The Homestead Act of 1862, in effect for 123 years, put land into the hands of settlers and farmers in the American West. It offered land grants of 160 acres in exchange for filing and demonstrating within five years improvements to the land. The claimant did not have to be a U.S. citizen as long as the intent to become a citizen was declared, and women and African Americans could homestead. Much of the West was settled largely through this Act signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
An estimated 2 million homestead case files are located in the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. This amounts to approximately 30 million pieces of paper ranging from the original claim, to various documents that demonstrated the improvements, to the final decree. The files are extraordinarily rich in historical, social, demographic, agricultural, and genealogical information—a veritable gold mine for scholars and the public. In part because of the vastness of the collection, it has been very difficult for scholars to look at homesteading in any quantifiable measure.
In an effort to begin preserving and providing wider access to the information in the records, Homestead National Monument of America, located in Beatrice, Nebraska, and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) contracted with the National Archives & Records Administration to microfilm the Broken Bow Land Office records (1890-1908). Using this microfilm, UNL has created an online index to the records. This pilot project is the precursor to new partnerships and, we hope, to new scholarship.
Funds for the project were received from the National Park Service, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Eastern National, and Tier One Bank. At the University, the Center for Great Plains Studies, the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, and the University Libraries have all contributed to the project. Many person hours were devoted to the project by National Park Service volunteers and staff, and by faculty, staff, and administrators at UNL. As new developments are announced, look for changes on this site.
National Park Service, Homestead National Monument
Mark Engler, Superintendent
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Richard C. Edwards
Samuel Neve homestead, southwest Custer County, Nebraska.
by Solomon D. Butcher, 1892
Repository: Nebraska State Historical Society
Can be found on the Library of Congress American Memory
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