FREE LAND! Was the rallying cry that prompted many of our ancestors to hop on their horses or jump in their wagons and head west to stake their claim on the vast unsettled prairie.
As a way of encouraging Westward migration Abraham Lincoln signed The Homestead Act into law May 20, 1862. It offered 160 acres of undeveloped land outside of the original 13 colonies. Land was given to any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who was 21 and never borne arms against the government. They could lay claim to the land for the cost of a twelve-dollar filing fee provided they live on and improve the land for the next five years. After the requisite was met, the homesteader had to find two people who would vouch, by signing a document, that his/her statement was true. When the requirements were met, the homesteader paid a six-dollar fee and received a land patent.
If for some reason the homesteader chose not to meet the five year requirement, land could be acquired after six months of residence for $1.25 an acre.
The Homestead Act became the official law of the land January 1, 1863, it remained in effect for 124 years when it ended in 1986 with the last claim in Alaska. Throughout it’s long history over 2 million people filed for 160-acre parcels of the public domain. However, not all were successful in fulfilling the requirements.
Homestead application papers contain a wealth of information for the genealogist. They often have information about; family members, citizenship status, previous residence and marriage/death certificates The following link will give you instructions about how to obtain homestead papers: http://www.nps.gov/home/historyculture/upload/W,pdf,Genealogy,rvd.pdf
If you are a descendent, or someone who filed, on the Homestead under the Act of 1863 please contact the Living Homestead Project at; http://www.nps.gov/home/planyourvisit/livinghomesteaderproject.htm
Answers.com, Public Land Policy; http://www.answers.com/topic/public-land-policy
Wikipedia, Homestead Act; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homestead_Act
Legends of America, The Homestead Act: Creating Prosperity in America; http://www.legendsofamerica.com/AH-Homestead.html
National Park Service, Homesteading Legacies; http://www.nps.gov/home/historyculture/homesteadinglegacies.htm