Posted in Mining, Research tips

Was your ancestor a miner?

Was your ancestor a miner- (1)
“We have it rich.” Washing and panning gold, Rockerville, Dak. Old timers, Spriggs, Lamb and Dillon at work, Grabill, John C. H., photographer,

Settlers had a variety of “pushes” or “pulls” that influenced them to hitch up a wagon and make the trek Out West.  The 1800s was a time of unprecedented territorial growth for America, and the native peoples of the West saw an influx of settlers of every kind.

Frontier forts gave some soldiers their first glimpse of the region and they decided to settle there after their service was finished.  Trappers and traders followed native trails and established trading posts utilized by other migrating groups. The Homestead Act, the end of the Civil War, and the transcontinental railroad brought waves of families looking for opportunity.  Foreign countries sent colonists to stake claims in the West, and religious groups sought refuge in the region.

A lesser-known influence on the settlement of the West as a whole was the mining industry.  Most people are aware of the California Gold Rush, and some may know about the Nevada Comstock Lode, but how many of these other mineral strikes are you familiar with?

  • 1849 California
  • 1850 Queen Charlotte, B.C.
  • 1850 Northern Nevada
  • 1856-1858 Arizona (silver)
  • 1858-1961 British Columbia
  • 1858 Cherry Creek (Denver)
  • 1859 Pike’s Peak, Colorado
  • 1859 Virginia City, Nevada
  • 1860 Idaho
  • 1863 Black Hills, Montana
  • 1860s/1870s East. Oregon
  • 1870’s Leadville, Colorado
  • 1870’s – 1880’s Arizona
  • 1890’s Silver at Creede Gold at Cripple Creek, Colorado

Mining influenced the creation of territories and states, and here’s how:

  1. The discovery of gold, silver, copper, lead, etc. was broadcast through word of mouth or newspapers.
  2. Miners flooded into an area
  3. Temporary mining communities sprang up, and sometimes mining companies were created.
  4. These settlements preceded any form of government, and they were rough places.  There were mostly men, and the diversions that came along with that—saloons and brothels and such.  Add to that sudden wealth in some cases and frustration in others, and the potential for crime was high.  It was every man for himself, and sometimes the mining companies were the closest thing to government for solving grievances.
  5. Military was dispatched to the area to help keep order, and then when enough people were in an area they started to want official government for protection and adjudication of problems.
  6. Territorial governments followed along with a Court system.
  7. More people moved into the area once territories were created.
  8. When enough people settled in a territory a state was created.

Was your ancestor a miner?  Where can you find records for him? It varies by state and county—there are no hard and fast rules.  Here are a few places you might look:

  • Look for mining claims in deed records in county courthouses
  • Look for mining claims on the website (Bureau of Land Management)
  • State archives often have records of mining companies, mining districts, and mining accidents
  • Newspapers can be a resource for mining records, especially specialized mining newspapers
  • Some states have mining departments with knowledgeable personnel, indexes, and maps
  • Mining museums have been established in many areas, and often have libraries
  • Do a Google search for “[state] mining records”
  • NARA regional archives have some mining records




I am an Accredited Genealogist® professional living in California. I have been researching and teaching since 1988.

4 thoughts on “Was your ancestor a miner?

  1. Always love getting a new post from you. .Most of them remind me of all the ancestor work I still want to do. Just thought I’d add that a lot of folks went to the areas where the miners went – but didn’t do any – or very little – mining. Our common ancestors – the sons of Elizabeth and Martha Gooch and their Owen husbands – almost all of them – close to a dozen tall and lanky guys – quite a sight if they rode in together – went to the California Gold Rush – but they don’t seem to have been interested in the mines. They were interested in making money from the miners! Capitalists, yes; miners, no. My great-grandfather William Rensselaer Owen drove a herd of cattle to California – on his “honeymoon”, no less – so as to sell meat to the miners. At least 3 of the brothers and cousins hunted game – elk and deer – along Cache Creek, northwest of Sacramento – so as to sell meat to the miners. I go through that area when I fly into Sacramento and then drive to my brother’s place in Willits. I can’t see that the area has changed much since The Guys were there 160 years ago. Sometimes, I think I see their ghosts. But no elk. The Guys also had a short-lived hotel – probably “tents” – in a short-lived town called Eliza, somewhere near Marysville.

    I think you know that your- and my – “g-g-g-aunt” Elizabeth Gooch Owen ended up in California, went to the Gold Rush with her son James, who apparently was a bit wild and hot-tempered. In the early 1860s, he ran his mother’s “servants” off the land – and then took off, leaving Elizabeth alone. (I think the servants were actually slaves that she’d brought along from Missouri – and that he ran them off because of the Emancipation Proclamation. They were able to hire on with another family in Oakland and used the surname Owen.) Elizabeth ended up living with Thomas Harvey Owen, Abel and Wilson’s youngest brother, and family at their place in, I believe, Lake County called Zem Zem. It was just north of what is now Lake Berryessa. My brother knows how to find it. I have been there; the only sign that people ever lived there is a ring of Osage orange that they must have planted to keep the wildlife out. I have a dessicated fruit as a souvenir! Elizabeth’s youngest son, Benjamin Lee Owen, came from Missouri when the transcontinental railroad was finished and took her home by train. His brother James was never heard from again.

    Peace, Margaret

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