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29 May 2010

KTVU's "Bay Area People" Features California Ancestors

In case you live out of the area or you missed the show, KTVU's Bay Area People with Rosy Chu showcased the society in a very creative way.

Past-president Jane Knowles Lindsey shared a few member photographs that have been previously featured in the California Genealogical Society and Library eNews. It was a great visual way to share some interesting ancestor stories and showcase what we do.

These are the featured photos and the stories as told by our member submitters:

The March 2008 photo of Myrtle and Norah in 1911 Alaska was submitted by Sandra Hart:
This is my favorite photograph of my father's mother, Myrtle Helen Kavaney. She was born in Wellston, Ohio in 1890 to Michael Kaveny and Emma Rebecca Handley, both of Irish ancestry. In 1908, Myrtle's coal-miner father died leaving the family destitute. Myrtle decided to seek her fortune in the goldfields of Alaska. She made the trip by stagecoach, ship, train, and riverboat with her aunt, Norah Handley Morley, who was rejoining her family. They lived in Fairbanks and ran a business hauling people and supplies to the Ester Creek mining operations. The first person Myrtle met when the riverboat docked in Fairbanks was the man who would become her husband, Ralph Hugho Harris from Selma, California. In the next few years, Myrtle lived in North Vancouver Island with her aunt and mother. The photo shows Myrtle and Norah working a float of logs in their long skirts and high-button shoes in 1911. By 1920, Myrtle and Ralph married and moved to California to farm in Selma. The rest of Ralph's family also returned to California from their 20-year adventure in Alaska to a ranch in Napa.

The December 2009 photo of the Semler family of Nebraska was submitted by Mary Hunt:
This 1886 photo is of my ancestor Job Daniel Joseph Semler (holding donkey), his pregnant wife Lillie Belle (Orvis) Semler (holding child), and their first two children, George (by chair) and Daisy (held by her mother).

Job Semler applied for this homestead on 20 May 1878. After proving that he had made the necessary improvements to the land and paying the $4 final payment, he was awarded a patent in January 1884. The general land office records documenting his homestead are held at NARA in Washington D.C. and include information about his experience such as details of improvements, his times in residence at and absence from the property and testimony of his neighbors about his lifestyle and credibility.

In the Fall of 1888, after his health had failed, Job Semler moved to the nearby town of Sargent and became a butcher. He was able to support his family until 1895 when a major drought destroyed the local economy. Unable to sell his home for an amount sufficient to cover his mortgage, Job abandoned the house and moved back to Illinois in the fall of 1895. In the Spring of 1896, he moved his family back to Sargent, and started again.

On 25 October 1899, the Burlington & Missouri train arrived in Sargent. The town and many of its occupants began to flourish, including Job Semler who resumed work as a butcher. Records in the county clerk's office indicate that he also became a rather active buyer and seller of land. Job Semler continued on this path until his death 17 May 1939. I descend from his youngest daughter, Rozell Ferne Semler.

This image was taken by a now-famous Nebraskan photographer, Solomon Devore Butcher. He lived in Custer County, Nebraska, and photographed a large number of homesteaders in that area. I found this photograph of my ancestor in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog on the Library of Congress website.

The April 2010 photograph of Joseph B. Mendizábal was submitted by Susan Smith-Bromiley and her cousin, Vicky Whitney Landau:
This photograph was taken at the Godeus Art Studio on Sixth Street, San Francisco. Handwritten on the back is the phrase: "Joe Mendizábal or Perry."

Born in San Francisco in 1871, Joseph B. Mendizábal was the second son of José I. Mendizábal Cantera of Mexico City and Zacatecas, Mexico, and Merced Sanches-Castellanos Sanches-Sevillanos of Bolanos, Jalisco, Mexico and San Francisco, California. [Note: Sanches also may be spelled Sanchez.]

Joseph and his elder brother Ismael attended the Spring Valley School in San Francisco where they lived with their mother, Merced, and stepfather, Joseph Politta, a dairy man and grocer.

In the 1880s Joseph held employment as a messenger for the American District Telegraph Company and later as a carriage painter. He lived in San Jose and later in Alameda. In July 1891, Joseph was the best man at his brother's wedding in San Francisco.

By 1902, Ismael was living in Alameda, and their sister, Isabel Mendizábal Schmitz Blasi, was living in Berkeley but there is no sign of Joseph. We cannot find him in the 1900 U.S. Census. The last known mention of Joseph Mendizábal is in his mother's 1904 obituary in which he is listed as one of her children.

According to family legend, Joseph ran away because of employment issues and changed his name, possibly to Perry. What really happened to Joseph? Did he change his name to Joe Perry or assume some other name? Does anyone know the man in this photo? If you can help please email Susan.

The January 2010 photo of the Livingstones of Nova Scotia was submitted by Jane Lindsey:
A great aunt had these photographs of my second great-grandparents, Andrew and Matilda "Ellen" (Wilson) Livingstone of McLeod's Crossing, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I loved the fact that Ellen had fur on her winter coat. The family was not well-to-do – Andrew was a coal miner.

Ellen died on February 5, 1917. Their daughter, my great-grandmother, was living in New York at the time. She began the long trip home when she was notified of her mother's death. By the time she arrived home she had also lost her father, Andrew, who died on February 20, fifteen days after his wife.

On a visit to Cape Breton, a cousin and I were doing research and I suggested that we go to the library to look for obituaries. I had their death records, but I was having trouble finding their siblings and learning what had happened to their children. My cousin remarked that Andrew and Ellen were too poor to have obituaries, but knowing their exact dates of death, we headed to the library.

Imagine my delight when I found these notices!

Sydney Daily Post, Wednesday, February 7, 1917, page 5, under Local & General News: "The LATE MRS LIVINGSTONE - The death occurred at her home yesterday morning of Mrs. Andrew Livingstone of McLeod's Crossing. She had contracted a cold which later turned into pneumonia from which she died. The late Mrs. Livingstone had lived in town for a good many years. She was 76 years old and is survived by her husband and two children. Mrs. Knowles of NY and Charles at home. She is also survived by five brothers and one sister. David Wilson of McLeod's Crossing, William with an ambulance Corp in England, Benjamin and Vincent in Dominion. Henry in Glace Bay. The sister is Mrs Lewis of Glace Bay."
Sydney Daily Post, Wednesday, February 21, 1917, page 5, under Local & General News: "Death of A. Livingstone - The death of Andrew Livingstone occurred Monday at his home, McLeod's Crossing. He did not long survive his wife who died only a couple of weeks ago. He was 76 years of age and lived at McLeod's crossing for 16 years coming from Low Point. He is survived by one son Charles at home. One daughter Mrs. Knowles of NY. Four sisters also survive. Mrs. David Wilson of Reserve. Mrs Daniel McSween of MacKay's Crossing, Mrs William Kelly of Nashua NH and Mrs Daniel McNeil of New Glasgow." 

The February 2010 photo of the Jonathan Johnson family of Jeffersontown, Jefferson County, Kentucky was submitted by Jane Hufft:
Jonathan Johnson was born a slave, probably in Kentucky, the birthplace listed in the 1870 census. His owner was Jacob Omer of Jeffersontown, Kentucky, my ancestor. There is a written family account that tells how Jonathan was a playmate of Jacob's children. This lovely photograph of Jonathan's handsome family, probably taken about 1877, has been handed down the OMER line, my mother's line, to me. Set in a beautiful black carved frame, it always hung on the wall in each Omer household that inherited it in turn. Jacob Omer (there were several men by this name in the large Omer clan) was reputed to be a hard master, and one of his sons, my direct ancestor, left Kentucky to settle in Illinois because he could no longer abide living in a slave state. The records show that Jonathan remained in contact with another son of Jacob's, George W. Omer, and that George settled Jonathan's will when he died in Louisville, Kentucky in the early twentieth century.

In the photo, Jonathan Johnson is with his wife and six children, whose names can be assigned, based on the Jefferson County, Kentucky 1870 census for Jeffersontown, by their cited ages, and their heights in the photo, probably as follows, left to right: Kate, William, Isabel, Marcus, Eliza, and George. Jonathan and his wife, Elizabeth, farmed in Jefferson County on land given to him by the Omer family after the Civil War was over, as the story goes, and the census listing bolsters that account. The children in the photo are wearing dresses that look like they were made, probably by Elizabeth, from the same bolt of fabric. Efforts to trace Jonathan's descendants past 1910 have not yet been successful.
The society thanks KTVU, host Rosy Chu and producer Grace Kaddu for the opportunity to promote the California Genealogical Society on Bay Area People.

Copyright © 2010 by Kathryn M. Doyle, California Genealogical Society and Library