In 1800, Cincinnati was just another landing on a bend in the Ohio River. Forty years later, it was the largest inland city in the United States. This rapid growth was due mostly to the river, which flows from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi with plenty of bends but little interruption.
Tracing early Cincinnatians can be tricky. The city lost some of its 19th-century records in fires, floods and a riot. Fortunately, locals re-created many records, documented vital events in multiple places, and put many sources online. If finding your Cincinnati ancestors seems at times a winding way, imagine yourself as one of those early Ohio River travelers: Relax and enjoy the slow, circuitous route—our guide will steer you toward family discoveries.
By 1811, steamboats picked up the pace of travel on the Ohio. Canals later connected Cincinnati to pig farmers in central Ohio and Lake Erie. By 1835, Cincinnati was nicknamed “Porkopolis” for its pork-packaging success.
Post-Civil War growth slowed as rail travel trumped inland waterways. But river trade thrived again during the Great Depression. Downtown saw a construction surge, though a disastrous flood in 1937 left 100,000 locals homeless. After World War II, African-Americans fleeing the Jim Crow South and Appalachians looking for work filled city neighborhoods.
River of records
Search for early settlers in First Families of Hamilton County, Ohio. Read about those pioneers in the 1881 History of Hamilton County, Ohio by Henry A. Ford and Kate B. Ford, free at Internet Archive. Then consult these sources:
For dates when the city annexed local neighborhoods, click the neighborhood links at Wikipedia. The FHL has land ownership maps and atlases back to 1835. See Sanborn fire insurance maps (1904-1930) at the PLCH Virtual Library. You’ll find street name changes and a gazetteer in A Guide to Genealogical Resources in Cincinnati & Hamilton County, Ohio.
Church records: Many early Cincinnatians were Episcopalians or Roman Catholics. For records, contact Episcopalian parishes (or for closed parishes, the archivist at the Diocese of Southern Ohio). Mail Catholic sacramental record requests (1839-1920) to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Local Jews formed the first congregation west of the Alleghenies in 1824; research them at the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.
Nicknames: Porkopolis, Queen City, City of Seven Hills
County seat: Cincinnati
Area: 80 square miles
Motto: Juncta Juvant (“Strength in Unity”)
Primary historical ethnic groups: African-American, German, Irish, Italian, Jewish
Primary historical industries: shipping, iron production, meat packing, breweries, textiles
Famous residents: Neil Armstrong, Johnny Bench, Doris Day, Rutherford B. Hayes, Nick Lachey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tyrone Power, Albert Sabin, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Springer, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Howard Taft,
- Cincinnati: A City of Immigrants
- Hamilton County Probate Court Archived Records Search
- USGenWeb: Hamilton County, Ohio
- A Guide to Genealogical Resources in Cincinnati & Hamilton County, Ohio, 6th ed., compiled by Connie Stunkel Terheiden and Kenny R. Burck
- History of Cincinnati by Henry A. Ford and Kate B. Ford
- The Tracer, newsletter of the Hamilton County Genealogical Society
Organizations and Archives
- Cincinnati History Library and Archives
1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45203, (513) 287-7030
- City of Cincinnati Health Department
Elm Street Health Center, 1525 Elm St.,
Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 352-3120
- Hamilton County Auditor
138 E. Court St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 946-4000
- Hamilton County Genealogical Society
Box 15865, Cincinnati, OH 45215, (513) 956-7078
- Hamilton County Probate Court
230 E. Ninth St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202, (513) 946-3600
- Hamilton County Public Health Department
250 William Howard Taft Road, 2nd Floor,
Cincinnati, Ohio 45219, (513) 946-7800
- Hamilton County Recorder
138 E. Court St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 946-4570
- Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
800 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 369-6900
- University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books
8th Floor Blegen Library, Box 210113, 2602 McMicken Circle,
Cincinnati, OH 45221, (513) 556-1959
Top Historic Sites
7567 Glendale-Milford Road, Camp Dennison, OH 45111, (513) 831-0907
This restored 1804 home once belonged to a Revolutionary War veteran settler. The Camp Dennison Civil War museum is nearby.
2. Cincinnati History Museum
1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45203, (513) 287-7000
Get to know early Cincinnati at this museum, one of several inside the city’s Art Deco train station. Displays include a model railroad of the city from 1900 to the 1940s.
3. Findlay Market
1801 Race St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 665-4839
This market, which anchors the Over-the-Rhine Historic District, opened in 1855 and continues to thrive. The cast and wrought iron-framed market house is the state’s oldest surviving such structure.
4. German Heritage Museum
4764 West Fork Road, Cincinnati, OH 45247, (513) 598-5732
Experience the long history of German-Americans in Cincinnati through historical artifacts and records relating to early residents.
5. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202, (877) 648-4838
Cincinnati was known as a stop on the Underground Railroad. This Smithsonian affiliate museum commemorates the history of slavery and the path to freedom.
Records at a Glance
Research tips: Search digitized records at the probate court website (1863-1908) and the University of Cincinnati Libraries website (1865-1912). Order records since 1909 from the Cincinnati Department of Health (within city limits) or Hamilton County Health Department (outside city limits), or the Ohio Department of Health.
Research tips: Download from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County or visit the Cincinnati History Library.
Research tips: Find digitized records (1881-1908) at the probate court website. Order records since 1909 from the Cincinnati Department of Health (within city limits) or Hamilton County Health Department (outside city limits), or the Ohio Department of Health.
Research tips: Search digitized records at probate court website. Order copies from county probate office.
1803: Ohio achieves statehood
1819: Cincinnati becomes home to Medical College of Ohio
1850: First US Jewish hospital opens in Cincinnati
1853: City establishes America’s first full-time, paid fire department
1863: Martial law imposed during Civil War
1869: Cincinnati Red Stockings are baseball’s first professional team
1879: Proctor & Gamble makes Ivory Soap
1880: Maria Longworth Nichols Storer founds Rookwood Pottery
1884: Rioters burn Cincinnati courthouse
1902: First reinforced concrete skyscraper built on 4th Street
1977: Jerry Springer serves as mayor