- From California's Gold Fields to the Mendocino Coast: A Settlement History across Time and Place by Samuel M. Otterstrom
Over the past decade, Samuel Otterstrom has emerged as one of historical geography's leading proponents of the utilization of genealogical data and family histories to reconstruct past settlement geographies and histories. Scholars have of course been aware of the academic potential of genealogical sources for many years, but the more recent emergence of web-based genealogical databases containing millions of names allows for the analysis of national and international-scale family migration patterns and processes employing new technologies such as GIS. Such databases and technologies have attracted the attention of scholars from a variety of fields, but geographers have been at the forefront of a rapidly growing subfield that relies heavily on genealogical resources. Otterstrom's superb new book is in many ways the culmination of his long line of research utilizing large genealogical databases to analyze national-scale migration patterns, with a focus on the early Anglo-American settlement of the American West and what he terms "genealogical geography." It can also be viewed as another chapter in decades [End Page 254] of research by a long list of prominent historical geographers (e.g., Robert Mitchell, Terry Jordan-Bychkov, Cole Harris, John Hudson, Carville Earle, and Donald Meinig) seeking to elucidate national- and international-scale spatiotemporal models of the European and Anglo-European settlement of North America over the past five hundred years. Seen in this context, Otterstrom's book serves as an excellent example of how in-depth analyses of genealogical data and resources can add another level of comprehension regarding the historical settlement geography of North America in rather profound ways.
Building on an underlying leitmotiv anchoring the book's narrative that genealogy "ties people together through space, time, and place" (9), From California's Gold Fields to the Mendocino Coast weaves together an intricate accounting of the Anglo-European settlement of northern California after 1848 at varying scales, from the local/individual to communities, counties, and regional economic systems. It illustrates in intricate detail how the region changed rapidly from a "sleepy post-Mexican outpost" to an area of "hyperactive" growth after 1848, how individual settlers reacted to periodic social and economic transformations at varying scales, and how individual and intergenerational family migrations to the area produced a distinctive set of regional landscapes.
The book begins with an introductory chapter that skillfully lays out the study's framework regarding scale and units of analyses and provides a spatiotemporal model of the migration to, and early settlement of, northern California. The second chapter provides a brief overview of early Spanish, Mexican, Russian, and finally Anglo-American migrations to the region and the establishment of various migration routes prior to the gold rush of 1848/49. Relying heavily on census data, genealogical databases, and local and regional archival sources, each of the following nine chapters surveys a different "dimension" of the Anglo-European migration to the region, each successive chapter building up in scale over time. In this way the reader is presented with settlement narratives at different spatial scales over time, from the earliest individual miners in localized mining centers (chapters 3 and 4), to intergenerational migration and the establishment of permanent settlements (chapters 5–7), to the emergence of a nested hierarchy of regional ser-vice and farming centers and their integration into a regional economic whole centered on San Francisco after the 1860s (chapters 8–11).
In the end, the book presents an academically rigorous and thorough [End Page 255] narrative that charts the early development of northern California and the San Francisco Bay region from its rather inauspicious beginnings in small-scale mining camps into a subnational regional economic system. This is accomplished largely through a detailed and impressive empirical assessment of intergenerational migration to the region relying on genealogical data and family histories, and...