Missouri History and Research Overview

By Family Tree Editors Premium


It was the Gateway to the West — the jumping-off point for Lewis and Clark’s expedition, the Santa Fe and Oregon trails and gold-hungry 49ers. Missouri was well-known as a stopping point en route to a final destination, but many adventurers made it their home. Whether your ancestors passed through or stayed, Missouri offers wonderful records and resources to help you find their stories.

The area was home to the Missouri, Osage, Delaware and Shawnee Indians long before Europeans ventured there. Early explorers were DeSoto in 1541, Marquette and Joliet in 1673, and Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, who claimed the Mississippi River Valley for France in 1682. French lead miners established the first permanent white settlement in 1735 at Ste. Genevieve. In 1763, France ceded the area to Spain. French fur traders founded St. Louis the following year, word of the cession to Spain not having reached them.


Settlement by Americans began as early as 1787 in Ste. Genevieve County. Spain offered free land, and after 1795, large numbers of Americans arrived from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas. In 1800 Spain returned the area to France, and in 1803 the United States acquired the land as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Missouri became part of Louisiana Territory in 1805. In 1812 Congress created Missouri Territory. Migration continued, but many left due to earthquakes, Indian raids and other problems. When Missouri became the 24th state in 1821, the population was approximately 57,000. Descendants of the early French and American settlers were joined by immigrants from Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, England, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. In the 1840s large numbers of Germans continued to arrive, as did Irish fleeing the Potato Famine. Many of the new arrivals settled in Missouri’s growing cities. During the rest of the century, Missouri’s cities saw increasing immigration from Greece, Poland, Italy and Eastern Europe.

Missouri provided soldiers to both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War, and many critical battles were fought in the state. A slave state, it never officially seceded but had separate governments representing each side.

(click to enlarge)
Missouri state map with county outlines


  • The Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City is the state’s official repository for historical records. Many records are online at
  • The St. Louis Genealogical Society website provides details on its many resources and projects .
  • The State Historical Society of Missouri has a major collection of Missouri newspapers, as well as indexes, maps and more
  • The Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis has holdings related to colonial, territorial, and state history Search an index to many records on its website.
  • The Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri — St. Louis specializes in Mississippi Valley history.



  • Federal censuses: 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
  • Special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows: 1890
  • State censuses: 1844, 1852, and 1856 (Callaway and Greene counties), 1876


  • Bible Records of Missouri by Elizabeth B. Langley (Langley, 1968)
  • A Bibliography of Missouri County Histories and Atlases by Paul O. Selby (Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, 1966)
  • Bibliography of the Ozarks Books (filmed by the Family History Library, 1977)
  • The Book of Missourians by M.L. Van Nada (filmed by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1989)
  • Campbell’s Gazetteer of Missouri by Robert Allen Campbell (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1972)
  • A Centennial History of the State Historical Society of Missouri, 1898-1998 by Alan R. Havig (University of Missouri Press, ca. 1998 )
  • 1806-1906, The Centennial Volume of Missouri Methodism, Methodist Episcopal Church, South by Marcus L. Gray (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988)
  • Directory of Local Historical, Museum, and Genealogical Agencies in Missouri (State Historical Society of Missouri, ca. 1993)
  • Early Missourians and Kin by Roy Burgess (R. Burgess, ca. 1984-ca. 1987)
  • Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri by Howard Louis Conard (Southern History Co., 1901)
  • Genealogical Material and Local Histories in the St. Louis Public Library (St. Louis Public Library, 1953)
  • A Guide to County Records on Microfilm (Missouri State Archives, 1990)
  • A Guide to Genealogical Research in St. Louis by Edward E. Steele (St. Louis Genealogical Society, 1995)
  • Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Missouri by the Historical Records Survey (Historical Records Survey, 1941)
  • Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Early Churches and Pioneer Preachers of the Christian Church in Missouri by T.P. Haley (J.H. Smart, ca. 1888)
  • Historic Missouri, A Pictorial Narrative of Our State (State Historical Society, ca. 1959)
  • A History of the Baptists in Missouri by R.S. Duncan (Scammell, 1882)
  • A History of Missouri from the Earliest Explorations and Settlements until the Admission of the State into the Union by Louis Houck (R.R. Donnelley, ca. 1908)
  • A History of the Pioneer Families of Missouri by William S. Bryan (Bryan Brand, 1876)
  • History of Southeast Missouri (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1973)
  • History of the United Methodist Churches of Missouri by Richard A. Seaton (Missouri Methodist Historical Society, 1984)
  • An Illustrated History of Missouri by Walter Bickford Davis (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1976)
  • A List of Manuscript Collections in the Archives of the Missouri Historical Society by Beverly D. Biship (Missouri Historical Society, ca. 1982)
  • The Methodist Church in Missouri: 1798-1939, A Brief History by Frank C. Tucker (F.C. Tucker, ca. 1966)
  • Midwest Pioneers, 1600s-1800s (Broderbund, ca. 1999. CD-ROM)
  • Missouri, The Center State, 1821-1915 by Walter B. Stevens (filmed by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1990)
  • Missouri Family Histories and Genealogies: A Bibliography by Donald M. Hehir (Heritage Books, ca. 1996)
  • Missouri, A History of the Crossroads State by Edwin C. McReynolds (University of Oklahoma Press, ca. 1962)
  • Missouri, Mother of the West by Walter Williams (American Historical Society, 1930)
  • Missouri Pioneers, County and Genealogical Records compiled by Nadine Hodges et al. (N. Hodges, 1967-1976)
  • Missouri Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at
  • Officers License and Related Records, 1905-1942 by the US Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, Missouri (filmed by the Family History Library, 1991)
  • Opening the Ozarks 1835-1839: First Families in Southwest Missouri by Marsha Hoffman Rising (American Society of Genealogists, 2005)
  • The Organization of Missouri Counties by the Historical Records Survey (Historical Records Survey, 1941)
  • Orphan Trains to Missouri by Michael D. Patrick (University of Missouri Press, ca. 1997)
  • Parish Register Transcripts, ca. 1830-1900 by the Catholic Church Archdiocese of Kansas City and St. Joseph (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah)
  • People of Color: Black Genealogical Records and Abstracts from Missouri Sources by Teresa Blattner (Heritage Books, ca. 1993, ca. 1998)
  • Pioneer Kentuckians with Missouri Cousins by Linda Barber Brooks (Ingmire Publications, ca. 1985)
  • The Refiner’s Fire: The Significance of Events Transpiring in Missouri by Alvin R. Dyer (Deseret Book, 1968)
  • A Reminiscent History of the Ozark Region (Southern Historical Press, 1978)
  • Robert E. Parkin’s Guide to Tracing Your Family Tree in Missouri by Robert E. Parkin (Genealogical Research and Productions, ca. 1979)
  • Southeast Missouri by Robert Sidney Douglass (Lewis Publishing Co., 1912)
  • The Spanish Regime in Missouri by Louis Houck (filmed by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1990)
  • The Trail of Tears Across Missouri by Joan Gilbert (University of Missouri Press, ca. 1996)
  • Zion’s Camp 1834: Prelude to the Civil War by James L. Bradley (J.L. Bradley, ca. 1990)
  • Who’s What and Why in Missouri by the Jefferson City, Mo., Chamber of Commerce (Historical Record Association, 1959)

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Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.

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