Was Your Ancestor a Gold Miner?
Column published: 10 November 2006.
By: Shirley Gage Hodges Biography & Archived Articles
Many of us have ancestors who just seemed to disappear in the 1850's or 1860's. Have you ever considered the fact that they may have gone west to find their fortune?
I was recently asked to do a talk about the California Gold Rush and how it impacted America and it made me give this possibility a lot of thought.
"The cry of gold in California!" stirred the imagination of many. Those few words eventually had a far greater effect on the United States than any other news of the time.
When James Wilson Marshall found gold at Sutter's Mill on January 24, 1848 it changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Many of them were our ancestors.
After I decided to do this talk I decided that it would be interesting to see how the gold rush impacted the Hodges families. You might want to do the same for your individual families. Not all of these individuals are related to us. We have published the Hodges Family Association newsletter for 16 years and we are always collecting information on all Hodges lines.
When I did a quick check using the 1850 census records, I was amazed at the number of Hodges men who left their homes and went to the gold fields.
In the Placerville camp area we had 2 John Hodges and a Richard Hodges. Richard and one of the John's came from England. On that page of the census there was only one person who was not a miner and there were no females.
In addition to men from England there were individuals from IL, IN, KY, MO, NY, OH, PA, and VT. Quiet a diverse group geographically speaking, all working in the same area.
There were Hodges men working as miners in Calaveras, Canion Creek, Georgetown, Jamestown, Mariposa Co., Mud Springs, Rough and Ready and Yolo Co., CA.
Good old Josh Hodges was a 73 year old man in the Rough and Ready camp. He was from OH and he was listed as a trader. That would have been a very strenuous occupation for a man of that age. Can you imagine carrying all of your wares around from location to location? In addition to those 11 Hodges men who listed their occupation as miners I also found those who listed their occupation as clerk, doctor and packer. Again, quite a diverse group.
The discovery of gold had a huge impact on the United States.
Where to "pan" for our ancestors who went to the gold fields:
- Some 80,000 prospectors poured into California during 1849 from all areas of the country.
- One-fifth of the voting population of Plymouth, Mass. went to the gold fields.
- By the end of 1849, 90 vessels had left Atlantic ports and the sailing dates of 70 more had been posted
The gold strike lasted until the mid 1850s. About $400 million worth of gold found its way to San Francisco alone. About $500 million in gold was taken from the gold fields by 1860. There were other great gold finds in the United States such as the Nevada Comstock Lode and the Black Hills Homestake Mine and mines in Colorado but the discovery in California helped to settle and populate the state of California. In the end, the most valuable discovery was probably the land.
- Family albums
- Letters written home
- Diaries and journals
- Hometown newspapers published during the period
- Census records
- Town and county histories
- Read books about that period
If you have stories about your ancestors who went to the Gold Fields, share them with your family. Their stories are truly fascinating. We owe a lot to those who sacrificed for us, as they blazed a trail in every step of their lives
Shirley Hodges firstname.lastname@example.org
- Axon, Gordon V. 1976. The California Gold Rush. New York: Mason/Charter.
- Hittell, Theodore H. 1897. History of California, Vol. II. San Francisco: N.J. Stone & Co.
- Holliday, J. S. 1981. The World Rushed In. A Touchstone Book.
- Knower, Daniel. 1894. The adventures of a forty-niner. An historic description of California, with events and ideas of San Francisco and its people in those early days. Albany, Weed-Parsons Printing Co.
- Levy, JoAnn, 1990. They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush. University of Oklahoma Press
- Mattes, Merrill J. 1969. The great Platte River road: the covered wagon mainline via Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie. Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society.
- Seidman, Laurence. 1976. The fools of '49: the California gold rush, 1848-1856.
New York: Knopf: distributed by Random House.
- Stellman, Louis J. 1934. Mother lode; the story of California's Gold Rush. San Francisco, Calif., Harr Wagner publishing company
- Zanjani, Sally. 1997. A Mine of Her Own: Women Prospectors in the American West, 1850 - 1950 (Paperback). Lincoln: Nebraska University Press.
To read back issues of Shirley Hodges' articles, visit her biography & archived Articles
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Check out the resources at GlobalGenealogy.com:
History & Genealogy Books...
History and genealogy books, maps, CDs from a wide selection of publishers, including Global Heritage Press. Browse resources listed by country, location or topic.
Document & Artifact Preservation Products
Acid-free storage and display products to preserve and safely store your family heirloom documents and artifacts.
Printing & Binding Solutions
You've done the research, written the stories, gathered the photos and illustrations, and put them all together... Now let GlobalGenealogy.com produce a finished book you will be proud to call your own.
Family Tree Charts & Census Forms
Poster-size blank family tree charts, plus a variety of free blank letter-size charts and census forms
Influence and Ambition:
First Persons of Perth
Scottish Church Records
Decade of Centenaries:
Researching Ireland 1912-1923
Google: The Genealogist's Friend
Discover Protestant Nonconformity in England and Wales
The Genealogy Do-over Workbook
Discover Irish Land Records
First We Were Soldiers,
The Long March To Perth
[Lanark County, Ontario]
Tales of the Hare,
the Last Fatal Duel
[Lanark County, Ontario]
100 Years of The United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Family History Web Directory,
The Genealogical Websites
You Can't Do Without
Tracing Edinburgh Ancestors,
Guide for Family & Local Historians
Diary of Rev. John MacDonald
Roman Catholic Priest at
Perth, Upper Canada 1823-1837
A Boyhood Journey,
Scotland to Canada 1853