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Arizona Pioneer History – Conducting Ancestry Research By Date
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Arizona Pioneer History – Conducting Ancestry Research By Date

On February 14, 2012, Arizona will celebrate its centennial. It’s a timely reminder to reflect on how far the state has progressed since the days when dusty dirt trails traversed the state, winding in and out of fledgling settlements. Places which birthed after forcing dry reluctant land to sustain new life.

It wasn’t a time for the faint of heart. Transforming the western desert wilderness into habitable land demanded the efforts of heroic, daring men and women. They laid the first railroads, built the first houses, managed hotels, and established the first governments. These pioneers should not be forgotten. Recalling their efforts and stories is what genealogy is all about.


If you are among those whose ancestors are among the state’s early pioneers, this article is for you. It is intended to help you discover and preserve your own unique piece of history.

This article is the first in a series. The series will suggest research concepts, provide you with tools and tips intended to give a non-researcher the opportunity to explore the past without having to spend anything but time, and hopefully bring you one step closer to understanding a little more about your past and personal family tree.

The series is based, in part, on information gleaned while conducting “Otero” family surname research, Arizona’s first land grant family. Years of genealogy investigation yielded volumes of documents, unearthed long forgotten photos, and collaboratively produced a family tree exceeding ten generations. The Otero collection is presently housed in the permanent collections of the Tubac Historical Society and the Primeria Alta Historical Society of Nogales, in Arizona. While we cannot promise that every individual or group will have the same success, we can promise that what you will learn is informative and useful. So, let’s begin!

Why Research by Date?

When you embark on any major research project, your first keyword search terms will generally yield a sizeable body of material - which we will call your “universe.” This universe is not only broad in subject-matter, it is also broad in time. In order to work efficiently, it is necessary to break out this universe into smaller more manageable chunks to determine which resources are the most relevant for the specific subject matter that interests you.

For example, if you are interested in the framers of government, research US Territorial times from about 1863 through statehood. That should yield the best results. If you seek the more stereotypical image of a western pioneer, then concentrate on the 1849 mining boom period. That narrow period should be of greater value. Keep in mind that documents and photos memorialized close in time when events actually occurred tend to yield the best results.

Determining Relevant Historical Dates

Now that you understand how date specific search can improve end results, let’s consider the state’s major historical periods. Most 20th century text books generally categorize those periods as:

1. Indigenous (pre-Hispanic) 2. Spanish 3. Mexican 4. Territorial 5. Statehood

Now, let’s incorporate major historical events and government rule into our timeline. Our modified universe of Arizona history with beginning start dates is:

1. Indigenous (pre-Hispanic) (10,000 B.C );

2. Spanish exploration and possession (1539): 2.a. First Presidio (fort) established at Tubac (1752), 2.b. Tucson Presidio established (1775), 2.c. Mexican War of Independence (1810);

3. Mexican Independence / State of Vieja California (1821): 3.a. Mexican – American War (1846), 3.b. March of the Mormon Battalion (1846);

4. Territorial: 4.a. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo / US possession (1848), 4.b. Gold Rush Days / Mining Booms (1849), 4.c. New Mexico Territory (1850), 4.d. Gadsden Purchase (1853), 4.e. Confederate Territory of Arizona (1861/2), 4.f. US Civil War / U.S. Arizona Territory (1863), 4.g. Prescott becomes Territorial Capital (1864), 4.h. Tucson becomes Territorial Capital (1867), 4.i. Prescott reinstated as Territorial Capital (1877), 4.j. Phoenix incorporates as a city (1881), 4.k. Phoenix becomes Territorial Capital (1889), 4.l. Spanish American War (1898), 4.m. Mexican Revolution (1910); and

5. Statehood (1912)


Now that we have developed a more specific timeline to begin your ancestral search, look for maps, books, and other related documents that were created near the time period of your interest. Moving forward, your research results should be more fruitful when you research by date.

The next installment of this series will focus on salient resources regarding Arizona’s Indigenous tribes. Although they do not generally fall within the traditional category of Arizona pioneers (having a unique place in history of their own), they are important to pioneer history because their existence influenced those times and later generations. Best of luck as you begin your genealogy research.

Street Talk

D Cassidy  

Great article... I am all about the Territorial times of Arizona and of Phoenix... Phoenix has a lot of great history that is lost.!

  about 9 years ago
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