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09 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: Jim Sorenson Tackles His Maternal Grandfather

Chris Pattillo is interviewing our members about some of the genealogical projects they are working on while sheltering at home. This Quarantine Quest story was shared by CGS President Jim Sorenson.

Earl Morgan 1899
Like many of us, Jim’s interest in family history began with a school assignment. It was in the 1960s, when he was in 11th grade and one of his teachers asked each student to interview their oldest living relative and write about their heritage. At that time Jim’s mother’s mother and his father’s grandmother were still living, so he interviewed both of them and learned things about his family’s story that one would never find in written records. Jim still has his original notes from the class assignment.


In the back of his mind, Jim has thought, “Someday I’ll break my leg, I will be in a cast and unable to do anything–that is when I’ll tackle my writing.” Well, this is Jim’s break-a-leg event. If not now, while we are all housebound because of the Covid-19 shelter-in-place order, when?
Join the Break A Leg Club and write a bio for one of your Ancestors
So Jim has decided to write biographies for each of his four grandparents. He decided to start with his maternal grandfather, Earl Wright Morgan, whose work for the Standard Oil Company brought him from Pennsylvania across the country to California. During our interview, Jim shared several stories about Earl. I am not going to write about that because it is Jim’s story to tell, but I can tell you that when he is finished, it is going to be a fascinating read–something that deserves to be added to the Richmond History Museum and Standard Oil archives. Currently, Jim only plans to share Earl’s story with his family but I hope he will agree to have it published in the Nugget at some point.
Earl Morgan with his mother,  Julia Sweney Morgan, 1910
Over the years Jim has visited over 30 courthouses and at least that number of libraries to research his family and collect documentation that proves and expands upon the stories he has heard. He has done research in newspapers, city directories, at the Family History Center in Salt Lake City and of course, he has done a lot of research online and at the CGS library.

At this point, Jim has collected a lot of material about his ancestors. Originally, he made paper copies of everything he found. Jim explained, “I use to measure my research success by how many pieces of paper I had at the end of the day–one hundred pages was a real good day.” Now Jim is proud to say that for the past several years when he leaves Salt Lake City, he isn’t carrying paper copies – everything is digital on a thumb drive. Early on Jim decided on a file naming system that works well for him. Each document starts with the year, month and date. That way all his files are in chronological order. He has over 20,000 items in his family history files. He is still using an old version of Family Tree Maker from 2000 as his primary organizer for the information he has collected.

For many years Jim has been a member of our CGS Research Committee. He admits that he prefers to do research rather than write. But he wants to share what he has learned from his research with his family members. Like me, Jim has a small family–one living child and two grandchildren, who are only mildly interested in family history. Like me, we both write hoping that some future descendant will discover our writings and be thrilled to learn what we have to share. As of now much of what Jim has pieced together about his family is still in his head. He understands that he needs to get it written down so that others will not need to repeat the process he has gone through to find and put together the pieces of the puzzle.

While the process of researching has always been enjoyable, Jim has not gotten the same pleasure from writing. In recent years he has been doing more writing, including working on an article for The California Nugget. Jim shared that serving as president of CGS has actually helped in this regard. Having to communicate regularly with the CGS board and membership has caused Jim to do more writing and doing so has made him more comfortable with the process. 

Jim shared a tip for writers. He feels, and I think most would agree, that telling the story in chronological order is the best approach. But one should not feel bound to rigidly record every part of the story in precise chronological order. While Jim’s piece is about his grandfather Earl Morgan, for the story to make sense it needs to include information about Earl’s parents, and about his boss at Standard Oil. Jim does this by devoting separate paragraphs to each of these sidebar subjects. This is how “I try to contain the detours so they don’t break up the flow of the story,” says Jim. It works for him and may help others tell their family stories. 

If you have a Quarantine Quest story you'd like to share please get in touch with Chris Pattillo or Jennifer Dix.

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