Because settlement was later and thinner, Arizona’s records from the Spanish and Mexican periods aren’t as rich as those of neighboring New Mexico. The state archives in Phoenix and the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson do hold some documents from this era, such as the 1832 census of Santa Cruz County.
Territorial records begin with the 1860 census, in which Arizona was a county in the New Mexico Territory. A special census was taken in 1864 after the establishment of a separate Arizona Territory, with others in 1866, 1867, 1869, 1871, 1872, and 1882. (Note that what was called Pah-Ute County was included in Arizona Territory until 1866; thereafter it was part of the state of Nevada.) The new territory was included in the regular federal headcount beginning in 1870. Various “great registers” of voters, housed in the state archives, may also be used as census substitutes, generally covering 1882-1911.
Statewide birth and death records began in 1909, just before statehood. Because laws protect the privacy of birth records for 75 years and death records for 50 years, only family members with proof of relationship can access many records. But Arizona has a website http://genealogy.az.gov that lets you search for birth certificates (1887-1928) and death certificates (1878-1953), then view records in PDF format.
The Office of Vital Records also maintains a sampling of delayed birth records (from 1855) and death records (from 1877) from other sources. Marriage and divorce records, as well as probate records and any surviving information on pre-1909 births and deaths, are maintained by the clerk of the superior court in the county where the event occurred.
Obituaries and cemetery records can help fill in blanks when no death certificate is available. The state archives has a collection of cemetery records gathered by the Arizona Genealogical Society, as well as microfiche drawn from an index of obituaries covering 1865 to 1986.
Daniela Moneta, genealogy librarian for the Arizona State Archives, cautions researchers to remember that although Arizona is a large state, it’s divided into just 15 counties. (Originally, only four counties were created: Yavapai, Mohave, Yuma and Puma.) Several Rhode Islands would fit into one of Arizona’s counties. This makes travel from one county to the next time-consuming, especially if you want to visit historical societies and county courthouses.
You’ll find a wealth of records post-1863, Moneta adds, but not much for the pre-territory years when Arizona was on the frontier. There are, however, several published indexes to Mexican censuses for the area that is now Arizona: 1801 for Pimeria Alta; 1831 for Tucson, Tubac, and Santa Cruz; and 1852 for Pimeria Alta. Remember to check repositories for Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico for those early years.
For statewide information post-1863, Barbara B. Sayler, a professional genealogist and past president of the Arizona State Genealogical Society, says the state archives is the place to start. The collection includes records of marriage, civil and criminal cases, probates, insanity, inquests, wills and estates, naturalization, census, assessor rolls, the Great Register of voters, and real-estate deeds. You’ll find an obituary index, a cemetery index, city directories, school yearbooks, maps and a 15,000-volume genealogy collection. The state library has the best collection of Arizona newspapers on microfilm, dating to 1864. To see holdings, go to http://www.lib.az.us and look under “Collections” for the Arizona Newspaper Project.
You can also try some unusual sources for clues to Arizona ancestors. Moneta mentions the archives’ collection of more than 200 pioneer certificate applications, containing histories of families in Arizona before statehood. If your ancestors were ranchers, try the archives’ cattle-brand books, in which families registered their unique marks. Arizona researchers are also lucky in having access to the second-largest Family History Center outside Salt Lake City, the Mesa Regional Family History Center http://www.mesarfhc.org/resources.htm.
Besides the state genealogical society, Sayler advises researchers to contact the genealogical or historical societies covering the area you’re investigating. The Arizona Genealogical Advisory Board lists societies and professional researchers on its website, http://www.azgab.org. For specific county information, Sayler adds, contact societies and courthouses in that county, along with the libraries and special collections at the three state universities. Northern Arizona University in particular also holds a wealth of visual history; its online Image Database http://www.nau.edu/cline/speccoll/imagedb.html features 700,000-plus images.
- Miscellaneous Archives Relating to New Mexico Land Grants, 1695-1842 from the US Bureau of Land Management (University of New Mexico Library, 1955-1957)
- Record of Private Land Claims Adjudicated by the US Surveyor General, 1855-1890 from the New Mexico (Territory) Surveyor-General’s Office (University of New Mexico Library, 1955-1957)
- Records of Land Titles, 1847-1852 from the New Mexico (Territory) Secretary’s Office (University of New Mexico Library, 1955-1957)
- Spanish & Mexican Land Grants in New Mexico and Colorado edited by John R. Van Ness and Christine M. Van Ness (Sunflower University Press, 1980)
- Vigil’s Index, 1681-1846 by Donaciano Vigil (University of New Mexico Library, 1955-1957)
- Arizona Place Names by Will Croft Barnes (University of Arizona Press, 1988)
- Arizona Territory: Post Offices and Postmasters by John Theobald and Lillian Theobald (Arizona Historical Foundation, 1961)
- Arizona’s Names by Byrd Howell Granger (Falconer Publishing, 1983)
- Ghost Towns of Arizona by James E. Sherman and Barbara H. Sherman (University of Oklahoma Press, 1969)
- Historical Atlas of Arizona, 2nd edition, by Henry P. Walker and Don Bufkin (University of Oklahoma Press, 1986)
- A History of Arizona’s Counties and Courthouses edited by John J. Dreyfuss (National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Arizona, 1972)
- Arizona Frontier Military Place Names, 1846-1912, revised edition, by David V. Alexander and Daniel C.B. Rathbun (Yucca Tree Press, 2002)
- Arizona’s Memorial to Vietnam Veterans by Frances Arthur Hortsch (Phoenix Genealogical Society, 1987)
- The Army in the West, A Guide to Microfilmed Records in the Library of the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society from the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society (W.C. Cox, 1974)
- Chains of Command: Arizona and the Army, 1856-1875 by Constance Wynn Altschuler, Don Bufkin (Arizona Historical Society, 1981)
- Frontier Military Posts of Arizona by Ray Brandes (Dale Stuart King, 1960)
- The Rough Riders: A Brief Study and Indexed Roster of the 1st Regiment, US Volunteer Cavalry, 1898 by Howard Markland Gabbart with the US Army Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, 1st (Arizona State Genealogical Society, 1992)
- The Transformation of Arizona into a Modern State by Charles Ynfante (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002)
- A Guide to Arizona Courts (Arizona Supreme Court, 1997)
- Arizona Death Records: An Index Compiled from Mortuary, Cemetery, and Church Records, 3 vols. (Arizona State Genealogical Society, 1976-1982)
- Northern Arizona Territorial Death and Burial Records, 1870-1910 by Dora M. Whiteside (D.M. Whiteside)
Return to the main Arizona page