Step-by-Step Oregon Research, 1900-Present
- A suggested approach to genealogy research in Oregon family history records.
Research 1900--to the present
Table of Contents
|What sets this era in Oregon genealogy apart from earlier time periods are the advent of civil registration (state birth, marriage, and death certificates) and the possibility that you have older living relatives who can provide memories and family records. In addition, U. S. census records (occurred every 10 years--1900-1940), Social Security collections, obituary and cemetery records make it possible to find a lot of genealogical information in just a few rich record types.|
See also, How to use "record hints".
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.
Using the clues to lead to census record searches.
Here are three documents you might find in a home search: a newspaper obituary, a marriage certificate, and a postcard. Notice how the clues in them let us know other records to search:
1. Frank A. Read lived in Portland, Oregon, his whole life, from 1885 on. We should be able to find him in the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses in Oregon. Click on the blue links to see the search results. The most valuable finding is the 1900 census where we find Frank living with his parents, providing us with the next link on the pedigree.
2. The marriage certificate is for Albert Crawford and Ingeborg Sandberg, who married in 1900 in Tillamook County, Oregon. We will look for them in the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses also. Click on the blue links to see the search results.
3. in 1910, Mrs. Mabel Binder receives a postcard from her friend Mattie at her address in Elkton, Douglas County, Oregon. Mattie asks her about the name of a new baby. We find a census record in 1910 at Elkton for Mabel, her new baby and the rest of her family. With the added information of her husband's name and several other children, we can follow the family in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses. We can also go back to the 1900 census and look for them. Click on the links to see how these searches turned out. Notice the new information found. Later, these clues will help us find them in more records.
Step 2. Find your ancestors in every possible census record, 1900-1940, online.
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. You should find your family members in every possible census, using these convenient links:
United States census records
- Here is a sample of a 1900 United States census record. You can see all the different information you can glean from this record once you find your family in the census.
- You will want to find and keep notes on census records from every census during each ancestor's lifetime. For example, if your ancestor was born in 1897 and died in 1945, you will want to find them in the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses.
- With the census records, you will then be able to estimate approximate birth dates and marriage dates. These records will lead you to new searches because you will find the names of other members of the family. You will find clues to other states and countries your family lived in before coming to Oregon.
- You can use what you learned from the census records to help you search for birth, marriage, and death records. Possibly the clues you find in the certificates will lead you back to the census records again for new names of family members.
Using the census clues to lead to a birth certificate.
We have watched the family of Charles and Mabel Binder grow from a young couple living in his parents' home in 1900, through all the censuses up to 1940, where they have grandchildren living in their home. There is a possibility of locating a birth certificate for each of their children. One important outcome of that search would be the discovery of Mabel's maiden name so that we can trace her parents. In delayed birth certificates their daughter Lena was found. Sending for that full certificate would give us her mother's maiden name.
Using the census clues to lead to a death certificate
By searching for death records in the indexes of Oregon, we found these death records for the above familie. Sending for the original death record would give additional important information.
1. Charles Binder, husband of Mabel.
2. Albert Crawford, who married Ingeborg Sandberg.
3. Ingeborg Sandberg Crawford.
4. Frank A. Read.
5. Mae Read, Frank's wife.
6. Paul L. Read, Frank's brother.
Step 3: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.
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.
Remember that for family members born after 1940 you do not have census records to rely on. The information from interviewing family members will hopefully give you enough detail that you know approximate years of birth, marriage, or death. Sending for certificates will help verify identities, prove relationships, and fill in greater detail.
Studying what you have found:
- Review what you have found to see if there is missing information that could be found in a birth, marriage, or death certificate for your ancestors and their children.
- If you are missing the names of parents, find a person's death certificate. It may contain the names of the deceased's parents, which would extend your pedigree back one more generation.
- If you find a child listed in a census record, try to find their actual birth certificate to learn their full birth date.
- If a married couple is shown in the census records and you need the wife's maiden name, search for their marriage record or her death record. The mother's maiden name should also be given in her children's birth certificates.
Obtaining the certificates
- There are basically three ways to find these certificates, or the information from them: by finding them in an online database, by reading a microlim, or by purchasing them through the mail .
Online databases, usually indexes, with some images
- This chart gives links to some Oregon online databases for these records:
Also, see How to Find Oregon Birth Records.
Also, see How to Find Oregon Marriage Records.
Also, see How to Find Oregon Death Records.
Samples of index entries
For more recent records, many of which you will send for in the mail, the certificates will be even more detailed.
These are examples of information given in an online index, which is usually abbreviated. By sending for the original record, you can usually learn much more.
Finding Microfilm Copies of Certificates
Some Oregon state, county, and Indian agency birth, death, and marriage certificates are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. These may be searched at a family history center near you. Most notably, you will find:
- Oregon statewide delayed filings of births, 1842-1902, Oregon. Board of Health. Division of Vital Statistics
- Oregon, county marriages, 1851-1975
Some digitized copies of these microfilms are also available online, as the film description will indicate.
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.
Ordering certificates through the mail
Even if you find an online indexed entry for a birth, marriage, or death, almost always the full original certificate will contain a wealth of information not contained in the index. A death certificate will usually give the names and birth places of the parents of the deceased. A marriage certificate frequently asks for the parents names of the bride and groom. A birth certificate frequently asks for the birth place, occupation, residence, and age of the parents. Although it costs money, consider sending for the full original certificates at least of your direct line ancestors (grandparents, great-grandparents).
- Click here for information on how to order birth 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.
- Click here for information on how to order marriage 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.
- Click here for information on how to order 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.
Samples of records
Here are some samples of Oregon certificates. Notice the types of information available in each, particularly the identity of the parents, which adds another generation to your research.
Step 4: Using all the death date information, try to find additional details about your ancestors in Social Security records, obituaries, and cemetery records online.
U.S. Social Security Death Index and Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
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. Unless the deceased would be at least 75 years old today, the parents' names are not published. 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.
Obituaries and cemeteries
- 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 Oregon 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 Oregon 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.
- Online Oregon Death Records & Indexes
- Oregon Tombstone Transcription Project at USGenWeb
- Oregon Cemetery Records at Findagrave.com
- Oregon Cemetery Records at Interment.net
- BillionGraves Oregon Cemeteries
- Oregon, Church and Cemetery Records, 1840-1965
- Oregon Gravestone Photo Project
- Oregon Cemeteries, I Dream of Genealogy
- The USGenWeb Archives - Oregon
- Linkpendium Oregon
- Cemetery Junction Oregon
Step 5: Search military records: World War I and World War II draft cards.
- There are many different types of military records, some covered in online collections, some microfilmed, and some requiring you to order them from government repositories with a fee. For more information, read the U.S. Military Records Class Handout. Information in military records can vary from a simple lists of name, age, and residence, to more detailed records including name, residence, age, occupation, marital status, birthplace, physical description, number of dependents, pensions received, disabled veterans, needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans, and other information.
World War I Draft Registration
- One of the most helpful military records is the draft registration of 1917-1918. During three separate registrations, men born between 1873-1897 were required to register in the draft for World War I. Cards may give birth date, birth place, residence, occupation, employer, physical description, next of kin (usually the wife or mother), and number of dependents. Search for your male relatives born in this time period at U.S. WW I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
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.
Step 6: If your ancestor was an immigrant, search naturalization records online.
Naturalization (Citizenship) Records
Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen. Records can include the immigrant's declaration of intent to become a citizen, petitions for citizenship, and final certificate of naturalization. Naturalization records after 1906 can show birth date and place, spouse's name, marriage date and place, and lists of children with their birth dates.
Census clues to naturalization 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 information also given but is not listed here)
Oregon naturalization records could be recorded at the county court or the Federal District or Circuit Court. You must look for them in both locations. Try searching first in any county where the person lived, unless the census tells you the year they were naturalized, and you have evidence of where they lived that year. If you cannot locate them in the county records, try searching for them in the Federal courts.
Oregon Naturalization and Citizenship Online Records
- Oregon State Archives Naturalization Record Index
- Oregon, Naturalization Records 1895-1999 ($)
- U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes for Oregon, 1859-1935 - U.S. Circuit Court, Indexes to Declarations ($)
- U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes for Oregon, 1906-1935 - U.S. Circuit Court, Petitions ($)
- U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes for Oregon, 1859-1907 - U.S. Circuit and District Courts, Admissions to citizenship ($)
- U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes for Oregon, 1859-1956 - U.S. District Court, Indexes to Declarations ($)
- U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes for Oregon, 1906-1956 - U.S. District Court, Petitions ($)
- Naturalization Records List Records held at the Oregon State Archives
- Selected U.S. Naturalization Records - U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, 1859-1941 ($)
Step 7: Study each record for other possible searches.
You can now go through a process of working back and forth between all the different record types. Most researchers find clues in the census records that alert them to new certificates to obtain. The certificates then give them ideas of new facts to look for in the census. For example, when a marriage certificate gives you a wife's maiden name, you will then want to look for her in earlier censuses listed with her family as a child. When the census shows you her parents' names, you may then search for their death records. The death records might show their patents' names and take you back to the census to search for them. A naturalization record listing children's names might lead you back to birth certificate searches, and so on.