Unlike most states, Alaska has no counties; 14 “municipalities” and “boroughs” and 13 native corporations were formed post-statehood. Census takers from 1880 to 1900 created enumeration districts, and enumerators in 1910 used the four federal judicial districts. The 1870 census skipped newly acquired Alaska, and the 1880 and 1890 censuses have been lost. Various pre-territory local censuses are indexed in Alaskan Census Records, 1870–1907, edited by Ronald Vern Jackson and Gary Ronald Teeples (Accelerated Indexing Systems, ca. 1976). There are also 1870 and 1880 territorial censuses for Sitka. Federal census coverage begins with 1900.
Although Alaska didn’t begin official recording of births, marriages and deaths until 1913, churches previously kept such records. The Bureau of Vital Statistics has microfilmed these church records and created delayed birth certificates. Note that in the absence of counties, vital records are kept almost entirely on the state level.
Until statehood created the superior court, probate records were kept at the district courts in Juneau and Ketchikan (First District), Nome (Second District), Anchorage (Third District), and Fairbanks (Fourth District). Records are now at the state archives, as are many territorial court records.
Land records can offer clues. These are mostly at the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, DC, and the National Archives Pacific-Alaska Region in Anchorage. Mining claims are at the Department of Natural Resources in Fairbanks. You can also search for Gold Rush ancestors in the state archives’ records from the Pioneers’ Homes, state institutions in Sitka, Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, and Palmer.
Cemetery records can be hard to find for Alaska, given the remoteness of their locations. The Sitka National Cemetery has been indexed, however, as has the Clay Street and Birch Hill Cemetery in Fairbanks, which is online at Ancestry.com. The FHL has microfilm of remote Alaska cemeteries and those on the Kenai Peninsula.
Professional researcher Connie Malcolm Bradbury, coauthor with David Albert Hales of Alaska Sources: A Guide to Historical Records and Information Resources (HeritageQuest, 2001), emphasizes the importance of understanding the state’s history and vast geography. If you’re seeking a lost relative from the gold rush period, she says, know the dates of the strikes — and remember that the Klondike is in Canada, not Alaska. “The Klondike Stampede started in Alaska only because that is where the people disembarked from the ships bringing them north. Their destination was the Dawson, Yukon Territory, Canada area. As gold was prospected for on the creeks, some of the creeks extended to Alaska and the miners followed the creeks.”
Whatever you’re after in Alaska records, Bradbury says, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for. The National Archives branch in Anchorage has a large collection of records generated by the federal government since statehood. Prior to statehood, the collections are divided between it and the state library and archives. “The Alaska State Library History Department has a wonderful collection,” Bradbury adds. “They have good coverage of southeast Alaska but also have collections that are statewide or cover other areas. They have a website http://www.library.state.ak.us/hist/hist.html that will be helpful. The Alaska State Archives is a marvelous repository of records generated by the state government. The University of Alaska in both Anchorage and Fairbanks has archives. The Alaska and Polar Regions Department, Elmer E. Rasmusun Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks has the largest manuscript collection in the state, an excellent rare book collection, and a large Alaskana Collection of books. They also have an excellent website http://library.uaf.edu.”
The site links to the Alaska and Polar Periodical Indexto periodicals containing articles about Alaska and Alaskans — a great place to start your search.
- New Land, New Lives: Scandinavian Immigrants to the Pacific Northwest by Janet Elaine Rasmussen (University of Washington Press, 1993)
- Records of the Russian-American Company, 1802, 1817–1867 by Raymond H. Fisher and the National Archives (National Archives, 1971)
- Alaska Atlas and Gazetteer (DeLorme Mapping, 1992)
- Alaska Place Names, 4th edition, by Alan Edward Schorr (Denali Press, 1991)
- Alaska-Yukon Place Names by James Wendell Phillips (University of Washington Press, 1973)
- Dictionary of Alaska Place Names by Donald J. Orth (Government Printing Office, 1967)
- Geographic Dictionary of Alaska, 2nd edition, by Marcus Baker, prepared by James McCormick (Government Printing Office, 1906)
- District and Territorial Court System: Record Group Inventory Alaska State Archives (State Archives, 1987)