Montana Genealogy and Ancestry Research

This page will provide you with information that will help you in your genealogy and ancestry research for the state of Montana. It includes a timeline for the state, when the state began recording vital records, what US and State census records are available, a map of the counties in the state and link to page showing when counties were formed, and links to a variety of genealogy and ancestry resources for the state of Montana.

Montana was created as a territory in 1864. The area was formed from Washington Territory west of the Continental Divide and Nebraska Territory east of the Continental Divide. Statehood was granted in 1889.

Montana State History Timeline

1803 – Most of the Montana area was subject to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803    

1756 – 1756 to 1763: The Seven Years War (French and Indian War) due to disputes over land is won by Great Britain. France gives England all French territory east of the Mississippi River, except New Orleans. The Spanish give up east and west Florida to the English in return for Cuba.

1775 – 1775 to 1783 – The American Revolution creates the United States of America. 

1776 – July 4, 1776 – United States Declaration of Independence

1778  – July 10, 1778 – France declares war against Britain and makes an alliance with the American revolutionary forces 

1783 – September 3, 1783 – The Treaty of Paris is signed by the victorious United States and the defeated Great Britain  

1800’s – Conflict erupts between settlers and Native Indians. The Native Indians are gradually forced to cede their lands.

1803 – The Louisiana Purchase – includes most of Montana.

1805 – 1805 to 1806: Choctaw and northern (Chickasaw and Cherokee) Indian cessions open up land to white settlement.

1805 – 1805 to 1806:  Lewis and Clark explore Montana – Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770- 1838).

1807 – Manuel Lisa builds first fur fort in Montana at the mouth of the Yellowstone River.

1812 – 1812 to 1815: The War of 1812 between U.S. and Great Britain, ended in a stalemate but confirmed America’s Independence.

1828 – Fort Union, an American Fur Company post, is built at the mouth of the Yellowstone River.

1841 – Father Pierre Jean de Smer establishes St. Mary’s Mission in the Bitterrot Valley.

1846 – The Oregon Treaty gives the rest of Montana to the U.S.

1847 – Fort Benton founded on Missouri River as military and trading post; soon becoming world-renown “Head of Navigation” to the west, and world’s furthest inland port. Steamboats brought gold seekers, fur traders, settlers and supplies, making Fort Benton the “Birthplace of Montana.” 

1861 – 1861 to 1865: The American Civil War. 

1864- 26 May, Montana Territory officially created by act of President Abraham Lincoln, Bannack chosen as first Territorial Capitol.

1865 – The surrender of Robert E. Lee on April 9 1865 signaled the end of the Confederacy .

1865 – 1865 December 6 – The Abolishment of Slavery. 

1876 – Nez Pierce Indian Chief Joseph lead his people out of Oregon into Montana, but was forced to surrender in 1877 near Bear’s Paw Mountains in northern Montana.

1889 – Montana was the 41st State to be admitted to the Union. State Motto – ” Oro y plata ” the State Motto is translated as ” Gold and Silver “

Montana Vital Records

Prior to 1895 there were no legal requirements for keeping birth records in Montana. In 1895 the Legislative Assembly passed a law requiring all physicians and midwives to keep a register of all births. All pre-1907 birth records are filed with the county clerk in the county where the child was born. Montana began recording births and deaths on the state level in 1907. It was not until about 1915 that mandatory registration of births became more complete. By 1922 about 90 percent of the births were being registered.

The 1895 law governing births also pertained to deaths. At that time the registration of deaths was the responsibility of clergymen, coroners, physicians, sextons, and undertakers. Registration of deaths on the state level began in 1907. By 1910 the registration of deaths reached about 90 percent. It was not until about 1915 that the registration of Montana deaths became reasonably complete.

Marriage and divorce records are not available through the Office of Vital Statistics. These records may be obtained from the clerk of the district court in the county where the license or decree was issued. Divorces were registered on the state level beginning in July 1943. and has a variety of collections. I’ve included many in the links section below.

Montana Census Records


Population Schedules

  • Indexed: 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Soundex: 1880, 1900, 1920

Industrial and Agricultural Schedules

  • 1870, 1880

Mortality Schedules

  • 1870, 1880

Union Veterans Schedules

  • 1890 (indexed)

In 1860 the area of Montana that lies east of the Continental Divide was part of Nebraska Territory. Persons residing in this area were enumerated in the unorganized part of Nebraska Territory. The only exceptions to this were two trading posts, Fort Alexander and Fort Union, which were enumerated with unorganized Dakota. The area of Montana west of the Continental Divide was enumerated as the Bitterroot Valley and the Ponderay Mountains in Spokane County, Washington Territory.

Montana Counties

Montana Counties Map
Montana Counties Map

At Montana County Resources you’ll find location of counties on the map, county address, date formed, parent county(ies), first recorded dates of birth, marriage, death, land, probate and court records.

Montana Genealogy and Ancestry Links

Montana State History Timeline Links