Oklahoma Courthouse records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find different kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research below.
Oklahoma Court Records
Ft. Smith, in the western district of Arkansas encompassed present-day Oklahoma dating back as far as 1844. Up until 1889, when land was opened up, the U.S. Federal District Courts were responsible for all civil and criminal court cases that did not involve Native American people. All crimes not punishable by imprisonment or death were tried in the Muskogee federal courts as of 1889. Any felony cases were tried in Paris, Texas; Ft. Scott, Kansas or Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Arkansas laws applied to all non-natives.
From 1890 to 1895, there were three judicial districts serving Indian Territory. They were Ardmore (including Seminole and Chicksaw nations), Muskogee (including Quapaw Agency and the Creek and Cherokee nations) and McAlester, which was the judicial district for Choctaw nation. All appellate cases were heard by judges in those jurisdictions, even cases for Paris, Ft. Smith and Ft. Scott. In cases where both parties were of Native American descent, tribal courts tried the cases until 1898. Arkansas law and federal laws applied to all parties, regardless of race, after that point.
The U.S. District Court of Kansas took over jurisdiction of the western section of Indian Territory’s northern region in 1883. Meanwhile, the western section’s southern half became the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas.
The National Archives-Southwest Region house the majority of the court records that pre-date statehood. However, the Archives and Manuscripts Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society has some of those records on microfilm.
Each county’s court clerk can provide the records pertaining to post-statehood criminal and civil cases. That could include indexes, dockets and other case-related documents. Civil, felony and probate cases may be included, as well as traffic, adoption, naturalization, divorce, small claims and licenses. The court of appeals, court of criminal appeals and state supreme court make up the Oklahoma appellate court system.
It’s also worth noting that early court records may include information that doesn’t actually pertain to court proceedings. See Also Research In Court Records.
- U.S. Circuit Court Criminal Case Files, 1790-1871 (search.ancestry.com)
- Oklahoma Court Record Books (amazon.com)
Oklahoma Land Records
Oklahoma was not officially open to non-native settlement until the year 1889. Before that time, several non-natives obtained tenancy by filing as labor contractors with the Five Civilized Tribes. Each of the nations filed land records with their own Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agencies.
When non-native settlement was allowed in some areas, individual tribal members were given allotments of land, but the federal government remained in charge of each of those allotments. Then non-native settlers were allowed to move onto land that was freed up by that process. There was no centralized repository for the natives’ land allotment records. However, the Indian Archives at the Oklahoma Historical Society does house many of the allotments on microfilm, with the notable exception of the allotments pertaining to the Five Civilized Tribes. Those microfilm records also contain information on Cherokee Outlet land payments.
The distribution of land allotments from 1889 to 1906 allowed more non-natives to move onto certain land. There are plat maps and other records for some of those allotments at the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Indian Archives. However, more records can be found at the National Archives Southwest Region or the BIA in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Homestead claims were used for most non-native settlers to get land in Oklahoma Territory at the time. There are many plat maps, case entry files and original tract books at the BLM. The New Mexico State Office for the BLM houses plat maps and tract book copies. There are 72 volumes of Oklahoma Federal Tract Books at the Oklahoma Historical Society in microfilm form. Currently, an index is being developed statewide in order to catalog them all.
The papers pertaining to a homestead claim typically include details like: Age, Place Of Birth, Number Of Family Members , Improvements To Land, Land Use , Marital Status.
There can be some genealogical information found within homestead papers. That information could include the number of family members, birthplace of homestead owner, age, marital status and information about any improvements that were made to the land. Also, copies of naturalization papers may be included with homestead papers, where applicable. The same goes for documentation relating to Union veterans.
It is important to have either the name of the land office and date of entry or the tract book land description, if you want to locate homestead claims that were made before 1908 within the BLM records. Later records require that you know the case number of the record. No matter what, the homesteader’s full name must be included before the records may be requested.
The county clerk’s office for the county that originally contained the land might also have the land number and a description in their records. Generally the records are organized and index according to the name of the landowner.
A rectangular measurement survey system was and still is used to identify land. The Division of Archives and Records, Oklahoma Department of Libraries holds the records for the local land offices of Oklahoma, which were in business from 1889 to 1927.
Any transactions regarding property or land since Oklahoma gained its statehood, which occurred in 1907, are maintained by the registrars or clerks of the court. The abstract of title is usually contained within the land records. In other words, the patent date or first sale date is listed, along with other key information.
Oklahoma’s lands were usually acquired from Indian Nations or through federal programs, which means that it is what is known as a “federal-land state.” Each of the Indian Nations had its own BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs, which kept files of its land records. Once some areas became non-native settlement regions, the tribes created individual land allotments, with the federal government holding all guardianship over them.
The Oklahoma Historical Society’s Indian Archives section holds the records for land allotments, except for those relating to the Five Civilized Tribes. However, there is no central repository for the allotment records. The microfilm housed in the Indian Archives includes Cherokee Outlet outright land payments. When the Native Americans were given land allotments in 1889, it made it easier for non-natives to settle in certain regions. The National Archives in Fort Worth, Texas and the BIA in Muskogee, Oklahoma each hold some of the original plat maps and land descriptions for those allotments.
The National Archives in Washington, D.C. holds case files for government purchases. Both the National Archives and the Santa Fe, New Mexico BLM have copies of the plat maps and tract books. Seventy-two Oklahoma Federal Tract Books are on microfilm at the Oklahoma Historical Society. Each real is indexed and there is a plan in the works to develop a state-wide index as well. The Division of Archives and Records, Oklahoma Department of Libraries is home to several local land office records. The clerk of the court for each region maintains the records from 1907 and onward for any property or land transactions. See Also Guide to U.S. Land Records Research
Oklahoma Probate Records
The Oklahoma Historical Society maintains probate records for the Five Civilized Tribes and a few other tribes of Native Americans. The National Archives-Southwest Region houses records for some of the other tribes.
Probate records that were territorial in nature fell under the U.S. district court’s jurisdiction. The National Archives-Southwest Region holds most of the original probate records for the federal district court as well. However, there are some on microfilm at the Oklahoma Historical Society. Certain Cherokee Territory probate packets were also filed with the U.S. district court.
Probate records have been maintained by county clerks in the respective counties ever since Oklahoma became a state. Some of the wills recorded when it was a territory may be included in those county probate records. See Also Guide to U.S. Probate Records Research
- Oklahoma Probate Record Books (amazon.com)
Oklahoma Tax Records
It was 1902 when Oklahoma citizens realized that they needed a better system of roadways, due mainly to heavy rains and flooding that occurred that year. Each district was to have a road overseer and that process was controlled by each township, according to laws of the territory. Public roads were built along section lines using money that was collected from both liquor licenses and property taxes. There was also a road tax imposed. In addition to that, all able-bodied males between 21 and 45 were required to help work on the highways for 4 days each year. Anyone who failed to appear or provide someone to fill in for them had to pay a $5 fine.
Assessment and tax records may be found with each county’s treasurer. However, many of them are found in repositories in genealogical and historical societies or in museums. There are almost no published tax records for the state of Oklahoma. However, the State Archives Division of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries has a few county tax records safely stored away, which are not available to the general public. A good guide to the location of tax assessments and county records is Koplowitz, Guide to the Historical Records of Oklahoma. See Also Guide to U.S. Tax Records Research
- Oklahoma Tax Record Books (amazon.com)
Oklahoma County & City Government Links
Oklahoma contains 77 counties. Each county is the local level of government within its borders. The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Oklahoma county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database. Oklahoma State Government is located in Oklahoma City.