Nebraska History and Research Overview

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The United States acquired the area that’s now Nebraska with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. American Indians from the Cheyenne, Dakota, Omaha, Oto, Pawnee and Ponca tribes inhabited the plains of the future state. Fort Atkinson, a military outpost, was established in 1819. Fur traders and missionaries moved into the area during the ensuing decades. Emigrants following the Oregon and Mormon Trails along the Platte River traversed the area’s plains.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 gave those regions territorial status. Nebraska territory included the state’s present boundaries as well as Montana and parts of Wyoming, Colorado and the Dakotas. Omaha was the territorial capital.

The promise of free land and the emergence of railroads encouraged immigrants and settlers from the eastern United States to move to Nebraska. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres to families who farmed and lived on the land for five years. Settlers were mostly European immigrants, Civil War veterans and some African-Americans. Nebraska became the 37th state in 1867.


Indian conflicts and harsh living conditions caused many settlers to move on, but others arrived to take their place. By 1900, half of the state’s population was foreign-born.

Agriculture and cattle ranching became mainstays of the state’s economy. During World Wars I and II, much of the grain produced in the United States came from Nebraska.

(click to enlarge)
Nebraska state map with county outlines



  • The Nebraska State Historical Society became the official repository of state and local public records in 1905. It also serves as the state archives. Holdings cover records from 1854 to the present, including all census records.
  • Newspapers from the territorial period to the present are on microfilm at the Nebraska Historical Society. These can help fill in the gaps when vital records do not exist.
  • County clerks’ offices hold a variety of helpful documents, including motor vehicle registrations, school registers, probate files, wills and guardianships.


  • Federal census: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • State and territorial censuses: 1854, 1855, 1856, 1885
  • Special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows: 1890


  • Compendium of History, Reminiscence and Biography of Nebraska (W.C. Cox Co., 1974)
  • Early Pioneers of Nebraska by Beth Haring (Nebraska State Genealogical Society, ca. 1980)
  • Germans and German-Russians in Nebraska by Janet Warkentin Rife (Nebraska Curriculum Development Center, University of Nebraska — Lincoln, 1980)
  • A Guide to the Manuscript Division of the State Archives, Nebraska State Historical Society (Nebraska State Historical Society, 1974)
  • A Guide to the Newspaper Collection of the State Archives (Nebraska State Historical Society, 1969)
  • Historical Resources for Genealogists in the Nebraska State Historical Society (Nebraska State Historical Society, 1986)
  • History of the Catholic Church in Nebraska by Henry Weber Casper (Catholic Life Publications, 1960-1966)
  • A History of Czechs (Bohemians) in Nebraska by Rose Rosicky (Unigraphic, Inc., 1977)
  • History of Nebraska by James C. Olson: (University of Nebraska Press, 1966)
  • Illustrated History of Nebraska by J. Sterling Morton, et al. (Jacob North & Co., ca. 1905-1913)
  • The Nebraska Conference of the Augustana Synod by Charles Frederick Sandahl (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1978)
  • Nebraska, A Guide to Genealogical Research by Georgene Morris Sones (Nebraska State Genealogical Society, 1984)
  • Nebraska, Kansas Czech Settlers by Margie Sobotka (Whipporwill, ca. 1980)
  • Nebraska: the Land and the People by Addison Erwin Sheldon (Lewis Publishing Co., 1931)
  • Nebraska Local History and Genealogy Reference Guide: A Bibliography of County Research Materials in Selected Repositories by Sylvia Nimmo and Mary Cutler (S. Nimmo, 1987)
  • Nebraska Newspaper Abstracts: A Computer Index to Names and Events (Nebraska State Genealogical Society, 1983)
  • Nebraska: Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at
  • Nebraskana, Biographical Sketches of Nebraska Men and Women of Achievement Who Have Been Awarded Life Membership in the Nebraskana Society edited by Sara Mullin Baldwin and Robert Morton Baldwin (The Baldwin Company, 1932)
  • Preliminary Edition of Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collections in the United States-Nebraska prepared by the Nebraska Historical Records Survey Project (Nebraska Historical Records Survey Project, 1940)
  • Sittler Index of Surnames by Melvin Sittler (Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society, 1983-1984,1993)

Return to the main Nebraska page

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