Archive for February, 2009

I recently received a copy of an ancestor’s approval for their application for land under the U.S. Homestead Act.  (See scan below.)   I was surprised to discover that the land patent was signed by the president at the time. It got me thinking about how much the Homestead Act meant to the U.S. – how important it was to the government at the time, what an integral part of their strategy for the Louisiana Purchase.  And that got me thinking about the place of ordinary individuals in the flow of history, and how much their lives shape and are shaped by the greater events happening around them at the time.

The U.S. government convinced my landless ancestors to immigrate from Scotland, through Canada, on to South Dakota, to claim 160 acres of land and start their own farm/ranch.  Coming from rapidly industrializing Scotland, they would have understood all too well what a difference having your own land makes in the social order.  In the UK at the time, land-owning families were at the top of the social order.  Unfortunately, what they – and too many other families from within and outside the U.S. – did not fully understand was that 160 acres in the Upper Plains of the U.S. was not equivalent to the same amount of land in a more fertile area.  Farming in that region was tough (some Dust Bowl writers argue that in some areas, it was literally impossible) and you needed a fair amount of land to make a decent living off of it.

My own ancestors sold their farm about a dozen years after their land patent was approved, and records show that of the three people who also had patents approved in the same quadrant as my ancestors, two of them had already sold their land by the time of the 1900 census (when my own ancestors were still living on their farm) and the third would be soon to follow.  I think part of it was that the kids of these early patent-holders often didn’t want to continue the tough life of farming/ranching in the Upper Plains.  Little did they realize, with the hindsight that we can use today, that they would turn out to be the lucky ones, not quite so trapped by the Dust Bowl, though those that stayed in the region certainly still were negatively affected by it, as the collapse of farming economically devastated all the small towns in the area.  Reading Depression era censuses and other records is a sobering affair, family after family sliding fast down the class ladder just from the 1920 to 1930 census.  For some reason one that’s always especially stuck with me is a family that lost their confectionery store in those ten years.  If people don’t even have the money to feed their beloved livestock, they aren’t going to be spending their money on candy.

In this particular case, I’ve requested the patent application from NARA, and am currently waiting to receive a copy of it.  If all goes smoothly with this request, I may also request the applications for the three adjacent patent holders, as I’m curious to see what their records contain as well.  They all received patents around the same time as my ancestors.

Approval of land patent application

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Today’s task

My main genealogical task today has been to write the Hamilton County (Ohio) Genealogical Society asking them to make copies of some marriage and obituary listings.  I have an ancestor, Captain Thomas Jefferson Haldeman (often referred to in records as “Captain Haldeman”), who seems to have been quite a spirited and memorable individual, as he is mentioned in several narratives of immigrating families who had him as one of their steamboat captains.  They typically talk about him as being by far the most genial, kind steamboat captain they had on their journey to their new home.  However, so far for me he has been rather a ghost in official records prior to late in his life. The late censuses (I have yet to find him in any early ones) generally list him as being from Kentucky, but as to where (or if it’s even correct), I don’t know for sure.  I don’t know who his parents were, I don’t know his exact birthdate, and so on.  I know he likely arrived in Ohio in 1867 (according to a book on the 1800s history of Hamilton County) but before that his colorful life is scattered in bits and pieces instead of being a cohesive narrative.  So my biggest hope for this letter is that the Thomas J. Haldeman listed in the obituary database of the Hamilton County Genealogical Society is “my” T.J. Haldeman.  The time frame fits my death date, but I’ll just have to wait and see.

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Hello, world!

Genealogy is one of my major hobbies, so I decided to create this blog to talk about my adventures in it. It’s attached to my gardening blog, though I doubt there will be much overlap in readership between the two. I have been researching my family history for several years and am planning to talk about my adventures in it on this blog.

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