by Lisa South, Certified Genealogist
The following article was written in the August
12, 2005 OneGreatFamily newsletter. Since Lisa is no
longer writing for us, we are featuring some of our
favorite articles written by her.
The first Homestead Law was enacted in 1862 and was
intended to encourage settlement in the West. As with
the Donation Lands, the only requirement was to live on
and improve the land through cultivation. A very small
filing fee was all that was required.
Although only an estimated 780,000 people received
patents under the Homestead Law, 2 million applications
were made, dispersing approximately 285 million acres.
Applicants initially had to be a head of household,
over 21 if single, a citizen or had applied for
naturalization, and had not "borne arms against the
government". Single women and widows could apply in
their own right. The final application for the
certificate of patent could be made five years after the
completion of the residency requirements. If a
homesteader died, his widow or heirs could continue to
qualify for the claim, meeting the same
Subsequent laws enlarged and expanded the
homesteading provisions - such as the one allowing Union
veterans to apply their service time, up to 4 years, to
the residency requirements. After 6 months, a
homesteader could "prove up" and change his homestead to
a cash-entry and pay for the land at $1.25 an acre. Once
the final certificate was received, it entitled the
claimant to a patent for his homestead.
Homestead application records are only available at
the National Archives. They have not been microfilmed.
Copies can be obtained from the National Archives using
NATF Form 84, which can be ordered online. Fees for the
case files are $17.75.