Kansas Family History Research

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This entry was originally written by Marsha Hoffman Rising, CG, FUGA, FASG and Mary Clement Douglass, CGRS for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
Kansas sil.png
the Kansas Family History Research series.
History of Kansas
Kansas Vital Records
Census Records for Kansas
Background Sources for Kansas
Kansas Maps
Kansas Land Records
Kansas Probate Records
Kansas Court Records
Kansas Tax Records
Kansas Cemetery Records
Kansas Church Records
Kansas Military Records
Kansas Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Kansas Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Kansas County Resources
Map of Kansas
County Map of Kansas

History of Kansas

Kansas derives its name from a tribe of plains native peoples, the 'Kansa,' who lived in earth lodges along the Missouri, Kansas, and Blue rivers in the northeastern section of the state. Kansas, which was a segment of the vast area known as the Louisiana Purchase, became part of the United States in 1803. With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, it became the Kansas Territory. On 29 January 1861 Kansas was admitted as a free state and became the thirty-fourth state in the Union.

Kansas was first designated as permanent 'Indian territory' and it became the home for many of the displaced tribes from the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri as well as the remaining indigenous plains people. In 1825 the Kansa and Osage tribes were induced to give up part of their eastern Kansas lands to make way for those from the east: the Shawnee, Kickapoo, Delaware, Wea, Piankeshaw, and others. By 1846 nineteen reservations had been established within the boundaries of what is now Kansas. The first mission for Native Americans in what is now Kansas was Mission Neosho, established in 1824. A Methodist mission was founded for the benefit of the Shawnee in 1829.

It did not take long for the restless white settlers to desire permanent homes and farms in Kansas. This settlement, however, was spurred not so much by natural westward expansion as by the determination of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions to achieve a majority population. This struggle became an important part of the peopling of Kansas, and the genealogist with early Kansas settlers will want to become familiar with the details.

Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 only accentuated the difficulties, and this early civil war ultimately turned the Kansas Territory into 'bleeding Kansas.' As each faction attempted to establish a majority, fraud became common. As an example, the 1855 Kansas state census showed 53 voters in the seventh district, but three months later, 253 votes were cast. From 200 to 300 men from Missouri went into the seventh district of Kansas Territory in wagons and horseback on the day preceding the election. They were armed with pistols and other weapons and intended to vote to secure the election of pro-slavery members to the territorial legislature. These examples are typical of the stuffing of ballot boxes by residents of Missouri who were hoping to create a slave state. In 1859 slavery was prohibited by the Wyandotte Constitution, but this law did not go into effect until statehood in 1861. Kansas became a strong Republican force when it entered the Union. For the settler of Kansas, this period was a long, bloody, and difficult one. Bushwhackings, burnings, lootings, and murder became an inevitable part of life. Graphic testimony is offered in the Reports of the Special Committee (see Background Sources for Kansas) and in the stories reported in surviving newspapers published along the Kansas-Missouri border and in eastern newspapers such as the New York Tribune.

The first act of the Kansas territorial legislature on 30 August 1855 was to designate thirty-three counties in the eastern section of the territory. The second act created Marion and Washington counties, and a third created Arapahoe County out of territory that would later become part of the territory of Colorado.

Kansas experienced its greatest population expansion at the end of the Civil War when peace brought development of the prairie lands. The construction of railroads and the availability of cheap lands through both the railroad companies and the federal government brought many settlers to the area until 1867. The Homestead Act was available only to Union veterans, giving Kansas a distinctly Yankee flavor. Kansas was not always hospitable; pioneers were visited by prairie fires, droughts, blizzards, dust storms, grasshopper plagues, cyclones, and floods. Many would-be settlers retreated saying, 'In God We Trusted; In Kansas We Busted.' Some early settlers returned to the safety of the east. The settlers who remained and those who came later established the farms, communities, and businesses that shaped Kansas history.