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  • Sources at NEHGS for the Rocky Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona)

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : April - May 1992

    The American West divides into the Rocky Mountain states near the Continental Divide and the Pacific coastal states of California, Oregon, and Washington. The latter, for several decades the fastest growing area of the country, will be the subject of the next “Acquisitions News” column. The eight states to be considered now form the bulk of the nineteenth-century “Wild West.” Since ancient times they have been home to numerous Native American Indian tribes (especially the Apache, Navajo, Shoshone and Crow) and were frequently explored by Spanish conquistadores and settled by missionaries or Mexicans long before “norteamericanos” arrived. In addition to its fabled glaciers. mountain lions, canyons, sagebrush, horses, rattlesnakes and national parks, this region also contains several large “new” cities, notably Phoenix, Denver and Las Vegas.

    Through about 1885, and especially alter the Civil War, the “Wild West” was populated by trappers, prospectors, miners, “silver kings,” ranchers, cowboys, saloonkeepers, madams, dance hall girls and, perhaps most famously, outlaws and lawmen (of whom “Buffalo Bill” Cody, “Wild Bill” Hickok, and the James brothers are treated in NEXUS 5[1988]:19-22). By 1890 and the “closing of the frontier”, these often legendary figures had been succeeded by homesteaders, shopkeepers, schoolmarms, railway crews, and immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Russia especially. From this century we can add dam and highway builders, mining and civil engineers, conservationists and present-day environmentalists, and casino owners and gamblers. The Wasatch Valley of Utah, moreover, is the world center of Mormonism, whose nineteenth-century founders were largely Yankees and whose early converts were mostly English artisans (their New England cousins were called “Mill English” by David C. Dearborn in NEXUS 8[1991]:20-23) or immigrants from Scandinavia. Mormon culture extends into much of Idaho and Arizona as well. Except for Nevada and Colorado, admitted to the Union in 1864 and 1876 respectively, these western states were generally the last areas of the mainland U.S. to be admitted to statehood - Montana in 1889, Idaho and Wyoming in 1890, Utah in 1896, and New Mexico and Arizona in 1912. Many “molders and mythologizers” of this region were New Englanders or Midwesterners; ten, including gunmakers Colt, Winchester and Remington, cowboy artist Frederic Remington and western author Louis L’Amour, are treated in NEXUS 7(1990): 111-15.

    As might be expected, NEHGS holdings on the Rocky Mountain states are the smallest section of our American collection. We own published, mostly territorial, census indexes for seven of these states through 1880 (New Mexico through 1870 only), plus 1910 for Wyoming and Nevada. Especially notable are V. L. Olmsted, Spanish and Mexican Colonial Censuses of New Mexico: 1790, 1823, 1845 (1975) and Spanish and Mexican Censuses of New Mexico, 1750-1830 (1981); and J. R. Kearl, C. L. Pope, and L. T. Wimmer, Index to the 1850, 1860 & 1870 Censuses of Utah: Heads of Households (1981). Major journals of which we own full runs include The Idaho Genealogical Society Quarterly, (1958- , with a separate index for vols. 1-10), The Colorado Genealogist (1939-), with a subject index for vols. 142), Copper State Bulletin (1965-), for Arizona), The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 31 vols. (1910-40) and Genealogical Journal (1972-), published by the Utah Genealogical Association. The last two are particularly useful for the New England ancestry of Mormon leaders Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Wilford Woodruff (see vols. 20 and 22 of UGHM especially) and guides to records at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. NEHGS also has partial runs of New Mexico Genealogist (vols. 23 [1984], 25- [1986-] and Boulder Genealogical Society Quarterly (most of vols. 3-17, 1971-1985). Major multi- family compendia include J. U. Sanders, Society of Montana Pioneers Register (1889), Mrs. A.H. Beach, Women of Wyoming, 2 vols. (1927-29?), Colorado Families, a Territorial Heritage (1981) and Fray Angélico Chavez, Origins of New Mexico Families in the Spanish Colonial Period (1954, repr. 1975). The Society owns five or more “mugbook” volumes for three of these states - Montana, Idaho, and Colorado- but substantial county material only for Idaho (including almost 20 volumes of records from Kootenai County).

    The Society’s acquisition of Michel Call’s Mormon Pioneer Genealogical Library, which meticulously condenses the 1942-1969 LDS family group sheet data on the ancestry of the 10,000 Utah pioneers with the largest number of living descendants, was noted in NEXUS 2(1985):56-58. In addition, three enormous new microfiche collections of data assembled by the Mormon Church are available at NEHGS through the kind auspices of the LDS Family History Library. These are the heavily used International Genealogical Index or IGI (1988 version); the Family History (formerly Genealogy) Library Catalog, which lists, by author, title, locality, surname and subject, all holdings of that great facility, approximately 1.6 million microfilms and 200,000 books, any of which films (but no books) may be borrowed through a Mormon branch library; and the Family Registry Index, updated monthly, which lists over 300,000 ancestors now being researched by active genealogists. The IGI abstracts 147 million birth, baptismal, or marriage records from generally the early sixteenth to the end of the nineteenth century. Major areas of coverage are the U.S., England and Scotland, and Scandinavia; one particularly useful highlight is the inclusion of births and marriages from almost all volumes of Massachusetts vital records published before 1970. Despite some [53] erroneous entries and much duplication the IGI is a breathtaking resource - handily, even many times over the largest and most useful genealogical index ever compiled. The Family History Library Catalog is almost equally breathtaking as an inventory of the largest loan or microfilm collection probably in any field. The Family Registry Index lists addresses of contributors and birth, marriage and death years and places (country and state only, not counties or towns), plus parents and spouses, for registered ancestors.

    Almost all nineteenth, and many twentieth century westerners were born elsewhere, and in works on other states plus myriad genealogies there is much “buried” data on early pioneers to this region. Useful guidebooks to local materials in the west include D. L. Richards, Montana’s Genealogical and Local History Records (1981) and J. V. H. Spiros, Handy Genealogical Guide to New Mexico (1981); the one state-wide mugbook index for this area is J. C. and J. C. Parker, Nevada Biographical and Genealogical Sketch Index (1986). Our collection of books on the Rocky Mountain states is small; additions and gifts, as always, are welcome. The Mormon Pioneer Genealogical Library, the IGI, the Family History Library Catalog and the Family Registry Index, however, multiply these resources immeasurably, and our holdings of the 1910 census, a 1987 gift from Mr. Claude C. Nivens, include almost all of these eight states. -GBR

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