Are people today still connected to homesteads and the homesteading era?
Although statistics are not available, there are probably many thousands of farm families still living today on land homesteaded by their ancestors. Some may still own the original farms but live elsewhere. The more recently the land was homesteaded, the more likely a connection can be found. For instance, some of the last homesteads patented to individuals were in Alaska. Some were in lands in the contiguous United States opened to homesteading relatively late under terms of the 1902 Reclamation Act (“Newland Act”). In the mid 1940s, lands opened to homesteading in the Klamath River Basin Project in southern Oregon. It occurred even later in the Columbia Basin Project in Washington State. In those areas, some of the original homesteaders and their immediate families are still on the homestead lands. In other areas, homesteads may now be owned by descendants.
Some States have launched special programs to help recognize and honor today’s families still living on farms their ancestors acquired many years ago. Many of those farms were homesteads. Colorado and Michigan, for example, have such programs. Some counties also honor their earliest farms. An example is Whitman County in Washington State. A roster of its earliest farms, most of which were homesteaded, is listed on a wall just inside the county courthouse in Colfax, Washington.
Public recognition of a family’s long-term connection to the land helps strengthen a family’s already-existing special pride and feeling of connection to their homesteader ancestors. Many families pass down stories about the hardships their forebears went through to obtain the land.
The Bureau of Land Management provides Internet access to homestead records. Today’s homesteader descendants can learn more about the land claims of their family. These include, in some cases, the ability to print out copies of the homestead patents their ancestors were awarded many years ago. (visit: www.glorecords.blm.gov/)