homestead, homestead act

Home Sweet Homestead, Part II, Obtaining Records

Editor’s Note: the following is a lightly updated post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley on homesteading and homestead records. Her original post has been split into two parts. Part I, previously published, discusses the history of homesteading. Part II, below, discuss the utility of homestead records in genealogical research and how to obtain them. 

Homestead Claims

Not all homestead claims resulted in patents. Of the two million claims entered, only 783,000 resulted in  actual patents. A rejected patent may prove more information than one that was completed, as explanations as to why it was rejected or not completed will be included. These reasons may include death, relocation to another tract, citizenship issues, or a disputed claim. Individuals may have applied more than once, so all files for an individual should be investigated. To research your ancestor’s homestead claim, you will need to request his or her Land Case Entry File.

The National Archives has a thorough reference guide, “Research in the Land Entry Files of the General Land Office,” that can help in your research, though the information that I provide gives an excellent synopsis of the process. The Land Case Files were “filed as either military bounty land warrants, pre-1908 general land entry files, or as post-1908 land entry files. The information required to access and order copies of the records will differ depending on which of these three categories the transaction falls into.” Land Case Entry Files for pre-1908 homestead claims are held by the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and are arranged by land office and final certificate number. Cancellations (forfeits, rejections, etc.) are kept separately from the completed claims. These entry files are not available on microfilm and not all have been digitized. They can be ordered from the National Archives at the following address: National Archives (NNRI), Textual Reference Branch, Washington, D.C., 20408. Use NATF 85C form, which can be downloaded here. If you order online, the cost is $30.  Continue reading…


The Quak­ers – Records and Genealogy

Editor’s Note: The following article is excerpted from the Introduction to Ellen and David Berry’s book, Our Quaker Ancestors, which sets out to acquaint the researcher with the types of Quaker records that are available, the location of the records, and the proper and effective use of those records. This includes guiding the reader through the pyramidal “meeting” structure to the records of birth, marriage, death, disownment, and removal awaiting him in record repositories across the country.

Following is how to recognize towns where Quakers may have lived, an overview of the types or records Quakers have kept, and a brief introduction as to how the Quaker beliefs are intertwined with the method of record keeping. 

“The Quakers and Quaker Genealogy” by Ellen and David Berry

The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, has a rich storehouse of records kept from its beginning in the mid-1600s to the present. There are vast differences among Quaker records, and the genealogist must know which ones to use. The study of Quaker records is mechanically different from that of other religious organizations. More emphasis must be placed on historical context, because organizational history and record-keeping are closely related. Unless you are careful–and knowledgeable–you can become hopelessly lost and find yourself giving up on one of the richest sources of genealogical records you could ever hope to find.

Across the U.S. are small towns with names that have a certain rhythm or quality of sound. As you move south and west from the eastern seaboard to the Mississippi River and beyond, through Virginia and the swamplands of the Carolinas to Georgia, you will see names like Radnor, Con­cord, Salem, New Garden, Goshen, Cedar Creek, and others which combine Biblical and geographical origins. These names are a part of one of the most interesting facets of early Amer­ican history. They indicate that, at least at one time, the area was populated by The Religious Society of Friends. The Quak­ers were once an influential part of their communities. They moved from their early settlements in the original eastern colo­nies and called their new homes by familiar names, much as they had done when they arrived from England and Wales. In some of these towns, you might find a rectangular building, usu­ally stretching east to west and facing south, which might still be used as a meetinghouse. In all probability, it will have the same name as the village or town.

If you were to visit any of these meetinghouses today, you might find a record of almost every event which took place at that location from the time of its establishment. These records include information on births, marriages, and deaths, but they also note the names of residents moving to and from the area and their places of origin, as well as committee actions on a wide variety of topics, including requests to individuals to leave the meeting and the reasons for the request. In addition, there would be records of announced intentions of marriage, fol­lowed by the actual wedding record naming not only the bride and groom but all of those present, among whom may be found the parents, brothers, sisters, and perhaps other relations of the newlyweds. If the old records are not at the meetinghouse itself, it is possible to determine where they have been sent and where the original records or microfilm copies can be used by the general public. In other words, you will find a genealogist’s dream. There is an amazing number of these records in exis­tence. You only need to know where they are and how to use them. This is the focus of [our] book.

The Religious Society of Friends began in the same religious turmoil of 17th-century England that produced the Puritans. The Quakers also immigrated to America to escape severe religious persecution. Although Quakers first saw American shores during the 1650s, it was not until 1682 that large num­bers started to emigrate from the British Isles and smaller numbers from continental Europe. It was in this year that William Penn landed just south of what is now Philadelphia to exercise his proprietorship of the present states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Because of their stubbornness or strong-mindedness (depending upon how you view it), the Quakers’ influence far exceeded their numbers. They were a study in contradictions. Although they espoused religious freedom, they required their own members to worship in a specified manner. No organiza­tion had more rules regarding removal from approved status than the Quakers. By today’s standards, these rules seem trivial and even arrogant. It now seems ironic that it was precisely this dictatorial image that the Society wanted to avoid at all costs. They were truly “plain people,” but at the same time they were shrewd merchants. Their honesty in personal and business deal­ings was renowned. Their treatment of the Indians is a classic study in how other white Americans should have conducted themselves. However, even in this area they were not com­pletely faultless. They abhorred slavery, but some families owned slaves. They were against war of any kind, but still some fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

The Quakers were a more mobile society than most religious groups that came to early America. Whether their travels through the South to the Midwest were prompted by religious fervor, the clash of political and religious beliefs (e.g. slavery), or simply the desire for land and opportunities is now a moot point. The fact is they did move in large numbers, and in doing so they left a trail of records unsurpassed by any other religious organization.

There is another side to this story. The same doctrine that required record-keeping also forbade religious rituals and any form of self-aggrandizement. In the early years even grave markers were prohibited, as were personal histories (although some histories do exist, particularly of people prominent in the movement). Therefore, it is often difficult for a genealogist to place an ancestor in the proper historical perspective. However, the voluminous records more than make up for these deficiencies. It is always safe to say that anyone interested in tracing ancestors is indeed fortunate if a connection can be made with Quakers, for it means there is a good chance that comprehensive primary records can be found.

To read more, please reference Ellen and David Berry’s book, Our Quaker Ancestors.

Image credit: The Quaker “Mary Dyer led to execution on Boston Common, 1 June 1660,” By unknown 19th century artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

homestead, homesteading

Home sweet Homestead, Part I

Editor’s Note: the following is a lightly updated post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley on homesteading and homestead records. Her original post has been split into two parts. Part I, below, discusses the history of homesteading. Part II will discuss the utility of homestead records in genealogical research and how to obtain them. 

The ability to stand on the exact plot of land where our ancestor lived is a significant goal in family history research. For me, land records are among the most fascinating documents I discover – a fact you may have deduced from the frequency with which I write about them. I have a friend, new to any sort of genealogical research, who searched for his ancestor’s homestead land record this summer during a trip to Nebraska and was able to identify the appropriate piece of land and visit it. I’m hoping that his enthusiasm for this experience will have “hooked” him for further genealogical research. In listening to the story of his trip and his research, I realized that I knew very little about homestead records with all my ancestors clinging steadfastly to their New England landscape. What follows now is a summary of my ongoing research about homestead records and what they can reveal about our ancestors.

The Civil War had been tearing North and South apart for a little over a year when the United States Congress passed the Homestead Act of May 20, 1862. Congressmen realized that by promoting settlement of western lands, they could support the increased flow of immigrants into the country, but perhaps more importantly given the tension between slave states and free states, could promote settlement by individuals with pro-Union sentiments. Their plan was to distribute public lands to those who were without lands in exchange for fulfillment of residency, cultivation and improvement requirements.

The homesteading plan was a quite simple government program. Any individual over the age of 21, whether single or a head of household, was eligible, as long as that individual could swear that he or she had never borne arms against the United States and had never aided or supported its enemies. In many ways, this act was ahead of its time. Aliens who had filed a declaration to become a citizen were eligible and even more importantly, women were eligible to acquire land and could not have their rights to the land forfeited at marriage.

There were few prerequisites, most of which were fulfilled during the application process. Between 1862 and 1909, the acreage available to each claimant was 160 acres. If the individual already owned 100 acres, for example, the applicant could only claim an additional 60 acres. (In 1909, a revised Homestead Act would increase this total to 320 acres for public lands in the Plains and Southwest that were difficult to irrigate.) An individual would choose a piece of land and file a claim, either at the local land office or at the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. The only costs at filing were a $4.00 commission and a $10.00 entry fee. The claimant received a receipt to prove that the claim had been filed. He or she was then required to reside on the property for the subsequent six months. Failure to do so would result in forfeiture of the claim. During the required residency period of five years, the claimant could be absent from the land for only six months out of each twelve-month period and could not maintain a residence elsewhere. (In 1919, this residency requirement was shortened to three years.) Following the five year residency period, the claimant was required to publish, often in a local newspaper, an” intention to close,” thus allowing others an opportunity to dispute the claim and his or her final application for a certificate of patent had to be made within two years. When the final certificate was issued, an additional $4.00 payment was required to cover administrative costs.

Homestead lands could not be repossessed for payment of debts incurred prior to the claim and a discharged soldier or sailor was able to subtract the period of his military duty from the residency requirement. In addition a soldier or sailor’s family could apply for a claim and live on the land while he was on active duty. The Homestead Act, therefore, superseded the bounty land legislation that had applied in earlier wars. In addition, there could be no assignments of land, although it could be mortgaged to finance improvements to the property. If a homesteader died during the initial five-year qualification period, his widow (her widower) and heirs could qualify to continue the claim. If he or she wished to sell the land prior to the completion of the first five years (but only after at least fourteen months), he could “purchase” a patent at a cost of $1.25 per acre ($200.00 for a full 160-acre tract), otherwise the sale of homestead land was prohibited.

The filing requirements for claims and the final certificate created very detailed records, including name, age, marital status, and postal address of the homestead claimant, land description, and the dates of arrival and settlement on the property. Also included were detailed descriptions of improvements made to the property, including houses built, crops raised, trees cleared and fences erected. Other information might include the names of family members and others living with the claimant; dates, heirs, relationships, and depositions from witnesses in the case of the claimant’s death; and military service information.  In case of an alien, the file may include a copy of the declaration of intention, as well as when and where it had been filed, previous residences, port of origin and place of origin.

Image credit:  Interior of claim shack, Quinn S.D. Kansas Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

nonexistent town names

How to Find Nonexistent Town Names

Can You Find Obligation, Maryland?

Let’s say you learn from an old family Bible that your ancestor was living in Obligation, Maryland, in 1872. No one living today has ever heard of the place, and you cannot find it on any contemporary map. You must find out where Obligation is, or where it was, before you can search for your forebears in county records or the federal census. What do you do next? How do you find nonexistent town names?

As Gilbert Bahn reminds us in his book, American Place Names of Long Ago, place names fall out of usage for a variety of reasons. Suburban development has buried many a town or neighborhood under the wheels of a bulldozer, making the town nonexistent in more than just name. Sometimes residential land is flooded to make room for lakes or reservoirs. In such cases, many locations have either been abandoned or absorbed into other jurisdictions.

Place names come and go for other reasons, too. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, took its name from a popular radio program. The town of Malverne, New York, jettisoned its original calling, Skunk’s Misery, in favor of a more salubrious image.  No matter why place names disappear, however, genealogists must locate them in time and place before they can move on in their research. Fortunately, whether you are looking for Obligation (which happens to have been in Anne Arundel County, Maryland); Moose Meadow, Connecticut; Kismet, Tennessee, or some other pre-20th-century place name, Mr. Bahn’s book is an excellent place to start.

American Place Names of Long Ago, in fact, is a republication of the Index to “Cram’s Unrivaled Atlas of the World, as Based on the Census of 1890.” Arranged by state and thereunder alphabetically by locale, this virtual gazetteer comprises an index of over 100,000 place names of “every county, city, town, village, and post-office in the United States [showing] the population of the same according to the Census of 1890.” Thus it is not only an exhaustive source of long-ago place names but also a rare repository for geographical and demographic information extracted from the lost federal census of 1890.

If your ancestor is associated with a town, body of water, or landmark known to have existed before 1890, American Place Names of Long Ago may be the best tool for finding the place name or nonexistent town name and ultimately, the correct town or county in which to do your research.

Image credit: The Ace Lodge, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, By Boston Public Library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.



best apps for genealogy

10 Best Apps for Genealogy

Technology is an incredibly useful tool in genealogical research, especially when used in conjunction with traditional research methods. We love Evernote for genealogy, and that’s just one app that will help you stay organized.

We were excited when we found this article, “Tracing your family tree? The 10 best apps to help you find your relatives” by Laura Berry. Ms. Berry is the lead genealogist for BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are? In her article, excerpted below, she offers an expert guide to help you in your online searches.

It’s important to note that these “10 best apps” for genealogy are most useful for content that has been digitized. As we mentioned in a recent article on why relying solely on the internet for your family tree research isn’t the best idea, not everything is available online. However, we understand that other than talking to your own family, beginning your search online is the easiest for most people just beginning their family research.

Please enjoy Ms. Berry’s 10 best app selections below!


interviewy app


Interviewing your family is the best place to begin. This voice recording app offers clear sound, good basic functionality and the option to tag audio files that you have saved. If you want to keep the interviews for posterity, using a plug-in microphone with your smartphone or tablet will improve the quality further still.




Start building your family tree and find your ancestors in billions of historic records. This works best when used with a monthly subscription to the Ancestry website. Individual family records can be bought by non-subscribers (up to £1.49 a document), which is useful, but the subscription allowing unlimited downloads is more cost-effective.

who do you



Who Do You Think You Are? magazine is the UK’s leading family history monthly. This forum app gives access to a rapidly growing genealogy community online. Somewhere for newbies to ask for friendly pointers and for experienced hands to share advice. It is also a good place to pick up birth, marriage and death certificates.




Family trees that are easy to build and to view even offline. There are three privacy settings and a function to create a fast family tree by connecting with relatives via Facebook. If you want to view historical documents, including census returns, wills and nonconformist records, you have to pay to subscribe via TheGenealogist website.




Another great tool for creating and editing your tree. A useful feature allows photographs to be incorporated. Has a good but basic facility for looking up records, but you need to pay a full subscription to view search results. It supports 32 languages and is renowned for its worldwide genealogy community, helping you link to relatives overseas.




Designed to help you search for family graves worldwide, but equally useful for those who want to share their findings via crowdsourcing. Add photographs of headstones and transcribe memorial inscriptions to build up the database. Also lets you post a request for local volunteers to search for your ancestor’s headstone in a cemetery. To maximise the results, use Find A Grave in combination with Billiongraves, another great app that’s suitable for Android and iOS.




Links with Dropbox and iTunes so that you can view trees and research logs created with RootsMagic desktop software. Gedcom files can also be converted from other genealogy software companies for viewing as RootsMagic files while you are out and about. Contains tools, including a date calculator, perpetual calendar, and relationship calculator.




Every genealogist needs a first-class filing system and One Note is proving a credible competitor to the popular Evernote app. Incorporate digital photographs of old letters, clippings from genealogy websites, videos and audio interviews into your searchable notes, share them with relatives and sync with all your devices.

reunion app


IPHONE, IPAD (£10.49)

Accompanies one of the best family tree building software programmes, Reunion. Easy to use and with detailed but simple layouts, this app lets you work seamlessly on the go. The one downside is that it is available only for those who already have the full software package installed on a Mac.




Pin old family photographs of a known area on to an interactive map and search for thousands of images uploaded by museums and archives. Great for comparing changes to the places where your ancestors lived or worked, as it overlays historical scenes on to Google Street View. Browse by date or location to find images and stories behind them.

Image credit: By pr_ip Primus Inter Pares [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Original content/source article:  “Tracing your family tree? The 10 best apps to help you find your relatives” by Laura Berry from The Guardian.