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Don’t forget those state counts

The final tallies were clear.

White male inhabitants, 397.

White females, 140.

Of those residents, 274 were over age 21; 263 were minors.

There were seven recorded African-Americans, all male, all over age 21.

There were 98 foreigners, 91 male and 90 over age 21.

And by far the majority of the people were enumerated as domesticated Indians: 1249 males, 1041 females, 1474 over age 21 and 816 under age 21.

The people were dramatically outnumbered by the animals: 5164 beef cattle, 904 cows, 262 mules, 1767 horses, 726 hogs, 1580 sheep, 246 goats and 856 poultry.

The year: 1852.

The place: San Diego County, California.1

Where The Legal Genealogist will be speaking, Saturday, September 9th, at the San Diego Genealogical Society Fall Seminar at the Marina Village, Captain’s Room, 1936 Quivira Way, San Diego. There are a very spaces remaining, but last day to register is Thursday, September 7th, so…

Now… back to that 1852 tally.

It’s a resource we all, as genealogists, tend to overlook far too often. It’s a state census, and this one in particular had a very specific purpose. As explained by the California State Library:

The first federal census conducted in California was taken in 1850, while the Gold Rush was in full swing. Adventurers were pouring into the state, and they were very mobile in their search for the next paydirt. As a result, the accuracy of the count was questionable. Also, records for the counties of Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Santa Clara were lost or destroyed.


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. …2

Of course, the greatest utility for the census is in finding someone who either wasn’t found or wasn’t yet there in time for the 1850 U.S. census.

The seaman John P. Keating, age 39, born in Dublin, Ireland, whose last residence was in Galveston, Texas,3 won’t be found anywhere in the 1850 U.S. census.4

You won’t find the family of Henry Adams, a 30-year-old farmer born in New York on the 1850 U.S. census,5 but he’s there in 1852, with wife Ella, age 25, born in Ireland, and their infant son, Jeronimo, born in San Diego.6

Even when a family was enumerated on the federal census in 1850, you may find something new or different by 1852. Case in point, the family of Abel Watkinson.

Watkinson and his wife and children are shown on the 1850 federal census in San Diego County. Abel was 32, a laborer born in New Jersey, with $50 in real property; his wife, Mary, was 30, born in Ireland; son John was 7, born in Pennsylvania; and son Louis was one year, three months, and born in California.7

That’s not exactly what that 1852 state census shows. There, Abel is recorded as a 32-year-old wheelwright, born in New Jersey, whose last residence was in Mobile, Alabama. Mary, recorded as 31, and John, age 8, are both shown as born in New Jersey, while the youngest’s first name is now spelled Lewis with a middle initial of R. and a birthplace of San Diego. Oh, and there’s the newcomer: baby George C., born in San Diego.8

And some, of course, you may need to hunt for even when they appear on both. The deputy collector of customs, Daniel Barber, age 56, born in Covington, Kentucky, whose prior residence was Shreveport, Louisiana,9 isn’t recorded quite that way in California in 1850. In 1850, his last name is spelled Barbre or even Barbie.10

The bottom line: this 1852 census is a terrific resource for early California research, and even if you find your folks in 1850, it’s critical to go on and see how and if they were recorded in 1852.

And for San Diego County, don’t overlook the work of the San Diego Genealogical Society in producing the 89-page 1852 Census, San Diego County, California, complete with maps and index.11 You can find it in the holdings of the San Diego Genealogical Society in the San Diego Heritage collection at the Central Library in downtown San Diego.


  1. 1852 California State Census, San Diego County, p. 67; “California State Census, 1852,” database and images, ( : accessed 3 Sep 2017); citing California State Census of 1852, microfilm, M/F 144, 6 rolls; Sacramento, California: California State Library.
  2. Using the 1852 California State Census in the California History Room,” California State Library ( : accessed 3 Sep 2017).
  3. 1852 California State Census, San Diego County, p. 1, line 15, entry for John P. Keating; “California State Census, 1852,” database and images,
  4. An index search of the 1850 census database at using all combinations of the spelling of the last name failed to turn up a match.
  5. Ibid.
  6. 1852 California State Census, San Diego County, p. 1, lines 33-35, Henry Adams household; “California State Census, 1852,” database and images,
  7. 1850 U.S. census, San Diego County, Calif., population schedule, p. 279 (stamped), dwelling/family 84, Abel Watkinson household; digital image, ( : accessed 3 Sep 2017); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 35.
  8. 1852 California State Census, San Diego County, p. 1, lines 3-7, Abel Watkinson household; “California State Census, 1852,” database and images,
  9. Ibid., p.1, line 2.
  10. 1850 U.S. census, San Diego Co., Calif., pop. sched., p. 556 (penned), dwelling/family 94.
  11. San Diego Genealogical Society, 1852 Census, San Diego County, California (El Cajon, Cal. : SDGS, 1995).
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