When I sent away to the National Archives for a copy of a homestead file, I was sure that I was in for a treat. I was aware that, in addition to the homestead application and final certificate, a homestead entry file would typically include proof documents in the form of testimony from the applicant and two witnesses. I couldn’t wait to read what this testimony would have to say about the home, family, and farm of Jens Madsen Schmidt of Bon Homme County, South Dakota.1 Jens had applied for a homestead on 23 November 1870,2 just months after his arrival from Denmark and less than a decade after the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862.3
As it turned out, I shouldn’t have gotten too excited. Apparently, on 8 June 1877, Luman N. Judd, Register of the Land Office at Springfield, had better things to do than to fill in the three blank lines meant to describe the home of Jens Madsen Schmidt, or the additional three blank lines meant to detail the improvements made upon his land.4 Of course, perhaps Mr. Judd isn’t to blame, and the witnesses – Peter Anderson and John Haase – were either unable to communicate these facts in English or were particularly reticent that day.5 To be fair, these men likely had crops to get back to and saw no reason to belabor the details, especially if they were equally well acquainted with Jens and knew that nothing stood in the way of his patent.
All was not lost with the homestead file. I learned that, in 1877, Jens had cultivated about forty acres of land.6 I learned, too, that his inclination to Anglicize his Danish name to James Smith had caused some issues with the paperwork; in 1878, he signed a document swearing that the “correct orthography” of his name was, in fact, Jens Madsen Schmidt.7
Regardless of the details – or lack thereof – of the homestead file, Jens Madsen Schmidt became the proud owner of one hundred and sixty acres of land located in Section 1, Township 93, Range 58 of Bon Homme County, South Dakota.8
If you would like to order your ancestor’s own homestead file, I would suggest beginning with the General Land Office Records of the Bureau of Land Management, where you will be able to locate the necessary information to order the file from the National Archives. I used their online form, and found it quick and easy. Fifty dollars and a few weeks later, perhaps you will find that your ancestor’s neighbors had at least a few things to say about his living situation!
1Anne Bruner Eales, et al., editors, Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2000), 293.
2 Jens Madsen Schmidt (Bon Homme County) homestead file, final certificate no. 124, Springfield, South Dakota, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
3 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 March 2014), manifest, S.S. Allemannia, Hamburg, Germany, to New York, arriving 30 June 1870, J.M. Schmidt; citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, roll 331, line 38.
4 Jens Madsen Schmidt homestead file no. 124, Springfield, So. Dak., Land Office, RG 49, NA-Washington.
I’m so sorry your hopes were dashed, Melanie! It’s such a disappointment to know what should be in the file and then find out it isn’t in your ancestor’s file.
Thanks for your comment, Nancy! It is frustrating – but fortunately, I had a more promising packet arrive from NARA recently for another ancestor, so I suppose it evens out!
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I’m not sure how I got here tonight, Melanie, but really enjoyed reading this blog post :) I wasn’t a subscriber to your blog in 2014, so I missed this post along with the link and valuable information about the land office and NARA. :) Thank you so much!
I’m so glad to hear that this post was helpful to you, Mary!