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North Dakota County records vary widely from county to county in both quality and quantity. Some have been carefully preserved while others have been much abused and neglected. Some North Dakota records have simply disappeared. For genealogists doing research in North Dakota there is no effective replace for an on-site search of county courthouse records.
North Dakota is divided into 53 counties. North Dakota is located in the northwest region of the central part of the United States. Although its largest city is Fargo, its capital city is Bismarck. It shares its eastern border with Minnesota and its western border with Montana. As the name suggests, South Dakota shares its southern border, while Canada borders it to the north. North Dakota is known as a "plains state" and most of the state is economically supported by its agricultural industries.
The fur trading industry was the first industry practiced by North Dakota's early European settlers. However, the farming industry took over after multiple Native American wars and skirmishes and after the railroad came to the area. Although, it is important to note that North Dakota prairie farming has not always been an economically sound industry. In fact, North Dakota farmers have repeatedly expressed their resentment of the fact that wheat prices, transportation, and storage of grain have all been greatly controlled by outsiders and the charges for those services have been too high, at least in the opinions of the farmers.
North Dakota became a territory in 1861. At that time, it was named after the Dakota Indian tribe that lived in the region. On November 2, 1889, Dakota Territory was split into two sections and North Dakota gained its statehood. The residents chose to keep its name when that happened.
From the time that each county in North Dakota was formed, records were kept on the county level. Many of those records still exist today. However, not all of them are entirely accurate. So, researchers may need to cross-reference certain information. Some of the record locations are as follows: County Judge - Probate and Marriage Records; Clerk of the District Court - Civil Court Records; Register of Deeds - Land Records.
The State Archives and Historical Research Library has copies of some of those records on file, but new records are continuously being transferred there. So, researchers are better off to begin by contacting the appropriate county office by letter. Letters will be transferred, in cases where the records have already been moved. Letters may often be addressed to the county office in care of the county courthouse. A Historical Records Survey of North Dakota is housed at the FHL. It is a bit outdated, but can still be a useful guide for researchers.
|County||Date Formed (Organized)||Parent County||County Seat|
|Adams||April 17, 1907||Stark County||Hettinger|
|Barnes||January 14, 1875||Cass County||Valley City|
|Benson||March 09, 1883||Ramsey County||Minnewaukan|
|Billings||February 10, 1879 (1886)||Dakota Territory||Medora|
|Bottineau||January 04, 1873 (1884)||Dakota Territory||Bottineau|
|Bowman||March 08, 1883 (1907)||Billings County||Bowman|
|Burke||July 06, 1910||Ward County||Bowbells|
|Burleigh||January 04, 1873||Buffalo County||Bismarck|
|Cass||January 04, 1873||Dakota Territory||Fargo|
|Cavalier||January 04, 1874 (1884)||Pembina County||Langdon|
|Dickey||March 05, 1881||La Moure County||Ellendale|
|Divide||Dec 09, 1910||Williams County||Crosby|
|Dunn||May 24, 1901 (1908)||Starner and Mercer Counties||Manning|
|Eddy||March 09, 1885||Foster County||New Rockford|
|Emmons||February 10, 1879||Burleigh County and Campbell County, SD||Linton|
|Foster||January 04, 1873 (1883)||Pembina County||Carrington|
|Golden Valley||November 19, 1912||Billings County||Beach|
|Grand Forks||January 04, 1873 (1875)||Pembina County||Grand Forks|
|Grant||November 25, 1916||Morton County||Carson|
|Griggs||February 18, 1881||Foster, Burbank and Traill Counties||Cooperstown|
|Hettinger||March 09, 1883; May 24, 1901 (1907)||Stark County||Mott|
|Kidder||January 04, 1873 (1881)||Buffalo County||Steele|
|LaMoure||January 04, 1873||Pembina County||LaMoure|
|Logan||January 04, 1873 (1884)||Buffalo County||Napoleon|
|McHenry||January 04, 1873 (1885)||Buffalo County||Towner|
|McIntosh||March 09, 1883 (1884)||Logan County||Ashley|
|McKenzie||May 24, 1901 (1905)||Stark County||Watford City|
|McLean||March 08, 1883||Dakota Territory||Washburn|
|Mercer||January 14, 1875||Dakota Territory||Stanton|
|Morton||January 08, 1878 (1881)||Dakota Territory||Mandan|
|Mountrail||January 04, 1871||Ward County||Stanley|
|Nelson||March 09, 1883||Foster and Grand Forks Counties||Lakota|
|Oliver||March 12, 1885||Mercer County||Center|
|Pembina||January 09, 1867||Indian lands||Cavalier|
|Pierce||March 11, 1887 (1889)||DeSmet (Old), Bottineau, McHenry and Rolette Counties||Rugby|
|Ramsey||January 04, 1873||Pembina County||Devils Lake|
|Ransom||January 04, 1873 (1881)||Pembina County||Lisbon|
|Renville||June 3, 1910||Ward County||Mohall|
|Richland||January 04, 1873 (1875)||Pembina County||Wahpeton|
|Rolette||January 04, 1873 (1884)||Buffalo County||Rolla|
|Sargent||March 03, 1883||Ransom County||Forman|
|Sheridan||December 24, 1908||McLean County||McClusky|
|Sioux||January 14, 1915||Standing Rock Reservation||Fort Yates|
|Slope||November 3, 1914 (1915)||Billings County||Amidon|
|Stark||February 10, 1879 (1883)||Dakota Territory||Dickinson|
|Steele||March 08, 1883||Grand Forks, Griggs||Finley|
|Stutsman||January 04, 1873||Pembina County||Jamestown|
|Towner||March 08, 1883 (1884)||Rolette and Cavalier Counties||Cando|
|Traill||January 12, 1875||Grand Forks, Burbank and Cass Counties||Hillsboro|
|Walsh||February 18, 1881||Grand Forks County||Grafton|
|Ward||April 14, 1885||Bottineau, Renville (old) and Stevens (old) Counties||Minot|
|Wells||February 26, 1881 (1884)||renamed from Gringras County||Fessenden|
|Williams||January 08, 1873 (1903)||Dakota Territory||Williston|
North Dakota has counties that no longer exist. They were established by the state, provincial, or territorial government. Most of these counties were created and disbanded in the 19th century; county boundaries have changed little since 1900 in the vast majority of states. These counties need to be looked at when doing genealogy research. Pay close attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was abolished or combined with another county.
The damage to courthouses greatly has a bearing on genealogists in every way. No only are these historic structures torn from our lifetimes, so are the records they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others. Once destroyed they're lost forever. Although they have been placed on mircofilm, computers and film burn too. The most heartbreaking side of this is the reason that nearly all of our courthouses are destroyed at the hands of arsonist. Although, not all records were lost. Many North Dakota counties have suffered a loss of records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft.