gfhgr.gif (25105 bytes)

Spring 2001
A Publication of the St. Louis Public Library

Vol. 1   No. 2


In Help!! we attempt to solve readers’ problems using materials at the St. Louis Public Library. We also invite readers to send in suggested solutions to the problems presented. Send questions and answers to Gateway Family Historian, St. Louis Public Library, History & Genealogy Department, 1301 Olive Street, St. Louis, MO 63103 (see the CONTACT!! section of this newsletter for more information). You can also e-mail us at Type GFH-HELP!! in the subject line. We cannot print names, addresses, or e-mail addresses of submitters.

Question: I have a copy of a preemption record for one of my ancestors. What is it and what does it mean?

Answer: Preemption certificates were granted to people who were living on federal land that they had not bought, or in other words, squatters. In some cases, these people settled the land ahead of federal surveyors. They discovered the if they established farms and improved the land they could later sell the property. The first preemption laws were passed in 1807 and simply allowed a person to remain on the land until it was sold, with no fear of forcible eviction. Those who did not file for preemption could still be fined or receive jail time. Later preemption laws allowed the squatter first bidding rights on the land they had settled, and then fixed prices at which the land would be purchased. Source: Hone, E. Wade. Land & Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, Inc. 1997.

Genealogy Factoid: Persons convicted of witchcraft in the American colonies were hanged rather than burned at the stake (which is how persons in Europe convicted of witchcraft were punished). Witchcraft was considered a civil offense in the colonies, while in Europe it was considered an ecclesiastical (religious) crime.

Table of Contents