First Families & Early Settlers Eligibility & Instructions

The First Families and Early Settlers Program of the Montana State Genealogical Society is open to anyone who can prove descent (either direct or through a sister or brother of a direct ancestor) from a resident of what is now the State of Montana during a time period listed below:

    • First Families of Montana:  arrived before Statehood on 8 November 1889
    • Early Settlers of Montana: arrived between 9 November 1889 and 31 December 1929.

Evidence submitted as proof must be sufficient to prove the ancestor’s residence in Montana during the selected period and to establish either direct descent from the ancestor or descent from a sister or brother of a direct ancestor that meets the above date requirement. Ancestor need not have been born in Montana, may not have stayed here, but you must clearly prove that they were here once during one of the above times.

If approval is given, descendants will receive an appropriate certificate indicating they are either a direct descendant or a family descendant of the proven ancestor. At this time, it is uncertain if we will publish a Volume VI of our series “First Families and Early Settlers of Montana”. However we do request that information needed to include your submission in a future volume is included in case a book is compiled in the future. In the volumes, photos are printed in a 3” x 3” space when provided.  Photos should not be a copy that was printed previously in a published book.  Make a copy of your original photo and send that copy.  We also welcome self-written stories about a half of a printed page (about 400 words) in length about the ancestors.  A sample of the printed information is available here.

Application Procedure

    • Identify an ancestor who was in the area that is now within the borders of Montana State by the above dates.
    • Visit the First Families area of our website for the necessary forms.  You will need to download (they may not be completed online), print the forms, and then complete:
    • Assemble the supporting documentation.  Documentation must be given to prove each generation, any dates, events and locations given on both the Application and Pedigree Form.  This includes documentation of when and where the Ancestor first appeared in Montana.  Acceptable items of documentation are outlined below.
    • If one spouse arrived before 8 November 1889 and the other after that date but before 31 December 1929, 2 applications need to be completed with a $10.00 fee payable to Montana State Genealogical Society (MSGS) for each. This is because one needs to be recognized as a First Family and the other as an Early Settler.
      • If you want only 1 spouse to appear on the certificate and in the published book, do not include any information on the spouse that should not appear.
    • Mail your application, a check for the fee of $10.00 per application payable to MSGS, and if available, a non-original photo of the ancestor and short, self-written story to:

First Families of Montana Applications
PO Box 1012
Condon MT  59826

The submitted application and all supporting documents become the property of MSGS and are stored at our library in Helena, Montana.

 As you are completing the necessary forms, it is best to work from your proof documents rather than going from family group sheets or ancestor charts.  This forces you to really examine your documentation and ascertain if you actually do have proof before writing it on the form.  If you can’t find the proof on a substantiating document, don’t put it on either form.  If your documentation only states the event occurred in Montana, you may not infer the town &/or county.

Application Form

    • Your name goes in the “Applicant’s Name” area at the top.
    • The Ancestor’s area is for the person or couple you are proving.  Remember you need proof for each date and place you enter in this area.
    • On the top of the 2nd Page, you need to enter where and when the ancestor first appeared in Montana.  Use the present-day county.  If you are proving a couple, and they did not arrive together, specify which information applies to which person.  Proof must be given for both set of dates and location in this instance.

Pedigree Form

The foundation of these projects is to prove descent from a qualifying ancestor.  This means that each step from one generation to another needs to be proven, including proving yourself to your parents.

Always use the maiden names of females.

    • Your name and vital information goes in the first Generation area at the top.
    • Proceed to your parents in the #2 area.
    • Continue on through the generations until you reach the ancestor(s) you entered in the Ancestor’s area of the application form.  On the “Child of” area in each generation, put the person who is the descendant of the final ancestor.  So, for example, if you are trying to prove your father’s grandfather on his mother’s side, in generation 2) your father appears first with your mother in the spouse area and in Generation 3) the parents of your father appear with your father’s mother’s information going first.

Sources of Documentation

Since every instance is different, it is not possible to list everything that may or may not be used to prove events or relationships.  The rule is to keep in mind that the document must actually state what it is you are trying to prove.  This is where working from your documents to complete the forms really is beneficial.

    • Only send photocopies, never originals as they will not be returned
    • Starting with the documents showing when and where the ancestor first appeared in Montana, organize documents by generation, starting with yourself, according to your pedigree chart.
    • Source citations should appear on ALL documents.
    • Primary documentation should be provided when at all possible.  Stories in county books may contain errors so are not considered the best proof.  They may be used as backup, but other sources should be provided.  Acceptable documentation include:
        • Vital Records such as Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates
        • Baptism Certificates, Church Records or Bible Entries
        • Newspaper articles printed near the date of the event.  Citations need to include the name of the newspaper and the date of publication.
        • Obituaries, Cemetery Records, Tombstone Photos (must identify the Cemetery & Town)
        • Homestead &/or Naturalization papers
        • Census noting year, county & state.  Pre-1880 census may not be used to prove relationships.
        • Land Records or plat book copies with complete dates and places

In general, original records created at or near the time of the event, such as civil or church birth records are best.

An example of something that is NOT acceptable is an undocumented family history written long after anyone would have had firsthand knowledge of the people and events involved.  This includes pages printed from a genealogy web site and family group sheets.

Supplemental applications, such as those for your children or for the parents of the generation you have proven first, do not require the re-submission of all proof documentation.  The Application Form, Pedigree Form and Sample Certificate do need to be completed for each supplemental application, but specify which original application you are working off of.  Any documentation for additional generations must be included.

If you have any questions, contact Fern Kauffman at

Thank you for participating in this project of the Montana State Genealogical Society.

Contact Us

Montana State Genealogical Society
PO Box 5313
Helena MT 59604