It isn't always easy to find records of, or clues to, your ancestors who came overland to the West Coast, but there may be more resources available than you think. I've put together what I hope are some helpful suggestions on my webpage, "Finding Your Overland Trail Ancestors." I've also compiled lists of names from various published or manuscript accounts of individual trips. This time, I have taken a different approach, and have compiled two lists of people who arrived in Oregon in 1851. The first list is of people who, when applying for an Oregon Donation Land Claim, said they arrived in Oregon on a certain date. [The names and dates were derived from the Genealogical Forum of Oregon (GFO) compilations of genealogical information in donation land claim paperwork.] The second is a list of manuscripts held by the Oregon Historical Society [OHS] that describe 1851 overland trips, with a compilation of names mentioned in each manuscript [Manuscripts and names included are those listed in "Overland Passages: A Guide to Overland Documents in the Oregon Historical Society," compiled by K. White and M. C. Cuthill.] An every-name index to both lists is included.
Before you try to use the lists,
let me describe some of their limitations [and there are quite
-Clearly, these lists do not include everybody who came overland to Oregon in 1851. Few people got mentioned in journals, and not everyone filed a donation land claim. The list I made from the GFO compilations only includes those people who gave a definite date for arrival in Oregon. [If all they said about their arrival was "1851" or "September 1851," I didn't include them. I limited my list in this way because I was trying to match individuals to specific wagon trains.] Also, most of the records are for arrivals between 20 July 1851 and 2 November 1851, because arrivals before and after those dates were less likely to be for travelers arriving in Oregon over the Oregon Trail.
-Probably not everybody on the list was an overland traveler. In most cases, the GFO compilations give no clues as to whether the applicant came overland, came by ship, or came up from California. [That's why I left off the very early and very late arrival dates.] The names in the OHS catalog are probably mostly overland travelers, but an "every name index" could include mention of friends they left behind, people they wrote to, people in towns they passed through, etc.
-Even though I only included people who gave a definite date for "arrival in Oregon," these are not all that definite. Most people took "arrival" to mean reaching the Willamette Valley [Foster's, Oregon City, or Salem, most often], but some people clearly used entering Oregon Territory [i.e. crossing the Snake River] as their date, or crossing over the Blue Mountains to the Umatilla River. From my personal knowledge of some of the wagon trains, I know there are many discrepancies of two to four days in dates given by members of the same trains, and in some cases the "arrival" dates of people on the same train are as much as two weeks different. Therefore, I have pooled the arrival dates into arrival periods of several days to a week. People listed in one time period were not necessarily traveling together. Also, since my pooling of dates is in most cases pretty arbitrary, members of the same train could show up in different groups [e.g., the time period just before or just after the main party].
-It probably goes without saying that names are not necessarily spelled correctly. I've tried to be careful with my transcribing, but remember that these names have been deciphered from original handwriting and transcribed and typed any number of times before me. In the case of journal entries, they may never have been spelled correctly in the first place. Don't forget to look for "look alike" and "sound alike" names when you go through the lists.
If you are interested in people who came to Oregon in 1851, I suggest you look in the index for surnames that match [or sound like they could refer to] the names you are looking for. If you find something interesting, check it out on either the donation land claim arrivals list, or the Oregon Historical Society manuscript list. On those pages I have included suggestions for following up on whatever you find.