Nebraska Land Records

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This entry was originally written by Marsha Hoffman Rising, CG, FUGA, FASG and Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Nebraska Family History Research series.
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Nebraska is a Public-Domain State.

Nebraska is a public domain state in which land was initially granted by the federal government. The first homestead claim in the United States was made on 1 January 1863, nine miles west of Beatrice in Gage County by Daniel Freeman. His homestead is now the location of Homestead National Monument. The Homestead National Monument is currently working on obtaining microfilm copies of the National Archives Homestead case files. Many of these early homesteaders in Nebraska were Civil War veterans from the northern states of Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa, eager to obtain the inexpensive farmland available from the federal government.

Land was dispersed in Nebraska through several land offices. Those in operation throughout the nineteenth century were the following: Omaha City (1854), Brownsville (1857), Nebraska City (1857), Dakota City (1857), Beatrice (1868), Lincoln (1868), Grand Island (1868), West Point (1869), Lowell (1872), North Platte (1872), Norfolk (1873), Bloomington (1874), Niobrara (1875), Neligh (1881), Valentine (1882), McCook (1882), Sidney (1886), Chadron (1886), O’Neill (1888), Alliance (1890) and Broken Bow (1890). These land offices lasted until 1933, when the last one closed at Alliance.

The current work on this essential subject in Nebraska research is Russell C. Lang’s Original Land Transfers of Nebraska: How the West Was Almost Given Away (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 2001). This work focuses on the original land transfers and settlement process (1866–85). The references in Lang’s work are particularly noteworthy. In addition, a helpful reference from Nebraska State Historical Society is “U.S. Government Land Laws in Nebraska, 1854–1907,” by James E. Porter.

The Nebraska State Historical Society has records from the land offices and microfilmed copies of all the tract books. Some of these entries are indexed. If the exact land description is known, land patents for Nebraska may be obtained from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wyoming State Office, 5353 Yellowstone Rd., Box 1828, Cheyenne, WY 82003-1828.

Railroads acquired nearly a tenth of Nebraska land from the federal government and sold it cheaply to settlers to encourage settlement and the development of commerce. The original homestead may have first been farmed by early homesteaders but was acquired from the railroad at an early date. For this reason, it is best to track the title chain back using the exact land description in the register of deed’s office before going to the federal records. Most of the original records of railroad land sales were destroyed by fire, but the Nebraska Historical Society holds land records of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad in Nebraska. An index to the oil and gas patents from 1908 is online at the BLM website, where patents can be examined by state, county, or land description. This database does not include all lands that went to patent for Nebraska as it does for some other states.

After the first land purchase from the government, transfers of land are located in the individual county in the register of deeds office. Here the researcher can search deeds, indexed by grantee-grantor, mortgages, and cemetery record deed books. Some offices hold the register of entries made at the land office in Lincoln under the Homestead Act of 1862. Many abstracts and claims are also located at the county level. Some county deeds are on microfilm at the Nebraska State Historical Society and the FHL.