Oregon State Archives in the News
Early Oregonians Database Now Available
As a legacy to the sesquicentennial of Oregon’s statehood, the Oregon State Archives presents the Early Oregonians Database. The information that can be found in the database is from census, death, probate, and other records to help researchers find relevant information and documents about people who lived in Oregon prior to statehood.
Archives staff and volunteers began collecting information for this project from the 1850 and 1860 federal censuses for Oregon, in 2004. Volunteers and student interns reviewed the extracted information and combined entries that appeared on both censuses. As later census information became available online, staff searched for individuals who met the Early Oregonian criteria and added additional information and individuals. Various records from the Oregon State Archives such as probate records, death certificates and marriage records were also searched to identify individuals who appeared to meet the criteria. Additional information in the profiles was derived from numerous sources including secondary sources and publications. Family tree data from various websites is also noted.
Currently there are over 105,500 entries representing these ‘Early Oregonians.’ Because of limits on available records and documentation, the project can only realistically be defined to include people living in Oregon from 1800 to 1860, despite the fact that large populations of Native Americans lived in the Oregon Country prior to 1840. Documentation of our earliest Natives is scant and not readily available. It wasn’t until the first federal decennial census in 1860, that any Native Americans were identified. However, instructions to the census enumerators limited how Natives were to be counted:
“Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under state or territory laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated.”
The first use of the term “Indian” doesn’t appear until the 1870 census when it became a choice in the column heading for “color.” Neither the 1850 or 1860 census for Oregon included significant numbers of Native Americans. In compiling profiles for this project, staff encountered many mixed race individuals identified as “mulatto.” In most instances these designations were changed to “Indian” unless evidence clearly indicates the individual was of mixed African American descent. Another designation that appears with some frequency is “HB” apparently indicating “half-breed.” There are many inconsistencies in the censuses over time for individuals of mixed Native American descent. Staff relied on the preponderance of evidence to determine race in these cases.
Project volunteers are beginning to work on the Indian censuses compiled for the various reservations between 1885 and 1940 with the goal of incorporating more information and individuals in the project over time. Published Catholic Church records were used in the project and provide some of the information on Native Americans included in the database. This often included what appeared to be tribal designations, which are included when appropriate and consistent with the available evidence. Standardized names for these tribal designations were used whenever possible, because tribal names were not reported or spelled consistently.
Volunteers and student interns have done the bulk of the data entry and research for this project. We especially want to recognize the volunteers who have spent more than five years working on this effort. They are Margaret Hoffman, Harriett Miller, Mimi Stang, Daraleen Wade and Betty Winn. Archives Manager Layne Sawyer oversaw this project from concept to publication on the Web. Other members of the Archives staff making significant contributions include Linda Bjornstad, Rhonda Lester and Austin Schulz. Archivist Andrew Needham helped to develop and implement the database on the Web. Archivists Todd Shaffer, Dave Wendell and Gary Halvorson also contributed to the project.
Because this is a living database, in that it is our goal to add and refine information on individuals as it becomes available, we welcome you to contact us at Early.Oregonians@state.or.us if you have documentation that you would like to make available to us.
Go to the Early Oregonians Database.