Florida History and Research Overview

By Family Tree Editors Premium


Though Massachusetts and Virginia continue to duke it out over which founded the “new country,” in actuality, the history of Florida predates both states: St. Augustine was founded in 1565. Perhaps the fact that Florida settlement didn’t begin in earnest until the late 18th century makes researchers think of the state as a late bloomer.


Florida was long a pawn, traded back and forth between England and Spain until well after the American Revolution. In 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War, Britain had control of Florida. At this time the provinces of East Florida (land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Apalachicola River) and West Florida (from the Apalachicola River to the Mississippi River) were formed.

England didn’t have Florida for very long. In 1783, Spain regained both provinces, and most British settlers moved out. In 1812, parts of West Florida were annexed to Louisiana and the Mississippi Territory. Seven years later, Spain ceded the remainder of West Florida and all of East Florida to the United States. By 1822, Florida was a territory, and it finally gained statehood on March 3, 1845.

All of this back and forth between Spain and England has resulted in the history of Florida being broken up into different periods: the first Spanish colonial period (1565-1763), British colonial period (1763-1783), second Spanish period (1784-1821), and territorial era (1821-1845). With each period came different records, and in the case of the Spanish periods, records in a different language.

(click to enlarge)
Florida state map with county outlines


  • Birth and death records at the state level are primarily available beginning in January 1917 and can be requested from the Bureau of Vital Statistics of the State Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
  • The state vital statistics office has marriages, divorces, and annulments from June 6, 1927.
  • A few fragments of colonial, territorial, and state censuses have survived, and can be found at the Florida Department of State, Division of Library & Information Services, Bureau of Archives and Records Management.
  • A proven list of people in the state before March 3, 1845 is on the Florida State Genealogical Society Web site



  • Federal census: 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • State census: 1825 (Leon County), 1855 (Marion County), 1867 (Hernando, Madison, Orange, Santa Rosa Counties), 1875 (Alachua County), 1885 (all counties except Alachua, Clay, Nassau, and Columbia), 1935, 1945
  • Mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880


  • 1830 Private Land Claims in East Florida (Institute of Historic Research, ca. 1990)
  • The Black Experience: A Guide to Afro-American Resources in the Florida State Archives by Debra D. McGriff (Florida Department of State Division of Library and Information Services, 1991)
  • Catalog of the Florida State Archives (Department of State, 1975)
  • Church and State in the Spanish Floridas, 1783-1822 by Michael Joseph Curley (AMS Press, 1974)
  • The Cross in the Sand: The Early Catholic Church in Florida, 1513-1870 by Michael V. Gannon (University of Florida Press, 1965)
  • The Episcopal Diocese of Florida, 1892-1975 by George R. Bentley (University of Florida Press, ca. 1989)
  • Florida Connections Through Bible Records by Anne Wood Taylor (Florida State Genealogical Society, ca. 1993)
  • Florida: Historic-Dramatic-Contemporary, 4 vols., by Junius E. Dovell (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1952)
  • Florida Pioneers and Their Descendants by Anne Wood Taylor (Florida State Genealogical Society, ca. 1992)
  • Florida Prison Records, 1875-1900 by Carol Cox Bouknecht (C.C. Bouknecht, ca. 1993)
  • The Florida State Genealogical Society, Inc. Surname Directory, 1995 by Linda Pazics Kleback (The Society, ca. 1995)
  • Florida’s Indians from Ancient Times to the Present by Jerald T. Milanich (University Press of Florida, ca. 1998)
  • Genealogy and Local History: A Bibliography, revised edition by Gill T. Bodziony (State Library of Florida, 1978)
  • Genealogy and Local History: A Bibliography (supplement) by Beverly Pittman Byrd (Department of State, Division of Library Services, 1983)
  • Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collections in the United States: Florida by the Historical Records Survey (Florida Historical Records Survey Project, 1940)
  • A Guide to the History of Florida by Paul S. George and Samuel Proctor (Greenwood Press, ca. 1989)
  • Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the Records of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas, 1576-1803 by Thomas Timothy McAvoy (University of Notre Dame Archives, 1967)
  • Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Florida by Historical Records Survey, Florida (Florida Historical Records Survey, 1941)
  • History of Florida, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical by Harry Gardner Cutler (Lewis Publishing Co., ca. 1923)
  • The History of Methodism in Georgia and Florida: From 1785 to 1865 by Geo. G. Smith Jr. (Jno. W. Burke & Co., 1877)
  • A History of the Timucua Indians and Missions by John H. Hann (University Press of Florida, ca. 1996)
  • Index to the Archives of Spanish West Florida, 1782-1810 by Stanley Clisby Arthur (Polyanthos, Inc., 1975)
  • Index to Florida Jewish History in the American Israelite, 1854-1900 by Yael Herbsman (University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries, ca. 1992)
  • Inventory of the Church Archives of Florida Baptist Bodies by Historical Records Survey (Historical Records Survey, 1939-1940)
  • Missions of Spanish Florida by David Hurst Thomas (Garland, ca. 1991)
  • Names and Abstracts from the Acts of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida, 1822-1845 by William A. Wolfe and Janet B. Wolfe (Florida State Genealogical Society, ca. 1991, 1985)
  • Pioneers of Florida’s First Coast by the Southern Genealogist’s Exchange Society (Gregath, 1991)
  • A Preliminary List of Religious Bodies in Florida by Historical Records Survey (Historical Records Survey, 1939)
  • Searching in Florida: A Reference Guide to Public and Private Records by Diane C. Robie (Independent Search Consultants, Inc., 1982)
  • Seminole Indians of Florida by Raymond C. Lantz (Heritage Books, ca. 1994)
  • The Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes: A Critical Bibliography by Harry A. Kersey (Indiana University Press, ca. 1987)
  • The Spanish Borderlands: A Chronicle of Old Florida and the Southwest by Herbert Eugene Bolton (Yale University Press, 1921)
  • A Story of the Southern Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1740-1968 by Banks J. Peeler (Southern Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, ca. 1968)
  • The Story of Southwestern Florida by James Warren Covington (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1957)
  • The Trail of the Florida Circuit Rider: An Introduction to the Rise of Methodism in Middle and East Florida by Charles Tinsley Thrift Jr. (Florida Southern College Press, ca. 1944)

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