Oregon’s boom years were tracked by a succession of territorial censuses beginning in 1842 and repeated almost annually until statehood; the Family History Library (FHL) has indexes to the surviving schedules. These and subsequent state censuses in 1865, 1875 and 1885, typically name only heads of households. State censuses in 1895 and 1905 list all family members. The first federal census to include Oregon Territory was in 1850; it was enumerated as a state beginning in 1860.
Oregon didn’t begin statewide birth and death registration until 1903, marriages in 1906 and divorces in 1925. Many of these records, along with earlier local vital records, are at the state archives. The online Oregon Historical Records Index http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/banners/genealogy.htm totals more than half a million entries, including Portland births (1881-1902) and deaths (1881-1917). The archives also has some early probate records, though these largely remain at county courthouses.
Land records can also provide clues to ancestors who joined the rush to Oregon. Territorial land records have been indexed and are kept in the state archives. Look for Donation Land Claims, which document those who arrived by 1855 and contain records rich in details about the settler family. Federal land records are available on microfilm from the FHL; post-1908 records are in the Bureau of Land Management’s database at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov.
Don’t forget that Oregon had joined the Union by the time of the Civil War, so its military records go back to that conflict. The FHL has microfilms of service and burial records of Oregon soldiers in the Civil War.
The biggest challenge for Oregon researchers, according to Connie Lenzen, a member of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, is that many of the records you’ll seek are still in courthouses, archives and libraries. Generally, she warns, they are not published or online. But the Oregon Death Index, included in the Ancestry.com subscription service, and the aforementioned Oregon State Archives’ Historical Records Index, can help you get started long-distance.
Because so many Oregon records are located at the county level, Lenzensays it’s crucial to first locate your ancestors in censuses so you know where they lived. Records in county courthouses may be difficult to access from a distance, she adds: “Most offices are short-staffed. The day-to-day business of running a county government takes precedence over answering queries by mail.”
Ferne Kellow, president of the Oregon Genealogical Society, adds that many records may not be filed where you might expect. For example, Kellow found the pioneer cemetery records for a Josephine County-owned cemetery in the county’s Parks and Recreation Department. The Oregon Historical County Records Guide http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/county/cphome.html can help you figure out what’s where.
The number-one research repository, according to Lenzen, is the Oregon State Archives in Salem. You may not even have to leave home to tap the archives’ holdings: The FHL has microfilmed many records at the Oregon State Archives and other state repositories http://www.familysearch.org.
For published resources, she adds, the holdings of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon (GFO) are among the best in the state. The GFO will look up materials in its library for a nominal fee. See the research policy at http://www.gfo.org/respol.htm. The largest collection of Oregon historical materials belongs to the Oregon Historical Society Library in Portland, which holds books, photographs, maps and original documents. You can search its catalog of book and serial holdings online at http://librarycatalog.ohs.org/eosweb/opac.
For more advice on getting started with Oregon research, consult Lenzen’s online guide Oregon Records for Genealogists http://www.lenzenresearch.com/oregonguide.html. This will give you details on the type of records you can expect to find and information about where they are located.
- Oregon Memorial of Citizens of the U.S. and Miscellaneous Information: Census Records for 1843. (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1966)
- How to Find Oregon Naturalization Records by Connie Lenzen (C. Lenzen, 1990)
- Oregon Naturalization Records Index: Declaration of Intention, 2 vols., by W. David Samuelsen (Sampubco, 1995)
- Overland Passages: A Guide to Overland Documents in the Oregon Historical Society by Kris White (Oregon Historical Society Press, 1993)
- The Willamette Valley: Migration and Settlement on the Oregon Frontier by William Adrian Bowen (University of Washington Press, 1978)
- The Frontier: The Agricultural Opening of the Oregon Country, 1786-1846 by James R. Farming Gibson (University of British Columbia Press, 1985)
- Genealogical Material in Oregon Donation Land Claims, 5 vols., (Genealogical Forum of Portland, 1957-1975)
- Index of Oregon Donation Land Claims, 2nd edition, compiled by the Oregon State Archives (Genealogical Forum of Portland, 1987)
- Preliminary Inventory of the Land-Entry Papers of the General Land Office compiled by Harry P. Yoshpe and Philip P. Brower (National Archives, 1949)
- Historical Maps of Oregon: Overland Stage Routes, Old Military Roads, Indian Battle Grounds, Old Forts, and Old Gold Mines by Ralph N. Preston (Western Guide Publishers, 1972)
- Oregon Atlas and Gazetteer, 2nd edition (DeLorme Mapping Co., 1995)
- Oregon County Boundary Change Maps, 1843-1916 by Erma Skyles Brown (End of Trail Researchers, 1970)
- Oregon Geographic Names, 6th edition, by Lewis A. McArthur (Oregon Historical Society, 1992)
- Oregon Post Offices, 1847-1982 by Richard W. Helbock (La Posta, ca. 1982)
- Places Names of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Lynn Middleton (Superior Publishing Co, 1969)
- A Preliminary Atlas of Oregon by William G. Loy (Geography Department, University of Oregon, 1972)
- R.L. Polk & Co., Oregon and Washington Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1909-1910 (R.L. Polk, 1909)
- An Account of the Origin and Early Prosecution of the Indian War in Oregon by Charles S. Drew (Ye Galleon Press, 1972)
- Honor Roll of Oregon Grand Army of the Republic, 1881-1935 by Jane Myers (Cottage Grove Genealogical Society, 1980)
- The Official Records of the Oregon Volunteers in the Spanish War and Philippine Insurrection, 2nd edition, by C.U. Gantenbein (J.R. Whitney, 1903)
- Oregon Combined Military Alphabetical Index, 1837-1933 (filmed by the Family History Library, 2000)
- A Partial List of Military Casualties and MIA’s From the State of Oregon During World War II by Spencer Leonard (Genealogical Forum of Oregon., 1993)
- Soldiers Who Served in the Oregon Volunteers: Civil War Period, Infantry and Cavalry by M.A. Pekar (Genealogical Forum of Portland, 1961)
- Cumulative Baptism Index to the Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest by Sharon E. Osborn-Ryan (Oregon Heritage Press, 1999)
- Cumulative Death Index to the Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest by Sharon E. Osborn-Ryan (Oregon Territorial Press, 1998)
- Cumulative Marriage Index to the Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest by Sharon E. Osborn-Ryan (Oregon Heritage Press, 1998)
- Episcopal Marriages of the Southern Oregon Coast, 1884-1940 by Barbara Brown Eakley (Bayview Publishers, 1997)
- Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Oregon (Historical Records Survey, 1942)
- Oregon Cemetery Directory (Oregon Heritage Council, 1976)