Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on February 14, 2014 in Research
mount hood
Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon

Oregon has been the home of more than 20 Native American tribes.  It’s natural resources attracted the Spanish, the Russians, the English and a host of others looking for riches and a better life.  It was the destination of those who traveled the Oregon Trail starting in Independence, Missouri.  If your ancestors are from Oregon, their story is likely one of adventure and conflict.

The Oregon Territory was established in 1848 and covered what is present day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, as well as parts of Montana and Wyoming.  The Territory was split into Oregon and Washington Territories in 1853.  Oregon became a state in 1859 and the rest of the area was assigned to the Washington Territory.

The first settlements in the area were in the late 1700s and by the 1800s a variety of settlers and explorers were descending upon the state. In 1850, gold was discovered in Rogue River Valley area. The Donation Land Claim Act, that same year, allowed settlers to claim 160 to 320 acres for free in return for working the land for 5 years.  And both a husband and a wife could make individual claims.  If your ancestors settled around this time, make sure you look for land records for both.

Oregonians participated on the Union side of the Civil War, but during the 1860’s with the Homestead Act, many were moving to the state in hopes of finding a better life.

By the late 1800s the Railroads were being completed and new immigrants used them instead of the Oregon Trail as means of moving to the area.

The Oregon State Guide will give you timeline of events in the state as well as quick links to useful resources for finding your ancestors.

You can also check out the rest of our state guides on this page.

The 1800s also saw many wars between recent settlers and Native American people; most resulted in Native Americans being relocated into Indian reservations throughout the Oregon and Washington Territories.

Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.


  1. skeptic

    I’m curious about the statement “The first settlements in the area were in the late 1700s”. Lewis and Clark didn’t reach Oregon until 1805. The “Oregon State Guide” that you link to says “Fur trappers with the Hudson Bay Company were the first non-Native American settlers in Oregon in 1829.” The only late 1700s people mentioned in the Guide were explorers, who most would not put in the category of settlers.

  2. Jacklyn Bricker

    Quite coincidentally, last night I was rereading an excerpt from Scrap Book #43, pages 129-30 Oregon Historical Society “Immigrants of 1841” from The Ledger by John Flett. This is the first account of Hudson Bay settlers South of the Columbia River that I’ve found. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, I’m just adding an information source to the discussion.

    The immigrants of 1841 were a party of 23 families (I know that many if not all heads of family were at one time Hudson Bay Co employees – JB) who agreed to emigrate to the Oregon Territory to increase the number of British subjects to ensure more votes for British rule of the territory than American. Unfortunately, the HBC could not fulfill their promise to emigrants of houses, livestock, farming implements, etc. I know that at some of these men settled in the Willamette Valley, along with former American trappers, and supported Oregon statehood through involvement in the Wolf meetings.

    John Flett mentions that the emigrant party reached The Dalles in early October 1841 where a Methodist Mission had been established.

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