Sunday, May 14, 2017

They Turn Up In The Most Unexpected Places

                                              Nebraska Plains                           Wikimedia Commons

     I've been doing a little research on my homesteading Vincent/Matteson family recently, and this morning while playing with homestead records at I noticed the site has two separate databases related to homesteading; the US General Land Office Records 1776-2015, which can be searched online at the government site for free, and also US Homestead Records, 1861-1908.  I know quite a bit about when the Matteson family arrived in Nebraska and where, but I was curious about the details of their life, like what sort of house did they live in?  Was it a dugout, a "soddy" or a more substantial dwelling?  One way to find out was to ask NARA to send the family's packet of homestead records including the "proving up papers", which as the name suggests were to prove to the government that improvements had been made to the claim and a house had been built thereon.  These papers include a description of the house and other buildings on the property along with other details.  Perusing the NARA form I noticed a fee of $50 would be charged, which inspired me to seek the desired information elsewhere.

     That's when I found the Homestead Records at Ancestry.  I'd already looked at George W. Matteson's paltry one page record at the Land Office site, describing his 80 acre claim filed in the Norfolk Land Office, for land in Lincoln Township, Washington County, Nebraska.  Ancestry's Homestead Records database contained an additional 14 pages of George's file, no doubt the same pages I would have received from NARA for my $50.  From these documents I learned George settled on his land on August 1st of 1869 and built a frame house with a shingled roof, five doors, (five doors???), and seven windows.  He dug a well and plowed and cultivated most of his 80 acres excepting the one acre he planted to forest and another half acre in fruit trees.  

     However, there was more.  Two entries down on Ancestry's search results page was, "George W. Mattison", with an I instead of E.  His claim was filed with the North Platt Land Office.  That couldn't be him, my George's land was on the Missouri River, no where near the Platt on the other side of the state.  It was clearly another George Matteson, why on earth would he want land nowhere near him?  

     But just to be on the safe side...  I clicked on the link, skimmed through the file, and there on page 3 was this--

     "I, George Mattison of Washington County ...solemnly swear that on the 16th day of June 1869 I made a homestead entry at the US Land Office at Norfolk Nebraska... this additional entry is for my own exclusive benefit..." 

It was him!  And he signed his name to the form with the correct spelling. There were 15 pages in this file also, the fourth being a real bonanza, it confirmed his Army service record along with the discharge date and place, while giving me some new information-- the town of his birth.  I knew was he was born in Herkimer County, NY, but now I had a town...Russia.  The form mentioned an amendment to US homestead law adopted on March 3, 1873.  Upon looking that up, I found it was titled, "The Soldiers and Sailors Act of June 8, 1872", it read in part--"An act to enable honorably discharged soldiers and sailors, their widows and orphan children, to acquire Homesteads on the public Lands of the United States..."  So that's why his military information was in the file.  It went on to state that soldiers like George who had only 80 acres could use this amendment to acquire an additional 80 acres to bring them up to the limit of 160 acres per homestead.

     Using the description of the land, I found it was near a town called Cozad in Dawson County, Nebraska almost 250 miles from George's original claim.  I was puzzled why he would want to claim land so far away, but on the other hand, if the government was giving away land it would be foolish not to accept.  It occurred to me, perhaps all the public land nearby had already been claimed and this was the closest George could get.  I'm confident the family never left Washington County, they can be found in every census there until George died in 1908 at the home of his sister in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, still in Washington County.  It appears this new land was considered part of his original homestead so the requirements for living on the land five years and building a home there were waived.  Now I'm curious what he did with his additional 80 acres?  Every genealogy answer begets another question...



  1. My second great grandparents lived in Cozad, though their homestead was across the county line north into Custer county. They were there later, like the 1880's. I would guess your George Matteson most likely rented out his 80 acres - it was probably good grazing land for livestock.

    1. Thanks Laura, that sounds like a likely scenario.

  2. Great find, Ellie, and well done on saving the $50. It’s always especially rewarding to learn further details of an ancestor’s life :-)

  3. What an incredible, exciting find! You were so smart to check elsewhere ---good reminder for me.

  4. Hi Michelle! I almost didn't check, lol.