Nebraska Emigration and Immigration

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Permanent white settlement began at Bellevue in the region south of present-day Omaha. The Indian Intercourse Act of 1834 reserved the rest of Nebraska as part of Indian Territory. Mormon pioneers were permitted temporary settlement at Winter Quarters from 1846 to 1847, but Nebraska was not officially opened for white settlement until passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854.

Between 1834 and 1854, an estimated 350,000 pioneers passed through the Platte Valley along the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails. Most continued westward rather than settling in Nebraska.

After the Civil War, many Union veterans and other settlers arrived from the eastern United States to claim lands available under the Homestead Act of 1862. These settlers generally were from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Missouri.

Immigrants from Europe also arrived in search of land. The largest overseas groups came from Germany, Sweden, the British Isles, Bohemia, Canada, and Denmark. In addition, many Germans immigrated from Russia. Small groups of Polish and Italian settlers settled in Omaha in 1885.

Blacks were in Nebraska before the Civil War, but many more arrived in the late nineteenth century, especially in the Omaha area. American Indians had largely been dispossessed of their Nebraska lands and removed to present-day Oklahoma by 1880, but Santee Sioux, Omaha, and Winnebago Indians still live on two small reservations in the state.

New settlement virtually ceased in the 1890s, although a large section of northwest Nebraska was not completely homesteaded until after World War I.

From the 1860's through the early 1900's, many New York City orphans came by train and were adopted by Nebraska families. Information on the orphans' trains is being collected for the Nebraska State Historical Society by Eloise Thomsen, 5843 Grant Street, Omaha, NE 68104.


In the 1850's a major port of entry to Nebraska was New Orleans. Steamboats transported settlers and goods up the Mississippi-Missouri river system to Council Bluffs and Winter Quarters (Florence).

The Civil War and the coming of the railroad in the 1860's put an end to the steamboat business. After that time, overseas immigrants landed at the port of New York and other east coast ports, and then traveled overland to Nebraska.

The Family History Library and the National Archives have passenger lists or indexes for American ports for 1820-1943. More detailed information on these sources is in the United States Research Outline.

Records of major ethnic groups, including Blacks, Czechs, Germans, and Germans from Russia, are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under NEBRASKA - MINORITIES. Records of American Indians are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under NEBRASKA - NATIVE RACES.

Examples of published sources for ethnic groups are:

Rife, Janet Warkentin. Germans and German-Russians in Nebraska: A Research Guide to Nebraska Ethnic Studies. Lincoln, Nebraska: Center for Great Plains Studies, 1980. (FHL book 978.2 F23r.)

Rosicky, Rose. A History of Czechs (Bohemians) in Nebraska. 1929. Reprint. Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic, 1977. (FHL book 978.2 F2r 1977; film 1036170.)