Montana was a public-domain state, meaning initial land purchases were made from the government. Homesteading was another way to obtain land: After 1862, the law allowed people to earn free land by living on it for a certain length of time and making improvements. You can search these initial land patents through the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records site http://www.glorecords.blm.gov. If the entry is anything other than a cash sale, you’ll want to order a copy of the land entry case file from the National Archives and Records Administration (see http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/land for information. Once land was transferred to individuals, sales were recorded in deeds of the county where the sale took place. Patents on timber and mining claims also are at the county level in the office of the county recorder.
Federal census records for Montana begin in 1870, though early residents of the area may be listed in Washington or Nebraska. A list of early settlers, mostly miners, is in “List of Early Settlers: A List of All Persons (Except Indians) Who Were in What is Now Montana During the Winter of 1862-1863,” in Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana, vol. 1 (Rocky Mountain Publishing Co., 1902).
Vital records for Montana are not as complete as researchers would like. Births and deaths were not recorded until 1895. Statewide registration began only in 1907, and it was 1932 before 90 percent of births were being reported. Death records fared a little better, with reporting more than 90 percent complete by 1915.
Probate records were kept by probate courts for the years 1864 to 1889. These courts handled marriages, minor civil and criminal matters, adoptions and probate. Once they were disbanded, their functions and records were transferred to district courts. District courts now serve as the major trial courts; each covers cases from one to seven counties, with court sessions held in each county and most records dating to the year the county was founded.
During the 1880 census, those who lived in the area that was set aside in 1872 as Yellowstone National Park were recorded in Wyoming. Another early census you’ll want to check is the 1864 Montana poll list, which lists eligible voters residing in the area.
The Montana Historical Society, 225 N. Roberts in Helena http://www.his.state.mt.us, has been amassing records since 1969. Records include governors’ papers, prison and institution records, church and military records, territorial censuses, poll lists, and manuscripts. The society has compiled indexes by subject, name and place to aid researchers in using the records. You can search the society’s catalog online, and many of the records can also be found in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections http://loc.gov/coll/nucmc.
- Declaration of Intent, 1891-1929; Petition for Naturalization, 1891-1929; Citizenship Records, 1894-1906; Certificates, 1907-1927 by the US District Court, Montana Southern District (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988)
- Indexes to Naturalization Records of the Montana Territorial and Federal Courts, 1868-1929 by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (National Archives, 1987)
- Swedish Immigrants Living in Montana, 1900 by Diane Fuhrman (D. Fuhrman, 1989)
- After Barbed Wire: A Pictorial History of the Homestead Rush Into the Northern Great Plains, 1900-1919 by Marie Peterson MacDonald (Frontier Gateway Museum, 1983)
- Atlas of the Pacific Northwest edited by Richard M. Highsmith and A. Jon Kimerling (University of Oregon Press, 1979)
- Catalog of the Map Collection (Montana Historical Society, 1983)
- Military Posts in Montana by Michael J. Koury (Old Army Press, 1970)
- Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry, 25 June, 1876 by Kenneth Hammer (Old Army Press, 1972)
- Montana, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards (1917-1918) by the US Selective Service System (National Archives, 1987-1988)
- Roll Call on the Little Big Horn, 28 June 1876 compiled by John M. Carroll and Byron Price (Old Army Press, 1974)
- Cemetery Inscriptions and Church Records From Hingham, Rudyard, Inverness, Whitlash, Lothair, Joplin, and Chester, Montana compiled by Una Moog (Broken Mountains Genealogical Society, 1986)
- Cemetery Records of Montana copied by members of the L.D.S. Church (1947-1961)
- Inventory of the Vital Statistics Records of Church and Religious Organizations in Montana, 1942 (Montana Historical Records Survey, 1942)
- Montana Cemetery Records prepared by the Lewistown Genealogy Society (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1982)