Book Curses

Libraries have long employed book curses to protect their volumes, and the State Research Library is no exception! However, instead of calling upon ravens to pluck out the thieves’ eyes, ours invoke honor, history, and money.

Mulford Winsor, State Librarian from 1932-1956, affixed this warning to newspaper folio volumes kept at the State Library, noting they are “compiled and bound at considerable expense of time, labor, and money.” Winsor was active in newspaper work as well as politics. As State Librarian, he developed the newspaper collection for “all investigators, research workers and historians who may have need of it.”
Book PlateIronically, the changing nature of preservation and access would make such measures unnecessary.  The warning correctly notes “The pages become brittle with age, and are easily broken.”  But, to preserve the newspapers for the future generations, State Library staff have had to disobey many, many of these printed warnings.

Unbinding and cutting apart the volumes is the first step in microfilming and digitizing newspapers. Researchers who have seen microfilm of bound pages, with important details swallowed up in the bound crease of the page, know why.  Collators over the years have encountered stitched bindings, and newspapers held together with staples as thick as carpenters’ nails. At first the papers were merely microfilmed for preservation and access, but beginning in 2004, the National Digital Newspaper Program began funding digitization of the microfilm, which the State Research Library has participated in since 2007, leading to the Arizona Digital Newspaper Program, where researchers can enjoy what those massive newspaper folios protected—without the threat of a curse!


Posted in Arizona Digital Newspaper Project, History

Researching Arizona’s place names

place names 3Questions regarding colorful Arizona place names often take place on the highways, where exit signs point to places like “Bloody Basin Road.” If curiosity survives the miles, where can someone look up how these places get named?

There are two standard works for such research: Arizona Place Names by Will C. Barnes and Arizona’s Names: X Marks the Place by Byrd Howell Granger, and both have a place in the State Research Library’s ready reference collection due to frequent use. The library’s copy of original edition of Barnes’ book is heavily annotated and the first few pages are falling apart.

The two books have an intertwined history: Arizona Historian Will C. Barnes’ book was first printed in 1935. Granger revised Barnes’ book for the University of Arizona Press in 1960. Granger published her own book in 1983, and the current edition of Arizona Place Names was published in 1988, and remains in print.
place names 2
The bibliography for the current Barnes book is two pages. Granger’s book contains nine pages of cited publications and three pages of persons interviewed for oral history. Granger explains “Where a family name is cited, the reference is to information learned during visits with “old timers” or those knowing local history. During the early years of research, the oral sources were most important, for the true pioneers were increasingly being silenced by time.”
Both Barnes and Granger give the location of the place name. Sometimes more than one place in Arizona has the same name!

So to answer the question of Bloody Basin, according to Barnes, it is “Said to have been so called because of the many battles with Indians that took place in this region.” (Barnes,54). Granger repeats this, but also adds that “Fred Henry and four other prospectors were attacked here by Apaches in May 1864 and all were wounded. Henry went for help despite having been wounded in both legs.” She also notes the story of a bridge over a gorge where Bloody Basin is: “During one of these crossings, the suspension bridge collapsed and the sheep fell to a bloody death in the “basin” below.” (Granger, 76).

Posted in Genealogy, Resources

Digital Newspaper Programs : Preserving Arizona’s Newspapers

The Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records (LAPR), in partnership with the University of Arizona, has received a $279,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue digitizing historic newspaper collections.

This is the 4th National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) grant received by LAPR. Between 2008-2012, LAPR digitized approximately 380,000 pages and made them available on both the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” site and on the Arizona Historical Digital Newspapers  platform. This new grant adds another 100,000 pages, bringing the total online newspaper collection to nearly half a million pages.


Before Arizona received statehood in 1912, more than 200 newspaper titles were published in 60 towns. In 1991, LAPR began the Arizona Newspaper Program, which sought to preserve these early newspapers on microfilm. Despite its dated reputation, microfilm remains the standard for long-term preservation. If kept in the right environment, microfilm can last up to 500 years.  Microfilm is also an essential component of the digitization process because the online copies are made from scans of the film.  To date, LAPR has microfilmed over 1.5 million pages of newsprint. The negatives are kept in cold storage, and Diazo “use-copies” are available for research at the Polly Rosenbaum State Archives and History Building using state of the art digital microfilm readers.

Microfilm reader

Over the first three cycles of the NDNP grant, LAPR digitized 68 historical titles, all published between 1859-1922. These titles chronicle the Arizona Territory on its journey to statehood, and document the development and early identity of Arizona as a frontier, when it would sometimes take weeks or months for outside news to reach the territory. Through these papers readers see Arizona grow and change with the arrival of new technologies – the telegraph system sped up communication, railroads and automobiles made travel easier, and the seemingly ever-expanding mining and agricultural industries grew Arizona’s economy.

Arizona Republican 5-22-1920
(Advertisement in The Arizona RepublicanMay 22, 1920)

With this fourth grant cycle, the priorities for choosing which titles to digitize have shifted. In addition to filling some gaps in the earlier runs, the project will focus on titles that represent underserved voices and communities. To that end, LAPR hopes to digitize non-English language newspapers including El Tucsonense (1915-1959), one of the longest-running Spanish-language Mexican American newspapers in Arizona, and Ádahooníłígíí (1943-1957), the first Navajo language newspaper. Other high priority titles are the 93rd Blue Helmet, which served the Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Huachuca, and the Poston Chronicle, published during World War II for the Poston War Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp.

Fire department at Poston Relocation Camp
(Image of Poston Relocation Camp)

The Arizona State Library is honored and very excited to be able to continue the Arizona Digital Newspaper Project. The historical and cultural identity of Arizona can appear quite different depending on the lens through which it is viewed. The addition of these papers to the online collections will nurture a fuller appreciation for and understanding of the disparate forces which have combined to create our Arizona identity.

Posted in Uncategorized

Researching property history in Arizona, Part 4: Plat Maps

(This is Part 4 of a series written by Research Library team member Chris Seggerman. Read Part 1. Read Part 2. Read Part 3. Read Part 5.)

What does a neighborhood look like before it exists? How do blank square-mile sections fill with ordered rows of streets and houses? How does a developer sell that plan to investors or request development rights from the city and county for that neighborhood? Before the first shovel broke ground to build your neighborhood, those who planned it used a plat map.

Plat maps are filed by book and page number at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. The originals eventually pass to the State Archives. You can view unofficial copies of the maps here*.

This website wants you to enter the book and page number. That information can be found on a deed. The Maricopa County Assessor’s office also has links to this information on their parcel viewer.

Plat map example

(Image credit: C. Seggerman photograph of the original map located at the Arizona State Archives)

Historic plat maps are also interesting from aesthetic perspective. They predate computer-aided drafting, and some are practically works of art. They provide direct clues how a neighborhood used to look. The plat map for the Capitol Addition—Book 1, page 62– shows Tract A set aside for the site of the State Capitol, and other details. It shows the Valley Street Railway Company’s route down Washington Street. It also shows that several streets have changed name: Bingham became Monroe, Franklin became Adams, and Johnstone became Jefferson. It also shows that lots surrounding the capitol are small and narrow—a detail visible in slightly later aerial photos of the area.

Plat map example

(Image credit: C. Seggerman photograph of the original map located at the Arizona State Archives)

Some neighborhoods are platted by corporations. Other early plats show groups or individuals who gave neighborhoods now forgotten names. Simm’s Addition, registered with the County Recorder by James T. Simms in 1893, sits between Central and Third Avenue, just south of Interstate 10. Two of its streets, Westmoreland and Portland have parks in the middle of their streets, but only Portland remains. Westmoreland is now occupied by the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Irish Cultural Center, near the park. Interested researchers could construct the layout of the many neighborhoods sacrificed to Interstate 10 using plat maps alone.

You can also find development details you might not have thought about. For example, the area around Scatter Wash, where I walked home from high school, is a drainage easement. I grew up in terror that Scatter Wash might eventually be developed instead of remaining full of trees, bike ramps, and winding footpaths. The plat map explains “…no structure of any kind be constructed or any vegetation be planted nor allowed to grow within the drainage easements which would impede the flow of water over, under, or through the easements. The City of Phoenix may, if it so desires, construct and/or maintain drainage facilities on or under the land in the easements.”

That did not stop the City of Phoenix from clearing some vegetation and slightly reshaping the wash in the late 1990s, but the plat map explains that area will probably always remain undeveloped.

*If the electronic copy of the plat map at the County Recorder’s website is difficult to read, you can see the early originals at the State Archives or at the Recorder’s office.

Posted in Archives, Research

Researching property history in Arizona, Part 3: The Lost Cities of State Highway Department Maps

(This is Part 3 of a series written by Research Library team member Chris Seggerman. Read Part 1. Read Part 2.  Read Part 4.  Read Part 5.)

These days, we take for granted that the Valley of the Sun contains a megalopolis: Not just one city, but  many, each outgrowing their original boundaries to rub against and occasionally spar with one another. Instead of crossing an expanse of road, farm fields, and citrus groves, we move from city to city by crossing a street. Sometimes only a small “Welcome To!” sign marks the boundary. In 1937, there was still room between cities, before individual communities began to vanish, overwhelmed and annexed by their neighbors.  The collection of county road maps acts as a gateway to those places.

The collection covers all the counties in Arizona, but Maricopa itself took 10 sheets. Almost every sheet shows one or two locations long since gone, sometimes just a ranch but often an entire small community. Beardsley, which gave its name to the arterial street in north Phoenix—now practically swallowed by Loop 101—is on sheet 3. Originally, it was a railroad junction, but vanished when the railroads expanded.



While each sheet has such areas scattered throughout, Sheet 10 shows enlargements of 15 communities from the County.  For those interested in genealogy, the US Census Department used these maps to plan enumeration districts in the less-populated parts of Maricopa county for the 1940 census.

Locating the communities is easy enough, because the map gives coordinates of township and range. Each community had its own history, with slight variations on a theme: For example, Marinette used to be where Sun City is now, and gives its name to the recreation center there.



In 1939, Sonerata was distinct enough to catch Highway Department cartographers’ attention, but today it is just a neighborhood at the southwest corner of Warner and Gilbert roads, annexed by Gilbert about ten years ago. The name is slightly misleading: Google Maps and the Maricopa County Assessor calls the neighborhood “Sonora Town” today, but it was Sonoratown when Gilbert realtor C.H. Russell subdivided the area in May of 1920.

This map is almost a checklist for anyone researching urban growth in Maricopa County.  Guadalupe, Gila Bend, Sunnyslope, Litchfield Park and Peoria are all still fairly present, but the rest are census designated places or ghost towns.


Posted in Uncategorized

Researching property history in Arizona, Part 2: Maricopa County Land Ownership Maps

(This is Part 2 of a series written by Research Library team member Chris Seggerman. Read Part 1. Read Part 3. Read Part 4.  Read Part 5.)

Phoenix sprawls: Practically from the Bradshaws to the Sierra Estrella and South Mountain, from the White Tanks to the McDowell Mountains, urban growth has covered the valley in subdivisions and houses, crisscrossing the land with names. Population growth means more homeowners, and more homeowners mean more names to plow through if you are researching from present to past.

But what if you could go back before the sprawl, before phone books full of names, and start at the beginning, skipping back 113 years?  The Maricopa County Land Ownership maps on the Arizona Memory Project cover who owned what from 1903-1929.

Land ownership map

The originals are held at the State Archives, and can be viewed in person.

Each sheet covers a 36-section township. Earlier years have fewer maps, and the collection’s coverage grew as properties expanded. They act as good visual guides when you need to see who owned the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of a section. Physical details like mountains and canals are sometimes present, sometimes not. And it’s interesting to see if land ownership changed or not when a railroad went through.

Land ownership maps can also be a way to figure out how a place got its name. Ludden Mountain, in sections 5-6 of Township 4 North, Range 2 East, takes its name from Homer Ludden.

Ludden map

Note coverage of T4N, R2E, did not begin until 1914, and no one owned Section 5 yet. By 1923, Homer Ludden owned all of Section 5, and some land around it, including the mountain that bears his name today.


Posted in Uncategorized

Researching property history in Arizona

Phoenix renews: that’s built into the name. The city’s ashes, both figurative and sometimes literal, surround us. You don’t have to look far to see such traces. Clues abound: An empty lot has a barren sidewalk and foundation flanked by overgrown palm trees, suggesting a house.  Who lived in that house? Who built that house? What past lives has the vacant lot you pass by every day lived?

This is the first in a series of posts to inform interested researchers how to use electronic and physical resources to start answering those questions. Not everything is online, but the wealth of digital resources can help focus your research and prepare you for finding the sources behind them.

Multiple Arizona agencies, including state, county, and city interact with property records. Knowing each of them, what records they hold, and how to use them will benefit your research. For the purposes of this series, Phoenix and Maricopa County serve as examples due to ease of online access, but same basic principles apply statewide.



(By Map says Bureau of Land Management; caption at bottom says United States Geological Survey., Public Domain,

Before you get started researching, it is vital to know Arizona is a Public Land Survey State.

This system divides Arizona into a grid that subdivides into smaller grids. The large grids, called townships, each cover 36 square miles. Street atlases for Phoenix have one township per page. Townships are located using coordinates from an initial point—in Arizona’s case, the Gila and Salt River Meridian, located on Monument Hill, slightly east of the Phoenix International Raceway.

In this system, you can find any point of land north or south of that point in terms of “Township”. “Range” refers to how far east or west it is. If anyone remembers Cartesian coordinates from geometry class, Townships are the Y axis, Ranges are the X axis.

Central Phoenix, for example, is in Township One North, Range Three East (T1N R3E) from that meridian. For the curious, Arizona goes north 41 townships, south 34 townships. Ranges go east 31 townships and west 21 townships. Inside each township are 36 numbered sections, and those can subdivide into half and quarter sections. A street atlas will tell you township, range and section number.

Why are these terms important? Because most deeds in Arizona refer to this system. Nearly every arterial street in the Phoenix metropolitan area runs along these section lines. Guide books such as place name dictionaries, stage-coach encyclopedias and ghost town directories all make use of these coordinates, as well as land ownership maps. Township, range, and section number will give you the precise location of any square mile in the state, even if it’s a square mile in the middle of nowhere.

(This is Part 1 of a series written by Research Library team member Chris Seggerman. Read Part 2Read Part 3.   Read Part 4.  Read Part 5.)

Posted in Uncategorized