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Arizona homestead records to be digitized

PHOENIX — An important part of Arizona history will soon be available to view online.

The Homestead National Monument of America is in the process of digitizing thousands of homestead records from the U.S. National Archive, and historian Blake Bell said Arizona’s records will soon be complete.

“These records are probably the most information-rich records I’ve ever come across as a historian,” said Bell.

Homestead acts were a series of laws signed by the federal government that allowed people to apply for federal land grants to farm and build houses, with the first act being signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

Bell said the homestead acts lasted until 1976 in the contiguous United States, and Arizona was a popular destination for many people.

“Especially after world war one, you see a very big movement into the desert southwest and a lot of homesteading taking place there,” he said.

Those who applied for a grant were required to live on the land for five years and improve it by building at least a 12-by-14 home and by growing crops, resulting in detailed records of people proving they’ve met the requirements.

“In these records what you’re finding is how big the house was that your ancestor lived in, how many acres did they plow up to plant crops, how many trees did they put out,” he said.

The acts were considered quite progressive at the time Bell said, allowing anyone who hadn’t taken up arms against the U.S., including freed slaves, who were 21 years or older to apply.

It even allowed non-U.S. citizen applicants, only requiring that the applicant declare intention of becoming a U.S. citizen Bell said, thereby resulting in even more detail than just land information.

“There is citizenship paperwork, all of their naturalization paperwork, these kinds of things we’re finding in there,” he said. “So we’re getting a lot of really, really good, rich information from these records.”

He said the information could be very useful for tracing a person’s ancestry and the records should be available online in the next two to three months.


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