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Genealogical Research in Idaho

Genealogy Research Idaho

Idaho is the thirteenth largest state in the U.S. and is famous for the many gemstones found there. There are also many historical and genealogical gems to be found in Idaho, but don’t worry; you won’t have to dig too much for them, we’ll show you exactly where they are. To get you started in tracing your Idaho 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 Idaho. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Gem 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 Idaho ancestors and their records.

A Brief Genealogical History of Idaho

Idaho has a very colourful, multi-cultural history. It is believed that Native Americans have lived in Idaho for over 14,000 years. Before the arrival of Mexican and European explorers, it is believed that approximately 8,000 Native Americans inhabited the area. The major tribes that inhabited the area were the Shoshone, Nez Perce and Kootenai.

Spanish explorers ventured into the area starting in 1592 and introduced domestic fowl, pigs, tomatoes, corn, beans, and garlic to the natives. When Lewis and Clark entered the area during their famous search for a navigable route to the Pacific Ocean, they encountered Spanish speaking Native Americans. Following Lewis and Clark, French-Canadian fur trappers flocked to the area. Their influence is reflected in the French names of communities such as Boise and Coeur d'Alene. The fur trade in Idaho employed many Idahoan islanders as labor, and when Fort Boise was established in 1834, nearly the entire staff was from the Idahoan Islands.

Many Spaniards and Mexican also lived off the land as hunters and trappers, and by 1863 the Mexicans were operating a mine at Spanish Town, a small settlement near Rocky Bar. One of the most successful Mexican businessmen in Idaho during this time was Jesus Urquides. He built a profitable packing company, and established a settlement known as the Spanish Village in the 1870’s to house his Mexican workers. There were 60 Mexican born individuals recorded in the 1870 census.

Later in time African Americans came to the area in order to trap, trade, and work the mines. Many of those who came before the Civil War were escaped slaves, but after the Civil War, and with the railroad entering Idaho in the 1880’s, many African Americans settled in Pocatello. There were also four companies of troops from an African-American unit the 24th Regiment sent to Idaho in 1899. Many stayed after finishing their service, and the 1900 Idaho census showed 940 African Americans living there.

Idaho’s population during the Gold Rush of the early 1800’s was one quarter Chinese, and by 1870, almost every miner was Chinese.

At one time, during the Gold Rush of the early 1800s, Idaho's population was one-quarter Chinese. By 1870, a majority of all Idaho miners were Chinese. The mid 1800’s saw many settlers flocking to the western states to flee from religious or political persecution. One such group was the Mormon’s, while many Union and Rebel supporters flocked there to escape the Civil War.

During the 1890s, several thousand Japanese laborers were working in Idaho to construct the railroad, while between 1900 and 1920; a large population of Basque immigrants from the Pyrenees came to Idaho to work as sheepherders.

Between 1900 and 1920 a large number of Basque immigrants came to Idaho from the Pyrenees to work as sheepherders. Today, Boise boasts the largest Basque community in the entire United States.

  • Important Genealogical Dates in Idaho History
    • 1818 – United States and Great Britain occupy the area by treaty
    • 1834 – Fort Hall built on the Snake River by fur traders
    • 1843 – Falls under the laws of the Oregon territory
    • 1846 – 49th parallel adopted as the border between British North America and the United States
    • 1848 – Officially recognized as part of the Oregon Territory
    • 1853 – Northern Idaho becomes part of the Washington Territory
    • 1859 – Southern Idaho becomes part of the Washington Territory
    • 1860 – Mormon settlement established at Cache Valley, gold discovered at Orofino Creek
    • 1863 – created as a separate territory from Washington
    • 1866 – Snake War
    • 1890 – Statehood

Famous Battles Fought in Idaho

Idaho has a relatively peaceful history, though there were famous skirmishes between U.S. troops and the Native American tribes in what was known as the Snake War. The battle accounts 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.

Common Idaho Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them

Boundary Changes: Boundary changes are a common obstacle when researching Idaho 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 Idaho.

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.

Idaho 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.

Idaho Archives

National Archives—Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle) – Federal census records, military records, passenger lists, naturalizations, Native American records, pension and bounty land warrant applications

6125 Sand Point Way, N.E.
Seattle, WA 98115-7999
Tel: 206-336-5115

Idaho State Archives – manuscripts, personal papers, historical maps, historical newspapers, oral histories, county records, census schedules, death certificates

2205 Old Penitentiary Road
Boise, ID 83712
Tel: 208-334-3863
Fax: 208-334-2626

University of Idaho - Regional Depository for U.S. Government Documents for the state of Idaho, collection contains pension lists, private land claims, veterans’ burial lists, historical maps, photographs and more

Rayburn Street
Moscow, ID 83844-2350
Ph. 208-885-6314
FAX 208-885-6817

Mountain West Digital Library - central search portal for digital collections amounting to more than 800,000 resources from colleges, universities, public libraries, historical societies, museums, and government agencies, counties, and municipalities in Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and other areas of the western United States
Idaho State University - Department of Special Collections and University Archives Manuscript Collection – manuscript collection, personal papers, diaries, correspondence, business records

921 S. 8th Ave, Stop 8089
Pocatello, ID 83209-8089
Tel: 208-282-3152

Library of Congress in Washington, DC - Genealogy and Local History Section - large collection of manuscripts, histories, published genealogies, directories, maps, and newspapers.

101 Independence Ave. at First Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20504
Tel: 202-707-5000
Fax: 202-707-5844

Brigham Young University - Idaho Library in Rexburg - access to a large collection of original research material on Eastern Idaho and Utah settlers - Upper Snake River Family History Center is hosted in the Library

McKay Library
Brigham Young University - Idaho
525 South Center St.
Rexburg, Idaho 84440-0405

Idaho 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. 

Idaho State Historical Society - manuscripts, personal papers, historical maps, historical newspapers, oral histories, county records, census schedules, death certificates
2205 Old Penitentiary Road
Boise, Idaho 83712
Phone 208-334-2682
Fax 208-334-2774

Idaho Genealogical Society, Inc. – county histories, historical maps, various genealogical resources
P.O. Box 1854
Boise, Idaho 83701-1854
Email Us at:

Twin Rivers Genealogy Society – cemetery records, surname index, obituaries, photos and post cards
PO Box 386
Lewiston, ID 83501

Idaho 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 Idaho Family History Centers.

Additional Idaho Genealogical Resources

Idaho 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 Idaho genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of Idaho Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.

Idaho 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 Idaho Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.

Idaho 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.

Historical Idaho 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 Idaho.

Idaho 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 Idaho is the Idaho Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available city and historical directory related to Idaho.

Idaho Genealogical Records

Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records – Also known as vital records, birth, death, and marriage certificates are the most basic, yet most important records attached to your ancestor. 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 and websites where you can find Idaho vital records

Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics - birth and death records from 1911 to present, and marriage and divorce records from 1947 to the present. Some counties might have older vital records in their files, though county files are limited only to events that occurred in that county.

Family Search has free searchable indexes of Idaho Births and Christenings, 1856-1965, Idaho Deaths and Burials, 1907-1965, Idaho Marriages, 1878-1898 and 1903-1942, and Idaho County Marriages, 1864-1950

Census Reports

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.

Idaho 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.

The Idaho State Archives has a significant collection of Episcopal church records and an index to Catholic records

Central Repositories for Denominational Records

Most of the records of individual denominations are kept in central repositories.

  • Major congregational archives in Idaho
    • Congregational

      Congregational Library
      14 Beacon Street
      Boston, MA 02108
      Telephone: 617-523-0470
      Fax: 617-523-0470

    • Presbyterian

      Presbyterian Historical Society
      425 Lombard Street
      Philadelphia, PA 19147-1516
      Telephone: 215-627-1852
      Fax: 215-627-0509

    • Roman Catholic

      Diocese of Honolulu, Chancery Office
      1184 Bishop Street
      Honolulu, HI 96813
      Telephone: 808-533-1791
      Fax: 808-521-8428

    • Buddhist records are held by the individual Buddhist temples.

Idaho 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 Idaho military records.

Idaho 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.
  • Databases that can be searched online for Idaho Cemetery records
    • Idaho Tombstone Transcription Project - death and burial records
    • Find a Grave – over 100 million grave records can be searched on this site. Search can be conducted by name, location, or cemetery name.
    • - 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.

Idaho Obituaries

Obituaries can reveal a wealth about our ancestor and other relatives. You can search our Idaho Newspaper Obituaries Listings from hundreds of Idaho newspapers online for free.

Idaho 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.

Additionally The State Archives of Idaho and the Family History Centers have 141 microfilms of indexes from 1814 to 1917 and probate records from 1845 to 1900. Original records can be found at individual county courthouses.

Idaho 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 Idaho State Archives have passenger lists for Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese immigrants containing almost 50,000 records, and naturalization records from1874 to 1904 and petitions from 1900 and 1904.

US National Archives – Immigration and Naturalization records for the entire United States

Idaho 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 Idaho is the Idaho Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available city and historical directory related to Idaho.

Native Idahoan Records

Native Idahoan records can be difficult to locate, but there are available sources of them.

Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Idaho 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 Idaho where traditional records may not reveal them.

Marriage and Divorce Records

The earliest Idahoan marriage records date from the early 1800’s. Marriage and divorce records for the kingdom began in 1853, and in 1884, lists were submitted on a quarterly basis. The majority of records prior to 1896 are at the State Archives, while those produced after 1896 are at the Department of Health. Other records have been filmed as follows:

  • Marriage records 1826-1929 (film 1031145), marriage records 1909-1920 (film 1851162 ff.), and Index to the Archives of Idaho (film 1031145) at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
  • Kingdom of Idaho marriage records for Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai, 1884-1896 (film 1205810 ff.) and Territory of Idaho marriage records, 1904-1909 (film 195531 ff.) at the Department of Health in Honolulu
  • Marriage records 1800-1850 (index on film 1031144) at the Daughters of the American Revolution Memorial Library in Honolulu
  • Early Congregational Church records from 1820 at the Idahoan Mission Children’s Society Library in Honolulu
  • Index to marriages listed in Idahoan newspapers prior to 1950 (film 1002822) and marriage extracts from newspapers 1862-1909 (film 1675269 ff.) at the Genealogical Service Center in Honolulu


  • Idaho Folklife: Homesteads to Headstones, Louie W. Attebery (University of Utah Press, 1985)
  • Idaho of Yesterday, Thomas Donaldson (The Caxton Printer, 1941)
  • Idaho Women in History, Betty Penson-Ward (Northwest Publishing Company, 1991)
  • Idaho Ethnic Heritage, Bobby Rahder and Mary reed (Idaho Historical Society and Idaho Centennial Commission, 1990)

Selected Resources for Idaho Women’s History

McKay Library
BYU University Idaho
525 South Center
Rexburg, ID 83460-0405

University of Idaho Library
S Rayburn St Moscow
ID 83844

Common Idaho Surnames

The following surnames are among the most common in Idaho and are also being currently researched by other genealogists. If you find your surname here, there is a chance that some research has already been performed on your ancestor.

Adams, Barton, Beck, Bennett, Benton, Biggs, Binch, Bird, Boka, Brinton, Bruce, Carlson, Carter, Christensen, Clark, Constant, Cromwell, Crossgrove, Cummins, Dametz, Davis, Denney, Devitt, Dibble, Douglas, Elkin, Frost, Fuller, Gammell, Golay, Grant, Green, Hanson, Hardman, Harrison, Haymond, Hewitt, Hodson, Holley, Hudson, Ingram, Inshaw, Isaac, Jensen, Jewkes, Johnson, Jones, Kendall, King, Konold, Lamm, Land, Larsen, Leeper, Letts, Logan, Manwaring, Marlett, McDonald, Moore, Mower, Neilson, Nelson, Padfield, Perry, Rape, Redmond, Robins Scott, Scovil, Secrist, Simon, Simons, Snow, Sornsen, Summers, Thomas, Thompson, Thornley, Thurston, Tidwell, Tuckett, Van Dyke, Wall, Ware, Watson, Welker, Willardson, Williams, Young

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