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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Doing a Land Office Business in St. Cloud

My previous post on the Saint Cloud, Minnesota General Land Office records was all about my grandfather's particular claim filed there.

But, as long as I had the records open, I had to satisfy my curiosity. I have heard the phrase "doing a land-office business" many times. This is an American idiom meaning "doing a high volume of business" of any type. So, how much business did a land-office do?

I was a little disappointed. Looking at the serial number for the initial claims at the start of each month during 1895 and over a several year period, we find this level of activity at Saint Cloud:

So about 700 homestead claims a year. Not exactly a land-office business when the local papers are writing about hundreds of new settlers coming into Pine County alone each spring. But remember, each homestead claim probably represents four to six settlers.

And homestead claims weren't the only way to obtain government land. You could also purchase it for $1.25 per acre. Now that is not "dirt cheap" to use another idiom. School teachers were making making about $20 per month and work in the logging camps was paying $26-$30 per month.

Nevertheless, as this January 23rd 1887 article from the New York Times article reports:
For the eight days ending tonight the sales of land (at the Montgomery, Alabama land office) amount to $5,350,365, at Government price of $1.25 per acre, and the homestead entries footed up $615.35.
Figuring about $18 for the average homestead claim and a 160 acre parcel for each purchase, that makes direct purchases to homesteads around 700 to 1 - at least during that 8 day stretch in Montgomery. So maybe there was a land-office business going on, just not in homesteads.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Visit to the Saint Cloud Land Office - 1895

OK, I'm making the titles up again! Actually this is a visit to the Minnesota Historical Society to look at the records of the General Land Office records of homestead claims from 1895.

Why 1895? Well, that is when my grandparents, Frances and Frank Kolkowsky, first settled in Minnesota in the northern end of Pine County. I know the date from looking at the 1895 Minnesota state census which showed Frank just where I expected to find him - Windemere Township just east of Sturgeon Lake and just south of Moose Lake. That 1895 census was taken in July of 1895 and Frank was reported living in the township for two months. He was living right next door to Thomas Novak just as in the 1900 Federal census.

Finding homestead claim information is now very easy since the Bureau of Land Management placed their General Land Office records on-line. Just key in a state, last and first name. In fact you can even request a copy of the full homestead application file from the National Archives using the form linked at this site.

But one of the items located at the Minnesota Historical Society in Saint Paul are the actual record books used at the land offices to record initial claims. Once you have a the initial claim number and the name of the Minnesota General Land Office where the claim was filed, you can look for the entry in one of these books.

Land Offices opened and closed in Minnesota during the homestead era. There were as many as thirty-four and as few as three. The helpful people in the reference room at the MHS can help you locate the right book.

When you find the proper old ledger book, you will think that you just entered the world of Charles Dickens.

I opened it carefully and began looking through the early 1895 entries. No luck! I turned on my computer and checked my research looking for the initial claim entries. 18060. Those are well past April or May of 1895.

Finally, January of 1896. There it is! 18060.

So my imagined story of grandpa stopping at the land office in Saint Cloud to file a claim and then going on to build a house before grandma arrived is all wrong. And yet, he must have been there when the census taker came by in July. Was it customary to settle on the land first and file a claim later? Did grandpa and the fellow on the line above both come down to the land office together to file claims? That claim is in the nearby section 32 that just touches on section 28. Have we identified a family friend?

This is the trouble with genealogy. Every answer yields two more questions.