Simple Sources for Complex Problems. Where Did Californians Come From in 1940?


  • Myron P. Gutmann



United States, California, Migration, Census


Kees Mandemakers has been a leader in the study of linked population data, but not every society has the sources or resources to create linked data. This essay is about one approach that derives from a source that does not offer all that is possible with linked longitudinal data, but that nonetheless has significant value. Migration to California is one of the persistent refrains encountered in both popular and academic works about the history of the 1930s. The reason for this is simple. In literature and the arts, images of that migration are well known, but while those themes are accurate, they have not been sufficiently studied. My approach is to study migration using census data that ask a retrospective question about where each respondent lived five years earlier, in this case tracking migration from 1935 to 1940. Focusing on migrants to California and the paths that they took, I show that there was migration from much of the U.S. especially metropolitan areas across the country, from states near to California, and from places subject to the severe environmental shocks of the 1930s. I also show that while much of the general view of migration to California focuses on agricultural workers who left their homes in search of farm work further west, the large majority of migrants to California went to metropolitan destinations and worked as much in industry and commerce as in agriculture.


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How to Cite

Simple Sources for Complex Problems. Where Did Californians Come From in 1940? . (2021). Historical Life Course Studies, 10, 135-139.