Kansas History and Research Overview

By Family Tree Editors Premium


Kansas, once part of land claimed in 1682 by Frenchman Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, became part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. At the time, Omaha, Pawnee, Apache, and Wichita tribes populated the area. The state derives its name from the Kansa tribe.

In the 1820s, steamboats traveled rivers in the area and thousands passed through on the Sante Fe and Oregon Trails. The only permanent settlements were military outposts at forts Riley, Scott and Leavenworth; religious missions; and trading posts. Then the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opened the area to settlers, conveyed territorial status and let citizens vote on slavery. Antislavery Free Soilers opened a territorial government at Lawrence in 1855, while proslavers founded another government in southeastern Kansas. Resulting conflicts earned the region the nickname Bleeding Kansas.

Kansas became a state in 1861 with Topeka as the capital and a constitution that prohibited slavery. Settlement increased with the 1862 Homestead Act, which gave citizens and those intending to become citizens a chance to claim 160 acres if they stayed five years. Germans, Swedes, English, Mexicans, and African-Americans “Exodusters” settled the area. Mennonites from Russia arrived in the 1870s.

During the 1800s, towns grew along the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Abilene, Kansas. Residents relied on farming or cattle, and stayed despite extreme weather and insect plagues. The Kansas Dust Bowl epitomized the misery of the rest of the country during the Great Depression. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the state’s economy relied on farming, oil production, mineral mines, and aircraft manufacturing.

Kansans made many military contributions. Members of the Kansas 23rd Colored Regiment fought in the Spanish-American War. During the 20th century, camps Funston and Leavenworth became key training facilities. Kansas manufacturing plants supplied aircraft during World War II.

(click to enlarge)
Kansas state map with county outlines


  • The Kansas State Historical Society has an extensive collection of newspapers you can borrow through interlibrary loan. See http://www.kshs.org for titles.
  • ATLAS, the Associated Topeka Libraries Automated System http://topekalibraries.info, is an online catalog covering the holdings of seven libraries, including the Kansas State Historical Society. It contains maps, directories, county and family histories and organizational papers.


  • Federal censuses: 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Territory/state censuses: 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925
  • Mortality schedules: 1860, 1870, 1880


  • The Beginning of the West: Annals of the Kansas Gateway to the American West, 1540-1854 by Louise Barry (Kansas State Historical Society, ca. 1972)
  • A Biographical History of Central Kansas (Lewis Publishing Co., 1902)
  • Black, Buckskin and Blue: African American Scouts and Soldiers on the Western Frontier by Arthur T. Burton (Eaton Press, ca. 1999)
  • A Century of Congregationalism in Kansas, 1854-1954 by Charles M. Correll (The Kansas Congregational and Christian Conference, ca. 1953)
  • Early Kansas Churches by Edward Robert DeZurko (The College, 1949)
  • The First Protestant Osage Missions, 1820-1837 by William Whites Graves (Carpenter Press, ca. 1949)
  • Guide to the Microfilm Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society by David A. Haury (Kansas State Historical Society, 1991)
  • History of Kansas by the Kansas State Historical Society (Kansas State Printing Plant, 1916)
  • Illustriana Kansas: Biographical Sketches of Kansas Men and Women of Achievement Who Have Been Awarded Life Membership in Kansas Illustriana Society by Robert Morton Baldwin and Sara Mullin Baldwin (W.C. Cox, 1974)
  • The Kansa Indians, A History of the Wind People, 1673-1873 by William E. Unrau (University of Oklahoma Press, 1971)
  • Kansas Biographical Index: State-Wide and Regional by Patricia Douglass Smith (P.D. Smith, ca. 1994)
  • Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History by Frank Wilson Blackmar (Standard Publishing Co., ca. 1912)
  • Kansas, the First Century by John D. Bright (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., ca. 1956)
  • Six Generation Ancestor Tables by Doris Dockstader Rooney (Kansas Genealogical Society, 1976)
  • Kansas Newspapers: A Directory of Newspaper Holdings in Kansas by Eileen Anderson (The Board, 1984)
  • Kansas Orphan Train Riders by Robert A. Hodge (R.A. Hodge, 1996)
  • Kansas Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at http://www.familysearch.org/eng/search/rg/guide/kansas.asp)
  • Kansas Territorial Settlers of 1860 Who Were Born in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina by Clara Hamlett Robertson (Genealogical Publishing Co., ca. 1976)
  • Narratives of African Americans in Kansas, 1870-1992: Beyond the Exodust Movement by Jacob U. Gordon (E. Mellen Press, 1993)
  • A New Centennial History of the State of Kansas by Charles Richard Tuttle (Inter-state Book Co., 1876)
  • Peopling the Plains: Who Settled Where in Frontier Kansas by James R. Shortridge (University Press of Kansas, ca. 1995)
  • Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton (Simon and Schuster, ca. 1981)
  • The Sod House Frontier, 1854-1890 by Everett Dick (University of Nebraska, 1979)
  • A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans by William Elsey Connelley (Lewis Publishing Co., 1918)
  • Territorial Papers of Kansas, 1854-1861 by the US Department of State (The National Archives, 1953)
  • West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas, 1865-1890 by Craig Miner (University Press of Kansas, ca. 1986)
  • The William Wade Hinshaw Index to Kansas Quaker Meeting Records by William Wade Hinshaw (Selby Publishing & Printing, ca. 1991)

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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.