Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

Museum and research center closed for renovations. For more info, call (406) 444-2694.

Library & Archives FAQs

First, familiarize yourself with the information on our Visiting the Reference Room page and with our hours. Second, conduct a search of our collections. As you search, compile a list of resources you would like to view during your visit and present this list to staff when you arrive. The Montana History Compass and Archives West are also helpful tools.
Yes, the Library & Archives has free wireless access. Ask staff for assistance upon your arrival.
Scanners are not allowed in the Reference Room. You may use a phone or digital camera to capture any item (except photographs from our collections), as long as your efforts pose no risk to the materials. Consult staff upon arrival.

You can try to find an obituary yourself by searching our digitized newspapers. If you would like us to try to locate an obituary for you, please complete a research request and include the person's name, location, and date of death. The Montana State Death Index lists deaths from 1907 through 2002. 

We have marriage records for most counties, but please consult with our staff before submitting a research request. We have birth and death records for only seven of Montana's 56 counties. The Department of Public Health and Human Services has all birth and death records. Each county clerk's office may also have birth, death, and marriage records.
We have cemetery records (mostly western Montana) and county histories that may help you determine date of death. Once the death date is known, we can help you locate an obituary or death notice in a Montana newspaper.
When you visit us, you can access any U.S. census using our subscription to We also have the 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 Federal Census on microfilm, and all are indexed. Montana has never conducted a state census, but our library holdings include a variety of specialized census and area reports. Go to our online catalog, search for the term census, and use the filters at left to narrow your results.
There is no comprehensive index to the content of all Montana newspapers, but we do have indexes for some newspapers either online or in print. Please visit our Newspapers page for more information. We also provide free, searchable access to many digitized Montana newspapers.
No, we do not have adoption records.
Yes, we likely have a record of your family's brand. We have records of brands recorded in Montana from 1873 through 2010. They are accessible either by the brand or by the name of the person to whom it was registered. Most of these records are available online on the Montana History Portal. If you prefer, you can conduct a brand search using microfilm in our reading room or you can submit a research request.
We do not have homestead records. You can search for Federal Land Patents through the Bureau of Land Management's General Land Office Records website.
If you are attempting to find the architect or builder of your historic home, we won't be very helpful. Few, if any, communities in Montana required building permits before the 1960s. Therefore, there is no central repository for that information. We have Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for most Montana towns and a collection of city directories for major cities. However, the primary source of information on individual properties resides with the Clerk and Recorder and the Tax Assessor at the relevant county courthouse. You may also want to read the Montana State Historic Preservation Office's A Guide to Researching Your Montana Property (PDF).
We have photographs of many business and government buildings in towns throughout Montana. Complete a research request, providing us with the names and locations of the buildings, the types of businesses or agencies that occupied the buildings, and the approximate dates.

You can search our catalog to find photograph records, and you can search the Montana History Portal to find digitized photographs. We can also help you locate photographs of people. Please submit a research request and include the person's name, location, occupation, and birth and death dates. It is helpful to know whether the person held public office or took part in a significant event. We'll let you know what we find, and we can provide you with photocopies or thumbnails of the images and information about how to order prints or digital copies. 

A finding aid is a detailed inventory of an archival collection. It describes the collection overall as well as the content of boxes and folders in the collection. To use our archival materials, visit us or submit a research request.
We hold the Montana Secretary of State Business Entity records for inactive corporations. You can view the business entity file in our Reference Room during open hours, or you can submit a research request to obtain a copy of the file. For information on active corporations, contact the Montana Secretary of State office.
The best approach is to acquaint yourself with our collections by searching our catalog. As you search, build a list of sources and present this list when you arrive. The Montana History Wiki and Archives West are also helpful for compiling a list of relevant resources. Our staff is available by phone during our open hours at (406) 444-2681, or you can e-mail us at