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In the beginning of the 1740s, François and Louis-Joseph Verendrye explored the area that is now the state of Montana, representing France. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was made, which put most of what is now Montana into the hands of the United States. The western part of Montana belonged to England, prior to it being acquired by the United States. However, before the United States obtained it in 1846, as part of the Oregon Treaty, several American forts and posts had been started in the area. There were several types of mining industries that kept Montana economically sound in its early days. Some of those mining industries were: Copper, Lead, Zinc, Silver, Coal, Oil.

Getting Started with Montana Genealogy and Family Trees

Some Helpful Tools for Montana Genealogy Projects – Montana is a large place, known as “big sky country”. It is also a region that has seen a tremendous amount of activity in terms of the inhabitants and travelers who have passed through or settled in the area. The Native American culture is a large part of the state’s history, but there are also many other groups with histories within the borders as well. This is why so many seek for Montana genealogy information, and why so many resources are available.

Your First Steps for Montana Genealogy Research – The most common modern approach to finding answers is to head to a computer. This is something that you can do as a first step in the search for Montana genealogy data as well. In fact, it is one of the smartest things to do because it prevents you from making unnecessary trips to archives or libraries that have already made their materials available online. It is also a way to obtain some basic facts and to identify locations where more information for Montana genealogy projects is available.

Learning which of the resources for Montana genealogy will be available online, and which require a physical visit, can be viewed as the first essential step in getting materials for Montana genealogy research.

Basic Records for Montana Genealogy Investigations – Once you begin searching, you will see that public records are readily found in many locations, and for the most part are entirely “digitized”. You still need to understand how to seek them out, however, and the following categories are useful when seeking for Montana genealogy materials:

  • Vital Records – these include birth, marriage, divorce and death records from county, state, and national archives. They can also encompass military records, immigration and naturalization details, cemetery or obituary information, census records, newspaper items, and passenger lists and records as well. These tend to be available as online or offline resources for Montana genealogy.
  • State Records – this group includes probate information, surname lists, state census information, private manuscripts, newspapers, military or veterans information, marriage details, maps, land records, genealogical folders, estate information, deeds, death records, cemetery information, birth certificates and more. These are available as online and offline resources for Montana genealogy.
  • Local Records – normally any state research begins when you visit a county clerk’s office or website. From there you can more efficiently search historical societies, local genealogical societies, small local libraries, and school or college libraries for Montana genealogy information. These are items that are usually offline and viewable by appointment or special arrangement.

Primary Resources for Montana Genealogy Materials – The following sources are going to give you the kinds of specific resources needed for Montana genealogy research:

  • Office of Vital Statistics, MT Dept. of Public Health and Human Services, 111 N Sanders, Rm. 209, P.O. Box 4210, Helena, MT 59604; Website: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w/montana.htm.
    This is where you may order birth, death, marriage and divorce records via a written request or even through an online form.

Additional state and local records can be found at the:

  • Montana Historical Society, 225 N Roberts St., PO Box 201201, Helena, MT 59620-1201; Website: http://montanahistoricalsociety.org/research/.
    A major resource for anyone seeking for Montana genealogy materials, it has a fully digital archive, newspapers, place names, memory projects, African American resources, farming and ranching information, Native America resources, and more.

Also, consider using the Montana History and Genealogy page at: http://www.montanagenealogy.com/, and another resource from the state at: http://www.montanahistoricalsociety.org/research/library/genealogyresearch.asp

Also, these three websites give researchers a lot of state-specific details for those in search for Montana genealogy data.


Montana Ethnic Group Research

The Salt Lake City FHL, The University of Montana, and the National Archives-Pacific , Alaska Region (Seattle) each have some Native American Agency documents and records on file. Many of them have been microfilmed. These records are vital clues when doing research on Native American history in Montana.

Billings Area Office, Billings, Montana (1912-52): Records from the Billings Area Office, Billings, Montana (1912-52) pertain to tribal lands when they were overseen by the federal government, which was the trustee of those lands at the time. A lot of information relating to those records can be found in the following sources:

Decimal Files, Grazing Leases, Education Records, Health Records , Tribal Enactments, Irrigation Records, Land Transaction Records , Forestry Records, Soil Conservation Records, Agricultural Extension Records, Road Construction Records

Blackfeet Agency, Browning, Montana (1875-1959): Blackfeet Agency records can be found in the following places: General Correspondence, Grazing Permits, Gas and Oil Production Reports, Census Records, Death and Birth Records, Ledgers, Abstracts of Accounts of Individual Indians, Tribal Council Records, Education Records, Road Records, Forestry Records, Irrigation Records, Credit Records, Welfare Records, Rehabilitation Program Records.

The Agency included three different Siksika bands.

Crow Agency, Crow Agency, Montana (1874-1959): The River Crows and Mountain Crows were administered by this agency, which was actually first created in 1869. Originally, the Fort Peck Agency had control of the River Crows. However, they were later transferred to the Crow Agency.

General Correspondence, Decimal Files, Student Case Files, School Censuses, Tract Books, Maps of the Crow Reservations, Grazing Leases, Building Plans, Annuity Payrolls, Ledgers for Accounts of Individual Indians, Records of Goods Issued to Indians, Census Rolls, Indian Court Dockets, Records Concerning Irrigation, Forestry Records, Civilian Conservation Corps Records, Road Program Records

Flathead Agency, St. Ignatius, Montana (1875- 1960): Originally created in 1854, this agency was mainly responsible for the Kutenai, Flathead, and Upper Pend d’Oreille tribes. However, in 1887, the Lower Kalispells also began living on the Flathead Reservation. They were followed by the Spokane tribe, in 1894. Eventually, all of those tribes were simply known as Flathead Indians.

Documents that may contain useful information on the Flathead Indians include: General Correspondence, , Decimal Files, , School Reports and Censuses, Grazing Permits, Leases, Land Allotment and Transaction Records, Other Land Records, Irrigation Records, Civilian Conservation Corps Records, Engineering Records, Forestry and Road Program Records, Account Ledgers for Individual Indians, Census Reports, Welfare and Relief Program Records, Indian Court and Police Records, Credit Program Files, Tribal Accounts, Annuity Payrolls

Fort Belknap Agency, Harlem, Montana (1877-1969): The Fort Belknap Agency was created in 1873. It presided over the Upper Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes, who were living near the Milk River at the time. Records containing Fort Belknap Agency information may include: General Correspondence, Decimal Files, Education Correspondence, School Applications and Reports, Grazing Permits, Leases, Account Ledgers of Individual Indians, Health and Welfare Reports, Census Rolls, Family History Cards, Traders’ Licenses, Court and Police Records, Financial Records, Civilian Conservation Corps Records.

Fort Peck Agency, Popular, Montana (1871-1959): Originally, the Fort Peck Agency was the Milk River Agency, but the name was later changed. The agency’s jurisdiction extended to the Sioux, especially the Yanktonai, and to the the Lower Assiniboine tribe. Records for that agency may include: General Correspondence, Decimal Files, School Reports, Records of 4-H Activities, Grazing Permits, Mining Leases, Account Ledgers of Individual Indians, Credit Rehabilitation Ledgers, Industrial Status Reports, Census Records, Medical Reports, Registers of Indians, Death and Birth Records, Welfare Relief Case Files, Tribal Council Records, Land Allotment and Sale Records, Forestry and Range Management Records, Irrigation Records, Road Construction Records

Native American “Indian schools” were set up to improve the education of Native American children. The Fort Shaw School in Cascade Country, Montana and the Chemawa Indian School in Chemawa, Oregon were two very important Indian schools.

The Fort Shaw School, which was founded in 1892 and closed in 1910, kept several records. They included: Received Letters, Pupil registers, Employee Rosters, Cashbooks.

The James McLaughlin Papers is a large collection of Native American documents. It was compiled by Indian agent, Major James McLaughlin. He was an Indian agent for Wyoming Territory, the Dakotas, and Montana. He kept meticulous records during that time. Those records included a lot of data relating to specific families within the tribes. Several of those families became separated during the time when the government was shuffling Native Americans to various reservations. Many of those scattered family members can be located using the James McLaughlin Papers. The collection contains around 30,000 pages and also has 15,675 cross-reference cards that can make the research process much easier.

The Pacific Northwest Tribes Missions Collection of the Oregon Province Archives of the Society of Jesus (1853-1960) is one of the most important collections of Native American information relating to tribes in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana. It contains Jesuit records, such as: Births, Marriages, Deaths, Censuses, Land Records, Church Records, Histories, Newspaper Clippings.

Those records include information about each of the following tribes: Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Crow, Flathead, Kalispell, Kootenai, Nez Perce, Spokane, Umatilla

The FHL has those records on microfilm, but the original records are held in Spokane, Washington, at the Crosby Library of Gonzaga University. The Oregon Province Archives are also located there.