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Finding an Ancestor in the Dakota Territory in 1885

Dakota TerritoryMany people at the end of the American Civil War decided to start fresh in a new land. The Dakota Territory, 1861 to 1889, which would later makeup North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming became the new home of many people who once lived east of the Mississippi River. There were new settlers from the Union Northern states as well as the defeated Southern Confederate states, all looking for a new beginning.

By investigating the Dakota Territory census conducted in 1885 you may well find an ancestor you could not locate back in the traditional ancestral state home of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia or Alabama. They could have as an individual or a whole family picked up their meager belongings and headed to the open Dakota region.

The North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies indexed the entire original Dakota Territory 1885 Census schedules for the counties that are in the state of North Dakota. This database has some 151,500 names. Using the search engine and simply placing a surname could produce a missing ancestor. The index provides the person’s name, age, place their originally came from, occupation, county of residence, and exact location of the entry in the census schedule.

There is also an interesting search based on a person’s occupation. For example, if you were sure an ancestor was a barber, this database show 131 people in 1885 in the North Dakota region with that occupation. If an individual is located of interest, click on their name and the census schedule with names of other individuals in the household and their neighbors will be shown. That is very helpful in verifying the right person.

The Institute of Regional Studies will make a photo copy of the original census schedule when you make a request. The cost is $5.00 a page.

For an ancestors, especially Civic War veterans who settled in the South Dakota area, the South Dakota State Historical Society has an online database index of those veterans, both Union and Confederate. The veteran’s name, regiment, rank, enlistment date, home state when they arrived in South Dakota, listing of any special wounds, general remarks and the county they lived in 1885 are listed. There are nearly 6,000 names. They will also do photo copies or scans of the original documents upon request.

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