Did your ancestor live in the wild west or the California gold country and you cannot find the town on a current map? It might be a ghost town but there is hope for you to still find the records from that town.
There are three types of ghost towns today:
1. The town may be an actual ghost town and no longer occupied. To check, start online with an interactive map found at GhostTowns.com. Some ghost towns have little evidence they were once a town. For example, Chili Gulch, Calaveras County, California, has only a few rocks and one stone building left from the mining camp it was.
2. The town may be labeled a ghost town, but is still occupied today. Mokelumne Hill, Calaveras County, California, is listed as a ghost town, but the last time I was there, people still lived in the town, so I don’t consider it a traditional ghost town.
3. The town may be resurrected as a tourist attraction. As I child I remember visiting southern California’s Calico Town. At one of these spiffed up ghost towns, it possible to step back in time, except now there are flush toilets.
If you can’t find the place your ancestor lived on a modern map today, check the following resources to see if it’s a ghost town:
- GhostTowns.com – start online with an interactive map found at GhostTowns.com.
- Gazetteers – a gazetteer is a book that describes place names within a geographic area. For example, French’s Gazetteer of the State of New York, covers all the little known towns at the time of publication in 1860. Gazetteer’s are valuable because besides locating the town, they sometimes give factors on settlement with names of early settlers, town business information, dates of incorporation, names of the churches, etc. To find a gazetteer, try searching by place in the Family History Library Catalog.
- County histories – You may find some county histories online at USGenWeb and on microfilm through the Family History Library Catalog.
- Old maps – You might try the Library of Congress for an old map.
How do you find the records of a ghost town?
Start widening the circle around the town to the neighboring areas. If you don’t find the records in the first circle, draw a bigger one.
In the 1870s, the Charles Werle family lived in Mokelumne Hill (in the above mentioned Calaveras County of the California gold country). The family attended the Catholic church in the town. When I went there several years ago, the church was locked up tight, no priest in sight. I asked around the town about the location of the church records and some thought they had been sent to the neighboring town, San Andreas. I drove to San Andreas, found the Catholic church, and again, it was all locked up and no priest in sight. Again, I asked around town, and some thought the records were at Angels Camp, the next town down the road. I went to Angels Camp, found the Catholic church, even found a priest, and he opened the record books for me! It was there two towns away that I found the baptism records for the children of Charles Werle.
Do you have a family member that lived in a place that is now a ghost town?