Gold rush ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2010

Ancestors that disappeared around 1850 could have come down with a serious case of gold fever, says Kimberly Powell.

It was 24 January, 1848, almost two years before California became a state, when James Marshall first discovered gold at John Sutter’s saw mill. Nine months later, in October of 1848, word finally reached England, reported on the fourth page of the London Times. People then arrived in California in droves during 1849 (hence ‘Forty-Niners’).

While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the California gold fields also attracted tens of thousands from Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The 1849 California gold boom stimulated worldwide interest in prospecting for gold, directly leading to the Australian Gold Rush, as well as discoveries in South Africa, Wales, Canada, Scotland and New Zealand.

Edward Hargraves, an Australian immigrant from England, took what he learned about gold in California and quickly found similar gold deposits in New South Wales in 1851. The Bathurst Gold Rush, along with subsequent discoveries, attracted hundreds of thousands of new settlers, quadrupling the population of Australia between 1851 (430,000) and 1871 (1.7 million).

So it wasn’t a big stretch for genealogists researching Sarah Jessica Parker’s family tree to consider that her ancestor, John S. Hodge, may have been headed to the gold fields when the obituary of his son stated that he had died in 1849 on his way to California from Ohio. If you have ancestors that seemingly fell off the map between 1850 and about 1900, Gold Rush emigration is definitely something to consider.

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