Casefile Clues

14 February 2013

Why Would a Woman Declare?


One does not realize what is atypical until after one has seen many things that are typical. Women filing homestead claims is not atypical. Women filing declarations of intent is--at least in the United States in the 1880s.

This is part of the original homestead affidavit for Antje Albers in Dawson County, Nebraska. She states that she was the head of a family and had "declared my intentions to become a citizen of the United States." I'm not certain how "head of a family" is defined, but Antje was over twenty-one and single at the time this document was filed. She had grown children and grandchildren at the time.

To be eligible for a homestead, a claimant had to be the head of a family and, if not a citizen, have filed a declaration of intent. That declaration of intent is what actually interests me. Given that she was not born in the United States, Antje was not a native born citizen of the United States. At this juncture, it is not known if her husband naturalized before his death which took place in Illinois where the family originally settled.

If her husband had naturalized, she would have been a citizen via his naturalization. Pretty simple, but difficult to prove if his naturalization record was lost.

Antje is actually filing a claim for a homestead that her granddaughter had filed on initially in 1883. There were some issues with that claim and the granddaughter assigned her claim to her grandmother in order to complete it. Because Antje's claim was done in an attempt to "clean up" the granddaughter's claim, I'm inclined to believe that Antje actually did file a declaration of intent, if only to make her claim valid. If she were not a citizen and had not filed a declaration of intent, she could not file a homestead claim. And the neighbor who objected to the granddaughter's claim would have objected to the grandmother's claim based upon her citizenship status.

There were few practical reasons why women naturalized in the United States during this time period. Filing claims for homesteads was one of those reasons. Women could own property at this point in time without being a citizen.. Women could not vote, so that wasn't a reason for naturalizing either. Completing homestead claims was one reason women naturalized during this time period.

Stay tuned--there's more to this homestead claim. And, hopefully, we will find out if Antje filed a declaration of intention in Dawson County or not.