Idaho History and Research Overview

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Though native peoples came to Idaho as long as 14,000 years ago, it wasn’t until after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that Europeans and Americans to explored the area, beginning with Lewis and Clark in 1805. Fur traders dominated the early 19th century, establishing Fort Henry — the first American fur-trading post west of the Rockies — in 1810. Henry H. Spalding planted Idaho’s first potatoes in 1836, though agriculture wouldn’t be the leading industry until after 1900.

Pioneers began crossing Idaho on the Oregon Trail in 1843 and then, with the 1849 gold rush, on the California Trail. After Idaho’s mineral riches were discovered in 1860, people started coming to stay. Mining took over as the largest industry and in 1863, Idaho became a territory. The Idaho Territory included all of today’s Montana and most of Wyoming.

Jobs in mines drew waves of immigrants — first Chinese, then Welsh and Eastern Europeans. After the Civil War, Idaho also attracted many defeated Confederates. Subsequent migrations brought Scandinavians, Japanese and Basques. They formed a sometimes-uneasy melting pot with the Mormon settlers who’d dominated eastern Idaho since the state’s first permanent settlement at Franklin in 1860.

Native tribes — including the Shoshone, Snake, Nez Perce, Bannock and Sheepeater — resisted white settlement, sparking a series of wars from 1863 to 1879. Defeated, the tribes were eventually relocated to reservations. If you have native roots here, records of Idaho’s various Indian agencies and schools are available at the state historical society and the National Archives’ Pacific-Alaska regional facility in Seattle, as well as on Family History Library (FHL) microfilm.

Idaho had an unusually long road to statehood, finally joining the union in 1890. Its post-statehood settlement was fueled in part by silver mining — the Coeur d’Alene mining district, first tapped in 1884, became the nation’s richest source of silver — and by timber, with the United States’ largest sawmill opening in Potlatch in 1906. Today Idaho is again enjoying a population boom. A new rush of migration from disenchanted Californians and others attracted to its low-key lifestyle and natural beauty has made Idaho one of the fastest-growing states.

(click to enlarge)
Idaho state map with county outlines


  • In Idaho, it’s best to look for information in the county where the event occurred — contact county clerks and read through old newspapers.
  • The Western States Historical Marriage Record Index includes nearly all recorded pre-1900 Idaho marriages.
  • The Idaho Death Index, which covers the years 1911-1951, can be found free on the Idaho GenWeb site The actual death records are on microfilm at the Idaho State Historical Library and Archives (1911 through 1937) or can be ordered from the Idaho Vital Records Office in Boise.
  • Most Idaho land records are kept by the National Archives in Seattle and by the Bureau of Land Management in Boise


  • Federal census: 1850 (Oregon Territory), 1860 (Washington Territory), 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1870, 1880


  • The Basques in Idaho by Pat Bieter (Idaho State Historical Society, ca. 1970)
  • Blackrobes Journey, 1840-1990 compiled by Joan Drexler, et al. (Holy Rosary Parish, Historical Committee, ca. 1990)
  • The Brethren Along the Snake River: A History of the Church of the Brethren in Idaho and Western Montana by Roger E. Sappington (Brethren Press, 1966)
  • Citizens of North Idaho, 2 vols., by Barbera V. Powell (B.V. Powell, ca. 1986-)
  • Cumulative Baptism Index to the Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest indexed by Sharon E. Osborn-Ryan (Oregon Heritage Press, ca. 1999)
  • Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations of Idaho prepared by the Idaho Historical Records Survey (Historical Records Survey, 1940)
  • Directory of Oral History Resources in Idaho compiled and edited by Madeline Buckendorf and Elizabeth P. Jacox (Idaho Oral History Center, Idaho State Historical Society, 1982)
  • Discovering Idaho, a History by Dwight William Jensen (Caxton Printers, 1977)
  • Early Methodism in Idaho compiled by Lila Hill, edited by John and Charlotte Hook (United Methodist Church, Oregon-Idaho Conference, Commission on Archives and History, 1996)
  • Education in the Upper Snake River Valley: the Public Schools, 1880-1950 by Harold S. Forbush (H.S. Forbush, Ricks College Press, ca. 1992)
  • The First One Hundred Years: Cassia-Oakley Idaho Stake, 1887-1987 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cassia and Cassia-Oakley Stakes (Burley Reminder, 1987)
  • Footprints Through Idaho: a Centennial Tribute to the Pioneer by their Descendents, 3 vols., (Idaho Genealogical Society, 1989)
  • Ghost Towns of Idaho by Donald C. Miller (Pruett Publishing Co., ca. 1976)
  • The Gold Seekers: a 200 Year History of Mining in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Lower British Columbia by Pauline Battien (P. Battien, ca. 1989)
  • Guide to the Idaho Folklore Archives by Elaine J. Lawless (Idaho Folklife Center, Idaho State Historical Society, ca. 1983)
  • A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest, 1743-1983 by Wilfred P. Schoenberg (Pastoral Press, ca. 1987)
  • History of Idaho, 2 vols., by Leonard J. Arrington (University of Idaho Press, 1994)
  • History of Idaho, 3 vols., by Merrill D. Beal and Merle W. Wells (Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1959)
  • The History of Idaho by John Hailey (Press of Syms-York Co., 1910)
  • History of Idaho, the Gem of the Mountains, 4 vols., by James Henry Hawley (The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1920)
  • History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho by Juanita Brooks (Western Epics, 1973)
  • History of Idaho: a Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests, 3 vols., by Hiram T. French (Lewis Publishing Co., 1914)
  • A History of Magic Valley by Larry Quinn (Publishing West Associates, 1996)
  • A History of Southeastern Idaho: an Intimate Narrative of Peaceful Conquest by Empire Builders by M.D. Beal (The Caxton Printers, 1942)
  • Idaho 100: Stories from Idaho Century Citizens by John Ohara Kirk (Falcon Press, ca. 1989)
  • The Idaho Encyclopedia compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (Caxton Printers, 1938)
  • Idaho Ethnic Heritage, 3 vols., by Laurie Mercier and Carole Simon-Smolinski (Idaho Centennial Commission and Idaho State Historical Society, 1990)
  • Idaho Folk Life: Homesteads to Headstones edited by Louie W. Attebery, contributions by Brian Attebery, et al. (Idaho State Historical Society, ca. 1985)
  • Idaho History: a Bibliography by Richard W. Etulain and Merwin Swanson (Idaho State University Press, ca. 1975)
  • Idaho Local History: a Bibliography with a Checklist of Library Holdings edited by Milo G. Nelson and Charles A. Webbert (University Press of Idaho, 1976)
  • Idaho; the Place and its People; a History of the Gem State from Prehistoric to Present Days, 3 vols., by Byron Defenbach (The American Historical Society, Inc., 1933)
  • Idaho Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (online at
  • Idaho Surname Index compiled by Judy Schmick (Idaho Genealogical Society, 1989)
  • Idaho Women in History: Big and Little Biographies and Other Gender Stories by Betty Penson-Ward (Legendary Publishing Co., ca. 1991)
  • An Illustrated History of North Idaho, Embracing Nez Perces, Idaho, Latah, Kootenai and Shoshone Counties State of Idaho (Western Publishing Company, 1903)
  • An Illustrated History of the State of Idaho, 4 vols., (Lewis Publishing Co., 1899)
  • Indian Peoples of Idaho, 2nd edition (Boise State University Press, 1979)
  • Indian Wars of Idaho by R. Ross Arnold (The Caxton Printers, 1932)
  • Indians of Idaho by Deward E. Walker Jr. (University Press of Idaho, ca. 1978)
  • Lineages of the Members, Past and Present, 1909 through 1961, Sons of the American Revolution, Idaho Society by John Robert Gobble (J.R. Gobble, ca. 1962)
  • Lives of the Saints in Southeast Idaho: an Introduction to Mormon Pioneer Life Story Writing by Susan Hendricks Swetnam (Idaho State Historical Society, ca. 1991)
  • Methodism in the Northwest by Erle Howell, edited by Chapin D. Foster (Parthenon Press, Printers, 1966)
  • The Mining Industry in Idaho: a Short Bibliography of Sources on Mines and Mining in the Idaho State Historical Society Library and Archives (Idaho State Historical Society, 1992)
  • Mormons and their Neighbors: an Index to Over 75,000 Biographical Sketches from 1820 to the Present, 2 vols., compiled by Marvin E. Wiggins (Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, ca. 1984)
  • Newspapers in the Idaho Historical Society Microfilm Collection by the Idaho State Historical Society (Idaho State Historical Society ca. 1999)
  • Panhandle Personalities, Biographies from the Idaho Panhandle compiled by Claude Simpson and Catherine Simpson (University Press of Idaho, ca. 1984)
  • Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise, Catholic Chancery Records of Idaho, Master Index, 26 vols. (Idaho Genealogical Society, ca. 1980)
  • Sketches of the Inter-mountain States: Together with Biographies of Many Prominent and Progressive Citizens who have Helped in the Development and History-making of this Marvelous Region: 1847-1909: Utah, Idaho, Nevada (Salt Lake Tribune, 1909)
  • Steamboats in the Timber by Ruby El Hult (Caxton Printers, 1952)
  • Thousands of Idaho Surnames: Abstracted from Rejected Federal Land Applications, 5 vols., (Genealogical Forum of Portland, Oregon, 1980-1987)
  • Zest for Living: Southern Idaho Senior Profiles by Lorayne Orton Smith (Taylor Publishing, ca. 1991)

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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.