California Gold Rush

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This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford, Thelma Berkey Walsmith, and Nell Sachse Woodard for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the California Family History Research series.
History of California
California Vital Records
Census Records for California
Background Sources for California
California Maps
California Land Records
California Probate Records
California Court Records
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California Church Records
California Military Records
California Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
California Archives, Libraries, and Societies
California Immigration
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Ethnic Groups of California
California Gold Rush
California County Resources
Map of California

For anyone seeking an ancestor who left for the California gold fields between 1848 and 1850, it would be wise to examine the emigrant companies from Massachusetts and the available lists of Argonauts. Northern California pioneers were called Argonauts in reference to those in ancient Greek mythology who sailed with Jason on the ship Argo. Octavius Thorndike Howe's Argonauts of '49: History and Adventures of the Emigrant Companies from Massachusetts, 1849'1850 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1923) includes a list of the mining companies sailing from Massachusetts to California in 1849. The list gives the name of the company, the ship's name, the ship's master, and the date of sailing. It catalogs 124 sailings and the number of persons in the company.

In 1890 Charles Warren Haskins published his personal memoirs, The Argonauts of California: Being the Reminiscences of Scenes and Incidents That Occurred in California in Early Mining Days; by a Pioneer (New York: Fords, Howard and Hulbert, 1890). In his narrative, Haskins included the names of a number of persons who arrived in California from both land and sea routes. Original sources are not indicated for entries because many sources that might have been used were lost in the San Francisco earthquake and fire. J. Carlyle Parker's preface in the Society of California Pioneers' Index to the Argonauts of California (New Orleans: Polyanthos Press, 1975) is a discussion of the problems with Argonaut lists and has an index.

The Libera Martina Spinazze index cards were deposited in the California State Library and, in time, the Sequoia Chapter, DAR, acquired four incomplete copies of these files. The files were finally completed and bound into four sets, copies of which were given by the DAR to the DAR Library in Washington, D.C., the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley, the California Historical Society, the California State Library in Sacramento, and the Los Angeles Public Library.

The 1852 census, the catalog, and manuscript and published material in the California State Library are other useful sources regarding the gold rush era. The Bancroft collection of diaries at the University of California at Berkeley is also useful. The San Joaquin Genealogical Society published five volumes of probate records, newspapers, and vital records covering the period of 1850 to 1866 for its county in Gold Rush Days, which is available from the Western Reserve Historical Society, 10825 E. Blvd., Cleveland, OH 44106.