San Francisco, Gold Rush Era immigration

Gold-Rush Era Migration to California

Editor’s Note: The late Louis J. Rasmussen pioneered in transcribing ships’ passenger and overland passenger lists of individuals who braved the arduous cross (or around)-country journey in their migration to California beginning in 1849. Please click the links to see more information about his extensive works San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists Volume I [1850-1864], San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists Vol. II [1850-1851], and San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists. Vol. III: November 7, 1851 to June 17, 1852.

The cumulative effect of the massive rush of souls seeking their fortunes – by wagon, rail, steamship, or sail – transformed California from a sleepy backwater of the former Mexican Republic to Statehood in scarcely two years. Mr. Rasmussen captured the impact of this remarkable population upheaval in the Introduction to the second of his ship passenger volumes, which is excerpted below:

By 1851 the State of California had become a country unequaled almost in history for the rapidity with which the emigration of other countries sought residency. California became a sort of depot toward which everybody was pushing, and at which everybody stopped. Those who did not remain permanently either returned home or visited some other territory or country near the Pacific shores.

The Oregon Territory could serve as an example. In 1848 the territory was comparatively unknown, less known by far than California. By the year 1851, men were rushing into Oregon sowing her soil with wheat and converting her lofty pines into building material. A large percentage of the 1851 Oregon population had gone there from California.

The Sandwich Islands profited also by California. A new market for the rich products of the tropical soil of the Islands was opened by the settlement of California–and the island received accessions in the way of emigration. Mexico and several South American States were also areas in which men settled, after first acquiring financial stability in the mines and commerce of California.

During the first quarter of 1851, competition was fast bringing down the cost of travel between the United States and California. Continue reading…

Coat of Arms, Royal Lineage

How to Trace Royal Lineage – Basics for Your Research

Editor’s note: In this formerly archived post by the late Carolyn Barkley, the basics of how to trace royal lineage, including how to get started in your royal lineage research and what key resources you may need, are discussed. 

I have often viewed royal lineage research with more than a little skepticism. As a newly-elected genealogical society president, I can remember inviting visitors to a society monthly meeting to introduce themselves and tell a bit about the focus of their research. A man stood up, identified himself, and told us that he had researched his line back to Julius Caesar. This event was followed not long after by a woman in the society’s creative writing class who informed the group that she had done all her research back to David in the Bible – by way of Stonewall Jackson. I, perhaps wisely, did not ask to see her documentation. Despite my skepticism, however, I am aware that members of royal families, and to an even greater extent members of noble families, have documented offspring, and that for many of these offspring, lineages can be tracked through successive generations to modern-day individuals.

Given my interest in Barclay genealogy, I always search for that surname in royal/noble lineage publications. Almost invariably the Barclay included is John Barclay who was born in Scotland in 1659 and died in Perth Amboy, East New Jersey, ca. 1731. He was the brother of Robert Barclay of Urie, the “Quaker Apologist,” whose line extends back to Robert the Bruce. My research in the Barclay-Allardice Papers” some years ago in Edinburgh documented John’s grandchildren in New Jersey as John (b.1725), David (b.1727), Anne (b.1729), John (b.1731), Charles (b.1733), Peter (b. 1735), Robert (b.1737), Lydia (b.1739), Katherine (b.1742) and Richard (b.1745). While I have not done further research myself, thus far the Barclay Genealogical database does not include any descendants of these children. Despite a lack of documentation, many correspondents to the database are convinced that they descend from either Robert or John Barclay of Urie.

For many individuals, finding familial connection to an important person, preferably with noble or royal roots, is a much-desired research goal. Several motives prompt this desire, including the desire to qualify for any one of a variety of hereditary societies. Royal and noble lineage research, however, requires skill and perseverance; it is not easy.

Royal and noble research is no different than any other. You must start with yourself and move backward through time, documenting the details of each generation. Continue reading…

genealogy research trip planning

What to Bring on your Genealogy Research Trip

Planning a genealogy research trip takes a lot of foresight. Even when done quite carefully, things happen that weren’t anticipated.

Have you gone to a record hall only to discover you left the magnifying glass you use to read old handwriting at home? Then even after you borrow another researcher’s magnifier, you find yourself thwarted again because you cannot make sense of the ancient terminology employed by the person who created the record. If only you had brought your glossary of terms!

Genealogists cannot anticipate all the books and tools they might need on a genealogy research trip; otherwise, they would have to bring an entire library with them. So what should they bring? If not exactly a textbook or how-to book – though consulting a quality resources should be on the to-do list prior to venturing out – but the perfect book to rescue them after they have embarked? Such a book is the new second edition of Judy Jacobson’s Field Guide for Genealogists, a wonderful tool for anticipating potential stumbling blocks once you’re on the road.

Field Guide for Genealogists is designed to remove not only the foregoing stumbling blocks but also to answer thousands of other practical questions, which quite naturally arise during the course of research. For example, there are glossaries of genealogical terms, nicknames, surnames, place names, and occupations. The author has prepared a section on problems to anticipate at the county courthouse, offers hints for deciphering old handwriting, discusses different types of calendars, and has incorporated time lines of American history, migration, and transportation. The Field Guide also includes sections on the basics of dating photographs and identifying historical eras from hairstyles or clothing. Legal terms found in genealogical records are identified in one of the several glossaries compiled by Mrs. Jacobson. Other lists cover antiquated names of diseases and calamities, as well as units of measurement used in bygone day.

The author Mrs. Jacobson has written another resource to help genealogical researchers. Her book History for Genealogists. Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors contains a vast array of historical time lines that are guaranteed to inform your family history. The bulk this latest volume consists of specific historical time lines that answer fundamental questions about our forebears. History for Genealogists concludes with a helpful bibliography and an index of people and places, wars and battles. It is the one history book all genealogists should own when they are searching for fresh clues or hoping to understand what made their ancestors tick.

What essentials do you not leave home without for your genealogy research trip?

Image credit: By Anna (Flickr: records) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

castle garden, before Ellis Island

Before Ellis Island: Passenger Arrivals at Castle Garden, New York

Editor’s note: The late Carolyn L. Barkley discusses the changing conditions for immigrants arriving in the United States before Ellis Island was the main point of entry. Information includes the challenges one may face trying to locate an ancestor who arrived before 1892, how you may find them, and valuable resources to make your search easier. The history of Castle Garden is extremely relevant, and information related to searching those records is included for convenience.  

Finding the original U.S. port of entry arrival record for ancestors can be a difficult process. For many years, I have searched for the passenger arrival record of my elusive great-great-grandmother Kate Duncan who arrived in the U.S. from Liverpool (assumed to be her departure site, not place of residence) with her father George, her brother George H., and step-mother, Mary in the early 1850s. Although I know they were living in New Haven by 1854, I have as yet been unable to determine a year and port of entry for the family, despite checking microfilm for likely ports such as Boston, Providence, and New Haven. My search has prompted me to learn more about passenger arrival records, ship manifests, and the legislation that governed them. One of the best resources about these records can be found in Mike Tepper’s American Passenger Arrival Records.

Immigration to the U.S. began to increase dramatically in the early 1820s. With the increase in passengers, came an increase in the diseases they carried to America as well as the number of deaths from natural causes, as well as shipboard conditions. In order to control these problems, Congress passed the Steerage Act of March 2, 1819 to help limit the number of passengers carried on each ship. This act required that passenger ships sailing to the U. S. from foreign ports provide lists of arriving passengers and that the Custom Service process these lists on arrival. Beginning in 1820, a ship’s captain prepared the list and filed it with the collector of customs at the port of arrival. These records have been microfilmed and are available in the Records of the U.S. Customs Services, 1820-ca. 1891. Ports included in this record group are Atlantic, Gulf and Great Lakes Ports (M334, M575); Baltimore (M326, M255, M596); Boston (M265, M277); New Orleans (T527, M259, M272); New York (M261, M237, M1066); and Philadelphia (M360, M425).  As the records are usually arranged chronologically by date of arrival (probably the very fact you don’t know), using the soundex indices for the actual lists is essential. The best source for microfilm information can be found in the National Archives publication Immigrant & Passenger Arrivals: a Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (1991) and can be ordered on the National Archives website. A big caveat is that the card file index images are some of the ugliest microfilm images known to man, with many totally unreadable. It takes a great deal of research stamina to use these records on microfilm. Continue reading…


What do We Know About Pocahontas and Her Descendants?

Pocahontas, the legendary Native American princess who saved the life of Captain John Smith, has been the subject of many forms of art and literature – from Colonial paintings to Disney movies. The reality of Pocahontas, and of her descendants, is a more complex topic generally colored by legends more than facts. It’s rare to find information that deals only with known facts without the pull of the colorful stories. The following post discusses the known facts and lineage of Pocahontas, as well as provides literary resources to help you learn more should Pocahontas and her descendants be part of your family history or research.

“She was of a ‘Coulour browne, or rather tawnye,’ and her age was somewhere between twelve and fourteen. She probably was round-faced, with the fore part of her ‘grosse’ and ‘thick’ black hair ‘shaven close,’ and the very long ‘thicker part’ being ‘tied in a pleate hanging down’ to her hips. Her hands almost certainly were ‘pretty.’ Her ‘handsome lymbes,’ breast, ‘slender armes’ and face may well have been cunningly tattooed. And she probably wore a headband or crownlet and copper-decorated beads and earrings, her head and shoulders being covered with red colored powder ‘mixed with the oyle of the walnut, or Beares grease.’ In winter this paint ‘armes (in some measure) against the Cold’ and ‘in Summer doth check the heat’ while helping to defend ‘from the stinging of Muskeetoes which here breed aboundantly, amongst the marish whorts, and fenburies.’

“Her name was Matoaka, but they called her Pocahontas, the appellation possibly being derived from the Algonkian adjective meaning ‘playful, sportive, frolicsome, mischievous, frisky.’

“She was a member of one of a confederacy of some thirty well-organized, thriving agricultural and fishing tribes, who lived in approximately 160 villages widely scattered over much of the lower section of the Chesapeake Bay, and had a total population in the neighborhood of 9,000. And she was one of the many children of Powhatan, the confederacy’s overlord or supreme ‘werowance.'”

Thus begins the late Stuart Brown’s diminutive biography of the legendary Native American princess who saved the life of Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame. Mr. Brown, an attorney and antiquarian bookman by day, devoted much of his spare time to recording everything that could be found out about Pocahontas and her progeny. His biography, entitled Pocahontas, which occupies a focused 36 pages, uses only contemporary or near-contemporary facts pertaining to Pocahontas’s appearance, words, and actions. It is fully documented and features a number of reproductions of engravings made of the princess, her father, and scenes from early 17th-century Virginia. Continue reading…