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Research FAQ

On this page we have attempted to answer some of the questions our reference staff hear most often and direct you if possible to sources for additional information. If you don't see your question addressed here, please check our ask a research question page for directions on how to contact our reference staff.

Visitors & staff at the Historical Society library & archives

Q. Do you have vital records for Kansas?

A. We have copies of birth and death registers for some Kansas counties for ca. 1885 to 1911 and marriage records for some counties up to ca. 1913. See our county records web page for a county-by-county list of records available on microfilm. Some of these are available on the Family Search website: marriages.

Official birth and death certificates from July 1, 1911, and marriage certificates from May 1, 1913, are available from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Office of Vital Statistics, 1000 SW Jackson St., Suite 120, Topeka, Kansas 66612-2221; 785-296-1400, FAX 785-296-8075. Access to these records is restricted in Kansas.

Q. Are adoption records open in Kansas?

A. Adoption records are open to adoptees 18 years and older. The adoptee has to request the records from the Clerk of the District Court's office in the county where the adoption occurred. An adoptee can obtain their birth certificate. Proof of identity is required. Descendants of the adoptee cannot view the records. For information about obtaining pre-adoption birth certificates please see the Office of Vital Statistics web page.

Q. What happens if the records I need are restricted under the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA), Kansas Statute (K.S.A.) 45-221?

A. The state of Kansas considers all state and local government records to be open for public viewing unless restricted by statute or regulation. The Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) lists many of these restrictions, but there are other federal and state restrictions that apply to records found at KSHS. Sometimes only part of the information in a record can be released. KORA spells out the procedure the agency follows when responding to a request for restricted records. read more

Q. Do you have homestead records for Kansas?

A. We have examples of homestead records because a few individuals have donated theirs to our collection, but homestead records are federal records held by the National Archives and Records Administration. You'll find detailed information about homestead records and how to request copies of them on the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office records web site.

Q. Do you have aerial photos for Kansas?

A. The State Archives has sets of aerial photos available for some areas of the state dating from the 1930s up to the 1960s. See Kansas Memory for some examples. The Kansas Aerial Photography Initiative makes aerial photos available online dating from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Q. Do you have information on the landmark school desegregation case, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka?

A. We have microfilm copies of the documents filed in the U.S. District Court. We also have records of the Kansas Attorney General's office and newspapers from the time period. We have tapes and transcripts of oral histories which were collected between 1991-1996 from people involved in or affected by school desegregation cases. We also have the papers of Lucinda Todd, one of the Topeka plaintiffs.

For more information about the case you may also want to contact:

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
1515 SE Monroe
Topeka, KS 66612
phone: 785-354-4273
Fax: 785-354-7213

The Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research

Q. Where can I get help finding information on African American history in Kansas?

A. The Kansas Historical Society has especially strong holdings about the anti-slavery movement, the Exodusters (ex-slaves who migrated from the south to the midwest after Reconstruction) and school desegregation. Selections from these collections are available online on our Kansas Memory website.

The Nicodemus National Historic Site is on the site of "the only remaining western town established by African Americans during the Reconstruction Period following the Civil War." Nicodemus NHS, 304 Washington Ave., Bogue, KS 67625-3015, 785-839-4233.

The Historical Census Browser on the University of Virginia Library's website includes historic population data for African Americans.

Q. Do you have military service records or pension records for Kansas soldiers?

A. These are federal records held by the National Archives and Records Administration. For information about requesting these records, please see their web page on access to military service and pension records.

For veterans and their families who need assitance, please see the Kansas Commission On Veterans Affairs website.

Our state military records include Civil War muster rolls and copies of World War I enlistment/discharge records for some Kansas servicemen. For more information, please see our military records page.

Q. How do I see museum objects not currently on display?

A. Researchers can view stored objects by contacting the museum curators at KSHS.KansasMuseum@ks.gov one week or more in advance.  There may be a curatorial fee of $20/hour, depending on the time required to prepare the objects (these are stored separately from Research Library materials).  Appointments are scheduled from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, or other times by special permission.

Additionally, researchers may utilize resources maintained in the Curatorial Offices, including U.S. patent records from 1790 through 1959 and  Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs, all on microfilm. Also available are 3,000 titles in the curatorial library, including works on material culture, museum collecting and administration, and exhibition theory.

Q: Can the Historical Society staff do an appraisal of the item I wish to donate?

A: No--the IRS considers libraries and museums as interested parties and appraisals prepared by them are subject to question. This is because some libraries and museums in the past competed for gifts by providing high appraisals, so most libraries and museums have appraisal policies similar to ours. To find a professional appraiser, please contact these two organizations:

Q: How can I restore and save my family history and heirlooms?

A: Use these links to get expert preservation and restoration assistance for:

Q. Can the Historical Society staff help me identify archeological artifacts I've found, such as stone tools, pottery shards, bones and shells?

A: Archeology staff will attempt identification of prehistoric stone, bone, shell, pottery artifacts and early historic artifacts from archeological sites in Kansas. Please call ahead for an appointment, 785-272-8681, ext. 240. Appraisals cannot be given.

Q: How do I find out if a property is listed in the State or National Register of Historic Places?
Please search our National Register database.

Q: How do I research my historic property?
Please see our Guide to Researching Historic Properties and also search the Kansas Historic Resources Inventory for information about your property.

Q. Where can I find information on dinosaurs in Kansas?

A. University of Kansas Natural History Museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd. Lawrence, KS 66045-7561

Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University, 600 Park, Hays, KS 67601

Q. Do you have anything on John Brown?

A. We have a collection of letters written by John Brown while he was in Kansas, as well as other letters and papers from his relatives and friends. These are available for interlibrary loan on microfilm reels MS1245-MS1247. Many of the documents from the John Brown Collection are also available on our Territorial Kansas Online and Kansas Memory web sites.

There are also many publications in our library collections about John Brown that can be used in our reading room. The Kansas State Historical Society also administers the John Brown Museum in Osawatomie, Kansas.

Q. Do we have the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad personnel records?

A. Personnel records were never part of the AT&SF records sent here. The KSHS does have surviving AT&SF prior service records, which may include genealogical information in addition to the employment history. A prior service record was created for any employee that was working for the ATSF on August 29, 1935, because of the Railroad Retirement Act.

See our web page for additional information about the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Co. records at the Historical Society.

Q. Do we have Fred Harvey Company records?

A. The company records are not part of the AT&SF archives at the Historical Society.  You can view examples of some of the Fred Harvey items we have on Kansas Memory. We also have some Harvey Company records on microfilm available for interlibrary loan in Kansas. Most of the papers for Fred Harvey research are located in Arizona. Try the University of Arizona Libraries and the Heard Museum web sites for more information.

Q. Do you have the papers of Kansas artist Gordon Parks?

A. The Kansas Historical Society has two photographs of Parks, and a videorecording of an interview; there is one photograph by Parks in the Kansas Museum of History collections. The largest collection of Gordon Parks papers in Kansas is at Wichita State University: Gordon Parks Papers. He donated some papers to the library at Kansas State University: Gordon Parks Collection. Parks' hometown, Fort Scott, has the Gordon Parks Museum and Center for Diversity. There is also a large collection of his papers at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.: Gordon Parks papers, 1946-1991.

Q.Do you have inmate records?

A. Leavenworth is a federal penitentiary and the records for 1895 to 1952 are at the National Archives Central Plains branch in Kansas City, Missouri. For more recent records, contact the Federal Bureau of Prisons directly.

The State Archives at KSHS holds prisoner records from the State Penitentiary at Lansing in Leavenworth County, Kansas, dating from 1864 to around 1980. (These include prisoners from Indian Territory before Oklahoma built its own prison.) We have the Lansing admission ledgers and the individual files for many of the male prisoners. See the name index to the prisoner records for approximately 1864-1952. We have additional Lansing records up to ca. 1985 but some information in recent prisoner files is restricted. We have limited records from other state prison facilities.

Q. Do you have the historic patient records from the Menninger psychiatric clinic?

No, the Menninger Clinic took the patient records with them when they became part of Baylor Medical School. Please contact the Menninger Clinic Medical Records Department at The Menninger Clinic, 2801 Gessner Drive, Houston, TX 77280, phone 713-275-5063. For more information see the Menninger Clinic website.

The corporate and research records, and the history of psychiatry collections from the Menninger Clinic are located at the Kansas Historical Society and are open to researchers.

Q. How can I find out more about the connection of President Obama's family to Kansas?

President Barack Obama's grandparents both grew up in south central Kansas. There is a website devoted to President Obama's Kansas heritage.

Q. How can I find out if the book I'm using is still under copyright?

The U.S. Copyright Office records on archives.org is a good place to start looking. Try the U.S. Copyright Office website for additional information.

Q. I've found a copy of the Declaration of Independence that looks really old. How can I find out if it's valuable?

Try the Seth Kaller, Inc. website about this called "Is it real?"

Q. How can I find out more about children who traveled on the "Orphan Trains?"

The Kansas Historical Society has many articles and clippings about the orphan trains, but no actual records of the children. Marilyn Holt wrote a good history of the orphan trains called The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America. The Orphan Trains of Kansas website also has a lot of information.

The records of the Children's Aid Society  of New York, who made the arrangements to send children on the trains, are available for research at the New York Historical Society in New York City:
Guide to the Records of the Children's Aid Society

The Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas will help with research for specific orphan train riders.

Q. Where can I purchase rare and used books that are no longer in print?

A.The Kansas State Historical Society does not endorse or guarantee the work of any of the firms listed below. We merely provide these addresses as a service to our patrons.