State Research Guide: Ohio

By Jana Sloan Broglin Premium


ohio genealogy resources guide ancestors facts tips research


From the ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, football is everywhere in the Buckeye State. And people with Ohio ancestors are everywhere in the United States, thanks to the Buckeye State’s position between the Northeast and the wide-open West. If your ancestors lived in or passed through Ohio, we’ll help you tackle your research.

State history

The Continental Congress created the Northwest Territory—mostly Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky—in 1787 from Revolutionary War winnings. In 1788, General Rufus Putnam founded the area’s first settlement on the Ohio River at Marietta. Resident Indian tribes, egged on by the British, resisted US encroachment until their decisive defeat at the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers.
Ohio grew so rapidly that Congress admitted it as a state in 1803 when its population had reached 45,000—15,000 short of Northwest Ordinance requirements. Even today, Ohio is still packed with people: it ranks among the most densely populated states in the nation.

Land records

Ohio was the first public-land state, surveyed under the rectangular survey system rather than the less-reliable metes-and-bounds scheme. Various parts of the state were partitioned off in different ways, though; some land was sold under land company ownership and some was distributed by the government.  The Official Ohio Lands Book, a free download from the state auditor’s website, is a must-read for those researching early Ohio settlers. Visit the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office website to search for land patents granted by the federal government, then request land entry case files form the National Archives and Records Administration.

Many Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans received bounty land in Ohio. Virginia awarded lands to its claimants in the Virginia Military District in southwest Ohio. The federal government handed out parcels in the US Military District of Ohio in the center of the state. Digitized US Military District warrants are searchable on subscription site Virginia Military District bounty warrants and rejected claims are digitized here; click on Digital Collections, then Collections by Topic, then Military Service. Files for both military districts are available on microfilm through the Family History Library (FHL).

The “Firelands” of north central Ohio were reserved for residents of Connecticut towns burned during the American Revolution. The Western Reserve Historical Society and Firelands Historical Society have extensive related resources.
County recorders’ offices hold deeds for land transactions between private citizens. Because of border disputes, for pre-1837 land records in Williams, Fulton and Lucas counties, you may need to check Michigan’s Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties, respectively.

Census records

The Northwest Territory existed before the 1790 US census, but its residents weren’t counted. Most of the 1800 Northwest Territory census is lost, but a Washington County head count is at the Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) library and is part of’s Ohio Census, 1790-1890 collection. Only Washington County schedules exist for 1810, too; find records on and in a partial index here).
The first extant federal census records for the entire state are from the 1820 enumeration. Most of the 1890 US census is lost, but a few records for Cincinnati in Hamilton County and Wayne Township in Clinton County survived. Ohio’s 1890 veterans’ schedule of Union Civil War veterans also survived. Search federal census records on subscription genealogy websites, MyHeritage and Findmypast. Some census indexes and records are on the free FamilySearch (index results may link to record images on fee-based websites), and you can rent microfilmed census records through the FHL.
Nonpopulation censuses—which are incomplete for Ohio but still valuable—include 1850 to 1880 mortality schedules, agricultural and industrial schedules, an 1880 schedule of “Defective, Dependent and Delinquent” classes, and a 1935 business schedule. Many of these records are accessible through
Ohio took no state censuses, but every four years from 1803 to 1911, it counted men age 21 and older in various counties to determine voting districts. These quadrennial enumerations are on FHL microfilm and in local genealogical society collections. Ohio counties also kept detailed tax records since their inception. Copies are available at the Ohio History Connection (OHC), which serves as the state archives and historical society, and on microfilm through the FHL. Records for 1800 to 1850 are available on FamilySearch.
City directories also can help you account for ancestors between census years and when census records are missing. Ohio’s cities are well-represented in’s US city directories collection and MyHeritage’s Compilation of Published Sources.

Vital records

Many cities and counties started keeping birth and death registers in 1867, but the state didn’t centralize and standardize recordkeeping until 1908. County probate courts have original records before 1908; many are on microfilm at the FHL and OHC. You’ll find a collection of index cards created from Cincinnati’s early records here. For post-1908 records, contact the local health department or the state vital statistics office.
Many of Ohio’s vital records are digitized or indexed online. FamilySearch has indexes for millions of Ohio births (1821-1962) and deaths (1854-2007), plus death certificates (1908-1953). Even more vital records are in county-level datasets. has similar statewide and some county-level births and deaths. OHC has a more limited online death index (1913-1944); you can order some death certificates here.
Counties have always kept marriage records, but the state office has marriages from 1949. Find indexes to millions of Ohio marriages at FamilySearch (1798-2013) and (1803-1900 and 1970s-2007). Search for county-level marriage datasets at these sites, too. Early records may contain only the couple’s names, but after about 1900, they also give birthplaces and dates, occupations, previous marriages and parents’ names.
Courthouse fires destroyed some records, but most are still in county courts and some are online (nearly 7 million Ohio probate record images are browsable at FamilySearch). Check with county offices, which you can find by searching online for the county name and clerk or recorder. County boundaries shifted often, so don’t forget to check records in parent counties.

Military records

Many Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans and their descendants settled in Ohio. Revolutionary War muster rolls are searchable on and Fold3. Search the Adjutant General’s Roster of War of 1812 soldiers here.

During the Civil War, more than 300,000 Ohioans served the Union, many of whom are documented in OGS’ Ohio Civil War databases. They’re also indexed online in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. You’ll find WWI soldiers listed in the Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18, in libraries and digitized on

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) holds military service and pension records today. You can access some of these records—or indexes to them—online at, Fold3 and Family­Search. Look to these sites as well for Ohioans’ WWI and WWII draft records.
County recorders’ offices hold soldiers’ discharge records for the Civil War and later wars. Larger counties may have forwarded these records to a federal Department of Veterans Affairs district office. These may be microfilmed or digitized with county records at FamilySearch.

Immigration and naturalization records

Knowing where your ancestors settled can give you a clue to their origins. Early northeastern Ohioans likely traveled from New England or New York. Southwestern Ohio ancestors may be from Kentucky, Virginia, New Jersey or Maryland. German immigrants headed for the Cincinnati area starting in the 1830s. The Irish tended to settle urban areas. Later, industrial cities in the northeast, including Cleveland, attracted Eastern Europeans.
Most immigrants arrived via East Coast ports such as New York and Baltimore. Search and view lists for nearly all US ports on, with many records and indexes also at FamilySearch. You also can search New York passengers for free at the Castle Garden (1820-1892; index only) and Ellis Island (1892-1950s) websites.
Naturalization wasn’t legally required; the Alien Registration Act in 1940 prompted many aliens to file for citizenship. Before 1906, immigrants could file for naturalization in any court—local, state or federal. After 1906, naturalization records were forwarded to the US government. Naturalizations filed in US District Courts for many areas of the country are online (in indexes or as digital records) at, Fold3 or FamilySearch. Pre-1906 records filed in other courts would be among records for those courts. Order post-1906 records from Citizenship and Immigration Services from the US Cinitizenship and Immigration Services website.

Ohio respositories and websites

Team up with Ohio’s many research repositories to find your family. OHC manages the Ohio Network of American History Research Centers, regional archives that hold newspaper microfilm and selected local records, such as militia lists and ferry licenses. The OHC library in Columbus holds newspapers from the entire state and offers several online indexes. Its Ohio Memory Network, a partnership with the state library, is a searchable online archive of information, photos, newspapers, maps and other digitized documents from repositories across the state.
In the state’s southwest corner, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has strong local history and African-American collections, microfilmed records, and a Digital Library of city directories, photos and more. The Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland holds records of interest to northeast Ohio and beyond.

For a records bonanza not to be overlooked, turn to the OGS library in Bellville. It holds more than 40,000 family histories and other books, a quarter million ancestor cards, censuses, military and county court records and more. OGS also keeps files on early settlers for OGS lineage societies.

Click here to see our listing of Ohio genealogy fast facts and key resources.

From the January/February 2017 Family Tree Magazine



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