California State Census, 1852—The Gold in Them Thar’ Records

Posted by Paul Rawlins on September 13, 2010 in Content

Have you checked out the California State Census, 1852, that just went live on yet?

The California gold rush, somewhat inadvertently started by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill, would bring about 300,000 people to the state between 1848 and 1854.

The 1850 U.S. Federal Census tallied California’s population at 92,597. By 1852, when California took its only state census, the population had more than doubled, and the 1852 California State Census records tens of thousands of folks who weren’t on hand for the 1850 census. Not only that, but records from three counties from the 1850 census—Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Santa Clara—have since been lost or destroyed, and the 1852 state census can help fill in gaps there.

And the timing can make this census a good source for important gold rush figures, like James Marshall:

Or the legendary Sam Brannan (is it any surprise that his name appears on line 1?):

And here’s an interesting one. This appears to be the James Reed family, surviving members of the Donner Party. Except, James’s age (42 instead of 52) and birthplace (Pennsylvania instead of Ireland) don’t quite add up with other things I’ve read:

Neither the 1850 federal census nor the 1852 state census did justice to the entire Native American population. Also, three counties are missing from the microfilm of the 1852 state census records: Colusa, Sutter, and Marin. We are working to get access to the originals so we can scan them and add these counties to the California State Census, 1852, database in the future.

In the meantime, happy digging. And let me know if you know what’s going on with that Reed family.


1 DianaSeptember 13, 2010 at 11:00 am

Your first line has an error: 1952 instead of 1852. Do you have a larger version of that poster? My ancestor took that route. The details of the journey were published in Postmarked: Vermont and California by his daughter Fannie Smith Spurling.

2 Paul RawlinsSeptember 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Thanks, Diana—I have a particular knack for doing that with dates.

As for the poster, if you search Public Member Photos and Scanned Documents on using gold rush poster in the Keyword box, you’ll find several versions of it.

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