The following was shared with us by Thomas MacEntee:
June 18, 2013 – Lincoln, Nebraska. Professional genealogist Gail Blankenau has recently solved an ongoing mystery: Who was the first woman to secure a homestead in her own right through the Homestead Act of 1862? The answer can now be revealed thanks to family history records available at both Ancestry.com and Fold3: Mary Myers, a widow, of Gage County, Nebraska. Myers applied for a homestead at the Brownville Land Office on 20 January 1863, just 19 days after Daniel Freeman, the first homesteader via the Homestead Act. Freeman’s certificate of payment is Certificate No. 1 and Myer’s is Certificate No. 3.
The Homestead Act of 1862 provided women with a unique opportunity to own land in their own right. A woman who was age 21 and the head of a family was eligible to apply under the Act. Thousands of women—widows, divorcees, single women, and deserted women—applied for a chance at independence.
Under the provisions of the Act, a settler had to build a dwelling, cultivate the land, and be in continuous residence for a five-year period. Settlers faced many hardships, including lack of water, bad weather, insects, and loneliness. Only 40% of those who applied for land were able to complete the process and secure a land patent.
Blankenau came across the records for Mary Myers while preparing for a presentation on women homesteaders at the upcoming National Homestead Monument’s Land Records and Genealogy Symposium on July 12 and 13, 2013, in Beatrice Nebraska. The land entry case file on the popular genealogy website Fold3, contains Mary Myer’s required affidavit stating that she had met all of the Act’s provisions.
“It is so important for us to celebrate the contributions of pioneer women like Mary Myers,” says Blankenau. “When delving into the land entry files, there are all sorts of details of their lives, details that aren’t easily found in many other records. Women were often the silent partner in land deals, but as female homesteaders, they could take center stage.”
Also see the post at the Ancestry.com blog.
About Gail Blankenau
Gail Blankenau is a professional genealogist, speaker and author, specializing in German genealogy, land records, and lineage research. Gail has written for the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The Genealogist, Everton’s Genealogical Helper, Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy. If it deals with genealogy, she probably does it. Learn more at Discover Family History (http://www.discoverfamilyhistory.com/)