What is the FOIA?
The Freedom of Information Act was put into place by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. This was a law that stated every American Citizen has the right to know what is going on in their country and in their communities.
This law made it mandatory that every person throughout the nation was able to access information held by government agencies.
The Freedom of Information Act requires all government agencies to release records requests in a reasonable amount of time and for a reasonable fee if applicable and can only deny a person of the public records if it falls under one of the exemptions acknowledged by this law.
What is the Open Meetings Law?
The Open Meeting Law goes along with the freedom of information from the FOIA. This law makes government agencies allow all citizens the right to be present for any meetings that have to do with the government and each of its branches.
At these meetings, the public is allowed to listen to the information, ask questions, and voice their opinions with reason.
The public has the right to a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the meetings and agencies must release the meeting dates and times within 2-3 business days before it is held.
What is Considered Public Records in the State of Montana
In the state of Montana, all records held by private or public government organizations and agencies are required by law to release any form of documentation requested by the public in a reasonable and responsible amount of time.
Public records are considered to be documentation including information such as letters, emails, videotapes, recordings, DVDs, maps, books, etc. These can be provided to the public for a set fee and should be provided with the same type of documentation as the original copy.
Exemptions to the Law include “Private Writings”. This term is applied to subjects such as public safety, privacy laws, trade secrets, etc. Basically, anything that could put someone or a business in jeopardy if their information is released.
There are many stipulations and guides to determine what information can be considered public information and what can be withheld.
What Happens if I Get Denied My Request?
If your records request gets denied, you will be notified by that agency as to why it was denied. If you do not agree with the denial, you can contact the office you are working with to try and come up with a solution.
If no solution is reached then you have the right to appeal the denial. If the appeal is legit the supreme court can overturn the denial and force the agency to release the requested records.
How Do I Obtain Public Records in the State of Montana?
Unlike many other states, there is no main public records agency responsible for records requests. In the State of Montana, you must request records from the department that holds the specific information you are looking for. (i.e birth and death certificates from the Health Department, Criminal history from the Correctional facility.)
How Do I Obtain Criminal History Records in Montana?
Criminal records are considered public records in the state of Montana and can be accessed online, by mail, or in person. Full background checks are available to law enforcement agencies and the person who owns their records. However, information is limited to the public regarding these records due to privacy laws.
The information available to the public in criminal history records includes but are not limited to:
- Information regarding the reason for the arrest
- Prosecutor and court information regarding the charges
- Information on misdemeanor or felony charges
Criminal records that have been dismissed are not available for public records. The fee for criminal history records or background checks can range from 10 to 30 dollars.
You can mail your criminal history request to:
Montana Criminal Records
P.O. Box 201403
Helena, MT 59620-1403
When mailing in a request please include the full name of the person on the records, their date of birth, and social security number along with the full amount of the fee and a self-addressed and pre-stamped envelope.
You can obtain a criminal history record in person at:
The Montana Department of Justice
2225 11th Avenue
Helena, MT 59601
How Do I Obtain Records on an Inmate in Montana?
In the State of Montana, Inmate records are considered to be public records and are free to access by visiting the Montana Department of Corrections website. Here you can look up information regarding all inmates in every state.
What Information is on an Inmate’s Records
When searching the Correctional Offenders Network, you are given access to a lot of information regarding the criminal offender, the offense committed, and the court hearing.
The information you can find on this website includes but is not limited to:
- Doc ID#
- Offenders’ current status
- The last time their status was changed.
- Date of last information update
- Probation information if applicable
You are also able to see the offenders physical and demographic information:
- Hair color
- Eye color
- Skin tone
- L/R handed
You can also view information pertaining to an inmate’s criminal record including:
- Docket #
- County of offense
- Judge of the case
- Counts against the offender
- Legal type of sentencing
- Sentence type
- Code #
- Date of offense
- Date of sentencing
- Length of sentence
How Do I Obtain Records on a Parolee in Montana?
Parolee records are available to the public and this information can be located on the criminal offender web page. The information provided includes the description of the offense, the offender’s release date when the offender is up for parole, the hearing dates, and the outcome of the hearing.
If you are interested in finding out the date of a specific hearing or viewing what parole hearings are coming up in a particular county in the state of Montana, you can visit the Montana Board of Parole and Pardons.
In Montana, the first eligible date of parole is ¼ of the offender’s original sentence. Parole hearings are open to the public, however, you must first obtain clearance by the parole hearing security.
How Do I Have My Records Sealed or Expunged in the State of Montana?
If you have information on your criminal record that you feel should not be there or are old and you want them to be removed, you can request to have your records sealed or to have information removed.
Any criminal record that results in a non-conviction will automatically be removed from your records, there is no need to file anything with the courts.
How to Have your Records Expunged
If you are trying to have non-violent crimes expunged from your criminal records (meaning completely destroyed or removed) you can do so by petitioning the courts. You must meet the specific criteria listed below to be considered for an expungement.
- No conviction of crimes or offenses in any state or federal court for at least 5 years since the original offenses.
- All fines from the original offense were paid and the sentence and any court order treatment were completed.
- There are no current pending charges or offenses.
Note: Anyone who has enlisted in the US Military Academy or applying or in the National Guard or Armed Forces and is prohibited from positions due to their record may be able to have the above criteria waived.
To request your records to be expunged you will need to fill out the form below.
Expungement Request Form
How to Have Your Records Sealed
To have your records sealed in the State of Montana, you must make sure all of your deferred charges have already been dismissed, if they have not you need to contact the courts and ask them to do so. Once your charges are dismissed you can request for your records to be sealed.
Sealing your records does not eliminate them, it just means they are closed off to public viewing and will not come up in an employee background search or other background searchers and are only available to law enforcement and those authorized to access this information.
Common records that are known to become sealed are those of a minor, or anyone under the age of 17 that had committed a criminal offense, you were released and not charged, you were found not guilty, or your charges were overturned.
It is possible to have your felony convictions sealed in the State of Montana, but that will greatly depend on each conviction.
How Do I Obtain Information on a Sex Offender in Montana?
In 1989, the Sexual or Violent Offenders Act was set into place in the state of Montana. This act was created to require all sex offenders who have been convicted of their crimes to register in their jurisdiction on an offender’s registry, giving law enforcement and the public up-to-date information on their whereabouts.
In 1995, amendments made to this Act were put into place making victims and communities safer from serious offenders.
There are three tiers or levels of sex offenders in the state of Montana:
Level one: Low-level offenders (Less likely to commit another offense)
Level Two: Moderate offenders (There’s a chance they could offend again)
Level Three: High-level offenders (They are very likely to offend again)
To find information regarding the sex offenders living in your community you can visit the Montana State sex offender registry website.
What Information Is Listed on a Sex Offender Registry?
The information available to the public regarding convicted sex offenders includes but is not limited to:
- Offenders Photo
- Date of birth
- Offender Type
- Also known as
- Known address
- Source of registry
- When the registry was last updated
- Physical Description and recent description update
- Skin Tone
- A sentencing date of Offense
- Type of offense
- Court Case ID #
The information provided to you through the sex offender registry is specifically for informational purposes and to give the public knowledge of known offenders living in their area. This information is not to be used to harass or harm anyone on the list, if you are caught committing a crime against an offender because of the registry you will serve time in jail and face fines.
How Do I Obtain Court Records in the State of Montana?
Court records are considered public records in the state of Montana and are accessible to all citizens. This is for transparency reasons and safeguards allowing the community the option to know what is going on at a state and local government level.
There are 7 different types of courts in the State of Montana’s legal system:
- Supreme Court
- District Courts
- City Courts
- Municipal Courts
- Justice’s Court
- Workers’ Compensation Court
- Water Court
You can access the court records available by law through these court systems through their online databases or by contacting them directly.
Access the online docket schedule and court case records at the Montana Judicial Branch webpage. Here you not only have access to the records obtained to specific court cases but also the court calendars.
If you are interested in searching for court cases that have gone through the Supreme Court, you can access that information here.
Supreme Court Oral Arguments
In the State of Montana, oral arguments through the Supreme Court are open to the public. There are not very many cases that make it to an oral argument stature, but the ones that do are cases where written arguments are not enough to make a final decision and each party in the case has a limited amount of time to present their arguments to the judge.
These cases can be found at Supreme Court Oral Arguments. You can also access old oral arguments through the same site.
How Do I Obtain Vital Records in the State of Montana?
You can find vital records for the State of Montana at the Department of Public Health and Human Services office.
Here you can locate information regarding but not limited to:
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Marriage licenses
- Adoption records
Birth and Death Certificates in the State of Montana
To obtain a birth or death certificate in the state of Montana you will need to fill out an application and send it online, by mail, or in person. These records can also be requested through your local municipality building, where the record would have originally been issued from.
VitalChek is a company used to process vital records requests online. Each certificate will cost $23.50, you will receive the information through USPS unless you request expedited services, which will cost you an additional fee.
Office of Vital Records
Department of Public Health and Human Services
111 N Sanders Rm 6
PO BOX 4210
Helena MT 59604
Birth Certificate request application– The cost for these records is $12.00 each and copies of the same record requested at the same time is an additional $5.00 each.
Death Certificate request application-The cost for these records is $12.00 each and copies of the same record requested at the same time is an additional $5.00 each.
Submit your application along with a check or money order for the associated fee. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services will take about 2-3 weeks to get your certificate to you once the application has been received.
VitalChek certificates are usually received within 2-3 business days
Marriage and Divorce Records
You can access copies of your marriage and divorce records through the Clerk of District Courts in whichever county the event took place.
Each certificate will cost $10.00 per copy. You will need to present a form of identification when requesting each form.
Application for Marriage or Divorce Records
If requesting Marriage or Divorce records through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services please note, they DO NOT issue certified copies. Those have to be requested through the Clerk of District Court.
Other Vital Records That Can be Requested in Montana
There are many other records that are obtainable through the Vital Records Department in the state of Montana. These records include but are not limited to:
- Affidavit of Non-Paternity
- Correction of a Vital Record – Affidavit
- Correction on a Birth Record – Required Documents
- Certificate of Adoption with Instructions
- Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth
- Name Change
- Paternity for Legitimation Acknowledgement
- Acknowledgment or Withdrawal of Paternity
- Putative Father Registry Search Request
For all of these records requests and more visit the website Vital Records Forms.
Who Can Request Vital Records?
In order to obtain vital records, you must be the owner of the records or provide identification proving your relationship to the owner of the records.
How Do I Obtain Genealogy Records in the State of Montana?
You can obtain information regarding genealogy in the State of Montana through Montana.com/genealogy. Here you can find tons of resources and information regarding the history of Montana.
- On this site, you can find records on events including but not limited to.
- Historical yearbooks
- Historical photos
- Old mining company newspapers
- Central Montana Historical documents
- Burial sites
- Public works information
- Mining District Records
- Architectural drawings
- Images of people
- Historical obituary
If you are requesting genealogy records from the Monatana.gov official website you are only allowed to request 3 forms of documentation. There are fees associated with the reproduction of each request.
Family Search Genealogy Records in Montana
You can also obtain genealogy records by searching through familysearch.org.
Here you are able to obtain a lot of information regarding genealogy records that are easily accessible and open to the public.
Birth Records and Death Records
Starting in 1895, the State of Montana put a law into place stating that all hospitals and midwives must record all births. These records are accessible through this website and the indexes provided.
Birth records offer information including but not limited to:
- Name of the child
- Date of birth
- Names of parents
- Parents’ places of birth
- Residence of parents
- Filing date of record
Death records offer information including but not limited to:
- Deceased person name
- Age of the person at the time of death (day, month, year)
- Marital status at the time of death
- Birthday and place of birth
- Date the person died
- Cause of death
- Spouse’s Name (if applicable)
- Date and place of burial
- Death record filing date
- Book number and the page number where the information can be found.
Marriages and Divorces
Marriage records in Montana from 1865 to 1950 were handwritten pieces of paper that were given to the minister or justice of the peace when the wedding took place, then that person would send the form back to the court of district clerks.
The majority of these records were well preserved and filed into books that can be obtained through each county.
It is important to note that some of these files could have been destroyed by fires, weather, etc., and may no longer exist.
Information that can be located on a historical marriage license includes but is not limited to:
- Groom’s Information – Age, DOB, Birthplace, Race, Residence
- Marriage date
- Marriage location
- Names of Groom’s parents including his mother’s maiden name
- Bride’s Information – Age, DOB, Birthplace, Race, Residence
- Names of the Bride’s parents including her mother’s maiden name
- Witnesses’ names
- Name of the ceremony officiants
When looking for historical records regarding divorces you can find information in certain databases that will give you information including but not limited to:
- Husband’s name and age
- Wife’s name and age
- Date and place of divorce
- Divorce case #
Cemeteries and Obituaries
You can obtain records related to historical burial sites and obituaries regarding people in the state of Montana through the burial search website. Here you can access information regarding the person’s name, DOB, age of death, the location where they lived and died, photographs of the person or their obituary, etc.
These records go back as far as the early 1800s and are available for all counties and cemeteries in the State of Montana.
You can obtain records on historical censuses through the National Archives. Here you have access to some of the Censuses recorded from the years 1790-1940. Information you can find on a census report includes but is not limited to.
- Person’s name
- Age of person the year of the census
- State and/or Country of birth
- Occupation held by the person at that time of the census
- Immigration dates and information (if applicable)
- The street number and address of a person
- Marital status
- Years married (If applicable)
- Place of birth for parents of a person
- The home value of a person’s home at the time of the census
- Agricultural information for that area at the time of the census
You can locate information regarding immigration through multiple indexes depending on which records you are looking for and where.
Montana specific Indexes
- 1862-1867 Index of Wagon Train Emigrants from Minnesota to Montana
- 1865-2009 Montana, Granite County Records,
- 1897-1903 Klondike Pioneers from Montana
- 1923-1956 Montana, Manifests of Immigrant Arrivals and Departures
- 1880-2009 Montana, Cascade County Records, 1880-2009
U.S Immigration records indexes
- 1894-1954 – the United States, Border Crossings from Canada to the United States
- The 1500s-1900s All U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration
The information you can obtain through immigration records includes but is not limited to:
- Departure information
- Arrival details
- Date of Birth
- Country of origin
- Marital status
- Last known residence
- Listed relatives and where they lived
- If they could read or write
- Criminal history
- Health history
It is important to note that not all information will be listed on immigration records. Information required for these documents improved over the years.
You can find naturalization records for the State of Montana by accessing this website Montana Naturalization and Citizenship. These records offer information regarding the naturalizing of new citizenship from as early as 1795.
These records can be obtained by county, year of neutralization, or by indexes.
The information you can find on these records include but are not limited to:
- Historical Residence
- Age at time of neutralization
- Date the certificate was issued
- The court that issued the certificate
- Declaration number
- Page number and book where you can locate the information
- Former nationality
In order to obtain full copies or copies of the original certificate, you would have to request through the Montana Archives. You send your request by:
National Archives at Denver
17101 Huron Street
Broomfield, Colorado 80023
How to Obtain Land Records and Maps in The State of Montana
To obtain public records relating to land and maps in the State of Montana you will want to contact the Montana Department of Revenue. Here you can find information regarding the property, maps of specific land areas in the state of Montana, tax information, etc.
Property Report Card
A property report card is a tool you can use on the Montana Department of Revenue website that gives information regarding all addresses located in the state of Montana.
Information you can obtain from the report card includes but is not limited to:
- Property Number
- Assessment Code
- Levy District
- Situs Address
- Legal Description
- Owner Name
- Property date Last Updated
You can also obtain information regarding the history of market value on a specific address and the taxable value history. You can obtain information on updates made to the location, property characteristics, market land value, and permits obtained on the property.
Tax-Exempt Property Search
If you are interested in locating tax-exempt land and property in the state of Montana, you can do so by searching the Montana tax-exempt website. Here you can obtain information regarding property information, owner information, and exemptions.
Montana Certified Values Information
You can find previous and current information regarding certified values by accessing the Montana State Website. You can obtain information regarding county funding for things such as but not limited to.
- County-wide levies
- County road funding
- County school funding
- Elementary school districts
- High school districts
- State school levies
- Soil conservation districts
- General levies
- Library funds
These records can be reviewed for the last 5 years on this website.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources
You can obtain information regarding Montana’s natural resources. This includes information regarding environmental documentation that relates to Coal, Oil, Gas, and Other Minerals, Forestry, Forest Management, Land Sales, Timber Sales, Agricultural documentation, water rights, etc.
Coal, Oil, Gas, and Other Minerals
In this section of Montana’s Department of Natural Resources, you can find information regarding project proposals and their environmental checklist.
The information included is as follows:
- The description of Action
- Project Development
- Information regarding the impact on the environment
- Impact on the human population
- A complete summary of the project and its possible negative impacts
Forest Management Activities/Sales
The information provided by the forest management and sales documentation and records shows the recent sales, permits, improvement project proposals, etc. You can review information regarding each action, maps of the areas that are being discussed, and the impact each action may or may not have on the environment.
The records located in the Agricultural sector of the Montana environmental documentation include information regarding activities and proposals to the agricultural lands and areas along with any impact they may have environmentally.
Records and documents in this category include but are not limited to:
- Construction of new pump stations
- Stock water development plans
- Stock water pipeline development plans
- Fence installation requests
- Temporary road use request
Water Rights in the State of Montana
In the State of Montana, the public has the right to know what is going on with their local and state water sources. This includes information on the water assessments, water availability references, water right ownership, Montana basin closure information, stream depletion zones, oil and gas development, and water information, etc.
This information can be located by county by visiting this website.
How Do I Obtain Military Records in the State of Montana?
If you are searching for Historical military records in the state of Montana, you can find lots of information on the Montana Genealogy website.
Here you can access records from the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.
Military Cemetery Records
In 1862, plots of land were purchased in order to bury those who died during the wars. These are considered to be National Cemeteries and there are 141 of them in existence today. Through these records, you can locate the burial site of more than three million American veterans who served their countries.
In Montana’s Military Records you can also find lists of known casualties during the war and battles. Some lists you can find are listed below.
- World War II Casualties
- Pearl Harbor Casualty List
- Yellowstone County Veterans Killed in the Service of their Country.
Service Men and Women Information
You can use these lists to search for soldiers and sailors by name or list to obtain personal information regarding the soldier you are looking for.
Some of the information you may find on each soldier includes but not limited to:
- Side fought on
- Battle Unit
- Alternate Name
- Place of birth
Montana’s Draft Records
You can locate information on those who were drafted into World War I by visiting https://montanagenealogy.com/military. These records show who was drafted in each county of Montana and gives a biography on the lives of these men and women where possible.
Other information you can find on the Montana Genealogy Military website includes but is not limited to:
- World War I Draft Registration Message Board
- Letters from France
- American World War II Orphans Network
- Korean Conflict Death Index
- North Korea Country Study
- Medal of Honor Recipients
- Prisoner search
- Battlefield information
You can find and access information and public records by visiting the State of Montana’s official website https://mt.gov/. Here you can access a lot of the information provided above along with a plethora of other information regarding the state.
You will also have access to contact information for all of the departments and agencies that hold these records.
Before visiting any agency to request records in person, please be aware due to Covid-19 restrictions and other factors, the offices may be closed or operating on limited hours. Call the agency before visiting to make sure they are open and available to help you with your request.