Nebraska U.S. General Land Office Tract Books

By: Gerald E. Sherard
429 South Moore St.
Lakewood, CO 80226-2629

Much of the land in Nebraska was obtained by homesteading under the Homestead Act of May 20, 1862, or later public land laws passed by Congress. Modifications were made by subsequent acts, such as one enacted on June 8, 1872 that authorized special benefits for Union veterans or their widows and orphans. Your ancestor's homestead application should show his name, residence, and the description and size of tract. His homestead proof record includes a tract description, his name, age, post office address, and house description; it also shows the date his residence was established, number and a relationship of family members, crop description, and acreage under cultivation. His final certificate shows tract location, his name, post office address, the date the patent was issued, and a citation to the patent record. If he was a naturalized citizen, the proceedings of his naturalization or is declared intention to become a citizen show the name, date and port of arrival, and place of birth. If he obtained ownership by cash purchase before the minimum time required by homestead law, the papers will be filed with the cash entry files of the same land office. The older the applications the less the information you will find. It is recommended the researcher review the entry in the tract book because often additional notations were made. For example, if a claim was a timber claim or a canceled application, often the residence of the claimant or applicant is given. Also if a surviving wife was issued the patent, the husband's name will be given. A more detailed explanation of all types of federal or national land record transactions for Nebraska is given in "Nebraska State Historical Society Guide No. 7 " by James E. Potter (1). An "Explanation of Information" is given on page 3. An explanation of the abbreviations used to denote the various types of entries is included in Appendix II. Appendix, III contains a listing of the papers which are available.

A person wishing to make an entry of any type on the public domain went to the Register of the local land office and filed their claim. Some entries, such as pre-emptions and similar cash entries, were settled fairly quickly with little paper work involved. Other types of claims, such as homesteads, desert lands, and timber cultures, required numerous proofs extending over a period of years, which ranged from simple purchase applications to long-term proofs, affidavits, public notices, newspaper printings, and other documents. When all the legal requirements were satisfied, a final certificate as issued by the Register to the entryman and the accumulated papers were forwarded to the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. If, upon examination by the GLO, everything was found to be in order, a patent was prepared and (usually) sent to the Register for delivery to the entryman. Note that since 1836 U.S. Presidents have not signed patents. Secretaries may of signed the President's name on the actual patent. Land patents issued were the final step in a complete process.

The homestead entry papers filed by land offices are dated 1863 - June 30, 1908. Usually there are two separately numbered series for each land office, one relating to complete homestead entries and the other relating to incomplete homestead entries. The homestead entry files for persons who purchased the tracts for cash instead of fulfilling the homestead conditions are filed with the cash entry files pertaining to the same land office. Because of the various filing systems, it is recommended to use the legal description provided in this index and to examine the tract book entry to determine the type of entry made for a particular entryman. It is further recommended to make a copy or note down all the tract book entry notations for use in requesting copies of the original filing papers. To receive copies of the land entry and patent papers for these settlers, write the Suitland Reference Branch (NNRR), National Archives and Records Center, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C. 20409. An advance payment payable to NATF-NNGR is required. For 1908 and earlier entries, you must provide the state, the name of the land office, the name of the entryman, land description (Township, Range, Section, etc), type of entry, and final certificate or patent number. Post-1908 entries, you only need to provide the name of the entryman and the certificate or patent number. Add the following statement to your letter request to ensure obtaining the complete file: "The above referenced individual is deceased and any papers relating to naturalization will be used for ancestor tracing purposes. Please bill me for the cost of this service". Sometimes it is best to copy and send all the information given in the tract book entry. In general, the older the application, the less information you will find. Also approximately 10% of the applications are lost or misfiled. Appendix, III contains a listing of the papers which are available.

In the tract books the missing land sections were railroad land or land sold to raise money for public schools. The land in these missing sections was bought by individuals through normal deed transfers. Cities attracted settlers to their town by getting a railroad line built to their town. Railroads were the main means of transportation for people and goods. For example Hastings, Nebraska, spent large sums of money to get five railroad lines to their city, but still failed in their effort to become the state capitol.

Tract book volumes 1 through 16 (years 1860 - 1954) (NSHSL reel numbers 1 through 5) are indexed with an alphabetical name index on 8 microfilm reels at the Nebraska State Historical Society Library (NSHSL) in Lincoln, Nebraska. All volumes of the tract books (NSHSL microfilm reel numbers 1 through 37 ) are indexed by an alphabetical name index onto a computer database at the state library in Lincoln. This computer database consists of approximately 430,000 names from the General Land Office (GLO) tract books on microfilm reels held by the Nebraska State Historical Society Library. In order to effectively utilize these indexes, one only needs to know the name of the applicant. The information provided in these indexes is:

(1) Section
(2) Township - direction north of the baseline meridian
(3) Range - direction east or west of the principal meridian
(4) Name of Applicant: Last name, first name, middle initial. These are the names of the people who made entries (or the name to whom the certificate was "Issued to" if different) at the land office.

If one finds an entry of interest in the computer database, by knowing the township and range one can:

1) Determine the tract book volume number from a tract book volume map available at the Nebraska State Historical Society and in Appendix IV.
2) Enter the archives record index for government land tract books in Appendix V and determine (or confirm) the microfilm reel number.
3) Find the volume (or township and range) and entry on the microfilm reel.

A less effective way to utilize the land entry books is to determine the approximate location with a particular county for the applicant. The "1885 Atlas of the State of Nebraska" or county atlases are useful for this purpose and provide range and township numbers. All the tract books are indexed by section, township, and range which makes it essential that one knows the legal description of the land held by the applicant if one wants to ultimately obtain the applicant's homestead entry papers.



(1) Potter, James E., "U.S. Government Land Laws in Nebraska, 1854 - 1904", Nebraska State Historical Society Reference Information Guide No. 7.
(2) Wright, Norm E., "Building an American Pedigree", Brigham Young University Press, Provo, UT, 1974.
(3) Yoshpe, Harry and Brower, Philip P., "Preliminary Inventory of The Land Entry Papers of the General Land Office", National Archives, Washington, 1949.

Become a History Nebraska Member Today

Learn More