Major Repositories for Oregon Research

By Connie Lenzen, CGSM

Many Oregon libraries, archives, and museums offer valuable genealogical holdings. The State Archives in Salem houses records of the state and its predecessors. The Oregon State Library should be consulted also on any trip to Salem. Of prime importance are the Oregon Historical Society Library, the Genealogical Forum Library, and the Multnomah County Library — all in Portland — and the Knight Library at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Fur Trappers Early Settlement Wagon Trains Early Government
Oregon State Archives Oregon State Library Oregon Historical Society Library Genealogical Forum Library
Genealogical Forum Library U of O Knight Library Census Records Church & Cemetery Records
Court Records Immigration Records Indian Records Land Records
Military Naturalization Records Newspapers Tax Records
Vital Records    


The Oregon State Archives is in downtown Salem, 800 Summer Street NE, Salem, OR 97310. Web site: The Archives Division, established in 1947, is the keeper of Oregon government records. The oldest documents at the archive sare records of the provisional and territorial governments and the Oregon Constitution. More than twenty-five thousand cubic feet of records includes provisional and territorial government records; military rosters and files; naturalization, probate, and trial-court proceedings; vital registrations; prison files; and tax rolls. An index to over 500,000 names found in documents is on the Archives' Genealogical Information Locator, online at

The Archives publishes guides to its holdings in the following categories: census, military, naturalization, probate, and vital records.

A guide to county-level documents held by the archives and in the county courthouses is on the web site.

Among many useful collections at the state archives, researchers will find the following:

Biographical Card File. This indexes many of the more-useful record groups — including provisional and territorial censuses, some marriage indexes, state supreme-court cases, donation land claims, and miscellaneous provisional records.
Censuses. This collection includes the original provisional, territorial, and state-government enumerations of Oregon, some of which have been microfilmed and are available for purchase. It also includes filmed copies of all extant population schedules of the Oregon decennial federal censuses, as well as those conducted under the auspices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A listing of the records is online.
Provisional and Territorial Government Records. Dating prior to 1859, these include a variety of materials of genealogical value — principally military, probate, land, and marriage records. They cover both county-level and provisional-and territorial-level resources, including those of counties cut away to create Washington Territory in 1853. The archives staff has compiled and printed a Guide to Oregon Provisional and Territorial Government Records. This is online. Most of the documents have been microfilmed in an eighty-reel set that is available for public purchase.
Military Records. This collection, dating back to 1847, offers a wealth of Oregon-related military records. Significant among them are indexes and papers of the Indian Wars and World War I. An annotated guide to the records itemizes the available materials and is online.
Vital Records. The archives holds a copy of the microfilmed Oregon Vital Records Indexes, covering marriages for the periods 1906-24, 1946-60 and 1966-99; death registrations from 1903 to 1999; and divorce registrations for 1956-60 and 1966-99. Oregon Death Certificates that are older than 50-years are held by the Archives. An indexing project for delayed birth certificates is underway. A complete list of the holdings is online.

OREGON STATE LIBRARY Situated at 250 Winter Street NE Salem, Oregon 97301-3950). This facility served since 1848 as a major repository of historical and genealogical material on Oregon. The genealogical collection was closed in 2015, and many of the books were moved to the Salem Public Library.


Located at 1200 Southwest Park Avenue in Portland (zip 97205), this is the largest repository of Oregon historical material in the state. It offers more than 32,000 books, 25,000 maps, 12,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 3,000 serials titles, 5,000 vertical files, 16,000 reels of newspaper microfilm, 8.5 million feet of film and videotape, 10,000 oral history tapes, and more than 2.5 million photographs. Its publication, the Oregon Historical Quarterly, has a three-volume comprehensive index available through the society's bookstore. [1] The online book collection catalog is available for researchers.

Among the major offerings of the library are the following:

Biography Card File. This helpful finding aid indexes pioneers and provides brief biographical information. Among the materials covered are the Indian-Wars Pension Papers, a scrapbook collection of newspaper clippings, and vital-statistics cards for many events prior to 1900 that were mentioned in Oregon newspapers.
DAR Collection. These collected genealogical materials of the Oregon Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, include records of pioneers, cemeteries, and churches as well as Bibles, genealogies, probate extracts, mortuary lists, and vital statistics. The Oregon Historical Society has microfilmed most of the collection, and it is available through the Family History Library system of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Historical Society Library's staff prepared a name index (The DAR Index) to many of the volumes; and a guide to the DAR microfilm collection is available to those who personally visit the library.
Microfilm Collection. Over sixteen thousand rolls of this collection constitute the second-largest newspaper file in the state. Census holdings include all available federal population schedules for the state and all provisional and territorial censuses; an index to pre-statehood enumerations is interfiled in the manuscript-room card file. Various churches also have submitted records and histories for filming.
Manuscript Collection. Here the researcher will find more than twelve thousand linear feet of rare books, wagon-train diaries, correspondence, letter books, speeches, business records, church registers, etc. — together with a card catalog by name and subject. A small percentage of the collection is included in the online catalog. Published guides exist, [2] and selected items are covered in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). [3] For access to the online NUCMC catalog, go to
Map Collection. Over twenty-five thousand maps in the library focus on Western exploration; many treat Oregon exclusively. Other useful map series include the Metsker Atlases that show land ownership since 1928 and the Sanborn Insurance Company maps that depict buildings in various Oregon cities since 1884.
The Overland Journeys Card Index. This portion of the society's card catalog refers researchers to published materials and manuscripts owned by the society — exclusive of the wagon-train diaries. Among the collections covered by this card index are the Oregon Pioneer Association records (bound volumes), which give much information on the early pioneers.
Pioneer Card File. A collection of 5 x 8 cards. It consists mainly of information on people who were members of the Oregon Pioneer Association.
Index of County Historical Publications. Card index to a number of local historical journals.
Photograph Collection. The extensive collection of over two million photographs are organized. A large card catalog and several finding aids, all to be used onsite, aid the researcher.



Located in Portland (2505 S.E. 11th Ave, Suite B-18. The library of this society offers over thirty thousand volumes and micropublications, with a strong emphasis upon Oregon. The catalog is online at the society's web site., For a small fee, the society's Research Committee will photocopy materials in the collection. Major holdings include the following:

Censuses and Census Indexes. The population schedules of all available federal censuses for Oregon are provided here for researchers, as well as all Oregon printed censuses and census indexes. The Forum indexed the 1910 Oregon census, and a copy of the soundex is in the holdings. For a complete list of Oregon census holdings, go to the society's web site. and follow the links under "Research Guides."
Oregon Pioneer Card File. Pre-1900 settlers are the subject of this file, which offers extracts from Oregon's donation land claims, as well as vital and family information filled out by descendants of these pioneers. An index to the card file is at
Oregon Donation Land Claim Records. The library has a set of the Oregon Donation Land Claim case files on microfilm. The Oregon Bureau of Land Management has donated to the library a microfilm copy of all Oregon tract books and plat maps and a microfiche set of field-survey notes. The collection is valuable not only for local historians who wish to identify the first owners of certain tracts of land but also for biographers documenting the activities of particular landowners. An index to the claim files is at
Manuscript Collection. One set of material in this collection is of particular value: the Spencer Leonard Civil War File. This is a card index (with biographical and vital information) to Civil War veterans who lived in Oregon. An index to the collection is at



Founded in 1864, this Portland library (located at 801 Southwest Tenth Avenue; zip 97205) offers a comprehensive genealogical collection. Most of the volumes are on the third floor of the library. However, the Oregon books are in the stack area. In order to access them, they must be located in the catalog. Then, take the "call number" to the stack call desk on the third floor. The catalog is online at

The Library's "Newspaper Index" provides name and subject access to Portland's Oregonian, Oregon Journal, Telegram, and Willamette Week, as well as to some vital records and biographies published in county and state histories. The index covering the years up to 1984 is in paper form and is in a card index catalog on the third floor. Many Oregon libraries have a microfiche set of the index.

The facility also holds, on microfilm, the Oregon death indexes, the Portland death and birth indexes to 1917, the Multnomah County marriage indexes, and divorces from 1971 to the present.

U of O KNIGHT LIBRARY Founded in 1883 on the campus of the University of Oregon at Eugene (zip 97403).

A genealogy web page,, explains the Oregon Collection. Items in the collection are in the card catalog, online at

Knight offers the most-complete body of filmed newspapers within the state. Most can be obtained through interlibrary loan. A list of newspapers is online, at

The Special Collection department offers an extensive array of diaries, correspondence, personal papers, business records, and Oregon WPA materials. Researchers who plan to use these records should make arrangements prior to arrival. A guide to the manuscript holdings can be obtained through the university's press. [4] Many of the manuscript materials are listed in the Library's catalog, online at and on the special collections web site., online at

[1] Joseph Baumgartner, comp. Oregon Historical Quarterly Index, 1940-1960, volumes XLI-LXI (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1967); Jean Brownell, comp. Oregon Historical Quarterly Index, 1961-1980, volumes 62 through 81. (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990). Zoe Schubert et al., comps., Oregon Historical Quarterly Index, volumes I through 40, 1900-1939 (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1960).

[2] Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Oregon Historical Society (Portland: WPA — Oregon Historical Records Survey, 1940); and Oregon Historical Society Manuscripts Collection, Oregon Historical Society Research and Bibliography Series, no. 1 (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1971).

[3] Library of Congress, National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (Washington, D. C., Library of Congress, 1959-).

[4] Martin Schmitt, Catalogue of Manuscripts in the University of Oregon Library (Eugene: University of Oregon Books, 1971).


© 2002-2016

Connie Lenzen, CGSM

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