Saturday, March 12, 2005


Last night, as a new line of family history research was keeping me up until 3am, I stumbled onto a new resource that hadn't occurred to me before: the government land office. In the 19th century, as our American ancestors were settling in previously unsettled lands, they would purchase land from the federal government, or after the famous Homestead Act of 1862, they could claim a 160-acre parcel at no cost just for having settled on it and made improvements after 5 years. Apparently, records of many of these transactions have been digitized and are readily Internet-searchable at a Bureau of Land Management website. We discovered that my husband's great-great-grandfather, Elmer E. SLATER, established a 160-acre homestead in northern Wisconsin in 1897. This was very useful information, as it pins down the precise location of his home (once you decode the range/township land description, aka rectangular survey system, and can figure out how that maps onto Wisconsin), and tells us that he settled there as early as 1892 and stayed put for at least five years. (This SLATER family seemed to have moved around a number of times, making records of them hard to find. Of course the loss of the 1890 census doesn't help.) The homestead document itself is quite impressive, with florid prose and writing-style. Having discovered this very handy resource, I was able to find some land purchases made by my own great-great-uncle Thomas CHATT in southern Wisconsin in 1858 and 1861. The reward of genealogy is making great discoveries like this, and touching our history in a personal way.

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