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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States Migration Patterns  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Land Sales: The Homestead Act of 1862

Land ownership, protected by a legal title, is a hallmark of our western civilization. The conveyance of land through probate or by deed of sale leaves records for us to study. Grants from the federal government produced a significant source of land records.

In early America, land was often promised in lieu of wages to persons serving in the military in time of war. Afterwards, veterans might choose either to settle on the land acquired or sell it, often to speculators who purchased much land to sell at a higher price.

Through the years, the federal government offered land for sale, but so often it was for such large parcels of land that only speculators would invest, who would then gain a considerable profit by selling smaller acreages to incoming settlers. Once the land was improved, restless pioneers would often sell off the land and move on to the next frontier. This story is told in the pages of courthouse deeds and tax records.

Then in 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act. Requirements for 160 acres— persons had to be age 21 or over, must cultivate the land and reside there for five years, and had to have true allegiance to the Government of the United States. Applications for federal land are rich in detail; these along with accompanying documents are housed at the National Archives in what are called “Land Entry files.”

An excellent overview concerning federal land grants appears as “Frequently Asked Questions” within web pages provided by the Bureau of Land Management—General Land Office Records. This will prepare you to make your own search online for land patents that might have been acquired by your migrating ancestors at:


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course United States: Migration Patterns offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website at We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.