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24 February 2009

Joseph Durocher and 83,232 Other Reasons to Search Pre-1905 San Francisco Deaths

Words like "coincidence" and "synchronicity" crop up rather frequently in genealogy blogs. Usually they are used to describe ancestral finds of the Psychic Roots variety like the ones I've labeled serendipity on the CGSL blog. But today I had one of those weird, unexplainable connections with someone I've only met once and who lives about 400 miles away.

Pam Wiedenbeck and I met briefly last summer at the California State Genealogical Alliance breakfast on the second morning of the SCGS Jamboree. She started our little journey to the Twilight Zone from her home in the southern end of the state. Pam has been trying to break down one of her French-Canadian brick walls by systematically reviewing all of the pertinent documents and data. She stumbled upon my CGS business card just after reviewing an early San Francisco death and sent me this email:

Hi Kathryn,

We had a fairly lively discussion of death records in San Francisco for times prior to 1905. I had actually had fairly good luck in Salt Lake City finding one of my Michigan ancestors who died in San Francisco in 1902. Since I am working on a family mystery right now, I came across the record. It was in the "Mortuary Book of the City and County of San Francisco". This must have been indexed. Anyhow, the film number where I found my ancestor in SLC was 0975834. I found this record in 1998 -- and it unlocked alot for me. With this record, I was able to get a death certificate from SF County.

Anyhow -- thought you would like to know where I found this. If your society is indexing and publishing, this might be a road to travel.

Thanks again for last year's great discussion,
Pam Wiedenbeck, President, SCGS


What Pam didn't know is that CGS has traveled this exact road. After months of work, a new database – Pre-1905 San Francisco Deaths – is finally up and running. It's part of The California Names Index and I've been working on a series of blog posts about the CGS Research Committee and this collection of indexed records which can be searched on the society website.

Needless to say, I was surprised at the timing and I wrote back to Pam to ask her to put our new database to the test. I sent her the link to our website's California Names Index search page.

This is her result:


Joseph Durocher was a wooden ship builder who came to San Francisco to work and was killed in an industrial accident in 1902. Entry 7209 is the record number of the coroner's entry.

What I learned from Pam is that Joseph left his family behind in Michigan to look for work. He spent his whole life there but he died here. His death record is one of the 83,233 Pre-1905 Deaths that somehow managed to survive the devastating 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire which destroyed most of the vital records of the city.

Joseph's death record was found by a descendant 96 years later who told me today so I can tell you to go and search The California Names Index. And let me know if you find something unexpected.

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