A “reasonably exhaustive search” in the genealogical lexicon means, generally, to look at everything that could reasonably answer a genealogy problem or question. That’s a good approach, but sometimes “brute force,” or looking at everything and anything works as well. And, “brute force” may give you answers to questions you did not even know you had.

My great-great-grandfather, Focke Goldenstein, was a German immigrant who originally settled in Illinois in the 1870s, homesteaded in Nebraska in the 1880s with his wife, Anna, and returned to Illinois in 1889. He was one of a number of immigrants from Ostfriesland who followed that same general path: immigrate and settle in Illinois and move to Nebraska.

Homesteading was limited to individuals who were United States citizens and immigrants would have to document their citizenship as a part of the homestead application process. This usually meant including copies of their declaration of intent (if they weren’t completely naturalized when they applied for a homestead) or their final citizenship papers. Focke’s homestead application included a copy of his naturalization which was completed in Knox County, Illinois, in the 1870s. His cousin, J. T. Ehmen was one of his witnesses. Focke lived in Adams County, Illinois, after he immigrated–he had married sisters who already lived in the area. He married an Adams County resident, Anna Dirks (a daughter of Ostfriesen immigrants), in 1881. His naturalization in Knox County–which is a distance from Adams County–had always slightly puzzled me.

I’ve been browsing homestead applications for other Ostfriesen immigrants to Nebraska–particularly ones who also initially settled in Adams County (and the adjacent Hancock County) who were either distant relatives or from the same village as my Ostfriesen immigrants. I discovered that Focke was not the only one who went to Adams County, Illinois, and naturalized in Knox County, Illinois, and had J. T. Ehmen as a witness to the naturalization. Looking at these homestead applications (which include a naturalization since the individuals in which I am interested were immigrants) has helped me to document where they lived before they homesteaded.

For years, I had initially thought that Goldenstein went to Knox County to naturalize because his cousin lived there, was established there and knew how to navigate the process. Those things may still be true. But since I have found others in the same area I’m starting to think that more may have been going on. Ehmen was known to have worked for the railroad and during this time period, Galesburg was a railroad hub and the railroad was (and still is) one of the largest employers in the area.

I’m wondering: did Ehmen get Goldenstein a job on the railroad in Galesburg? Did he help the others get jobs on the railroad in the 1870s?

More work to do and more questions to answer.

Given the way naturalization records are indexed (only the name of the subject being naturalized is indexed), there’s no way to find Ehmen as a witness on naturalizations other than to perform a manual search of each record. That may consume more time than I am willing to spend. But pulling the homestead records of other members of the larger Ostfriesen immigrant community–focusing on those who originally settled where mine did or who were from those villages–may give me more information on which to formulate additional searches.

US Homestead Applications are online at Ancestry.com. The originals are at the National Archives. You’ll have to draw the conclusions yourself. Just remember that there’s more in these records than how many acres were under cultivation and the size of the family home.




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