How Homestead Records Can Help Archaeology: An Example from Peace River

In the summer of 2016, while doing some work on behalf of Northern Sunrise County near Peace River, Tree Time archaeologists, recorded a cabin as an archaeological site. Although the cabin had clearly been renovated in the late 20th century with wood paneling and plastic sheeting, the cabin showed signs of earlier construction. The cabin was built with aspen logs, that were axe-felled, saw-cut and notched, with mud chinking between the logs.

aspen poles and mud chinking - Copy
Red arrow indicates mud chinking.
axe cutting - Copy
Red arrow indicates axe marks.

After we documented the cabin and returned to our office in Edmonton. We turned to the Alberta Homestead Records to see if we could find any historic documents about this cabin. There were three entries for the quarter section of land that the cabin was located on. The first was on the 19th of July in 1928. Mr. Orval Moxley, originally of Kentucky, applied for a homestead, but appears to have abandoned the property and applied for another homestead on a different quarter. The following summer, on August 30th, 1929, Paul W. Unruh of East Prussia Germany applied for homestead. The application notes “Nil” for previous improvements on the quarter when Unruh took possession. This means that Mr. Moxley had not completed any improvements on the section before he abandoned the land. Mr. Unruh must also have found the location not to his liking, because there are no records of him applying for patent for his homestead.

nil
Mr. Unruh’s homestead application.

On 29th January or July (the record is illegible) of 1930, Mr. George H.B. Garstin, of London England, applied for homestead of the quarter. Mr. Unruh must have been somewhat industrious, as Mr. Garstin notes the presence of a “log shack, old stable + well” in his homestead application. The homestead record ends here. Indicating that Mr. Garstin failed to prove up his homestead and apply for patent.

log shack
Mr. Garstin’s homestead application.

The aspen log cabin is interpreted as having been built by Paul Unruh in late 1929 as part of his efforts to homestead the quarter. Maybe further archival, historical and genealogical research could find out why he abandoned it.

The Alberta Homestead Records are a valuable tool for researchers. This is not only true for archaeologists, but also for people trying to research their own family history. The next couple of blog posts will explain what the homesteading process was like and how to use the Alberta Homestead Records to research your own history.

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Author: bromano

I am an archaeologist with Tree Time Services Inc. conducting Historic Resources Impact Assessments in Alberta. I first gained experience in Alberta working as a field technician excavating at the Quarry of the Ancestors. This experience deepened my appreciation for the province’s rich heritage and prompted me to pursue more work in Alberta. I have experience in archaeology around the world and in other parts of Canada. I have excavated in Greece, as a student on the Pylos-Iklaina Archaeological Project and as a volunteer for the Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project. I have also excavated in Ontario on the Mackenzie 2, Electric Woodpecker 1 and 2 sites. I extensive experience conducting research in an academic setting during the course of my Bachelor’s and my Master’s. I have also gained research experience as both a Research Assistant and as a Teacher’s Assistant using a wide variety of materials. This includes experience in archival research. I worked for the University of Alberta at their Alberta Land and Settlement Infrastructure Project. During my time there, I examined thousands of scanned microfilm reels concerning early homestead records. This has not only greatly expanded my knowledge of Alberta and its various communities, but the homesteading process and what life was like for Alberta’s early settlers. I have also work experience in museums. As an interpreter for both the Kenosewun Museum and Captain Kennedy House Museum in 2008 and 2009, I was responsible for interpretive program development including tours, special events, and displays. I conducted and coordinated research with my assistants on a variety of subjects, ranging from local histories to native fauna and flora. I have also volunteered in atlatl exhibition at the Bodo Archaeological Society’s open house and I welcome any other opportunity to help with community outreach.

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