Recent Posts

20 February 2019

Our Library Collections: Missouri

A beautiful book title
Our Missouri section of the library occupies eleven shelves and includes several sets of journals including Missouri State Genealogical Association Journal, 1988 to the present; Missouri Historical Research ,1960 to 2005; NW Missouri Genealogical Society Journal, 1982–2005; Missouri Pioneers, 1971– 976; and Missouri Researcher, 1962 – 1972.

We have the usual source books for cemetery records, bible records, tax records, etc. I found one type of book that I have not previously encountered while writing this blog series. They are Virginia Settlers in Missouri by A. Maxim Coppage III and Dorothy Ford Wulfeck, and Stuart Seely Sprague's Kentuckians in Missouri Including Many Who Migrated by Way of Ohio, Indiana or Illinois. These are the first books I’ve encountered that focus on state residents who have migrated from other states. Of course this happens all the time but it is not always recorded in this manner.

I picked up Missouri Cemetery Inscription Sources (Print & Microform) and was admiring it as an impressive labor of love. These dedicated researchers collected and organized the cemetery records for 114 counties in Missouri. It includes more than 15,000 citations for inscriptions extracted from books, films, fiche, manuscripts, and periodicals. Imagine my surprise when I noted that the authors were our own CGS luminaires Elizabeth Kot and Shirley Thomson and that the book was published right here in Vallejo, California.
This was written by two CGS members

One of our more esoteric small books
This collection includes many county histories and biographical books. Among this section, I found a small booklet titled Guide to the Mormon War Papers, 1838-1841. This is a topic I know nothing about so I read a portion of the introduction to find out. I learned that the Mormons were driven out of Missouri in the mid-1830s – victims of “mistrust by their fellow citizens” – a common excuse for prejudice. This source summarizes a list of all of the known documentation of an investigation that was conducted about the “Difficulties with the Mormons.” This is a good example of an esoteric source of value mostly to specialists, and it occurs to me that maybe we should do more to promote our library to serious scholars. 

This 4-volume set has many well-written biographies
Finally, I noticed a set of four books titled Opening the Ozarks: First Families in Southwest Missouri 1835–1839 by Marsha Hoffman Rising, published in 2005. This is the sort of book every researcher hopes to find. Each volume includes lengthy narrative biographies for individual families. For example, the information on Daniel Austin and family spans six pages. In addition to the basic birth, marriage, and death facts, the well-written biography covers Daniel’s property and migration route. It then describes his children and grandchildren. The format is very similar to how I record my family history on my family blog. Anyone who finds their ancestors in this book should be thrilled to find their work already done for them.

Copyright © 2019 by California Genealogical Society

13 February 2019

CGS Library Collections: Michigan

An occasional series highlighting some of our holdings at the Library in Oakland. For a fuller listing of our books, journals, and more, consult the CGS Library catalog. Our catalog is also included in WorldCat.

A water-stained page from American
Biographical History
The first book I selected to peruse in our Michigan collection grabbed my attention because of its size (5-plus inches thick) and the gilded leather cover. Opening the book, American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men with Portrait Illustrations on Steel (Michigan Edition) published in 1878, the next thing I noticed was that it was water-stained. I vaguely recalled having heard a story about a flood but did not know any details, so I made a mental note to call someone and ask for the story. Before I got around to it, I read Marie Treleaven’s article about the CGS Library in the Fall 2018 issue of The California Nugget and l found the answer to my question. Marie described a 2004 water leak at the Latham Building, which housed our library at the time. Fortunately, the water damage was limited. Fifteen boxes of damaged books were freeze-dried to preserve them. I suspect this was one of those freeze-dried books. Thank you, Marie, for the wonderful update to our history. 

This guide was produced in anticipation
of America's Bicentennial
Next, I selected Michigan Surname Index, Vol. 2, published in 1969 by the Michigan Genealogical Council. The Council lists five objectives in the book’s introduction. First is to coordinate genealogical activities of statewide interest, including seminars. Then to cooperate in locating and publishing genealogical information, to provide information to members, and to work with others to improve genealogical resources. That all sounds great and something that every state should have. The book has over 1200 pages and appears to be a treasure trove of information for anyone with Michigan ancestors.

A Guide for the Writing of a Local History by John Cumming was my next selection. Published in 1974 by the Michigan Bicentennial Commission, this small paperback contains many illustrations. The table of contents is essentially a step-by-step list of how to approach writing a local history and where to look for information. The book was written in preparation for the U.S. Bicentennial: its stated purpose was to “spur a multitude of excellent city, county and township histories.”

One of the photographs found in Pictorial History of Ann Arbor
A sketch by Jasper Crospsey in
Pictorial History of Ann Arbor
As with most of our state collections, we have several books focused on individual counties and cities. They include eight volumes from the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research. There is also the Pictorial History of Ann Arbor, 1824–1974, published on the occasion of Michigan's sesquicentennial. It was a joint effort of the Michigan Historical Collection and Bentley Historical Library. This book is a good source of images for anyone writing about their family connections in Ann Arbor. Next time you visit our library have a look.

Copyright © 2019 by California Genealogical Society

11 February 2019

A Dream Saved Her Life: How Finding Aids Can Enrich Your Family Story

"Only a dream, but it saved the life of the handsome young Swiss girl, Martina Kurrer. Another minute and she would have fallen a victim of a madman’s deadly bullet.” - San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, July 19, 1903
Martina Kurrer Elwert
Many CGS members and users of our library may know that the society has a Manuscript Collection, but may not be aware of the rich personal material that can often be found therein.  A prime example is alluded to in the title of this article. One of our larger collections was compiled by John Ellis Hale, a past President of the society. The collection, listed as “Hale” in the Manuscript Database Index available on our website, is described as Mr. Hale’s forty years of research on the Hale and Bemis families and related lines.  Under the surname description of the collection are forty-eight surnames for which some material exists.

With the finding aid recently completed for this collection a researcher may easily zero in on the materials available for a single surname. Among those names is that of Elwert. This surname was not related to Mr. Hale’s line, but to that of his sister-in-law, Barbara Jean (Elwert) Hale, for whom he did some research. In so doing he uncovered an incredible story about her grandmother, Martina Kurrer, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

In 1891 Martina Kurrer, a native of Switzerland, planned to immigrate with a friend and settle in California.  Shortly before the trip, Martina’s friend was unable to go, but Martina, who had already purchased her ticket, decided to travel alone. She arrived in New York, then boarded a train for Tulare, California. She settled herself on the train as comfortably as possible with a big pillow and blanket that she had brought with her. Speaking no English, she had difficulty purchasing food, but shortly after leaving Kansas City, she heard German spoken near her and began conversing with the speaker, a man of about 45 years of age. He offered to assist her and helped her obtain meals. As Martina kept a diary on her trip, she remembered that on February 26, 1891, after having dinner that the “strange, quiet man” brought her, she settled back to sleep with her head on her pillow and had a dream in which she was home again in Switzerland with her sister at a house party. Her sister commented that Martina’s hair was very messy and urged her to go dress it.  Martina woke with a start. The dream seemed so real that she got up from her seat on the train and stepped into the dressing room to comb her hair. While there, she heard several shots, then people screaming. A gentleman in the car said to Martina, “My girl, you have had a wonderful escape from a terrible death,” and pointed to the place where she had sat only a few minutes ago. Just after she got up, a young man across the aisle had left his seat and moved to hers, resting his head on Martina’s pillow. The man who had befriended Martina went berserk and placed a revolver against the young man’s head and killed him. He then began shooting up and down the car, wounding two other passengers as well. The killer escaped the train on foot, but realizing that he was being pursued, cut his throat with a razor he had in his pocket. Martina kept the pillow and blanket as she had no others and the next day reached her destination in Tulare where she was met by friends.
Martina's story as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1903
Interviewed in 1903, Martina stated: “The pillow I have yet, and I would not part with it for anything. I keep it just as it was, though the blood stains are darker and fainter now. I know not many people who would like to have such a thing in the house, but I do not mind, and it is a valuable keepsake.”*

Martina married Max Elwert on August 15, 1893 in Los Angeles. They had three children: Theodore, Anita and Lawrence. Sadly, Martina died in childbirth at the age of 38 on December 29, 1905, in Lodi.

Newly available in our Manuscript Collection Database are finding aids for three collections: Covell, Hale, and Sherman. We will continue to transcribe and upload additional finding aids and advise as they become available.

Georgia Lupinsky is co-chair of the CGS Manuscripts Collection.

*"A Dream Saved this Woman from a Madman's Bullet," San Francisco Chronicle, 19 July 1903, p. 7; digital image, ( : accessed 11 February 2019).

Copyright © 2019 by California Genealogical Society

08 February 2019

The 1916-1917 Colored Directory: A Window into Oakland's Vibrant Past

Cover of the 1916-1917 directory
CGS is pleased to announce a new acquisition: a rare copy of the 1916-1917 Colored Directory of the Leading Cities of Northern California, which will be of special interest to genealogists researching African Americans in California.

The award-winning movie The Green Book, currently nominated for five Oscars, takes its name from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a directory of safe places for African Americans to eat and sleep when traveling in Jim Crow-era America. The Green Book was published from 1936 to 1966, and has been widely recognized for its significance in African American history. Less well known are the various “blue books” or social directories that were published in black communities throughout the country in the early 20th century to promote “race pride” and celebrate their achievements.

Charles F. Tilghman in 1916
One such publication was launched in Oakland, California, in 1915, when Charles F. Tilghman, then just 18 years old, set up a printing press in his home to produce a directory of African American residences, businesses, churches, and other organizations throughout northern California. It covered not only Oakland and its neighbors but cities as far north as Sacramento and as far south as Fresno and was liberally illustrated with photographs of notable citizens and important buildings.

Oakland resident Lorna Jones discovered this copy of the 1916-1917 Colored Directory at a yard sale years ago. “I knew it had value the moment I looked at it,” she says. She consulted her friend and fellow genealogist Electra Kimble Price. The two agreed that the book needed to be preserved and they offered the directory to CGS with the stipulation that it be made freely accessible online. “It’s not the only source for names and localities, but the historical value of it—the fact that people were collecting and putting out that information—makes it very important,” says Price. 

It is not clear if any copies survive of the first, 1915 edition. The database indicates the existence of just two other copies of the 1916-1917 directory: one at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland and one at the Allen County Public Library in Indiana. Allen County has a digitized version available on its website. CGS has made our copy downloadable as a high-quality PDF file which can be searched using OCR (optical character recognition).*

"A Block owned by our race" in Oakland
By the time Tilghman published his second Colored Directory it was considerably expanded: “from seventy-six pages it has grown to one hundred and forty,” the introduction boasts. It now represented “close to 10,000 Colored People” and had 119 illustrations of “Homes, Churches, Pastors, Women’s Clubs, Ranches, etc.” The 1916-1917 issue also reprints a letter of appreciation from Booker T. Washington, to whom Tilghman had sent a copy of the previous year’s directory. “I congratulate you most heartily upon issuing such a creditable publication,” wrote Washington, in a letter dated August 21, 1915 (less than three months before his death). “It contains a great deal of valuable information in addition to the Directory features. The section containing cuts of homes owned by colored people in that section is very creditably illustrated.”

Numerous private homes are pictured, with one page captioned, “A Block owned by our race, Oakland.” There are photographs of black churches and of the ministers who lead them. The Fresno section carries photos of several ranches, including the impressive “Country Home of Mr. C.E. Orr,” who “came to California in 1896, penniless, like most of our Southern people.”

The Pilkerton Ranch in Fresno
The directory gives insight into the concerns and interests of California’s black families: a “Lodges and Organizations” section enumerates various fraternal lodges as well as groups such as the West Indian Aid Association and the Negro Welfare League of California. There are women’s clubs dedicated to art, music, literacy, and “the uplift of humanity.” A full-page advertisement on p. 84 urges readers to “defeat the Liquor Traffic” by voting for two prohibition-related ballot measures.

Women and children of the
Mothers' Charity Club
Perhaps most intriguing are the advertisements. (“Patronize the Firms that Boost Our Race,” the directory urges in its Advertisers Index). Some are straightforward, such as William Arthur Bigby, Sr., Cement Contractor. Some are colorful, like that of Medium Lena, Clairvoyant and Spiritualist: “I am the one that p[r]ophesied the big earthquake of April 18th, 1906.” Ads for grocers and milliners, saloons and funeral parlors, barbershops, candy stores, and financial institutions bear witness to a thriving community. Tilghman takes advantage of his role as editor by sprinkling advertisements for his printing business throughout.The Tilghman Press would continue to operate for another 60 years, becoming the most prominent black press on the West Coast.

The directory's overall spirit of enthusiasm and optimism is expressed in the foreword:
The colored man's prosperity in Northern California, certainly is more conspicuous to-day than ever before and clearly indicates possibilities that defy the most active human imagination to fully comprehend his final development.

In making this book available to the public we hope to illuminate a part of the vibrant history of African Americans in California.

*To download the file, go to our Databases page, scroll down to "Searchable Finding Aids Free to All," and click on The Colored Directory of the Leading Cities of Northern California 1916-1917. Document may take a few minutes to download.
Copyright © 2019 by California Genealogical Society

06 February 2019

CGS Library Collections: Massachusetts

Aaron C. Joseph (1843-1916) -
Twenty Families of Color in Massachusetts
An occasional series highlighting some of our holdings at the Library in Oakland. For a fuller listing of our books, journals, and more, consult the CGS Library catalog. Our catalog is also included in WorldCat.

I had heard that our collection for Massachusetts was extensive and was reminded of that when I read our society history in the Fall 2018 issue of the Nugget. Well, it’s true. There are 36 shelves of books about Massachusetts in our library – certainly something for everyone with an ancestor from that state.

The first book I chose was the very last one on the shelf. It is Twenty Families of Color in Massachusetts, 1742-1998 by Franklin A. Dorman. It was a gift of Vernon A. Deubler, one of my favorite CGS members. The book has twenty chapters, each devoted to the descendants of a different individual. The foreword explains, “They gathered in mid-December of 1828 in Boston, the first semi-annual meeting of the Massachusetts General Colored Association. Their goal was to unify African-American people to work against slavery and to protest the denial of civil rights to those already free.”

Next I perused Joseph William Carlevale's Leading Americans of Italian Descent in Massachusetts (published 1946). Carlevale, an immigrant from Italy, compiled mid-century "Who's Who" directories of Italian Americans in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Philadelphia. One of the goals of the 2018 Strategic Plan is to increase our offerings to different cultural and ethnic groups. Fortunately, we have much to offer in our library.
Image from History of Worcester County

Dick Rees was in the library when I was there to write this article and asked me to include a mention of our extensive collection of town books for Massachusetts. Each book follows a similar format, with compilations of births, marriages, and death records. Vital Records of Marlborough, Massachusetts To The End of The Year 1849 (published 1908) lists 7,598 births, 3,852 marriages, and 2,256 deaths, so lots of useful information.
CGS has 24 volumes in this set

We hold 24 of 31 volumes of Mayflower Families Through Five Generations by Francis Eaton, Samuel Fuller and William White. Known as the "Silver Books" because of their distinctive covers, the series from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants meticulously documents the first five generations of descendants of Mayflower passengers and has long been considered an essential resource for Mayflower and early American genealogy. This set of books came to CGS from the California Historical Society – one of the organizations we shared space with in the past.
History of Worcester County

My final selection was chosen because of its gilded and embossed brown leather cover and satisfying heft. The History of Worcester County, Massachusetts runs more than 600 pages and purports to be a comprehensive history of Massachusetts' largest county from its earliest colonial settlement to the date of publication (1879). We own Volume I of the two-volume set. This is a dense tome with several nice images of historic buildings, both civic and residential properties.

Copyright © 2019 by California Genealogical Society