Location, location, location. What’s true now, was true then. Land matters. When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862 granting 160 acres of unimproved land west of the Mississippi to anyone who: hadn’t raised a weapon against their country, would live on it for 5 years, would build a 12 x 14 dwelling and improve it by growing crops, there was a westward exodus.
In the Utah Territory, where Mormons had already left the borders of the United States, Brigham Young learned of the 1862 Homestead Act and sent Mormons to claim land from New Mexico to Canada. My husband’s family had prime real estate in the Millcreek area of Salt Lake City but were sent to the Loa/Torrey/St. George area, i.e. the desert. This is how it looks with 21st century improvements. It’s still a hard place to live.
Here’s an example of an ancestor’s homestead land grant found on the Bureau of Land Management website.
Some ancestors won the Homesteading lottery by settling what would become desirable areas. I have family that went to Lehi, Utah which is now a booming area with businesses such as Adobe, Cabela’s, IM Flash, MyHeritage, and Ancestry.com. In one giant land grab, the west was being officially settled.
If your family is from any state other than Hawaii it’s worth checking the Federal Government land site, the Bureau of Land Management, for land records relating to your ancestors. Where they lived and why they went there is a good part of your heritage.
Possible land record information you might find is listed here: Bureau of Land Managment US Federal Land Records. There’s the potential to find some type of land record for every state (including the District of Columbia), except Hawaii.
If you can’t find any land records, here’s a map of which states are Public Land States and which states are State-Land states meaning land grants came from the states/colonies themselves and you’ll usually look to individual states for land grant records.
Most of our ancestors have grants of 160 acres of land thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862 and we can print copies of these land certificates directly from the BLM site. The site also has conveyances of Bounty Land, Mining certificates, and more.
A total aside: If you drive in the western United States one thing that stands out is the vast quantity of land. It may be ranch land, it may be government land, but there’s lots of it. Water is the limiting factor out west. You need water to survive on the land. I’ve refused to drive with my husband to a ghost town where some of his family are buried because if we get a flat or run into some whacko with a gun, we may never be heard from again. Yes, you can drive places out west where you still feel like you could die and no one would be the wiser. If you’re driving out west, off the beaten track, bring water, food, and know how to change a tire. Nothing says “Welcome to the West” like a shot up road sign.
Happy Hunting! #FamilyHistoryMonth