By Nancy Calhoun
Muskogee Public Library
Sometimes genealogical research in Oklahoma can be a “tough row to hoe,” but there are some treasures that can aid research that might not be readily known to a new researcher or to an outsider attempting to do Oklahoma research.
One of the often overlooked gems is the Oklahoma Confederate Civil War Pension Applications from the Oklahoma State Archives. Confederate Civil War Pensions were given by the state governments, not the federal as is the case for those who served in the Union Army during the conflict. The pensions were applied for in the state where the veterans lived, not where he served.
Therefore, many of the pensions applied for in Oklahoma were for service in other states, although there are some for those who served in the Indian forces. Not only the veterans, but their widows were also eligible to apply. These can provide a wealth of information. In addition to military service history, they may include spouse and date and place of marriage, death date, children, places of residence, and other items relished by genealogists.
An index to the applications is available on the State of Oklahoma Archives site. The Oklahoma Genealogical Society has also published an index. These are on sale through this organization and a copy is available in the Genealogy and Local History Department.
The library also has the applications on microfilm so the researcher and read them and make copies at the library.
The Indian Pioneer History Collection Papers during the WPA era are also a valuable source of information about early day Oklahoma. If a researcher is really lucky, there’s an interview with a relative. But even if no relative's interview is available, they are still valuable because there can be information in someone else’s interview about a place, an incident or an individual.
The originals are available at the University of Oklahoma and at the Oklahoma Historical Society's Research Center. Each has its own index and they differ, so it is sometimes beneficial to check both. The Genealogy and Local History Department has an index and the interviews available on microfilm. These can also be read online through Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma.
For those who have heritage which includes one of the Five Tribes: Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw and Chickasaw, the Dawes Roll records are a rich source of family information. Many use these records when attempting to find a blood line and to apply to a tribe.
However, these are often used by those who are established members of tribes. They can help trace the family back before 1896 and establish how family members were related, where they lived, give death information, and even provide documents of birth and marriages. It's exciting to find a birth affidavit early in the century when official Oklahoma records don't begin until statehood and don't become common place until after the 1930s.
An index is available on a free online site, Access Genealogy. The Library has both the Dawes Census Cards and the packets which contain interviews on microfilm. These are also now available on one of the library's Web sites, Footnote which provides digital images of historic documents.
People came from all over the United States and even other countries to attempt to get a homestead in what is generally western Oklahoma. Most famous is the 1889 run, but other means were used to decide who got to homestead in other areas. All of these generated documents.
The Oklahoma Historical Society Research Library has tract records available on microfilm, but these are extremely time consuming and tedious if the researcher doesn't know the exact legal description of the homestead. A dedicated volunteer has created an index available in book form at the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Library. The Oklahoma Genealogical Society also offers it for sale in CD format. The Genealogy and Local History Department recently added the CD to its collection.
If the county is known, the Southwest Oklahoma Genealogical Society also has an index by county and does lookups in the tract records for a very reasonable fee. Once the researcher has the tract record, copies of original applications are available from the National Archives. Some are available online, primarily in the Oklahoma panhandle, from the Bureau of Land Management.
1890 O.T. Census
Genealogists constantly bemoan the loss of the 1890 U.S. Census. However, the 1890 Census for Oklahoma Territory was not destroyed because it was not in Washington, D.C. It is located at the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center in Oklahoma City.
It is available online through Ancestry. A better version of it was recently made from the Oklahoma originals and it was transcribed by volunteers. It is available on CD through the research library for a fee. Plans are to add it to the library's collection.
This was a very detailed census. One of the questions pertained to those who served in the Union Army during the Civil War and information includes what unit they served in and from what state. It also asked how long the person had resided in “The Territory.” The longest period listed was 18 months in the Guthrie Area which was opened April 22, 1889. Although this covers a limited area of what became Oklahoma, many people tried their luck only to return to where they came from or to move on to the next opportunity.
Oklahoma has a unique and varied history. The sources available for researching its early residents reflect this.