YubaRoots Genealogy & History
Yuba County, CA
RESEARCHING IN THIS COUNTY
Understanding how the Gold Rush impacted California and it's record keeping are of paramount importance in researching early ancestors. The Gold Rush began in 1848-49, before California had become a State (1850). By the mid 1850's, tens of thousands of people were entering California by wagon and by sea. Many came thinking that the gold lay easily accessible on the ground or in the rivers, that they could make their fortunes, and then go back "home." Men of every station in life came in search of instant wealth. Some literally dropped their tools in the field and came. Others left wives, children and family "back home" and never saw their loved ones again. In the search for wealth, very few are thought to have made fortunes. Men stayed for two primary reasons. Possibly their pride would not allow them to go back home after they did not strike it rich, or they did not have the financial means to leave. Many hoped that tomorrow they would find their wealth so kept mining. Some stayed and sent money home for their families to join them.
The first Federal Census was conducted in 1850. Yuba County was an original County, much larger than what it was to become a few years later. In looking over the first census, it was clear to me that much of the information on those records was not accurate. Names, ages and nativities seemed to be guessed at, haphazard or possibly just something put on the paper to fill in the blanks. It also seemed to stop at the snow line rather than encompass all of the territory of the County! It would have been physically impossible for any one person or persons to have gone up and down all of the rivers and streams in search of those who could be mining. People very frequently would stop for a few hours or a day at one spot and move on in search of gold. The names of most of them were never known, or nicknames were used.
Those who died along the rivers were buried right there (if found) and no formal graveyards were set up. Burials may have been marked by a crude cross or rocks placed upon the site, but not much more than that. As hydraulic mining began, the course of the river and streams were changed, resulting in the covering of grave sites by water or mining tailings. There is no way to ever know who was buried in those areas or where to even begin looking!! Most were not even reported, so no obituaries were written or records created to mark that person's existence here. The constant wanderings of many, made it literally impossible to establish any record of them in Yuba County. Some would purchase land, start businesses or establish themselves in some way in the budding communities, but those were the minority of the people in the earliest years. The search of gold would take people up and down the State, leaving no record of their travels for us to access over 150 years later. Records were haphazardly kept, if at all.
Mining was difficult and tedious work. In the beginning, people were spread out and had plenty of space to work the rivers. Then the rush came and it became necessary for the miners to "stake a claim" for the small area they were allowed to work. Claims were bought and sold without regard to filing paperwork. People were shot over claims and left where they fell. The emigrants came with no tools for mining, and not prepared for hot summers and very cold snowy winters. Exposure, frost bite, sunstroke, dehydration were some of the things they died from. As more people came, they brought diseases which killed. Food and necessities would be brought on wagons to the miners, but at a highly inflated cost. For awhile everything they needed was so expensive that any gold they found was needed to buy food, clothing, and tools. Unless you were one of the few who made good in the mines, there were three things that happened. You stayed in sub-poverty hoping to find that great vein of gold the next day, started a business that took advantage of the mining camps, go back down to the valley to farm, or go back home. Under the false illusion that there was an endless supply to easily be had, money was spent very freely. The only ones who truly prospered were the ones who opened businesses to take advantage of the other people who wanted to mine - and there were thousands. By the 1860's things were starting to settle down a bit. Laws were being enforced, more businesses were open to supply all the people, record keeping was getting better (but not great yet!), and the emigrants were now bringing their families more frequently.
The earliest churches established in Yuba hold some records, but only for those who attended while living here. Some of those persons in the mining camps of the foothills, had children, married and died, without ever leaving a trace that can now be found. In the 1850's we had Justices of the Peace, but I soon realized that if they performed a marriage, it may not have been reported to the Recorder's Office. Church officials did not always report births, marriages or deaths of their members to the County either. Through numerous floods and fires, some records do still exist, but not all of them!
I have been extremely involved in compiling cemetery records in this County, and I have run across another challenge. Even if an ancestor is buried in an established cemetery and was an early burial, there may be no record of them. It seemed to be fairly common in this County for sextons and cemetery officials to take the records with them when they left their position. Maps, burials records, and any notations of who is buried in unmarked graves is gone. It apparently never entered those people's minds that they were taking public documents NOT owned by them and were stealing a piece of our history. This even has occurred in the more recent years. It may never be known who is buried in the countless unmarked graves within our Yuba County cemeteries.
Then we add to all of the challenges the possibility that some persons in public positions thought it necessary to "clean out" the "old stuff" and get rid of it. I got hold of some early original 1900's voting registers that had been discarded and picked up by an antique book dealer from a dumpster. I've been told of other times when records or books were thrown out to "make room." Also, since July 2003, when a law was passed restricting access to records, it became more of a challenge for anyone other than a relative to access certain public documents.
But, for those of you looking for ancestors in the very early years, it is a special challenge. Many of the records simply are not in existence. Some may be unknown and in private collections.
We are fortunate to have microfilmed copies of most of the newspapers going back to 1850. If a person was living near a town then there may be documentation of them in a newspaper - but that is not always the case. Please keep in mind that most of the mining camps were remote from the towns and established camps, people came and went, and documentation was not a priority to them back then!! Mining accidents happened and the dead were placed in large communal graves, unmarked and not recorded (or the records no longer exist). Cholera, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases also took many lives of those who were only known by a nickname or their names were not known. It was common to not mark the grave of a person who was non-Caucasian, or who may have had a profession that was not noble. A doctor may not have been called, the Coroner was not notified, or no one knew the person's name. I have come across some cemeteries here where Chinese and "women of the night or of ill-repute" were buried outside of the cemetery in unmarked graves. No names are known, records kept, or stone placed for them. I have also seen entries in the early papers of miners who drowned or died, and since no one knew their name, age, nativity or anything about their identity, became one of the vast number of "unknowns."
The common "here today, gone tomorrow" scenario was prevalent. Unless a person settled down and worked a mine for a length of time, established a business, or went to a church that kept records, I am hard pressed to find documentation on them. In transcribing a large amount of biographies for this State to add to my State Archives site, I have come across more than a few who never stayed in one place long enough to be entered on any records. Some mentioned traveling up and down the State several times just within a year's time, later settling in a place far removed from Yuba County. For those who could not afford the cost of having their biography placed in a book, then it's very hard to figure out where they were at any given time.
We live in an age now where there is a vast amount of documentation on almost every individual. It may be difficult to fathom that back then, there simply was not the motivation or an ability to leave a "paper trail" on all people who came to this County. The early history of this County is similar to others in this State - very little documentation. This was a huge mining area and thousands of people drifted in and out during a short period of time. Liken it to a busy airport, bus terminal, or freeway of today. You will see thousands of people, but may never know who they were and there will be no record that they ever came that way during their life. How many people have you dropped off at the airport, and there is no proof you were ever there? That was the early mining years in Yuba!!
I've had more than a few requests for information on someone's ancestor who reportedly came to the Yuba County area. In the very early years of California's statehood, there were only three "major" cities in California. Marysville was considered one of them, and the only city in Northern California. In the early 1850's, just like San Francisco, it was a "tent city." People could come up the river to Marysville, and from there find their way to the multitude of mining camps or rivers above it. It was where many stopped to get supplies, and was used as a reference point. In a letter home, a miner could have written that he was "above Marysville on the Feather River." The Feather River has three forks and only a few mining camps actually were in Yuba County on that river. The bulk of them were in Butte and Plumas Counties, with others in Sierra and Nevada Counties as well !!!! So, although Marysville is in Yuba County, chances are VERY high that the miner never lived here. Marysville was simply used as a point of reference. Mining camps came and went, sometimes very quickly. A camp could spring up in a very short time, but then as the "diggins" ran out, the camp was abandoned and most everyone moved on. In as little as a few months, a mining camp could have come and gone, with no traces left. Nicknames were frequently used, rather than a person's given name or full name.
I have also run across accounts where a researcher states that their ancestor owned a mine here and sold it. Today, we would expect to find paperwork on that transaction. Not always so in the early mining years. Money may have exchanged hands without it ever reaching the Recorder's office, the transaction being done with a handshake or written on a scrap of paper that disappeared with time. California was a place then where things were done differently than in most any other State. Things were more loosely done here, with no regard for the necessity to file documents appropriately as we are so conditioned to do today. Even given the rapid nature that California became populated, it took a long time for it to catch up to the States in the East and Midwest in record keeping!
Please keep in mind when researching Yuba County in those earliest years, that you will be one of the very fortunate ones if you find documentation on your ancestors! Think about sharing what you have on your early ancestors with this site. You never know if someone else may have the missing piece you are looking for - in bible records, letters home, and other sources. Thousands of people visit this site - you may have the elusive piece they are looking for, or you have theirs!!
Good luck in your search!
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