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Utah Genealogy & Ancestry

The State of Utah was organized as territory on Sept. 9, 1850 and entered the union as the 45th state on January 4, 1896. It has 29 Counties.

Bordered by ArizonaColoradoIdahoNevadaNew MexicoWyoming, Utah has a land area of 84,904 miles. It’s the 13th largest state, with 29 Counties and a population of 3,101,833 as of 2017. Its capital is Salt Lake City and the official state website is

As of 2010, Utah’s largest cities are Salt Lake City (186,440 residents), West Valley City (129,480 residents), Provo (112,488 residents), West Jordan (103,712 residents), Orem (88,328 residents), Sandy (87,461 residents), Ogden (82,825 residents), St. George (72,897 residents), Layton (67,311 residents), Taylorsville (58,652 residents).

Also known as “The Beehive State,” Utah was named for the Ute Indians. Its state motto is “Industry.”

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Utah History

The State of Utah was organized as territory on Sept. 9, 1850 and entered the union as the 45th state on January 4, 1896.

Utah’s cultural history is considerably enriched by evidence of prehistoric inhabitants dating as far back as 10,000 B.C. When Spaniards arrived in the 18th century, members of the Gosiute, Southern Paiute, Ute, Shoshone, and Navajo cultures were already here to greet them. Two expeditions led by Juan Maria de Rivera entered southeastern Utah in 1765; eleven years later, the Franciscans Dominguez and Escalante reached Utah Lake before turning back to Santa Fe.

Lured by the reports of John C. Fremont, Lansford W. Hastings, and others, emigrants to the Pacific left wheel tracks across Utah during the 1840s. The Bidwell-Bartleson party of 1841 was the first, but the Bryant-Russell, Harlan Young, and Donner-Reed groups came soon after, followed by the Gold Rushers of the early 1850s.

Published records from these groups are all publicly available.

Utah’s first permanent Anglo inhabitants were fur trappers who came west from St. Louis and north from Taos to hunt beavers. One of the better-known trackers, Osborne Russell, left diary records that he wintered in the Weber Valley in 1843 with a party of French-Canadian trappers. Miles Goodyear, meanwhile, started a trading post near present-day Ogden in 1846 to do business with emigrants on the Oregon Trail.

Before Goodyear actually opened his doors, he was bought out by Captain James Brown. Brown represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a persecuted religious group that began settling in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Popularly known as Mormons, they have since written and participated in a large portion of Utah’s history.

Mormonism’s strong communitarian emphasis served its adherents well in settling Utah’s harsh environment. The resources of the community were pooled through tithing, and organized groups of settlers were sent out to found well-planned colonies in outlying areas. Mormon colonies included men, women, and children with representatives from every necessary trade and profession: doctors, blacksmiths, carpenters, and especially musicians for the frequent Mormon dances that kept spirits up in the face of daunting material circumstances.

Under the leadership of the sagacious but controversial Brigham Young, Mormon colonies were established during the latter part of the nineteenth century, stretching from the Salmon River country of Idaho and the Big Horn Basin of northern Wyoming into northern New Mexico and Arizona. They even reached as far west as Carson City, Nevada and San Bernardino, California.

This combined territory was known as the State of Deseret. Unfortunately, its hopes for admission into the United States were dashed by the Compromise of 1850, which significantly downsized the state. From 1851 to 1856, the city of Fillmore served as Utah’s capital, after which Salt Lake City took over that role.

A good deal of nineteenth-century Utah history concerns the relationship between Utah Territory, created out of the Mexican Cession of 1848, and the federal government. Wary of the Mormon hierarchy of political power, federal governors and judges – regarded as “carpetbaggers” by Utah Mormons – sought to reduce the influence of the former. Tension between the two groups reached a tipping point in 1857, when federal troops under Albert Sidney Johnston were dispatched to restore order in the state.

The military presence, first at Camp Floyd west of Utah Lake, then at Fort Douglas east of Salt Lake Valley, created friction that was even further exacerbated by the Mormon practice of plural marriage. Federal laws against polygamy in the 1880s led to the imprisonment of those found guilty of “cohabitation.” Issuance of the “Manifesto” of Mormon President Wilford Woodruff in 1890 called for an end to the practice of plural marriage, ultimately resulting in Utah’s statehood in 1896.

Utah’s remarkably cosmopolitan population – a result of “The Americanization” of the state – was a very complex process in which the abandonment of plural marriage was only one aspect. Several other factors played a major role in the Utah’s development.

The first, the Mormon missionary program, drew extraordinary numbers of converts from the Eastern United States, the British Isles, Scandinavia, and the South Pacific. The second was the development of extensive mining operations coupled with the abandonment of the Mormon ideal of self-sufficiency that began with the gold rush of 1849.

Particularly in the Carbon, Juab, and Salt Lake Counties, Utah’s rich mineral resources brought a number of non-Mormon immigrants such as Slavs, Italians, and Greeks. With the construction of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the state’s Mormon identity finally faded away. The State’s core enterprise was now primarily non-Mormon, a trend which continued into the 1870s.

The pendulum swing from dissent to conformity achieved its apogee during the early twentieth century, as Utah politics assumed a characteristically conservative quality. During the 1930s, when the Great Depression devastated the state, Utah relied heavily on federal programs. The Works Projects Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) programs of Reagan’s New Deal were especially important in Utah’s economic recovery.

During World War II, Utah’s abundant supply of skilled labor led to the establishment of war industries and military bases that have since become a prominent part of the state’s economy.

This “Americanization” was not without dissent. The opening of the Uintah Indian Reservation to white settlement in 1905 created a land rush that outraged the Utes and resulted in deep resentment at what they regarded as a betrayal of their interests and cultural integrity. Shortly thereafter, in 1923, the Paiutes of San Juan County resisted white encroachment in the “Posey War,” the most recent major Indian war in the United States.

During the 1970s, Utah Governor Scott Matheson assumed leadership of the “Sagebrush Rebellion” to transmit Utah’s federally administered lands—a majority of state land—to state control.

While Utah had a theater where plays were performed as early as 1861, during the late-twentieth century Utah cultural life was enhanced with the emergence of organizations like the Pioneer Theater Company, the Utah Symphony, and Ballet West. The State today is also known for its tourism industry, owing to skiing in winter and Utah’s abundant national parks in the summer.

Utah also hosts an abundant, well-educated labor force, leading many businesses to establish their corporate headquarters there.