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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Extending your genealogical knowledge: thinking about interpretation

Where are you in terms of your genealogy and family history? What's your next step in better understanding the documents you've collected? Do you have a specific goal? 

Searching for clues in other resources. Lisa Gorrell at the SF Maritime Museum Library. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco
For many people, defining the answers to these questions can take several routes, from hiring our Research team, consulting the CGS Library or attending classes in person. There are many virtual options, a tendency that has increased with the changes in technology. Determining an area of focus for skill set or geographic area can lead you to new resources for taking your work further. 

While documents are central to genealogical practice, understanding the context for how those documents were created and used is also important.  I asked CGS member, lecturer and instructor Susan Goss Johnston, what should people keep in mind about how this context relates to their own family history? 

Susan agreed that while documents are central to genealogical research, she stressed that
"understanding the historic, legal and inherent context of those documents is not just important, it's essential. If a researcher doesn't understand the history behind a document's creation, he or she might not understand important events in an ancestor's life. If a researcher doesn't understand a document's legal context, they might misinterpret the true meaning of that document. If a researcher doesn't study that document in the context of other similar documents, they will miss important patterns and inferences not explicitly stated anywhere."

So, it's simply not enough to just have the documentation, but to also learn about these different facets, which can add so much more to your family history. Look at history written at different scales, the larger picture of events in the past, down to legal and social histories, or even material culture studies that can tell you more about life at that time. 

Some excellent approaches can include using the lists at H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online) a nonprofit organization housed at the Wisconsin State University.  H-Net sponsors over 100 interactive newsletters (discussion boards) in order to advance teaching and research.  Its H-Net Reviews section is devoted to in depth reviews of publications that can be searched for specific topics relevant to doing genealogical research. For example, you can find recent reviews of books and exhibitions that you might have missed otherwise. 

Explore archival websites once you've charted a portion of your tree- you'll probably come away with some insights into the era your people were living in. DNA offers other routes to connect with relatives, now that testing has dramatically changed over the last five years. 

Consider a small study group, that meets in person or virtually, such as reading groups such as the NSGQ Study Groups [National Genealogical Society Quarterly] that meet online, or webinars. Tour local historical sites of interest with your genealogy society.  At CGS, we have SIGs (Special Interest Groups), so that people can systematically explore a topic together. Visit our Facebook page, blog and homepage and check for events of interest. 

Do you have an area of interest in genealogy or family history that you'd like to attend a discussion on? Contact us-- we're always looking for members and volunteers to delve into new areas of interest!

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wordless Wednesday : NEHGS Comes West! Sept 13, 2014

With thanks to CGS' Ron Madson for the photographs!

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ready, Set, Go: Family History Month’s Coming to Town!

by Shannon Reese

October’s just around the corner so get ready for Family History Month at the California Genealogical Society! 

For more than a decade, October has been celebrated among genealogy enthusiasts. As always, the society library will open its doors to the public during the month of October.

Are you new to family history research?  No worries, we waive the library usage fee for non-members and invite everyone to come and explore the library's resources. 

We're located in the historic Bruner Building at 22nd Street & Broadway, one block north of the Paramount Theater, in downtown Oakland.  All classes (for which you must register) during October will be held here, unless specified.

Photo: “Examining Passengers Aboard Ships.” Vessel is the Shimyo Maru, Angel Island, California, 1931. The U.S. National Archives Flickr page.
Although it’s technically not in October, don’t forget about the September 27th class at CGS on Finding Your Japanese Roots: In the US and In Japan led by Linda Harms Okazaki.

Our member volunteers have been busy gearing up for a month of special events and exciting classes. Please help us celebrate Family History Month by attending one of our October events.  We start off October with a slew of choices:

Saturday, October 4th

The California Genealogical Society is participating in the Nikkei Pilgrimage to Angel Island.  This fun, all-day event is focused on the Japanese-American experience at the "Ellis Island of the West". CGS Member Linda Harms Okazaki, will present and then will be available to help people get started in their own research.  Diana Edwards, Eva Goodwin, and Todd Armstrong (all CGS members & genealogists) will be there to help as well.

Don’t miss our FREE Beginning Genealogy class with Dick Rees from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.  Find out who you are and who your ancestors were!

Saturday, October 11th
The City Directory Library awaits your visit!  Come by from 10am – 4pm and see member Dr. Stephen Harris’ collection of 6,000 city and telephone directories dating from the 1840s to the 1960s.

Everything Was Not Lost! Digging Deeply to Unearth Your Early San Francisco Ancestor  from 10am-12pm.  Genealogists are often told the bad news that the family records they are looking for in San Francisco all burned in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, but everything was not lost. CGS member and author of Raking the Ashes – Genealogical Strategies for Pre 1906 San Francisco Research, Nancy Peterson knows how to unearth early San Francisco Ancestors.

We can’t wait to see you at our Fall Membership meeting!  We'll be presenting the First Annual Genie Awards, honoring some of our extra-special volunteers -- those whose "magical" skills have helped the California Genealogical Society in significant ways.
The award ceremony, with an Academy Awards theme and a glass of bubbly, will begin at 12:00 p.m.  It’s followed by the membership meeting (1pm – 3pm) with a discussion of "Genealogical Blogging." BYO lunch; dessert and beverages will be provided.

Tuesday, October 14th
The CGS Book Repair Committee, headed by Bill O'Neil, will hold its monthly work session from 9:30am – 3:00pm.  The committee welcomes new members who are interested in learning the craft and who can meet with the group every month. No experience necessary!

Friday, October 17th
Never explored the City Directory Library?  It’s open from 10am – 4pm with a collection of 6,000 city and telephone directories dating from the 1840s to the 1960s.

Saturday, October 18th
10:00am – 11:30am is the monthly meeting of the CGS Board of Directors that focuses on making our tagline, “helping people connect to their family heritage” a reality.

Our San Francisco Special Interest Group meets from 10:00am – 11:30am and is led by Sandra Britt-Huber.  Topics include both pre & post 1906 time periods. Come & join us this month if you have an interest in San Francisco history and genealogy! 

Saturday, October 25th
10am – 1pm is Susan Goss Johnston’s Exploring Record Sets Series: Introduction to Military Records More than 35 million people have fought in military conflicts in America's history. The records created during and after their service are invaluable sources for family historians. Discover the many record types available, where to find them, and study problems that can be solved only through these fascinating documents.

For a full listing of all Bay Area genealogy events in October, check the San Francisco Bay Area Genealogy Calendar frequently.

Get started today on your family history---you’ll be glad you did!

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

Monday, September 8, 2014

NEHGS Comes West: Time's running out!

Time's running out for donating to our Silent Auction this Saturday at NEHGS Comes West

We need you bring any items in by Wednesday September 10th in order to make this event a success! 

Consider giving something that reflects your expertise in genealogy (i.e.two hours of research help in a specific area),  a gift certificate to that restaurant, or a shop that you go to all the time. 

Please contact Diana Wild: or 
Jane Lindsey: for any questions. 

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chinese Whispers: Bay Chronicles - SF Bay Area events in September

Curious about nineteenth century California and it's rich ethnic history?
Here's a series of local events of interest--

Chinese Whispers: Bay Chronicles is a project that traces the forgotten history of Chinese shrimp fishing in San Francisco Bay. It explores an overlooked yet important segment of the SF Bay area's maritime history tied to the Chinese-owned shrimp industry and the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In 1897, SF Bay had 26 Chinese shrimping camps, and the numbers dropped over time with restrictions on exports and nets. Today, the vestige of just one site remains at China Camp, which once was home to over 500 people, most of them from Canton, China.

It's part of a fascinating interdisciplinary media project, Chinese Whispers by Director Rene Yung and a team of artists, a marine archaeologist and curator John Muir in a collaboration with the SF Maritime National Historic Park. The project seeks to engage the public with three unique public programs at each of the places the Grace Quan will dock, the first happening this Saturday, September 5.

The GRACE QUAN (right) and a photo of a shrimp junk taken in the 1880s. (SAFRA7105nl) Both photos show the San Francisco waterfront in the background. The Grace Quan resembles vessels from the fishermen's hometowns in Guandong Province, China. Images: NPS

The upcoming sailings on a 43 foot replica shrimp junk, Grace Quan around the Bay, followed by public programs at each site are:
September 5: China Camp, San Rafael to Richmond, Craneway Pavilion
September 7-11: Richmond to Redwood City
September 12-14: Redwood City to China Camp, San Rafael

For more information on schedule and reservations see:

Also check out The Last Living Resident of China Camp: a KQED California Report interview with Frank Quan, the only resident of China Camp. The Chinese Whispers shrimp junk is named for his mother, Grace Quan.

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

CGS Member Eva Goodwin Receives APG's Young Professional Scholarship

At the recent 2014 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference in San Antonio, Texas, the Association of Professional Genealogists announced that CGS member Eva Goodwin was awarded the Young Professional Scholarship. The APG Young Professional Scholarship is given to individuals between the ages of 18-29 who aspire to a professional career in genealogy.

Goodwin is a 2008 graduate of Mount Holyoke College and is a graduate of the ProGen 18 Study Group. She is also the owner of Family Archaeologies, which does research, consulting and meta-genealogy. 

For the APG press release:

Congratulations Eva!

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Finding Your Japanese Roots in the US & in Japan with Linda Okazaki

Would you like to learn how to document your unique family history? 
Dorothea Lange, WRA, Densho Digital Archive, 2008
On Saturday September 27, from 10-2, Linda Harms Okazaki is returning to CGS to present her seminar, Finding Your Japanese Roots in the US and in Japan. Adelle Treakle was a recent attendee of Linda Okazaki’s Finding Your Japanese Roots class and this sparked her quest to locate records on her family at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington DC. During the Second World War, members of Adelle’s family were held at Poston, the Colombia Relocation Center in Arizona. She kindly shares her experience:

"After attending Linda’s Finding Your Japanese Roots class, I was inspired to track down my family’s records at the National Archives in Washington DC. I requested the RG 210 files for my grandparents and their six children who were in the Poston Relocation Center. It is very moving to be able to hold in your hand the documents that had such significance to your family and their history. I took my laptop and scanner, and scanned every page, reading some along the way. Over a couple of days, I managed to scan more than 400 pages. The WRA [War Relocation Authority] kept every document, from camp intake forms, letters to and from WRA officials, and work, health and school records.

One of best treasures I found were school essays about the evacuation and camp life written by my aunt when she was in the eighth grade. Intake documents included information the family didn’t know about my grandparents in Japan, such as their mothers’ maiden names, family occupations and the schools they attended there. I hope to use this information for more genealogical research in Japan. Shortly after my DC trip, I was able to share my research at a family reunion, including giving my aunt copies of her long forgotten essays. It was gratifying to learn and share so much about such a historic event in my family’s life."

The California Genealogical Society proudly announces a repeat offering in our ongoing ethnic research series: Finding Your Japanese Roots in the US & in Japan

Join Linda Harms Okazaki for an encore presentation of this seminar. 
The first half will focus on background and research in the United States: 
  • the political climate and pertinent U.S. laws
  • internment camps
  • post WWII experience
  • repatriation and redress.
The second half of the seminar will concern research in Japan:
  • finding your koseki 
  • understanding ohaka and kakocho
  • visiting relatives, cemeteries and temples
The seminar is suitable for beginners as well as more experienced attendees. Attendees are welcome to bring lunch, meet seminar participants and discuss their Japanese-American history.

When: Saturday, September 27, 
2014 from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. 
(please bring a bag lunch)

Where: California Genealogical Society

2201 Broadway, Suite LL2
(Entrance on 22nd St)
Oakland, California

How: Register online: 

Cost: Free for members. Non-members fee is $20.00 (non-refundable) and can be applied towards membership on the day of the class.

Please note, this class is limited to thirty participants. Preregistration is required. Walk-ins will not be admitted.

Call CGS: (510) 663-1358 or E-mail:

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Adventures at GRIP- Genealogical Institute at Pittsburg: Pt 2

by Lisa S. Gorrell

Classroom at GRIP 2014. Photo: Lisa S. Gorrell

Wow, what I week I had! “Law School for Genealogists” was a heavily packed course with an abundant of information taught by three very experienced and knowledgeable instructors: Judy G. Russell, Richard G. Sayre, and Marian L. Smith. Judy and Rick are both certified genealogists and genealogy lecturers. 

Marian leads the Historical Research Branch at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Department of Homeland Security. Her knowledge of naturalization and immigration was wonderful.

So what did we do for a week studying law? The course was divided up into subject matters. This was basically an advanced class covering many of the basic records one learns about as a beginning genealogist but with the viewpoint of the law. Whenever a question was asked about a possible solution or why a document was created, we would say, “Look at the law.”

After an introductory course called “Freshman Orientation” that covered why genealogists should understand law, and how law has developed over time, we covered the following subjects:

• State courts and their records

• Federal courts and their records

• Legal Research 101, which covered how to use the website, Century of Lawmaking at the Library of Congress

• Legal Research 102, which covered the Serial Set, American State Papers, and Territorial Papers

• Legal Research 103, which covered The Claims Committees of the Congress and US Court of Private Land Claims

• Legal Research 104: The Serial Set and more with case studies

• Estate Law 101 & 102 (Wills, Intestacy and Probate; and Dower, Curtesy and Guardianships)

• Immigration and Naturalization 101 & 102

• Property: Federal Land Law (Public land)

• Property: State Land Law (Deeds, Mortgages)

• Military Law 101 (Military Pension law)

• Family Law 101 & 102 (Marriage and Divorce, and the law of women and children)

• Legal Research 105: Federal Prisons and Investigation

So you can see we covered a lot of subjects common to genealogy but our class was focused strongly with the law. The hardest parts for me were the Legal Research classes because I was unfamiliar with the Library of Congress website Century of Lawmaking and the National Archives website.  Our course binder was also filled with wonderful bibliographies in each of the class handouts and we received a link to a Google Drive folder with more goodies. We also got the opportunity to purchase Black’s Law Dictionary on CD for $19.95. One cannot begin to understand the law unless you understand the terminology!

The best thing I learned? A lot of business in Congress had to do with issues regular people had. 

These individuals made claims and Congress wrote private laws to relieve an individual or groups of individuals. These reliefs could be waivers, refunds, or torts. We learned how to search these papers and journals to find information about our ancestors. 

I also learned that knowing the law behind records explains its purpose. Knowing this will aid in your analysis of the information you find in the record. Judy and Rick will be teaching a similar class at SLIG in January and this course again next summer at GRIP.

Lisa S. Gorrell with genealogist Judy G. Russell. Photo: Lisa S. Gorrell

But what about the dorm life? I enjoyed staying in a dorm on the La Roche College campus. The dorms were in the building next to the classroom building which also held the cafeteria. The beds were already made for us and towels hanging in the bathrooms, too. All we had to bring were toiletries and an Ethernet cable to hook up to the internet. My next door neighbor was Kathryn Doyle! The food was tasty in the cafeteria and the classrooms mostly comfortable (one can’t please everyone anyway). There were lectures in the evening after dinner and on Wednesday, many of us watched Who Do You Think You Are all together in the lounge. Many of us were yelling back at the T.V. saying, “What else was in the Civil War file?” or “Do some DNA!”

All in all, I had a great time at GRIP and recommend it to anyone who would like an in-depth study of one subject.

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.