Mining the 1872 Act records

That other claims act

So we all know how our ancestors had the right to stake claims on homesteads on public lands and, if they met the legal requirements, eventually gain ownership of those homesteads.

Those claims were under the Homestead Act of 20 May 1862 — the “act to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain.”1 The Act was intended to encourage settlement of the western lands — and it was wildly successful, with 80 million acres claimed by 1900.2

But there was another federal statute that allowed our ancestors to stake their claims to public lands that we may not have thought about. The records are harder to locate than Homestead Act records — there’s no easy online searchable patent database — but oh my… they sure can be worth the effort.

That other federal statute was entitled “An Act to promote the Development of the mining Resources of the United States.” Passed into law just 10 years after the Homestead Act, this statute provided:

That all valuable mineral deposits in lands belonging to the United States, both surveyed and unsurveyed, are hereby declared to be free and open to exploration and purchase, and the lands in which they are found to occupation and purchase, by citizens of the United States and those who have declared their intention to become such, under regulations prescribed by law, and according to the local customs or rules of miners, in the several mining-districts, so far as the same are applicable and not inconsistent with the laws of the United States.3

The Act gave the miners who staked claims the “exclusive right of possession and enjoyment of all the surface included within the lines of their locations, and of all veins, lodes and ledges throughout their entire depth…”4 It required that the claims be staked out above ground, that the miners put in at least $100 worth of work or improvements each year until the land was patented, and that co-owners of any claim would acquire the interests of any of their fellows who didn’t uphold their part of the bargain.5

And it allowed for the acquisition of permanent rights to the land by way of a patent — and to get the patent, the applicant had to file “an application for a patent, under oath, … together with a plat and field-notes of the claim or claims in common” plus proof that the notice of the claim had been posted on the land with affidavits of proof.6

And those provisions, to a genealogist, mean one thing and one thing only: records. What kinds of records? All kinds of records.

According to the online Guide to Federal Records of the National Archives, records of mining claims are held in Record Group 49, Records of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). While some BLM records are at regional repositories of the National Archives in Denver, Anchorage and Seattle, the bulk of the records in Record Group 49 are in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., with many of the maps and photographic records at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.7

And among the records in Record Group 49, specifically in the Records of Division “N” (Mineral Division):

     • Letters sent, 1844-1908.
     • Registers of letters received, 1866-1909.
     • Registers of mining claims, 1878-1908.
     • Registers of mineral patents, 1889-1913.
     • Records of appeals and decisions in mineral contest cases, 1870-1909.
     • Dockets relating chiefly to contests concerning mineral lands that conflicted with private entries, 1870-1909.
     • Records relating to coal lands classification and restoration, oil and gas structures, and forest withdrawals, 1907-27.
     • Indexes to mineral contest dockets, 1929-42.
     • Maps (45,367 items) — Survey plats of mineral claims in AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, SD, UT, WA, and WY, 1872- 1908.8

In the Land Status Records of 1800-1973:

     • Registers of entries of mining lands, 1868-1908, with indexes.
     • Mineral patents, 1868-1908, with index.
     • List of canceled mineral land applications, 1871-97; and index to canceled mineral entries, 1898-1907.9

In the General Records of the General Land Office and Bureau of Land Management 1796-1981:

     •      • Register of mining entries, 1875-1907.10

And in the Records of Division “B” (Recorder’s Division):

     • Maps (1,072 items) — Plats of townships in CA, CO, OR, ID, MT, NM, SD, and WY, showing mines and mining claims and, in some instances, patent numbers and dates and survey and document numbers, 1872-96.11

For those with miners on the branches of their family trees, these records are as good an excuse for a National Archives road trip as The Legal Genealogist has ever seen.

But there’s more. The Bureau of Land Management itself has State Offices and, it says, “The Federal Government office with the complete set of land and mineral records for Federal lands in a particular State is the BLM State Office. The BLM State Office is the only office where the mining claim records are filed and available for public inspection.”12

That last restriction applies only to non-archival records — those as to claims that are active today. It may surprise you, but mining claims may be filed even today in Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming — and records will be found in the BLM State Offices for those states. BLM also explains that it “maintains its files in electronic format in a system known as LR 2000. This system may be accessed through terminals located in the BLM Public Information Centers.”13 And that database is at least partially online: http://www.blm.gov/lr2000/.


 
SOURCES

  1. “An act to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain,” 12 Stat. 392 (20 May 1862); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 24 Jun 2013).
  2. Homestead Act”, Primary Documents in American History, Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov : accessed 24 Jun 2013).
  3. § 1, An Act to promote the Development of the mining Resources of the United States, 17 Stat. 91 (10 May 1872); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 24 Jun 2013).
  4. Ibid., § 3.
  5. Ibid., § 5.
  6. Ibid., § 6.
  7. Statistical Summary of Holdings,” Guide to Federal Records, National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/ : accessed 24 Jun 2013).
  8. Guide to Federal Records, Records of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (Record Group 49), Records of BLM State Offices 1853-1990, Records of Division “N” (Mineral Division), National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 25 June 2013).
  9. Guide to Federal Records, Records of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (Record Group 49), Records of BLM State Offices 1853-1990, Land Status Records 1800-1973, National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 25 June 2013).
  10. Guide to Federal Records, Records of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (Record Group 49), Records of BLM State Offices 1853-1990, General Records of the General Land Office and Bureau of Land Management 1796-1981, National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 25 June 2013).
  11. Guide to Federal Records, Records of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (Record Group 49), Records of Division “B” (Recorder’s Division), National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 25 June 2013).
  12. See “Mining Claims and Sites on Federal Lands” Bureau of Land Management (http://www.blm.gov : accessed 24 Jun 2013).
  13. Ibid.
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6 Responses to Mining the 1872 Act records

  1. Marian Johnson says:

    While you are discussing land records of sorts, I would be interested in learning more about the Timber Culture Act of 1878 – my great grandmother’s sister had a timber culture out in the middle of Nebraska in the 1880s. My imagination conjures up images of this 40-year-old single woman out in the prairie planting trees. Must have been quite a sight!

  2. Mary Ann Thurmond says:

    Thanks for this information, Judy! My family lines seem to have been farmers through and through for generations, and some still are! But Tom’s Thurmond line has miners in Colorado by 1850, and then his maternal grandfather (Perry) apparently staked a claim on a mine with some other men, most likely in Nevada, in the very late 1800′s/very early 1900′s We have a marvelous picture of him at that time but I would like to know more about this “operation.” Now I know where to look! Tom also had an earlier Perry ancestor who died very young and I found a record which listed him as a “lead miner” and that’s “probable cause of death” as far as I’m concerned!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Oooh. Lead miner. Yeah. (And you have to wonder about our mutual ancestor William Robertson the hatter and his death — mercury poisoning maybe?)

      • Mary Ann Thurmond says:

        Judy,
        That really hadn’t occurred to me, but the chemicals in the fabrics, glues, etc. probably would have been lethal in those days; some of them are still obnoxious!

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