By Shannon Combs Bennett, Student
Well we finally got the subject I really wanted to learn more about. Yep, homestead records! They are one of those little known record sets that make people want to *face palm* after they realize they should have looked there years ago.
Thankfully for those of us who don’t know a lot about these records, our instructor spends a few pages on the history of homesteading. I did not know that the pre-cursor to the Homestead Act of 1862 was the 1841 Preemption Act. This act allowed people who were squatting on land prior to it being surveyed by the federal government to purchase it from the government before it went up for public sale. The act gave settlers the peace of mind that if they were on a piece of land before surveying was done they could eventually own the title to it.
Alternatively, the Homestead Act allowed people to receive a piece of public land for free as long as they met certain criteria. They had to:
- Be over 21 years of age, the head of the household, or a widow / deserted wife
- Own less than 160 acres of land
- Either a citizen of the U.S or have an official declaration filed to become a citizen
- Never fought again the U.S. or aided their enemies
- To keep the land they had to cultivate and improve it for 5 years
Easy right? Well unfortunately it was not a resounding success and many of the homesteaders did not complete the 5 year term of improvement to receive the title to their lands. There were about 600,000 settlers by 1900 who never received their titles to the land.
For those of you who know (or find out) that you had homesteading ancestors, this module will be particularly useful. Our instructor takes us through the process and all the official papers that were created along the way. It is a great checklist of places to look and things to find.
However, to understand a lot of the information you need to have a basic understand of the way the land was surveyed and divided up. This information is explained in such detail that you will be a land expert in no time. You will be calculating township divisions and land units in your head with no problem. Really, it is quite simple once you get the hang of it.
Alright, onto the next modules. See you online!