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Genealogical Research in Missouri

Genealogy Research Missouri

Tracing your family history in Missouri can be a fascinating trip through time. Exciting characters like Kit Carson, Jesse James, former President Harry S. Truman, and the gifted Walt Disney all hail from Missouri. As one of the earliest areas in America settled by Europeans, there are a wealth of genealogical records and resources for tracing your family history in Missouri. Tracking these records down can be an ominous task, but don’t worry, we know just where they are, and we’ll show you which records you’ll need, 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 Missouri. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Show Me 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 Missouri ancestors and their records.

A Brief History of Missouri

Missouri takes its name from the Missouri Indians who inhabited the area, but many other tribes including the Miamis, Kickapoos, Sacs, Foxes, Osages, Otos, Iowas, Delawares, Shawnees and Kansas also made their home in the region. The French were the first to explore the area, and La Salle claimed the region for France in 1682. In 1762 the area was ceded to Spain who ruled the region for another forty years.

Lead mining was very much at the forefront of Missouri’s early development after as lead ore called Galena was discovered there in 1701. Significant deposits were uncovered and by 1720 mining was in full force, fuelled by the labor of early French settlers. The French established the first official settlement at Ste. Genevieve in the mid 1730s, and it was the sole settlement for around thirty years until a trading post was established at St. Louis in 1764.

Spain ceded the Louisiana Territory back to France in 1802, and Missouri was sold as part of that to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase the following year. In 1804 the famous Lewis and Clarke expedition set sail from St. Louis. In 1812 Missouri was organized as a separate territory and became a state in 1821.

Missouri had become a slave state with the passing of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, but its loyalty remained with the Union cause during the Civil War. This was in spite of the attempts by governor Claiborne Fox Jackson to align Missouri with the Confederacy due to his personal ties to the South. Eventually Jackson and most of his legislature were forced to flee the state after the majority of Missourians refused to recognize his government. 109,000 men from Missouri fought for the Union, 30,000 for the Confederate side.

  • Important Dates in Missouri History
    • 1682 – Region claimed for France
    • 1763 – Ceded from France to Spain
    • 1764 – St. Louis founded
    • 1800 – Ceded from Spain to France
    • 1803 – Part of the Louisiana Purchase
    • 1804 – Lewis and Clarke expedition commences from St. Louis
    • 1805 – Part of the Louisiana Territory
    • 1812 – Created as separate territory
    • 1820 – Missouri Compromise makes slavery legal
    • 1820 - Statehood

Famous Battles Fought in Missouri

The bloodiest and most important battle fought in Missouri was the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield. Other important conflicts in the state were fought at the Battle of Carthage, the Battle of Lexington, the Battle of Westport, and the Battle of Boonville - the first engagement within the state

These battle accounts that do exist 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 Missouri Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them

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

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.

Missouri 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.

Missouri Archives

  • Following are links to their websites, and a summary of the records.

Missouri 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. 

Missouri Genealogical Society – census, vital records, religious records, city directories, military records, family histories
6000 Douglas Ave.
P.O. Box 7735
Des Moines, IA 50322
Telephone: 515-276-0287

Old Fort Genealogical Society – cemetery records, township maps, old settlers list
Ft Madison Public Library
1920 Ave E
Ft Madison, IA  52627

Missouri Family History Centers

Additional Missouri Genealogical Resources

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

Missouri 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 Missouri Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.

Missouri 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 Missouri 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.

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

Missouri 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 Missouri vital records

Some county clerks kept vital records as early as 1838. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of these documents for many counties which can be accessed at Missouri Family History Centers. Existing originals are found in the county clerk’s office or in the Missouri Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) for that county.

Original copies of Missouri Vital Records for death, birth, marriage, and divorce may be ordered from:

Missouri Department of Public Health
Division of Vital Records
605 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, IL 62702-5097
Telephone: (217) 782-6553
Fax: 217-785-3209

The Missouri Archives has an Missouriwide Marriage Index, 1763–1900 which contains one million marriages, or two million names.

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.

Federal census records for Missouri exist from 1800 to 1990. Unfortunately the 1800 census was lost, and the 1810 census contains only a few names from Randolph County. The 1890 census was destroyed, though a few names from Mound Township in McDonough County remain.

Missouri 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 Missouri Archives collected some early Missouri church records that are now held by the Missouri Library.

St. Clair County Genealogical Society (SCCGS) has compiled the Index to Bethel Baptist Church Minutes and Membership Lists, 1809 - 1909 for St. Clair County, Missouri

Central Repositories for Denominational Records

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

Missouri 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.

Missouri 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 Missouri Cemetery records
    • Missouri Tombstone Transcription Project - death and burial records
    • African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
    • Access Genealogy – huge database of Missouri 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.
    • - 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.

Missouri Obituaries

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

Missouri 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.

Since 1964, the circuit court in each county has custody of the earlier court records including those of the former Cook County Superior Court and a few other Chicago area courts. They can be found at:

Clerk of Circuit CourtArchives Room 1113
Richard J. Daley Center
50 W. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
Telephone: 312- 603-6601
Fax: 312-603-4974

The Missouri Regional Archives has a huge database of court and county records for the entire state of Missouri

Family Search – has an online collection of probate records, which includes will, indexes, dating from 1819-1970

Missouri 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.

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

Family Search has two searchable online indexes, the Missouri, Northern District (Eastern Division), Naturalization Index, 1926-1979, and the Missouri, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950

Missouri Native American Records

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


  • In Her Place: A Guide to St. Louis Women’s History, 1764-1965, Catherine T. Corbett (Missouri Historical Society Press)
  • Show Me Missouri Women, Selected Biographies: Missouri Women’s History Project, Mary K. Dains (Thomas Jefferson University Press)
  • Kansas City Women of Independent Minds, Jan F. Flynn (Fifield Publishing, 1992)
  • Women of the Earth Lodges: Tribal Life on the Plains, Virginia B. Peters (Archon Books, 1997)
  • Death Records of Pioneer Missouri Women, 1808-1853, Lois Stanley (Southern Historical Press, 1990)

Selected Resources for Missouri Women’s History

State Historical Society of Missouri Womens Collection
1020 Lowry Street
Columbia, Missouri 65201-7298
Toll Free: (800) 747-6366 or (573) 882-7083
Fax: (573) 884-4950


Blanche Skiff Ross Memorial Library
Cottey College
225 South College
Nevada, MO 64772

Common Missouri Surnames

The following surnames are among the most common in Missouri 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.

Aaron, Abbott, Adair, Adams, Adamson, Adcock, Adkins, Aiken, Ainsworth, Akin, Aldridge, Alexander, Alford, Alfrey, Alger, Allen, Allison, Alspach, Amos, Anders, Anderson, Andress, Andrews, Andrus, Anjou, Apple, Archer, Armstrong, Ashton, Ashworth, Atkinson, Atwood, Austin, Avery, Ayers, Babb, Bailey, Baker, Baldwin, Barber, Barnett, Barnhart, Barrett, Barrow, Barton, Bass, Bateman, Batson, Baughman, Beatty, Bell, Bennett, Benningfield, Berry, Black, Black Cloud, Block, Boling, Booth, Born, Boyd, Bradley, Brady, Bright, Brooks, Brown, Buck, Bumstead, Burch, Burgundy, Burns, Butler, Byerly, Byrd, Cain, Campbell, Cardwell, Carr, Carroll, Carter, Caudil, Causey, Chance, Chapman, Choate, Clark, Clayton, Cloud, Clubb, Cochran, Cole, Collier, Collins, Conner, Cope, Coward, Cox, Crane, Cravey, Crawford, Cullers, Cunningham, Dalton, Daniel, Davidson, Davis, de Beauchamp, de Brueys, Deatherage, DeGarmo, Dennis, Deville, Dickerson, Dodd, Dozier, Draper, Duncan, Earp, Eaton, Edge, Edwards, Elliott, England, Epperson, Etheridge, Faircloth, Fargason, Faulk, Ferguson, Flowers, Foddrell, Ford, Formby, Fortenberry, Foster, Fowler, France, Frazier, Gailey, Garner, Garrett, Gilbert, Glass, Gorden, Gordon, Graham, Gray, Gregory, Griner, Grubb, Hale, Hall, Hammond, Harlan, Harper, Harris, Harrison, Henry, Herring, Hicks, Hill, Hodges, Hoffman, Holland, Hooks, Hopkins, Hudson, Ice, Isbell, Ivey, Jackson, James, Jenkins, Jett, Jones, Jordan, Keith, Kelley, King, Kirkland, Lacy, Lane, Leslie, Lewis, Marshall, Martin, McCoy, McDaniel, Mills, Mitchell, Morris, Neville, Odom, Owen, Pate, Payne, Perkins, Pinkard, Pitts, Ponthieu, Prather, Puckett, Pyle, Qualls, Reece, Ritenour, Rose, Rushing, Sanders, Seabolt, Seale, Sellers, Seybold, Slocombe, Swearingen, Talley, Terwilliger, Thomas, Thrasher, Trotti, Underwood, Van Den Berge, Van Ness, VanDeventer, Vaughan, Vincent, Wakefield, Waller, Watts, Welch, Whipple, Whittington, Wiess, Woolsey, Wynn, Yarbrough, Yates, Yocum, Yongue, Younger, Zabriskie, Zellers, Zuercher

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