Index to Alberta Homestead Records 1870 to 1930

Many people are interested in researching their family history and genealogy. The Index to Alberta Homestead Records are an excellent place to start your research. The following blog will give instructions on how to use the Index. If you wish to learn what the homestead records are, or how they can help archaeologists, please check out our previous posts.

The Index to Alberta Homestead Records 1870 to 1930 was a project created for the 100th anniversary of Alberta joining the confederacy. The members of the Alberta Genealogical Society and friends created an all name index to the homestead files to help researchers. There are 686 reels of microfilm that contain homestead records from 1870 to 1930. With this index, the researchers would be pointed to the exact reel and file number. For more information on this project or the Alberta Genealogical Society please visit their website (http://www.abgenealogy.ca/).

You can search the homestead record index by different methods including surname, legal description, or place name. Once you have that information either visit the Alberta Genealogical Society’s website and under resources click on Alberta Homestead Index then search the index or click on the following link: http://www.abgenealogy.ca/ab-homestead-index-page.

If you are doing research on your own family history, you can search by surname. When we were conducting research on the cabin that we found near Peace River, we searched the area by the legal land description.

legal search

Once you fill in the information you have, the search results will automatically appear. You can see part of our results below.

Index search results

If you want to see the scanned microreel file of the homestead records, you will need to copy the film number and the file number. The film number for the homestead records only consists of numbers. The one we were searching for is circled in green. The red arrow is pointing to a different file type (grazing lease) and it consists of letters and numbers. Once you have the film and file number, go to https://archive.org/. In the search area type in Alberta homestead with the film number you wish to search for as we did below.archive search

The reel with your homestead record should pop up. Click on the link (where the red arrow is pointing).

reel results

Then you can download it in the format that you wish. Personally I prefer downloading it as a PDF.download

The next step is the longest part of the process. You will have to look though the reel until you find the file number associated with your previous search. This may take some time because reels can contain hundreds of files. As mentioned in the previous blog post, the file number is associated with a quarter section of land and the first page often contains the file number. If you searched by a person, you might find that the results will have multiple file numbers (maybe even on multiple reels), indicating claims on different sections.

If you are not able to do the research yourself, you are able to order the homestead records (or other research) from the Alberta Genealogical Society. Check out the following link for more information

http://www.abgenealogy.ca/content.php?nid=1550&mid=1155

The Alberta Homestead Index is a wonderful tool directing researchers to the required reel or reels. Before this index was created you can imagine how long it would take to search through all of the records. This is especially true when searching by surname since the only way to tell if someone tried to homestead multiple sections would have been to search though every single record. Thanks to the Alberta Genealogical Society this is no longer the case. Happy researching!

The Alberta Homestead Process

Homestead records are a valuable research tool for archaeologists, historians and for people researching their own family history or genealogy. If you want to see how homestead records can help archaeologists please read our previous blog post. Before I explain how to use these records, I will give a brief description of the homesteading process and what type of files you might find in the records.

In order to gain land under the Dominion Lands Act, people who wished to homestead had to apply at the local land agency office. These offices were under the Dominion Lands Branch in Ottawa. For a $10 filing fee, an applicant could apply to homestead a quarter section (160 acres). Once a quarter section was homesteaded for the first time it was given a file number. All documents related to that section of land were then filed under that number. As we saw in the previous blog post about the cabin we found near Peace River, multiple people might apply to homestead on one section.

The first page of the file for a quarter section typically looks just like this (see below). The number circled in red is the file number.

file number

After filing, the homesteader then had three years to ‘prove up‘ their homestead claim. The requirements changed over the years as did the requirements for eligibility of the applicants. If you did not complete the process in three years, you would have to ask for an extension. One file contained a statement of a homesteader asking for an extension because his neighbor (allegedly) killed his horses.

horses

Applicants typically had to be male, meet the age requirement, and be a British subject (or declare an intention to be one). The required duties were that the person had to occupy the land for a set amount of time and had to undertake certain improvements upon the land within three years. The improvements usually included the construction a house and fences, and breaking and cropping a portion of the land. If you “proved up” your homestead you could apply for a patent which would give you legal ownership of the land. There were special exemptions to these rules. For example in some cases widows could apply for patents upon the death of their husbands, or as in the case below their “mysterious disappearance”.

widow

For more information on the changes to the original Dominion Lands Act, check out this website:

http://www.saskarchives.com/collections/land-records/history-and-background-administration-land-saskatchewan/homesteading

The files normally include an application for homestead, an application for patent, and a notice that the patent has been issued.

The application for entry is the first form that was filled out when someone wanted to homestead a quarter section. This form would capture information about the applicant’s age, birthplace, last residence, prior occupation, and the number of people in the household.

Below is a picture of what the top half of an application for entry looks like. You can see that the file number is recorded on the page.

appplication for homestead

When we were researching the cabin near Peace River, the forms that we found were all application for entry. This usually indicates that the land was abandoned and wasn’t successfully homesteaded before 1930. After 1930 the homestead process changed as control of natural resources was transferred to the province.

The application for patent is the form that was filed to gain the patent (title) for the land. In order for the patent to be granted the applicant had to complete the required duties. These forms contained information about the applicant’s, age, occupation, nationality, number of people in the household, residency information, post office, as well as work they’d done like breaking, cropping, buildings, fencing, and livestock.

The notification of patent is the letter granting the patent (title to the land). It demonstrates that the applicant was successful and gained legal ownership of the land and it contains the date it was issued.

Sometimes the application was not for a homestead but for a pre-emption or a purchased homestead. A pre-emption allowed a homesteader to obtain a second quarter section of land next to their homestead entry. They had requirements that had to be fulfilled in addition to the requited duties of the homestead. Purchased homesteads were typically bought for $3 an acre. The accompanying files for both pre-emptions and purchased homestead are typically the same as those for the homestead applications.

The files can contain additional documents such as inspector’s reports, witness affidavits, records of abandonment, handwritten letters, court proceedings, wills, naturalization, and even poetry and pictures.

photo of poet

poem

The above images are of the poet and poem found in the same file. Although this is by far not what the typical file looks like, until you look at the file you will never know what type of information you can find! If you want to learn how to use the Alberta Homestead Index for research keep an eye out for our next blog post.

Blasting Powder Cans

Here is an example of a unique artifact type – it is a large metal can that once contained blasting powder. We often find these cans associated with the old historic railways found throughout the province. This particular can has an inscription on the base which helps us to identify the contents of the can. In this case it also has the name of the producer. This information can help us to narrow down the age of the can.

black blasting powder
This is a rubbing from the base of the can, it sure makes it easy to identify what the can once held.

12 Foot Davis

When we get the chance we like to get to know the communities that we work in and around. One day last year after finishing work in Peace River, we stopped at the 12 Foot Davis memorial site. Henry Fuller Davis earned his nickname not because of his height, but because of a 12 Foot gold claim in Northern B.C. This claimed gained between $12,000 and $15,000. This new found wealth helped him to establish his role as a fur trader on the Peace River. Based out of Fort Vermilion in 1886, he traded in opposition to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Eventually in accordance with his wishes, he was buried in a location overlooking the town of Peace River.

For more pictures and directions to the memorial and scenic picnic area please visit the website below

http://mightypeace.com/places/sights-experiences/12-foot-davis-site/

 

Kolomea School

In 2013 Tree Time archaeologists got a chance to work on a relatively rare type of historic period site in Alberta: a historic schoolhouse. The Kolomea school site was brought to the attention of Tree Time Services by construction personnel for a transmission line project. The site consists of three concrete foundations surrounded by non-native bush. Local informants identified the foundations as a school, a teacher’s residence and a stable where students’ horses were housed during school hours. The school served the nearby Ukrainian community and was named Kolomea after a region in Ukraine.

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Concrete foundation identified as the teacher’s residence.

Tree Time undertook investigations at the school with the goals of assessing if the site was a historic resource; confirming the function and age of the foundations; determining the significance of the site to the surrounding community and to the province, and making recommendations regarding future management of the site. These normal objectives of Historic Resource Impact Assessment were complicated by the fact that construction had already started, and the site was partially inside the transmission line right of way.

To confirm the function and age of the foundations we referred to archival airphoto searches, historic land title searches, local history books, provincial archive searches, interviews with local informants and current landowners, and conducted small test excavations.

Using the Glenbow Museum Archives School Districts Database website we were were able to perform a search by legal land description to find out which school district our site was located within. This search indicated that the site was the Kolomea school. Having the name of the school helped us to pursue the next step – an historic land title search which further corroborated what we had learned through the Glenbow Museum Archives.

Local histories and archival searches through the Provincial Archives of Alberta confirmed that a one-room schoolhouse was built at this location in 1906. These records indicated that the one-room schoolhouse was replaced with a larger school in 1929. The construction date of 1929 for the large school confirmed that the site is a historic resource. We were able to find archival photos from the 1920s of the one-room school house and one from the 1930s showing the larger school. The photo of the larger school matches the location and general shape of the large foundation currently at the site.

To test and corroborate the archival and historical information, and to confirm the functions of the three buildings, four 50 x 50 cm test units were excavated at each of the foundations. These excavations resulted in the recovery of historic construction debris (concrete, brick, nails, window glass), buttons, fragments of glass vessels, porcelain, clinker (slag from coal heaters in the buildings), bone (probably burned in the stoves), tin and possibly bakelite (early plastic). Excavations in the house foundation uncovered a possible floor board. At the start of the project we had identified the northernmost foundation as the barn or stable, but owing to the discovery of a potential floor board during the excavation of this foundation we determined that it was more likely the house foundation and the southwestern foundation was the stable. We were hoping to find artifacts like jacks or marbles that would clearly represent the presence of children, but we had no luck in that department.

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Excavation unit with possible floor board.

Historic documents indicate that the school was closed in 1952 and the building was moved to Lavoy, AB by the Catholic Church, where it still functions as a church today. The barn was also moved from its original location but is still located on the same quarter section. The teacher’s residence appears to have been moved or demolished, but we didn’t find any records of its history. Archival airphoto searches and interviews with local informants were not successful in identifying the location of the original one-room school house. We suspect that the foundation that has been identified as the house might have been the original one-room schoolhouse which was re-purposed as a teacher’s residence when the new school was built.

Kolomea school is a unique site that is strongly associated with the Ukrainian settlement of northeast central Alberta and can shed light on the poorly-documented lives of rural children in the mid-20th century. While we didn’t find any direct evidence of children at the site (except a few lost buttons) further explorations at the site would likely turn up some interesting and nostalgic material. The site was protected by temporary fences around the foundations while construction was completed to avoid any accidental impacts. The government of Alberta has granted the site an Historic Resource Value of 4h,a (historic and archaeological). This means that no more development can happen at this site without archaeologists doing a lot more work here.

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The stable foundation protected by temporary fencing.

The Famous Five

We would be remiss if we didn’t bring up the Famous Five who worked on the “Persons Case” to see women recognized as persons under the British North America Act. These women are Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, and Louise McKinney, all of whom made Alberta their home at some point in their lives.

Under the British North America Act (BNAA, originating in 1867), women were not eligible for rights and privileges, and thus were not considered “persons” in the full legal sense of the word. Although Emily Murphy was appointed an Alberta magistrate in 1916, her first role as judge was challenged by a lawyer because under the BNAA, she was not a “person”. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that in 1917 the Supreme Court of Alberta ruled that women were, in fact, persons. However, this was not effective all over Canada. When Emily Murphy was put forward as a candidate to be a Canadian Senator, Prime Minister Robert Borden could not approve the appointment, due to the BNAA (1867).

But Emily Murphy found a loop hole. A provision in the Supreme Court of Canada Act states that any five persons acting as a unit has the right to petition the Supreme Court for clarification of a constitutional point. So in Edmonton, August 27, 1927, Emily hosted a tea party! Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, and Louise McKinney added their names to the letter petitioning the Supreme Court, which later became known as the “Persons” case. Their question was to clarify if the word “person” in section 24 of the BNAA includes women as “qualified persons” for being a Senator.

The_Valiant_Five_StatueBy User Thivierr on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Representation of their first meeting. Located in downtown Calgary. Photo credit: User Thivierr on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The outcome was devastating to women across the country. On March 14, 1928, the Supreme Court ruled that because the qualifications of a Senator were written in the BNAA with the pronoun “He”, this excluded women as qualified persons. Thankfully, since Canada was not fully independent from Britain, there was one more authority higher than the Supreme Court: the Privy Council in England. The Famous Five took their petition across the ocean, and on October 18, 1929, the Privy Council ruled in favour of women as persons. The representative, Lord Chancellor Sankey went on to say that to exclude women from public offices was outdated and barbarous. This ruling, of course, had resounding effects on women’s rights, and those who tried to suppress them.

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Emily Murphy displays the verdict, as part of the Valiant Five, downtown Calgary. Photo credit: Cara Tremain

Individually, all five women were formidable champions for the rights and welfare of women and children. In addition, they represented several firsts in the political sphere. Emily Murphy was the first female magistrate in the British Empire. Irene Parlby was elected as MP of the Lacombe riding for 14 years, and was the first female Cabinet minister in Alberta. Nellie McClung was a novelist and journalist, whose efforts formed part of the social and moral reforms in Western Canada in the early 1900s. Her efforts saw Manitoba become the first province that granted women the right to vote and run for office in 1916. Louise McKinney was the first woman to be elected into the Alberta Legislature, and as a result, the first female Member of any Legislative Assembly in the British Empire. Henrietta Muir Edwards was a legal expert, and helped found the National Council of Women of Canada in 1893, which still operates today.

Julie Nookum, Indigenous midwife

International Women’s Day is March 8th this year. One aspect of this day is the celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In honour of this day, we’re going to profile a few women from Alberta’s history.

Today I’ll be profiling Julie Nookum. Unfortunately, very little information about Julie Nookum is available in written records. The information I’ve been able to find about Julie comes from fleeting mentions in the memoirs of Mary Lawrence.i

Continue reading “Julie Nookum, Indigenous midwife”