Idaho’s protracted territorial period meant it was covered by the 1850 Oregon Territory census, the 1860 Washington Territory census (in Spokane County), and 1870 and 1880 Idaho Territory enumerations. Parts of southern Idaho were also included in the 1860 and 1870 censuses of Cache County, Utah. The earliest extant US census as a state is that of 1900.
Be aware of shifting county boundaries — and even disappearing counties, such as Alturas. Juvanne Martin, CGRS, owner of the Research Network and Idaho Connections and Southwest Coordinator of the Idaho Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, advises, “Know when each of the 44 Idaho counties were formed, including the counties that no longer exist. For instance, Canyon County started March 7, 1891. Before that time, it was part of Ada County. Thus, records for the Caldwell/Nampa area would be filed in Boise.” She recommends several web sites for tracing Idaho’s counties: Idaho State Homepage http://accessidaho.org/aboutidaho/county, Idaho GenWeb http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~idgenweb, and a page on her site http://researchnetwork.net/idaho/idaholinks.shtml.
Idaho was also a latecomer to statewide vital records. Birth and death registrations were first required on the county level in 1907, switching to a state responsibility in 1911. Statewide marriage and divorce records didn’t commence until 1947. Earlier records were sometimes kept by churches, midwives or physicians, and mortuaries or, for marriages, the person performing the ceremony or making a marriage contract.
Cemetery records may offer clues when death records are unavailable: Volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have transcribed records for cemeteries representing most Idaho counties. These are available in a set of 12 books or on five microfilm reels from the FHL.
Land records can also be useful in this public-lands state. Records from the land offices in Boise, Blackfoot, Hailey, Lewiston, Coeur d’Alene and Oxford (later known as Blackfoot) are at the National Archives in Seattle and the Bureau of Land Management in Boise. The FHL has microfilmed land records covering 1868 to 1913 on 23 reels. A patent search is available through the Bureau of Land Management’s web site http://glorecords.blm.gov. For county land records, she says, you can consult microfilm at the state historical society library or contact the assessor’s office at each county courthouse.
The biggest challenge facing Idaho researchers, Martin warns, is documenting sources prior to the state’s requirement to file vital records. Her suggestion is to look for information in the county where the event occurred. In addition to contacting county clerks, use old newspapers as a source. Fortunately, Idaho enjoys well-preserved collections of early newspapers in both the Idaho State Historical Society Library and Archives and the University of Idaho’s library. You can borrow microfilm of these historic newspapers via interlibrary loan. For a list of early Idaho newspapers on microfilm, see http://db.lib.uidaho.edu/news/microfilm.php3.
The Internet can also help with vital records, Martin notes. The Idaho Death Index, covering 1911 to 1951, with deaths listed by surname, is the Idaho GenWeb site http://rootsweb.ancestry.com/~idgenweb/deaths/search.htm and on subscription site Ancestry.com. Once you’ve found an ancestor, you can view the death records on microfilm at the Idaho State Historical Library and Archives (1911 through 1937) or order copies from the Idaho Vital Records Office in Boise.
Another useful site, Martin adds, is the Western States Historical Marriage Record Index http://abish.byui.edu/specialCollections/westernStates/search.cfm, which covers an enormous collection of early marriage records housed at Brigham Young University-Idaho’s library in Rexburg. Virtually all pre-1900 Idaho marriages with available records are included, and many Idaho counties have been extracted into the 1930s or later. Once you’ve identified an ancestor in the index, look for the record on microfilm at the Idaho State Historical Society Library or by contacting the county clerk where the marriage was recorded.
- The 1863 Census of Some Prominent Men of the Idaho Territory by Sherman Lee Pompey (Pacific Specialties, 1974)
- 1910 Idaho Census Index compiled by Upper Snake River Valley Family History Center volunteers and McKay Library employees at Ricks College (Heritage Quest, 1998)
- Idaho Territorial Voters Poll Lists, 1863 transcribed, edited, and indexed by Gene F. Williams (Williams Printing, ca. 1996)
- Reconstructed 1890 Census by Idaho State Historical Society Library and Archives, ongoing project
- Emigrant Trails of Southeastern Idaho by the US Bureau of Land Management (US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 1976)
- Idaho State Brand Records and Indexes, 4 vols. (Idaho Genealogical Society, ca. 1988)
- Stockman’s Guide compiled by J.A. Avery (Downey Idahoan, 1913)
- Thousands of Idaho Surnames: Abstracted from Rejected Federal Land Applications, 5 vols., (Genealogical Forum of Oregon, 1980-1987)
- An Atlas of Idaho Territory, 1863-1890 annotated by Merle W. Wells (Idaho Historical Society, 1978)
- A Checklist of Idaho Post Offices by Alan H. Patera and John S. Gallagher (The Depot, ca. 1984)
- Gazetteer of Cities, Villages, Unincorporated Communities, and Landmark Sites in the State of Idaho, 3rd edition, Idaho Highway Planning Survey, prepared in cooperation with US Bureau of Public Roads (1966)
- Ghost Towns and Live Ones: A Chronology of the Post Office Dept. in Idaho, 1861-1973
- by Frank R. Schell (1973)
- Idaho Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary by Lalia Boone (University of Idaho Press, ca. 1988)
- “Idaho Town Names” by Fritz L. Kramer, published in the Idaho State Historical Department Bienneal Report 23, 1951-1952
- Maps of Early Idaho: Old Gold Mines, Indian Battle Grounds, Old Military Roads, Old Forts, Overland Stage Routes, Early Towns prepared by R.N. Preston (Western Guide Publishers, 1972)
- Route of the Oregon Trail in Idaho, Idaho Department of Highways (1963)
- A Short History and Postal Record of Idaho Towns: Ada County Thru Washington County by Art Randall (A. Randall, 1994)
- Justice for the Times: A Centennial History of the Idaho State Courts edited by Carl F. Bianchi (Idaho Law Foundation, ca. 1990)
- AZ, CA, ID, NV, 1850-1951 (Broderbund, ca. 1996. CD-ROM)
- Cemetery Records of Idaho, 12 vols., (The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1952-1968)
- Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Idaho, State and County prepared by the Idaho Historical Records Survey Projects (Idaho Historical Records Survey Projects, 1942)
- Western States Historical Marriage Index Online compiled by the Brigham Young University-Idaho Family History Center, http://abish.byui.edu/specialCollections/westernStates/search.cfm