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Missouri - Show Me My Ancestors

Missouri was a gateway to the West, but some pioneers just didn't make it any further. Here are some tips for finding them.


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Missouri is the "show-me" state. It may not have the most easily accessible family history records, but for many "lost" families, it may very well be the state that "shows" where the ancestors are.

Some call Missouri the "heartland." The Heart of America Genealogical Society and Library, Inc., at the Kansas City Public Library has made that name its own and in the process maneuvered itself into one of the premier genealogical societies in the country.

That Missouri is the "mid-continent" state, there is no doubt. The Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence sets the standard for public library historical collections. A special wing of the library houses the Genealogy and Local History Department. In fact, Family Tree Magazine named this one of the ten best genealogical public libraries in the nation.

Missouri was the "gateway" to the West. Why? Because the rivers from the Eastern states led to Missouri. Just look at a United States map and follow the river systems which were the freeways of the old days.

The Ohio River begins at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Those two rivers took people to the Ohio River and from there through or by Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. All that water, and all those pioneers flowed right into the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois, across the river from Birds Point, Missouri.

At that point, many pioneers made a right at the Mississippi River, a left at the Missouri River and ended up in Independence, where they outfitted for the journey West. But some never made it. The money gave out, or the people gave out. Some stayed in Missouri, for a few years or for many. If you've lost your pioneering ancestors, you might want to try Missouri.

As early as 1735, French lead miners traveled the Mississippi to found St. Genevieve. France ceded Missouri which was part of the Upper Louisiana or Illinois Country to Spain in 1763. The French settled St. Louis in 1764. The Spanish founded New Madrid in 1789. In 1800 the area was ceded back to France which sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It was not until 1812 that Missouri was carved from the Louisiana Territory and became the Missouri Territory.

The amazing thing about all this see-sawing of national ownership is that there are records of these early travelers. Catholic records for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which included Illinois, from 1673 to 1928 are housed in St. Louis. Census records from Seville, Spain are extant. Spain offered free land to American settlers, and they came, mainly from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas. Their land grants may be listed in Record Books, 1795-1808; Index to French and Spanish Land Grants, 1795-1812. Jefferson City: State of Missouri, 1970, film 0984777.

Early censuses were included in Louisiana Territory records. As is the case with all old records, some survived, some didn't. Missouri censuses were taken every four yearssome really were burnedparts of others made it to the present time.

No effort has been made, that I know of, to catalog all early settlers of Missouri, so researchers still have to follow tried and true research procedures. But there are some records that will help. Always, there is the census which is mostly indexed. searchable databases included the 1830 and 1840 censuses as well as later ones. Other census indexes can be searched at genealogical libraries.

Many Missouri City and State Directories exist. Though they generally started later than the censuses, they pick up people between those censuses. Federal land patents are indexed at

Several other record collections may reveal ancestors. Missouri State Society Daughters of the American Revolution Library includes Bible, birth, marriage and death records and many more. To see a collection description go to The actual collection is at the Missouri State Historical Society in Columbia, Missouri. But it has been microfilmed, with indexes, on 31 reels by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and so is available through loan at all Family History Centers.

Missouri Pioneers, a 30-volume set by Audrey Woodruff, Nadine Hodges, and Mrs. John Vinyard contains thousands of names. Each volume is indexed. The complete set can be found at Mount Prospect, Illinois Public Library. A description of the contents and a list of surnames for each volume is available at where the books can be purchased for $18.00 each. You can determine which volumes are most likely to contain your relatives at the Mountain Press site then find that volume in libraries.

Another extensive compilation is called Midwest Pioneers 1600s-1800s, by Wisconsin Historical Society which includes early Missouri settlers. The CD can be purchased from Family Tree Maker or from which gives this description: "The twelve books reproduced on this Family Archive focus primarily on families in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan and Missouri. The records range from military and land to census schedules and family histories." has archived and indexed volumes 14 through 20 plus 25. They are available through's advanced search.

Finally, check out Missouri Miscellany, a seventeen-volume set by Audrey L Woodruff. "Between the years 1967-1973, the compilers crisscrossed Missouri many times, visiting all of the courthouses and microfilming the best unpublished records in each county visited." These volumes can also be perused and purchased at or found in various libraries.

So if your ancestors got lost somewhere between the West and the "freeway" system of rivers, Missouri may very well be your own "show me" state.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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