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Contributed: pre-2006

Intercontinental Railway to California

Contributed by James Smith

The Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads joined on May 10, 1869 in Promontory, Utah with the ceremonial driving of the Golden Spike into the track that joined East and West. The completion of the link quickly made travel west by wagon train not only obsolete but also financially impractical. Families sold or shipped their goods west and rode in relative comfort to California.

The Transcontinental Railway was in operation for about a year when Volume 1 of Louis J. Rasmussen's OVERLAND TRAIN PASSENGER LISTS begins its journal of trips to California. Mr. Rasmussen stated clearly that the original records no longer exist. He gathered information about who arrived using newspaper accounts as well as Journals, diaries, letter and magazines. Newspapers accounted for the majority of the names with cub reporters assigned to greet the arriving trains and copy the passenger lists for the interest and notification of readers and families. Many locals read the papers in the hopes of seeing that a family member or friend from "home" had arrived.

Most accounts are from trains leaving Ogden, Utah and arriving at either San Francisco or Oakland Wharf. In either case, San Francisco was the typical destination since the tracks did not cross the bay. That was the purview of the bay ferries.

Ogden, Utah was the switch over where passengers would change from Union Pacific train (East) to the Central Pacific train (West). So most trips list Ogden as their origin although the individual trip may have originated in New York.

Each record lists where and when a train departed, where and when it arrived, who the passengers were and where each person or family called home. A train departing Ogden on July 6, 1871 and arriving at the Oakland Wharf on July 8, 1871 listed passengers from San Francisco, Oakland, Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA, New York, Wisconsin, Carson City, NV, Santa Clara, CA and Glastonburg, CN. It is clear some passengers were returning home. Organized by date, the book is indexed by surname and also by home state and city.

If you have family members that arrived in California during the time periods below, it is worth the time to look them up in Rasmussen's books. Check the NorCal Library or your local library either from the stacks or via inter-library loan (ILL).

Railway Passenger Lists of overland trains to San Francisco and the West,

Vol. 1 July 26, 1870 - November 11, 1871. 1966 ISBN 0911792-50-3

Vol. 2 November 12, 1871 to April 23, 1873. 1968 ISBN 0911792-51-1

See the listing in the NORCAL Lookup Volunteer Library at:

Libraries that have the Rasmussen books are:

  • Berkeley, University of California Berkeley Bancroft Library, HE2583 .R3 v.1-2
  • Sacramento, California State Library, HE2583 .R3 v.1-2, California Non Circ
  • San Francisco Main Library, SF Hist Room, 6th floor, 917.9461 R184r v1-2
  • Santa Clara City Library, Locked Case, 979.461 R22 Case v1 & v2
  • San Jose Main Library (MKL Library), California Room, REF CAL 979.461