Genealogical Research in Utah
- A Brief History of Utah
- Common Utah Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them
- Utah Genealogical Organizations and Archives
- Additional Utah Genealogical Resources
- Utah Genealogical Records
- Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Utah Ancestors
On This Page:
Because of its long and eventful history, there are many historical and genealogical records and resources available for tracing your family history in Utah. Many even call Utah the “Hub of American Genealogy.” Because of the abundance of information held at many different locations, tracking down the records for your ancestor can be an ominous task. Don’t worry though, we know just where they are, and we’ll show you which records you’ll need, while helping you to understand:
- What they are
- Where to find them
- How to use them
These records can be found both online and off, so we’ll introduce you to online websites, indexes and databases, as well as brick-and-mortar repositories and other institutions that will help with your research in Utah. So that you will have a more comprehensive understanding of these records, we have provided a brief history of the “Beehive State” to illustrate what type of records may have been generated during specific time periods. That information will assist you in pinpointing times and locations on which to focus the search for your Utah ancestors and their records.
A Brief History of Utah
Utah's primary Indian groups are Shoshonean: the Goshute of the western desert, the Ute in the eastern two-thirds of the state, and the Southern Paiute of southwestern Utah. The differing lifestyles of each tribe remained basically unchanged until the horse was introduced by the Spanish sometime after 1600. White settlement beginning in 1847 led to two wars between whites and the Native American tribes-the Walker War of 1853–54 and the even bloodier Black Hawk War of 1865–68, which resulted in the final removal of many Indians to reservations.
Spaniards and Mexicans are the first non-Native Americans known to have entered Utah, with Juan María Antonio Rivera reputedly arriving near modern-day Moab as early as 1765. In 1776 Franciscan priests entered Utah from the east and traversed the Uinta basin, crossed the Wasatch Mountains, and spent time at the Ute encampment at Utah Lake. Trade between Santa Fe, and the Native American tribes of Utah was well established by the early 1800s.
The Spanish Trail, the longest segment of which lies in Utah, was the primary route through the Southwest until 1848. Many mountain men followed this rout to the region in search of furs, and brought settlers and explorers en route to California. Once such group of settlers was the Mormons, who decided to head west after their leader Joseph Smith was lynched at Carthage, Illinois, in June of 1844. Arriving at Salt Lake Valley on July 22, they began planting and irrigating immediately.
At the end of the Mexican-American war, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848) gave the United States title to a vast amount of the Southwest. At this time the Mormons established a provisional state they named Deseret. Deseret was not recognized by the federal government, who decided to create the Utah Territory instead. Utah territory consisted if all of present day Utah, as well as parts of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nevada. The present day borders of Utah were established in 1860 following land cessions.
The forty six years of the Territorial period saw much growth, conflict, and immigration. It was during this time that the darkest event in Utah history occurred. Rumors that Utahans were rebelling against federal authority caused then President James Buchanan to send an expeditionary force to investigate in 1857. On 11 September, caught up in an atmosphere of war hysteria, Mormon militiamen and their Indian allies massacred over 100 California-bound migrants at Mountain Meadows. Peace was restored in June 1858, and Brigham Young was replaced by Alfred Cumming as territorial governor. Cumming's appointment sparked the beginning of sustained hostility between Mormon leaders and the federal government.
Up until 1870 98% of the population of Utah was Mormon. The Mormon lifestyle dominated economics, politics, and cultural and social activities. Although no longer governor, Brigham Young was the principal figure in Utah until his death in 1877. In the decade before his death he had contracted Union Pacific to lay some of the track for the transcontinental railroad in the state, and on May 10, 1869, the Union and Central Pacific Railroads were joined at Promontory. New rail lines also connected to the capitol, Salt Lake City, and in 1863 when silver was re-discovered, a mining boom began.
- Important Dates in Utah History
- 1847 – First Mormons arrive in Salt Lake Valley; Provisional government set up by Mormon Church
- 1848 – Acquired from Mexico in Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo
- 1849 – State of Deseret created
- 1850 – Organized as Utah Territory
- 1852 – Iron mine established near Cedar City
- 1857 – Utah War
- 1862 – Congress makes polygamy illegal in all US territories
- 1865 – Ute-Blackhawk War
- 1895 – Constitution drafted
- 1896 – Statehood
Famous Battles Fought in Utah
The battle accounts that exist can be very effective in uncovering the military records of your ancestor. They can tell you what regiments fought in which battles, and often include the names and ranks of many officers and enlisted men.
Common Utah Genealogical Issues and Resources to Overcome Them
Boundary Changes: Boundary changes are a common obstacle when researching Utah ancestors. You could be searching for an ancestor’s record in one county when in fact it is stored in a different one due to historical county boundary changes. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries can help you to overcome that problem. It provides a chronological listing of every boundary change that has occurred in the history of Utah.
Name Changes: Surname changes, variations, and misspellings can complicate genealogical research. It is important to check all spelling variations. Soundex, a program that indexes names by sound, is a useful first step, but you can't rely on it completely as some name variations result in different Soundex codes. The surnames could be different, but the first name may be different too. You can also find records filed under initials, middle names, and nicknames as well, so you will need to get creative with surname variations and spellings in order to cover all the possibilities. For help with surname variations read our instructional article on How to Use Soundex.
Utah Genealogical Organizations and Archives
Genealogical resources include not only records, but the organizations that house them, or can direct you to them. These institutions include: Archives, Libraries, Genealogical Societies, Family History Centers, Universities, Churches, and Museums.
- Following are links to their websites, and a summary of the records.
- Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – county records, census, manuscripts, historical newspapers, maps, photographs, Native American index, surname list, military name index
6425 SW 6th Avenue
Topeka, KS 66615-1099
- Kansas State University – manuscript collections, literary papers, diaries and journals, photographs, broadsides, maps, audio visual items, oral histories, and printed material.
Manhattan, KS 66506
Tel: (913) 532-7456
Additional Utah Genealogical Resources
Utah Mailing Lists
Mailing lists are internet based facilities that use email to distribute a single message to all who subscribe to it. When information on a particular surname, new records, or any other important genealogy information related to the mailing list topic becomes available, the subscribers are alerted to it. Joining a mailing list is an excellent way to stay up to date on Utah genealogy research topics. Rootsweb have an extensive listing of Utah Mailing Lists on a variety of topics.
Utah Message Boards
A message board is another internet based facility where people can post questions about a specific genealogy topic and have it answered by other genealogists. If you have questions about a surname, record type, or research topic, you can post your question and other researchers and genealogists will help you with the answer. Be sure to check back regularly, as the answers are not emailed to you. The message boards at the Utah Genealogy Forum are completely free to use.
Utah Newspapers and Periodicals
Many genealogy periodicals and historical newspapers contain reprinted copies of family genealogies, transcripts of family Bible records, information about local records and archives, census indexes, church records, queries, land records, obituaries, court records, cemetery records, and wills.
- Utah newspapers and periodicals that you can search online or on-site.
- Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – African American publications, Civilian Conservation Corps, Labour Populist publications, Socialist publications, Territorial period newspapers, History of Kansas newspapers from1916
6425 SW 6th Avenue
Topeka, KS 66615-1099
- Kansas Heritage Center – most of the newspapers published in Dodge City from 1876 to the present and newspapers from several other Kansas towns.
PO Box 1207
Dodge City KS 67801-1207
- GenealogyBank.com – free searchable database of Kansas newspaper archives, 1841-1981
- Library of Congress Digital Newspaper Directory – free searchable database of historical U.S. newspapers dating from 1690-present
- The Online Books Page – links to historical books and periodicals available for viewing online, dating from mid-16th century
- NewspaperArchive.com – largest online database of historical newspapers in the world.
Historical Utah Maps and Gazetteers
Maps are an integral part of genealogical research. They help us to locate landmarks, towns, cities, parishes, states, provinces, waterways and roads and streets. They also help us to determine when and where boundary changes might have taken place, and give us a visualization of the area we’re researching in.
For locating place names, a gazetteer is the best possible resource for any genealogist. Gazetteers are also sometimes called “place name dictionaries”, and can help you to locate the area in which you need to conduct research.
Utah City Directories
City directories are similar to telephone directories in that they list the residents of a particular area. The difference though is what is important to genealogists, and that is they pre-date telephone directories. You can find an ancestor’s information such as their street address, place of employment, occupation, or the name of their spouse. A one-stop-shop for finding city directories in Utah is the Utah Online Historical Directories which contains a listing of every available historical directory related to Utah.
Utah Genealogical Records
Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records – Also known as vital records, birth, death, and marriage certificates are the most basic, yet most important records attached to your ancestor. The reason for their importance is that they not only place your ancestor in a specific place at a definite time, but potentially connect the individual to other relatives. Below is a list of repositories and websites where you can find Utah vital records
Utah began recording official records of births and deaths in 1911. Marriage licenses were required starting in 1867, but not filed at state level until 1913.
- Copies of vital records after those dates must be requested from the:
- Kansas Office of Vital Statistics
Charles B. Curtis State Office Building
1000 SW Jackson Street
Topeka, KS 66612-1221
- Kansas Genealogical Society – various historical vital records
KGS, PO Box 103
Dodge City, KS 67801-0103
Tel: (620) 225 - 1951
- Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – extensive collection of vital records dating from pre-territorial times
6425 SW 6th Avenue
Topeka, KS 66615-1099
Marriage and Divorce Records
Marriages prior to May 1913 were recorded in the district county courts where the marriage took place. Utah marriage licenses did not include the names of the parents unless the bride or groom was underage. Records can be found at:
Divorce records from 1861 until July 1951 were recorded in the Utah District Courts.
Copies of official divorce records after July 1951 can be ordered from the Utah Office of Vital Statistics.
Census records are among the most important genealogical documents for placing your ancestor in a particular place at a specific time. Like BDM records, they can also lead you to other ancestors, particularly those who were living under the authority of the head of household.
- Federal census records for Utah exist from 1860 through 1940, and can be found in the following repositories:
- Kansas Heritage Center – selected Kansas and U.S. census records
PO Box 1207
Dodge City KS 67801-1207
- Kansas Genealogical Society – county census records
KGS, PO Box 103
Dodge City, KS 67801-0103
Tel: (620) 225 - 1951
- The Free Census Project has transcribed many Kansas indexes and new material is added daily
- Access Genealogy – Kansas census records from 1855-1930
- African American Census Schedules Online – slave schedules, mortality schedules, slave-owners census
- Native Americans in Census Records (US National Archives)
Utah Church Records
Church and synagogue records are a valuable resource, especially for baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place before 1900. You will need to at least have an idea of your ancestor’s religious denomination, and in most cases you will have to visit a brick and mortar establishment to view them.
Most church records are kept by the individual church, although in some denominations, records are placed in a regional archive or maintained at the diocesan level. Local Historical Societies are sometimes the repository for the state’s older church records.
- Below are links archives that maintain church records
- The Family History Library contains many church records from a variety of denominations on microfilm.
- The Utah Historical Foundation has filmed the Leonardville United Methodist Church Records, 1882-1999, the St. Joseph Catholic Church Records, 1887-2002, and the records of the Third Presbyterian Church (Topeka, Utah) dating from the mid-nineteenth century
Central Repositories for Denominational Records
Most of the records of individual denominations are kept in central repositories.
- Major congregational archives for Utah with links to their websites
American Baptist Historical Society1106 South Goodman Street
Rochester, NY 14620
Phone: (716) 473-1740
Fax: (716) 473-1740
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
Early Mormon Church records for Kansas can be found on film located at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City and can be searched via the Family History Library Catalog
- Disciples of Christ
Disciples of Christ Historical Society
1101 19th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37212
Phone: (615) 327-1444
Fax: (615) 327-1445
Baker University Library
606 Eighth Street
Baldwin City, KS 66006
Phone: (913) 594-8414
Fax: (913) 594-6721
- Deets Library Southwestern College
100 College Street
Winfield, KS 67156
Phone: (316) 221-8225
Fax: (316) 221-2499
The Moravian Archives
41 West Locust Street
Bethlehem, Utah 18018
United States of America
Phone: (610) 866-3255
Fax: (610) 866-9210
Presbyterian Historical Society
United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
425 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone: (215) 627-1852
Fax: (215) 627-0509
- Roman Catholic
Diocese of Dodge City
P.O. Box 137
Dodge City, KS 67801
Phone: (620) 227-1500
- Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas
12615 Parallel Parkway
Kansas City, KS 66109
Phone: (913) 721-1570
Fax: (913) 721-1577
Utah Military Records
More than 40 million Americans have participated in some time of war service since America was colonized. The chance of finding your ancestor amongst those records is exceptionally high. Military records can even reveal individuals who never actually served, such as those who registered for the two World Wars but were never called to duty.
- Number of links to websites and archives that contain Utah military records.
- Kansas Historical Society (State Archives) – primary and secondary source material including muster rolls and lists of free-state forces, Civil War militia rolls, unit histories and rosters, military pensions index, Spanish American War records, WWI and WWII veterans and registrations indexes
6425 SW 6th Avenue
Topeka, KS 66615-1099
- U.S. National Archives – WWI Draft registration cards, casualties lists, WWI and WWII service records, Korean War records, Vietnam War records, Civil War and Spanish-American War records, and casualties lists.
- US Department of Veterans Affairs Nationwide Gravesite Locator – includes information on veterans and their family members buried in veterans and military cemeteries having a government grave marker.
- United States Index to Indian Wars Pension Files, 1892-1926 – military pension records of soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars between 1817 and 1898
- United States Registers of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914 - index of men who enlisted in the United States Army, 1798-1914.
- United States Mexican War Pension Index, 1887-1926 - index to Mexican War pension files for service between 1846 and 1848
- Civil War Soldiers Service Records - Service records for both Union and Confederate soldiers indexed by soldier's name, rank, and unit.
Utah Cemetery Records
As convenient as it is to search cemetery records online, keep in mind that there are a few disadvantages over visiting a cemetery in person. They are:
- Tombstone information is not always accurately transcribed
- The arrangement of the graves in a cemetery can be crucial as family members are often buried next to each other or in the same grave. This arrangement is not always preserved in the alphabetical indexes that are found online.
- Databases that can be searched online for Utah Cemetery records
- African American Cemeteries Online – African American, slave, and Native American cemetery records
- Find a Grave – over 100 million grave records can be searched on this site. Search can be conducted by name, location, or cemetery name.
- Interment.net - A free online database containing approximately 4 million cemetery records from around the world.
- Billion Graves – as the name implies, you can search a billion records including headstone photos, transcriptions, cemetery records, and grave locations.
Obituaries can reveal a wealth about our ancestor and other relatives. You can search our Utah Newspaper Obituaries Listings from hundreds of Utah newspapers online for free.
Utah Wills and Probate Records
The documents found in a probate packet may include a complete inventory of a person’s estate, newspaper entries, witness testimony, a copy of a will, list of debtors and creditors, names of executors or trustees, names of heirs. They can not only tell you about the ancestor you’re currently researching, but lead to other ancestors.
Most of these records must be accessed at a county court or clerk’s office, but some can be found online as well. You can obtain copies of the original probate records by writing to the county clerk.
Utah probate records have been recorded by the probate division clerks of the Utah District Courts and include dockets, wills, oaths, inventories, letters, bonds, appraisements, accounts, court orders, claims, and final settlements.
Utah Immigration and Naturalization Records
The naturalization process generated many types of records, including petitions, declarations of intention, and oaths of allegiance. These records can provide family historians with information such as a person's birth date and place of birth, immigration year, marital status, spouse information, occupation, witnesses' names and addresses, and more.
Most overseas immigrants came to Utah through east coast ports such as New, and then traveled by railway to Utah. Earlier immigrants landed at New Orleans and then traveled by steamboats upriver to Utah. The U.S. National Archives has passenger lists or indexes of American ports for 1820 to 1940, as well as immigration and naturalization records for the entire United States. These records can also be accessed at the National Archives Regional Branch in Utah City
Utah Native American Records
- Utah Native American Records
- Utah Historical Society – Native American census reports
- Access Genealogy – Utah Native American census records, tribal histories, and much more
- U.S. National Archives - information on American Indians who maintained their ties to Federally-recognized Tribes (1830-1970).
- Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
- American Indians Records Repository - records dating from the 1700s including trust, education and other historic Indian Affairs records
American Indian Records Repository
17501 West 98th Street
Lenexa, KS 66219
Missing Matriarchs – Resources for Researching Female Utah Ancestors
Looking for female ancestors requires an adjustment of how we view traditional records sources. A woman’s identity was often under that of her husband, and often individual records for them can be difficult to locate. The following resources are effective in locating female ancestors in Utah where traditional records may not reveal them.
- Audacious Women: Early British Mormon Immigrants, Rebecca and Ralph Bartholomew (Signature Books, 1995)
- Sunbonnet Sisters: True Stories of Mormon Women and Frontier Life, Leonard J. and Susan Arrington Madsen (Bookcraft Press, 1981)
- Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah, Claudia Bushman (Utah State University Press, 1997)
- Gathered in Tine: Utah Quilts and Their Makers, Settlement to 1950, Kae Covington (University of Utah Press, 1997)
- Trailing the Pioneers: A Guide to Utah’s Emigrant Trails, 1829-1869, Peter DeLafosse, (Utah State University Press, 1994)
- Polygamy and the Frontier Mormon Women in Early Utah, Lawrence Foster (Utah Historical Quarterly 50 (Summer 1982): 268-89
Selected Resources for Utah Women’s History
Brigham Young University
Women’s Research Institute
Provo, UT 84602
Family History Library
35 North West Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
Merrill Library Special Collections
Utah State University
Logan, UT 84321
Common Utah Surnames
The following surnames are among the most common in Utah and are also being currently researched by other genealogists. If you find your surname here, there is a chance that some research has already been performed on your ancestor.
ABLET, ABNER, ADAMS, ALDES, ALDOUS, ANDERSON, ANNAS, ASHCROFT, BALDRY, BALDWIN, BARKER, BARNABY, BATES, BEARSS, BEDDINGFIELD, BEDINGFIELD, BERRETT, BILLY, BIORNSEN, BRADFORD, BRANCH, BRODIE, BRUUS, BURGES, BURTON, CALVER, CARVER, CHRISTENSEN, CHRISTIANSEN, CLARK, CLEMENTS, CLUTTON, CROCKET, CROW, CROWE, DAHL, DAINES, DARRICOTT, DAVENPORT, DAVIS, DAY, DEWHURST, DOGGETT, DOWDLE, DYER, EBBESEN, EDWARDS, ELLIS, FENEX, FEVERYEAR, FEVIER, FIELDING, FISK, GALE, GAY, GAYNE, GERMANDSEN, GLOVER, GRACE, GRIFFIN, GROVES, GUNNING (GUNING), HADDOCK, HANSEN, HILL, HILLIER, HOWARD, HYMAS, JACKSON, JENOR, JENSEN, JOHN, JONES, KEELER, KENT, KING, KINGE, KNUDSEN, LAMB, LAMMONT, LAPHAM, LARSEN, LARWOOD, LEGGETT, LING, LOCKWOOD, MARKUSSEN, MARTIN, MAYHEW, MICHELSEN, MILLER, MORRIS, NAISH, NASH, NEIL, NEWMAN, NIELSEN, OATLEY, PARDEE, PARSONS, PEAKE, PEARCE, PEACE, PEDERSEN, PERCE, PERSE, PHENIX, PIERCE, PIRCE, PORTER, POUELSEN, POULSEN, PRATT, PRICTER, REDDISH, REEVE, ROCKWELL, ROGERS, ROSE OR ROUS, ROUSE, ROWSE, RUSH, RUSHE, SALTER, SAUNDERS, SAVAGE, SEAMAN, SEAMONS SILLETT, SIMONSEN, SMITH, SORENSEN, SPENCER, SPINK, ST. JOHN, STEVENSON, STOCKDALE, SUMMON, SUMMONS, SYER, THORKILDSEN, THORNE, TOWER, TRUSSON, TUCKER, TWYNE, TYE, WAIT, WALDRON, WALKER, WARD, WARNE, WATSON, WEBB, WEED, WHITE, WIGLEY, WILKENSON, WILKINSON, WITHE, WOODHEAD, WOOLEY, WOOLNOUGH, WRIGHT, YOUNG