Homesteading        By Charlton Ryan

After President Lincoln was elected President, Congress passed the Homestead Bill on May 20, 1862. This bill made it possible for a person who met three conditions to file a claim for free land. The conditions were:

1. Be 21 years of age or older

2. Be a citizen of the U.S. or intend to become a citizen

3. Be a person who never bore arms against the U.S.

Those who met the conditions were entitled to 160 acres of land. Those who staked out their future property on railroad grant land, however, could only choose 80 acres.

The future landowner had to go to the nearest federal land office with a property description and file an application for the land. After filing, the applicant was allowed six months to move onto the land and begin making improvements. Then the applicant had to maintain “continuous residence” on the property from the time of filing until a five-year period was up. After five years, but not more than seven and a half years, the applicant could appear with two witnesses who were to testify that the applicant had met the terms of his land claim, which included making improvements. The settlers referred to this process as “proving up”. Once the claimant proved that he had met the requirements, the federal government issued him (or her) a land patent, which was essentially a deed to the homesteader’s land issued by the government.

Fewer than half the land claims made in Nebraska were ever proven, or completed. For various reasons, the claimants failed to prove up. Many claimants found the stipulation requiring five years of continuous residence too difficult, some found the conditions too harsh, some had problems with claim jumpers and/or Indians, some lost their lives, and others returned to families back home. Homesteaders earned their land, even if it was free.

Homesteading Terms 

Entryman Person filing the claim at the Land Office

Agent or land agent   Helped people who were new to the area find a suitable claim.  Sometimes an agent could help the homesteader describe the property in order to file the homestead application. Unfortunately, some land agents were unscrupulous and charged big prices.

Speculator  A person who either bought land from a settler with the intention of selling it at a higher price or a person who filed a claim with the intention of selling the land rather than living on it for five years. The land speculator might hire people to make fraudulent claims.

Commutation   To pay the declared federal price of the land in order to get a patent.

Preemption Right   A person who was already living on land before the government surveyors arrived frequently felt that because he lived there, he had the right to have that particular piece of property as his homestead. He felt he had a preemption right to the land.

Land Clubs  Were formed by groups of settlers in particular locations. They worked together to keep outsiders from their land club area. Forming a land club made it possible for settlers to live on unsurveyed land. After a survey, and after the government put the land up for sale, the land club members worked together to control land prices.

Jumper   Someone settling in on a previously occupied homestead, a claim jumper. If a homesteader ever left his land for a period of time, he left himself and his land open to the jumper. If the jumper could get to the land office and prove that the homestead was unoccupied, the jumper could take out a homestead application on the property.

Filing   The process of making an application for homestead land.

Patent   When the homesteader had fulfilled all requirements for property ownership, the government issued him or her a patent, similar to a deed proving ownership.  Copies of patents issued to homesteaders may be obtained from the Government Land Office

Relinquishment   Throwing in the towel. Giving up the homesteading process.  Leaving.  Or selling out to a jumper. 

Proving Up   Proving to the land office that the terms of making a homestead were completed.

Squatter   A person illegally living on government land. 

Saline Land Grant   Government land around salt springs which was turned over to the state. Nebraska got 72 sections of land this way.


1 Link = 7.92 Inches

1 Rod = 16 ½ Feet

5 ½ Yards = 25 Links

1 Chain = 66 Feet = 4 Rods = 100 Links

1 Furlong = 660 Feet = 40 Rods

1 Mile = 8 Furlongs = 320 Rods = 80 Chains = 5280 Feet

1 Square Rod = 272 ¼ Sq. Feet = 30 ¼ Sq. Yards

1 Acre = 43,560 Square Feet

1 Acre = 160 Square Rods

1 Acre is approximately 208 ¾ Feet Square

1 Acre is 8 Rods x 20 Rods

(Or any two numbers of Rods whose product is 160


{ The year for the November program listed below was not listed.  This was a program given to the Madison County Genealogical Society. }

The November Program was presented by Nancy Gross, Madison County Register of Deeds. She presented the following terms, and talked about her family history in the county.

Abutting Owner: One whose land is contiguous to (abuts) a public right of way.

Access Right: A right to ingress and egress to and from one’s property. May be expressed or implied.

Administrator’s Deed: A Deed issued by the Administrator of an estate.

Adverse Possession: A method of acquiring title by possession under certain conditions. Generally, possession must be actual, under claim of right, open, continuous, notorious, exclusive and hostile (knowingly against the rights of the owner) in Nebraska.

Cloud of Title: An Invalid encumbrance on real property, which if valid, would affect the rights of the owner. For example: Tim sells Lot 1, Block B to Bob. The deed is mistakenly drawn up to read Lot 1, Block A. A cloud is created on Lot 1, Block A by the recording of the erroneous deed. The cloud may be removed by Quitclaim Deed or, if necessary, by Court action.

Condemnation: The taking of private property for public use without the consent of the owner, but only upon payment of just compensation.

Conservator’s Deed: Deed issued by a court appointed Conservator (Guardian) of an estate. (May involve an incompetent person or a person under age [minor]).

Construction Lien: See Mechanic’s Lien.

Corporation Warranty Deed: Deed used when property is sold out of a Corporation.

Corrective Deed: The recording of a Deed for a second time to correct an error made in the deed when originally recorded.

Deed: Instrument used to convey interest in real property.

Deed of Distribution: Deed issued by Personal Representative of an estate.

Deed of Trust: Instrument used in place of a mortgage. Property is transferred to a Trustee by Borrower in favor of the lender. Released by Deed of Reconveyance by Trustee.

Defective Title: Title to real property which lacks some of the elements necessary to transfer good title.

Easement: A right created by grant, reservation, agreement, prescription, or necessary implication, which one has in the land of another. Either for the benefit or access, or public utility, etc.

Encroachment: Generally, construction onto the property of another, as of a wall, fence, building, etc.

Encumbrance: A claim, lien, charge, or liability attached to and binding real property.  Any right to or interest in, land which may exist in one other than the owner, but will not prevent the transfer of the title.

Equitable Interest: Interest by one who does not have legal title, such as a vendee under a land contract.

Equity: The market value of real property, less the amount of existing liens.

Evidence of Title: A document establishing ownership to property. Most commonly, a deed.

Executor’s Deed: Deed issued by the executor of an estate.

Federal Tax Lien: A lien attaching to the property for nonpayment of a federal tax.

Fee Simple: An estate under which the owner is entitled to unrestricted powers to dispose of the property, and which can be left by will or inherited. Commonly, a synonym for ownership.

Filed: Recorded

Filing Information: Information stamped on the original document received by the Register of Deeds showing date and time or recording, as well as Book and page, Instrument No. or Microfilm location of instrument. All recorded instruments contain filing information.

Final Decree: A decree completely deciding all pending matters before a court.

Financing Statement: Document having a Debtor/Creditor relationship. If filed against the real estate, it is considered a lien upon the real estate.

Foreclosure: A proceeding in or out of court, to extinguish all rights, title, and interest, of the owners of property in order to sell the property to satisfy a lien against it.

Free and Clear: Real property against which there are no liens, especially voluntary liens.

Grantee: One to whom a Grant is made, generally the buyer.

Grantor: One who grants property, or property rights.

Inheritance Tax Lien: A Tax on the transfer of property from a deceased person.

Irrevocable: That which cannot be revoked or recalled, such as certain trusts, contracts or other legal relationships.

Intestate: Without leaving a will. Property of the estate passes by the laws of succession rather than by the direction of the deceased.

Involuntary Lien: A lien such as a tax lien, judgment lien, etc., which attaches to property without the consent of the owner, rather than a mortgage lien in which the owner agrees.

Joint Tenancy: An undivided interest in property, taken by two or more joint tenants. The interests must be equal. Upon the death of a joint tenant, the interest passes to the surviving joint tenants, rather than to the heirs of the deceased.

Joint Tenancy Warranty Deed: Deed conveying interest to 2 or more people (usually husband & wife) where upon the death of one of the parties, the deceased person’s interest passes to the surviving joint tenants. (If Deed does not recite, as joint tenants, then grantees hold title as Tenants In Common).

Judgment: The decision of a court of law. Money judgments, when recorded, become a lien on real property of the defendant.

Judgment Lien: A lien against the property of a judgment debtor. An involuntary lien.

Land Contract: An Installment Contract for the sale of land. The seller has legal title until paid in full. The buyer has equitable title during the contract term.

Lease: An agreement by which the owner of real property (lessor) gives the right of possession to another (lessee) for a specified period of time (term) and for a specified consideration (rent).

Lien: An encumbrance against property for money, either voluntary or involuntary.

Life Estate: An estate in real property for the life of a living person. The estate then reverts back to the grantor or on to a remainderman.

Lis Pendens: A legal notice recorded to show pending litigation relating to real property, and giving notice to anyone acquiring an interest in said property subsequent to the date of the notice may be bound by the outcome of the litigation.

Mechanic’s Lien: A lien created for the purpose of securing priority of payment for the price of value of work performed or materials furnished in construction or repair of improvements to land, and attaches to land as well as the improvements.

Mortgage: Instrument by which real estate is used as collateral to borrow money.

Notice of Default: Notice filed to show that the borrower under a Mortgage or Deed of Trust is in default.

Party Wall: A wall erected on a property boundary as a common support to structures on both sides, which are under different ownerships.

Patent Deed: Conveyance from the government, issued to homesteaders who have made final payment as evidenced by the Final Receipt.

Perpetuity: Continuing forever. Legally, pertaining to real property, any condition extending the inalienability of property beyond the time of a life or lives in being plus 21 years.

Perimeter: The boundary lines of a parcel of land.

Personal Representative’s Deed: Deed issued by the Personal Representative of an estate.

Plat: A map dividing a parcel of land into lots, as in a subdivision.

Power of Attorney: An authority by which one person (principal) enables another (attorney in fact) to act for him.

Prescriptive Easement: The granting of an Easement by a court, based on the presumption that a written easement was given, (although none existed), after a period of open and continuous use of the land.

Probate: Originally, the proving that a will was valid. Modernly, an action over which probate court has jurisdiction.

Property Line: The boundary line of a parcel of land.

Public Dominion Land: Lands belonging to the federal government, not reserved for government use, but subject to sale or other disposal.

Quarter Section: One quarter of a section, containing 160 acres.

Quiet Title: Court Action to establish ownership of real property.

Quitclaim Deed: Deed operating as a release, intended to pass any interest in a real property, but not containing any warranty. May be used to clear up clouded title.

Recording: Filing documents affecting the real property as a matter of public record.

Recorded Documents must be witnessed and notarized.

Remainderman: The one entitled to the remainder. (Ex: Sam deeds to Jim, Lot 1, but Sam retains a life estate in the property. When Sam dies, Jim, the remainderman owns the property exclusively).

Revocable: Capable of being revoked.

Right of Way: A strip of land which is used as a roadbed, either for a street, or railway.  The land is set aside as an easement for fee, either by agreement or condemnation. May also describe the right itself to pass over the land of another.

Security Agreement: Document having a Debtor/Creditor relationship. May be Chattel

Mortgages, Financing Statements, inventory Liens, etc. If filed against the real estate, it is considered a lien upon the real estate.

Sheriff’s Deed: Deed give at a Sheriff’s Sale in foreclosure of mortgage.

Special Warranty Deed: See Warranty Deed.

State Tax Lien: A lien attaching to the property for nonpayment of a state tax.

Subordination Agreement: An agreement by which an encumbrance is made subject (junior) to a junior encumbrance.

Substitution of Trustee: A document which is recorded to change the trustee under a Deed of Trust.

Survivorship Warranty Deed: Deed in which the surviving grantee receives interest of deceased grantees (See also Joint Tenancy Warranty Deed).

Tax Deed: Deed from tax collector to governmental body after a period of non-payment of taxes according to statute.

Tenancy in Common: An undivided ownership in real estate by two or more persons.  The interest need not be equal, and, in the event of the death of one of the owners, no right of survivorship in the other owner exists.

Treasurer’s Deed: Deed conveyed by the County Treasurer in lieu of Tax Foreclosure.

Trustee’s Deed: Deed used when property is sold out of a Trust (must be signed by Trustees).

Trustee’s Deed: Deed by a Trustee under a Deed of Trust, issued to a purchaser at auction, in pursuant to foreclosure.

Vendee: Purchaser or buyer, especially on a land contract.

Vendor: The person who transfers property by sale. Another word for seller.  Commonly used in land contract sales.

Vested: Present ownership rights, absolute and fixed. Modernly, ownership rights, even though on a land contract or subject to a mortgage or deed of trust.

Voluntary Lien: A lien placed against real property by the voluntary act of the owner.  Most commonly, a mortgage or deed of trust.

Warranty Deed: Deed to convey title in a real property containing warranties.


This is how the sections are numbered within each township:

6       5      4     3     2     1

7      8      9    10   11   12

18    17  16   15   14   13

19    20   21   22   23   24

30    29   28   27   26   25

31   32   33   34   35   36

Each section is one square mile in size.

Each section contains 640 acres.

Each section can be divided into one-fourths (quarters). This

would be shown as NW 1/4 or NE 1/4 or SW 1/4 or SE 1/4.

This makes each quarter section of land 160 acres in size.

You can further breakdown the size by 1/4’s to obtain 40 acres.

This can be broken down further by 1/4’s to obtain 10 acres of land.


Take another look at the records

When analyzing your ancestor’s land transactions, always make certain that the amount of property sold is essentially the same as what was purchased. If there is a significant difference, perhaps you overlooked a record, or perhaps property was obtained through an unrecorded deed or an inheritance. Source: Kin Seeker (Platte Valley Kin Seekers, Columbus, NE.) Vol. 21, Issue 4, Winter 2001.