Arizona, United States Genealogy

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This article is about the southwestern U.S. state. For other uses, see Arizona (disambiguation).

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Welcome to Arizona, The Grand Canyon State

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Historians disagree about the meaning and derivation of the place name Arizona.[1]  What is now southern Arizona and northern México was known by the Spanish as the Pimería Alta, or Upper Pima Country after the natives of the area whom the Spanish called Pima. Within this area was a place that the Spanish called Arisona, Arissona or Arizona.

Historian James H. McClintock in Arizona, Prehistoric, Aboriginal, Pioneer, Modern: The Nation’s Youngest Commonwealth within a Land of Ancient Culture (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916) and in other works noted that the name was probably derived from a native place name that sounded like Aleh-zon or Ali-Shonak which meant small spring or place of the small spring. The Dictionary: Tohono O'odham/Pima to English, English to Tohono O'odham/Pima indicates that Al Shon, translated as Place of Little Spring, is the place name Arizona.

However, the current State Historian, Marshall Trimble, agrees with Donald T. Garate, Chief of Interpretation/Historian at Tumacácori National Historical Park, who studied the early documents referencing the place name Arizona while researching Juan Bautista de Anza: Basque Explorer in the New World, 1693-1740 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2003) that Arizona is a Basque word meaning The Good Oak Tree.

Garate argues that early missionaries to the area did not note Arizona as a native settlement. The ranchería Arizona was established between 1734 and 1736 by Bernardo de Urrea, of Basque heritage born in Mexico. It is south of the international border in Sonora, México about forty miles southwest of Tumacácori. The ranchería Arizona quickly became a place of note when silver (Planchas de Plata) was discovered nearby. In "Arizona (Never Arizonac)," Garate records a 1737 report by Captain Juan Bautista de Anza (father of the Anza trail explorer), that a slab of silver weighing more that 2,500 pounds had been discovered "between the Guevavi Mission and the ranchería called Arizona (entre la Miss.n de Guebabi, y la ranchería del Arissona)." Garate also notes that the place name Arizona can be found in Central and South America where the Spanish, including the Basque, settled and where Tohono O'odham/Pima names are unlikely to be found.


  • Barnes, Will C. Arizona Place Names. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1988, pp. 26-27.
  • Dean, Saxton, et al. Dictionary: Tohono O'odham/Pima to English, English to Tohono O'odham/Pima. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1983, p. 138.
  • Garate, Donald T. "Arizona (Never Arizonac)."
  • Granger, Byrd Howell. Arizona’s Names: X Marks the Place. Tucson, Arizona: Falconer Pub. Co., 1983, pp. 30-31.
  • Thompson, Clay. "A Sorry State of Affairs When Views Change." The Aizona Republic, February 25, 2007, p. B10.


  1. Arizona State Library, Archives and Records, "The Meaning of Arizona" at Arizona State Library, Archives and Records ( : accessed 25 August 2008)

Featured Content

Did You Know?

There are at least 15 Indian tribes on 17 reservations in the state. In addition to the Navajo—the largest tribe—important groups are the Mohave, Apache, Hopi, Paiute, Papago, Pima, Yuma, Yavapai, Hualapai, and Havasupai. Histories of Arizona Indians are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under ARIZONA - MINORITIES, as well as under ARIZONA - NATIVE RACES. Other records of American Indians are listed in the Subject Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the names of the tribes.

Prison Records: Arizona Department of Corrections has a searchable online database of 100 years of Inmate Admissions (1872 - 1972).


Extinct or Renamed Counties:
Castle Dome | Ewell | Pah-Ute


Arizona State Genealogical Society

Research Tools

Robinson, William Henry. The Story of Arizona. Phoenix, Ariz: Berryhill Co, 1919. scan of the entire book.

McClintock, James H., Mormon Settlement in Arizona, A Record of Peaceful Conquest of the Desert, Phoenix, Ariz: Printing and binding by the Manufacturing Stationers, 1921.

The entire book on Project Gutenburg.

BYU Research Outline for Arizona

Things You Can Do

In order to make this wiki a better research tool, we need your help! Many tasks need to be done. You can help by:




22-23 January 2010 - The 2nd Annual Mesa Arizona Family History Expo will be held at the Mesa Convention Center 263 N. Center Street, Mesa, Arizona from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Family historians (and those even mildly interested in researching their roots) can learn all about the latest techniques and technology. Visit Family History Expos for more details.