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.

Discovering North Dakota’s Civil War Veteran Pioneer Settlers: A Case Study in Richland County

Genealogy research is a significant part of what visitors to the State Archives do when they come to the reading room. Past censuses are a great tool for searching for your ancestors and are accessible online via the Ancestry genealogical site, though we do have schedules microfilmed and some physical census sheets in our holdings, too.

One census of note is the 1885 Dakota Territory census. It is important because the 1890 federal census was largely destroyed in a fire at the U.S. Department of Commerce building on January 10, 1921. This incident impacted genealogical research in a massive way, as people attempting to trace their ancestors now faced a 20-year gap between the 1880 and 1900 censuses. This can be problematic for people researching their North Dakota ancestors, as many newcomers to the state would have been enumerated in the 1890 census. The 1885 territorial census provides a nice fill-in but lacks the level of detail of a federal census. 

One interesting aspect of the 1885 census is the schedules for enumerating Civil War veterans. As with other states in the Midwest and Great Plains, the prospect of available land, especially via the Homestead Act, enticed the settlement of North Dakota. While many of these pioneer settlers were immigrants, Civil War veterans were another important group comprising the leading names in many early North Dakota communities. Having fought in our nation’s bloodiest war, many headed west from the states where they had joined the service and lived during the war years. While the forces that pushed or pulled them west vary, these veterans came to their new homes, became pillars in their communities, and are an important demographic in the region’s early population.

Tucked behind the general population schedules for each enumeration district in a county are Special Schedule No. 6-Soldiers sheets, which contain a “list of ex-soldiers of the volunteer and regular army of the United States.”

In the image below, some good information is provided to help a person start researching these veterans’ service in the Civil War. Details include the unit served in; when they joined; their nationality or birth state; how many years they enlisted for; when they left the service; what ranks they entered and left at; from where and when they came to Dakota Territory; whether they were wounded and had a pension; and how many engagements (battles) they fought in. There is also space for remarks. These are wonderful details that can lead researchers down many exciting trails.

SHSND 30111, Dakota Territory Census Schedules 1885

As the image demonstrates, these veterans came from different places, though many were from nearby states, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In Richland County’s Enumeration District 23, there are remarks for some of the veterans, including on the back of the sheet. One interesting note is that James Victory, a veteran of Company C, 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, is listed as having participated in 100 engagements during his service. Given the storied history of that regiment and that he served throughout the war, it is not impossible that he participated in 100 battles over four years. Victory, according to the remarks on the back, also served in the regular army before and after the war. He lost the use of both his legs as well.

SHSND 30111, Dakota Territory Census Schedules 1885

Another schedule stood out among the sheets for Enumeration District 23. There was a Confederate veteran residing in Richland County. E.R. Davenport came to Richland County from Minnesota in February 1884. He served in the 22nd Virginia Infantry during the war. According to Ancestry, he served in Company H, enlisting in September 1862. He was captured at Cold Harbor, Virginia, in June 1864, and spent time in Union prisons at Point Lookout, Maryland, and Elmira, New York, before being exchanged and paroled in April 1865. He was listed as a casualty in early May 1865 at Richmond, though the war had ended by this time.

SHSND 30111, Dakota Territory Census Schedules 1885

These veteran schedules are a great resource for learning more about a specific group of early North Dakota settlers and researching their service in the United States’ bloodiest war. They provide important details for genealogy researchers searching for a Civil War ancestor and a glimpse into the pillars of the community in the region’s early days.

The schedules are accessible at, where they have been digitized, and also in hard copy format at the State Archives reading room. If your family has been in North Dakota since territorial days, don’t overlook the 1885 territorial census as a resource as clues may abound to your family’s story.

Our Agency Website Is Getting an Overhaul!

If you’ve visited our website,, lately, you’ve probably noticed it looks outdated and isn’t mobile friendly. Soon (within the next year or so) we will have a new website! Why so long you ask? There’s a lot that goes into redesigning a website of that size.

The homepage of our current website.

The first thing I looked at was how many pages are on our current website and how we could reduce that number. Some pages had old versions that were still on the website with no way to get to them other than using the search feature. I spent many hours going through all the pages on the website and getting rid of old and duplicate ones. This will make transferring necessary pages to the new website much easier and quicker.

The next item I looked at was website navigation. Our current site doesn’t have the most user-friendly navigation, and we want to make sure visitors can quickly and easily find information. I started looking at other state historical societies’ websites to see how their navigation is set up and how they’re grouping different sections. Our new site will reflect a mix of different societies’ navigation features that we think will work well for us.

In the header, the light copper is being used behind the logo and tagline, while the dark copper will be used for the navigation and extend the whole width of the page.

After those two steps came the design. Because we have so many other websites, we wanted to keep a design that’s different enough to stand alone but also similar enough to look like it’s part of our family of websites. We accomplished this by using the dark and light copper from,, and in different ways but still in the header and footer. The homepage will feature a large, beautiful image of one of our state museums or historic sites that will change with each page refresh.

The next step is coding the website, which I’m currently in the process of doing. Our new website is being built in Drupal, a content management system. This will allow us to edit content from anywhere with an internet connection by simply logging into the website as an administrator.

Once the coding is finished, it will be time to transfer content from the old site to the new site. We will be updating some of the text and many of the images to keep with the fresh look and feel of the new website.

Throughout the last two steps, there will be a lot of testing on my part to make sure everything is functioning properly on the website’s desktop, tablet, and mobile versions as we add more pages and content.

I would love to show you the look of the new website, but then there wouldn’t be a big reveal once it’s ready, so for now I’ll leave you with this little sneak peek. Enjoy, and stay tuned for the launch of the new website!