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Utah History

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Effective family research requires an understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns.

The following events affected Utah's political boundaries, record-keeping practices, and settlement patterns.

1776:  Spanish explorers Dominquez and Escalante visited the Utah area.

1820–1840:  Fur trappers, including Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger, worked in the area and held rendezvous in Utah. They also built some forts.

1822–1848:  The area known as Utah was part of Mexico until the end of the Mexican War. At the end of the Mexican War, the region that included present-day Utah and parts of several surrounding states became part of the United States.

1846:  The Donner-Reed party blazed a trail through the Utah mountains into the Salt Lake Valley. This was the same trail later used by Brigham Young

1847:  Brigham Young led the first wagon train of pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley. These were the first white settlers in Utah.

1847–1869:  About 69,000 Mormons crossed the plains into Utah by wagon or handcart before the coming of the railroad.

1847–1857:  Mormon settlers founded approximately 100 towns in present-day Utah, Nevada, Idaho, California, and Wyoming.

1849:  The Mormons organized the Provisional State of Deseret, which provided Mormons with a constitution and a system of government until Utah became a territory in 1850. The State of Deseret included parts of present-day California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

1850:  The Utah Territory was organized to include parts of what are now Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.

1856-1860:  Approximately 3,000 immigrants came to Utah with the handcart companies.

1857-1858:  President James Buchanan ordered United States States Troops to the Utah Territory to challenge an alleged Mormon rebellion. Brigham Young recalled settlers from outlying communities. The crisis was settled peacefully, and in June 1858, federal troops established Camp Floyd 40 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

1858-1868:  Another wave of Mormon settlement saw communities established in Utah and what is now southern Idaho, southeastern Nevada, and northern Arizona.

1861:  The territory of Utah was reduced by the creation of the territories of Nevada and Colorado.

1862-1865:  Fort Douglas was established in 1862 when 750 volunteer soldiers came from California during the Civil War.

1862:  The first of a series of federal laws was passed to discourage the practice of polygamy. The first was the Morrill Act which defined plural marriage as bigamy and declared it a crime.

1863:  Mining began in earnest. Recurrent mineral discoveries brought prospectors to Utah throughout the latter part of the 1800's and into the 20th century. Mining attracted minority communities to Utah.

1865-1867:  Approximately 100 settlers and an unknown number of American Indians were killed during the Black Hawk Indian War. Attacks were primarily occurred in the Sanpete and Sevier valleys, causing the temporary abandonment of a number of settlements.

1868:  The territory of Utah was reduced by the creation of the territory of Wyoming.

1869:  The first transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Point near Brigham City, bringing an influx of settlers to Utah, including Chinese.

1870s:  Mormon settlers established additional communities in the adjacent states of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona. The coal mining industry that began in the 1870's and steadily increased until the 1920s attracted thousands of new immigrants to eastern Utah.

1874:  A second anti-polygamy bill, the Poland Act, was passed, limiting the jurisdiction of probate courts, thus forcing members of the Church to be tried in federal courts including those being tried for polygamy and those seeking divorce.

1862-1887:  The most far-reaching act, the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, was passed to stop the practice of polygamy. This act had a tremendous impact on the people of Utah and their record-keeping practices. This act:

  • Abolished woman's suffrage.
  • Authorized the administering of an oath of obedience to anti-polygamy laws for all prospective voters, jury members, and office holders.
  • Disbanded the Perpetual Emigration Fund Company.
  • Eliminated some civil rights to more harshly prosecute polygamy laws through the court systems.
  • Gave the federal government control over territorial schools, probate courts, and the Utah Militia.
  • Required that all marriages be publicly recorded.
  • Disincorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

1880's-1890s:  Mormons primarily from Utah, Idaho, and Arizona established communities in Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, and Alberta, Canada.

1890:  Wilford Woodruff, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave a proclamation that became known as the Manifesto. This advised Latter-day Saints "to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land".

1896:  Utah was admitted as the 45th state. At this time the probate courts were abolished and the responsibilities of the federal district courts were transferred to state district courts

1941–1945:  70,000 Utahns enlisted to serve in World War II. Over 3,600 died and 2,800 were wounded.

1942:  As part of World War II, Topaz concentration camp for relocating Japanese Americans started first large Japanese community in Utah.

State Histories[edit | edit source]

The Historical Society, universities, and public libraries often have good collections of local histories. Some Utah history sources are:

Alter, J. Cecil. Utah, the Storied Domain. Three Volumes. Chicago, Illinois: American Historical Society, 1932. (FHL book 979.2 H2a; film 1000613). This three-volume set has good detail from the Indians to the industrialists of 1932. Volumes two and three have biographical sketches of prominent men and some women. It is indexed.

May, Dean L. Utah: A People's History. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1987. (FHL book 979.2 H2md). This is a one-volume comprehensive history of the state. It is indexed and has a good bibliographical section.

Utah: A Centennial History. Three Volumes. New York, New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1949. (FHL book 979.2 H2s). This includes a brief history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Milton R. Hunter and a good section on Utah history. Volume three contains personal and family records.

The records on compact disc mentioned in the "Church Records" section of this outline include several histories of Utah. Check these indexes for more information.

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

County and town histories often include biographical sketches of local residents or mention military units in which they served. This may be one of the best sources of information for some families. During the centennial celebration of statehood, each Utah county was to produce a history of their county. Many of these have been published recently. Some of the county centennial histories, The Utah Historical Quarterly, Beehive History, and the Utah History Blazer have been issued in:

Utah State Historical Society. The Utah Centennial History Suite. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: Utah State Historical Society, 1998. (FHL compact disc no. 109). This compact disc has photographs and maps as well as 18,000 names of people and places. It also has a word-search capability.

You can locate these and other local histories in the Family History Library Catalog in the Place Search under: