Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Gold Rush Diaries Chip Away Brick Wall

Who knew that Asenath Cornwell Larimer (1808-1897) wasn't the only one in her family to keep a diary of the difficult journey from Ohio to California during the Gold Rush era? 

Asenath: wife, mother, widow, sister, Gold Rush participant

Asenath married hubby's 3d great uncle, James Larimer (1806-1847) in Fairfield, Ohio. They had six children together and were pioneer farmers in Indiana before he was thrown from a horse and died one winter evening. 

Widowed with five youngsters at home, she sold her share of the family farm and joined with her brother John and others to try to strike it rich in California. They embarked on this risky venture on Tuesday, March 16, 1852. Asenath kept a written journal of the experience, which I've blogged about before. She briefly mentioned her parents, but nothing concrete enough to track them down by name or place or date.

Asenath's parents were a brick wall...Online family trees show names, not always the same names, and no real sources. Then a sudden breakthrough!

John: husband, father, jewelry merchant, brother, Gold Rush participant

Through a previous online search, I ascertained that Asenath's brother John Cornwell (1812-1883) had owned a jewelry store in Athens, Ohio. My query: John Cornwell Athens Ohio. One top result was a news item about the long history of John's jewelry business.

Today I tried a slightly different search: for John Cornwell Gold Rush Ohio. I found a surprising and exciting result. John, it turns out, also wrote a diary of the Gold Rush adventure, also beginning with an entry on March 16, 1852. His journal is archived in Ohio (see screen grab at top, from OhioLink), not close to where I live. Brother and sister journals!

The finding aid includes a brief bio of John, contributed by his descendants. A better starting point for parents' names, dates, places, helping to chip away at that brick wall. More research is needed to verify specific dates and places if possible, but I'm on my way now.

Also in my search results: A new book by descendants of John Cornwell, analyzing his journal and providing more family background. Published only a few months ago, Lots of Rush but Little Gold, will give me much more info about the Cornwell family in the 19th century, when I receive my copy. The book by descendants would not have been in the results for searches before the publication date of October, 2022. Timing makes a difference.

My takeaways

First, never give up on a brick wall, just circle back for a fresh look now and again. Second, thoroughly investigate siblings (and other close relatives) because they may prove to be the key to chipping away a brick wall. Third, try different online searches at different times, and examine results on the first several pages, not just the top result. 

"Brick wall" is the week 21 genealogy prompt for #52Ancestors by Amy Johnson Crow.


  1. What a wonderful find! It surely pays to review old searches and do them again.

  2. AnonymousMay 25, 2023

    This is an amazing breakthrough! Gold rush, who would have thought?

  3. AnonymousMay 26, 2023

    Oh wow, what luck! Congrats!