Clark Fork

Planning a research trip to Montana?

The Big Sky Country of the State of Montana is full of cultural, historical and natural sites for the Heritage Tourist. Montana is one of the states that does not have a National Heritage Area (NHA), at this time. We share information about one of the 49 National Heritage Areas in our monthly column as the Heritage Tourist in "Going In-Depth." Each month in this blog post, we look at similar sites in states without an NHA. This month, that state is Montana.

I have many ancestors who traveled thru, settled in, or spend considerable time in the State of Montana. It is perfect Heritage Tourist country. Do you have ancestors there that need to be researched with a physical visit? If so, let's look at some of the sites you may want to consider for your visit.

Clark Fork

"Fall Clark Fork" by Original uploader was Sooter at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Mountain Goat

"Mountain Goat USFWS" by Dave Grickson/USFWS - This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Serviceat this pageThis tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.See Category:Images from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Mountain goat, official symbol of Glacier NP

Glacier National Park is as spectacular as any natural site in the United States. Be sure to visit, if you can. It is a historic home of Native Americans, the Blackfeet in the east and the Flathead in the west. While the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a main highlight in the park, be sure to consider taking side trips to Lake McDonald Valley, Logan Pass, and St. Mary Valley. If you have time, you may also want to consider the North Fork, Goat Haunt, Many Glacier and Two Medicines to explore and learn more about.

Montana was historically also the home of several other Native American tribes, including the Crow, in the south-central area, the Cheyenne in the southeast, and the Kalispel in the western mountains. Gold was first discovered in Montana at Gold Creek near present day Garrison in 1852, in Powell County. My great-grandfather was a gold miner in California, Idaho, and Montana. He also had a ranch in Deer Lodge, the county seat of Powell County, but he continued to be called back to the gold fields as a superintendent of big ditches.

The Homestead Act of 1862 provided free land to settlers, both men and women, as well as families. Those 160 acres that they could "prove up" drew a large influx of immigrants to Montana in the latter half of the nineteenth century. For a fun review, check out and then come right back.

Where were your ancestors, and what did they do? Were they sheepherders? Lumbermen? Farmers? Ranchers? I had some of each of these. One even ran a hotel. Where do you start to do your research?

Montana is a big state. I recommend the Official State Travel Site. Click on Places to Go tab, and you will find a very useful segmentation for your use: Cities & Towns; High Plains; Indian Nations; National Parks, Ski Areas, State Parks, and Tourism Regions. I find the six tourism regions especially useful, with the nice map, right below, on the website.

Earlier we looked a bit at Glacier Country, one of the six tourism regions, the National Park, at least. Missoula has great records to research as well as gorgeous scenery. Southwest Montana includes Powell County as well as the capital, Helena.Yellowstone Country, Red Lodge, actually, is where my lumbermen ancestors lived and worked, as well as the sheep folks! Southeast Montana is wide open range land. Central Montana includes Havre in the north, and Lewistown in the south… some of my farmer ancestors lived in these regions. And, the northeast portion is called Missouri River Country. Beautiful, as well, in its own way. Where will you start your exploration?

Missouri River breaks

"Missouri River breaks". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula will attract the history enthusiasts. It includes 32 acres with 30,000 objects and 13 historic structures. The museum's indoor galleries contain both permanent and changing exhibits that deal with topics of interest of the period of early exploration to modern times.

If you can visit between late May and early September, I recommend the Livingston Depot in Livingston. This is a beautiful restored 1902 Northern Pacific Railway station. The museum exhibit "Rails Across the Rockies" is complemented by the Festival of the Arts.

The Bozeman Public Library includes the Montana Room with information on Bozeman's fascinating history.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument preserves the site of the June 25 and 26, 1876, Battle of the Little Bighorn, near Crow Agency, Montana. It also serves as a memorial to those who fought in the Battle: George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry and a combined Lakota-Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho force.

I've barely been able to scratch the surface of available sites in the State of Montana. If you've already been there, or live there, I'd love to hear your recommendations.

About TheHeritageTourist

Dr. Bill Smith is the author of The Heritage Tourist, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist which focuses on the social context of travel and history when applied to our genealogy. He can be found blogging at Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories. Dr. Smith is also author and creator of "The Homeplace Saga" series of historical family stories (currently four books) set in a rural community in the southern Missouri Ozarks, drawn from his family history and genealogy passions and life experiences.

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