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Historical North Dakota State Censuses Online Create a Window to the Past

In partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota in Bismarck, FamilySearch announced today the availability of the historical 1915 and 1925 North Dakota state censuses online for free. The easily searchable collections are not only rich resources for those searching for missing branches in their family tree from this area, but they also offer a glimpse into an era of profound population growth for the state of North Dakota. Search the records now at no cost at FamilySearch.org.

“State censuses are wonderful resources for researchers, because they give snapshots of the residents of a state in between the federal censuses that are conducted at the beginning of each decade from 1790 to 1940,” said Jennifer Davis, collections manager for FamilySearch. “Not all states conducted censuses, and if they did, they were most likely done inconsistently,” added Davis. Those searching for ancestors might find clues they were unable to locate elsewhere or gather more information to supplement their searches.

The first census in North Dakota was conducted in 1885, four years before the territory received statehood. It is technically a territorial census of North and South Dakota. While the Indian populations were not enumerated in that census, tribal censuses that did count the American Indians were conducted between 1886 and 1939, making the newly published 1915 and 1925 censuses very attractive sources for researching American Indians in this region.

In addition to American Indians, the 1915 North Dakota state census included all non-Indian residents, both U.S. and foreign-born, living in North Dakota as of April 1, 1915, and tallies them by gender and age group (ages 0–5, 5–20, 20–60, and over 60). The 1925 census includes non-Indian residents living in the state by April 1, 1925 and tallies them by the same age groups. It also gives exact ages of individuals and whether or not they were citizens.

Lawrence Welk, the endearing host of The Lawrence Welk Show from 1951 to 1982, is just one of many famous people sleuths might uncover in the censuses. Mr. Welk appears in the 1915 North Dakota census as Lorenz Welk, one of eight children of Russian immigrant parents living in Strasburg, Emmons County, North Dakota.

Louis L’Amour, the author of 89 novels and considered one of the most popular writers in the world, was born in North Dakota in 1908. Curiosity seekers can find him as a seven-year-old boy in the 1915 census.

The 1915 census is significant because it is the earliest surviving census (the 1905 was purportedly lost in a fire) and is therefore considered the first official state census of North Dakota. It records a large population surge at a time when North Dakota had only been a state for 25 years. The census recorded 636,956 non-Indian residents that year, an increase of 135 percent from the year 1900. This enormous population shift can be attributed to the influx of European immigrants, especially those of German, Russian, and Scandinavian descent who came to the state in the early 1900s in droves, lured by the American Dream and pamphlets that promised land to homesteaders.

“This is another helpful resource for people researching their family history,” said Shane Molander, deputy state archivist for the State Historical Society of North Dakota. “The state census has always been here on microfilm,” Molander said, “but to have them available online and for free really makes research easier. FamilySearch did a great job scanning and indexing the censuses. The documents on their website are really sharp and easy to read.”

To search the North Dakota state censuses and other useful records of North Dakota online, go to FamilySearch.org or click on the following links to begin your search of the 1915 North Dakota state census and the 1925 North Dakota state census.