June 26, 2014 Updated: June 26, 2014 at 11:48 am
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A project to digitize Nebraska homesteading case files has been completed after a decade of planning, preparation and execution.
The nearly 77,000 files contain more than 1.6 million digital images, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said Wednesday. The database can be searched and viewed for free at Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice, as well as UNL libraries, National Archives and Records Administration research centers nationwide and Family History Centers at several locations across the country. They also may be viewed for fee at Fold3.com or Ancestry.com.
The Homestead Act of 1862 said any adult citizen, or intended citizen, who had never fought against the U.S. government could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. They had to improve the land by putting up homes and farming it, too. After five years the filers were entitled to the land, free and clear.
Experts have said 45 percent of the land that became Nebraska was distributed to homesteaders, the highest percentage of all 30 homesteading states.
The records are documents filed by the Nebraska homesteaders and describe the improvements, including houses constructed, wells dug, crops planted, trees cleared and fences built. The case files also include records of military service and evidence of naturalization.
"Scholars are already mining the information found in these records," said Rick Edwards, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "I believe that once the records of all the homesteading states are digitized and indexed, scholars will find so many surprising insights that it will lead them to propose a whole new understanding of the settlement of the American West."
Almost all of the case files from the 30 states have survived and are held by the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington.
National Park Service website on homestead records: http://1.usa.gov/1nHFv54