Back to the Land: Finding an Ancestor’s Iowa Homestead

While tracking down the exact location of your ancestor’s land may seem daunting, last month, I learned that it’s entirely possible to get from this: Timothy Adam BLM…to this:

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Timothy Adam Homestead Site, Moville Township, Woodbury County, Iowa; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned that my ancestor Timothy Adam homesteaded in Woodbury County, Iowa.1 I was excited to find that his homestead was just a short hop from the Woodbury County Fairgrounds in rural Moville Township, making it an area that, thanks to my years in 4-H, is familiar to me. I thought how funny it would be if I would happen to know who lived on his land today.

That thought remained in the back of my mind as I prepared to plot the location of the NE ¼ of Section 29, information obtained online from the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records and verified in record copies from the National Archives. Armed with the legal land description, I turned to the Plat Book of Woodbury County, Iowa, available online through the Iowa Digital Library.

After locating the quarter section where the Adam family spent the latter part of the nineteenth century, I took note of any landmarks – including nearby towns, roads, and waterways – that would help pinpoint the homestead site on a modern map. As Moville Township is still comprised of farmland broken into the orderly squares that make up the Midwest’s patchwork landscape, it was easy enough to identify the right quarter section via satellite image on Google Maps.

Timothy Adam Google MapsAfter zooming in on a grove of trees on the appropriate quarter, it was even possible to see that there was an old home site located there. Thank you, Google Maps!

Timothy Adam Home Site Google MapsThe next step, of course, was to visit the land where Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam, pictured here, once lived. My parents and I embarked on an expedition to the back roads southeast of Moville, where we stopped at a neighboring farm to ask if we might have permission to trek to the home site. There, we discovered that the owners were, indeed, a family that we knew from 4-H! Despite the shock of us showing up on her doorstep for perhaps the most unexpected reason imaginable, our friend kindly gave us permission to take a shortcut across the pasture with our truck.

According to a local newspaper, a tornado that hit the area in 1928 was said to have caused significant damage to what remained of the homestead: “Southwest of Moville on the old Timothy Adam farm now owned by W. H. Rawson trees in the orchard were uprooted, corn crib, machine shed, barn, hog house and chicken house were swept away. The house is the only building left standing.”2 Today, not even a house remains, but it was fascinating to explore the old foundations and to imagine just how little, perhaps, the view from the homestead had changed.

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Timothy Adam Homestead Site, Moville Township, Woodbury County, Iowa; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.


SOURCES
1 Timothy Adam (Woodbury County) homestead file, final certificate no. 2560, Fort Des Moines, Iowa, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2 “Tornado Destroys Property Near Here,” Moville (Iowa) Mail, 10 May 1928, p. 1, col. 3; digital image, findmypast.com (http://www.findmypast.com : accessed 3 July 2014); citing Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com).

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9 thoughts on “Back to the Land: Finding an Ancestor’s Iowa Homestead

  1. Jan Emery

    I love maps and geography, so this is a particularly compelling story for me! Thank you for sharing the adventure, and how remarkable you knew the current land owners.

    Reply
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  4. treeklimber

    I think it’s fabulous you’ve been able to visit the old farmstead and take photos. It’s something I’d like to do as well. It’s even better that you know the current owners. Plotting out the land tgey owned and using google maps is exciting!

    Reply
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