Nebraska Land and Property
Nebraska is a public domain state, in which land is surveyed and transferred to private ownership through federal land offices. See United States Land and Property. Settlers could either purchase the land or, after the passage of the National Homestead Act in 1862, receive homesteads.
The first land office in Nebraska was established at Omaha in 1855. The Family History Library has research handbooks for many counties describing the evolution of the land office districts.
Each local land office kept tract books and township plats. Records of the land offices and microfilm copies of all tracts are at the Nebraska State Historical Society. The NSHS library has a collection of over 500 county atlases or plat books. The approximate time period of these atlases and plat books is 1885 to the present. Of these estimated 500 atlases/plat books, 147 have been microfilmed (Nebraska Plat Books on Microfilm). These are mainly from 1885 to 1947, though not every county has an atlas for every year.
A database (Nebraska Atlases/Plat Books) has been developed to give an accurate account of our holdings and to help researchers in verifying the existence of atlases/plat books for their years of interest.
You can write to the society for a reference leaflet on Nebraska land laws and records.
An applicant received up to 160 acres (1/4 of a section) of undeveloped land in any federal-land state or territory. To obtain the land a settler had to:
- file application papers, and pay filing fees, eventually a total of $18
- improve the land over the next five years (usually build a dwelling, and start a farm)
- file for a deed of title.
Applications may include final certificates, applications with land descriptions, affidavits showing proof of citizenship, Register and Receiver receipts, notices, newspaper clippings, and testimonies of witnesses (neighbors), or even family Bible records.
Between 1862 and 1986 about 10 percent of all land in the United States, 270,000,000 acres (420,000 sq mi), were transferred from federal to private control through 1.6 million granted homesteads.
Homestead applications and other land office records are available from:
- Nebraska, Broken Bow Homestead Records (FamilySearch Historical Records) 1890-1908 free index and case files images on 3fold (1,824 cases).
- Nebraska Homestead Records (FamilySearch Historical Records) 1863-1908.
Textual Reference Branch
National Archives and Records Administration
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20408
Patents and copies of tract books and township plats are at the:
Bureau of Land Management
2515 Warren Avenue
Cheyenne, WY 82003
Cheyenne, WY 82003
You will need a legal description of the land to search these files effectively. See the Homestead Records Wiki page for instructions about using the online GLO-BLM Land Patent Search to find this description and obtain application files.
Many large sections of land were granted to the Union Pacific Railroad, which then sold it to settlers through its own land offices. Many of the records of these transactions were destroyed in a fire. The Burlington Railroad also sold land. Microfilm copies of these records are at the Nebraska State Historical Society.
After land has been transferred to private ownership, subsequent transactions are recorded at county offices. The Family History Library does not have copies of the county land records. You can obtain copies of deeds and mortgages from the recorder in each county.
- Nebraska Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001. (NOTE: All of the information from the original research outline has been imported into this Wiki site and is being updated as time permits.)
- United States, Department of the Interior, National Park Service, “About the Homestead Act” in Homestead National Monument of America at http://www.nps.gov/home/historyculture/abouthomesteadactlaw.htm (accessed 5 February 2010).