Homestead Nebraska

Newtork Analysis and Mapping of Nebraska Homesteads


In order to create a social network of homesteaders, I needed hard evidence that homesteaders did not just move onto their 160 acres and never speak to another living soul. Luckily, those homesteaders who filed successful homestead claims were required by law to acquire witnesses who would positively testify to the validity of their homestead claim. Only two witnesses were required to testify. However, part of the process also included "proof of posting," essentially a brief newspaper blurb with the claimant's name, the legal description of the homestead claim, and a list of four people who agreed to witness. With little exception, this included the two sworn witnesses who would later testify on the claimant's behalf. In other words, for each homestead claimant, there are four direct connections to the surrounding community, as in the case of David J. Caswell.

Figure 1

The network builds outward from these claimants, making indirect connections available for analysis in the communities. Often, members of the community would witness for one another, or share common witnesses. Keystone individuals emerge based on the frequency with which they testify for someone and the importance of their network connections. An individuals importance rests on their involvement in a community, and for homesteaders, obtaining land (and recruiting a favorable witness) was a crucial component to making homesteading societies function. Furthermore, several keystone individuals emerge for each township as each township is made up of multiple communities, some ethnicity-based, others familial, and others still based on chance settlement. These communities are color-coded on the maps, as you can see below. When the indirect connections of David J. Caswell are added, Caswell (orange node on the right) loses his centrality and importance, and the network becomes much larger.

Figure 2

I used two methods for determining the keystone individuals: degree and eigenvector centrality. The degree of a claimant is simply defined as the number of connections, both emitted from the claimants (their witnesses) and to the claimant (people from whom they witnessed). Eigenvector centrality is the importance of a claimant within the network based on their connections and the degree of their connections. These networking metrics reveal different leaders based on their associated communities, but the core keystone individuals mostly remain the same.

Two social networks are mapped for each township - one based on degree, the other on eigenvector centrality. Both identify keystone individuals. Degree tends to reveal important individuals in each smaller community within the township. Centrality reveals the individuals who are most connected (both directly and indirectly) across all communities within the township.