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Oregon History and Research Overview

By Family Tree Editors Premium


Spanish mariners, Sir Francis Drake, and, two centuries later, Captain James Cook and Russian fur traders all had eyes for Oregon in its earliest history. The arrival of the first American, Robert Gray, in 1792 set off a 54-year tussle with the British over Oregon. Lewis and Clark came in 1805, soon followed by agents of John Jacob Astor’s fur company, who in 1811 founded Astoria, the first permanent American settlement on the Pacific Coast. Dr. John McLoughlin of the Hudson’s Bay Company established Willamette Falls, later renamed Oregon City, in 1829. The same year, missionaries began to encourage farmers from the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River valleys to move to Oregon. That trickle became a flood with the wagon trains of the Oregon Trail starting in 1842: 53,000 newcomers arrived between 1840 and 1860.

The boundary disputes with the British were finally settled in 1846. Oregon Territory was established in 1848, partly in response to the massacre of settlers by Indians. The territory originally included everything west of the Rockies and north of the 42nd parallel, but a separate Washington Territory was carved out in 1853. Oregon became a state in 1859.

Gold strikes, railroads, farming and ranching, and then logging drove subsequent waves of settlement. Chinese came to work the mines and the railroads. In the 1870s, Scandinavians began to arrive, with many Finns settling in Astoria. Swiss immigrants to Tillamook began the state’s cheese industry. Basques settled in southeast Oregon in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

By 1880, Indian uprisings had been quelled and the state’s tribes — including the Chinookan, Shahaptian, Athapascan, Molala, Klamath, Umpqua, Kalapooian, Salishan, Kusan, Yakonan, Modoc and Northern Paiutes — were exiled to reservations in Oregon, Washington, and as far away as Oklahoma. If you have Native American roots in Oregon, seek records of Indian agencies and the Chemawa Indian School.

(click to enlarge)
Oregon state map with county outlines


  • Many Oregon records can only be found at the county level, so it’s crucial to pinpoint where your ancestors lived in order to find the documents you need.
  • Search the Oregon Death Index, part of subscription site, and the Oregon State Archives’ Historical Records Index
  • The Oregon State Archives in Salem is the best research repository in the state, but you’ll also want to search the Genealogical Forum of Oregon collection.


  • Federal census: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Federal mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
  • Special census of Civil War Union Veterans and Widows: 1890
  • State/territorial census: 1842-1846 (a few counties), 1849 (males over age 21), 1850- 1859 (various counties), 1865 (Benton, Columbia, Marion, Umatilla counties), 1870 and 1875 (Umatilla county), 1885 (Linn and Umatilla counties), 1895 (Linn, Morrow, Multnomah, Marion counties), 1905 (Baker, Lane, Linn, Marion counties)


  • Apart and Together: Mennonites in Oregon and Neighboring States, 1876-1976 by Hope Kauffman Lind (Herald Press, 1990)
  • Baptist Annals of Oregon, 1844-1900, 2 vols., by Charles Hiram Mattoon (Telephone Register Publishing Co., 1913)
  • Capitol Names: Individuals Woven Into Oregon’s History by Philip Cogswell (Oregon Historical Society, 1977)
  • Capitol’s Who’s Who For Oregon, 1936-1944, 2 vols., (Capitol Publishing Co., 1936-1942)
  • Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest: Grand Ronde Register I (1860-1885), Grand Ronde Register II (1886-1898): St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, Grand Ronder, Oregon; St. Patrick’s Parish, Muddy Valley, Oregon by Harriet Duncan Munnick (Binford & Mort, 1987)
  • Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest: Missions of St. Ann and St. Rose of the Cayuse, 1847-1888; Walla Walla and Frenchtown, 1858-1872, Frenchtown, 1872-1888 by Harriet Duncan Munnick (Binford & Mort, 1989)
  • The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811-1912, 4 vols., by Joseph Gaston (S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912)
  • Christians on the Oregon Trail: Churches of Christ and Christian Churches in Early Oregon, 1842-1882 by Jerry Rushford (College Press Publishing Co., 1997)
  • Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters From the Western Trails, 1840-1890, 11 vols., by Kenneth L. Holmes (Arthur H. Clark Co., 1983-1991)
  • Directory of Churches and Religious Organizations, State of Oregon (Historical Records Survey, 1940)
  • Give All to Oregon: Missionary Pioneers of the Far West by Cecil Pearl Dryden (Hastings House, 1968)
  • Guide to Depositories of Manuscript Collections in the United States: Oregon-Washington (Oregon Historical Records Survey, 1940)
  • Guide to Genealogical Sources by Connie Miller Lenzen (Genealogical Forum of Oregon, 1994)
  • Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Oregon Historical Society (Oregon Historical Records Survey, 1940)
  • A Guide to the State of Jefferson: A Union List of Historical Materials Relating to Northern California and Southern Oregon From the Southern Oregon Library Federation (filmed by the Oregon Historical Society, ca. 1970)
  • History of the Columbia River Valley From the Dalles to the Sea, 3 vols., by Fred Lockley (S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1928)
  • History of Oregon, 2 vols., by Hubert Howe Bancroft (The History Co., 1886-1888)
  • History of Oregon, 3 vols., by Charles Henry Carey (Pioneer History Publishing Co., 1922)
  • History of Oregon: The Growth of an American State by Horace Sumner Lyman (North Pacific Publishing Society, 1903)
  • A History of Oregon Methodism by Thomas D. Yarnes (Oregon Methodist Conference Historical Society, 1957)
  • A History of the Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, and Other Trails by Jacob Ray Gregg (Binfords & Mort, ca. 1955)
  • History of the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington, 2 vols., by Elwood Evans (North Pacific History Co., 1889)
  • An Illustrated History of Central Oregon: Embracing Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam, Wheeler, Crook, Lake, and Klamath Counties by F.A. Shaver, Arthur P. Rose, R.F. Steele, and A.E. Adams (Western Historical Publishing Co., 1905)
  • An Illustrated History of the State of Oregon by Harvey K. Hines (Lewis Publishing Co., 1893)
  • Index to Oregon Newspaper Clippings, 1895-1952 by Alice Stansfield Herzberg (Rogue Valley Genealogical Society, 1995)
  • Indians of Oregon Bibliography, 1966-1983 in Oregon State Library by Betty Book (Genealogical Council of Oregon, 1991)
  • The Mantle of Elias: The Story of Fathers Blanchet and Demers in Early Oregon by M. Leona Nichols (Binfords & Mort, 1941)
  • Oregon Biography Index edited by Patricia Brandt and Nancy Guilford (Oregon State University, 1976)
  • Oregon: Comprising a Brief History and Full Description of the Territories of Oregon and Washington: Together With Remarks Upon the Social Position, Productions, Resources and Prospects of the Country a Dissertation Upon the Climate, and a Full Description of the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Slope by A.N. Armstrong (Library of Congress, 1989)
  • Oregon History and Early Literature: A Pictorial Narrative of the Pacific Northwest by John B. Horner (J.K. Gill Co., 1931)
  • Oregon Pioneers by the Oregon Genealogical Society (Oregon Historical Society, ca. 1980)
  • Oregon Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at
  • Oregon Trail: Last of the Pioneers by Rick Steber (Bonanza Publishing, 1993)
  • Paths to the Northwest: A Jesuit History of the Oregon Province by Wilfred P. Schoenberg (Loyola University Press, 1982)
  • Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley, Oregon (Chapman Publishing Co., 1903)
  • Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon: (Chapman Publishing Co., 1904)
  • Presbyterianism in Southern Oregon: A History of the Presbytery of Southwest Oregon and Its Forebears, 1851-1949 by Lawrence H. Mitchelmore (L.H. Mitchelmore, 1949)
  • Research in Oregon by Connie Miller Lenzen (National Genealogical Society, 1992)
  • Rolls of Certain Indian Tribes in Oregon and Washington by Charles E. McChesney (Ye Galleon Press, 1969)
  • Saints to the Columbia: A History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Oregon and Southwestern Washington, 1850-1990 by Louis G. Gassawy Kullberg (L-K Publications, 1991)
  • The Story of Oregon: A History With Portraits and Biographies, 2 vols., by Julian Hawthorne (American Historical Publishing Co., 1892)
  • Terrible Trail: The Meek Cutoff, 1845 by Keith Clark (Caxton Printers, 1966)
  • These Valiant Women: History of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, 1886-1986 by Wilfred P. Schoenberg (Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, 1986)
  • Who’s Who for Idaho, Combined With Who’s Who for Oregon and Who’s Who for the Western States (Capitol Publishing Co., 1970)

Return to the main Oregon 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.

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