Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: The Homestead Act of 1862

The U.S. Congress enacted the Homestead Act in 1862 which gave settlers who lived on and farmed public domain land for five years the right to own 160 acres of it. While these requirements changed over time, the concept remained the same:  If a person fulfilled the legal requirements to be granted free land, the government through the General Land Office would grant them a ‘Patent of Ownership.’

In this way, 270 million acres were given away. That is about one-sixth of the total United States. The land was in the 30 states west of the eastern seaboard and also not in Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Hawaii, and West Virginia.
The process began when a pioneer filed an application for a certain piece of land and paid the application fee of about $30.00. To be eligible to file the application, the person needed to be a citizen or intend to become a citizen before it was time to issue the patent.  He or she had to be 21 years old or the head of a household. The National Archives, Washington, D.C. has the original applications except  those for the State of Alaska, which are kept in Anchorage by the Bureau of Land Management or the National Archives branch.

After applying, the person had to meet three further criteria:
     -perform some agricultural activity on the land.  

     -live on the property for a period of time. The maximum was the original five years, but that decreased to only seven months for some veterans.
     -live in a habitable dwelling on the land.

More history of the homesteading program and specific requirements for a time period or a certain class of war veterans can be accessed at the Bureau of Land Management website, www.blm.gov.
The patents that were granted are online at the same site. From the home page of www.blm.gov, click ‘Information Center’ from the column on the left. Then you want to click on number 4, ‘General Land Office Records Automation.’

At the next screen, click on ‘Land Patents’ which will bring you to a screen where you can search by name, state, and/or county plus other more advance criteria. The information given will be familiar to those of you in the 30 federal land states. Others of us have to think about meridians, townships and sections before some of the columns make sense. My next blog will give the basics of the Government Land Survey system.
The program with modifications was used as a benefit for veterans in several wars. A former soldier might have no desire or no talent to farm in the west so he might assign his benefit to someone else, possibly a speculator. Money would change hands. Records have the name of the patent owner and the name of the assignee. Veterans could also exchange their right to the land for scrip or money from the government.

Homesteading provided land to people who were not likely to be able to afford it in this country or in their original country and give or take the speculators it was a good program to develop the country.

                                                                ©2012, Susan Lewis Well

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