Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

A little bit of geography

The term "Mother Lode," sometimes used to describe sites of the original California Gold Rush mining settlements, is a misnomer. The Mother Lode is actually the rich vein of gold ore that runs from Georgetown, near Placerville, to Mormon Bar, southeast of Mariposa. The mines north of this area extended to Sierra City, the southern mines terminated at Coarsegold. The term “Gold Country” is now used commonly to inclusively describe this entire almost 300 mile long area.

The snow melt-off on the western side of the Sierra Nevada range trickles into small creeks and becomes larger streams traversing the Gold Country in a southwesterly direction. These eventually join the Sacramento River north of the Delta, the San Joaquin River to the south, and both rivers empty at the Delta's mouth into Suisun Bay, an estuary of San Francisco Bay.

After the gold seekers made their way to San Francisco, the Sacramento and San Joaquin were the most efficient means of transport for miners and their supplies, and aspiring entrepreneurs and their wares. The waters of the rivers' tributaries yielded the gold found so plentifully during the first few years of the Gold Rush.

Sonora's Jewish Cemetery

On Friday I visited the Sonora Hebrew Cemetery and photographed every headstone. The Judah L. Magnes Museum has an online selection of black and white photographs of the headstones taken in the 1980's. I will post some photos in the next few days - the cemetery is beautiful, surrounded by a stone wall and encircled by mature, tall trees.

The Cohn Mansion

Western States Jewish History is a quarterly periodical founded by Dr. Norton Stern in 1968. An online forty-year index is current to July, 2008 and can be searched by author or subject, although this can be tricky if you don't know the exact title of an article. My solution was to print out the alphabetical listings for California and read each title, and in this manner was able to find information I might otherwise have missed.

Three "sample" volumes are online - and the very first issue of the first volume, published in October of 1968, contains an article about the Cohn Mansion of Folsom.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pioneer Researcher

The man who laid the groundwork for research on the Jews of the Gold Rush was Dr. Robert E. Levinson. Most of his comprehensive work, now held by the Western Jewish History Center at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California, was accomplished as part of a doctoral thesis in the early 1960's. He combed local newspapers contemporary to the Gold Rush era, investigated county records, interviewed surviving descendents, and took meticulous notes, and while doing field work discovered six previously undocumented Jewish cemeteries in what is now known as the "Gold Country." His work was cut short in 1980 when he was killed in a car crash. He was instrumental in creating the Commission for the Preservation of Jewish Pioneer Cemeteries and Landmarks, and the six cemeteries he found and surveyed are overseen by the Commission.

Some of Dr. Levinson's research was originally published in much abridged form in his 1968 book, "The Jews in the California Gold Rush," which was reissued in 1994. A book published in 1996, "A Traveler's Guide to Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries of the California Gold Rush" by Susan Morris, supplies directions to the six cemeteries and transcriptions of the headstones, in addition to a brief history of each community. Thus far I have photographed the Placerville Jewish cemetery, one of the six. The other cemeteries are located in Mokelumne Hill, Jackson, Sonora, Nevada City and Grass Valley.

It was not uncommon for Jewish settlers to be buried in non-Jewish cemeteries, given the hardships of life and the difficulty of travel in those early days. Burial in a non-Jewish cemetery is also a reflection of the unique experience of the Jews in the mining towns - most miners were immigrants, and the Jews were usually not singled out, indeed, they were accepted as equals and lauded as worthy neighbors and citizens. Embraced by the community, they enthusiastically joined fraternal lodges, and sometimes were buried in lodge cemeteries. There are several Jewish headstones in the I.O.O.F Cemetery in Sonora that were documented by Dr. Levinson.

I have also photographed the headstones at what was once a separate, consecrated Jewish cemetery in Folsom, but has been absorbed into the larger sectarian Lakeside Cemetery.


to my blog on the Jews of the Gold Rush. I am just emerging from several months of research on this topic, some of which will be included in an Avotaynu source book for Jewish genealogical research in the United States that will be published next year.

I have been collecting documentation and photographing the headstones of Gold Rush pioneer cemeteries, and will begin to post these, along with historical background on the Jewish presence in the mining towns of the Gold Country.

Thanks for visiting!