Nevada Family History Research
This entry was originally written by Nell Sachse Woodard and Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Beginning in the 1820s, trailblazers such as Jedediah S. Smith, Peter Skene Ogden, Kit Carson, and, Gen. John C. Fremont crossed Nevada’s miles of trackless wilderness, laying the footpaths for pioneers who would follow in the next two decades. The Donner Party followed the Humboldt and Truckee rivers in the winter of 1846 on the way to their historic and tragic encampment in the Sierras. By 1848, lands encompassing Nevada were ceded to the United States by Mexico. The Mormon Station, the first permanent settlement at what is now Genoa in the Carson Valley, was established at the same time Utah Territory was formed in 1850. The territory included all of the present state of Utah, Nevada (except the southern tip that was in New Mexico Territory), the western third of Colorado, and a small corner of southwestern Wyoming.
The decade that followed brought the discovery of gold and silver and the opening of the Comstock Mine in Virginia City in 1859. Carson City was founded the same year with a burgeoning population of gold-seekers, many from California and Europe.
The Comstock Mine brought about the settlement of the state and its rapid economic growth. Nevada became a territory in 1861, and three years later was incorporated into the United States as the thirty-sixth state. When the Comstock Lode petered out, Nevada suffered a severe economic depression until minerals were discovered at Tonopah in 1900.
Near the turn of the twentieth century, an expansion of the sheep farming industry was attempted for improvement of a slackened economy. What it produced was an active conflict between cattlemen and sheepmen, which proved to be grist for many popular movies about the west. The Taylor Grazing Act settled the conflict by dividing the open range in 1934. The sheep industry was also responsible for increasing the ethnic diversity of the population, bringing English, Scots, Mexicans, Irish, Chinese, and Basques to the state.
In modern times, the state has been traversed by three major continental railroads and several airline companies. With the advent of legalized gambling in 1931, its two principal cities—Reno and Las Vegas—became meccas for the nation’s gamblers, and then augmented their already established eminence by granting marriages and divorces for people in a hurry who could not quickly obtain a decree in their own state.
In addition to its gambling interests, the state still carries on mining and, in recent decades, has become a magnet for recreational purposes, particularly with mountain resorts and skiing, or boating at Lake Mead, an adjunct to Boulder Dam. Nevada has extensive farming that, for the most part, is irrigated. The state also contributed its share of inhabitants for the wars in which the United States has been engaged and has been the site of much nuclear testing since the advent of the first atomic bomb during World War II.