Staff at the Homestead National Monument of America announced Friday that the one millionth Homestead Land-Entry Case File Record had been digitalized.
“The true winners are the American people and those 93 million descendants of homesteaders that are tied to this story,” monument superintendent Mark Engler said.
The National Archives in Washington D.C. oversees the volunteers of FamilySearch who are digitalizing the records.
All of the one million digitalized records are from Nebraska. Forty-five-percent of the state was settled through the Homestead Act.
The government enacted the Homestead Act during the Civil War. It allowed millions to claim 160 acres per claimant of surveyed government land.
Volunteers at Homestead and researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have been working to index the records by race, gender, age, country of origin and citizenship.
“It is allowing us to know information that we were only able to make best guesses on before as far as women homesteading,” said Blake Bell, monument historian.
Katherine Walter who works with the research team at UNL has been looking for trends and how one would look at homesteading as a whole story itself.
“The information available to scholars is reaching a point where we are able to start making some historical arguments,” Bell said.
Bell has been working on the effect of the Homestead Act on immigration. He is trying to make some statements as to what the government was intending for immigration in the mid 19th century and what was the reality.
To celebrate the milestone, staff and volunteers at Homestead had a video conference with staff at the National Archives to share the millionth document.
The one-millionth record was filed at the land office in Grand Island, by a woman claiming land for her children on behalf of her dead husband. In her claim were marriage, guardianship and military records.
“Once people find out that these records are such a wealth of information, interest is going to grow and grow,” Engler said. “The information content is second only to pension records.”
At the Homestead Heritage Center located outside Beatrice, guests can search records for free on the computer stations using Fold3.com. There is a fee to search from home, but other available free locations are any University of Nebraska campus and at any FamilySearch center which is a library component of FamilySearch
Altogether there are 30 million records from America’s 30 Homestead states. Engler hopes all the records will be digitalized within the next decade.
“There were points in the past that we wondered if we were going to be able to move forward at all,” Engler said. “To be able to more forward and actually get to one million is really neat.”