Friday, March 27, 2015

March Program Review - "Across the Prairie" with Jamie Mayhew

Jamie Lee McManus Mayhew was the program speaker at the March 25th CVGS monthly meeting in the Auditorium of the Chula Vista Civic Center Branch Library, with about 35 in attendance.

Her presentation was titled "Across the Prairie: Land Records in the Public Land States."  This was an excellent overview program about land records, particular those in the Midwest and West that follow the Public Land Survey System set up in 1785.

Jamie noted that land records exist for more people in America than any other record, and that very few have been lost over time.  You can learn many things from land records, including locating a person in a time and place, determining their neighbors and associates, and perhaps obtaining the maiden name of the wife and the children's names.  The records may provide information for family stories.

Jamie described the differences between State Land States (which generally use metes and bounds), Federal Land States (which use the public land rectangular survey system with meridians, ranges, townships, sections and aliquot parts of sections).  There are also several unique states which have both systems.  In the State Land States, the land was distributed prior to 1776 or before the state joined the USA.  The metes and bounds were denoted by markers (trees, rocks, streams, stakes), directions and distances in rods and chains and links.  The U.S. government set up the Federal Land States in order to raise money for the new government after the Revolutionary War, to compensate soldiers for their service, and to encourage western migration.

The process of obtaining land was covered, with descriptions of Bounty Land, Land Laws, the Preemption Act of 1841, and the Homestead Act of 1862.  The latter law provided up to 160 acres of free land to US born or naturalized citizens over age 21, or those who had filed papers to become naturalized.  They had to live on the land for five years, improve the land including a structure, and after six months could buy the land for $1.25 an acre.  Jamie showed several photographs of sod houses made from the thick prairie sod, and of families with their livestock and tools in front of their homesteads.

Lastly, Jamie provided information about where to find and how to obtain these records.  The National Archives has Land Entry Case Files; the Bureau of Land Management website has land patents and certificates;  FamilySearch has the Bureau of Land Management Tract Books online. In addition, there are several map companies and websites that offer state, county and township maps showing land ownership in the 1800s.

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