Nebraska State History

On March 1, 1867 Nebraska became the 37th U.S. state. The capital of the state is Lincoln. The Missouri River is about a quarter of its northern border, which separates it from South Dakota.

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The Missouri River also makes up the entire eastern border between Nebraska and both Missouri and Iowa. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act established the southern boundary separating the two states back when they were both territories. Nebraska’s panhandle is formed by the right angle border between it and Colorado in the southwestern part of the state. Wyoming lies to the west of the panhandle.

During the early 1800s Nebraska mainly acted as a temporary stopover for people who were traveling to the Pacific region’s mining areas and mountains, or to the western and northern trapping areas. When the Civil War (1861 to 1865) ended, railroads began to develop, causing major immigrations. That led to more settlers coming to Nebraska. Many of them farmed the rich land, or raised cattle on it. So, Nebraska has been a major source of agriculture ever since it became a state.

In the early 1800s many people traveled to the trans-Mississippi West via the Missouri River. Nebraska’s name comes from the Oto Indian tribe, who called the state’s Platte River “Nebrathka.” That meant “Flat Water.”

In 1803 Nebraska was acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Prior to 1860 the Platte River Valley was a major travel corridor for those heading to California or Oregon. In 1851 the first attempts were made to try to make Nebraska its own territory. However, it took three more years for Nebraska Territory to officially be formed. That came about as part of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which was created due to conflicts over slavery. Colonization officially began in the area at that time. But the territory didn’t really become heavily populated until a Pacific railroad was run through the area. Nebraska Territory bordered Canada at that time. Omaha was Nebraska Territory’s governmental center at that time. Soon, settlements expanded, thanks both to the railroads and to the rivers.

In 1854 the first federal land office was created in Nebraska. However, major settlement did not start in the area until after the Civil War ended. As settlement expanded, a push for statehood was made. On March 1, 1867 Nebraska officially became a state. Public land in the state was distributed via the 1862 and 1866 Homestead Acts. Technological advancements and new economic views led to rapid expansion in the state. As farming implements were invented, it became easier for farmers to harvest crops and raise cattle in the area. Those inventions included windmills, steel plows, spring harrows, and barbed wire. From 1870 to 1890 those inventions started to be used more widely. Those inventions, coupled with good farming weather, led to 450,000 people living in Nebraska as of 1880.

Both merchants and farmers moved to Nebraska, which led to several towns being founded, particularly along railroad routes. From 1860 to 1870 Nebraska’s city populations increased by more than 400%. So, it wasn’t entirely a farming region. Government land acts, which were widely advertised, attracted both foreigners and natives to Nebraska. Immigrants came from the British Isles, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Bohemia, Denmark, and other regions.

Unfortunately, the growth and prosperity in Nebraska wouldn’t last forever. It soon gave way to inflation, bad weather, poor produce profits, and bad living conditions, as well as political unrest. That led to agrarian political disputes.

Genealogical researchers must investigate both county and state records. There are not many statewide indexes available. However, many state records are extant. Research should mainly be focused on the county records for the county of interest. Currently specific county records are being microfilmed as a joint project between the Genealogical Society of Utah and the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Nebraska Ethnic Group Research

Four Nebraska Native American tribes have present-day tribal offices. Those are the Ponca, Santee Sioux, Winnebago, and Omaha. The State of Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs serves as a liaison for each reservation between the state government and the tribal governments. Agencies and reservations in other locations serve tribes that live in locations where Nebraska borders other states.

Several Nebraska tribe records were maintained by the federal government. Records may include enrollments, census records, and school records. The NARA in Kansas City and the National Archives in Washington D.C. hold most of those records. Some can also be found in Fort Worth and in the Denver NARA, as well as at the FHL.

Some of the Native Americans in Nebraska were moved twice before they settled there. That includes the Santee Sioux. Records for those tribes may be located at other state agencies.

The Nebraska State Historical Society and the University of Nebraska’s Love Library hold Czech records and bibliographical materials. However, the Love Library has a policy against responding to genealogical questions and assisting in searches. So, individuals must search for the records themselves. The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia and the Nebraska State Historical Society each have copies of a specific census that was taken of Germans from Russia who lived in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1913 and 1914.

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