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.

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.

10 Most Instagrammable Places in the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum

The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum is back open! Our museum has been rated the top destination in Bismarck for several years, so it makes sense that it attracts photographers from all over the world. As part of the digital media team, I’m lucky enough to see all corners of the museum. Today, I’m going to share with you my favorite spots to snap a perfect post.

1. Cannonball Concretions

The ND Heritage Center & State Museum is located on the beautiful North Dakota Capitol Grounds. With plenty of space for social distancing, try out your daily walk or yoga pose while the morning is quiet.

Sarah Walker at state museum demonstrating yoga poses

Sarah Walker, head of reference specialist.

2. French Gratitude Train

What’s your gratitude story? Learn about the French Gratitude Train online or find it on the south grounds.

French gratitude train

French Gratitude Train, south grounds of the ND Heritage Center & State Museum.

3. Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples Trade Route Map

This map shows the trade routes from North Dakota and across the Atlantic Ocean. What do you see when you look at a map? How far you’ve come or where you are headed?

trade map

Map and routes located in the Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples.

4. James River Café

Treat yourself to a latté in a quiet corner of our café. Bring your special project and unwind for a bit surrounded by the beautiful canopy views.

cross stitch detail and james river cafe views

Cross stitch by Lilly Bowe, visitor services, and comfortable, quiet spaces at the James River Café.

5. Outdoor Spaces

The ND Heritage Center & State Museum has lots of space for outdoor picnics, relaxing with friends, and spending quality time with your dog. Recharge, run, or relax in the shade of the museum.

front of state museum

Enjoy the outdoors. We have free Wi-Fi inside when you’re ready.

6. Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time Dinosaurs!

It’s always a good day to see dinosaurs. You can take a sloth selfie, too.

sloth selfie and dino display at museum

When dinosaurs ruled!

7. Museum Store

Here’s a recipe for fun: the museum store! Check out the fun and North Dakota-made gifts.

handmade clay cookware

Clay cookware, available in the museum store.

Or find your new Zoom shirt! (You know you need one.)

Logo tshirt

This shirt is online meeting ready.

8. Bison Statue

Normally, we’d say keep a safe distance from our North Dakota bison, but this one on the north grounds is perfect to get close to.

bison selfie and bison statue detail

Jessica Rockeman, new media specialist.

9. Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today 1950s Soda Shop

Little known fact: Bring a friend to our 1950s soda shop. There is a table and seating inside for two. Hear what would have been on the jukebox. What do you dance to?

soda shop

Ice cream is great in any era.

10. Natural History in the Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today

Stay well.

bear mount

Have a BEARY good day!