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.

Spring Planning for Summer Programming at the Pembina State Museum

Spring has sprung, and we’ve been busy at the Pembina State Museum. Besides the usual spring cleaning, we are renovating spaces and preparing for spring and summer programs. This summer season promises to be an exciting one as we focus on an expanded schedule for Gingras Days in conjunction with Walhalla’s 175th celebration and on developing new programs that will be available at the museum.

We’ve already finished one of our renovation projects, updating the restrooms, and visitors can enjoy the improved bathrooms when they visit. Since the museum was first built in 1996, the restrooms had been a boring sea of beige. But now they are bright and colorful and so much more pleasant. The new design was inspired by the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket with its four colored stripes of green, red, yellow, and indigo, an iconic part of the northern Plains fur trade.

This capote at the Pembina State Museum, which was made from a Hudson’s Bay Company Point Blanket, is part of our “Hands on History” display and helped inspire the restroom revamp.

We replaced the stalls, painted the ceiling, and installed new lighting. The lighting was installed first, and that improvement alone was stunning. Once the color was added and the space steam-cleaned by the contractors, the restrooms felt completely new. These pictures show the dramatic nature of the change.

The men’s room before, top, and after the renovation.

With the bathroom project complete, our attention now turns to program and event planning. “Arrows and Atlatls,” a pre-historic hunting program, is slated for introduction later this year. Atlatls, for the uninitiated, are spear throwers. The word “atlatl” derives from the Nahuatl (or Aztec) word for this ancient hunting device, found world-wide during Neolithic times. It was gradually replaced on the northern Plains by bows and arrows, with the bow appearing around A.D. 600. The atlatl had been in use for many millennia, but the bow was around for less than one millennium before Europeans introduced muskets. While visitors to the Pembina State Museum can try out our atlatl at any time weather permitting, “Arrows and Atlatls” will provide an in-depth experience for students and visitors.

Our atlatl, soon to be joined by others, is always available for visitors to try out. Just ask for a team member at the front desk to help you get started.

The objective of “Arrows and Atlatls” is to show students the advantages and disadvantages of pre-contact hunting technologies and to let them try their hand at using the tools themselves. This summer we will have scheduled atlatl demonstrations, where visitors can also participate. A few large animal targets will be available as well. Be on the lookout for a bear or bison decoy lurking around the museum.

The big event of the summer, though, is going to be the Gingras Days at the Gingras Trading Post State Historic Site near Walhalla. We are working with the Walhalla Area Chamber of Commerce to plan an amazing two-day event to coincide with the city’s 175th celebration. This will take place on July 1-2 and will include live music, vendors, and other programs.

Ryan Keplin, also known as “Fiddling Lefty,” will perform in the Walhalla parade on the morning of July 1 and then take his show over to the Gingras Trading Post for an afternoon performance of live music and folk tales. There’s no charge for admittance and anyone interested in Métis fiddle music is encouraged to attend. Vendors will also be on-site. Regional craftspeople will be on-hand selling various souvenirs and gifts.

On July 2, the Gingras site will once again be open with activities available all day. We will have “Games of Pembina’s Past” available for people to play both days of the celebration. These include grace hoops, hoop-and-stick, and trundling hoops. (Suffice to say, a lot of hoops are involved!) The house and trading post will be open both days for tours. The storeroom of the trading post will be set up with crafts on July 2. Bring the family and make your own popsicle stick ox cart. The “Red River Rendezvous” hands-on activity will also be set up in the trading room with new features representing life during the fur trade era of the early 1800s in the Red River Valley. Visitors will have the opportunity to try on a capote, a top hat, and snowshoes, and even set a trap with help from staff.

The Gingras trading room during last year’s Gingras Days. This year’s celebration promises to be even better.

These are just the plans solidified so far. More is still in the works, including improved shelving for on-site storage and the much more exciting, and relevant for visitors, improvements and programs planned for the updated conference room. The summer season promises to be very busy and very exciting!

New Exhibit Offers Immersive Experience of Native Stories and Landscapes

From the first step inside On the Edge of the Wind: Native Storytellers & the Land at the State Museum in Bismarck “you get the sense this truly is another world,” says Exhibitions Manager David Newell.

Produced by the North Dakota Council on the Arts in association with the State Historical Society, the new exhibition, which opens to the public Thursday, explores connections between cultural practices, regional landscapes, and tribal oral narratives. It’s the result of a 10-year project by State Folklorist Troyd Geist to photograph landscapes sacred to Native American tribal nations that share geography with North Dakota and to record Indigenous stories relayed by elders and knowledge keepers related to these significant and spiritually powerful places. As audiences move through the Governors Gallery, they will encounter unique sensory experiences allowing them to immerse themselves in the featured stories, landscapes, and artifacts.

With that in mind, I asked Newell to give us a behind-the-scenes look at some of the elements that set this exhibit apart.

1. The Power of Plants

As you enter the exhibition, free-standing walls following the curve of the Missouri River guide you first to the flowers and plants section. This area inspires you to think “differently” about nature, Newell points out. Images of elders collecting botanicals to be used for medicinal and spiritual purposes can be seen along with Ojibway herbalist and artist Marvin Baldeagle Youngman’s exquisite beaded medicine bags. (Baldeagle Youngman is also pictured in one of the photographs.) The bags, adorned with realistic nature-inspired designs, depict traditional medicines such as wild rose and yarrow. At four smelling stations you can even lift a flap and take in the aromas of cedar, sage, sweetgrass, and mint.

Sweetgrass and mint smelling stations in the exhibit’s plant section.

An adjacent display of tobacco, pipes, and accessories speaks to that plant’s importance in connecting people to the spiritual realm. “Pipes act as a communication device,” Newell explains. Prior to the exhibit installation, an elder conducted an outdoor ceremony making an offering to the land and blessing the ND Heritage Center & State Museum. Part of this involved the blessing of red tobacco ties (small pouches stuffed with tobacco), which were placed in the gallery’s four cardinal directions. These will remain in the space for the duration of the exhibition.

2. Guided Imagery and the Medicine Wheel

Standing in the center of a Medicine Wheel representing the four cardinal directions, visitors look at screens showing the view in those directions from the summit of Butte St. Paul. Eight earphones are available for individuals or groups to listen as Dr. Linda Gourneau, a family medicine physician, narrates a five-minute guided imagery experience of hiking the butte accompanied by flute music. By linking the trail walk with the Native American concept of the Medicine Wheel and its role in promoting well-being and balance, the space imparts a sense of calm and “transports you to someplace else,” Newell says.

3. Northern Lights Experience

This sense of calm continues seamlessly in a nearby space featuring a projection of the northern lights and the sounds of night animals interspersed with flute music by Mandan/Hidatsa storyteller Keith Bear. (Fittingly, Bear’s Native name O’Mashi! Ryu Ta translates to Bright Light That Waves in the North Sky.) Here, visitors can sit on benches while immersing themselves in a visual and aural experience. Newell dubs this space “a contemplation zone.” Quotes from storytellers remind the viewer of the interconnectivity of life and the spiritual power of the natural world.

4. Story Spaces

Exhibitions Manager David Newell demonstrates one of five kiosks, where visitors can watch Native elders recount traditional stories. The knowledge keepers have been granted the right to tell these stories, which can also be viewed in the ND Heritage Center’s Great Plains Theater.

The heart of the exhibit is the story spaces, where visitors can watch short videos of the elders and knowledge keepers recounting their narratives about significant landscapes. (As variations of the same story may exist, those on display here represent the individual storyteller’s version.) Interpretive panels provide an overview of each story along with comments and quotes from the elders. Surrounding the kiosks are Geist and Swiss photographer Barbara Hauser’s stunning digital photographs on aluminum panels, as well as associated objects and artifacts, most of which are part of the North Dakota Council on the Arts’ collection.

Bison skull and sage from Buffalo Lodge hill in North Dakota. This site figures prominently in a story told by Ojibway knowledge keeper Alex DeCoteau about a boy who sacrificed himself so “the spirit of the buffalo” would always be found there to guide and bless the people.

Newell stops in front of a case containing a large cottonwood disk showing the star-shaped pith at its core. “This is my favorite story in the whole exhibit,” he says, referencing the Dakotah account of “a little star that wants to come down to the earth and live amongst the people because they make it so happy.” When the other stars tell him he can only do so if he hides himself, the star “hides inside a tree. And he’s still there.”

State Folklorist Troyd Geist personally cut this wooden disk used to help illustrate the story of “The Star in the Cottonwood Tree” from a fallen tree along the shores of the Missouri River.

The spaces surrounding the story kiosks are meant to immerse the visitor in the narration on the screens, allowing the words on the panels to recede and the experience to “take over,” says Newell. Twenty offering stations, interpolated throughout the exhibition, contain an abalone shell smudge bowl filled with sage accompanied by a small red pouch of tobacco as a sign of respect and gratitude. In some instances, elements from the narratives have been incorporated into this standard offering. For example, Hunkpapa Lakota elder Anna Littleghost told of the importance of keeping the supernatural Little People (said to inhabit the area around Spirit Lake) happy and noted their yen for red jellybeans, which she includes in her offerings to them. Newell sifted through six bags of jellybeans to procure the necessary amount of spicy cinnamon and red cherry jellybeans for the offering station in this area.

Tobacco pouch icons on a story menu reflect a modern digital representation of the traditional tobacco offering to the storyteller.

The exhibit concludes with a wall of prayers from the storytellers as they give thanks for the Earth's “power and energy” (Mary Louise Defender Wilson, Dakotah/Hidatsa) and meditate on the importance of stories to provide “the connection, the ancestral lineage all the way back to Creator” (Debbie Gourneau, Ojibway).

The sacred and contemplative nature of the landscapes and stories influenced all aspects of the exhibition’s design and organization, from its low-lighting and tonal qualities to the decision not to include the locations of referenced sites.

“We’ve made a conscious effort to respect the narratives of the storytellers and the sacred nature of the sites,” says Newell. “We are deeply appreciative for the trust these elders granted us.”

On the Edge of the Wind: Native Storytellers & the Land runs from April 27 through October 2024 in the Governors Gallery at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck.

State Capitol Building Light Displays: An Early History

A state Capitol light display announces the new year, 1963. SHSND SA 30878-00540

Most people in North Dakota have seen the face of the state Capitol building lit up in various designs, either in pictures or in person. Some instances include a green and red tree at Christmas; the date of the upcoming year on New Year’s Eve; “ND 125” to mark the 125th anniversary of statehood; and other displays for various celebrations and remembrances.

The Capitol building displayed the number five and the blue lines in honor of North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem after his death in January 2022.

However, there seems to be some confusion about the history of this tradition. For example, I’ve found many secondary sources stating that the Christmas tree was first displayed on the side of the Capitol building starting in the 1940s. Actually, use of these light displays, including the tree, began earlier than that. I think this misconception stemmed from people guessing at specifics while reminiscing and was compounded by the difficulty determining how and where to find the exact information. Then, the false information was perpetuated by sharing. Having found the information on a reputable site, I, too, shared this in the past without realizing it was inaccurate. (This is a good lesson it’s important to always check your sources!)

The North Dakota Capitol on July 4, 2022.

While I was using one of our free, word-searchable newspaper sites, Chronicling America (which you can learn more about using here), I stumbled on some truths about the interesting history of these light displays. Decorating the state Capitol building dates to the construction and completion of the current structure in 1934. In fact, it seems the architects and superintendent of the Capitol Commission had discussed means for using the tall tower to show various designs. The first display occurred in December that year. By 1935, this new space was being actively used, and honestly, it began to resemble a rotating advertising board.

Pictures capturing the new Capitol building, which was completed in 1934. SHSND SA 2010-P-024-00024, 00012-00110

Since this chance discovery, I have learned quite a bit about the topic. The brand-new Capitol tower and its many windows were certainly noteworthy, and the local newspapers were happy to report on this feature. (Articles on cleaning those windows alone are blog worthy!) In no particular order, here are the top six most interesting early displays of Capitol building lights I have come across.

1. ND (surrounded by a square)
In 1935, a series of three “Third House” dances, a social event that was traditionally held in conjunction with the state Legislature, began in February. On March 1, 1935, the third of these “Third House” parties was held at the Capitol building in the Memorial Hall. The Bismarck Tribune stated that North Dakota Gov. Walter Welford, his sister Ethel, and Adjutant General Frayne Baker and his wife, Ruth, “headed the receiving line” as a reported 550 guests attended. The newspaper also noted that “in honor of the occasion, a special lighting effect was created by lighting the windows of the Capitol while the dance was in progress from 9:30 to 1:30. … Two giant letters, N and D, were surrounded by a frame, making a brilliant display which was visible for many miles.”

2. A cross
Described as a “burning cross,” this spectacle of light first appeared at the end of March 1935. The Bismarck Tribune detailed this effect in a brief article, noting, “The emblem extended from the top to the bottom of the tower structure and the cross-arm extended its full length.” The superintendent of the Capitol Commission was credited with the idea and how it was enacted. The windows of the Capitol building were blacked out “by blanketing all but two windows on many floors to make the vertical section of the cross and turning on all the lights in the floor … to represent the cross-arm.” This was intended as a display for the Easter season.

3. Giant letter “K”
Sunday, August 25, 1935, was the first day of a three-day district Kiwanis convention hosted in Bismarck. That evening, the Capitol windows were lit up in the shape of a giant “K,” which of course stood for Kiwanis. The Bismarck Tribune noted that the letter was displayed the first evening, “bespeaking a silent welcome.”

4. A double-barred cross (yes, it’s different!)
The National Anti-Tuberculosis Association used a double-barred cross as its insignia, and on November 29, 1935, this cross was “duplicated in special lighting” on the Capitol building. Notably, the Bismarck Tribune also reported that the insignia was partially red in color. This was probably the first time color was used in the light display. It marked the opening of the Christmas seal drive, stayed up until Christmas Day, and continued to be used for this purpose for a number of years.
5. Christmas tree
The oldest design still in use on the Capitol building, albeit slightly changed, is the Christmas tree. This design first appeared on the Capitol building in December 1935. In fact, according to the Bismarck Tribune, when the Junior Association of Commerce in Bismarck tried to revive “interest in home decorations” by sponsoring a Christmas lighting contest, the president of the organization noted that “the lighting effects on the capitol building,” as well as efforts put forth by “merchants in decorating the business district,” should inspire residents to beautify their homes. There may not have been color in the tree in 1935, but there was in 1936. That year, the tree was also outlined, as you can see in this image below published in the Bismarck Tribune. At that point, the tree was described as being in a red and green pattern.

This image from the front page of the December 19, 1936, edition of the Bismarck Tribune is the earliest I have found of the tree on the Capitol building.

6. Christmas star … and first display!
We couldn’t talk about all of these cool displays without mentioning the very first display, at least that I can locate. The talk around town on December 20, 1934—and in the Bismarck Tribune—was of a Christmas star. Technically, this was not an effect created by use of the windows. This original five-pointed star was placed on top of the structure by Capitol workmen. The Tribune described it as “16 feet in diameter at the inner circle” with “120 electric lights.” While this star is the focus (the article is even titled “‘Star of Bethlehem’ shines on Bismarck”), it is worth noting there is also mention of what I believe was the first design used on the face of the Capitol building. “[The star] surmounted what appeared to be a Gothic cathedral, outlined on the face of the capitol tower by permitting light to shine only through certain windows.” I wish we had a photo of this!

The Capitol building displays a more familiar Christmas tree and star in 1962. SHSND SA 00884-00001

We don’t have many photos of the earliest exhibits of these lights in our collections, but luckily the reports in the newspapers are descriptive, and we have many later images. In the meantime, I sure enjoy imagining what those in the area thought of their new Capitol building and its rotating displays.

Corps of Collaboration: Life as a Link on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

“Do you take federal passes?” is a common question at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan State Historic Site in Washburn. Many of our visitors follow the Corps of Discovery’s route on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which begins in Pittsburgh and ends at the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. The popular trail is administered by the National Park Service (NPS) at the trail’s headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. However, the trail itself is a cooperative network of sites and interpretive centers managed by various state, local, private, tribal, and federal entities. We are one of these.

The National Park Service’s map of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is available at all participating locations as a helpful travel aid and popular keepsake.

Federal locations include the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in western Oregon and Washington. That park encapsulates NPS locations such as Fort Clatsop but also cooperates with Ecola State Park in Oregon and Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington. The U.S. Forest Service oversees the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana, while the Bureau of Land Management runs Pompeys Pillar National Monument outside Billings. State sites include Travelers’ Rest State Park near Lolo, Montana, the only expedition campsite that can be archaeologically verified. Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, Illinois, is a state Department of Natural Resources location across from the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. That site showcases the winter of 1803-4, which was spent preparing to ascend the Missouri River, and includes a replica of Camp Dubois, where the expedition stayed during this time. The state museums of Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Oregon are also on the national historic trail. The Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and the Betty Strong Encounter Center in Iowa and the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Museum in St. Charles, Missouri, are popular nonprofit institutions on the trail. North Dakota’s MHA Interpretive Center in New Town is one of many sites where Native Americans share their culture and history, which long predated the arrival of the expedition. We all work together to tell different parts of a whole story.

The “Color the Trail” series on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail’s website highlights fauna encountered by the expedition with names in Indigenous languages. These coloring pages produced by the National Park Service are free at Washburn’s Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and online.

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail provides a wealth of resources. These have included social distancing signage during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, tactile maps with Braille labels, map handouts, coloring sheets with Indigenous animal names, and the award-winning Junior Ranger book. The Omaha office also promotes trail-wide messaging, which amplifies Native American voices and highlights conservation.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail’s Omaha office provided social distancing signs and floor stickers for trail sites, which both entertained visitors and promoted public health.

Even Capt. William Clark enjoys the Junior Ranger program, which recently won the National Association for Interpretation’s prestigious Freeman Tilden Award. This asset from the National Park Service is a family favorite at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn and other non-National Park Service locations along the trail.

Being an integral component of a culturally and geographically diverse national historic trail enables us to connect and learn. It generates great visitor interactions. Guests discover that Fort Mandan was shaped like a triangle, while Fort Clatsop was a rectangle. They compare earthlodges to tipis. And they may also notice that the spelling of the name of the Shoshone woman who assisted the expedition—Sakakawea, Sacagawea, or Sacajawea—reflects where they are along the trail. The trail takes the traveler through woodlands, plains, and mountains to arrive at the Pacific Ocean. I have traveled nearly all of it, although the 2019 extension to Pittsburgh has provided me with additional travel plans. It’s an amazing route to visit and work along.

Collaboration is a gift. At the local level, that can mean exchanging seeds with and borrowing supplies from the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, a nearby location on the trail. On a broader level, we communicate with colleagues at sites across the state and nation related to replica items and research. For instance, in fall 2022, my friend and lead interpreter at Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Illinois, Ben Pollard, requested a soil sample from our area matching one collected by Meriwether Lewis on the Missouri River near the Fort Mandan State Historic Site. I happily obliged and dug sludge out from under the November 2022 blizzard’s leftover snow, letting it dry before packing it into a food container. While attending the National Association for Interpretation Conference in Cleveland later that month, I delivered it to Ben. The conference was a great time for staff from Lewis and Clark sites to meet up for lunch and coffee. We love visiting each other’s sites and comparing exhibits—or forts! As a member of the grant and outreach committees for the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, the trail’s nonprofit support group, I’ve also seen the vitality of visitor and employee connections from another angle. We are lucky to be on one of the nation’s premier national trails.

Ben Pollard of the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Illinois with Shannon Kelly and Dana Morrison from Washburn’s Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in front of the Camp Dubois replica at the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s 2019 annual meeting.

To access educational resources related to travel, Indigenous languages, and history, visit Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.

A Work in Progress: Refining the State Museum Collections

Museums continuously accept new objects for their collections. They must also re-evaluate their existing collections, identifying those items that are redundant, lack documentation, or don’t meet their mission. Instead of holding on to items taking up valuable space, museum staff will help make room for new objects by looking for other museums where the objects would be more relevant.

Over the years, the State Historical Society has been able to give artifacts to other museums in North Dakota and across the country. A thresher, our third one, was taking up a lot of our storage space, so this was sent to the South Central Threshing Association in Braddock.

The South Central Threshing Association received this circa 1900 thresher from the State Historical Society.

It also made sense to donate two World War I German machine guns. Not only did we already have one on exhibit, but these two were incomplete, would never be displayed, and were taking up much-needed storage space in our gun vault. Due to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulations, there are only limited museums or organizations that are allowed to possess machine guns. We first offered to return them to the original donor, the North Dakota Office of the Adjutant General. We next offered them to the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. They were very pleased to be able to add these guns to their museum.

We donated these German machine guns to the National WWI Museum and Memorial.

In turn, we have accepted artifacts with a strong North Dakota connection from other museums. This 1884-89 Dakota National Guard uniform was offered to us from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison. The brass buttons on the coat and hat feature the seal of Dakota Territory and “Dakota N.G.” While we are not sure who owned these items, they are a unique example of the territorial National Guard’s uniforms. Similar ones do not exist in any collection in North Dakota or South Dakota. Given its rarity, we decided it would be an important addition to the state’s collections as an example of an early National Guard uniform.

Dakota National Guard uniform coat and kepi cap. SHSND 2001.48.1-.2

Recently, we accepted an Icelandic askur (covered eating bowl) from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. This askur has a very detailed history. It was originally owned by the Rev. Hans Baagøe Thorgrimsen who emigrated from Iceland in 1872. He served Norwegian and Icelandic congregations in Mountain and Grand Forks. The vessel’s Icelandic origins meant that it was outside the typical collecting scope for the Vesterheim, but the owner’s North Dakota connections made it a very interesting addition for our collections.

This Icelandic askur was a gift from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. SHSND 2022.60.1

These five ballot boxes with limited documented history were offered to us from the McLean County Historical Society Museum in Washburn. We already had similar items; however, we accepted the ballot boxes for educational use at the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site in Jamestown. Since these are educational props instead of artifacts, the ballot boxes can be used in programming and made available for audiences to touch, open, and use as innovative learning tools.

Five ballot boxes from the McLean County Historical Society Museum have found a new home at the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse State Historic Site.

Moving forward, we are continuing to evaluate our collections, looking for new homes for items that have limited North Dakota history or are overrepresented in the state museum collections. We are also open to accepting items from other museums that will further help us tell the story of North Dakota and the people who live here.

Online Resources for Genealogical Research

Sometimes in the State Archives, we get phone calls or emails from individuals seeking advice who are trying to do genealogical research but are unable to come to Bismarck in person. Luckily due to the increased digitization of archival records, we can still help by suggesting the many digital resources available to anyone with a computer. The following are some Archives-recommended resources for the remote researcher.

Two websites that will get you a lot of bang for your search are and These websites provide access to census, naturalization, military, and vital records (e.g., birth, death, and marriage). A helpful aspect is their ability to filter the results to fit your search parameters. One can search for specific names, geographic locations, and dates, making large collections, such as the census, easier to navigate. That these sites contain records from the entire United States as well as foreign countries makes genealogy research so much more accessible, especially if your ancestor moved states or emigrated from elsewhere. While we use for all our federal and state census searches at the State Archives, it’s also available free of charge through the many local libraries that have subscriptions to

Sites like provide users with a wide range of search field options.

Another site that we recommend for people conducting personal research is Digital Horizons. Digital Horizons contains digitized materials from archives across North Dakota. You can find so much information in the site’s different collections, but for genealogy research we recommend the North Dakota Histories collection of digitized county and town centennial, jubilee, and other anniversary history books. There is also a selection of North Dakota atlases and plat maps that can be helpful when researching the land ownership of your ancestors. Additionally, Digital Horizons has a lot of digitized photographs from across the state, including from the State Historical Society of North Dakota, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies, and the Bismarck Public Library.

The Digital Horizons homepage offers numerous collections to explore.

In my opinion, the land patents from the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records are a hidden gem among digitized records. These patents show the transfer of land ownership from the federal government to individuals, which is particularly helpful if your ancestor took advantage of the 1862 Homestead Act. Aside from the searchable database and digitized documents, this website has a lot of other cool features for researchers. There is an interactive map showing land descriptions on a contemporary map and also transcriptions of land patent contents. The information on this site as well as the State Archives’ collection of county plat maps can resolve many genealogical questions related to land and land ownership.

Land patent details from the Bureau of Land Management’s digital records.

As more records are digitized, it becomes easier to do genealogical research without having to travel to the individual state or country to access those records. The growing number of historical newspapers online at sites such as Chronicling America and Advantage Archives is another great resource. (Check out this blog post for inspiration as to how Chronicling America can assist with researching your family history.)

Genealogy and archival research are more approachable for every type of researcher than ever before, making roadblocks and frustrations less common. But if you are not sure where to start or have questions, State Archives staff are always available to help. We can be reached at 701.328.2091 or