Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Sarah Walker's blog

Online databases and indexes available for Archival research

For the past ten or more years, we have had increasing questions on when, how much, and what of our collections would be put online. While not all our collections are available to be viewed on our website, there are increasing numbers of databases and indexes that allow researchers access to more information from a distance. In this new age of living around COVID-19, online access to collections, databases, and resources is especially useful.

Below is a round-up of some useful sites that can assist your research from a distance. See what you can discover!

Photographs, maps, and other printed materials

(New!) Photobook. We do have some of our photos available to be viewed in various spots on our website and on social media, but up till now, only a small selection have been available to look at easily unless you were in the building. I wrote this and this blog post to aid with searching for and ordering photos in the past. However, this new site allows researchers to search and view a large selection of our images! Although not all our photos are scanned, any that ARE scanned will show here. This webpage is free to use and is keyword-searchable based off the information we have in our system. It is worth noting that not all our images are scanned and not all are identified. If you would like to order a higher resolution scan or reproduce and use the image publicly, you may need to provide a fee and get permissions, so please contact us. Search by keyword (Item Detail) or by collection number, if you know it (you can search through inventories here).

photobook website screenshot

Digital Horizons. You can still use this to search out images from our collections and from other institutions in the state—but you may not realize that you can now use it to read some scanned County History books, thanks to the State Library, as well as the North Dakota Blue Book.

Vital Records

(New!) North Dakota Birth Record Index. Birth records are closed for 125 years by North Dakota state law. Birth records older than 125 years can be searched out on this index. You must contact Vital Records to obtain a copy of the record.

(New!) North Dakota Death Index. Use this index to search out deaths that occurred in North Dakota from about 1900 to present (not including the past year). You can search by last name and date. This index was put together with data from the Department of Health’s Vital Records office. You must contact Vital Records to obtain a copy of the record.

Death records website screenshot

(New!) North Dakota Marriage Records Index. This index consists of pre-1925 marriage records indexes from our Archives as well as marriage record information (1925 to present) provided by the Vital Records office. Not all marriage records from all counties before 1925 are fully indexed and included in this index. We hold pre-1925 marriage records in our collections, but to obtain certified copies of marriage records, contact the county in which the marriage occurred.

(New!) North Dakota Divorce Records Index. This index searches for divorces in North Dakota from 1947 to present. Before 1947, divorces may be filed with the county or held in our collections. Check our online holdings available here.


Chronicling America. If you haven’t yet learned about this site, you need to check it out! It is a free-to-use, word-searchable database of an increasing selection of newspapers from our Archives and from other archives and libraries across the country. We use and refer people to this very helpful site all the time. (Read more of my own experiences here!) And while most runs of the papers only go through about 1922 for North Dakota, the Bismarck Tribune is now available into the 1930s.

ND Archives Newspaper website. But wait! That’s not all! For more newspapers in different areas, covering even more spans of time, check out this very useful website. Also free-to-use and word-searchable, this has increasing numbers of papers that cover early days up to present in various communities. If you are interested in learning more about how to get other local papers up on the site, please contact us.

Writing for Dakota Datebook

Dakota Datebook logoIf you are a fan of Prairie Public Radio here in North Dakota, you may already be familiar with the “Dakota Datebook” program (which you can access online—newer archives are here and older archives are here). It airs five times a day, every day, and features snippets of North Dakota history that relate to that date in time. The posts pop up all over—sometimes reprinted in newspapers—and last year, a selection of dates were published in book form!

The State Historical Society of North Dakota has been a longtime partner in this program. A handful of past Archives interns have written specifically for this program during their time with us (such as Jayme Job, Tessa Sandstrom, Annie Erling, Maria Witham, Carol Wilson, and Alyssa Boge). Some of our staff serve as part of the editorial board. Also, a few of us write for the program—and as a result, we have ended up helping with a few different series that have formed.

Avid listeners to the series will likely remember these series. While there have been a few more, unconnected to the State Historical Society (such as Steve Stark’s series on Theodore Roosevelt from this past summer), a good number have been written by staff here:

  • One series, mainly written by Jim Davis, (though I assisted on one or two dates), was written for the 50th National Historic Preservation Act. Staff in our Archaeology and Historic Preservation Division provided some ideas for those datebooks.
  • Jim Davis also took the lead on and wrote a MASSIVE number of entries documenting and commemorating the anniversary of World War I, as well as a “Countdown to Statehood” series for the 125th anniversary of North Dakota’s statehood.
  • And now, I am writing my first series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment—a series on women’s suffrage! And what better time to discuss this series than now, during National Women’s History month?

Now, I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on women’s suffrage, but writing for the series means you do a lot of research that takes you off in many different directions, and you learn a LOT of details—and get very familiar with it. In fact, I think you kind of start to LIVE the history. And the history is fascinating! Suffrage bills were present in many legislative sessions. However, not all men or women supported the idea. Prior to obtaining suffrage fully through the 19th Amendment, women did get some limited voting rights in North Dakota. Gov. Lynn Frazier alone would sign several bills related to women’s right to vote, including the ratification in December 1919. And despite all of this, women also still served in elected public offices, many quite early on. Such as Laura Eisenhuth—she was the first woman elected to state-wide office in North Dakota and the first woman to hold a state superintendent’s position in the United States in the 1890s.

The resources are out there, and it’s been a treat to find them and bring them together. I’ve read through old House and Senate journals when women’s suffrage had been on the agenda. I’ve been following threads concerning suffrage through different newspapers. (Thank you, Chronicling America!) I’ve been looking at posters and illustrations depicting the fight for suffrage—both here, and through the National Archives collections. These have been invaluable resources during my first few entries.

I’m also lucky to have a timeline I can follow, which the North Dakota Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission put together, that gives me some direction if I am failing. Though I always have enjoyed writing about obscure details, the whole history helps to ground these stories and is also necessary for the series.

And then, to add icing to the cake, I am reading these entries for the program. Since these stories are about women, Prairie Public wanted to use a woman’s voice for the entries. I have never recorded something for radio before, so I am honored every time that I am able to bring a voice to these words.

This is a really fun, very different, and interesting part of my job, and I look forward to continue working on this project through this partnership.

Collage of artifacts

These items, from our ephemera collection, show items for and against suffrage. Note that the North Dakota Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage consists of all women officers. SHSND SA 11354-Womens_Suffrage

Sarah Walker at a computer and with radio equipment

Sarah Walker at Prairie Public Station in Bismarck, ready to record. The audio is actually recorded long-distance in Fargo, where it is edited and made ready to air.