Below are excerpts from two pages of the 1850 United States Census for San Diego County:
They show the household of Antonia Snook. You can learn a lot of history from census entries, although often, especially if you go back this far in time, you learn more about what had been omitted from history. The number “63” in the far-left column indicates that this was the 63rd dwelling visited by the census takers on their rounds through that particular enumeration district. The first person enumerated at that dwelling is Antonia Snook. The two columns to the immediate right of her name list her as 35-year-old female.
The next column over is blank, which is where we get into historic omission. In this case, it’s a sexist omission, as the 1850 census only asked for the “Profession, Occupation, or Trade of each Male person over 15 years of age.” So as a woman Antonia didn’t count for having a livelihood, even though she’s listed first in her household, an indication of authority over the other occupants. That omission is made more glaring by the next column over. That column lists “Value of Real Estate owned” by Antonia, which amounts to $5,000.00, That was a considerable chunk of change in 1850. And again, please note that the only person having any financial assets in the household is Antonia.
Antonia’s full name was Maria Antonia Alvarado Snook. Born Maria Antonia Alvarado, she was the daughter of a prominent San Diego family when she married Don Jose Snook, an English sea captain who had moved to what was then the Mexican province of Alta California, in 1837. In the early 1840s Don Jose became the owner of the 17,000 acre Rancho San Bernardo 20 miles north of the then Pueblo of San Diego.
Don Jose Snook died in 1848, as his ranch and all of California were coming under U.S. control with the end of the Mexican-American War. The 1850 United States Census was the first to include California and San Diego County.
Don Jose and Maria had no children, so it’s possible the three females listed in her household, one adult, one teenager and one child, are members of her extended Alvarado family. There are also three adult males listed only by the first names, consistent with the designation ”I” in a separate column, indicating they are “Indians.” They are also listed as being “Laborers,” clearly part of the rancho workforce. The incomplete names offer another look into what history was left out of this census.
Rancho San Bernardo was then a considerable grain and cattle-raising operation. In his will Don Jose left Maria a life estate in the rancho and she actively pursued her right to use the property after her husband’s death. According to a 1997 essay by Ruth Collings in The Journal of San Diego History, Maria “added a fleur-de-lis to [Don Jose’s original cattle] brand and registered it as her own. Lured by the high prices for beef in San Francisco, she sent cattle north for several years.”