Step-by-Step Idaho Research, 1850-1910
A suggested approach to genealogy research in Idaho online family history records.
Table of Contents
See also How to Use "Record Hints"
In this period of Idaho, census records are the most valuable record because statewide civil registration does not begin until 1905. Collecting vital records and cemetery/obituary records will then provide clues for searches in even earlier census records. Then, there are a variety of records that take a bit more work, but can produce good results. Collecting all the available information may make it possible to piece together a puzzle, even if no one record completely describes your family!
Step 1. Find out everything you can from living relatives and their family records:
What should you ask?
In order to extend your research on your ancestors, you are looking for names, dates, and places. Everything you learn that tells you about when and where a relative lived is a clue to a new record search. Be sure to ask questions that lead to that information, including about their occupations, military service, or associations with others, such as fraternal organizations. See also:
- Fifty Questions for Family History Interviews What to Ask the Relatives
- Genealogy: 150 questions to ask family members about their lives
- Creating Oral Histories
What documents should you look for and ask to copy?
Family Members Born After 1940
Because the most recent census available was taken in 1940, family documents and the knowledge of living family members play a vital role in identifying these people. Once you have learned names, places of residence, and clues to estimate approximate birth date, the next important step is to send for birth, marriage, and death records for them. Skip to Step 3: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.
Step 2: Search the 1900, 1880, 1870, 1860, and 1850 census records online.
Study the clues you have gathered, specifically looking for where each family lived in the years a census was taken. You can be exact: ""William and Thelma Black were evidently living in Twin Falls in 1900". Or you can be theoretical: "William Black was not married yet in 1880, and is probably living with his parents as a 7-year-old-child, hopefully near Twin Falls."
A census is a count and description of the population of a country, state, county, or city for a given date. A census took a "snapshot" of a family on a certain day. For each person living in a household you might find (depending on the year) their name, age, birthplace, relationship to head of household, place of birth for father and mother, citizenship status, year of immigration, mother of how many children and number of children living, native language, and whether they were a veteran of the military.
To learn more about census records, including search strategies, see United States Census Records for Beginners.
Look at the samples of census records below to become familiar with the types of information found in each.
United States census records
What types of useful information can I find in them?
- The 1790--1840 censuses are more limited, naming only the head of household and headcounts. Beginning in 1850, the census records began asking for more information.
- Notice in the following chart additional information helpful for genealogists added each year.
(other smaller details also given but not listed here)
Name, age, and gender of each family member; Occupation; Birthplace; If married that year
|1870||Adds: Whether father and mother are of foreign birth|
|1880||Adds: Marital status; Relationship to head of household; Place of birth for father and mother|
|1900||Adds: Number of years in current marriage; Month and year of birth; Mother of how many children Number of children living; Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized; Year of immigration to U.S.; How many years lived in U.S|
1900 U.S. Census
- The 1900 census is particularly helpful because it states month and year of birth, how many children a woman has born, the year of immigration to the U.S., among other things.
1880 U.S. Census
1870 U.S. Census
1860 U.S. Census
1850 U.S. Census
United States Indian Census Rolls
- This database contains an index to the Indian census rolls from 1885-1940 for those living on Indian Reservations in the United States. *Information contained in this database includes: name (Indian and/or English), gender, age, birth date, relationship to head of family, marital status, tribe name, agency and reservation name
- Other information about an individual, such as degree of Indian blood, as recorded in the later census years, may be available on the original record.
- The Indian Census schedules are census rolls usually submitted each year by agents or superintendents in charge of Indian reservations. There is not a census for every reservation or group of Indians for every year. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under federal supervision are listed on these census rolls.
Census Links to Start Your Own Research in Census Records
Now you will want to find your family members in every possible census, using these convenient links:
- 1905 state census
- Indian census rolls from 1885-1940 - for those living on Indian Reservations in the United States
- Note: The 1890 census was destroyed in a fire.
- You will want to find and keep notes on census records from every census during each ancestor's lifetime.
- Using the census records, you will be able to estimate approximate birth dates and marriage dates. These records will lead you to additional census searches because you will find the names of other members of the family you will need to find. You may also find clues to other states and countries your family lived in before coming to Idaho.
In steps 3 and 4, we will use what we learned from the census records to help search for birth, marriage, and death records. But first, we will try to gather more clues from several collections of death, obituary, and cemetery records that may give other places their birth and marriage records might be located.
Step 3: Try to find additional details about your ancestors in death certificates, Social Security, obituary and cemetery records online.
We can look for many death-related records for Robert F. Johnson, his parents, and his siblings. In particular, we are looking for the maiden name of Robert's mother, a more specific town or origin in England for his father, and more complete birth dates for all of the family members. You will see at the end of this section a FindAGrave record for William S. Johnson which gives us his full name, William Smith Johnson; his full birthdate, 1 August 1822; and his birth place, Manchester, England.
Even though this article focuses on finding records prior to 1905, remember that many of the people you are studying in the late 1800's died after 1910, when death certificates began being filed statewide.
This is only an index entry of a death certificate.
This certificate demonstrates what information you can obtain by sending for the actual certificate. Most notably, you would probably find the names and birthplaces of her parents.
- Idaho, Death Index, 1890-1963 ($)
- Idaho County Birth and Death Records 1883-1929, index and images
- Idaho, Deaths and Burials, 1907-1965 Index only.
- Idaho, Death Certificates, 1911-1937 Index only. Also at MyHeritage, ($).
- Idaho, Death Records, 1890-1930 ($)
- Idaho, Select Deaths and Burials, 1907-1965 ($)
- Idaho, County Birth and Death Records, 1907-1920, ($). Images, indexed.
- Idaho State Death Index 1911-1951
- Eastern Idaho Death Records
Ordering Full Certificates
- Click here for information on how to death records. This will require an application, a fee, and proof of your identification. Provide as many details as possible on the application, but you may leave some fields blank.
U.S. Social Security Death Index
The U.S. Social Security program began in 1935 but most deaths recorded in the index happened after 1962. The Social Security Death index includes those who had a Social Security number and/or applied for benefits. The index entries give the person's full birth date, last known residence, and residence at the time they first enrolled. Women are listed under their married name at the time of their death. You can search these records online at United States Social Security Death Index. Also at Ancestry.com, ($), index.
The Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off, by providing information filed in the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. The deceased would have to be at least 75 years old today for their parents' names to be published in the index. You will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI, as criteria for inclusion differs.
If you find your ancestor in the SSDI index, you can order a copy of their original Social Security application (SS-5). If you can prove the individual has died (by sending an obituary or copy of their cemetery headstone), the application will also give the deceased's parents' names, if listed, the date and place of birth, currenr residence and employer.
Social Security Death Index
Social Security Applications and Claims Index
- Frequently, a death is announced in the newspaper with an obituary.
- These obituaries may supply missing birth or death dates and name the parents of the deceased.
- Obituaries may also name family members, their spouses, their current residences, and whether they died before the person or are still surviving, especially in obituaries written in the last half of the 20th Century.
- Try these Idaho links:
- Cemetery records may only give the names and dates stated on the tombstone, but as in the case of FindAGrave, sometimes pictures of the deceased and their tombstone, children's or parents' names and links to their graves, and marriage information have been added. Always verify information added by others.
- Frequently family members are buried in the same cemetery often in neighboring plots.
- Try these Idaho links:
NOTE: Each database covers different cemeteries, although some may overlap. Don't be discouraged if you do not locate your individual in the first database. Check each collection.
Here is a typical online cemetery record from FindAGrave.
Step 4: Search for county birth and marriage records online.
States, counties, or even towns in some states recorded births, marriages, and deaths. You have probably seen these types of certificates and have your own. In addition to the child's name, birth date, and place of birth, a birth certificate may give the birthplaces of the parents, their ages, and occupations. A death certificate may give the person's birth date and place, parents' names and birthplaces, and spouse's name.
Vital records registration of births and marriages at the state level started in 1905. Prior to that the individual counties kept the records. The starting dates of those records vary from county to county, depending on when the county was formed. Here are a variety of collected county records:
- Idaho, Births and Christenings, 1856-1965 Index only.
- Idaho, County Birth and Death Records, 1863-1967, index and images, ($)
- 1883 - 1929 Idaho County Birth and Death Records 1883-1929 at FamilySearch — index and images
- Idaho, Birth Index, 1861-1912, Stillbirth Index, 1905-1962 ($)
- Western States Marriage Index
- Web: Western States Marriage Index, 1809-2011 ($)
- Idaho, County Marriages, 1863-1967, index and images, ($)
- Idaho, County Marriages, 1864-1950 Index and images. Also at MyHeritage, ($).
- Idaho, Marriages, 1878-1898; 1903-1942 Index only.
- Idaho, Marriage Index, 1842-1962, 1975-1996 Index ($)
Samples of index entries
Records of close relatives should be looked for to help verify information that may not be on your direct-line ancestor's records. In the second record below, for example, the bride or groom might be only the brother or sister of your direct line ancestor, but the record still states the parents names. The parents then are the direct line.
Records at the County Courthouse
From the date of the formation of a county until the establishment of state civil registration, birth and marriage records were kept by the County Clerk. They may have been microfilmed, or you can write for them. It is appropriate to write asking for either a single record or for a list of all the marriages for a given surname. This Letter Writing Guide will help you with phrasing a letter. This online directory by Genealogy Inc. will give you the address of the County Clerk. Click on the map to select a county, then scroll down to the "Courthouse and Government Records" to find the address and phone number.
If you are at the main Family History Library, check first to see if microfilms of the county vital records are available. In the search field of the FamilySearch Catalog, enter the state and county. Then click on the "Vital Records" subject. The cost of renting the microfilms at a Family History Center probably makes it less expensive to just write to the County Clerk.
Step 5: Search military records: World War I and II draft cards and Civil War pension records online.
World War I Draft Registration
World War II Draft Registration
Likewise, the World War II draft in 1942 may give birth date, birth place, residence, occupation, employer, and other family members as contacts. Search for your male relatives born in this time period at U.S. WW II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.
Civil War Pensions
- Pensions were given to Union Civil War soldiers who sustained war-related disabilities from the Federal Government.
- There are several Civil War pension indexes online:
- United States Civil War and Later Pension Index, 1861-1917 at FamilySearch
- General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, Civil War at Ancestry - $
- Civil War Pensions Index at Fold3 - $
- United States Civil War Widows and Other Dependents Pension Files, 1861-1934 This collection indexes approved pension case files of widows and other dependents of soldiers submitted between 1861 and 1934 and sailors between 1910 and 1934. The pension files are being uploaded and attached to this index as they become available. If the pension images are not available, they must be obtained from the National Archives. The wife's maiden name is used in the index along with her married name.
This collection consists of two card indexes to widows who had applied for a pension renewal. The first covers service between 1812-1860 and the second covers service in the Civil War and later. This is helpful in locating a woman in census and death records under her new surname.
Pension Records for Other Wars
- This record might help by naming a wife or widow of a Revolutionary War veteran who settled in Idaho: U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Applications, 1800-1900 Index
- This record gives name, rank, regiment, company commander, regimental commander, height, weight, color of eyes, hair, complexion, age, occupation, county or state of birth, date and place of enlistment, miscellaneous remarks. Additional records include Indian Scouts, 1878-1914: U.S., Registers of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914 Index and images.
- These records might help by naming a wife or widow of a veteran who settled in Idaho:
- U.S., Old War Pension Index, 1815-1926 Index Only.
- U.S., Index to Indian Wars Pension Files, 1892-1926 Index only.
- U.S., Mexican War Pension Index, 1887-1926 Index only.
- For a more complete list of available online military records and indexes, see United States Online Military Records.
Military Indexes Unique to Idaho
|If Your Family Immigrated|
Step 6: If your ancestor was an immigrant, search immigration and naturalization records online.
The census records may show that your ancestor was born in another country. It will be necessary to try to find the town or city they were born in to continue research in that country. The next goal is to search immigration records (usually passenger lists) and naturalization (citizenship) records. Immigration refers to people coming into a country, such as the United States, and emigration refers to people leaving a country to go to another. Usually these records are passenger lists of the ships they sailed on. A typical record will show name, age, and country of origin, but records after 1892 often list the actual town of last residence and later, the town of birth. The later passenger lists can also list the next of kin still living in the old country and their residence, and the names of relatives and the place they are traveling to.
Census clues to Immigration records
Census records can provide important clues about nationality and immigration. This chart lists data that can be found in each of the census records. Gather the information in the census records specifically about immigration, as it will help narrow down your search.
(other smaller details also given but not listed here)
There are too many immigration records to list here. Click here to see a complete list of available immigration records online. Notice that they are listed by state, but under the letter "U" there is a long list of records that cover all of the United States. Unless family information tells you the port where family arrived, you will need to search all of the United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records for the time period when your ancestors arrived. Here are the immigration records specific to Idaho:
- BYU Idaho Japanese Immigrants to the United States, 1887-1924
- Border Crossings:From Canada to U.S., 1895-1954. Records from: Eastport, 1924-1954; Porthill, 1923-1954. Index and images ($)
- Idaho, Eastport Arrival Manifests, 1924-1956 Index and images.
Naturalization (Citizenship) Records
Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen. Records can include the immigrant's declaration of intent to become a citizen, petition, and final citizenship papers. Also locate both the declaration of intent and the petition. Naturalization records after 1906 can give birth date and place, spouse's name, marriage date and place, and lists of children with their birth dates. Records before 1906 usually include less information although, some county clerks would add more information then necessary making it important to always search for the records even if the naturalization happened before 1906. For more information regarding the naturalization process go to: Beginning Research in United States Naturalization Records wiki page.
Idaho Naturalization and Citizenship Online Records
Step 7: Use the clues you have gathered to search in earlier censuses than before.
Now you will use the clues you have gathered from the more recent census records, cemeteries and obituaries, and birth, marriage, and death records to search even earlier census records. Searching additional census records may give clues that take you back to birth, marriage, and death records. You will probably go back and forth between all these record groups again and again.
For example, now that we have learned that Robert Ferdinand Johnson is the son of William S. Johnson, we can look for William S. Johnson in the earlier census records before Robert was born--1850, and the 1852 state census of Idaho. Now that we know William Smith Johnson was married to Louisa Cano, we can go back through the census records looking for her living with her parents. Then we can follow her parents through the later census records, death records, immigration records and so forth.
Again, here are the links to these earlier census records:
Step 8: Search a printed local history or biography online.
These collections of Idaho biographies can be searched online. Most have a table of contents and an index. Or you can use the "Find" function on your computer. BYU Idaho Pioneer Histories
Step 9: Write to a county for wills and probate indexes.
County probate records
Step 10: Search land records online.
Step 11: Contact a county historical or genealogical society.