Old Settlers organizations and their records

One of the presentations I do, Genealogical Goldmine: The Records of Old Settlers’ Organizations, is one that produces awe at the records, memorials, biographies, membership applications, and other material that often exist today.  Some of these organizations evolved into county and state historical societies.

These are generally  grassroots organizations or groups of old settlers of an area.  Many times when our families moved into a new area, especially when it was a frontier, they sought reasons to schedule a get-together.  The social aspect of the organizations was a prime factor in their development.  On many occasions these early settlers had survived tough situations and felt a special kinship, and a need to maintain contact.

Sometimes, as NEW settlers arrived in an area, the OLD settled residents began to feel encroached upon.  This may have been the impetus for some groups that evolved.  They began a group of old settlers with strict membership guidelines so as to make it impossible for these “new kids on the block” to join.  Other localities had very loose rules for membership and old settler gatherings became a community wide event.

You may find these called Pioneers of Washington County, First  Settlers of Green County, or some similar title. The organization might be a state level group, such as the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers. Some had annual publications, others had booklets that were distributed during a special gathering, others collected brief information, and some required membership applications and other records.  There were others that only kept lists of who attended the annual banquet, quarterly meeting, or Fourth of July picnic.  Check library catalogs, historical society finding aids, and other resources to locate possible organizational records for areas in which some of your family were early settlers.

These are several to get you thinking about what might exist for one of your ancestral areas. The United States has many such organizations and some are found in Canada.

  • Old Settler’s Club obituaries and memorials in 6 volumes at the Milwaukee County Historical Society in Wisconsin. These are indexed.
  • Records of the Harlan County Pioneer and Old Settlers Association (Harlan County, Nebraska) are at the Library of Congress and at the Nebraska State historical Society.
  • Old Settlers’ Society of Chicago records, 1855-1903 are at the Chicago History Museum
  • Oregon Pioneer Association records are at the Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Have fun investigating!


© 2018, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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