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The Homestead Act of 1862, considered one of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history, persuaded eastern-European immigrants, adventure-seekers in the East, and women seeking independence to embrace the notion of founding a home place out on the desolate prairies of the Dakotas, the wooded timber regions of Minnesota, the valleyed mountains of Colorado, and the expansive plains of Nebraska.
The Homestead Act led the legislative course of successive homestead laws, rules and regulations and congressional provisions that opened up western lands for settlement. Homestead acts were those which granted a free piece of land to a settler who would stay on the property, improve the tract with the building of a home and farm site, then return to the local land office and file the proof papers that would substantiate his or her efforts to meet the requirements of the law. When the proof papers were allowed, the new landowner received a patent. It is within these proof papers, packets in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration that we come to understand our ancestors' struggles and appreciate their satisfaction as they registered their patents in the county courthouse, securing ownership
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