Homestead Act

Did the Homestead Act of 1862 and the movement of families to the American Western frontier after 1865 change your family tree? Those two events had a sizable effect on families who had lived for decades along the eastern coast to the Appalachian Mountains and now whole families or individuals left their hometowns to head west for a new life.

The Homestead Act of 1862, signed May 20, 1862, by President Lincoln, provided around 160 acres of land to person (s) who could stay and improve the property for a minimum of five years. It was considered “Land for the Landless” and “Homes for the Homeless”. The only direct cost was the fee for the government of $18. As a genealogical standpoint, if you know your family moved west in the latter part of the 19th century more than likely the Homestead Act might have played a part. That was so inviting for individuals to have 160s acres all their own just by living and working the land. 

Something to remember, the Homestead Act was not just for acreage west of the Mississippi River, by the late 1880s and into the 1890s, many people from the northeastern and mid-west states resettled in the next frontier wilderness, that of Florida

Some sources to help on finding information on western movement:

The Digital Library of America (online) has American Western Territory. Also, do a search for a specific western state such as Arizona or Florida. Use this digital library to also investigate further on the Homestead Act.

Check with the state archives of a western state you believe your ancestors may have settled in. Many of state archives are rich in documents, maps, records, pioneer histories and photos. Those pioneer histories can be a treasure chest on your ancestors if they were profiled.

Photos: Homestead Act; wagon train to Utah; the wilderness of Florida in 1880s and Land Office.

Related Blogs:

Collections of the American West

Oregon – Pioneers

Maps and Your Family


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