There’s a lot of things about 2017 that might not be ideal, but one thing is for sure: Northern California has come a long way since the great depression. Be thankful for that roof over your head and the four walls protecting you from those winter storms currently making their way through Northern California. Many of our ancestors who moved out here in search of work during the Dust Bowl lived with a lot worse.
1. A lot of families in California during the 1930s were migrants, which means they lived together out of their cars for weeks or even months at a time.
The original caption for this image reads, "Four families, three of them related with fifteen children, from the Dust Bowl in Texas in an overnight roadside camp." It was taken in 1937.
2. Many homes were actually tents or other temporary shelters.
This image's description reads, "A new home on wheels (father and son). Yuba County, California."
3. Despite the squalor and the poverty, the people who lived here loved their families and did the best they could to find some sort of normalcy.
"Child of migratory worker. American River camp near Sacramento, California" November 1936.
4. Little did they know that the economy would take off, wars would be fought and lives would be lost in just a few decades.
Famous Dust Bowl photographer Dorothea Lange documented this image: American River camp, Sacramento. Home of Tennessee family, now migratory workers. Seven in family, came to California July 1935, following relatives who had come in 1933. Father was a coal miner in Tennessee. Reason for coming to California. "Our neighbors were coming. We only got one or two days work a week (relief.) Thought we could make it better here. Since arrival family has worked in walnuts, tomatoes, peaches, and the mother has worked in a fruit cannery."
5. There's not many left who were alive in the 1930s, but luckily there is a trove of stories they have told about the lives they lived.
This photo's caption reads, "Destitute family. American River camp, Sacramento, California. November 1936."
6. Even in the heart of San Francisco, a region that is booming today and known worldwide as having extremely high living expenses suffered.
This photo is from, "Backyard. North Beach District (Italians). San Francisco, California, February 1936."
7. Migrants worked mostly within the agricultural industry, which still thrives in most regions of California. Prices have rocketed since the '30s, though.
The caption says, "Children of drought refugees camped by highway outside of Fresno, California. The parents are working in the cotton field."
8. While many lived in the open, others were lucky to live in houses just like this one.
The photographer is unknown, but he or she documented the following about this photo: "Sonoma migratory labor camp, California. Gate, house, and garage."
9. Some communities of these destitute workers banded together in camps, both for solidarity and because they weren't welcome in wealthier neighborhoods.
The photo's original description says, "Winter migrant camp on the outskirts of Sacramento, California. Each family has to build its own shack; they pay one dollar and twenty-five cents a month ground rent, including water. Eighty families living here in November 1936. They work in the fruit during the summer, migrating from harvest to harvest."
10. Federal Shelters like this one also sprang up around this time.
The caption says it all about this men's home near Lassen: Hot Springs federal shelter. One of the five federal camps for homeless men in California. Year ago enrollment three hundred seventy five men, now one hundred fifty seven. Average age fifty; all physically disabled and not capable of manual or project work. Dining hall, kitchen and hospital."
11. Here's another angle of the Lassen area Federal Shelter, which eventually grew to house even more in need.
It's information tells us that: "Hot Springs federal shelter. One of the five federal camps for homeless men in California. Year ago enrollment three hundred seventy five men, now one hundred fifty seven. Average age fifty; all physically disabled and not capable of manual or project work. Administration building."
12. While it was a hard time, tough Americans and new Northern Californians put a little bit of elbow grease and perhaps a good deal of hope into their difficult lives. It's because of their tenacity that we are where we are today as a state and a nation.
This abode's description definitely paints a prettier picture than a lot of the others': "Utility units at Marysville resettlement camp. Shows sites and units, towels, hot shower, and laundry."
Let’s have a show of hands for those of us Northern Californians whose families moved out West in search of work at one time or another. Share your family’s story, or your own, with us on Facebook.