Nevada History and Research Overview

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Nevada’s history is far more compressed than that of its Southwestern neighbors. The outside world didn’t pay much attention to Nevada until the 1833-to-1834 expedition of John C. Fremont, in which he discovered Lake Tahoe. But that began to change with the 1847 arrival of Brigham Young in Utah and the 1849 discovery of gold in California. Nevada came under US control with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Most of Nevada became part of the new Utah Territory in 1850, with the southern tip assigned to the New Mexico Territory. The first permanent European-American settlement in Nevada was established in 1851 at Mormon Station, 13 miles south of what would soon become Carson City. That same year, gold was discovered at Dalton.

With the 1859 gold and silver find, dubbed the Comstock Lode, Nevada jumped onto the fast track to settlement and statehood. Virginia City sprang up almost overnight. A separate Nevada Territory was established in 1861, the same year journalist Mark Twain arrived in Carson City, beginning an adventure he’d dramatize in Roughing It (1872). Statehood came in 1864.

But bust soon followed boom, and Nevada slid into a depression that saw its population decline by a third from 1880 to 1900, when gold was found at Tonopah.

What most think of as modern Nevada began in 1927 with the re-legalization of gambling and the six-week divorce law. Soon Reno and Las Vegas were “wide open” cities. In 1941, the first hotel opened on what became the Las Vegas Strip.

(click to enlarge)
Nevada state map with county outlines



  • Federal census: 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
  • Statewide and territorial censuses: 1860 (Carson, Humboldt, and St. Mary’s counties), 1862 (Douglas, Humboldt, Lyon, Ormsby, Storey, and Washoe counties), 1863 (Lander county), 1875
  • Mortality schedules: 1870, 1880
  • Mortality schedules for Utah Territory: 1850, 1860


  • 200 Years in Nevada: a Story of People Who Opened, Explored and Developed the Land by Elbert B. Edwards (Publishers Press, 1978)
  • Beyond This Place There Be Dragons: the Routes of the Tragic Trek of the Death Valley 1849ers Through Nevada, Death Valley, and on to Southern California by George Koenig (Arthur Clark, 1984)
  • Brief Historical Sketches of Nevada Residents, Early 1900’s by Nona Parkin (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1997)
  • Carson Valley: Historical Sketches of Nevada’s First Settlement by Grace Dangberg (Carson Valley Historical Society, 1972)
  • Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1890 by Kenneth L. Holmes (Arthur H. Clark Co., ca. 1983-1991)
  • Desert Between the Mountains: Mormons, Miners, Padres, Mountain Men, and the Opening of the Great Basin, 1772-1869 by Michael S. Durham (Henry Holt, 1997)
  • First Directory of Nevada Territory: Containing the Names of Residents in the Principal Towns, a Historical Sketch by J. Wells Kelly (W.C. Cox Co., 1974)
  • Founding the Far West; California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840-1890 by David Allen Johnson (University of California Press, ca. 1992)
  • Genealogical Guide to Arizona and Nevada by Joyce V. Hawley (Verlene Publishing, ca. 1983)
  • Genealogical Prospecting in Nevada: a Guide to Nevada Directories by Joyce C. Lee (Nevada Library Association, 1984)
  • History of Nevada by Russell R Elliott (University of Nebraska Press, 1984, 1973)
  • History of Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming, 1540-1888 by Hubert Howe Bancroft (History Co., 1890)
  • History of Nevada: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers by Myron Angel (W.C. Cox, 1974)
  • An Inventory & Index to the Records of Carson County, Utah & Nevada Territories, 1855-1861 by Ellison, Marion (Grace Dangberg Foundation, 1984)
  • Inventory of the Church Archives of Nevada, Protestant Episcopal Church prepared by the Nevada Historical Records Survey Project (Historical Records Survey, 1941)
  • Inventory of the Church Archives of Nevada, Roman Catholic Church prepared by the Historical Records Survey Project (Historical Records Survey, 1939)
  • Mormons and Their Neighbors: an Index to Over 75,000 Biographical Sketches From 1820 To the Present by Marvin E. Wiggins (Brigham Young University, ca. 1984)
  • Nevada Biographical and Genealogical Sketch Index by Carlyle J. Parker and Janet G. Parker (Marietta Publishing Co., ca. 1986)
  • Nevada Guide to Genealogical Records by Diane E. Greene (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998)
  • Nevada, a Guide to the Silver State compiled by the Writer’s Program of the Work Projects Administration (W.C. Cox Co., 1974)
  • Nevada: a History of the State From the Earliest Times Through the Civil War by Effle Mona Mack (Arthur H. Clark Co., 1936)
  • Nevada: A Narrative of the Conquest of a Frontier Land by James Graves Scrugham (American Historical Society, 1935)
  • Nevada’s Northeast Frontier by Edna B. Patterson, et al. (University of Nevada Press, ca. 1991)
  • Nevada State Children’s Home, Admission Records, 1870-1920 by Doreen Robinson (Quintin Publications, ca. 2000)
  • The Newspapers of Nevada: a History and Bibliography, 1854-1979 by Richard E Lingenfelter and Karen Rix Gash (University of Nevada Press, 1984)
  • Reproduction of Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada, 1881”: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers by Thomas Hinckley Thompson (Howell-North, 1958)
  • Sketches of the Inter-Mountain States: Together with Biographies of Many Prominent and Progressive Citizens, 1847, 1909, Utah, Idaho, Nevada (Salt Lake Tribune, 1909)
  • Steeples Among the Sage, a Centennial Story of Nevada’s Churches by Leonidas Latimer Loofbourow (Lake Park Press, ca. 1964)
  • The Story of the Mine: As Illustrated by the Great Comstock Lode of Nevada by Charles Howard Shinn (D. Appleton, 1897)
  • Territorial Lawmen of Nevada: Vol. One, the Utah Territorial Period, 1851-1861 by Robert W. Ellison (Hot Springs Mountain Press, ca. 1999)
  • Who’s Who in Nevada: Brief Sketches of Men Who Are Making History in the Sagebrush State (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1968)

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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.