If you have ancestors settled in the Pacific Northwest of the United States prior to 1855, then you may document them through the Donation Land papers. The Donation Lands of Oregon and Washington Territories provide one of the most descriptive application processes of any action in the U.S. during this era. There were over 7,500 applications.
The land applications for the Irish are only second to those filed by American born citizens. As the records often provide exact birth places, this makes the Donation Lands a primary source. Even if your ancestor didn’t settle in the Pacific Northwest, use them to document relatives who did.
Oregon Territory was established in 1848, originally from what is now present day Oregon, Washington, Idaho and a small portion of Wyoming. Washington Territory was separated out in 1853. Most applications involve present day Oregon and Washington. Donation Land applications begin in 1850 and provided free land to white and mixed-blood settlers who arrived in the territories before 1 December 1855. This was in exchange for four years of residence and cultivation. Applicants were given up to 640 acres. Sometimes the claims for land went on for decades.
The original files are at the National Archives: www.archives.gov with microfilm copies at the Family History Library: www.familysearch.org Both the Washington State Library: www.sos.wa.gov/library/landrecords.aspx and the Oregon State Archives: http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/records/aids/land.html has information on the Donation Lands.
The database “Genealogical Material in Oregon Donation Land Claims” is on Ancestry: www.ancestry.com The Genealogical Forum of Oregon: www.gfo.org/donation/index.htm has an online index. You can also use the Bureau of Land Management database to search Donation Lands: www.glorecords.blm.gov
There will be no shortage of online articles to guide you through the process. However, you will need to obtain the application to see how the person answered the questions posed.