United States History

Major Historical Events in
the Westward Expansion


Finding your ancestors becomes easier when you know what important events were happening near where they were living.  Click to see additional photos and articles for a better understanding.

What were the occupations, religion, social economy and the health of your ancestors?

Opportunities for land ownership

The Homestead Act of 1862 provided that any adult citizen (or person intending to become a citizen) who headed a family could qualify for a grant of 160 acres of public land by paying a small registration fee and living on the land continuously for five years.

Technological advances, including the
Transcontinental Railroad

Railroads could reach interior areas, including places where an inadequate water supply or rough terrain made canals impossible.  By 1840, the United States had almost three thousand miles of track; by 1860, a network of thirty thousand miles linked most of the nation’s major cities and towns.

The possibility of wealth created by the discovery
of gold and silver

California Gold Rush of 1849 was followed by new discoveries of gold and silver between 1857 and 1890.  Prospectors swarmed to the mines where gold and silver were found.


Some people thought that life in the West was filled with adventure.  Young men were drawn to the cowboy life.

A new beginning for former slaves

Few of the freed slaves could afford to own land and most worked as sharecroppers, work not very different from what they did as slaves.  Thousands of black families took advantage of the opportunity to become homesteaders on the Plains.

Religious freedom

The history of the Mormon Trail cannot be understood without an awareness of the Mormon religion itself. The great Mormon migration of 1846-1847 was but one step in the Mormons’ quest for religious freedom and growth.  See Mormon Trail History.


Heritage and Culture

Your heritage can teach you a lot about yourself. Discover the stories and facts behind the fascinating cultural traditions of your ancestors.
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