Utah Territorial Records
Syllabus for class taught by Russell S. Lynch, Collection Operations at FamilySearch, presented at the NGS conference 2010.
The Utah Territory lasted longer than most territories because of political issues between the local residents and the federal government. The territory began in 1850 and continued until 1896, when Utah became a state.
- 1 EARLY BIRTH AND DEATH RECORDS IN UTAH
- 2 EARLY MARRIAGE RECORDS IN UTAH
- 3 TIMELINE FOR THE UTAH TERRITORY
- 4 TYPES OF UTAH TERRITORIAL RECORDS
- 5 HOW TO LOCATE TERRITORIAL RECORDS AT THE UTAH STATE ARCHIVES
- 6 HOW TO SEARCH RECORD SERIES AT THE UTAH STATE ARCHIVES
- 7 BIBLIOGRAPHY
EARLY BIRTH AND DEATH RECORDS IN UTAH
Utah began keeping birth and death records in 1898, two years after statehood. Finding birth and death records in the territorial period can be difficult. The territorial government authorized cities to record births and deaths in 1860. Alternate sources for vital record events are county probate court records, federal district court records, church records, and newspapers.
EARLY MARRIAGE RECORDS IN UTAH
County clerks in Utah started recording marriages in 1887. Finding a marriage record before 1887 can be as difficult as births and deaths. Check the same alternate sources listed for births and deaths.
TIMELINE FOR THE UTAH TERRITORY
Federal laws, territorial statutes, and local events affected the families and records of Utah. The following events highlight these milestones.
|| Mormon leaders organized the Provisional State of Deseret, which included parts of California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.|
|| The United States organized the Utah Territory, which included parts of Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. |
|| Indian Wars in the territory.|
|| The United States organized the territories of Nevada and Colorado, which reduced the area of the Utah Territory. |
|| The Morrill Act passed in Congress to discourage the practice of polygamy.|
|| The border changed between Utah and Nevada, reducing the Utah Territory.|
|| The territory of Utah established its current boundary. The northeast portion went to the Wyoming Territory.|
|| The Salt Lake City land office opened. Residents could establish legal title to land.|
|| The Beaver land office opened. It closed in August 1877.|
|| The Edmunds-Tucker Act passed in Congress. It impacted the people of Utah and their record-keeping practices. |
|| The United States admitted Utah as the 45th state. |
TYPES OF UTAH TERRITORIAL RECORDS
The Utah territorial government kept many records that are useful to family historians. The major sources include court records, land records, military records, and mining records.
HOW TO LOCATE TERRITORIAL RECORDS AT THE UTAH STATE ARCHIVES
Many territorial records are at the state archives. To locate territorial records, begin with information on their Web site:
- Go to http://www.historyresearch.utah.gov
- Go to the Utah State Archives portion of the Web site.
- Browse digital archives, or search name indexes.
Digital archives have images of the original records. Name indexes include personal and corporate names. Examples of indexed series include:
- Indian Wars Service Affidavits.
- Brand Books (1849-1930).
- Mining Records (1874-1881) for Ashbrook Mining District.
- Territorial Criminal Case Files (1882-1896).
- Probate Case Files (Third District: Salt Lake County) 1852-1896.
About District Court Records
Three district courts were created in 1850 at the same time that Utah became a territory. The territorial legislature granted county probate courts jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases and over chancery matters. The clerk of the probate court, also known as the county clerk, attended all sessions of the court and kept records of the court until 1878. The federal government restricted the probate courts to matters of estates and guardianship, removing all civil, chancery, and criminal jurisdiction. Probate courts maintained concurrent jurisdiction with the district courts over suits of divorce until 1887. Probate courts were abolished entirely at statehood in 1896.
About Land Records
From 1847 to 1869, land ownership was based on the Utah territorial land policies, which did not comply with federal laws. In 1869 Congressional legislation called for the establishment of a land office in Utah and reconciliation of land titles. Because of conflict between Utah Territory and the federal government, the first land office did not open in Utah until 1869. For the first 22 years after settlement, the national land system did not extend to Utah Territory, but the Utah Territorial Assembly governed land ownership in Utah. The territorial government established methods of surveying and acquiring title. These practices and the documents they created were recognized in Utah Territory, but they did not provide Utah settlers with federally recognized legal title to land. The territorial government also established county recorders as keepers of land records, and in 1888 the Territorial Assembly defined certain indexes and finding aids, which county recorders were required to keep. Reconciliation between the territorial and federal land distribution systems required Congressional legislation to establish a land office in Salt Lake City, integrate Utah Territory into the national land system, and provide relief to the inhabitants of cities and towns on the public domain. Subsequent legislation provided the additional opportunity to acquire land through the Desert Land Act.
About Mining Records
Documents associated with mining claims include the by-laws of various mining districts. These include thousands of individual notices of location, as well as mining deeds, affidavits showing proof of annual assessment labor, notices of intent to hold a claim, and lease documents.
About Military Records
The Utah State Archives holds a large collection of military records that includes original territorial militia and some later National Guard records, as well as service cards and burial data compiled from newspapers and official records.
HOW TO SEARCH RECORD SERIES AT THE UTAH STATE ARCHIVES
To a record series, begin with information on the state archives Web site:
- Go to http://www.historyresearch.utah.gov.
- Go to the Utah State Archives portion of the Web site.
- Search by phrases such as court, land, vital record, and military record.
- Review series descriptions.
- Check for finding aids and inventory lists. Many of these are online. The state archives put links on the description to these aids.
The Utah State Archives microfilmed many territorial records. Check the title or subject in the Family History Library Catalog to see what is available. Original records for territorial time period are available at the state archives.
- Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, Newberry Library, http://www.newberry.org/ahcbp/state_index.html (accessed 4 February 2010).
- Eichholz, Alice, Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources, Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1992, pages 733-744.
- Research Guides, Utah State Archives, http://archives.utah.gov/research/guides/index.html (accessed 4 February 2010).
- Utah Digital Newspapers, University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library, http://digitalnewspapers.org (accessed 4 February 2010).
- Utah Vital Records, Research Wiki, http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Utah_Vital_Records, 2009 (accessed 4 February 2010).