Oregon Historical Record Types

Find below detailed descriptions of the types of records found in the Oregon Historical Records Index​

Records included in the index

The records document the assessment of real and personal property, the determination of tax liability, and the collection of county taxes. Assessment, tax, and delinquent tax records are variously labeled as rolls, lists, or summaries. Records show property owner; description and value of urban and agricultural land, personal property, and livestock; assessments, equalizations, and taxes due; and notations on payment and delinquency in payment of taxes.​

The records document the population, property, and agricultural production of the county. They may include census rolls and abstracts, farm schedules, abstract of assessment and census, enumeration of inhabitants and industrial products, and enumeration of inhabitants and military enrollment.

The information varies greatly from one census to the next but may include the number of males and females per age category; head of household; name, age, and gender of household members; occupation and relationship of household members to head of household; and description and value of real and personal property. Information may also include nationality, physical description, birthplace, health, and religion of household members and agricultural production statistics.​

The records document the results of the examination of a corpse by the county coroner at the request of the county sheriff. They also record the proceedings and results of inquests ordered by the district attorney. Reports include date filed; name, age, sex, race, parentage, and birthplace of deceased; date, place, and time of death; names of undertaker and coroner; testimony; and costs. Early reports were narrative accounts detailing the cause of death. After 1900, a standardized form was used for reporting results. Inquest transcripts include coroner and juror names, signatures, and actions; witness names; testimony; and verdict. By the mid-1960s the office of coroner had been abolished and the duties were assumed by the State Medical Examiner.​

The registers and related records document deaths as registered by the county. Information typically includes the name of the deceased, date of death, sex, color, marital status, age, place of death, birthplace, occupation, father's name, father's birthplace, full maiden name of mother, mother's birthplace, cause of death, contributory cause of death, and name of person reporting the death.

The records also include some county copies of individual death certificates with similar information. The records were traditionally maintained by the county but custody was transferred later to the Oregon Health Division. Finally, custody was transferred to the Oregon State Archives.​

The records document births, many of which occurred in the 1800s. These records have particular value because the State of Oregon did not require the counties to record births prior to 1903. During the pre-1903 time period only the City of Portland, which had a local ordinance, recorded births.

Delayed birth records were created for people who lacked an actual birth record but who were required to show proof of birth. Most commonly this occurred after Social Security was instituted during the Depression. Delayed birth records are based on alternate sources to determine proof of birth (such as family records or published accounts). They often include a petition or application and a decree. It is important to recognize that the county with which these records are associated is based not on the person's county of birth but rather the county in which they resided when the delayed birth application was filed (although this may be the same county in both cases).

See description of official evidence​ (PDF) that was required for obtaining a delayed birth record.

The records were maintained by counties and on a statewide basis by the Oregon Health Division. Also see Oregon Health Division statewide delayed birth evidence records. ​

The records include documents submitted as evidence to the predecessor of the Oregon Health Division in support of request for the creation of a delayed birth record. Records may include:

  • copies from family bibles;
  • affidavits from witnesses to the birth or other family members alive at the time of the birth;
  • copies of voter registration records;
  • marriage record;
  • baptismal records;
  • school enrollment records;
  • census

Description of official evidence​ (PDF)

Many of the births occurred in the 1800s. These records have particular value because the State of Oregon did not require the counties to record births prior to 1903. During the pre-1903 time period only the City of Portland, which had a local ordinance, recorded births.

Delayed birth records were created for people who lacked an actual birth record but who were required to show proof of birth. Most commonly this occurred after Social Security was instituted during the Depression. Delayed birth records are based on alternate sources to determine proof of birth (such as family records or published accounts). It is important to recognize that the county with which these records are associated is based not on the person's county of birth but rather the county in which they resided when the delayed birth application was filed (although this is may be the same county in both cases).

Related records include delayed birth records that were maintained by the counties and on a statewide basis by the Oregon Health Division.​

The case files document actions by a court (usually a circuit court) to dissolve a marriage. They usually include a complaint or petition, various subsequent filings and counterfilings, and a decree. Divorce case files can vary greatly in size depending on the complexity of the case--the presence of children, the amount of property, and the level of acrimony.​​

The records document the registration of voters on the county level. They may include the election poll books and/or the election voter register. Information may include elector's name and party affiliation, and in some cases, physical description, occupation, naturalization information, and names of parents and spouse.​​

The records document the personnel actions recorded for members of the Oregon Militia and its successor, the Oregon Military Department. They may include enlistment statements, recruit examinations, descriptive and assignment cards, oaths of office, physical descriptions, appointments, recruit declarations, correspondence, reenlistment applications, vaccination registers, fingerprint cards, and related documents.

See the records guide​ for Oregon Military Department records held by the Oregon State Archives for more information about enlistment and service records as well as sample case file images.​​​

The Hawthorne Asylum, which operated as a facility in the Portland area that provided care to the mentally ill. The state contracted with the asylum to provide services until the opening of the Oregon State Hospital in Salem in 1883. The listings on this index reflect the entries from that register.

The original register has been heavily water damaged and is no longer accessible to the public. However, the information from that volume has been compiled and transcribed onto a database, which constitutes the useable copy of that volume. Patient entries may provide the following information: patients' name; age; sex; occupation; nativity; county; date of commitment; date of discharge; date of death; and page number in the original volume.​

The registers document the deaths of Oregon State Hospital patients. Information includes date of death, patient name, age, nativity, county from which the patient was committed, month and year of commitment, cause of death, grave number, and remarks. The remarks focus on the city and/or county to which the remains were sent.​​

The registers document information extracted from the” Great Registers,” which were created as inmates were received at the penitentiary. Entries include: name of the inmate; conviction crime; length of sentence; and county in which they were tried and convicted. Additional information includes a physical description of the inmate, basic information about nativity, ability to read and write, and religious affliation. A notation is made if there is a separate case file for the inmate, which may contain the commitment papers from the convicting county, correspondence about the inmate, and a photograph, if one exists.​

The records document the examination, commitment, and release of mentally ill persons to and from the state's mental institutions. They contain statements of complaint and commitment recorded by the county clerk or recorder and may include petitions to have an individual committed; physicians certification that an individual is insane; delivery warrants authorizing a county official (usually the sheriff) to take the individual to the state hospital; patient discharges; paroles or transfers; indexes; and correspondence. Information may include patient and family names, date committed, reason, physical description, and a brief family history. The records may also be known as the Insane Record, Mental Illness Record, and Mentally Ill and Feeble Minded Record. By 1968, in most counties, the commitment of the mentally ill or deficient had become the responsibility of the circuit court. Access to these records may be restricted for 75 years by Oregon Revised Statute 192.496.

The State Archives has a number of county-level marriage records in its holdings; however, it is not a comprehensive, state-wide set of records. Whether we have a given marriage record depends on the county and date of the marriage. Often these records remain in the county's custody (for marriage records that don't appear on this index, see the Oregon Historical County Records Guide​ for the county in which you're interested to determine whether the record is in our holdings or in the county offices).

It is also important to note that the majority of marriage records in our holdings consist of either the recorded marriage record or a marriage certificate. In fewer cases the license application materials or marriage returns (which typically include more information) appear with those records.​

The records consist of completed forms that were returned to the county clerk after marriages occurred. The records often have information that was not part of other records documenting a particular marriage (e.g., license, certificate, etc.). Information includes place and date of marriage; registration number; officer officiating, and the following information about both the husband and wife: full name, residence, color, age, birthplace, occupation, number of marriages (including previous), and parents' birthplaces. The form asks for the maiden name of the wife in contrast with some other marriage records that may have included the the bride's legal name at the time of the marriage.​

The lists document the names of individuals in the county who were eligible for military service. They were maintained in case the county needed to form a militia. Many of the militia lists contain names only. In some cases they show the name of the community in which the individual lived and/or the age of the individual. Generally, no other information is included.​

The records may include one or more of the following documents, which are listed in chronological order within the naturalization process:

Declarations of Intention

Series documents the process taken by applicants for United States citizenship in declaring their intention to become United States citizens. Information may include applicant's name, age, physical description, place and date of birth, method of immigration, date and port of entry, names and ages of wife and children, and renunciation of allegiance to foreign governments. Declarations of intention may also be attached to naturalization petitions or naturalization certificates.

Petitions and Orders

Series documents the application for United States citizenship by aliens. Information includes name, residence, and occupation of applicants; place and date of birth; emigration place, date, and vessel; declaration of intention dates; name, birthplace, and birth date of dependents; and renunciation of allegiance to foreign governments. Accompanying the petitions are witness and petitioner affidavits, oaths of allegiance, court orders admitting or denying citizenship, declarations of intention, depositions, and certificates of arrival.

Certificates

Series documents the granting of United States citizenship to petitioners. Records include applications, witness affidavits, court findings granting or denying citizenship, certificates, and indexes. Declarations of intention may also be included. Information includes name, age, and residence of applicant; applicant's dependents; date of filing of declarations of intention and petitions; and volume and page numbers where papers are recorded.​

The records document financial assistance approved by the county court for the elderly. Information includes applicant name, age, and address; amount of pension or monthly support payment; and county court order. County courts stopped providing relief in the 1930s after Social Security and other federal programs were developed.​

The records document births in the City of Portland. Prior to the passage of legislation that required the recording of births at the state level, the City of Portland passed a local ordinance that required the recording of births within the city. Although there are a few records that record births that occurred earlier, the bulk of the records begin in March 1881.

The records may include the following information:

  • Name of child, (In many instances the child was not named at the time the birth was being recorded.)
  • Name of father;
  • Name of mother;
  • Mother's maiden name;
  • Nativity of each parent;
  • Occupation of the father;
  • Residence of the parents;
  • Name of person reporting the birth.

In some instances an actual birth record does not exist, but there is an entry in the register created by the city as the records were filed. If there is a volume number indicated in the remarks field the only information found comes from the register.

Because the requirement to file birth records was by local ordinance, births occurring in areas outside the city's boundaries will not be found here. Linnton, St. John's, Albina and many of the areas now part of Portland were annexed into the city in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Some people did come from outlying areas to Portland because of access to more advanced health care, so there are instances of births occurring in Portland when in fact the family resided outside of the city.​​

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The records document deaths in the City of Portland. Prior to the passage of legislation that required the recording of deaths at the state level, the City of Portland passed a local ordinance that required the recording of deaths within the city. Although there are a few records that record deaths that occurred earlier, the bulk of the records begin in March 1881. The records end with deaths recorded in September 1917.

The record may include the following information:

  • Date;
  • Name of deceased (in cases where the deceased was an infant the parent's name may be included in the name field);
  • Age at the time of death (listed as years, months, days, or hours);
  • Nativity;
  • Cause of death;
  • Volume number

In many instances an actual death certificate does not exist, but there is an entry in the register created by the city as the records were filed. If there is a volume number indicating no certificate exists then the information is taken from the register.

Because the requirement to file death records was by local ordinance, deaths occurring in areas outside the city's boundaries will not be found here. Linnton, St. John's, Albina and many of the areas now part of Portland were annexed into the city in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Some people did come from outlying areas to Portland because of access to more advanced health care, so there are instances of deaths occurring in Portland when in fact the family resided outside of the city. Additionally there are some deaths recorded that occurred outside of Portland but the burial occurred in Portland.​​

Probate records have consisted of several subsets over the decades. While these records may include actions related to change of name, abandonment, apprenticeship, and indenture, the following two types are most often found in this index:

Estate case files consist of the papers filed with the county's probate court during an estate proceeding. Typical files may include: the deceased's will; the petition to settle the estate in probate court; an inventory and appraisement of the deceased's property; the final order; various orders from the court pertaining to the case (for example, the appointment of an executor or appraisers; or the fixing of a date and time to hear the final order); bonds; citations; creditors' claims and vouchers relating to charges to the estate; and other items.

The volume of material in these files can vary from only a handful of pages to some that number in the hundreds. Many researchers who examine these records are primarily interested in listings of the deceased's heirs. If you wish to specify in your request we can limit the copying to certain types of key documents, or we can provide you with copies of every item in the file.

Guardianship cases concern situations in which the court determines if and how a person should hold the lawful power and duty to care for the person, property, and rights of another individual considered incapable by reason of age, understanding, or self-control. Records may include petitions, affidavits, accountings, reports, orders, bonds, receipts, and related documents.​

The records document formal divorce requests or petitions made to the Legislative Assembly, which had sole authority to grant divorces before courts were given jurisdiction in the 1850s. Petitions often include the date, nature of the complaint and request, and petitioner's signature. The size and scope of the records vary greatly depending on the complexity of the divorce. They may include exhibits or attachments such as affidavits, depositions, and related documents.​

The register documents land claims recorded with the provisional government recorder. Register entries show claimant's name, description of claim, county name, date recorded, and recorder's certification. The records also include some loose land claims. Many areas within the current boundaries of Oregon are not represented because white settlement had yet to occur. Also, many of the district names (e.g., Tuality) reflected in the land claims changed in subsequent years.​

The records document the application of veterans for admission to the Oregon Soldiers Home, a care facility for indigent veterans located in Roseburg, Oregon. Applications show application date, periods of service, enlistment and discharge dates, units served, applicant's signature, affidavits, and personal information. Supporting records include correspondence, pension checks receipts, pension and service certificates, and home record cards.​

The records document patient service, personal, and residence histories of veterans residing in the Oregon Soldiers Home in Roseburg. Histories show veteran's name, enlistment and discharge dates, unit served, reason for discharge, birthplace, age, physical description, religion, occupation, pension rate, marital status, date entered home, discharge date, reason for discharge, date of death, cause of death, and general remarks.​

The records document financial assistance approved by the county court for widows. Information includes applicant name and address, children's names and birth dates, amount of pension or monthly support payment, and county court order. County courts stopped providing widow's pension relief in the 1930s after state and federal programs were developed.​

The register documents property held by women independently and separately from their husbands. Registration of property usually was in relation to a marriage or divorce settlement. Information includes a description of property (land, livestock, and farm and household goods) to be considered separate and declarations stating that the woman in question is not responsible for her husband's debts. The records are also known as "married women's separate property registers."​

The records document the military service histories of Oregonians during World War I. The information, gathered by the Oregon State Defense Council and the state historian from 1918 to 1922, was used as the basis for the distribution of medals. The records include standardized forms as well as some attachments and photographs. The standardized form information includes name, date, type of service, injury or death data, and parents place of birth. Some of the forms include narrative information describing an individual's experiences or record.​

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More about the Oregon Historical Records Index >​

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