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Census/Gold Rush Town Online Lesson
An online lesson describing the occupants of a gold rush town 

1852 Census - El Dorado County

1852 State Census Data

Columbia 1852

Gold Miner Writing Prompt

Jackson 1854

Letter Home From A Miner

Letter Home From A Miner - Letterbook

El Dorado County 1852 Census Data

Looking At Census Data

Official Report on the Gold Miners

Gold Rush Web Sites

Go To Teacher Lesson Plans

The census of 1852 provides a picture in time of the people populating an El Dorado County, California mining town. This lesson will allow students to examine some of the occupants of a gold rush era town.


  • Analyze data and form a mental picture of the make up of a gold rush town
  • Make hypotheses and test them against data
  • Explain social life in a gold rush town

Student Task:

Students compare those conjectures with census data. Students will also draw conclusions from the data. Students will also use online sources to see paintings of camp life and read accounts of miners lives.

Time Required: Two 45-minute class periods

Grade Level: 4, 8

Lesson Connections and Standards References:
California Department of Education

  • History—Social Science Standards:

  • Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills
    Kindergarten through Grade Five

    Research, Evidence, and Point of View

Subject Areas: History-Social Science, Language Arts, Technology

Resources Used: California State Archives

Materials and Preparation: Before class begins, download and print the following materials:

Looking at Census Data
Gold Miner Writing Prompt
1852 State Census Data
El Dorado County 1852 State Census Data


  1. Discuss with the class their mental picture of a gold miner from the gold rush time. Discuss age and where they might have come. Discuss how they might have come to California (over land or by boat).
  2. Distribute Looking at Census Data. Ask students to go to LearnCalifornia.org web site/student section/lessons/gold rush town to the document El Dorado County 1852 State Census Data to examine the census data individually or in small groups. Tell them to look for people who interest them or raise questions in their mind. They should be prepared to share what interested them with the class. Students can also look at a Photograph of the original 1852 census page where this information originated. This is found at LearnCalifornia.org web site/student section/lessons/gold rush town.
  3. Conduct a class discussion about the people in the census. Pay attention to the age of the people and their occupations. Have the class try to draw conclusions about the age of the miners. Discuss what life in a mining town would be like without many women in town. Have the students speculate about how that would change the actions of the men. Have the students speculate why the women had no occupation listed. Discuss with the class what life might have been like in a mining town. Remind them that there were no paved streets, houses were rare and that many people lived in tents or crude cabins. Have students visualize themselves walking into town- imagine conversations and sights-
  4. Have students go online to the LearnCalifornia.org web site/student section/ lessons/ gold rush town to read Official Report on the Gold Mines by Colonel Mason, especially the section on the towns along the American River.
  5. Have students go online to the LearnCalifornia.org web site/student section/ lessons/ gold rush town to look at the printed scenes of Jackson 1854 and Columbia 1852 to get an idea of what the towns looked like.
  6. Distribute the Gold Miner Writing Prompt. Help students create a letter to their family at home.
  7. When students have finished their letters, allow them to go to the LearnCalifornia.org web site/ students/ student lesson/gold rush town section to read Letter Home From a Miner. (Students can read either a portion of the original handwritten version or a transcribed copy). Have them compare their letter to the one written by the miner.

Evaluation Criteria:

  1. Quality of letter written to family


  1. Have students examine critically the census document. Let them pick a family or an individual and make an imaginary travel journal about their trip from their home state to California. This would be very effective with a family group. Have students speculate about relationships (often, people listed together from the same state were living in the same household even though their last names don't match- i.e. a sister living with her sister and husband.)
  2. Print the Summary of the 1852 State Census Data and discuss with students. Ask them to compare the racial composition of different counties. Have them speculate on the reasons some counties had a higher concentration of one group than another.
  3. Have students make a drawing of a gold rush town or a gold rush campsite.
  4. Direct students to select a family from the El Dorado County 1852 State Census Data. Have them project what might have happened to the family by writing a story about their experiences in the gold fields and what the future brings for them (did they move to the valley and start farming? Did the return to their home state rich and live there? Did they lose all their money in the gold fields?)
  5. Go online to look at various gold rush sites to gather further information about the life of a gold miner. Students can use the Additional Gold Rush Sites section of the LearnCalifornia.org web site student section; lessons; gold rush town

Teacher Lesson Plans

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