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In the colonial era Spaniards established most of the early settlements, although England and Russia also made expeditions to California. During the 80 years of Spanish and Mexican dominion in California (1769-1848), few immigrants came from Spain and Mexico, and even fewer came from other countries.
In 1841, overland travelers from the United States began to come to California. In 1846, war broke out between the U.S. and Mexico when American settlers in California protested Mexican rule and set up a republic. By 1848, when the U.S. acquired the area, fewer than 15,000 settlers lived there. Over half were Spanish or Mexican. The rest were of various nationalities, including English, Scottish, Irish, German, French, and Italian.
The discovery of gold in California in 1848 triggered a major exodus from the eastern states. Chinese also began to arrive in California. By 1850, Anglo-Americans (U.S. citizens of English descent or birth) made up the majority of the population. Individuals from New York, Pennsylvania, and the New England states predominated in migration during the gold rush years.
From 1850 to 1860, many immigrants came from the countries of northern Europe (especially Ireland) and from China. In the 1860s many came from western border states. The Chinese continued to immigrate to work on the Pacific railroad, which was completed in 1869. Until 1870, most of the Chinese came from the maritime provinces of China, especially Canton. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act suspended the immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S. Other nationalities who arrived in this period were the Germans, Italians, French, and Portuguese.
In the 1880s a southern California real estate boom brought the first large migrations from the Midwest and the number of English and German immigrants increased. Other major increases were among the Italians, Portuguese, and Japanese. Japanese laborers could not legally leave Japan until 1885, but after that date, many came to California. The number of Mexicans dropped, and the Irish increased only slightly.
After 1890 the Italians, Mexicans, and Japanese became the major immigrant groups. Other countries that have contributed substantial numbers to California's population are Russia, Canada, the Philippines, and Poland.
The Irish, French, Italians, and Chinese tended to settle in San Francisco. The Mexicans, Russians, and Japanese settled mostly in the Los Angeles area, as did Anglo-Saxons from the Midwest. Few Blacks settled in California until World War II. Those from the southern states usually went to Los Angeles or Oakland.
The major seaports of California have been Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Diego. There are very few passenger lists for the west coast ports. The Family History Library has ten microfilms of crew lists from the U.S. Customs House for the years 1848 to 1851, 1854 to 1862, 1881, 1886, and 1892.
The National Archives has recently discovered passenger lists of vessels arriving at San Francisco for the years 1893 to 1953, with an index for 1893 to 1934. The Family History Library has copies of the lists for the years 1903 to 1918 and the indexes from 1893 to 1934.
A reconstruction of passenger lists is Louis J. Rasmussen, San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists, Four Volumes. (Colma, California: San Francisco Historic Record and Genealogy Bulletin, [1965-]; Family History Library book 979.461/S1 W3r; film 1000139). This covers primarily 1850 to 1852.
An excellent source of about 30,000 names of miners, immigrants, and other pioneers in the gold rush is Charles Warren Haskins, The Argonauts of California(New York, NY: Fords, Howard and Hulbert, 1890; FHL film 1033667; fiche 6051188). This is indexed by Libera Martina Spinazze, Index to The Argonauts of California (New Orleans, Louisiana: Polyanthos, 1975; Family History Library book 979.4 H2w index; film 928163 item 2; fiche 6051192).
Histories and records for ethnic groups such as the Chilean, Chinese, French, German, Irish, Jewish, Yugoslav, and Polish are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under CALIFORNIA - MINORITIES.
Records of American Indians are found in the Family History Library Catalog under CALIFORNIA - NATIVE RACES. From the National Archives—Pacific Region (San Bruno),the library has acquired copies of agency records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the years 1873 to 1947.
The Oregon-California Trails Association is an educational organization that promotes the story of the westward migration. Their site includes a personal name index to trail diaries, journals, reminiscences, autobiographies, newspaper articles, guidebooks and letters at http://www.paper-trail.org/