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Genealogical Research in Oklahoma

Genealogy Research Oklahoma

As it is one of the longest populated American states, there are many genealogical records and resources available for tracing your family history in Oklahoma. Because there are so many records held at many different locations, tracking down the records for your ancestor can be an ominous task. Don’t worry though, we know just where they are, and we’ll show you which records you’ll need, while helping 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 Oklahoma. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Sooner 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 Oklahoma ancestors and their records.

A Brief History of Oklahoma

When the first Europeans, Spanish conquistadores, led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and Hernando de Soto, arrived in the sixteenth century, there were but a few scattered Native American tribes inhabiting the area. The area remained largely unsettled until the early nineteenth century when it became part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Even then settlement was sparse and the area became known as Indian Country when tribes from the southeastern United States were resettled there under the Indian Removal Act in 1830.

Four thousand Native Americans died on the journey to Oklahoma, gaining it name the "Trail of Tears." Those that survived the journey however, Native Americans from the Five Civilized Tribes – Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole, prospered in the region between the time of removal up until the Civil War period.

The Five Civilized Tribes settled the eastern part of Oklahoma comprising nearly half of the state. The area offered luxurious vegetation and rich, fertile soil, which attracted many white farmers to the area as well. The methods the white settlers used depleted the spoil however, leading the way to the area becoming known as the “Dust Bowl” in the 1930’s. People and goods passed through the area in increasing numbers during the mid to late nineteenth century, and forts were established at Ft. Gibson, Ft. Towson, and Fort Supply between 1824 and the 1880’s.

By the time the Civil War arrived, some of the members of the Five Civilized Tribes were slaveholders, and they allied themselves with the Confederacy. The Union Army captured Fort Gibson in 1863, after which time the Union controlled half of the Indian Territory. Between the end of the Civil war and the 1880’s, the eastern tribes were steadily removed by the federal government from their lands, which were especially attractive to white settlers and railroad developers. This period saw increasing skirmishes between federal troops and Indians, ending in the famous massacre of the Cheyenne by Col. George Custer and his troops at the Battle of Washita in 1868.

White settlers continued their clamor for Indian lands, and in 1889 the federal government opened land western Oklahoma formerly reserved for the Cheyenne, Cherokee, and Fox to white settlement. The biggest onslaught of white settlers to the area occurred in 1893 when close to 100,000 settlers flooded the region. The western part of Oklahoma was designated the Oklahoma Territory in 1890, while most of the eastern region remained in possession of the Five Civilized Tribes.

A bill for statehood was introduced in 1892 but was resisted by the Native American tribes. The Indians attempted to form their own independent state during the interim, but when that movement was defeated in 1905, Oklahoma received statehood two years later on November 16, 1907.

  • Important Dates in Oklahoma History
    • 1803 – Part of Louisiana Purchase
    • 1812 – Part of Missouri Territory
    • 1819 – Part of Arkansas Territory
    • 1830 – Organized as Indian Territory
    • 1831 – Five Civilized Tribes forcibly removed to the area
    • 1861 – Most of Five Civilized Tribes side with the Confederacy
    • 1889 – Part of Oklahoma opened for white settlement
    • 1890 – Organized as Oklahoma Territory
    • 1893 – Land belonging to the Cherokees opened for settlement
    • 1906 – Most tribal governments and reservations are liquidated
    • 1907 - Statehood

Famous Battles Fought in Oklahoma

There have been very few battles fought within the borders of modern day Oklahoma, though the Civil War battles of Fort Wayne, Cabin Creek, and Honey Springs were all important Union victories. The famous massacre of Cheyenne Indians, the Battle of Washita River, took place near modern day Cheyenne, Oklahoma.

These battle accounts that 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 Oklahoma Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them

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

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.

Oklahoma 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.

Oklahoma Archives

  • Following are links to their websites, and a summary of the records.
    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – county records, census, manuscripts, historical newspapers, maps, photographs, Native American index, surname list, military name index

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

    • Kansas State University – manuscript collections, literary papers, diaries and journals, photographs, broadsides, maps, audio visual items, oral histories, and printed material.

      University Archives
      Farrell Library
      Manhattan, KS 66506
      Tel: (913) 532-7456

Additional Oklahoma Genealogical Resources

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

Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.

Oklahoma 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.

  • Oklahoma newspapers and periodicals that you can search online or on-site.
    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – African American publications, Civilian Conservation Corps, Labour Populist publications, Socialist publications, Territorial period newspapers, History of Kansas newspapers from1916

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

    • Kansas Heritage Center – most of the newspapers published in Dodge City from 1876 to the present and newspapers from several other Kansas towns.

      PO Box 1207
      Dodge City KS 67801-1207
      Tel: 620-227-1616
      Fax: 620-227-1701

    • – free searchable database of Kansas newspaper archives, 1841-1981
    • Library of Congress Digital Newspaper Directory – free searchable database of historical U.S. newspapers dating from 1690-present
    • The Online Books Page – links to historical books and periodicals available for viewing online, dating from mid-16th century
    • – largest online database of historical newspapers in the world.

Historical Oklahoma 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.

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

Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma vital records

Oklahoma began recording official records of births and deaths in 1911. Marriage licenses were required starting in 1867, but not filed at state level until 1913.

  • Copies of vital records after those dates must be requested from the:
    • Kansas Office of Vital Statistics

      Charles B. Curtis State Office Building
      1000 SW Jackson Street
      Suite 120
      Topeka, KS 66612-1221
      Tel: 785-296-1400.

    • Kansas Genealogical Society – various historical vital records

      KGS, PO Box 103
      Dodge City, KS 67801-0103
      Tel: (620) 225 - 1951

    • Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – extensive collection of vital records dating from pre-territorial times

      6425 SW 6th Avenue
      Topeka, KS 66615-1099
      Tel: 785-272-8681

Marriage and Divorce Records

Marriages prior to May 1913 were recorded in the district county courts where the marriage took place. Oklahoma marriage licenses did not include the names of the parents unless the bride or groom was underage. Records can be found at:

Divorce records from 1861 until July 1951 were recorded in the Oklahoma District Courts.

Copies of official divorce records after July 1951 can be ordered from the Oklahoma Office of Vital Statistics.

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.

Oklahoma 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.

Central Repositories for Denominational Records

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

Oklahoma 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.

Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma Cemetery records
    • African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
    • Access Genealogy – huge database of Oklahoma 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.

Oklahoma Obituaries

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

Oklahoma 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.

Oklahoma probate records have been recorded by the probate division clerks of the Oklahoma District Courts and include dockets, wills, oaths, inventories, letters, bonds, appraisements, accounts, court orders, claims, and final settlements.

Oklahoma 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.

Most overseas immigrants came to Oklahoma through east coast ports such as New, and then traveled by railway to Oklahoma. Earlier immigrants landed at New Orleans and then traveled by steamboats upriver to Oklahoma. The U.S. National Archives has passenger lists or indexes of American ports for 1820 to 1940, as well as immigration and naturalization records for the entire United States. These records can also be accessed at the National Archives Regional Branch in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma Native American Records

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


  • Women as Affected by the Laws of Oklahoma, James Barry King (Oklahoma City n.p.,1930)
  • Women in Oklahoma Territory, 1889-1907, Janet Hulsly Noever (History Department, Rose State College, 1989)
  • Women of Oklahoma, Linda Williams Reese (University of Oklahoma Press, 1997)
  • Women in Oklahoma: A Century of Change, Melvena Thurman (Oklahoma Historical Society, 1982)
  • A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma, Muriel H. Wright (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987)

Selected Resources for Oklahoma Women’s History

Museum of the Great Plains
601 Ferris
PO Box 68
Lawton, OK 73502

Pioneer Woman Museum
701 Monument Rd.
Ponca City, OK 74604

Western History Collections
University of Oklahoma
Room 452
Monnett Hall
Norman, OK 73109

University of Tulsa
Research in Women’s History
600 South College
Tulsa, OK 74104

Common Oklahoma Surnames

The following surnames are among the most common in Oklahoma 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.


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