May 2, 2021

Pages 3665-3670
Whole Number 149


In the study of American genealogy, no source of information surpasses the 1850 federal census in value. Although six federal censuses had been taken at ten year intervals before 1850 (beginning in 1790), it was not until 1850 that the census takers were required to record the name, age, sex, place of birth, race, occupation, and value of real estate owned by every individual in every household. Countless genealogical mysteries have been solved by the discovery of an individual or family in the 1850 census.

It has been our goal to publish the records pertaining to all persons named Sparks (including Spark and Sparkes) found in the 1850 census for all 31 states then included in the nation, plus the District of Columbia. For our report here on Sparkses in California in 1850, we have used an index published in 1972 by Alan P. Bowman, but we have used a microfilm of the actual census records to copy the data given here.

It was in 1850 that California entered the Union as the 31st state. Although Americans began traveling overland to California as early as 1841, at that time the territory was claimed by Mexico, and it was not until 1848 that Mexico ceded it to the United States. The total population then amounted to no more than 15,000. In that same year, however, gold was discovered on the American River some forty miles from the present site of Sacramento, and the famous California Gold Rush began in 1849. The population of the new state soon grew to a quarter million.

The 1850 census for three California counties then in existence has been lost, unfortunately. These counties are Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Santa Clara. How many Sparks records have thus been lost is hard to estimate. Of one we can be sure - - a Hervey (or Harvey) Sparks was listed in an 1854 membership list of the Society of California Pioneers as having arrived in San Francisco in June 1849. (This Hervey Sparks was reported in a San Francisco newspaper called the Daily Evening Bulletin as having traveled to New York City late in 1855 and there to have married a Miss Brandberger on December 21, 1855. He returned to San Francisco, however, and was listed in a city directory there in 1858 as a real estate agent.)

The instructions given each census taker in 1850 directed him to visit every household, including institutions, rooming houses, etc., in the district assigned to him and to obtain from a resident there the following information about each individual living therein: name, age, sex, color, occupation, value of real estate owned, birthplace, whether married within the year, whether in school within the year, and an indication if the individual (if an adult) were unable to read or write. The census taker was to number and date each census sheet as he completed it, and he was to number each dwelling place and each family. In most instances, of course, there was one family in each house, so the numbers would at least begin the same, but from the time that there was more than one family in a dwelling place, the numbers thereafter would be different.

As can be seen in the following record, the composition of "households" in California in 1850 was very different from that of the rest of the country. In fact, only two Sparks families were found, that headed by George W. and Luana Sparks in El Dorado County and that of Isaac J. and Maria Sparks in Santa Barbara County. There was one other couple, without children, who were probably husband and wife, G. M. Sparks and Mary S. Sparks, in Butte County. In all other instances, the Sparkses found were males and most were miners. We can guess that a number of these men later returned to their homes in the east, and, if they were typical of the men who joined the Gold Rush, they probably returned home without having "struck it rich."

While in other states, the census of 1850 was taken for the most part during the summer of that year, in California the dates recorded by the census takers were in the autumn and winter of 1850, and, as will be noted, some were not taken until 1851. In most instances, the census taker included the name of the locality within the county where he found people living, although for most it was a temporary address. Miners were moving constantly from one locality to another in a search for more productive places to dig. For this reason, we can be sure that many were missed completely by the census takers.

The numbers assigned to dwellings and to families have less meaning for these California miners than for persons living in the other 30 states. Nevertheless, it is apparent that miners tended to form small groups in order to share responsibilities for daily living, and the census takers often considered these groups to be households and even families. Where a Sparks has been found in such a group, the information about the other men forming the group is also given here.

In presenting the census data here, we have copied the name of the location within the county where it was given by the census taker along with the census taker's name, the date on which he collected the information, and the page number assigned to the census sheet. The dwelling number and family number precede the names. Following each name, we have copied the age given, M or F for male or female, the place of birth, the occupation (if given) and the value of real estate owned, if any. Rarely did a California census taker indicate the race of an individual if he/she were white; all those which we copied appear to have been white.

We can be sure that besides missing individuals, the census takers made errors in recording information about individuals. In some instances, we can be sure that the information was provided by someone other than the individual himself, and that such items as age and place of birth were mere guesses on occasion. As can be seen, there were very few real estate owners among the Californians of 1850. Two census takers in El Dorado County, asked a question not appearing on the census sheets, that being the "average value of each miner's daily product." We suspect that the figures given should be taken with the proverbial "grain of salt."

Number Person Age M/F Born Occupation Net Worth
(No town or locality name given)
Page 40. Census taken on October 2, 1850, by H. Bell.
46- 46 Sparks, G. M. 23   Vermont Miner  
47- 47 "  Mary S. 16   Illinois    
48- 48 How, J. W. 49   England Miner (Illiterate)
49-49 Wharton, K. 17   Pennsylvania    "  
Calaveras Dist.
Page 217. Census taken on November 3, 1850, by John W. Jones.
4739-4737 Denning, Walton 22   New York Miner  
  Bolton, Chas. 23   Virginia    "  
  Sparks, Wm. 25   " Blacksmith  
Placerville and its Vicinity.
Page 300a. Census taken on November 16, 1850, by Andrew Coffenberry.
5 Sparks, Mahlon 33   Pennsylvania Miner  
  Carlisle, John 22   Ohio    "  
  Tugnal [?], J. Coleman 21   Virginia    "  
[Editor's Note: For Mahlon Sparks and John Carlisle the census taker noted that the "average product"   of each per day was $2.00. For identification of Mahlon Sparks, see pp. 2975-77 of the Quarterly for December 1986, Whole No. 136.]
Page 304. Census taken on November 21, 1850, by Andrew Coffenberry.
8 Hull, Francis 49   New York Miner  
  Clark, Charles 27   Maine    "  
  Sparks, John 19   Connecticut    "  
Page 313a. Census taken on December 6, 1850, by Andrew Coffenberry.
16 Sparks, Thomas 20   Ohio Miner  
  "   William 45   Kentucky    "  
  Holmes, William 30   Ohio    "  
[Editor's Note: For each of these men, the census taker noted that his "average product" was $1.00 per day. He also noted that Thomas Sparks had attended school within the year.]
Diamond Springs.
Page 349. Census taken on September 30, 1850 by C. S. Coffinbury.
338-375 Sparks, Geo. W. 31   Alabama Merchant  
    " Luana 31       "    
    " Wm. T. 7   Mississippi    
    " Mary A. 5       "    
  "  Geo. F. 2   Utah Territory    
  "  Harriet C. 1 /2   California    
  Bryant, Wm. 21   Illinois Miner  
  Adkins, John 66   New Hampshire    "  
[Editor's Note: The Geo. W. Sparks shown above was George Washington Sparks, born April 27, 1819; he was a son of Amon and Mary Ann (Gibson) Sparks. Amon (or Amand) Sparks was born ca. 1795 in Union County, South Carolina, and died ca. 1835 in Monroe County, Mississippi. He was a grandson, we believe, of 17.2 Matthew and Elinor Sparks of Prince Georges County, Maryland, who migrated to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in 1777 or 1778. George Washington Sparks married Louanna Roberds on August 26, 1842. See the Quarterly of September 1965, Whole No. 51, p. 933, for further information on this branch of the Sparks family.]
On Matkenias Creek.
Page 353a. Census taken on October 3, 1850, by C. S. Coffinbury.
2 Sparks, Daniel 23   Indiana Miner  
  McLauphin, James 23   Kentucky    "  
  Rubison, James 20       "    "  
  Sparks, James 22       "    "  
Logtown and Vicinity.
Page 362. Census taken on October 8, 1850, by C. S. Coffinbury.
5- 6 Sparks, Richard 24   Kentucky Miner  
  Burnett, James 24   Ohio    " Illiterate
    " George 22   "    "     "
  Lowman, Wm. 32   Unknown    " $1,000
  Johnson, Walter 32   "    
Peru and Vicinity.
Page 446. Census taken on December 21, 1850, by C. S. Coffinbury.
9- 11 Hampton, Joseph H. 20   Missouri Miner  
  Brown, Thomas 24   "    "  
  Spaulding, Thos. J. 18   Kentucky    "  
822-838 Sparks, Wm. M. 23   " Merchant  
[Editor's Note: The census taker noted that for each of the above four men, their "average daily product" was $4.00.]
Sacramento City.
Page 172a. Census taken on November 5, 1850, by Wm. N. Johnson.
762-799 City Hospital.
  Sparks, James 21   Illinois Miner  
[Editor's Note: James Sparks was one of many patients listed in the hospital; he was probably the same James Sparks, age 21, and a native of Illinois, who died in Sacramento on January 10, 1851. See the Quarterly of September 1970, Whole No. 71, p. 1344.]
Page 179. Census taken on November 12, 1850, by Wm. N. Johnson.
868-909 Barry, James     Virginia Blacksmith $1,000
  Sparks, Wm. M.     Kentucky "  
  Cox, Louis     Maryland "  
Page 237a. Census taken on March 4, 1851 by Thos. P. Grier.
2259-2324 Boarding House
  Kimball, Michael 21   New York Laborer  
  Rogers, Thos. S. 28   Maine     "  
  Sparks, Geo. 27   England     "  
  Grove, Wm. S. 38   Pennsylvania Teamster  
  Hedge, Aaron S. 40   Ohio Packer  
  Nelson, Jas. M. 35   Maryland Brick Mason  
  Tull, Wm. C. 24   Ohio Laborer  
  Webb, Alex H. 25   Kentucky    "  
  Naylor, W. A. 39   Delaware    "  
  Bullard, J. B. 32   Massachusetts None  
  Doran, Robert L. 29   New Jersey   "  
Stockton District.
Page 644. Census taken on October 26, 1850, by Wm. C. McDougal.
793-793 Sparks, Andrew 31   Massachusetts Trader  
  Craine, George M. 24   Missouri   "  
  Ford, James H.  20   Ireland   "  
District of Santa Barbara.
Page 254. Census taken October 26, 1850, by W. B. Stockton.
132-154 Sparks, Isaac J. 48    Maine Merchant $16,000
  "  Maria 37   California Illiterate  
  "  Ramona 14     "  Attends school  
  "  Jose 8     " "   "  
  "  Flora 3     "    
  Packard, Albert 31   Maine  Merchant $1,000
  "    Frannella 20   California    
  "   Albert 2     "    
  Sparks, John 43   Maine Merchant  $1,000
[Editor's Note: Isaac J. Sparks was born ca. 1800 in Bowdoinham, Maine, and was a son of Samuel and Sally (Brown) Sparks. He accompanied his parents to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1816 or 1819. In 1831, he joined the Jedediah S. Smith party for Santa Fe, but within a year he had gone on to California. The story of his adventurous life, including a reproduction of his portrait, appeared in the Quarterly of March 1979, Whole No. 105, as part of an extensive article on the descendants of Nicholas Sparks (ca.1700ca.1780) of Truro, Massachusetts.]
Township No. 1.
Page 132a. Census taken April 30, 1851, by S. W. Luckett.
717-717 Hyatt, George 33   Pennsylvania Miner  
  Bane, Gilbert C. 29   Ohio    "  
  Grover, Saml. R. 41   Virginia    "  
  Shoemaker, Aaron 39   "    "  
  Sparks, J. B. 22   Ohio    "  
  Steele, Richard D 31   Kentucky    "  
Nevada City.
Page 304. Census taken October 28, 1850, by Humphrey Griffith.
861-861 Early, Walker H. 35   Ohio Teamster  
  Allis, Henry D. 32     " Trader  
  Botterf [?], Peter H. 26     "    "  
  Kelaviso [?], James 24   Illinois Miner  
  Sparks, Levi 27      "    "  
  Hughes, Wm. 25   Indiana    "  
Page 308 Census taken October 29, 1850, by Humphrey Griffith.
929-929 Banks, John H. 31   New York Miner  
  Keller, David 26     "  "    "  
  Ervin, John C. 35   New Jersey    "  
  Sparks, H. S. 34     "    "    "  
  Ward, S. T. 27   Illinois    "  
  Crittenden, M. C. 25      "