Recent Posts

30 April 2008

Roberts' Battlefield Letter

July 4, 1918

My dear Dad,

I know that you shall be glad to hear that I am with my new outfit and well pleased. I'm feeling better than I have felt since arrival over here.

We are out in the country billeted in a small village which would cause the average American to turn pale; but it is better than some I have seen and it is way better than the rice paddies I slept in when out on manouvers in the Philippines.

Sure did hate to leave some of my old pals behind; but shall try my best to make new friends here. I had some very good friends amongst officers and men in the Fifteenth and I know that I can do my duty here as well as I have done it in the past.

So please do not worry about me and you shall surely be surprised to see me when I come home to stay this time. However that time is a long way off and it is not good form to think about the future. The present is what counts and I shall surely do my best to make good and shall stick it out despite the fact that there may be disappointment in store for me.

Do hope that your business keeps on improving and please do not take any bad nickels.

Just my luck that my pen had to run dry, but why sorry over a little thing like that. Liable not to have a pencil to finish with next time.

Remember Dad if I die I want Ida May Zeile to have everything. I send you the very best of wishes.


Pvt. 1st cl. Harold Roberts,
Co. A 326 Battalion Tank Corps
311 Tank Center
A.P.O. 714

Censored by:
H.J. Ellis
1st. Lt. Tank Corps

Read the entire series:

  • Part 1 — Searching for Harold Roberts
  • Part 2 — Roberts: What We Found
  • Part 4 — A Face for Harold Roberts
  • Part 5 — A Hero's Final Resting Place

29 April 2008

Roberts: What We Found

CGS volunteer Dick Rees handles the mail at the society, so it was he who first read McMaster's request. Dick spearheaded the research efforts of a small group that included Verne Deubler, Nancy Peterson, Vinnie Schwarz and Pat Smith.

William Harold Roberts was the son of John and Elfreda Seifert Roberts, born October 14, 1895, in San Francisco. No official birth record exists because the ledgers were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

The team gathered data from all the likely sources and also contacted the Episcopal Diocese Archives, the Lick-Wilmerding High School, the San Francisco Historical Society and the San Francisco Public Library and their Sixth Floor History Center.

But "Look-up" volunteer, Pat Smith, hit pay dirt when she followed the "no stone left unturned" approach and found a listing for William Harold Roberts in the San Francisco probate index.

The estate file includes a typescript of a letter that Roberts wrote to his father on July 4, 1918 from France. After Robert's death in November of that year, the letter became his last will and testament.

Harold's letter was started in ink but was finished in pencil when his fountain pen went dry. It was in the closing sentences, in pencil, that Roberts indicated that if he died everything should be left to his father's sister, Ida May Zeile.

Roberts, who was unmarried, left a war risk insurance policy, probably standard issue by the Army. The "will" was challenged by family members when Harold's aunt filed for probate in 1924, two years after the death of Roberts' father. An article from the November 18, 1924, San Francisco Chronicle, "Will of Hero Hit in Court - Relatives Attack Letter Written on Battlefield Leaving Estate" describes charges of forgery and the fight for the money.

Ultimately, Ida was named the executor and Roberts' $8000 estate was divided among the living relatives.

Read the entire series:

  • Part 1 — Searching for Harold Roberts
  • Part 3 — Roberts' Battlefield Letter
  • Part 4 — A Face for Harold Roberts
  • Part 5 — A Hero's Final Resting Place

28 April 2008

Searching for Harold Roberts

The letter to CGS didn't use these words but the message was clear:
find Corporal Harold W. Roberts.

Periodically the California Genealogical Society and Library receives a research request that morphs into a group project. In this case the letter came from Gary McMaster, director and curator of the Camp Roberts Historical Museum. He was looking for Harold Roberts, the World War I soldier posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, for whom the camp is named.

Camp Roberts is a one-time Army base, now National Guard training facility, off U.S. 101 about half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Originally called Camp Nacimiento, the name was changed even before it became operational during World War II. It is the only U.S. facility named in honor of an enlisted man.

Gary McMaster, Retired Army Sergeant First Class, has been on a mission to find out all he can about Roberts. He first contacted CGS last summer with the letter that said in part:

"We would like to find out about any of his family and try to find out whatever happened to his parents and his Medal of Honor. We also would like to find any photographs of him, as we have none. The large painting we have in his exhibit in the Museum... is an artist's impression. We would like to know what he actually looked like."

The Paso Robles Gazette did a story about McMasters and the planned exhibit on Roberts, but no mention was made of the efforts of the research team at the California Genealogical Society. I thought I should set the record straight.

Read the entire series:

  • Part 2 — Roberts: What We Found
  • Part 3 — Roberts' Battlefield Letter
  • Part 4 — A Face for Harold Roberts
  • Part 5 — A Hero's Final Resting Place

25 April 2008

Sacramento Membership Coffee

Wednesday, May 7, 2008, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.

Belle Cooledge Library
5600 South Land Park Drive
Sacramento, CA 95822

California Genealogical Society members living in the greater Sacramento area have been invited to a coffee at the Belle Cooledge Branch Library on Wednesday, May 7, 2008 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The get-togethers are a fun way to meet members who live locally and are designed to help us link with neighbors who share similar genealogy research interests. Take advantage of this opportunity to network and set up car pools for future CGS meetings, events or research trips. CGS President, Jane Lindsey will give guests an update on current events at the society.

If you live in our target area, please save the date and let us know if you can come. You can also feel free to bring a friend who is interested in genealogy. The society gratefully acknowledges the generosity of Sacramento member, Janet Feil, who made the arrangements and is acting as hostess. RSVP to the society at (510) 663-1358 or email

23 April 2008

Wordless Wednesday

California Genealogical Society and Library
Research Tour to the Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
April 13 - 20, 2008

Photographs courtesy of Cathy Merrill Paris.

20 April 2008

Salt Lake City Success

Another CGS Tour to Salt Lake City came to a close on Saturday night with the annual dinner at Lamb’s Grill. Special guest and CGS member, Steve Danko, took time out from the United Polish Genealogical Societies Biennial Conference to join us.

President Jane Lindsey thanked all of the participants and gave an overview of the upcoming society events. Before the annual group photograph was taken, several members shared their research success stories.

Jane was doing the genealogical happy dance after finding the marriage record of Magdelena GERTH and Valentine HUND in Renchen, Germany.

Mother-daughter team, Penny Pollock and Faith Hazelton have attended the SLC trip for all eight years. Penny got closer to proving a Mayflower line through George SOULE; Faith proved one last year.

Mary White Limosner, equipped with new knowledge obtained during the Eastern European Research Workshop, finally had success finding her BUDNICK family in Polish records.

Arlene and Ted Miles enjoyed their first trip and found information on their Brooklyn ancestors and Ted's Kentucky MILES family.

Rick Sherman was finding elusive Danes online in his hotel room.

Pat Smith and Laura Spurrier took advantage of the Danish talks offered this week at the Family History Library. Pat applied the knowledge to her Swedish ancestor Johan WIDMAN and found a probate record from the late 1700s.

Betty Barnard Walker found her BIERMANN ancestor in German passenger records from the mid-nineteenth century.

Bill O’Neil finally found the documentation he needed for his French Canadian DRINKWINE/BOIVIN and MITCHELL/MICHAUDs.

And last but not least, Cathy Paris and CGS librarian, Laura Spurrier, discovered that they are MERRILL sixth cousins.

SLC Tour group 2008

Photograph courtesy of Cathy Merrill Paris.

18 April 2008

A Most Dreadful Earthquake

One hundred two years ago today, at 5:12 a.m., the earth shook in San Francisco and Sarah E. Phillips was "awaked by a most dreadful earthquake.” Thus began a series of letters Sarah wrote to her fiancĂ© in Schenectady, New York, chronicling the days and weeks of the aftermath.

Almost one hundred years later, a ribbon-bound packet of forty faded letters, still in their original envelopes, was found in a misplaced box at the California Genealogical Society, with little to identify the writers or explain how the letters came there.

Author Dorothy Fowler, a researcher and long-time volunteer at the society, happened to be on hand when the letters turned up. She took on the challenge of researching and editing the letters and was the sole author of a book published by the society to coincide with the earthquake centennial. The vast number of hours required in researching and writing the book were contributed by her to the society.

Dorothy is a gifted writer with long experience in various publications. Much of her work life was spent in research, writing and administrative jobs, mainly for the state of California. She is now retired and lives in San Francisco.

Two years ago when promoting the book, Dorothy was a guest of radio personality John Rothmann on his KGO Radio 810 AM talk show. Dorothy did several readings from A Most Dreadful Earthquake: A First-Hand Account of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire before Rothmann closed with these remarks:

"I'm going to tell you that every April 18th, for as long as I live, I'm going to pick up your book, and I'm going to re-read it. And the reason I'm going to re-read it is because of the vivid, powerful expressions. You've given us a great gift... and you've preserved history. And for that we are all very grateful, Dorothy."

We are indeed. Mr. Rothmann, have you done your reading this year?

16 April 2008

CGS Library Committee

What better place for a group of genealogists to spend National Library Week than the Family History Library in Salt Lake City? I'm going to put a little twist on genea-blogger Lori Thornton's summons and write a tribute to the California Genealogical Society Library Committee and librarian volunteers.

The Library Committee is composed of several volunteers with years of experience in all areas of librarianship. They are experienced genealogists as well, who know how to catalog, locate new publications and out-of-print books, keep good records and, best of all, freely give their time and expertise. Past and present committee members include: Gloria Hanson, Barbara Hill, Arlene Miles and Laura Spurrier.

L to R: Laura Spurrier, Arlene Miles, Gloria Hanson. Not shown: Barbara Hill
Gloria Hanson has experience in libraries from Korea to St. Louis. After obtaining her Masters in Library Science (M.L.S.) from the University of Southern California, Gloria decided to "see the world" and worked as a civilian employee for the U.S. Army in Korea where she ran three libraries. Stateside she has worked as a cataloguer for the St. Louis Public Library system and retired from the San Francisco Public Library as a branch district manager. Now Gloria puts her experience to work for CGS primarily in periodical processing and cataloging and receiving books.

Barbara Hill has a total of thirty-three years of library work experience, including time in public, school, technical and academic libraries. Her favorite jobs involved working in library acquisitions which is her focus for the CGS Library Committee. She often humorously ascribes her interest in genealogy to "prenatal influence" since her mother was pregnant with Barbara while researching the family at the Library of Congress. (It probably influenced her career choice as well.) Barbara and her mother collaborated on the family's U.S. and Canadian research for many years until her mother's death.

Arlene Miles is a retired library technician who has acquired an eclectic resume in specialized libraries, including air quality management, law, environmental as well as volunteer work at an electric railway museum. Arlene joined CGS in 2007 intending to do family research but she couldn't resist keeping her fingers "in the library pie." She soon set to work on the uncataloged periodicals, setting up a spreadsheet to organize incoming titles, identify missing issues and process subcription renewals.

Laura Spurrier chairs the Library Committee and acts as head librarian. Her credentials include masters degrees in history and East Indian Area Studies from the University of Wisconsin and a M.L.S. from the University of California, Berkeley. Laura worked for fifteen years at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where she retired as a technical information specialist. Genealogy was the family hobby in the Spurrier household so Laura caught the bug as a teenager. She is a specialist in Quaker research and has lectured on the topic to the society.

Please join me in honoring the CGS librarians for the valuable work they do.

Photograph by Kathryn M. Doyle, Salt Lake City, Utah, 4/16/2008.

Copyright © 2008 by Kathryn M. Doyle, California Genealogical Society and Library.

14 April 2008

Missing Money for You

CGS has landed in Salt Lake City this week for the 8th annual CGS Salt Lake City Research Tour. Seven of us drove from the airport to the hotel on the shuttle yesterday with Melinda M. Barbish, Auditing-Accounting Manager of the Division of Unclaimed Property, Department of the Treasury of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Melinda is here for a conference of a different sort but she advised us all to take a look at The Web site is billed as "State governments working together to safeguard and return your lost funds" and is a collection of links to the Unclaimed Property divisions of the various state agencies. Click on the small map to bring up a page with a large clickable map of the U.S. which leads to each state's free search engine.

The Virginia Department of the Treasury defines Unclaimed Property as "All tangible or intangible property that has remained unclaimed by its owner for an extended period of time. This includes but is not limited to savings and checking accounts, wages or commisssions, underlying shares, dividends, customer deposit, credit balances, gift certificates, credit memos, refunds, etc.

What is the connection to genealogy? Melinda advises checking the databases in every state you have ever lived, and also to search your parents' and grandparents' names in all the states they lived, or any state in which they were stationed if they were in the military. In Melinda's home state of Virginia, one in seven residents are owed unclaimed funds.

After taking a look at some of the sites, these are also potential places to find missing relatives since many states give full addresses as well as names. If you don't find money, you may find cousins. Please leave a comment if you hit the lottery!

13 April 2008

Feedback on the Eastern European Workshop

Nancy Hart Servin sent a glowing report on the first CGS "Second Saturday" workshop held yesterday at the CGS Library. Events coordinator, Carolyn Steinberg, did an excellent job of setting up the program entitled Eastern and Central European Research. Attendees first heard formal presentations by Jeremy Frankel, President of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, and Steve Danko, author of Steve's Genealogy Blog before the informal work session began. Steve gives a full report on his blog: Eastern European Research Workshop.

Nancy's account: "We had eight CGS members and one woman from the San Ramon Valley Genealogical Society, and the two leaders. Both presentations were interesting and informative, and Steve Danko's slides/powerpoint was a good addition. They are very knowledgeable and a few researchers who stayed afterward got some important extra help. We exchanged phone numbers and Emails addresses so if anyone wants to continue the search thread with someone from the meeting they can."

"The whole thing was very well done, and at least three members really seemed to benefit from it. Thanks to Jeremy and Steve for volunteering their time. Thanks to CGS for introducing us to two members who have expertise in a specific area."

10 April 2008

Two Talks by Stephen Morse - May 10, 2008

May Membership Meeting
Please note the earlier start time!

Saturday, May 10, 2008, 1:00 p.m.
CGS Library, 2201 Broadway at 22nd, Oakland.

Please join us for two special talks by Dr. Stephen P. Morse.

"What Color Ellis Island Search Form Should I Use?"

& “The Jewish Calendar Demystified”

CGS members will have double the pleasure when popular speaker Steve Morse returns in May.

Steve's first talk will describe the evolution of the One-Step Ellis Island Web site to the One-Step Web Pages. In April 2001 the Ellis Island ship manifests and passenger records went online. A few weeks later the One-Step Ellis Island website was created to make this resource easier to use. Since that time the One-Step site has been greatly expanded to include new search capabilities and an array of color-coded search forms.

He will describe the evolution of the website from both a historical and a practical perspective, and provide a beacon for navigating through this color maze.

Dr. Morse's second lecture is a tongue-in-cheek but factual description of the Jewish Calendar as seen through the eyes of Adam and Eve. Because it is both a solar and lunar calendar, the rules that govern it can be a bit daunting. This piece was recently published in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly which reflects its general appeal. It's not just for people doing Jewish genealogy - and is a very humorous talk!

09 April 2008

CGS News - May 2008

The May 2008 issue of the CGS News, Volume XXXIX, No. 3, has been mailed out to members and its twelve pages are chock-full of news and information.

In This Issue:
“Post-1906 Immigration and Naturalization Records: Part I” by Nancy Peterson
Research Trip to the NEHGS Library in Boston: Registration Flier
A Tsunami of New Books, Books and More Books
Book Review, Events, and much more.

The CGS News, edited by Jane Hufft and produced by Lois Elling, is published six times a year by the California Genealogical Society. An annual subscription to the bi-monthly newsletter is included in a society membership ($35 per year). The newsletter keeps members up-to-date regarding speakers, trips, and other events of interest to family history researchers. Articles on relevant aspects of California history and ongoing publication of vital records are some of the regular topics.

08 April 2008

Marin County Genealogical Society's Field Trip to CGS

Members of the Marin County Genealogical Society have journeyed to Oakland as a group twice in the last month. Jim Robinson, who is a member of both societies, organized the field trips, first to the CGS March Membership Meeting at the Oakland Regional Family History Center to hear Margery Bell's update on the changes at the Family History Library. On April 5, 2008, a group of six came from the MCGS for First Saturdays Free to spend a day at the CGS Library to do a day of research.

The group included (L. to R.) Shirley Genetin, President; Jim Robinson, Vice-President; Pam Saulter; Doris Salvisberg, Director of Hospitality; John Bowman, Past Treasurer (also a CGS member) and Will Deady. The Marin County Genealogical Society was formed in May 1977 in Novato, California.

CGS welcomes interested groups to come and tour the library and spend some time exploring our resources. Contact CGS at (510) 663-1358 to schedule a field trip.

06 April 2008

Book Recommendations from Steve Danko

CGS Librarian, Laura Spurrier, sent word that new books were ordered for the CGS Library in anticipation of the workshop this Saturday, April 12, 2008, "Eastern and Central European Genealogy." Specialist Steve Danko of Steve's Genealogy Blog suggested several titles. These are now available at the CGS library:
In Their Words: a Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents, Volume I: Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman.

In Their Words: a Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents Volume II: Russian
Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman.

Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy
edited by Sallyann Amdur Sack and Gary Mokotoff.

Where Once We Walked : A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust, revised edition, by Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Sack with Alexander Sharon.

Additional books on Polish, Ukrainian and Galician genealogy have also been ordered.

The workshop is free for CGS members and there are still a few slots open. Reservations are required; no walk-ins will be permitted. There is a sign-up fee of $10 for non-members. (The fee can be applied toward membership on the day of the workshop.)

Please call (510) 663-1358 to reserve a space.

05 April 2008

Roots Central - Free Advertising for Non-profit Genealogical Organizations

Roots Television announced a new public service and free advertising outlet for genealogical societies and organizations. Roots Central is a slide show of "upcoming events, speaking schedules, new projects, and anything else of genealogical interest."

CGS submitted this graphic for inclusion on the site. Roots Central is updated every Tuesday, and submissions are due each Friday by noon Pacific time. Director of Operations, Samantha Butterworth, says that the CGS contribution should be up on Tuesday, April 8, 2008.

02 April 2008

Genealogy for Beginners

The California Genealogical Society is offering an ongoing, free, introductory class in genealogy, the first Saturday of every month, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the CGS Library at 2201 Broadway, Suite LL2, Oakland, California, in the historic Breuner Building. This Saturday's class will be taught by Dick Rees.

The course is part of the "First Saturdays Free" policy that allows open access to the library and resources to non-members and the general public on the first Saturday of every month. The dates for the remainer of 2008 are: April 5, May 3, June 7, August 2, September 6, October 4, November 1 and December 6. The library is a benefit of membership and is available to non-members for a $5.00 day fee during the rest of the month.

For the remainder of 2008, CGS is opening its doors to the tenants of the Breuner Building for use during the lunch hour, at no charge. President Jane Lindsey notified the society's neighbors that CGS will offer this benefit on Thursdays and Fridays, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for the remainder of 2008. CGS recently marked the one-year anniversary of the society's move to the Breuner Building.

Please note that the CGS Library will be closed on the first Saturday of July for the Independence Day holiday. Further information is available at the CGS Google calendar.

01 April 2008

Chronicling Events in a Horseless Carriage

One of the photographs from the CGS 110th anniversary bookmark, was this one taken on the wedding day of Clare and Alta McAllister THOMSON, parents of Thomas Thomson, who is the husband of Shirley Pugh Thomson, CGS board member and recording secretary.

The young bride and groom (she only 18, he age 19) were photographed 4 June 1916, in Sullivan County, Indiana. In the back seat are their best friends and witnesses, Paul and Lena Sharpe. The Buick was owned by the groom’s father, as was the camera, and it was dad who took the picture.

The blog description prompted this response from CGS News Editor, Jane Hufft: "The copy you have with the photographs is so informative and interesting. The picture sparked a connection for me: I have a photo of my grandparents c. 1916 that could be a twin to Shirley's; everyone is dressed up, looking out of an open car, event unknown, and it NEVER occurred to me that it possibly is a wedding photo -- and we don't have any others for them. Perhaps that was a photographic style then. Thank you so much for the clue."

I checked with Maureen A. Taylor, the Photo Detective, who has written about old automotive photographs, most recently in an article entitled "Motor Trends" in the July 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

She agrees that there may be other photographs that appear at first glance to be just folks in old cars, but which in fact are chronicling weddings or other significant events.

Maureen notes: "You see a lot more people in front of cars once they are more enclosed. Men drove, women generally didn't. How interesting that the woman is behind the wheel!"

The cover of Katherine Scott Sturdevant's book, Bringing Your Family History to Life Through Social History, depicts a family dressed in their Sunday best in a circa 1910 automobile.

The photograph, identified as "William H. McKernan, Brooklyn" was supplied to the publisher as a research experiment. Ms. Sturdevant analyzes the photograph on page 89 and presents a case study which includes dating the vehicle and city directory and census research on the family. She makes a strong case that it is the family of William H. McKiernan and notes that the children in the photograph match the "genders and ages of the census children... if the oldest child, Mary, was elsewhere when the photograph was taken. She would have been about twenty."

Knowing what we know now from Shirley's and Jane's photographs, I wonder if the family was off to attend Mary's wedding?

Written for the 45th Carnival of Genealogy, Cars as stars!