Family Tree Fiesta
12/3/2009
Are your family's roots planted in the desert sand and red rock of the American Southwest? Use our guide to find ancestral ties in the land of sagebrush and saguaros.
 
 
The American Southwest — Arizona and New Mexico, plus parts of California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah — is at once the oldest and newest part of the contiguous United States. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado explored Arizona and New Mexico in 1540, 25 years before his fellow Spaniards established St. Augustine, Fla. Santa Fe, NM, was founded in 1610, a decade before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Yet New Mexico and Arizona — designated the 47th and 48th states in 1912 — were the last stars added to the American flag before Alaska and Hawaii. This is the land of the "Old West," where gunslingers from Wyatt Earp to Billy the Kid blazed into legend. Yet it's also where, at Alamagordo, NM, the atomic age was born. Whether your ancestors settled here in Spanish times or came and went with the more recent mining and casino booms, read on to rustle up your Southwestern roots.

Bordered up

To know where to look for Southwestern ancestors, you'll need a little history. Boundaries in this wide-open country shifted like the desert dunes: Parts of Nevada, for example, once belonged to Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Western Texas has flown the flags of Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas and the Confederate States.