For more than a century, Americans ventured west to seek wealth and start their lives anew. You’ve heard the dangers they faced in the Wild West—cruel weather, starvation, disease, bandits, ferocious animals, hostile American Indians—but the west was “wild” in another sense: the ever-shifting boundaries of what would later become the Western states. Territories jockeyed with each other for land, making it difficult to trace your ancestors who lived in these Western regions before statehood.
This “New Map of the Union” shows the Western states and territories in 1857, though you’ll notice some major differences between state boundaries on this map and the ones on your favorite map app today. Washington and Oregon extend all the way east to the Rocky Mountains, and Kansas expands farther west. The monstrous “Nebraska Territory” contains land from five other modern states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Likewise, “Utah” and “New Mexico” contain pieces of other states.
Check out this table, which lists each of the states west of Missouri, when they were (or weren’t) organized into territories, when they were admitted as states to the Union and what (if any) other territories they were part of before statehood. Use this table to search for records of your Western ancestors in the appropriate archives.
|Name||Territory organized||Statehood||Previously part of|