The Reference Book

Our public library recently held its annual book sale. These are held so as to help cull their collection of duplicate books and to sell donated items and to raise funds for the library association. Patrons were permitted to buy as many books, magazines, and videos as they wished. You could pack a grocery bag full and pay five dollars per bag.

I could only fill one bag half-full because there were very few sale books that interested me. I found one book about flower arranging, a book about how Trump messed up the Covid pandemic, a picture book about LGBT liberation, and most interestingly, a genealogy reference book about the 1850 California Census count.

When I came upon the large stack of old Census books, I searched for Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota. There were none to be found; the librarian told me they were snapped up quickly before my arrival. So, out of curiosity I continued to skim the titles in case one or two might be worth studying.

The 1850 California edition was the best choice for me because I’m a former Californian. The 1850 U.S. Census was the seventh official counting of the nation’s people. Also, California statehood happened on September 9, 1850, so the Census occurred during the state’s transition from territorial status to full statehood. Also, I was a U.S. Census Enumerator in 2010, so the census book piqued my interest.

The majority of the book consists of very fine-printed text. Each page has three sub-columns that include people listed in alphabetical order by surname; a four letter code to identify the county; the page number of the listing on microfilm; and the first eight letters or spaces of the county’s census division office.

The contents of the book are copyrighted so I won’t show a picture of a page; however, an example of one listing looks like this:

Approximately half of the “parent” counties are listed as “California Lands” because the counties had not been organized at the time of the Census. In a separate section of the book, the counties are listed according to: county name, date organized, parent county, map position, and progeny county. Since I used to live in San Jose in Santa Clara County, I checked the listing for that county and found:

Santa Clara… 18 Feb 1850… California Lands… B-6… Alameda 1853…

I also used to spend a considerable amount of time in San Francisco, so I went to its listing:

San Francisco… 18 Feb 1850… California Lands… A-4… San Mateo 1856…

There are other sections of the book regarding: aggregates listed by age and color (race) (a product of culture at that time); population categories by counties; nativities of the population (where people originated); a table listing how many “deaf and dumb, blind, insane, and idiotic”. There are lists of schools and attendees; adults who “cannot read or write”; professions, occupations, and trades of the male population; “agriculture–farms and implements, stocks, products &c”; and “churches, church properties, &c”.

There is another section that listed additional data from an 1852 supplemental counting. It categorized Californians according to: “WHITES, COLORED, INDIANS DOMESTICATED, AND FOREIGNERS–1852”; and population of cities and towns. Obviously, categorization was far less nuanced then than now.

I was amused to find counts of horses, mules, cows, beef cattle, and work oxen. There are tabulations of crop plants, along with money invested in quartz and placer mining operations.

The book was published in 1978 by Accelerated Indexing Systems, Inc. of Bountiful, Utah 84010. Later, I discovered much of this information is also on line in PDF format.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes lecturer, writer, and LGBT activist, Andrew Solomon. “With the removal of questions about gayness and transgender status in the Census, we really stand to lose a lot of the progress that has been made, and certainly not to make further progress. In order to have a fair system, you need a system you can measure.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, cultural highlights, History, Vintage Collectables and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Reference Book

  1. Judith says:

    Very interesting! I love our library sales, too. I never know what I might find.

  2. Library sales sound like a great way to get books. I’ll keep an eye open for sales in my neighborhood.

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