06 September 2013

California Mining Claims

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, wrote a post in June about all the federal records one might find when researching mining claims and the land they are on.  It's a great article and I urge you to read it.

I am going to tell you about records at the county level and in special collections at libraries  here in California.  These kind of records most likely will not be found online.  You will have to get up off the couch and get yourself to the county recorder's office.

To help you understand the who, what, where and why of mining records here is some background information you will need.

On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter's sawmill in California's Sacramento Valley. Tens of thousands of "forty-niners" flocked to California in the Gold Rush. In 1849, the surface mines in California yielded $10 million, reaching a peak of $81 million in 1852. 

At first, when a new mining area was discovered, a group of miners would hold a meeting to form a mining district. The boundaries, rules and presiding officers were decided upon, including who would be the Mining District Recorder. It would be that man's responsibility to keep a record book of all the claims made within that district.

Miners marked the boundaries of their claim with rock piles or wooden stakes. This is called "locating a claim" or a "location." Next they would go to the mining district recorder, give a description of the claim and location and pay the required fee.  The last step was to register their claim with the County Recorder's Office. They did not always do this, but those who wanted to be certain of the legality of their claim would do so. 

There are different types of mining claims.  Here are a few of the more common claims you might run into in California:

A "lode" claim is mining what is in the rock, in the mine.  This type of claim is limited to 1500 feet in length along the vein of the lode and a maximum of 600 feet wide.  Think tunneling and pick axes when you think lode claim.

A "placer" claim only gives you the right to what is already on the ground or removed from the lode.  There is no rock mining allowed with this type of claim.  Gypsum and limestone are also types of "placer" claims.  The maximum size of a placer claim is 20 acres.  Think gold panning or sluicing when you think placer claim.

Your mileage may differ, depending on what state you are in.  For instance - in Alaska they do not differentiate between a placer claim or a lode claim and one can have up to 160 acres.

Now just because you have a claim does not mean that you have ownership.    One can own the minerals without owning the land or own the land and not the minerals rights or you can have it all.  You would need a patented mining claim for that.  With this type of ownership the Federal government has passed the title to you making it private land - you own the land and the minerals.

I have compiled a fairly extensive list  (although certainly not complete)  of where you can find the records both online and off.

The Online Archive of California provides free public access to detailed descriptions of primary resource collections housed at over 200 institutions including libraries, special collections, museums, archives, historical societies and collection maintained by ten University of California campuses.

A search with just the word "mine" from the main page resulted in over 1200 collections listed HERE.  In these collections are photographs, maps, stock certificates, correspondence, legal documents, employee records, oral history transcripts, deeds, bylaws of  mining companies, financial records, genealogical records, family histories - the list is huge!

Here are a few more places to look for mining records in Northern California.

Doris Foley Library for Historical Research
211 North Pine Street
Nevada City, CA  95959
(530) 265-4606
Some their holdings:  Empire Mine State Historic Park; Historical Information Gold Mineralization at the Oriental Mine, Idaho-Maryland Mines Corporation Personnel Files

The Kennedy Mine Foundation Mining Archive
PO Box 684
Jackson, CA 95642
(209) 223-7968
Holdings include many of the records from 1886 through 1942.

Mariposa County Recorder
4582 10th Street
Mariposa, California
(209) 966-5719
Microfiche located at the Recorders Office:
Deeds 1- 32  A-Z, Mining Deeds, Mine Names  Index, Mine Records, Proof of Labor, Index to Locator of Mines, Notice of Location.
Quartz Record, No. 2, 1850-1852, 1 volume
This book contains a miscellaneous collection of records: mining location notices, mortgages and other instruments related to mining.
Claim Locations, 1852-1865, 3 volumes (a-C), indexed
Location Fee Books, 1911-date, 1 volume
Preliminary Locations of Placer Claims, 1851, 1 volume, 1897-1906 - 1 volume
Certificate of Location of Placer Claims, 1897-1899 1 vol.
Quartz Claims, 1897-1911
Index of Locators of Quartz Claims
Index of Quartz Mines
Proofs of Labor, 1892-1909

University of the Pacific, Special Collections, Holt-Atherton University Library
Phone: (209) 946-2404
The Sheep Ranch Mine, The Haskin/Tonopah Gold Mine,

Amador County Library
530 Sutter Street
Jackson, CA  95642
(209) 223-6400
The library has a special mining collection

Yolo County Archives
226 Buckeye Street
Woodland, California 95695
Phone: (530) 666-8010
Fax: (530) 666-8006
Email: archives@yolocounty.org

Calaveras County  Clerk - Recorder
Calaveras County Archives
891 Mountain Ranch Road
San Andreas, CA 95249
(209) 754-6371

Tuolumne County Archives
2 South Green Street
Sonora, CA  95370
(209) 536-1163

Yuba County Library Local History Archives
303 Second Street
Marysville, CA  95901
(530) 749-7386

Yuba County Recorder
915 8th Street
Marysville, CA  95901
(530) 749-7850

Placer County Recorder
2954 Richardson Drive
Auburn, CA  95603
(530) 886-5610

California State Archives
1020  O Street
Sacramento, CA  95614
(916) 653-2246

Butte County Recorder
25 County Center Drive
Oroville, CA  95965
(530) 538-7691
Nevada County Recorder

California State Library
900 N Street
Sacramento, CA  95814
(916) 654-0176
Houses a huge collection of mining records including:
Guide to the New Almaden Mines Collection, 1845-1944
Guide to the Empire Mill and Mining Company Collection, 1861-1881
Guide to the Carson Hill Gold Mining Corporation, 1917-1942

1851 Poll Tax List of Miners Along the Yuba River

Miners and Business Men's Directory 1856
Tuolumne, Calaveras, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties


  1. Really enjoyed reading all the information, Sheri, although I don't live in California. I just subscribed to follow you by email, sometimes I just caught myself so busy that I don't have time to see what friends are posting.

  2. You went all around us, but you missed the county where it all began, El Dorado County. We are blessed with a wonderful asset here. The El Dorado County Historical Museum has a very well stocked resource room with not only a lot of data and information, but a wonderful staff of volunteers who are very well versed in mining, not only in El Dorado County, but Northern California in general. You can visit the museum's website at http://museum.edcgov.us/ or visit them in person at:
    El Dorado County Historical Museum
    104 Placerville Drive, Placerville, CA 95667
    (Next to the El Dorado County Fairgrounds)
    Phone: 530.621.5865

    Paul Hodel

  3. Sheri, I found your blog after communicating with you briefly through the TGF about the NorCal APG chapter. I just wanted to say that this post on mining claims is a gold mine (pun intended)! For anyone with old California ancestry, these would be really important resources, and not commonly considered. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. I am helping a distant cousin with his research. He has a fourth great grandfather Harrison Roe/Rowe what information I have on him is very little. My cousin has brought up an interesting thought Maybe the reason we can't find this ancestor is that he caught the gold bug and went off to make his fortune. Harrison is listed as the son of Thomas Rowe and Theodosia Plymale born about 1817 in Giles county Va. Thomas lived in Ky from 1810 to 1840, 1850 he shows up as a widower living in Wayne County Va. (now West Virginia) Harrison's wife Elizabeth P. and sons Uriah and Thomas are living with Thomas(Senior). Uriah was born in 1844 in Gallia county Ohio. Thomas about 1846 also in Gallia County Ohio. Harrison disappears by the 1850 census. There could be many reasons for this; killed or died of sickness, ran off with another woman, headed west to find his fortune??? haven't had much luck finding him. Where would be a good place to start to find out if he might have be a gold miner?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated
    Sincerely Clyde Rowe

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