Have you ever wondered just where some of your ancestors may have disappeared to? We all have. I suspect that more then a few took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862. In theory this was thought to be "free" land to settlers. But in reality there was a lot that went into gaining your claim.
First the settler filed a claim on a quarter section (160 acres), the settler must also have been a citizen and at least 21 years of age. The requirements to obtain the title to this land or "prove up his claim" were; he must live on it for at least 6 months of the year, not always easy if his work was elsewhere as in town; he must plow 10 acres and fence a certain amount and dig a well. At the end of the five year period, he must also find 2 persons willing to sign affidavits to attest to these things. This was not always easy in an area where people quite frequently moved about. Most of the lands were in the western states such as, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Dakota. There were others though as those states opened up after the government had obtain it from the Indians. Although this route to owning land was rough for many, the offer of "free land" was always persuasive. Below there are two links that have more information regarding this program. These will be in more detail then I have here, I just thought that it might be easier to just give you the basic premise. It surprises me that in my researching, many have never, ever heard of this part of history.
Homestead Act of 1862