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State Research Guide: Alaska
8/1/2006
Discover your ancestors in the Last Frontier.
Everything's bigger in Alaska, or so it seems. The state's gigantic — nearly one-fifth the size of the other 49 states combined — and it's home to Mount McKinley (aka Denali), the highest point in North America. Practically the only thing that's not big in Alaska is its population: It's the third least-populated state, with a mere 626,932 residents. More than half of them live in the Anchorage area.

Alaska became a territory in 1912 and didn't join the Union until 1959, but its heritage stretches back thousands of years when Asians from Siberia crossed the Bering Strait on the Beringia “land bridge.” Their descendants include today's Athabascan, Haida, Tlingit, Aleut and Inuit (Eskimo) peoples, who make up a seventh of Alaska's population. The remainder claims a variety of heritages, particularly German, Irish, English, Norwegian, Russian and Asian.

Russian fur traders had established a permanent settlement on Kodiak Island in 1784 and reached Sitka in 1799. Their nation governed the vast land until 1867, when the United States purchased it. In 1896, fortune seekers in Canada's Klondike Gold Rush traveled through Alaska; later strikes in Nome (1898) and Fairbanks (1902) spurred the state's own gold rush. Opportunity continued to inspire northward migration: During the Great Depression, the US government relocated 203 Midwestern farming families to Palmer.

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