Step-by-Step South Dakota Research, 1880-1905

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South Dakota Gotoarrow.png Step-by-Step South Dakota Research, 1880-1905

Step-by-step research 1905--present Gotoarrow.png Step-by-Step South Dakota Research, 1880-1905

Step-by-Step South Dakota Research, 1817-1880Gotoarrow.png Step-by-Step South Dakota Research, 1880-1905

A suggested approach to genealogy research in South Dakota online family history records.


Step-by-step South Dakota Research 1880--1905

Table of Contents
1. Online census records.
2. Obituary and cemetery records online.
3. Births and marriages online.
4. School records online.
5. Military records online.
6. Printed local histories or biographies online.
7. Immigration and naturalization records online.
8. Wills and probate.
9. Land records online.
10. Historical or genealogical societies.
11. Records for 1817-1879.
If Your Family Was German
12. Germans from Russia online collections.
If Your Family Was Native American
13. Indian agency records online.

Continue your adventure
at a Family History Center.



In this period of South Dakota, census records are the most valuable record because statewide civil registration does not begin until 1905. One unique record in South Dakota research are state census records. Coupled with U.S. censuses, it is possible to look at the makeup of families every fiveyears.

See also, How to use "record hints"[edit | edit source]

Step 1: Search the 1880, 1885, 1895, 1900, and 1905 census records 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. Then you will want to find your family members in every possible census, using these convenient links:

  • Note: The 1890 census was destroyed in a fire.

United States census records[edit | edit source]

  • Here are samples of 1900 and 1880 United States census records. You can see all the different information you can glean from this record once you find your family in the census.
United States 1880 Census (11-0629).jpg


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 1879 and died in 1905, you will want to find them in the 1880, 1885, 1895, 1900, and 1905 censuses. Note that there are census records available from 1790 until 1940.
  • With the census records you will 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 South Dakota.
  • The 1900 census is particularly helpful because it states month and year of birth, how many children a woman has born, the year of immigration to the U.S., among other things.

South Dakota state census records[edit | edit source]

United States Indian Census Rolls[edit | edit source]
  • This database contains an index to the Indian census rolls from 1885-1940. *Information contained in this database includes: name (Indian and/or English), gender, age, birth date, relationship to head of family, marital status, tribe name, agency and reservation name
  • Other information about an individual, such as degree of Indian blood, as recorded in the later census years, may be available on the original record.
  • The Indian Census schedules are census rolls usually submitted each year by agents or superintendents in charge of Indian reservations. There is not a census for every reservation or group of Indians for every year. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under federal supervision are listed on these census rolls.

Step 2: Using all the death date information, try to find additional details about your ancestors in Social Security, obituary and cemetery records online.[edit | edit source]

U.S. Social Security Death Index[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 Ancestry.com, ($), 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.

If you find your ancestor in the SSDI index, you can order a copy of their original Social Security application (SS-5). If you can prove the individual has died (by sending an obituary or copy of their cemetery headstone), the application will also give the deceased's parents' names, if listed.

South Dakota Social Security record.png

Obituaries and cemeteries[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 South 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 South 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"

FindAGrave sample.png

Step 3: Search delayed birth certificates and county birth and marriage records online.[edit | edit source]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Vital records registration of births and marriages at the state level started in 1905. Prior to that the individual counties kept the records. The starting dates of those records vary from county to county, depending on when the county was formed. The state also invited citizens born before 1905 to file delayed birth records. All of these records were collected by the state. They may be found in the FamilySearch record: South Dakota, Department of Health, Birth and Marriage Indexes, 1843-2014.

Samples of index entries[edit | edit source]

Birth index sample South Dakota.png
Marriage index South Dakota .png

Birth records lead to other searches[edit | edit source]

  • If a birth record gave you parents names you did not have before, you can return to the census records again and search for additional family members.
  • Search the birth index again using only the surname and the parents' names to find other additional children.
  • If the time period is early enough, try searching for the parents as children in the birth index.
  • With the additional family names discovered, look for marriage records for the parents and their children.

Marriage records lead to other searches[edit | edit source]

  • Marriage records are especially helpful in determining the wife's maiden name. With a maiden name, look for her with her parents in a census record before she was married.

Step 4: Search school records online.[edit | edit source]

  • School records, including teacher's term reports, school census, and attendance records are located at the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre, and indexed online. Records are generally arranged by county, year and school district number. This collection is being published as images become available. The child's name, full birth date, parents' names, and street address are given. Click below to search the records.

Step 5: Search military records: World War I draft cards and Civil War pension records online.[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 1 Draft Registration[edit | edit source]

  • 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.
  • Here is an example of a typical draft card.
WWI draft card.jpg

Civil War Pensions[edit | edit source]

Civil War widow's pension.png

This collection consists of two card indexes to widows who had applied for a pension renewal. The first covers service between 1812-1860 and the second covers service in the Civil War and later. This is helpful in locating a woman in census and death records under her new surname.

WWI Remarried Widow pension.png


Pension Records for Other Wars[edit | edit source]

Step 6: Search a printed local history or biography online.[edit | edit source]

Local histories[edit | edit source]

  • Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain biographies and accounts of early or prominent families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses.
  • The authors usually invited the residents of the county to submit their personal family histories, in order to create an automatic market for the book. County residents whose families were in the book were sure to buy a copy.
  • Histories can also give lists of pioneers, soldiers, and civil officials.
  • Even if your ancestor's name is not listed, information about other relatives may be included that may provide important clues for locating your ancestor.
  • Here are several websites that feature online copies of printed county histories:
  • Local histories are extensively collected by the Family History Library, public and university libraries, and state and local historical societies. If you have access to the Family History Library or a family history center, you can find out about local histories the library has by checking the FamilySearch Catalog. In the "place" field, type the name of your county and select it from the drop down list, then click "Search". A list of subheadings for the county will appear. Local histories containing genealogies and biographies will be found under Biography, Genealogy, History, and History - Indexes.
  • Also, in Step 10, you will be contacting a county history society. Societies often have a good selection of printed histories about the area. Some may be search history for you for a fee.

Biographies[edit | edit source]

These collections of South Dakota biographies can be searched online. Most have a table of contents and an index. Or you can use the "Find" function on your computer.

Here is an example of the genealogical information you might find in South Dakota history with biographies:

Typical published biography.jpg

Step 7: 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 that country. So 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 many times 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 smaller details also given but not listed here)
Year of census
Immigration and Naturalization Information
1870
  • Whether father and mother are of foreign birth
1880
  • Place of birth for father and mother
1900
  • 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.
1910
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
1920
  • 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
1930
  • Place of birth for father and mother
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized
  • Year of immigration to U.S.
  • Native language
1940
  • Naturalization status: alien, papers submitted, or naturalized

Immigration records[edit | edit source]

There are too many immigration records to list here. 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.

In this example of a passenger list, you see at #22, the family of Eduard Hepper of Gross Liebenthal travelling to Java, South Daokta.

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, applications for citizenship, and final citizenship papers. The records can show birth date and place, spouse's name, marriage date and place, and lists of children with their birth dates. Click here to view examples of declaration of intent records and the information they give.

South Dakota naturalization records are organized by county. Look for them in any county where the person lived, unless the census tells you the year they were naturalized, and you have evidence of where they lived that year.

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

Step 8: Write to a county for wills and probate indexes.[edit | edit source]

  • "Probate is the legal process through which an individual’s real estate (property) and personal estate (possessions) are distributed to his or her heirs, whether or not there is a will. Testate is the term used when a will existed in the settling of the estate. Intestate is the term used when there was no will written and the court decides how the estate is to be distributed.
  • "Not everyone in the United States wrote a will or went through probate. Nearly 10% of the pre-1900 adult population made wills, usually males with property. Before 1900, about 25% of estates were probated, even though no will had been written. However, this percentage is higher for rural areas because that is where the land was owned.
  • "The single most important value of probate records is the proof of relationships. In a will, people are identified as a wife, son, daughter, nephew, niece, brother, sister, etc. If there is no will, the distribution is made by the court to the heirs who are usually family members. Other helpful and interesting information that may be learned from probate files are: date and place of death, name of the spouse and other possible family members and relationships, location of the heirs, property ownership, and guardianship of minor children." Jill Shoemaker, U.S. Probate Records Class Handout

County probate records[edit | edit source]

  • South Dakota probate records include probate proceedings, petitions, affidavits, orders for sales, reports of sales, administrators' and executors' bonds, guardianship papers, wills, and letters of administration. In a will book, usually just a transcription of the will is recorded. But all of these other records are kept in a probate packet. Administrations are probate proceedings that handled an estate if no known will existed.
  • Currently, these counties are microfilmed and digitized:
South Dakota, Minnehaha County, Probate Case Records, 1873-1935. Also at Ancestry.com ($).
South Dakota, Pennington County Probate Case Files, 1880-1937. Also at Ancestry.com ($)
South Dakota, Marshall County Probate Records, ($).


  • In the meantime, this online directory by GenealogyInc. will enable you to arrange to have them searched for a fee: Click on the map to select a county, then scroll down to the Courthouse and Government Records to find the address and phone number of the County Clerk of Court. Ask them about the years covered by their probate records and their procedure and fees for ordering copies probate packets. When you write, always ask for the full probate packet, not just the will or administration.

Territorial probate records[edit | edit source]

  • Prior to statehood, probate records were kept by the Territorial Probate Court. Contact the Archives Division of the South Dakota Historical Society for copies of territorial probate records.

Step 9: Search land records online.[edit | edit source]

  • These records will give the name of the owner, the date they obtained the land, the county, and the exact location of the land. They can contain clues to family members who shared ownership of the land, sold or gave land to a child, or witnessed the sale. Sometimes they show the previous or new residence of the parties to the deed. They can be useful in tracking an ancestor who lived in more than one county in South Dakota. Then the probate and vital records of each county could be searched.
A search of the Bureau of Land Management records gives results like this:
BLM search results.png

Step 10: Contact a county historical or genealogical society.[edit | edit source]

  • County historical societies have collections that are frequently little known and often overlooked. Many have a surname file, where they have collected genealogies, newspaper clippings, old photographs, etc. Many have a sort of "pioneer ancestor" program, where people can submit pedigrees to prove they are the descendants of an early resident of the county. Most keep track of queries about families that once lived in the area from other distant relatives who may actually have more family memorabilia than you.
  • If you can find the society on the internet, they may list their holdings. Or call them on the phone, find out what they have, and find out what arrangements can be made to search their collection. Frequently, you can hire one of their members to search the collection for you.

This online directory by GenealogyInc. lists historical and genealogical societies by county: Click on the map to select a county, then scroll down to the historical or genealogical society listings. Note: some South Dakota counties are so sparsely populated that they do not have the population to support a society.

Here is an example of an internet website for a local genealogical society. Notice that it gives details on how to pay for searching services.

Rapid City GS Home page trimmed.png
Rapid City GS records trimmed.png

Step 11: Move ahead to the instructions for 1817-1879 and use searches described there, applying them to this time period.[edit | edit source]

These steps should work for you almost always, but they are not foolproof. Next, you will try some additional records described in the instructions for Step-by-step South Dakota Research 1817--1849, many of which can also be applied to this time period if necessary. Records about the next earlier generation of the family might give more clues to other searches also.

Step 12: If your family was German, search Germans from Russia record 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 the Black Sea region of Russia to the state of South Dakota. Almost always, if your ancestors were German and lived in South Dakota, they were Black Sea Germans from Russia. You can search a fairly complete collection of the parish registers of German churches in South Dakota at the Odessa3 website of the Germans from Russia Society for births, marriages, and deaths. Click here to see a sample of the records.

Step 13: If your family was Native American, search Indian agency records online.[edit | edit source]

If Your Family Was Native American

After online research, continue your adventure at the Family History Library or a Family History Center.[edit | edit source]

Records are catalogued by location. Do these three searches for each place: South Dakota; the county (or counties) where your ancestors lived; and the town (or towns) where they lived. After clicking on "Search", you will next see a list of topics. Click on any topic, and the list will expand to show the records available.

  • Search by state.
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  • Search by county.
Search by county.png
  • Search by town.
Search by town.png
  • Expanded list of library holdings.
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