Given Name(s) Last Name

from Ancestry Magazine
  Michael John Neill – 11/1/1994

November/December 1994 Vol. 12 No. 6

Homestead Records Detail Pioneer Life

The United States Congress passed the Homestead Act in May of 1862. Generally, this act gave a citizen (or an alien intending to become a citizen) 160 acres of land, free of charge, if certain requirements were met. Usually, applicants had to build a home on the land, cultivate it, and reside there for five years. Later acts amended the original act. For example, an act of 1872 was geared toward helping Union veterans (or their widows) and their families. Homesteading had a profound effect on the nation. It is estimated that between 400,000 and 600,000 families were provided with new farms as a result of the original act and amendments.

Part of the homestead process was proving the claim. It is this process which provides records of interest to the genealogist. These claim files can supplement what information the genealogist already has or can provide new details and areas to research. The homestead entry papers, when complete, include the homestead application, the certificate of publication of intention to make a claim, the homestead proof, testimony of two witnesses and the claimant, and the final certificate. Also included, if applicable, are naturalization papers and discharge papers from the Union Army.

One of my ancestral couples homesteaded in Dawson County, Nebraska, in the 1880s. Though they sold the claim after they received title, the papers provide valuable research clues and more personal details of their life. Frank (aka Fokke, Foche) Goldenstein was born in Wrisse, Ostfriesland, Germany, in 1857, the son of Johanne and Tjode (Tammen) Goldenstein. His wife, Anna Dirks, was born in Coatsburg, Adams, Illinois, in 1861. They married in Coatsburg in 1882 and set out to Nebraska to homestead shortly after their marriage. The records contained in their homestead file are typical of those to be found. In addition to giving genealogical information, these papers give other information about the life of this pioneer couple and their children. Anyone whose ancestors homesteaded should obtain the application file to see what material it contains.

The first document in the Goldenstein's file was the initial application. On 4 April 1882, Focke filed application 3007 at the land office at North Platte, Nebraska, stating that he was a citizen of the United States and the head of a family. He paid $18 to register this claim to the southeast quarter of section 12 in township 11 north range 25 west of the sixth principal meridian, located in Dawson County Nebraska. The claim was filed under the Homestead Act of 3 March 1879.

The document that sheds the most light on the lives of this family is the testimony of the claimant. In this document, Frank Goldenstein gave specific information about the homestead and its operation. In the introductory section of the testimony, Frank gave information about his life before coming to Nebraska. While sketchy, it is extremely valuable. Frank stated that he was a 31-year-old farmer who worked his own land. Before coming to Nebraska, Frank had lived in Illinois and was a naturalized citizen of the United States. This previous residence would prove useful.

Frank's testimony indicated he was of foreign birth. To prove his American citizenship, he had to obtain a certified copy of his naturalization record. This document provided valuable information. The naturalization took place at Galesburg, Knox, Illinois. The interesting fact was that Frank never lived in Knox County while in Illinois. His uncle, Jurgen Ehmen, lived in Galesburg for a time and was a witness on the naturalization.

The rest of Frank’s testimony was equally informative. He gave the initial date of settlement as 23 March 1882. The house was moved onto the homestead in March of the same year. The frame house had five doors, five windows, and four rooms. Valued at about $200 when it was moved onto the farm, it was valued at $300 at the time of Frank’s testimony (30 July 1888). This house was home for Frank, Anna, and their three living children (Tjode, Bernard, and John). Frank’s testimony also mentions some of the family’s household items. The furniture included two beds, a cook stove, fixtures, six chairs, and a cupboard which contained plates forks, etc.

Frank’s statement also outlined the other buildings on the farm. They were: a sod stable (18 by 30 feet, worth $50), a frame granary (12 by 12 feet, worth $40), a cow stable (valued at $25) and a hog pen (valued at $20). Other improvements included a forty-foot well (worth $25), 30 acres for pasture fenced in with three wires, one wier [sic] nearly round 160 acres. This fencing was worth $100. One thousand forest trees had also been planted at a value of $50. Frank also listed the implements that he owned. They included a plow, a harrow, a cultivator, a wagon, a self-binder, and a harness. The family's livestock included four horses, eight head of cattle, 30 hogs, and 100 chickens. This appears to have been normal for a typically self-sufficient pioneer family. Other testimony indicates that the family had a truck garden to provide additional food.

Frank’s testimony also outlined the agricultural development of the farm. In 1882, the first year on the homestead, Frank planted 50 acres in corn. Each year, he increased the acreage under cultivation, having a total of 120 acres in crops at the time of his testimony. "Crops have been fair," he stated. At the time, Frank raised corn, wheat, oats, rye, barley, and potatoes.

In addition to the claimant’s testimony, two non-interested witnesses were required to testify as well. The first of these witnesses was Bennett Campbell, a 48-year-old farmer who lived about two miles from the Goldenstein family. He was familiar with Frank's claim and was on the claim four or five times a year. He passed the house almost every week and had seen Goldenstein on the claim the week before the testimony was taken. His answers about the specifics of the farm and its operation are similar to Frank's.

Mr. Bennett also happened to mention two other neighbors of the family. One was Ehmen Friesenborg, whose quarter section corner touched the corner of Goldenstein's property. (The same name appears as a witness on Frank's naturalization paper.) The other neighbor was Tamme Tammen. This is the surname of Frank's mother; research has not yet determined if there is a relationship. In this case, the names of neighbors provide additional clues to follow up.

The other witness's testimony sheds even more light on the family. This witness was William Ehmen. William was a 41-year-old farmer who lived two miles from the Goldensteins. When asked if he was related to the claimant (a question on the standard witness form), he indicated that he was Frank’s first cousin. Later research on William indicated that his father was the Jurgen Ehmen who appeared on Frank’s naturalization record in Knox County, Illinois. In this fortunate case, the file led to even more research and more discoveries.

This relationship made it necessary for Frank to sign a statement as to his reasons for having Ehmen testify. Frank stated that Ehmen knew more about his improvements than anyone else, and indicated that he was unaware that relatives were not supposed to testify until it was too late to get another witness. Frank reiterated that William Ehmen was not interested in the claim in any way whatsoever.

The three testimonies and this additional statement were made on 30 July 1888 in Plum Creek, Dawson, Nebraska, before R.B. Pierce, Judge. These claims were to have been made in North Platte, Nebraska, but "were not because of the distance involved."

Frank had to give public notice of his intention to make final proof in his homestead claim in two ways. First, for six consecutive weeks, the Gothenburg Independent ran a notice that Focke Goldenstein was intending to make final proof in his claim. He had the following witnesses, whose names are also included in the newspaper item: Bennett Campbell, Ranke Kaiser, Wm. Ehmen, and W. Sundstrom, all of Gothenburg.

The second means of notification was the posting of a notice in the land office at North Platte. Wm. Neville, registrar, certified that, on 3 August 1888, he had posted notice in a conspicuous place for a period of 30 days, commencing on 8 June 1888.

On 3 August 1888, Frank paid the eight dollars necessary to enter his claim at the land office at North Platte. In another document of the same day, it was noted that Goldenstein had made full payment and that a patent deed should be issued. (A patent deed transfers land ownership from the government to a private individual.) A card summarizing the file states that the family lived on the claim for a total of six years, three months, and twenty-six days.

As is evident in the description of this case, the papers in homestead files can provide much information of interest to the genealogist. Not only are there clues (such as names, locations, relationships, ages) to more research areas, but there is also much information about the family’s life that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Not many sources give such specific details about the lifestyle of a homesteading couple. These details make genealogical research more that just an accumulation of names and dates.

Obtaining copies of homestead applications is not difficult. Perhaps the hardest part of the process is obtaining the legal description of the homestead, which is necessary to obtain the papers. Just knowing the county is not enough because the applications are organized by legal description. While I had always known that the Goldenstein family homesteaded in Dawson County, Nebraska, (where my great-grandmother was born), I did not originally have the legal description of the farm.

There are several ways to obtain the legal description. The first is through probate records in the county. If the farm was still owned by the individual at the time of his death, the land should be mentioned in the probate file (with a legal description). If the probate file does not provide the information (or if the individuals later moved), you will have to try other avenues. If you can determine the township of residence (through census records), that will help to narrow your search; you can then utilize plat maps to find the section and quarter section of the homestead's location. If there is one, check the index to deed records for the county in which the claim was filed, for a patent deed from the U.S. Government to your ancestor which would give the legal description; then you could write the National Archives to obtain copies of the file. The legal description should specify the quarter section (either Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, or Southwest) and the quarter by number (which should be between 1 and 3 except in rare instances). There should also be mention of the specific township (for example, township XX-XX west of the XX principal meridian—the XX numbers will vary depending upon the location of the county).

When writing the National Archives, give the complete legal description (for this example it was the southeast quarter of section 12 in township 11 north range 25 west of the sixth principal meridian). Also, give the county of the claim and the name of the claimant. The Archives staff will respond with a price quote, and will mail the records when they receive payment. Homestead records are contained in record group 49 of the National Archives.

Bureau of Land Management
The following information appeared in "Accessing the General Land Office Records" by Jim Gegen in Genealogical Computing, Vol. 13, No. 3, a quarterly journal published by Ancestry:

The (U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management) BLM has computerized more than one million homestead and cash patents or deeds issued by the U.S., dated from the late 1790s to 1 July 1908, for the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The remainder of the eastern public domain states—Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and Alabama—and the remaining patents (those after 1908) will be automated by the year 2000. These documents (both the information they contain and the document images) are available at the BLM's office in northern Virginia (7450 Boston Blvd., Springfield, VA, 22153, phone: 703-440-1600). A copy can be printed immediately upon request. Anyone with a personal computer and modem can dial into the BLM system to view the data, enter a keyboard comment, and request a facsimile (fax) copy of the image or a printed copy. The BLM has transcribed the patent attribute database information onto CD-ROMs for sale by the Government Printing Office (GPO). A disk for each automated state is being prepared. The disks will be distributed to Federal depository libraries (major college and university libraries and libraries of large cities).

Michael John Neill has done extensive research on emigrants from Germany. He is the author of a number of genealogical articles which have appeared in national magazines.

Copyright 2000,
Used by the author on his website with permission.

Other Genealogy Articles by Michael John Neill

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