Genealogical Research in Colorado
- A Brief History of Colorado
- Common Colorado Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them
- Colorado Genealogical Organizations and Archives
- Additional Colorado Genealogical Resources
- Colorado Genealogical Records
- Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Colorado Ancestors
On This Page:
Colorado is rich in heritage. Many of the individuals who shaped the West came from Colorado, such as Barney Ford, the runaway slave and pioneer, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Kit Carson. The historical background of Colorado makes it especially interesting for family historians. While researching Colorado genealogy records presents a unique set of challenges; it also has its own 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, we’ll 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 Colorado. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Centennial 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 Colorado ancestors.
A Brief History of Colorado
The Ute Indians were Colorado’s first residents, moving there from the Utah deserts. The first Europeans were Spaniards who arrived in the 16th century. In 1682 a French explorer by the name of René-Robert Cavelier claimed the area for France. The end of the French and Indian War, 1756-1763, saw the English take control until the time of the American Revolution.
The United States officially declared Colorado as its own as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and paid France 15 million dollars for the area. Additional land cessions from the Native American tribes in 1805 and 1806 saw the land open up to white settlement. Part of present day Colorado was not included in the Louisiana Purchase, but that land was eventually acquired at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848.
When gold was discovered in 1859 more than 50,000 settlers rushed to Colorado, triggering discontent amongst the Native American peoples. Wars raged throughout the 1800’s finally ending with the last battle between the plains Indians and whites in 1869 at Summit Springs. The Native Americans were settled on reservations, and Colorado was admitted to the union as the 38th State in 1876.
As this knowledge reached mainstream America, the desire of the United States to expand westward was flamed. This led to the development of the Manifest Destiny, which was basically a declaration of the United States to annex New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado.
- Important Genealogical Dates in Colorado History
- 1803 – Most of the area acquired in Louisiana Purchase
- 1848 – remainder of state acquired from Mexico
- 1851 – San Luis established
- 1858 - Gold Rush draws upwards of 50,000 settlers to the area, Denver established
- 1861 – Organized as US Territory
- 1863 - 1869 – Fierce wars fought with Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, and Arapahoe Indians
- 1870 – Denver connected by railroad to other US cities
- 1876 – Statehood
- 1893 – Colorado women receive complete suffrage
1812 Famous Battles Fought in Colorado
Most of the battles fought in Colorado were between the white settlers and Native Americans who inhabited the area. The battle accounts themselves 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 Colorado and links to useful information about them.
Common Colorado Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them
Boundary Changes: Boundary changes are a common obstacle when researching Colorado ancestors. 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 Colorado.
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.
Colorado 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.
1313 Sherman, Room 1B20
Denver, CO 80203
Denver Public Library
10 W. 14th Avenue Parkway
Denver, CO 80204-2731
1400 Illinois Street
Golden, CO 80401
2201 South University Boulevard
Denver, Colorado 80210
Fax : 303-777-0164
1100 Lawrence Street
Denver, CO 80204
184 UCB, 1720 Pleasant Street
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0184
Tel: 303-492-6144, 303-492-7521
Colorado 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.
Colorado Genealogical Society
P.O. Box 9218
Denver, CO 80209-0218
Denver, CO 80203
Colorado 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 Colorado Family History Centers.
Additional Colorado Genealogical Resources
Colorado 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 Colorado genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of Colorado Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.
Colorado 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. Be sure to check back regularly, as the answers are not emailed to you. The message boards at the Colorado Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.
Colorado 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.
- Colorado newspapers and periodicals that you can search online or on-site.
- Denver Public Library – massive collection of historical newspapers and magazines dating from 1849
- Tutt Library, Colorado College – full text newspapers and American periodicals dating from the early 18th century. Includes African American and Civil War Newspapers, special interest magazines, literary journals, women's and children’s magazines, and many other historically-significant periodicals
1021 North Cascade Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO 80903-3252
Tel: 719 389-6662
- NewspaperArchive.com – largest online database of historical newspapers in the world.
Historical Colorado 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.
Colorado 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
- Repositories and websites where you can find Colorado vital records
- Colorado Center for Health and Environmental Information and Statistics – birth, death, marriage, civil union, and divorce records
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Vital Records Section
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, CO 80246-1530
Tel: (303) 692-2200
- Colorado State Archives - 3,000 Colorado births from 1863-1899 on microfilm, death index for Denver, 1872-1909, marriage indexes
- Gilpin County Brides' And Groom's Marriage Index 1864-1944 – transcription of marriage index from Gilpin County during years stated
- Marriages of Grand County, Colorado – marriage index for Grand County covering the years 1874-1974
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.
Colorado census records exist from 1850 -1940 and many images and indexes can be viewed online.
- Following are the best places to find Colorado census records
Colorado Church Records
Church and synagogue records are a valuable resource, especially for baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place before 1900. 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.
Most church records are kept by the individual church, although in some denominations, records are placed in a regional archive or maintained at the diocesan level. Local Historical Societies are sometimes the repository for the state’s older church records. Below are links archives that maintain church records, as well as a few databases that can be viewed online.
The Family History Library contains many church records from a variety of denominations on microfilm. and microfiche.
- Archives that maintain church records
Diocese of Colorado
1300 Washington St
Denver, CO 80203-2008
Tel: (303) 837-1173
Ira J. Taylor Library (Iliff School of Technology)
2201 South University Boulevard
Denver, Colorado 80210
Fax : 303-777-0164
Presbyterian Historical Society
425 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Tel: (215) 627-1852
Fax: (215) 627-0509
- Roman Catholic
Archives of the Diocese of Colorado Springs
228 North Cascade Ave.
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
Tel: (719) 636-2345
- Archives of the Archdiocese of Denver
1300 South Steele St.
Denver, CO 80210-2599
Tel: (303) 722-4687
Fax: (303) 331-8071
Colorado 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 Colorado military records.
- Colorado State Archives - civil war records, Colorado Volunteers index 1861-1865, WWI enlistments, War Risk Insurance applicants list, Spanish American War records, Rosters and Muster Rolls 1861-1921, Service Records 1861-1946, Aadministrative Files of the Adjutant General 1862-1950, Annual/Biennial Reports of the Adjutant General 1867-1983, Special and General Orders 1864-1986, Governor's Guard Record Book 1862-1863, Military Occupation of the Coal Strike Zone of Colorado by the National Guard 1913-1914, Misc. Veterans Rosters 1893-1946
- 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
- Civil War Soldiers Service Records - Service records for both Union and Confederate soldiers indexed by soldier's name, rank, and unit.
Colorado 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 Colorado Cemetery records.
- Databases that can be searched online for Colorado Cemetery records
- Colorado Tombstone Transcription Project - death and burial records
- African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
- Access Genealogy – huge database of Colorado 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.
- 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 Colorado Newspaper Obituaries Listings from hundreds of Colorado newspapers online for free.
Colorado Wills and Probate Records
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. You can obtain copies of the original probate records by writing to the county clerk.
Colorado State Archives – probate records from many Colorado counties dating from 1870-1964, wills, tax inheritance records
Denver Probate Court – probate records for Denver County only
Colorado 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.
The Colorado State Archives has naturalization records for the majority of counties in Colorado. The records include final documents, petitions, certificates of naturalization stub books, repatriations, and declarations of intent.
The Colorado Genealogical Society possesses abstracts of some naturalization records and they have been published in their periodical The Colorado Genealogist
The Foothills Genealogical Society has Naturalization indexes for Clear Creek County and a Declaration of intents index for the Denver area.
The Denver Public Library has a Denver and Pueblo Naturalization index in its digital collection for the years 1877-1952 and a naturalization records index for Park County
Archive Aspen possesses a Naturalization records index for Pitkin County for the years 1888-1908
Colorado Railway Records
Railroads played an important role in the settlement of Colorado, bringing in many settlers from the east and as far away as Mexico. The records of railway employees can be a valuable genealogical source, especially if your ancestor was a railway employee. Following are places both online and off where you can search railway records for Colorado ancestors.
Denver Public Library – Railway employee records, maps, manuscripts, periodicals, pension records and more from a large number of railway companies serving Colorado
Colorado Railroad MuseumM – employee records and historical accounts of many railway companies including Union Pacific, Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, Colorado & Southern Railway Co., Denver, Leadville & Gunnison Railway Co., Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company, and the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad.
17155 W. 44th Avenue,
Golden, CO 80403
Tel: 303-279-4591, 800-365-6263
Email: via online contact form
Colorado 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 Colorado is the Colorado Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available city and historical directory related to Colorado.
Native American Records
Access Genealogy – Native American census records, tribal histories, and much more
Midwest Genealogy Center – a wide variety of records from the vast majority of Native American tribes in the United States on microfilm
Midwest Genealogy Center
3440 S. Lee’s Summit Road
The National Archives - information about American Indians who maintained their ties to Federally-recognized Tribes (1830-1970).
Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Colorado 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 Colorado where traditional records may not reveal them.
Marriage and Divorce Records
Marriage records have been recorded by the county clerk and recorders offices since 1861. Divorces were overseen by the County district courts since the creation of counties. The Family History Library has a few county records for Colorado on microfilm such as:
- Denver County Clerk marriage extracts, 1849-1880 (film 0928067) also at the Denver County Courthouse in Denver, CO.
- Arapahoe County Recorder of Deeds records (contains some marriage certificates), 1860-1934 (film 1954194) also at the Colorado State Archives in Denver, CO.
The Boulder Genealogical Society has Boulder County marriage records from 1860-1900 that can be viewed online.
- A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird (Ballantine Books, 1960)
- One Hundred Years of Colorado Women, Elinor Bluemel (The Author, 1973)
- The Sand Creek Massacre, Stan Hoig (University of Oklahoma Press, 1961)
- Hispanic Families of New Mexico and Southern Colorado, 1538-1990, Donald Mulligan (University of New Mexico Press, 1990)
- The Magnificent Mountain Women: Adventures in the Colorado Rockies, Janet Robertson (University of Nebraska Press, 1991)
Selected Resources for Colorado Women’s History
Colorado Coalition for Women’s History
PO Box 673
Denver, CO 80206
Women of the West Museum
4001 Discovery Drive
Boulder, CO 80303-7816
Western Historical Collection
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309
Common Colorado Surnames
The following surnames are among the most common in Colorado. The list is by no means exhaustive. If your surname doesn’t appear in the list it doesn’t mean that you have no Colorado connections, only that your surname may be less common.
Abrams, Anghern, Barlow, Black, Bogue, Booco, Buchholz, Bureman, Burns, Caddy, Case, Chipperfield, Clark, Cody, Cowden, Curry, DoBois, DaLee, DeSousa, Doll, Doyle, Eldred, Elliot, Fahey, Ferguson, Flannery, Forster, French, Gilmer, Gomez, Greenleaf, Greiner, Griffith, Hall, Hammer, Harlan, Herwick, Hohstadt, Hooper, Horn, Hunter, Jones, Kinney, Kramer, Lane, Lemon, Love, Mather, McGlochlin, McPhee, Moore, Neal, Noble, Pallister, Pando, Phillips, Rabedew, Ray, Reynolds, Rochford, Rogers, Ruder, Rule, Rundell, Savage, Schulz, Scott, Sheward, Shippee, Shute, Sifers, Sloss, Smith, Strobridge, Terrell, Thoborg, Tourville, Wilds, Willison, Yost, Young, Zalar, Zimmerman