Colorado Genealogy

by Ellen Shindelman Kowitt

If Colorado’s spacious skies, amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen the patriotic song, “America the Beautiful,” the same attracted tuberculosis victims to heal, homesteaders to stake land, and gold seekers to mine. Whether your ancestors were early settlers or later arrivals, Colorado’s abundant resources will provide ample opportunity to chart their journey.

Colorado Genealogy Research Guide Contents

Colorado Genealogy Fast Facts

















Colorado Department of
Public Health and Environment
Vital Records Section

4300 Cherry Creek Drive S.
Denver, CO 80246
(303) 692-2200

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State History


Several tribes lived in what is now Colorado before and concurrently with white settlement, including the: Anasazi, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Comanche, Jicarilla, Kiowa, Kiowa Apache, Navajo, Pawnee, Pueblo, Shoshoni, and Ute. Spanish explorers came through in 1541 followed by the French, then Americans including Zebulon Pike (the namesake of “Pikes Peak”) and John C. Fremont. At the time, much of Colorado was part of Louisiana Territory: originally claimed by France, then transferred to Spain and back to France before being purchased by the United States in 1803.

Explorers established numerous forts and trading posts along the way, including Bent’s Fort in 1833 on the Sante Fe Trail and the first non-Indian permanent settlement of San Luis (founded in 1851). The Colorado Gold Rush (1858–1861) brought anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 settlers to the Denver area, and commerce blossomed. The Rocky Mountain News began publishing, mining camps were constructed in the mountains, banks issued currency, merchants provided goods, and outlaws wreaked havoc. Increase in settlement led to a need for organization. The US government formed Colorado Territory in 1861 out of a mishmash of land from the Louisiana Purchase, the 1845 annexation of Texas, and the 1848 Mexican Cession. (Previously, the land was part of the Kansas, Nebraska, Utah and New Mexico Territories.)

Whether arriving on foot, horse, wagon train or railway, new settlers arrived en masse. An 1870 rail line completed from Cheyenne to Denver further bolstered the territory’s population from 39,864 in 1870 to 194,327 in 1880. Tensions grew between settlers and Indian tribes. In 1864, Colorado volunteer cavalry attacked and destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho in what’s known as the Sand Creek Massacre. By the late 1800s, most Colorado tribes were removed to reservations.


Colorado became the 38th state admitted to the Union on 1 August 1876, coinciding with the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence (hence the nickname “Centennial State”). By the late 1800s and early 1900s, contagious tuberculosis (also known as consumption, phthisis, and the White Plague) was ravaging large cities. Those seeking a cure headed West, where it was thought that fresh, dry air would provide the best treatment. Hospitals, sanitoriums, and convalescent and old-age homes sprang up throughout the state and existed until antibiotic treatments in the 1950s.

After gold, Colorado’s other natural resources (including silver, lead, coal, oil and even snow-capped ski slopes) have stimulated the local economy over the years. A variety of records document mining camps, railroad employees, business ventures, land acquisition, prison inmates, students and hospital patients. Many of these are housed within the Colorado State Archives.

Over time, a variety of ethnic groups including those with Mexican, Chinese, English, German, Irish, Scottish, Canadian and Jewish origins created communities and records follow their growth. The Sidney Heitman Germans
from Russia Collection at Colorado State University documents the Volga Germans’ early migration to northern Colorado in the collection’s extensive interviews.

Between 1942 and 1945, the US government brought another group to Colorado: more than 10,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated at the Granada Relocation Center (also known as Camp Amache). Located near the town of
Granada, the internment camp was one of 10 in the western United States built to confine Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent who lived in Washington, Oregon and California during World War II. Colorado’s name comes from the Spanish for “reddish colored,” referring either to red sandstone formations or the reddish-brown color of the Colorado River. It has the distinction of being the US state with the highest average elevation above sea level—Colorado’s highest town sits at 10,500 feet, and the capital of Denver is known as “The Mile High City.”

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The United States purchases the Louisiana Territory
Zebulon Pike explores what is now Colorado


Bent’s Fort becomes a stop along the Santa Fe Trail
The United States annexes the Republic of Texas, which extends up to modern Wyoming
Mexico cedes much of its northern territory to the United States


Spanish-speaking settlers found San Luis, the first permanent white settlement in Colorado
Gold is discovered near Pikes Peak, leading to an influx of US settlers
Colorado Territory is formed


Colorado becomes the 38th state
Broomfield becomes its own county, the last major change to Colorado’s county borders

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Historic Map

Colorado. By George Franklin Cram. Published By  Geo F. Cram. 1899. (David Rumsey Map Collection)

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Colorado Genealogy Records Online

Vital Records


Official statewide birth and death registration began in Colorado in 1907, but were not widely complied with until 1920. Some counties started recording vital events as early as 1876, although many are incomplete. Marriages—documented by the county clerk and recorder—were generally recorded earlier, with start dates varying by county. The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment holds records for births, stillbirths, and deaths from 1908 to present. (County-level offices hold earlier records, as well as all marriage records.) Privacy laws restrict access to vital records; only the person listed in the record, their immediate family, or legal guardians/representatives can order records by proving “direct and tangible interest.”

Currently, there are no complete online indexes to Colorado births, marriages or deaths. However, the Colorado State Archives Historical Records Index contains an assortment of vital records from across the state. The site specifies that the database doesn’t include all records held by the archives, and that many listed there aren’t available through the archives. As of this writing, the database is currently being migrated from one platform to another.


Various vital record indexes are available on FamilySearch, as well as on commercial subscription websites and MyHeritage. The Denver Public Library has a browsable marriage index (1858–1939). Many early marriages for the western part of the state are searchable online at no cost in the Western States Marriage Records Index.

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Census Records

Early Coloradans were first counted in the US federal census in 1860 prior to the establishment of Colorado Territory (1861) as part of Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico or Utah Territories. Federal enumeration of Colorado Territory itself began in 1870. You can find all federal censuses for free on FamilySearch, with the exception of the 1890 census (which has been lost). The US government conducted a special state census of Colorado in 1885. You can search it on FamilySearch, or MyHeritage. Annual federal American Indian censuses were recorded from 1885 to the 1940s. These indexes and images are on

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Land Records

Colorado is a public-land state, meaning the federal government granted or sold vacant land to settlers. (The United States agreed to recognize earlier Spanish and Mexican land grants.) Search the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office site for land patents, and order copies of tract books and land entry case files online from NARA’s regional facility in Denver. has an index to 40 years of Denver Land Office records.

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Naturalization Records

People immigrating to Colorado between 1861 and 1906 could file in county, district, or even criminal courts. Naturalization became primarily a federal responsibility in 1907, but many state district courts continued to record naturalizations. The Archives Search database includes naturalization records for many counties in Colorado, and has a collection of records through 1990.

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State Publications and Resources


The Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection includes more than 3.5 million digitized pages from 700-plus individual newspaper titles published in Colorado from 1859 to 2023. The Library of Congress’ free Chronicling America contains Colorado newspapers (the oldest of which dates to 1880), as do subscription websites such as, GenealogyBank, and NewspaperArchive. The Denver Public Library also holds several obituary indexes for Colorado titles, plus a statewide index of (non-Denver) obituaries from the late 20th century.


City, county and business directories can be found online and in library collections. The Steven H. Hart Research Center at the History Colorado Center has ( offline) directories, beginning i n 1 866. A variety of digitized versions are on subscription websites and MyHeritage. The Denver Public Library Digital Collections include assorted Denver directories from 1873 to 1937, which are browsable.

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Colorado Genealogy Resources


Cyndi’s List: Colorado

Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection

Cyndi’s List: Colorado

Denver Public Library Research Guides

FamilySearch Research Wiki: Colorado Genealogy

History Colorado Encyclopedia

Linkpendium: Colorado


A Colorado History, 10th edition by Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Benson and Duane A. Smith (WestWinds Press)

Colorado’s Historical Assets: A Research Guide for Genealogists, Local Historians and History Buffs by Dina C. Carson (Iron Gate Publishing)

Historical Atlas of Colorado by Thomas J. Noel, Paul F. Mahoney and Richard E. Stevens (University of Oklahoma Press)


Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies

Colorado Genealogical Society

Colorado Historical Society

Colorado Society of Hispanic Genealogy

Colorado State Archives

Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy

Jewish Genealogical Society of Colorado

National Archives at Denver

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