Genealogical Research in Arkansas
- A Brief History of Arkansas
- Common Arkansas Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them
- Arkansas Genealogical Organizations and Archives
- Additional Arkansas Genealogical Resources
- Arkansas Genealogical Records
- Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Arkansas Ancestors
On This Page:
Tracing ancestry in the state of Arkansas faces its own set of challenges as well as many unique rewards. There are many historical and genealogical records available for the state, and we know just where to find them. To get you started in tracing your ancestry, on this page we will introduce you to those records, and help you to understand:
- What they are
- Where to find them
- How to use them
These records can be found both online and off, so we’ll introduce you to online websites, indexes and databases, as well as brick-and-mortar repositories and other institutions that will help with your research in Arkansas. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “The Natural State” to illustrate what type of records may have been generated during specific time periods. That information will assist you in pinpointing times and locations on which to focus the search for your Arkansas ancestors.
A Brief History of Arkansas
Archaeologists have uncovered pottery and stone artefacts in the bluffs and mounds of Arkansas which show that people have inhabited the area for thousands of years. The Native Americans who originally inhabited Arkansas were the Choctaw, Cherokee, Caddos, Osage, Quapaws, and the very early Mound Builders and Bluff Dwellers.
Hernando de Soto was the first of the Europeans to enter the area, he arrived in 1541 looking fior gold which he never found. Two Frenchmen named Joliet and Marquette visited Arkansas briefly in 1673, and LaSalle claimed the region for France in 1682. De Tonti, known as the "Father of Arkansas" established the first European settlement in what was named Arkansas Post in 1686.
In 1803 Arkansas was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana purchase, and organized into a territory in 1819. Later, in 1821, the territorial capital was moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock. There were over 60,000 residents of Arkansas by 1836, and it was declared the 25th state in that year.
In May 1861 Arkansas left the Union and entered the civil War. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, the Reconstruction era began, and dramatic changes occurred in the South. The Democrats regained power in 1874, and the present-day US Constitution was adopted in that same year. As early as 1875, Arkansas was known as the "Land of Opportunity" when a campaign was launched outside the state to attract new residents to the region. By 1900, the population had risen to 1.3 million.
In 1921, the first auto, gas, and oil taxes were levied to finance construction of paved roads and highways into Arkansas. The oil and natural gas reserves were discovered in the state which provided cheap and plentiful energy for many years. The increased use of farm machinery led to the consolidation of many small family-run farms into large farming corporations. Arkansans discovered in 1904 that rice could be grown there successfully, and it is now one of the state’s most profitable crops. Arkansas has grown from vast wilderness to a thriving state with a population of 2.5 million. Advancements in lumbering, manufacturing, farming, tourism, and government have resulted in Arkansas being well-placed in the international market.
- Important Genealogical Dates in Arkansas History
- 1700 - Area under French Civil Law
- 1763 – Ceded from France to Spain
- 1800 – Ceded from Spain to France
- 1803 – Part of the Louisiana Purchase
- 1805 – Part of Louisiana Territory
- 1812 – Part of Missouri territory
- !819 – Organized as an individual Territory
- 1836 – Statehood
- 1862 – Cedes from the Union
- 1868 – Readmitted to Union
- 1874 – Adopts modern day Constitution.
Famous Battles Fought in Arkansas
Arkansas has a rich military past from its territorial period to the present. The information contained in accounts and other documentation of famous battles can be very effective in uncovering the military records of your ancestor. They can tell you what regiments fought in which battles, and often include the names and ranks of many officers and enlisted men. Following are some of the most famous battles fought in Arkansas and links to useful information about them.
Common Arkansas Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them
Boundary Changes: A common obstacle when researching Arkansas ancestors are historical boundary changes. You could be searching for an ancestor’s record in one county when in fact it is stored in a different one due to historical county boundary changes. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries can help you to overcome that problem. It provides a chronological listing of every boundary change that has occurred in the history of Arkansas.
Name Changes: Surname changes, variations, and misspellings can complicate genealogical research. It is important to check all spelling variations. Soundex, a program that indexes names by sound, is a useful first step, but you can't rely on it completely as some name variations result in different Soundex codes. The surnames could be different, but the first name may be different too. You can also find records filed under initials, middle names, and nicknames as well, so you will need to get creative with surname variations and spellings in order to cover all the possibilities. For help with surname variations read our instructional article on How to Use Soundex.
Arkansas Genealogical Organizations and Archives
Genealogical resources include not only records, but the organizations that house them, or can direct you to them. These institutions include: Archives, Libraries, Genealogical Societies, Family History Centers, Universities, Churches, and Museums.
Following are links to their websites, their physical addresses, and a summary of the records you can find there.
Arkansas History Commission and Archives
1 Capitol Mall
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Tel: (501) 682-6900
Arkansas State Library
One Capitol Mall
Little Rock, AR 72201
Tel: (501) 682-2053
Arkansas Genealogical and Historical Societies
Genealogical and historical societies have access to extensive catalogues of genealogical data. They are also able to offer expert guidance for genealogical researchers. Many members are professional genealogists who are most willing to share their expertise in finding ancestors.
Arkansas Genealogical Society
P.O. Box 26374
Little Rock, AR 72221-6374
Grand Prairie Genealogical Society
c/o Stuttgart Public Library
2002 So. Buerkle St.
Stuttgart, AR 72160
Northwest Arkansas Genealogical Society
405 S. Main St
Bentonville, AR 72712
Arkansas Historical Association
416 Old Main, University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
PO Box 1441
North Little Rock, AR 72115
Arkansas Family History Centers
The Family History Centers run by the LDS Church offer free access to billions of genealogical records for free to the general public. They also provide classes on genealogy and one-on-one assistance to inexperienced family historians. Here you will find a Complete Listing of Arkansas Family History Centers.
Additional Arkansas Genealogical Resources
Arkansas Mailing Lists
Mailing lists are internet based facilities that use email to distribute a single message to all who subscribe to it. When information on a particular surname, new records, or any other important genealogy information related to the mailing list topic becomes available, the subscribers are alerted to it. Joining a mailing list is an excellent way to stay up to date on Arkansas genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of Arkansas Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.
Arkansas Message Boards
A message board is another internet based facility where people can post questions about a specific genealogy topic and have it answered by other genealogists. If you have questions about a surname, record type, or research topic, you can post your question and other researchers and genealogists will help you with the answer. You must make sure to check back regularly, as the answers are not emailed to you. The message boards at the Arkansas Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.
Arkansas Newspapers and Periodicals
Many genealogy periodicals and historical newspapers contain reprinted copies of family genealogies, transcripts of family Bible records, information about local records and archives, census indexes, church records, queries, land records, obituaries, court records, cemetery records, and wills. The following sites have historical Arkansas newspapers and periodicals that you can search online or on-site.
- Arkansas newspapers and periodicals that you can search online or on-site.
- NewspaperArchive.com – largest online database of historical newspapers in the world.
- University of Arkansas Library – large catalogue of historical Arkansas newspapers on microfilm.
University of Arkansas Libraries
365 N. McIlroy Ave.
Fayetteville, AR 72701-4002
- Fort Smith Public Library - catalogue of almost 300 Arkansas periodicals
Fort Smith Public Library
3201 Rogers Avenue
Fort Smith, AR 72903
Historical Arkansas Maps and Gazetteers
Maps are an integral part of genealogical research. They help us to locate landmarks, towns, cities, parishes, states, provinces, waterways and roads and streets. They also help us to determine when and where boundary changes might have taken place, and give us a visualization of the area we’re researching in. For locating place names, a gazetteer is the best possible resource for any genealogist. Gazetteers are also sometimes called “place name dictionaries”, and can help you to locate the area in which you need to conduct research. Below are links to the maps and gazetteers for research in Arkansas.
Arkansas Genealogical Records
Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records
Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records – Birth, death, and marriage records are the most basic, yet most important records attached to your ancestor. They are generally referred to as vital records as they record vital life events. The reason for their importance is that they not only place your ancestor in a specific place at a definite time, but potentially connect the individual to other relatives. Below is a list of repositories where you can find Arkansas vital records
Arkansas Department of Health – birth and death records from February 1, 1914 through the present, marriage records from January 1917, divorce records from January 1923
Family Search has birth, death, and marriage indexes dating from 1779-1950
Census records are among the most important genealogical documents for placing your ancestor in a particular place at a specific time. Like BDM records, they can also lead you to other ancestors, particularly those who were living under the authority of the head of household.
Official Arkansas census records exist from 1830 -1940 and many images and indexes can be viewed online.
Arkansas Church Records
Church and synagogue records are a valuable resource, especially for baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place before 1900. There are a few challenges to locating and accessing church records, such as the multitude of religious denominations that exist. Once found however, they can reveal information about your ancestor that other records do not. You will need to at least have an idea of your ancestor’s religious denomination, and in most cases you will have to visit a brick and mortar establishment to view them. Below are links archives that maintain church records, as well as a few databases that can be viewed online.
Before 1900 the largest religious denominations in Arkansas were the Baptist and Methodist Episcopal (now United Methodist). The Family History Library has many church records for Arkansas and several histories of local churches.
- Records for Arkansas and several histories of local churches
Arkansas Baptist State Convention Collection
Ouachita Baptist University
Arkedelphia, AR 71998
Tel: (870) 245-5000
Fax: (870) 245-5500
North Arkansas Conference Depository
Olin C. Bailey Library
1600 Washington Street
Conway, AR 72032
Tel: (501) 336-9321
Fax: (501) 336-9001
- Roman Catholic
Diocese of Little Rock
2500 N. Tyler St.
Little Rock, AR 72207
Tel: (501) 664-0340
- University of Arkansas - Bethlehem Church Records
- Mount Olive Baptist Church – Arkansas church records, historical documents and family genealogies
Arkansas Military Records
More than 40 million Americans have participated in some time of war service since America was colonized. The chance of finding your ancestor amongst those records is exceptionally high. Military records can even reveal individuals who never actually served, such as those who registered for the two World Wars but were never called to duty.
- Websites and archives that contain Arkansas military records.
- U.S. National Archives – WWI Draft registration cards, casualties lists, WWI and WWII service records, Korean War records, Vietnam War records, Civil War and Spanish-American War records, and casualties lists.
- US Department of Veterans Affairs Nationwide Gravesite Locator – includes information on veterans and their family members buried in veterans and military cemeteries having a government grave marker.
- United States Index to Indian Wars Pension Files, 1892-1926 – military pension records of soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars between 1817 and 1898
- Arkansas History Commission – Confederate pension records and World War 1 discharge records
- Civil War Soldiers Service Records - Service records for both Union and Confederate soldiers indexed by soldier's name, rank, and unit.
- Arkansas Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865 – service records of men who served in Confederate army in Arkansas
- Civil War Soldiers of Arkansas - database containing millions of records of soldiers who fought in the Civil War
Arkansas Cemetery Records
As convenient as it is to search cemetery records online, keep in mind that there are a few disadvantages over visiting a cemetery in person. They are:
- Tombstone information is not always accurately transcribed
- The arrangement of the graves in a cemetery can be crucial as family members are often buried next to each other or in the same grave. This arrangement is not always preserved in the alphabetical indexes that are found online.
With that information in mind, the following websites have databases that can be searched online for Arkansas Cemetery records.
- Databases that can be searched online for Arkansas Cemetery records
- Arkansas Gravestones Project – almost one million gravestone photos from around the state
- African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
- Access Genealogy – huge database of Arkansas cemetery record transcriptions
- Find a Grave – over 100 million grave records can be searched on this site. Search can be conducted by name, location, or cemetery name.
- Interment.net - A free online database containing approximately 4 million cemetery records from around the world.
- Arkansas Tombstone Transcription Project - death and burial records
- Billion Graves – as the name implies, you can search a billion records including headstone photos, transcriptions, cemetery records, and grave locations.
Obituaries can reveal a wealth about our ancestor and other relatives. You can search our Arkansas Newspaper Obituaries Listings from hundreds of Arkansas newspapers online for free.
Arkansas Wills and Probate Records
Probate records of Arkansas have been kept by the probate or county courts which can be located via an Online Directory. The documents found in a probate packet may include a complete inventory of a person’s estate, newspaper entries, witness testimony, a copy of a will, list of debtors and creditors, names of executors or trustees, names of heirs. They can not only tell you about the ancestor you’re currently researching, but lead to other ancestors. Most of these records must be accessed at a county court or clerk’s office, but some can be found online as well. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many Arkansas probate records.
Arkansas History Commission – records from each of Arkansas's seventy-five counties including county court records, wills, deeds, probate court records, and tax records
Arkansas Immigration and Naturalization Records
The naturalization process generated many types of records, including petitions, declarations of intention, and oaths of allegiance. These records can provide family historians with information such as a person's birth date and place of birth, immigration year, marital status, spouse information, occupation, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.
Naturalization records were generally filed in the circuit courts in each Arkansas County. Many of the counties have pre-1907 records. Some naturalization papers have been filed in the U.S. District Courts located in Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Fort Worth, Texas.
The National Archives-Southwest Region (Fort Worth) has an index of naturalization records for the years 1809-1906.
There was little settlement by Europeans during the time of French and Spanish rule, 1686 to 1803. The Louisiana Territory Census of 1810 listed only 1,062 non-Native American residents in the entire District of Arkansas.
The Cotton Boom in 1818 led to an earnest increase in immigration and many Scottish, Irish, and English moved to the are, often bringing slaves with them. Later families from Poland settled in Pulaski, and Italians flocked to the north-west area of the state.
Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs have been transcribed in Jack D. Baker, Cherokee Emigration Rolls, 1817-1835, while the National Archives has passenger from 1878-1960. The United States Index to Passenger Arrivals, Atlantic and Gulf Ports, 1820-1874 can be searched online. The Native American Rolls at Access Genealogy are an excellent source for tracking Native Americans who were displaced from their homelands.
Arkansas City Directories
City directories are similar to telephone directories in that they list the residents of a particular area. The difference though is what is important to genealogists, and that is they pre-date telephone directories. You can find an ancestor’s information such as their street address, place of employment, occupation, or the name of their spouse. A one-stop-shop for finding city directories in Arkansas is the Arkansas Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available city and historical directory related to Arkansas.
Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Arkansas Ancestors
Looking for female ancestors requires an adjustment of how we view traditional records sources. A woman’s identity was often under that of her husband, and often individual records for them can be difficult to locate. The following resources are effective in locating female ancestors in Arkansas where traditional records may not reveal them.
Marriage and Divorce Records
Marriage records have been recorded in the county clerk’s office since 1820. State registration commenced in 1917 and can be found at the Division of Vital Records in Little Rock. The Arkansas Historical Commission has selected county records of divorces from 1797-1950 on microfilm. Other county records have been filmed as such:
- Benton County Clerk marriage records 1861-1952, (film 1034660 ff.), Benton County Circuit Court records 1837-1884 (film 1035157 ff.), and Benton County Chancery Court records, 1843-1952 (film 1995053 ff.) at the Benton County Courthouse in Bentonville.
- Pulaski County Clerk marriage records 1838-1851 (index) and 1820-1971 (film 1302792 ff.), Pulaski County Chancery Court divorce records, 1882-1900 (film 1302850 ff.) at the Pulaski Courthouse in Little Rock.
Native American Records
- Arkansas Colonials: A Collection of French and Spanish Records Listing Early Europeans in the Arkansas, 1686-1804, Morris, S. Arnold (Grand Prairie Historical Society, 1986)
- Confederate Women of Arkansas in the Civil War Michael B. Dougan (M&M Press 1993)
- Behold: Our Work was Good: A Handbook of Arkansas Women’s History Elizabeth Jacoway, (Women’s History Institute, 1987)
- The Seed of Sally Good’n: A Black Family in Arkansas, 1833-1953 Ruth Polk Patterson (University of Kentucky Press, 1983)
Selected Resources for Arkansas Women’s History
Arkansas State University Museum
Arkansas State University
PO Box 490
State University, AR 72467
Arkansas Women’s History Institute
PO Box 77
Little Rock, AR 72217
Women’s Studies Program
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
2801 South University
Little Rock, AR 72204
Common Arkansas Surnames
The following surnames are among the most common in Arkansas. The list is by no means exhaustive. If your surname doesn’t appear in the list it doesn’t mean that you have no Arkansas connections, only that your surname may be less common.
Adams, Aldridge, Avant, Bates, Baxter, Campbell, Carter, Chapman, Gogburn, Cotton, Cunningham, Dobbs, Ellington, Farmer, Fields, Freeman, Fry, Garret, Golden, Goodman, Hardy, Hartman, Hathcock, Henson, House, Jackson, Johnson, Jones, Kelly, Kirby, Lamb, Larson, McConnell, McCullar, McDonald, Menasco, Manasco, Miller, Nelson, O’Neil, Pettit, Philips, Prowse, Qualls, Rice, Roberts, Rowland, Scott, Sharpe, Simpson, Smalling, Speer, Stewart, Tackett, Thompson, Walker, Wallace, Whiesenhunt, Whitehouse, Yarbrough