Step-by-Step North Dakota Research, 1893-Present

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North Dakota Gotoarrow.png Step-by-step research 1893--present

  • A suggested approach to genealogy research in North Dakota family history records.

Step-by-step North Dakota
Research 1893--to the present

Table of Contents

1. Contact living relatives.
2. Online census records.
3. Births, marriages, and deaths online
4. Obituary and cemetery records online.
5. Military records online.
6. Immigration and naturalization records online.
7. Study clues.
If Your Family Was German
8. Germans from Russia online collections.

What sets this era in North Dakota genealogy apart from earlier time periods are the advent of civil registration (state birth, marriage, and death certificates) and the possibility that you have older living relatives who can provide memories and family records. In addition, U. S. census records (1900-1940), North Dakota state and territorial census records (1915 and 1925), Social Security collections, obituary and cemetery records make it possible to find a lot of genealogical information in just a few rich record types.
See also, How to use "record hints".[edit | edit source]

Step 1. Find out everything you can from living relatives and their family records:[edit | edit source]

Every good genealogy project starts with finding all the clues you can gather from living relatives — both from their memories and from documents or memorabilia in their homes.

What should you ask?[edit | edit source]

In order to extend your research on your ancestors, you are looking for names, dates, and places. Everything you learn that tells you about when and where a relative lived is a clue to a new record search. Be sure to ask questions that lead to that information, including about their occupations, military service, or associations with others, such as fraternal organizations. See also:

What documents should you look for and ask to copy?[edit | edit source]

  • Announcements of births, weddings,
    and anniversaries
  • Baby and wedding books
  • Certificates
  • Deeds, and property records
  • Family Bibles
  • Family reunion notices and records
  • Fraternal or society records
  • Insurance policies
  • Journals and diaries
  • Letters and cards
  • Licenses (business, marriage,
    fishing, driving)
  • Naturalization documents
  • Newspaper clippings and obituaries
  • Medical records
  • Military service and pension documents
  • Occupational awards
  • Passports
  • Personal histories and biographies
  • Photograph albums
  • Printed Notices and Announcements
  • Programs (graduation, award ceremonies, funerals)
  • School records
  • Scrapbooks
  • Wills and trusts

Family Members Born After 1940[edit | edit source]

Because the most recent census available was taken in 1940, family documents and the knowledge of living family members play a vital role in identifying these people. Once you have learned names, places of residence, and clues to estimate approximate birth date, the next important step is to send for birth, marriage, and death records for them. Skip to Step 3: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.

North Dakota obituary.jpg
North Dakota obituary 2.jpeg
North Dakota Marriage Record DGS 101837595 Image 00025.jpg

Using the clues to lead to census record searches.[edit | edit source]

  • Study the two obituary, examples of newspaper clippings found in home records. Notice that Leonard G. Diemert was born in 1927 in North Dakota. We would look for him in the 1930 and 1940 censuses of North Dakota. Once we find out the names of his parents and how long they have been in North Dakota, we can look for them in 1920, 1915, 1910, and 1900, working backwards in time.
  • According to his obituary, Irvin J. Buske was born in 1920 in North Dakota. We would expect to find him in the 1925, 1930, and 1940 censuses of North Dakota. He was born too late in 1920 to show up in that census, but if the 1930 census shows his parents' names, we can also look for them in 1920, 1915, 1910, and 1900 working backwards in time.
  • Now study the marriage license and marriage record found in home records to the right. Christ and Lillie Eide married in North Dakota in 1908. We can expect to find them in the 1910, 1915, 1920, 1925, 1930, and 1940 censuses of North Dakota, as a married couple. In addition, we might find them in the 1900 census as children in their parents' homes: Christ Eide and Lilie Stevens.

You will see in the 1910 census for Lillie that we find not only her parents, but her grandmother.

  • Click on each of the links in each example to see how these searches turned out. Notice the new information found, such as children's names and approximate birth years. Later, these clues will help us find them in more records.

Step 2. Find your ancestors in every possible census record, 1900-1940, online.[edit | edit source]

A census is a count and description of the population of a country, state, county, or city for a given date. A census took a "snapshot" of a family on a certain day. For each person living in a household you might find (depending on the year) their name, age, birthplace, relationship to head of household, place of birth for father and mother, citizenship status, year of immigration, mother of how many children and number of children living, native language, and whether they were a veteran of the military.

To learn more about census records, including search strategies, see United States Census Records for Beginners.

Look at the samples of census records below. You should find your family members in every possible census, using these convenient links:

United States census records[edit | edit source]

  • Here is a sample of a 1900 United States census record. You can see all the different information you can glean from this record once you find your family in the census.
    1900 United States Census.jpg
  • You will want to find and keep notes on census records from every census during each ancestor's lifetime. For example, if your ancestor was born in 1897 and died in 1945, you will want to find them in the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses.
  • With the census records, you will then be able to estimate approximate birth dates and marriage dates. These records will lead you to new searches because you will find the names of other members of the family. You will find clues to other states and countries your family lived in before coming to North Dakota.

North Dakota state census records[edit | edit source]

The North Dakota state census records are a different format and do not give someimportant details like age and birth place. However, they still list every member of the household. Here is an example:

North Dakota 1915 census.png

  • You can use what you learned from the census records to help you search for birth, marriage, and death records. Possibly the clues you find in the certificates will lead you back to the census records again for new names of family members.

Using the census clues to lead to a birth certificate.[edit | edit source]

In the 1930 census for Leonard Diemert, we found him as a three-year-old child living with six older brothers and sisters. To learn the birth dates of these brothers and sisters, you can now search for or send for their birth certificates. Similarly, the 1930 census of Irvin Buske reveals the identities of his siblings (as do earlier census record for his family). Their birth certificates can also be collected based on this census information. The census records give you each child's name, approximate year of birth, and probable birth county (since the families live in their respective counties through the time period when their children are born). This gives you reasonable details for the state agency to locate the certificates for you.

Using the census clues to lead to a marriage certificate.[edit | edit source]

In the 1910 census of Benjamin Buske, notice that the index entry spells his name as "Burke", but when you look at the original record you can see that the name is really "Buske". We found Irvin Buske in several census records, working back through time, as the son of this Benjamin and Annie Buske. In 1910, their first child is two years old. We can assume that they were married in about 1906-1908. We can then write for their marriage certificate.

Using the census clues to lead to a death certificate.[edit | edit source]

We found an indexed entry for a death record for Lillie Eide. In addition to her death date, it gives us her full birth date: 26 July 1883. By sending for a copy of this record, we will find that it probably gives the names and birthplaces of her parents. It should give us her mother's maiden name.

We also found an indexed entry for Chris Eide. He was born In February of 1886. Again by sending for a copy of this record, we will find that it probably gives the names and birthplaces of his parents. It should give us his mother's maiden name. Hopefully, it will state the town in Norway where he was born.

These just examples of the many death records that we might find.

Step 3: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.[edit | edit source]

States, counties, or even towns in some states recorded births, marriages, and deaths. You have probably seen these types of certificates and have your own. In addition to the child's name, birth date, and place of birth, a birth certificate may give the birthplaces of the parents, their ages, and occupations. A death certificate may give the person's birth date and place, parents' names and birthplaces, and spouse's name.

Tip Tip1.jpg Remember that for family members born after 1940 you do not have census records to rely on. The information from interviewing family members will hopefully give you enough detail that you know approximate years of birth, marriage, or death. Sending for certificates will help verify identities, prove relationships, and fill in greater detail.

Studying what you have found:[edit | edit source]

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  • Review what you have found to see if there is missing information that could be found in a birth, marriage, or death certificate for your ancestors and their children.
  • If you are missing the names of parents, find a person's death certificate. It may contain the names of the deceased's parents, which would extend your pedigree back one more generation.
  • If you find a child listed in a census record, try to find their actual birth certificate to learn their full birth date.
  • If a married couple is shown in the census records and you need the wife's maiden name, search for their marriage record or her death record. The mother's maiden name should also be given in her children's birth certificates.

Obtaining the certificates[edit | edit source]

  • There are basically four ways to find these certificates, or the information from them: by finding them in an online database, by reading a microfilm, by writing to a county courthouse (prior to state civil registration), or by purchasing them through the mail .

Online databases, usually indexes, with some images[edit | edit source]

  • This chart gives links to some North Dakota online databases for these records:

See How to Find North Dakota Birth Records.

See How to Find North Dakota Marriage Records.

Also, see How to Find North Dakota Death Records.

Samples of index entries[edit | edit source]

For more recent records, many of which you will send for in the mail, the certificates will be even more detailed.

Currently, there are no indexes for North Dakota births and marriages. But here is an example of the death index provided by the state of North Dakota.

North Dakota Death index.png

Finding Microfilm Copies of Certificates[edit | edit source]

Some North Dakota state, county, and Indian agency birth, death, and marriage certificates are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. These may be searched at a Family History Center near you.

Digitized copies of some of these microfilms are also available online, as the film description will indicate.

Records at the County Courthouse[edit | edit source]

From the date of the formation of a county until the establishment of state civil registration, birth and marriage records were kept by the County Clerk. They may have been microfilmed, or you can write for them. It is appropriate to write asking for either a single record or for a list of all the marriages for a given surname. This Letter Writing Guide will help you with phrasing a letter. This online directory by Genealogy Inc. will give you the address of the County Clerk. Click on the map to select a county, then scroll down to the "Courthouse and Government Records" to find the address and phone number.

If you are at the main Family History Library, check first to see if microfilms of the county vital records are available. In the search field of the FamilySearch Catalog, enter the state and county. Then click on the "Vital Records" subject. The cost of renting the microfilms at a Family History Center probably makes it less expensive to just write to the County Clerk.

Ordering certificates through the mail[edit | edit source]

Even if you find an online indexed entry for a birth, marriage, or death, almost always the full original certificate will contain a wealth of information not contained in the index. A death certificate will usually give the names and birth places of the parents of the deceased. A marriage certificate frequently asks for the parents names of the bride and groom. A birth certificate frequently asks for the birth place, occupation, residence, and age of the parents. Although it costs money, consider sending for the full original certificates at least of your direct line ancestors (grandparents, great-grandparents).

  • Click here for information on how to order birth records. This will require an application, a fee, and proof of your identification. Ask for an informational copy. Provide as many details as possible on the application, but you may leave some fields blank.
  • Click here for information on ordering marriage records from the county of the marriage.
  • Click here for information on how to order death records. This will require an application, a fee, and proof of your identification. Ask for an informational copy. Provide as many details as possible on the application, but you may leave some fields blank.
Samples of records[edit | edit source]

Here are some samples of North Dakota certificates. Notice the types of information available in each, particularly the identity of the parents, which adds another generation to your research.

North Dakota Birth Certificate
North Dakota Marriage Certificate

North Dakota Death Certificate

Step 4: Using all the death date information, try to find additional details about your ancestors in Social Security records, obituaries, and cemetery records online.[edit | edit source]

U.S. Social Security Death Index and Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007[edit | edit source]

The U.S. Social Security program began in 1935 but most deaths recorded in the index happened after 1962. The Social Security Death index includes those who had a Social Security number and/or applied for benefits. The index entries give the person's full birth date, last known residence, and residence at the time they first enrolled. Women are listed under their married name at the time of their death. You can search these records online at United States Social Security Death Index. Also at, ($), index.

The Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off, by providing information filed in the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. Unless the deceased would be at least 75 years old today, the parents' names are not published. You will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI, as criteria for inclusion differs.

North Dakota Social Security Application

Obituaries and cemeteries[edit | edit source]

Obituaries[edit | edit source]
  • Frequently, a death is announced in the newspaper with an obituary.
  • These obituaries may supply missing birth or death dates and name the parents of the deceased.
  • Obituaries may also name family members, their spouses, their current residences, and whether they died before the person or are still surviving, especially in obituaries written in the last half of the 20th Century.
  • Try these North Dakota links:
Cemeteries[edit | edit source]
  • Cemetery records may only give the names and dates stated on the tombstone, but as in the case of FindAGrave, sometimes pictures of the deceased and their tombstone, children's or parents' names and links to their graves, and marriage information have been added. Always verify information added by others.
  • Frequently family members are buried in the same cemetery often in neighboring plots.
  • Try these North Dakota links:

NOTE: Each database covers different cemeteries, although some may overlap. Don't be discouraged if you do not locate your individual in the first database. Check each collection.

This example of an online cemetery record is from FindAGrave Notice that these records can include short biographies, important dates, and links to other family members graves and data.

North Dakota FindAGrave.png

Step 5: Search military records: World War I draft cards.[edit | edit source]

  • There are many different types of military records, some covered in online collections, some microfilmed, and some requiring you to order them from government repositories with a fee. For more information, read the U.S. Military Records Class Handout. Information in military records can vary from a simple lists of name, age, and residence, to more detailed records including name, residence, age, occupation, marital status, birthplace, physical description, number of dependents, pensions received, disabled veterans, needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans, and other information.

World War I Draft Registration[edit | edit source]

North Dakota WW I Draft Card.png
  • One of the most helpful military records is the draft registration of 1917-1918. During three separate registrations, men born between 1873-1897 were required to register in the draft for World War I. Cards may give birth date, birth place, residence, occupation, employer, physical description, next of kin (usually the wife or mother), and number of dependents. Search for your male relatives born in this time period at U.S. WW I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
North Dakota WW II Draft.png

World War II Draft Registration[edit | edit source]

Likewise, the World War II draft in 1942 may give birth date, birth place, residence, occupation, employer, and other family members as contacts. Search for your male relatives born in this time period at

Step 6: If your ancestor was an immigrant, search immigration and naturalization records online.[edit | edit source]

The census records may show that your ancestor was born in another country. It will be necessary to try to find the town or city they were born in to continue research in the country of origin. Searches of immigration records (usually passenger lists) and naturalization (citizenship) records are the next goal. Immigration refers to people coming into a country, such as the United States, and emigration refers to people leaving a country to go to another. Usually these records are passenger lists of the ships they sailed on. A typical record will show name, age, and country of origin, but in ship lists after 1906 you can find the actual town of birth, the next of kin still living in the old country and their residence, and the names of relatives in the place they are traveling to.

Census clues to Immigration records[edit | edit source]

Census records can provide important clues about nationality and immigration. This chart lists data that can be found in each of the census records. Gather the information in the census records specifically about immigration, as it will help narrow down your search.

Immigration and Naturalization Found in the U.S.Census by Year
(other information also given but is not listed here)
Year of census
Immigration and Naturalization Information
  • Whether father and mother are of foreign birth
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • How many years lived in U.S.
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • Year of naturalization
  • Native language
  • Native language of father and mother
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • Native language
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized

Immigration records[edit | edit source]

Passenger lists and border crossing lists are the most common immigration records. There are many immigration records available. Click here to see a complete list of available immigration records online. Notice that they are listed by state, but under the letter "U" there is a long list of records that cover all of the United States. Unless family information tells you the port where family arrived, you will need to search all of the United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records for the time period when your ancestors arrived.

There are also immigration records unique to North Dakota:

in this example of one of these manifests, notice that it is possible to learn birth place, age, language spoken, citiizenship, last residence before North Dakota, destination, name and address of closest relative back in the country they came from, port of arrival, name of relative in this country, and many personal details.

North Dakota immigration.png

Naturalization (Citizenship) Records[edit | edit source]

Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen. Records can include the immigrant's declaration of intent to become a citizen, petitions for citizenship, and final certificate of naturalization. Naturalization records after 1906 can show birth date and place, spouse's name, marriage date and place, and lists of children with their birth dates.

North Dakota Naturalization and Citizenship Online Records[edit | edit source]

NDSU Archives: North Dakota Naturalization Records Index.

The state of North Dakota has an online index to naturalization records at NDSU Archives: North Dakota Naturalization Records Index. Here is an example of data provided in the online index:

North Dakota Naturalization index.png

Instructions for ordering full copies of the record can then be found at Order Copies of N.D. Naturalization Records.

Step 7: Study each record for other possible searches.[edit | edit source]

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You can now go through a process of working back and forth between all the different record types. Most researchers find clues in the census records that alert them to new certificates to obtain. The certificates then give them ideas of new facts to look for in the census. For example, when a marriage certificate gives you a wife's maiden name, you will then want to look for her in earlier censuses listed with her family as a child. When the census shows you her parents' names, you may then search for their death records. The death records might show their patents' names and take you back to the census to search for them. A naturalization record listing children's names might lead you back to birth certificate searches, and so on.

Here is a simple pedigree showing what we have discovered so far:

North Dakota Pedigree.PNG

Here are some sample research projects you could continue with:

  • Continue looking up all the children of each couple in the birth, marriage, death, Social Security, cemetery, and military collections until you have complete information on each of them.

Step 8: If your ancestors were German, search Germans from Russia collections online.[edit | edit source]

If Your Family Was German

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a mass migration from German colonies in Russia to North and South Dakota. You can find many records pertaining to them in the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at North Dakota State University.