres or a quarter sections, and lived on the land for a period of approximately five years, to file proof papers for their land. These papers asked a number of questions, regarding the improvements that were made to the land, and the length the homesteaders lived on the land itself. Answers to these questions will give you information about your ancestor’s lives during this particular time period. In the records you will discover what crops were planted back then, exactly how many acres the family owned, and how much the land and crops were worth at that time. It is fascinating to compare the monetary value of land and crops during the late nineteenth century, to today’s prices.

 The answer to the question that asks whether the homesteader was an American citizen, can lead you in a totally different direction in your LDS family search. If your ancestor was an immigrant, then his or her citizenship papers would provide vital information, such as the state, county, and the courthouse where the immigrant was granted U.S. citizenship, or a declaration of intent, which provides another outlet for your genealogical research. Although the land was free, the homesteader had to pay for working animals, such as milk cows, livestock, and horses. They also had to pay fees to file proof papers to receive the patent on the land. Although there were many homesteaders in the West in the late 1800s, many settlers gave up their claims before they could proof them, because they didn’t have the funds necessary to take care of the land properly.

 During your LDS family search, you may find military records in your ancestors’ homestead packets. For any homesteaders who took up residency on a parcel of land, then went into the military for a significant length of time, (no matter whether he was injured during his tour of duty or not), the time he served in the military counts as some, if not all of his residency requirement for claiming his land. The GLO would need a copy of the veteran’s military record to prove that he served in the military during his required time of residency; therefore these papers would be included in his land ownership files. Included in the homestead packets filed by your ancestors, there are several examples of their signatures that were placed on affidavits, official declarations, and court statements. In the case of people living in the region having similar family names within similar age groups, the homesteader’s signature was used as a means of identifying an individual homesteader.

Homestead Land Proof Papers

 A homesteader’s land proof papers required the testimonies of the claimant, and two witnesses. These witnesses could be neighbours who were members of the claimant’s family, or even future in-laws, which can give you a wide array of avenues to travel down during your genealogical research. These witnesses were required to prove that the claimant’s testimony on his or her land proof papers was true. A homesteader was required by law to publish a public homestead notice in the local newspaper of that day. Although newspapers were established then stopped publication after a short period of time, the homestead records will give you the names of the local newspapers during that time period.

 Where to Look For Homestead Records

 These homestead records are held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the National archives building, located in Washington D.C. These are the original homestead records that were filed by land claimants, and sent to the General Land Office, which later became the bureau of land management. These original records are available for viewing by the general public. You can order copies of the homestead packets for your ancestors through NARA’s web site by visiting www.archives.gov, or you can download a PDF file and mail it directly to NARA. However, if you wish to view the original documents, and make your own copies for later viewing, you may wish to personally visit NARA in Washington D.C. These homestead records are a great place to start or continue your LDS family search and help you build your family tree.

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