Frequently Asked Questions
How do I find Homestead National Monument of America?
Homestead National Monument of America is located west of the town of Beatrice in southeast Nebraska, about 40 miles south of the state capital of Lincoln. Beatrice is approximately 100 miles south of Omaha, Nebraska and 180 miles northwest of Kansas City, Missouri.
Why is the monument located in southeast Nebraska?
Homestead National Monument of America is located on the original homestead claim of Daniel Freeman. Freeman filed his claim early on January 1, 1863—the very first day the Homestead Act was in effect. Freeman has long been considered America’s very first homesteader, and in the early 1930s the Department of the Interior approached his descendants about purchasing his claim to make it the site of a national monument to homesteading and the Homestead Act. They agreed to sell the land, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation creating Homestead National Monument of America on March 19, 1936.
How can I find my homesteading ancestor’s land records?
All homestead claims generated paper records. These records are currently stored in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. They are available for public research, but the method by which they are organized makes them somewhat difficult to access unless the researcher knows the land office in which the homestead claim was made and the legal land description of the property. Visitors to Homestead National Monument of America are encouraged to ask a park ranger for a copy of the National Archives form needed to request a photocopy of an original homestead record. The National Park Service is currently working on a long term project designed to bring digitized copies of these records to Homestead National Monument of America so that visitors can conduct genealogical/historical research during their time at the Monument. So far, homestead records for claims in Nebraska have been put into an online database that can be searched for free at Homestead National Monument, or at home from Fold3.com with a subscription. The other states will follow in time. In all, some two million homestead record files exist; these files contain an estimated 30 million documents.
What happened to claims that were abandoned?
Of the approximately two million claims made under the Homestead Act, about sixty (60) percent were unsuccessful. Claims not “proved up” (meaning that the homesteaders on them did not complete the ownership requirements and receive title to the property) were known as relinquishments. When a homesteader relinquished his or her claim, it reverted back to the active control of the U.S. government. Most relinquishments were opened back up to homesteading, and many new settlers moved onto relinquished claims in hopes of finding homes already built, trees cleared, wells dug, or crops planted.
Why were claims 160 acres?
Homestead claims were made based on the rectangular survey system, which is still used in the United States today. This system surveys and organizes land based on the 640-acre section, also known as one square mile. The 160 acre homestead comprised one quarter-section of a square mile. When Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862, the technology of the day was still primitive enough that 160 acres was thought to be the maximum amount of land a family could realistically farm. As time went by and more settlers came searching for land to claim, homesteaders had to go further west to find plots still available. This forced them to go to areas where the climate made farming much more difficult and 160 acres was not enough for a viable homestead. As a result, Congress passed several additional homestead laws allowing claimants in certain parts of the country to acquire more than 160 acres.
Can I still get land under the Homestead Act?
No. The Homestead Act was officially repealed by the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, though a ten-year extension allowed homesteading in Alaska until 1986. In reality, very little homesteading took place after the early 1930s. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drove many from farming, and the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act withdrew from the public domain much of the land that was still open to homesteading. Most successful homesteading took place between 1863 and about 1900, though more claims were made in 1913 than any other year. In all, the government distributed over 270 million acres of land in 30 states under the Homestead Act.
Is the cabin located at the monument the original Freeman cabin?
No. The cabin open to visitors at Homestead National Monument of America is the Palmer-Epard cabin, originally built in 1867 on a homestead about 14 miles northeast of the Monument. It was built and occupied by the George Washington Palmer family; the Lawrence Epard family later lived in it as well. It was donated to Homestead National Monument of America in 1950 to serve as an example of one type of pioneer dwelling found on homesteads. By homesteader standards, the Palmer-Epard cabin is a comfortable, sturdy home and a vast improvement over the sod houses or dugouts in which many lived during early days on their homesteads. None of Daniel Freeman’s buildings are still located on the property, though the Freeman School, built in 1872 and a part of the Monument since 1970, is original and open to the visiting public.