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Guide to the Conlin Family Papers, 1853-1939
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Collection Scope and Content Summary
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Conlin Family papers
    Dates: 1853-1939
    Collection number: 307-1073
    Collector: Columbia State Historic Park (Columbia, Calif.).
    Extent: 7.7 cubic feet (8 boxes)
    Repository: California State Parks
    Sacramento, CA 95814
    Physical location: The collection is located at Columbia State Historic Park, Columbia, Calif.

    Administrative Information


    The collection is open for research by appointment only. Appointments may be made by calling (209) 532-0150.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with California State Parks. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact the California State Parks, Columbia State Historic Park.

    Preferred Citation

    [Item] Conlin Family papers, 307-1073, California State Parks, Sacramento, California.


    After the last Conlin sibling, Maggie, died in 1944, the family collection was donated to Columbia State Historic Park, a unit of California State Parks (CSP). While no CSP-generated documentation exists detailing the acquisition of the papers, the park does have artifact gift documents that briefly mention the Conlin family as the source, and that they were donated through the Columbia Historic Preservation Association (CHPA). The earliest of these gift documents is from 1947. The bulk of the collection appears to have been purchased with monies donated by William Cavalier to CHPA and thence given to the park through the intermediary of Mrs. J.S. (Geraldine) McConnell. Over time other pieces of the collection were gifted by Mrs. McConnell, and credited to William Cavalier and CHPA, of which Mrs. McConnell belonged. There are also notes from early 1950s park staff attributing particular pieces as being from the Conlin family collection, some with catalog numbers and some without, and some of these documents were identified through handwriting and known business associates. While the major part of the collection may have been acquired as a gift through the Columbia Historical Preservation Association, park staff may also have found pieces in abandoned structures in the town.
    Upon receiving the collection, park staff broke it up and redistributed individual items throughout the archives, filing them according to the business or family name mentioned in the body of the document (sometimes cutting up the document to file in separate locations). In 2001, a survey was done on Columbia collections as part of a statewide archival assessment project, and it was determined that the Conlin Family Papers warranted archival organization and processing. Between 2001-2003 Scott Baker, archaeological specialist with Columbia State Historic Park, and Sherrin Grout, volunteer historian, reconstituted the collection, organized it, and created this finding aid.
    It should be noted that although the bulk of the Conlin Family Papers have been reconstituted, there are still pieces of this collection within Columbia State Historic Park that have not been located. Parts of the collection are possessed by local families and collectors. And some of the Conlin material has been seen on the Ebay website for sale and local antique stores. In addition, it is quite possible that additional Conlin documents could be found in the Tuolumne County Historical Society archives.


    John and Julia C. Conlin were married in Massachusetts in 1855 and moved to Shaws Flat, Tuolumne County, California in 1856, where Mrs. Conlin gave birth to the first of her 11 children:
    Mary Ann b. 1856 Shaws Flat d March 14, 1890
    Thomas b. May 14, 1859 d January 10, 1930
    Andrew b. 1863 Columbia d November 11, 1883
    John Philip b. d October 18, 1921
    Julia b. October 9, 1865 d. October 2, 1939
    Katherine b. October 2, 1868 d. October 12, 1888
    George F. b. 1868 d. November 22, 1916
    James B. b. September 17, 1873 d. February 1, 1931
    Rosa b. 1874 d. November 2, 1889
    Charles H. b. September 17, 1876 d. September 27, 1893
    Margaret b. d. July 1, 1944
    John Conlin, Sr. was killed in a mining accident near Shaws Flat in October, 1877. Julia C. Conlin died in January, 1878. All of their children were educated in Columbia public schools. Tom, the primary assembler of this collection, also studied bookkeeping in Stockton and in 1877 received his state and county teaching certificate. Margaret also became a schoolteacher. Tom operated a Western Union telegraph business in Columbia for 40 years, serving as the third and last Wells Fargo agent, 1884-1914. He was a trustee of the Tuolumne County Water Company until it liquidated, had some involvement with the Columbia Water Company and was an investor in several mining operations, both placer and quartz. An entrepreneur, Tom had interests in several other businesses in and around Columbia. He operated the Fallon Hotel in Columbia in the 1890’s, where he also managed a general merchandise store, and he owned several pieces of property in and around Columbia. Conlin also appears to have had a personal loan operation for several of his business acquaintances and personal friends.
    Tom Conlin’s many businesses and investments resulted in an interest in activities in Columbia and the surrounding areas in the 1850,s and 1860’s, and he accumulated memorabilia, memoirs and reminiscences of that period. These first and second hand accounts of that period are a significant part of the collection. He also collected memorabilia, photos, clippings and literature on Columbia, the Tuolumne County Water Company and the local vicinity dating up through the 1920’s. Tom and his sisters, Maggie and Julia, lived together in the Wells Fargo building for many years, and never married. After his death in 1930, Maggie and Julia remained in Columbia, maintaining the collection and continuing the tradition of gathering information and clipping newspaper articles.

    Collection Scope and Content Summary

    The documents produced and collected by the Conlin family relate to every aspect of middle class life in Columbia in the 19th century. The largest grouping of materials in the collection relate to the Conlin family’s business and financial records. Their financial struggles and growth is detailed through bank notes and checks, bills and receipts, deeds and mortgages, and similar documents, primarily in the first two decades of the 20th century. Some promissory notes may relate to Conlin’s personal and business loans to others.
    Conlin’s mining interests are also revealed through the documents in the collection. Especially interesting are the lists of bullion producing mines in Columbia and the wide variety of mining claim documents. These materials are arranged alphabetically by claim title, and include maps, indentures, proofs of labor, and other mining-related documents.
    By far the most unique and valuable materials in the collection relate to the Conlin’s personal relationships and family life. The documents in this category depict the struggles of a 19th century family’s survival after the death of the parents, who left nine underage children in the care of the oldest sister and brother. The deaths of many of these children in the late 1880s and early 1890s, attributed to consumption, is yet another ordeal this family faced and is detailed in the documents. From Penmanship classes to legal opinions, from wedding announcements to death cards, this collection is a gold mine of a striving, ultimately successful middle class family.
    Oversize items, while still listed under their series title, have been moved to oversize boxes, and map items have been moved to mapcases. Except for the framed items, photographs have been integrated into the general Columbia Photo Collection.
    The collection has been organized into the following series:
    Series I: Business and financial records, 1857-1934. 1.3 cubic ft.
    Series II: Legal records, 1883-1932. .1 cubic ft.
    Series III: Correspondence, 1876-1927. .1 cubic ft.
    Series IV: Mining interests, 1866-1939. .4 cubic ft.
    Series V: Family papers, 1855-1932. .4 cubic ft.
    Series VI: Research and reminiscences, 1890-1928. .4 cubic ft.
    Series VII: Collected memorabilia, 1860-1932. .5 cubic ft.
    Series VIII: Photographs, 1880-1939. .5 cubic ft
    Series IX: Columbia Water Company, 1930’s. .3 cubic ft.
    Series X: Books, 1853-1938. 3.5 cubic ft.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Columbia State Historic Park (Columbia, Calif.)
    Conlin, Thomas