Nebraska Family History Research
History of Nebraska
Nebraska was part of the Louisiana Purchase acquired from France in 1803. Before the 1860s, most pioneers passed through Nebraska along the Platte River Valley on their way to Oregon and California. The first serious attempts to form Nebraska Territory were begun in 1851, but territorial status was not achieved until three years later. Nebraska Territory was created in 1854 as a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a political compromise regarding the expansion of slavery. Although this act officially opened the area for white settlement, the real impetus to organizing the territory was the building of a Pacific railroad, not colonization. At that time Nebraska Territory extended to the Canadian border. The center of government was located in Omaha, on the Missouri River. As the population grew, migration worked its way westward along rivers such as the Platte, and via the rapidly developing railroads.
The first federal land office was established in 1854, but it was not until after the Civil War that extensive settlement began. This led to Nebraska’s admission to the United States on 1 March 1867. The Homestead Acts of 1862 and 1866 governed the disposal of the public land in Nebraska, but these acts did not anticipate the large migration to the state. The settlement of Nebraska required a new view of the economics of an unfamiliar geography and an advance in technology. The former obstacle was overcome by the cattle ranchers whose animals grazed the vast prairie, and the technology that came with the invention of farming implements. These agricultural innovations included barbed wire, the steel plow, the spring harrow, and windmills — inventions that did not come into widespread usage until the years between 1870 and 1890. It was during that period that the Great Plains experienced a tremendous growth in population. By 1880 the years of good weather and new productivity in farming equipment had brought the population growth in Nebraska to more than 450,000.
Not only farmers but merchants, capitalizing on expanding markets, moved to Nebraska and created small towns, especially along the developing railroads. In fact, between 1860 and 1870, the city population of Nebraska increased over 400 percent, an indication that not everyone in Nebraska lived on farms.
Both natives and foreigners were attracted by the government land acts, advertising by the railroads and steamship companies, and immigration efforts by the federal government. European groups that settled Nebraska included individuals and families from Russia, Bohemia, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and the British Isles.
Years of unprecedented growth and frontier expansion soon gave way to negative repercussions. Abysmal living conditions, inflated land prices, low profits on produce, and poor weather brought a reversal of fortunes and mounting dissatisfaction with economic and political conditions. From this discontent came the agrarian political movements.
Genealogical research in Nebraska must be completed at both the state and county level. Few statewide Nebraska indexes exist, but the survival of records across the state is good. The researcher will find it necessary to do a great deal of family research at the county level where the individual family resided. The purpose of the Nebraska State Historical Society and Genealogical Society of Utah’s joint project is to microfilm specific county records in order to make these resources more widely available.