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. 

In requesting a file—please make clear that you are requesting the entire file–you will need to include the following information:

  • name of the land office
  • the land description (township, range and section)
  • the final certificate or patent number
  • the authority (legislation) under which it was acquired

One way to acquire the necessary information for NATF 85 is through indices that are available for pre-1908 homestead claims for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and Utah. No pre-1908 name indices exist for California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.  For one of the indexed states, you will need to provide the name of the homesteader, the state in which the land is located, and the approximate date of entry. For those states which are not indexed, you will also need to provide either a legal description of the land or the name of the land office and land entry file number. You may also be able to find the information in local deed records and tract books for each county. The Archives also suggest that for land records in the remaining 20 states that were never part of the original public domain, check the State Archives for that particular state. This includes the original 13 colonies, plus Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Homestead – Final Patents

Final patents are available online and can provide the information necessary for your request. has land patent information for Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. You may find it easier to look for a land patent for one of these states there instead of sifting through the state archives, though it’s important to cross-reference those results for accuracy. Here’s an example of searching for a patent issued under the 1862 Act:

Ancestry included a Minnesota land record for a Hiram Barkley that showed that the land office was Jackson, the final certificate number was 1814, and the land was acquired under the Homestead Act of May 20, 1862 (12Stat.392). This information provided me with three of the four pieces of information I would need to request the Land Case Entry File.

To find the specific land description for Hiram’s 122 aces, I consulted the Bureau of Land Management site. Hiram’s record on this site includes a table with the following land description information: 5th Meridian, township 101N, ranges 027W and 028W, SW¼SW¼, section 19, and E½SE¼, section 20 in Faribault County, Minnesota. The BLM site also included a digitized copy of the final patent (taken from Minnesota Volume 249, page 288) that contained a textual description of the land: “South west quarter of the Southwest quarter of section nineteen, in Township one hundred and one, of Range twenty-seven, and the East half of the South East quarter of section twenty-four, in Township one hundred and one, or Range twenty-eight, in the district of lands formerly subject to sale at Jackson, now Worthington, Minnesota, containing one hundred and twenty two acres and twenty-five hundredths of an acre.” The patent is signed by President Ulysses S. Grant and dated 30 June 1876. By combining this information with the findings from the database, I then had all four items necessary for my request to the National Archives. A related documents feature allowed me to view surrounding patents and identify a neighbor patentee, Richard Haggin. (For further understanding of the rectangular land description system, please refer to Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records Online

I decided to take the research one step further and search for Hiram Barkley in the 1870 census (based on the five year residency requirement plus the possibility of a two year final application deadline). If the final patent was issued in 1876, Hiram would have had to settle on the land about 1869/1870. In checking the 1870 census for Faribault County, Minnesota, on, I was unable to locate a Hiram Barkley. (Note: the Barkley surname is very clearly written on the land patent.) A search for any male Barkley in the county was also unsuccessful. Searching for any Hiram in the county, I identified a Hiram Barley and a Hiram Bartley, both of whom lived in Elmore, Faribault County, Minnesota. I first looked at the Hiram Barley. His entry was included on a Production of Agriculture list for Elmore and indicated that Hiram Bartley (not Barley, or Barkley) owned 20 acres of improved land, 2 acres of wooded land, and 100 acres of other unimproved land, for a total of 122 acres. Based on the acreage, I believe that this individual is identical to the Hiram Barkley in the land patent. I then looked at the Hiram Bartley entry and found Hiram on page 2, line 32 (family and household number 16) in Elmore, Faribault County, Minnesota. Hiram was 46 years old. He was living with his wife Kate (44), son Benson (23), son Frederick (20), daughter Hannah (18), son Evert (13), son Milo (11), daughter Dianner (9), daughter Lydia (7), and daughter Rebecca (3). All were born in Canada with the exception of Rebecca, placing their year of immigration sometime between 1863 and 1867.

If I were researching Hiram Barkley, I would know a great deal about him after this search and would have several new avenues of research available to me to add to this knowledge.

A second example is found in Elizabeth Barkley who was granted a homestead patent for forty acres in November 1884. Her land description indicated that her patent was for the “north west quarter of the south west quarter of section twenty nine township one north of range thirteen west of the Fifth Principal Meridian in Arkansas.” The land office was at Little Rock and the final certificate number was 3638. I believe that she may be the same Elizabeth Barkley who, in June 1880 was living in Fourche Township in Pulaski County, Arkansas. Her relationship to head of household C. L. Ransom is that of aunt.

Homestead records represent one of the largest collections of land records in history, with most claims occurring between 1863 and 1917. They will allow you to identify the specific piece of property granted to an ancestor and will in many cases help fill in gaps between censuses and add documented detail to your knowledge of an individual and his or her family. If your ancestors lived in one of the states effected by homestead legislation, these records are worth the effort to identify and acquire.

Image credit: By Bureau of Land Management (Homestead_Act_07 Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

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