By Nancy Lasater
Books & More
The Grant Foreman Collection at the Muskogee Public Library contains many opportunities for conducting family history research in most of the 50 United States and several other countries. However, many patrons are looking for connections of their ancestors to Oklahoma and Indian Territory before statehood in 1907.
The state’s collection of birth and death records began in 1908, but it took nearly two decades before it became consistent. Most official records for Oklahoma genealogy will go back at least that far, and some will go farther into the 1800s depending on the area. Each year more information is being added through the efforts of volunteers who make more records available to the public through transcription, indexing and other recovery methods.
There are restrictions on acquiring copies of Oklahoma records due to privacy issues, but you can get the birth certificate for a deceased person regardless of what your relationship is to them. On the application you must provide proof that they are deceased. Death records are accessible by anyone. You can order copies by obtaining the proper forms from the website for the Vital Statistics office, which is part of the state Department of Health.
In addition to the Grant Foreman Collection at the Muskogee Public Library and their holdings of microfilm containing similar information, other historical sources include: Oklahoma State Archives where their record holdings include Civil War documents, homestead registers, judicial documents, historical maps, land and surveyor’s records, and more; Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) where you will find other types of documentation for Oklahoma genealogy, such as census records, Dawes rolls (Native American registrations), obituary indexes, archived newspapers, school records, land documents and many other types of county-level government documents.
Indian Territory research often starts with family stories of American Indian ancestry. My own research into my Cherokee heritage began with the story “Great-great-grandmother was a Cherokee Princess named Morning Star.” The being a Cherokee part was true however follow-up research indicates the Cherokee didn’t actually have princesses, but such stories may hold a grain of truth. Perhaps the families that handed down this tale did have an Native American somewhere on the family tree.
No single record will give you a complete history of your American Indian ancestors, more particularly in Indian Territory. You must begin with a family ancestry chart and with basic records, such as census and vital records, previously mentioned and work methodically backward from yourself, one generation at a time. When you find an ancestor with a likely connection to an Indian tribe, begin to focus on that tribe’s history and records. It won’t be an easy search as many American Indians and their descendants tried to hide their heritage, however if you are persistent and work back in time, you’ll be less likely to miss critical clues that link you to the American Indian ancestor.
The staff in the Local History and Genealogy Department at the Muskogee Public Library are always ready to help you research your ancestors with resources about the State of Oklahoma and the pre-statehood area known as Indian Territory.
Nancy Lasater is a library assistant in the Local History and Genealogy Department of the Muskogee Public Library. Reach her at (918) 682-6657, Ext. 257.