Reference Library

The reference library houses resources ranging from family histories and printed minutes kept by local literary societies to Missouri official publications and scholarly monographs on the history of the state and the lives of its citizens.

Local historians and genealogists can find a multitude of sources such as county and town histories, city directories, compiled cemetery records, and indexes to local records.

Primary and secondary sources on many aspects of the state’s and the nation’s history and culture await the specialized researcher.

Search the Reference Library Catalog

Many of the State Historical Society’s holdings are non-circulating.  The library catalog is a shared catalog with the University of Missouri System.  

Search the Catalog

Reference materials can be accessed for free at any of the State Historical Society of Missouri research centers. If you are planning to visit a SHSMO research center, please submit a research request to ensure the materials you'd like to access can be transferred to your preferred center and will be available on the dates of your visit.

For researchers who would like to complete research remotely, you can submit a request for research services and a research center staff member will assist you with your research for a fee.

Submit a Research Request

The vertical files contain magazine and newspaper clippings, handwritten information donated by patrons, bibliographies, programs, brochures, flyers and other materials that, by reason of their physical formats, cannot be placed on the shelves with books. Patrons locate these files through subject cards in the card catalog and/or the Vertical File shelf list cards. The files are not open to public browsing; Society staff retrieves folders upon request.

Surname Vertical Files

Although the surname vertical files are primarily family surname files, they include files on individual Missouri politicians, pioneers, past and present celebrities, outlaws, and architects. Examples of individuals included are Daniel Boone, Jesse James, Harry S. Truman, Morris Frederick Bell, Sheryl Crow, and Brad Pitt. Within this collection are purple vertical file folders for Missouri Military Personnel Deaths occurring during the past twenty-five years.

Missouri Artists Vertical Files

The Missouri artists vertical files are orange files containing information about native Missouri artists or artists who have focused on Missouri for inspiration in their work. Included are multiple files on well-known Missouri artists Thomas Hart Benton and George Caleb Bingham. There are also files on artistic organizations and galleries throughout the state.

Missouri Author Vertical Files

The Missouri authors vertical files are green files containing information about native Missouri authors or authors who have focused on Missouri in their writings. This includes multiple files on author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and poet Eugene Field.

Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial Vertical Files

In the early 1990's, the Missouri State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of the Police and the Missouri State Trooper's Association established a memorial to Missouri Law Enforcement personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty. Society staff members helped in this project by researching and documenting line-of-duty deaths. A large set of blue vertical files containing information on the service and deaths of these law enforcement personnel grew out of the project. Society staff members still help to document and verify the eligibility of past law enforcement personnel whose names are added to the memorial in Jefferson City. Information concerning the deaths of current law enforcement personnel is also gathered, and each individual's name is added to the collection of blue vertical files.

Missouri Fallen Firefighters Memorial Vertical Files

In 2003, the reference library staff began the Fallen Firefighters Memorial vertical files as a companion to the Law Enforcement Memorial vertical files. The Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Kingdom City, Missouri, was the inspiration and starting point for this collection. Information has been located on almost all of the firefighters listed on the memorial, and additional red folders are added to the collection when new information becomes available about past or present line-of-duty deaths. The collection also includes the names of emergency medical personnel who have been killed in the line-of-duty.

The reference collection holds several collections of rare and special interest books. Included among these are:

  • the J. Christian Bay Collection of Middle Western Americana
  • the Mahan Memorial Mark Twain Collection
  • the Alice Irene Fitzgerald Collection, which contains books for children and youth written by Missourians or about Missouri.

Also in the regular collection are some interesting and useful sub-groups:

County Atlases/Plat Maps

The reference collection houses the Missouri County Atlases/Plat Maps, while the newspaper collection maintains the microfilm that is used to make copies of the plat maps. These atlases/plat maps are a wonderful resource for researchers seeking to locate the land their ancestors owned or the location of historic towns, roads, water bodies, and railroads.

County Record Indexes

The reference collection has a large collection of Missouri County Record Indexes. The majority of these indexes are to county birth/death registers, marriage licenses, and cemetery transcriptions. There are additional record indexes, including probate/will, taxes, and other county government records. These indexes refer to records held by individual counties. SHSMO does not have these records in its collection; instead many of these records are available on microfilm at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City. The availability of county records varies greatly by county due to courthouse fires, neglect, natural disasters, and economics.

Official Publications

The reference collection of official Missouri state publications is catalogued under the letter "M." Since SHSMO is a state depository library, this collection grows constantly, with additions from all branches and departments of Missouri state government. Many researchers use the rosters, pictures, and laws within these official state manuals to find current and historical information. The Missouri Official Manuals, nicknamed "blue books," include a wealth of information about Missouri and its government officials. The biographical sketches in these "blue books" are cited in the Missouri Surname Index. The Missouri Official Manuals are accessible to the public in the reference collection. The majority of the Missouri official collection, excluding the Missouri Official Manuals, is not browsable by the public and must be retrieved from closed stacks by the reference staff.

Missouri Society Daughters of the American Revolution Library

The Missouri State Society Daughters of the American Revolution (MSSDAR) Library is housed with The State Historical Society of Missouri reference collection. All researchers in the SHSMO facility are invited by the MSSDAR membership to use their collection, and MSSDAR members can borrow these books through the mail by contacting the state librarian.

Patrons may use the collection of over 2,550 books and periodicals to research family lineage. The library contains family histories, family records, out-of-state county histories, biographies, Missouri county records and histories, cemetery inscriptions, and miscellaneous items. Additions to the library usually consist of published books purchased by members or local chapters specifically for the state library collection, but some chapters create their own books by compiling Bible records, oral histories, military records, or other similar items. These local works are valuable, unique research sources.

The MSSDAR collection began in 1919 as a traveling library taken to MSSDAR chapters around the state. Each newly elected state librarian stored the carrying case of books at her home until it was requested. As the collection expanded, it became harder for librarians to transport the books. The 1931 MSSDAR state conference voted to place its library within the quarters of the State Historical Society of Missouri, where the books would be centrally located and have greater accessibility. Floyd C. Shoemaker, secretary of the SHS, believed that housing the tiny library was a good way to continue the cooperation between the SHS and the MSSDAR. The MSSDAR collection is located in the SHS Reference Library reading room where it is easily accessed by all visitors.

Patrons who wish to use the MSSDAR Library will find with it both a card file finding aid and a printed catalog of holdings. The card file lists items by State (other than Missouri), Family Names, and Missouri Counties. In recent years most MSSDAR librarians have compiled a bibliography of the library shelves before their terms expired. In 1991, Mrs. Vernon S. Fricke, then state librarian, created the finding aid entitled Catalog of Genealogical and Historical Books and Records, Missouri State Society Daughters of the American Revolution Library.

Materials in the MSSDAR collection may be photocopied without restriction.

Questions concerning the library should be addressed to:

State Headquarters
Missouri State Society Daughters of the American Revolution
Roslyn Heights
821 Main Street
Boonville, Missouri

or call (660) 882-5320.

The State Historical Society of Missouri provides access to the Federal Census, along with additional records, through an in-house subscription to Patrons are welcome to visit SHSMO Research Centers to use this service for free. The Federal Census is also freely available (registration required) at


SHSMO has composite indexes to the Missouri censuses of 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860 and 1870; individual indexes to each Missouri county for 1840 and 1850; and indexes to some Missouri counties for other census years.

Federal Population Census

The census of the United States has been taken by the federal government every ten years beginning in 1790. The National Archives in Washington, D.C. has microfilmed many of the original population schedules from 1790 to 1930. The State Historical Society of Missouri has the Missouri census microfilm for: 1830-1880, 1900-1930.

The 1890 census was destroyed by fire.

The Society has the special Union Veteran schedule of 1890 for Missouri and Kentucky. This schedule lists living Union veterans of the Civil War or their widows.

Information found in Federal Population Censuses

Before 1850

Names the heads of households, but other persons are not named, only enumerated by sex in age groups.

Beginning in 1850

Names of all free persons are given, with age, sex, color, occupation, value of property, and birthplace (state or country).

Beginning in 1880

Also gives the birthplace (state or country) of the mother and father of each person.

Federal Agricultural Census

Researchers often overlook the U.S. Census Bureau's nineteenth century agriculture census; however it contains a wealth of information pertaining to individual farmers' businesses. The agriculture census schedules usually given to all free persons who produced goods valued at $100 or more, but census-takers often overlooked this rule, allowing farmers producing good of lesser value to also provide information.

The census offers an array of data concerning an individual farmer's operation and production, including the value and acreage of the farm and whether it was owned or rented. It also provides details about the number of livestock owned, production of grain and other crops, and use of machinery. Each category is split into subdivisions; for instance, the livestock category is subdivided into horses, dairy and non-dairy cows, swine, and sheep.

Searching the agriculture census schedules is similar to searching the population schedules. Both are arranged by county and township, and the family number found in the population census corresponds to the family number in the agriculture census.

The agriculture census can be useful for both historical and genealogical researchers. For historians, it provides details about farming trends, types of produce and livestock, and the economic status of farmers. A genealogist can potentially find detailed accounts of an ancestor's farming operation. Regardless of one's research goals, the census provides insight into mid and late-nineteenth-century agricultural practices and economy.

Federal Industrial Census

One of the lesser-known censuses in the Society's collection is the federal decennial industrial census of Missouri, 1850 to 1880. Although not as valuable to genealogical researchers as the population census, the information in the industrial schedules has important uses for researchers studying economic and sociological trends from the mid-to late nineteenth century.

Something of a precursor to the economic census currently used by the U.S. Census Bureau, the industrial, or Products of Industry, census gathered information about individuals or companies that produced a minimum of $500 worth of goods per year. Aside from the urban centers, most Missouri towns had little industrial output during much of the nineteenth century. Before the advent of the large-scale factory, this census measured the basic human dimension of industry. For example, the workshop of a cobbler or a blacksmith was included as an individual entity.

Like the population schedules, the industrial schedules are arranged by county, then by townships or other divisions within each county. In addition to the name of the individual company and the type of businesses or product manufactured, census takers recorded power sources, machinery descriptions, the average number of employees of each sex and wages paid, materials used, and kinds, quantities, and values of production. The amount and type of information increased as the century passed.

The industrial census depicts a time of industrial growth, when much of the work was performed by hand and on a human scale, before the advent of numerous large-scale factories within the state. There are few better tools for assessing Missouri's economic growth in this era than the industrial census.

Missouri State Census

The Territory of Missouri took censuses in 1814, 1817, and 1819. The State of Missouri took censuses in 1821, 1824, every four years through 1868 and in 1876, the last year. Most of these Territorial and State Censuses no longer exist. Listed below are copies currently available.

At the State Historical Society of Missouri:

  • 1817 - St. Charles Territorial Censuses (transcription)
  • 1819 - St. Charles Territorial Censuses (transcription)
  • 1840 - Rives County (transcription)
  • 1844 - Callaway County (microfilm), Marion County (transcription)
  • 1852 - St. Charles County (transcription)
  • 1864 - Gasconade County (transcription)
  • 1868 - Cape Girardeau, Ste. Genevieve, and Webster counties (all microfilm)
  • 1876 - Benton, Callaway, Cape Girardeau, Christian, Greene, Holt, Howard, McDonald, Montgomery, Osage, Phelps, Reynolds, St. Francois counties (all microfilm) Butler, Iron and Texas counties (transcriptions).

At the Missouri State Archives:

  • 1840 - New Madrid, Newton, Pike, Randolph, Ray, Rives (later Henry), Shelby, Stoddard and Warren counties (all transcriptions)
  • 1844 - Callaway County (microfilm); Greene County (transcription)
  • 1868 - Cape Girardeau County (microfilm)