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That one state census

The first time the population of California was ever recorded in a United States census was 1850.

At that time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of that western territory-and-soon-to-be-state was 92,597 men, women and children.1

Except for one minor little problem that can be described in two words:

Gold Rush.2

And an influx of miners, families, support workers and more that by 1855 dwarfed the 1850 population of the state. Estimates run as high as 300,000 gold-seekers and other immigrants hitting the shores in the weeks and months and first years after gold was found.3

And that rendered that 1850 census just about useless.

So California did what it had to: “To obtain a more reliable picture of the population, the State of California conducted its own census in 1852, the only one in the state’s history.” 4

The census images are online at Ancestry and an index at FamilySearch, and Ancestry describes the collection this way:

California’s 1849 state constitution dictated that a census be taken in 1852, in 1855, and every 10 years after that. The 1852 census was the only one taken, but it proved to be an important count.


The gold rush would bring about 300,000 people to California between 1848 and 1854. The 1850 U.S. Federal Census tallied California’s population at 92,597. The 1852 California state census count came in at 260,949 (neither census would include the entire Native American population). Not only did the 1852 census provide a record of an additional 150,000 people, but records from three counties from the 1850 census – Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Santa Clara – have since been lost or destroyed. In addition, the accuracy of the 1850 census was called into some question because of the rapid growth and mobility of the population at the time as miners poured into the state.


Three counties are missing from the 1852 census records: Colusa, Sutter, and Marin. Also, the images for Butte County are included, but due to the condition of the images no names were able to be captured from them.5

The data collected wasn’t quite as comprehensive as that collected in 1850, but it’s pretty darned good nonetheless. The census asked for:

• Name of each person
• Age
• Sex
• Color (“White, Black, or Mulatto”)
• Occupation
• Place of birth
• Last residence
• Number of Whites by gender and if over 21
• Number of U.S. citizens over age 21
• Number of Negroes by gender and if over 21
• Number of Mulattos by gender and if over 21
• Number of Domesticated Indians by gender and if over 21
• Number of Foreign Residents by gender and if over 21

So, just as a couple of examples, let’s look at some folks who were there in Sacramento by 1852. Just because there’s this Spring Seminar at the Root Cellar Sacramento Genealogical Society this weekend, y’know…

In those pages, you’ll find out about William Gober, the 28-year-old clergyman from Georgia, his 20-year-old wife Nancy, born in Tennessee, and their four-year-old California-born daughter Mary.6 And right above them — John Ingoldsby, an Irish-born Catholic priest.7

You can find the butcher (Charles Reiss, a native of France), the baker (Jacob Hatter, 28, a native of Germany) and the wagon maker (30-year-old Pennsylvanian John Walderman).8

Look for William Stevens, the 28-year-old sea captain from Connecticut,9 and for Samuel Tucker, a 23-year-old cook from England who’d last lived in New South Wales, Australia.10

Check out Henry A. Smith, the 28-year-old miner, from Massachusetts.11 Or Charles North, the 26-year-old saloon keeper from New York.12 Or Samuel Polhemus, the 26-year-old druggist from New York.13

The new residents of Sacramento came from everywhere: on a single page of that census, there were enumerated persons born in 11 states (Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and Vermont) and seven countries (Argentina, Chile, China, England, France, Ireland, and Prussia).14

There’s a name index to the 1852 census by the Southern California Genealogical Society that cross-references against the Great Register of Voters, and a name index online at FamilySearch

It’s a gem of a record set if you have early California ancestors… and useful for lots of us who may just find our missing East Coast or Midwest folks in those gold fields, towns and cities of California.


  1. Superintendent of the U.S. Census, The Seventh Census of the United States (Washington, D.C. : Public Printer, 1850), Table I at ix; digital images, U.S. Census Bureau ( : accessed 3 May 2017).
  2. See generally Wikipedia (, “California Gold Rush,” rev. 3 May 2017.
  3. See ibid.
  4. Using the 1852 California State Census,” PDF research guide, California State Library ( : accessed 3 May 2017).
  5. About California State Census, 1852,” ( : accessed 3 May 2017).
  6. 1852 California State Census, Sacramento County, p. 35A (penned); “California State Census, 1852,” ( : accessed 3 May 2017), citing California State Census of 1952 (microfilm, M/F 144, 6 rolls); Sacramento, California: California State Library.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., p. 39A.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid., p. 40A.
  12. Ibid., p. 43A.
  13. Ibid., p. 44A.
  14. Ibid., p. 52A.
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