Now What: Finding Birthplaces in US Territories

By Connie Lenzen Premium

Q. My great-grandmother Ona May Boyer’s death certificate gives Washington as her birthplace on April 7, 1887. How can I find out where exactly she was born? I’ve documented older siblings born in Iowa and younger ones in Oregon.

A. Before Washington became a state in 1889, it was part of Washington Territory. Fewer records — including vital records — were created pre-statehood, which poses a challenge for genealogists. If a family lived in the territory for a short time, as yours did, it’s not easy to track them.

Censuses are a useful tool for territorial research. Even before statehood, the government kept tabs on territories’ residents, and many of those census records have been microfilmed. The Washington State Archives’ Historical Records Search <> includes an index to some 1887 records. My search for Daniel Boyer, Ona May’s father (named on the siblings’ birth certificates), unfortunately didn’t return any hits. But you can order the remaining 1887 censuses through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City <> for viewing at your local Family History Center.

When you’re stymied in your search for territorial records, evaluate what you know about the family and consider federal government records. For example, the Daniel Boyer family is on the 1900 Wayne County, Ind., census. Boyer, a widower, was born in August 1843 in Indiana — he’d have been the right age to serve in the Civil War. If he enlisted and later applied for a pension, he may have listed the places where he lived after his service. Check the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System <> index of more than 5 million soldier names. If you find Boyer there, look him up in’s < > subscription-based Civil War pension index or in the National Archives’ General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 (microfilm T288).

From the August 2004 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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