Did Your Ancestor Get a Timber Claim?

Determining if your ancestor filed a Timber Claim under the Timber Culture Act of 1873 can be somewhat problematic. The Timber Act was passed with the hope of getting settlers on Federal land to plant and cultivate timber. The belief was that the timber could eventually be harvested by settlers and that the vegetation would increase the amount of rain in the areas where the trees were planted.

That last belief was mistaken.

There is more about the Timber Culture Act of 1873 on these two locations:

Determining if your relative filed a timber claim is a little more difficult. In some states, particularly ones with a somewhat arid climate, many claims were abandoned or relinquished. Only claims that completed the timber culture requirements (which were amended over time) and were proved up by the claimant, resulted in a patent from the General Land Office that transferred title in the property to the claimant. Those patents are indexed by name of claimant and available on the Bureau of Land Management website (http://glorecords.blm.gov). The complete files are at the National Archives.

So are the incomplete ones.

The challenge is that to find a claim, one must know the precise location of the claim. If the claim was completed, the patent image from the BLM website will have that information–the legal description will be included. That’s enough information to obtain a copy of the completed claim application.

The incomplete claim did not generate a patent, so the legal description will need to be obtained elsewhere. The General Land Office maintained tract books which tracked all claims filed on Federal land, whether they resulted in a complete valid claim or not. But these tract books are organized geographically based upon where the land was located–which is often unknown.

If the claim was in Nebraska, it is easier. The BLM tract books for Nebraska have been indexed for all names (complete and incomplete claims) and can be searches on the History Nebraska website. For other states, the researcher will need to search the tract books (online at FamilySearch) manually. This is a cumbersome process when the location is not reasonably known.

There are some ways to get an idea of where a Timber Claim may have been filed if it was not completed. Some of these claims may be near where a completed homestead claim was already filed and completed. In that case, search that general location for the name of the homesteader. If the potential timber claimant’s township of residence is known, that is the place to begin the search. Just remember that some individuals did file Timber Claims outside the township where they lived.

Completed claims typically do not contain as much information as homestead applications and the amount of information in an incomplete claim can vary depending upon where in the process the claimant was when the claim was abandoned or relinquished.


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