Homestead land records tell us more about our forebears who settled the western U.S. Learn more with Lisa Louise Cooke at the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium July 14-15, 2017 in Beatrice, Nebraska.
Lisa Louise Cooke will be a featured speaker at the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium in Beatrice, Nebraska on July 14-15, 2017. The 2-day event is co-sponsored by the Homestead National Monument of America, a unit of the National Park Service, and the Beatrice Campus of Southeast Community College.
Homestead land records and our ancestors
Omer Madison Kem, (later, Representative to the United States Congress) in front of his sod house in Nebraska (1886). Click image to view at American Memory (Library of Congress digital archive).
“The Homestead Act of 1862 had a profound affect on the United States and throughout the world,” states the symposium webpage. “Under the provisions of this law, the U.S. government gave away 270 million acres of land to 1.6 million individuals and families for the purposes of settlement and cultivation. Today there may be as many as 93 million descendants of homesteaders.”
Our homesteading ancestors may show up in land patent records and related paperwork. Over five million documents are searchable by name and location at the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records website. These databases found at major genealogy websites may also be helpful for finding homestead land records and related paperwork:
Out ancestors’ homestead land records may reveal when they purchased and/or applied for land and where they were living at the time. In many instances, immigrants had to be citizens to purchase land, so you may find information about their naturalization. You’ll often find land records in the same area purchased by relatives, which can help you reconstruct family groups and more confidently identify your family.
Participants in the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium will learn to use records of different kinds–and strategies for researching them–in their genealogical and historical research. Lisa Louise Cooke’s lectures will focus on using powerful online tools to map out your family history and find mention of ancestors that may be buried deep in online resources. Other lectures will also help you chart the stories of your frontier ancestors, many of them immigrants, who purchased land from the government in the Midwest and Western United States.
What: Land Records and Genealogy Symposium, co-sponsored by the Homestead National Monument of America (National Park Service) and the Beatrice Campus of Southeast Community College
When: July 14-15, 2017 (8 am – 4 pm on Friday, with optional dinner presentation; 8:30 am – 3 pm on Saturday)
Where: Southeast Community College, Beatrice, Nebraska
Can’t make it to Nebraska?
Learn to plot your ancestors’ homestead records in Google Earth in Lisa Louise Cooke’s Google Earth for Genealogy video series.
Genealogy Gems Premium website members can learn more about homestead land records in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 33, in an interview with expert Billie Edgington. (Click here to learn more about all the benefits of Premium membership, including access to the full Premium Podcast archive of nearly 150 episodes!)
Click here to see all of Lisa’s upcoming presentations: is there one near you?
The 1939 Register–the most comprehensive population survey EVER of England and Wales known–is finally searchable online!
Today FindMyPast, in association with the U.K.’s National Archive, has launched a digitized, searchable version of the 1939 Register. This major record set fills a major gap at a pivotal time in history.
“Anyone can now discover their family, their home and their community on the eve of WWII,” states a FindMyPast release. “Until now, the most recent information available was the 1911 census. Owing to the 100 year rule, the 1921 census will not be released until 2022, while the 1931 census was destroyed in the war and the 1941 census was never taken. The 1939 Register therefore bridges an important 30-year gap in history.”
“In September 1939, WWII had just broken out,” explains Findmypast. “65,000 enumerators were employed to visit every house in England and Wales to take stock of the civil population. The information that they recorded was used to issue Identity Cards, plan mass evacuations, establish rationing and co-ordinate other war-time provisions….
“Each record includes the names of inhabitants at each address, their date of birth, marital status and occupation….Comprising 1.2 million pages in 7,000 volumes and documenting the lives of 41 million people, the 1939 Register opens a window to a world on the brink of cataclysmic change.” Some of the records even include changes made clear up to 1991.
Additionally, Findmypast has added unique period photographs, infographics, regional newspaper articles and maps “personally tailored to each record.” They are promoting a “rich and unique user experience unrivaled by any other family history research tool to date.”
What about privacy concerns? This is a relatively recent record set: more recent than national censuses that DO have privacy restrictions on them. About 28 million records have been cleared of privacy restrictions. The remainder will remain temporary closed, “either because the individual recorded is still living and less than 100 years old or proof of death has not been verified….The Register will be updated weekly….Records will also be opened as people reach the age of 100 years+1 day.”
Interestingly, it appears individuals may have the ability to show proof of death to have records released: “Findmypast, working with The National Archives, will have an ongoing process to identify records which can be opened on proof of death provided either by matching against robust data sets or supplied by users.”
The Register is free to search on Findmypast. Charges apply to view the records, with discounts for subscribers and pay-per-view packages starting at £6.95.
More Research Gems for English Genealogy
For a long time, German census records were thought not to exist. But they do! A leading German genealogy expert tells us how they’ve been discovered and catalogued—and where you can learn about German census records that may mention your family.
Thanks to James M. Beidler for contributing this guest article. Read more below about him and the free classes he’ll be teaching in the Genealogy Gems booth at RootsTech 2018 in a few short weeks.
German census records DO exist
One of the truisms of researching ancestors in America is that the U.S. Census is a set of records that virtually every genealogist needs to use.
From its once-a-decade regularity to its easy accessibility, and the high percentage of survival to the present day, the U.S. Census helps researchers put together family groups across the centuries.
On the other hand, the thing that’s most distinctive about German census records is that for many years they were thought not to even exist.
For Exhibit A, look at this quote from a book published just a few years ago: “Most of the censuses that were taken have survived in purely statistical form, often with little information about individuals. There are relatively few censuses that are useful to genealogists.”
The book from which the above statement was taken is The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide. And the author of that book is … uh, well … me!
In my defense, this had been said by many specialists in German genealogy. The roots of this statement came from the honest assessment that Germany, which was a constellation of small states until the late 1700s and not a unified nation until 1871 when the Second German Empire was inaugurated, had few truly national records as a result of this history of disunity.
As with many situations in genealogy, we all can be victims of our own assumptions. The assumption here was that because it sounded right that Germany’s fractured, nonlinear history had produced so few other national records, those census records didn’t exist.
A few census records from northern German states (see below) had been microfilmed by the Family History Library, but for all intents and purposes, a greater understanding of the “lost” German census records had to wait for a project spearheaded by Roger P. Minert, the Brigham Young University professor who is one of the German genealogy world’s true scholars.
Finding lost and scattered German census records
It can be said that Brigham Young University professor Roger Minert “wrote the book” on the German census. That’s because he literally did: German Census Records, 1816-1916: The When, Where, and How of a Valuable Genealogical Resource. A sample page is shown below.
Minert had a team help him get the project rolling by writing to archivists in Germany before he took a six-month sabbatical in Europe. During this time, he scoured repositories for samples of their German census holdings (To some extent, Minert’s project had echoes of an earlier work led by Raymond S. Wright III that produced Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources).
What resulted from Minert’s project was the census book and a wealth of previously unknown information about German censuses.
While a few censuses date to the 18th century in the German states (some are called Burgerbücher, German for “citizen books”), Minert found that the initiation of customs unions during the German Confederation period beginning after Napoleon in 1815 was when many areas of Germany began censuses.
The customs unions (the German word is Zollverein) needed a fair way to distribute income and expenses among member states, and population was that way. But to distribute by population, a census was needed to keep count, and most every German state began to take a census by 1834.
Until 1867, the type of information collected from one German state to another varied considerably. Many named just the head of the household, while others provided everyone’s names. Some include information about religion, occupation and homeownership.
The year 1867 was a teeter-totter point Minert calls it “for all practical purposes the first national census.” Prussia—by then the dominant German state and whose king would become the emperor just a few years hence—spearheaded the census effort.
After the founding of the Second German Empire, a census was taken every five years (1875 – 1916, the last census being delayed by World War I). While there was some variance in data from one census to another, they all included the following data points:
- names of each individual,
- birth (year and, later, specific dates),
- marital status,
- and permanent place of residence (if different from where they were found in the census).
While some of these censuses are found in regional archives within today’s German states, in many cases the census rolls were kept locally and only statistics were forwarded to more central locations.
Interestingly, there has been a lack of awareness even among German archivists that their repositories have these types of records! Minert says in his book that in three incidences, archivists told him their holdings included no census records, only to be proved wrong in short order.
Minert’s book goes through the old German Empire state by state and analyzes where researchers are likely to find censuses. For each state, there is also a chart on the pre-Empire censuses and what information they included.
Researchers wishing to access these records will often need to contact local archives. If you’ve uncovered a village of origin for an immigrant, you could contact them directly by searching for a website for the town, then emailing to ask (politely but firmly) whether the archives has census records.
FamilySearch has placed online German census records for Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1867, 1890 and 1900; the one shown below is from 1867).
The Danish National Archives has some census records online for Schleswig-Holstein (much of the area was Danish until they lost a war with Prussia in 1864).
Other Census-Like Lists
In addition to these censuses, many areas of Germany have survivals of tax lists that serve as a record substitute with some data points that are similar to censuses. The lists generally show the name of the taxpayer and the amount of tax paid.
In some cases, versions of the lists that include the basis for the tax (usually the value of an interest in real or personal property) have survived. The lists may also include notes about emigration. Here’s a sample tax record from Steinwenden Pfalz.
Some of these tax lists are available in the Family History Library system.
The best “clearinghouse” that reports the holdings of various repositories in Germany is Wright’s Ancestors in German Archives. As with the census records, the best way to contact local archives directly would be to search for a website for the town. E-mail to ask whether such lists are kept in a local archive.
In my personal research, tax records have proved crucial. For example, they confirmed the emigration of my ancestor Johannes Dinius in the Palatine town of Steinwenden. These records showed the family had left the area a few months before Dinius’ 1765 arrival in America.
James M Beidler is the author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and Trace Your German Roots Online.
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