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10 July 2018

Prominent Ancestors: A Mixed Blessing

By Chris Pattillo

Like many people, most of my ancestors are very ordinary folk. Hard-working, honest people of no particular note. I seem to have few forefathers who served in the military during any period. There are lots of farmers in my background, particularly tobacco farmers. Researching these family members can sometimes be discouraging because it seems impossible to find out anything about them. I’m the kind of family historian who wants to get to know my relations. I want to go beyond the basic facts of birth, marriage, children, and death. But these ordinary folk did not get written up in the local newspapers. Genealogists of the past did not write books about them, so it is slim pickings.

On the other hand, I occasionally stumble upon a famous ancestor and even a whole line of prominent people in my family tree. This is what happened when I took my Genealogy Journey in 2017 – a two-and-a-half-month long adventure to the southern United States to do research. I had many objectives, but probably most important to me was finding the parents of Joanna Gaines, a second great-grandmother on my father’s side. Finding Joanna’s parents had been my tallest brick wall for about fifteen years, and I was determined, but not very optimistic.

First, a confession. In 2011 I took a month off from my job as the founding partner of PGAdesign, a landscape architecture firm in downtown Oakland. The office was slow – we did not have enough work, so I took the month off without pay, and I spent that month doing research at the CGS library. I was in the library every day and made a lot of progress on my research. One day I asked Vinnie (Lavinia Grace Schwarz) for some help with Joanna. She spent about 10 minutes on her laptop and handed me a note saying, "check this out.” At that time I was still a novice and had no idea what to do with the information. 

A few months later, I joined CGS in Salt Lake for the first time. While there I followed up on the tip Vinnie had given me. What I found included a reference to a Joanna Gaines and her sister Margaret. It said their mother was Hulda Waller, but as I read the document, I understood it to say that this Joanna had died in 1834. I immediately discarded the lead because I knew my Joanna had lived until 1902. (To be honest, I was glad Hulda was not my third great-grandmother because I did not like the name "Hulda.”)

Back to 2017: I am still looking for Joanna’s parents. To make a long story short, I found the will of Joanna Thompson McGehee, who as it turns out was Hulda’s mother. Joanna’s first husband was Benjamin Waller. Now, as a more experienced researcher, I read the will carefully and realized that the Joanna who had died in 1834 was my 4th great-grandmother Joanna. 
Detail from a family portrait of my 2nd great-grandmother, Joanna Gaines. The infant is my paternal grandfather, Lewis Wood Pattillo.

So, the moral of this story is yes, sometimes it is a good idea to go back and look at things years later when you have more pieces of your puzzle to put things into context.

This brings me back to the primary story about having prominent ancestors. It turned out that Benjamin Waller is part of a long line of distinguished Wallers that go back to England and beyond. This was a family of wealth. They owned plantations, not just farms. They were doctors, lawyers, county clerks, vestrymen, a sheriff and members of the House of Burgess. Oh, and several served in the military, too. Since I returned from my Genealogy Journey I have been possessed with this newly discovered branch of my family tree, and I fear there may be no end to it.

Endfield, the plantation home of my 7th great-grandfather Col. John Waller, first in this line to immigrate to Virginia from England.

I have found more than a dozen eBooks that include extensive narratives on this family. They include all the basic facts plus information about their homes, positions, civic involvement, personal letters, and lawsuits. The amount of material written about my Waller ancestors seems to be endless. After months of research, I decided to write a series of posts for my family history blog: one post for each of Joanna’s ancestors going back to my 8th great-grandfather, Dr. John Waller (1645-1716).

As I start writing each new bio I find myself wanting to pursue an aspect of that individual’s life or to look for images to illustrate each post. This extra research inevitably leads me down the proverbial "rabbit hole" otherwise known as a Google search. I find myself copying several more pages with new tidbits I had not previously found and on and on it goes. Ah, the joys of genealogy.

You can follow my progress at

Editor's note: we welcome your family stories! Contact
Copyright © 2018 by California Genealogical Society

01 July 2018

The Hearts of the Fathers

"Gathering the Family of God" at

Our friends at the Oakland LDS Family History Library shared this sweet video in which Bay Area people of all different backgrounds share the emotions they've experienced while discovering their ancestors. CGS members Jane Lindsey and Chris Pattillo are among those interviewed.

Copyright © 2018 by California Genealogical Society

14 June 2018

Strategic Planning Committee Update

Chris Pattillo of the Strategic Planning Committee reports:

Since December 2017 a small group of CGS members has been meeting monthly to create a strategic plan for our society. The group includes President Vicky Kolakowski, Past President Jane Lindsey, board members Stewart Traiman, James Russell and me. Past President Linda Okazaki and member Marisela Meskus have also contributed.

In January and February Stewart and I met with representatives from all but one of CGS’s active committees. Our purpose was to solicit input on what is working well with the society and to hear ideas about what we could be doing differently. That series of interviews netted 106 specific suggestions, which were then ranked by the committee members to identify top priorities. 71 suggestions were ranked No. 1 or No. 2. 

To help focus our efforts we developed this mission statement for the strategic planning committee: 

The Strategic Planning Committee will devise a plan for the California Genealogical Society’s continued success. To insure the longevity of the California Genealogical Society and Library by identifying the society’s and members’ needs then creating a plan that will address those needs. Goals will be set for 1, 3, and 5 years that will be implemented by Committee members, Board Members and volunteers.

The committee identified 8 specific things to focus on and developed specific proposals for how to achieve them. These include:
  • A plan to update our website
  • A proposal to create a Member Interest Database
  • A plan to host webinars
  • A formalized training program
  • An update to our organization chart that better reflects how the society functions
  • A proposal to update our membership fee structure
  • A proposal to charge for some classes
  • A proposal and schedule for implementing the Strategic Plan
We received input on these proposals from the Board of Directors at the May and June meetings. The timeline is to present the final report to the Board at the September meeting. Implementation will begin immediately thereafter for a proposal approved by the Board.

Copyright © 2018 by California Genealogical Society

06 June 2018

Last chance to join the trip to Allen County Public Library

Curt Witcher and Jane Lindsey at the ACPL in 2015

Only a few spaces are left for our August 16-22 trip to the amazing Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Deadline to sign up is June 15!

For more than 10 years, CGS has organized research trips to ACPL, the largest public genealogical library in the country. You can browse the ACPL website to get a sense of what it has to offer. The library offers access to over 513,000 rolls of microfilm and 55,000 compiled genealogy volumes, privately published family histories, an impressive collection of state and territorial censuses, and many other unique resources. It’s an invaluable repository for genealogists, and for those with family roots in Indiana, it's one of a kind.

This year, past president Jane Knowles Lindsey leads intermediate-level researchers in a new format: participants will do independent research but have the opportunity to network with others during the week.

This year’s trip runs concurrently with the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. We have hotel rooms set aside for CGS members who wish to go to just the conference.

But the deadline to reserve your spot or hotel room is fast approaching! Contact Jane Lindsey by June 15 to confirm.

Copyright © 2018 by California Genealogical Society

02 June 2018

In Memoriam: Dorothy Ann Koenig, 1933-2018

Photo: Facebook
We are sorry to report the passing of longtime CGS member Dorothy Ann Koenig of Berkeley. Dorothy was an expert in the genealogy of colonial New York. She published the quarterly New Amsterdam Connections from 1996-2006, and generously donated many books on early New York to the CGS library. She was a Bay Area native, a retired UC Berkeley reference librarian, a former nun who lived 9 years in Tanzania,  a polyglot, and a lifelong learner. Her obituary, which details more of Dorothy’s remarkable life, can be read here.

A memorial service is planned for June 16 at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Albany.

Copyright © 2018 by California Genealogical Society