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27 February 2009

Back to Basics

Something unexpected happened last October during Family History Month when the California Genealogical Society teamed up with the Oakland Regional Family History Center to present a Beginning Genealogy series of four classes -- people came, lots of people came. A total of fifty students took advantage of the series, surprising organizers – but in a good way!

CGS President Jane Lindsey and Marge Bell, Assistant Director of the ORFHC, were the masterminds behind the joint venture. Marge recalls that Jane came up with the idea during a conversation the two had about ways to get more visitors to the libraries. The ORFHC has hosted lots of classes but Marge doesn't remember ever having more than 5 or 6 students attend any session.

Jane reported on the success of the Beginners Series to the CGS Board of Directors in November and she brought along a proposal for Intermediate classes in 2009. I recall that it was Jane Hufft, savvy editor of the new California Nugget, who suggested starting the next series of classes right away. Hufft recognized immediately that Jane and Marge had created a winning formula and that the society should piggyback on their success.

Was she ever right! The eight-session Intermediate Series started on January 17 and the response has been overwhelming. Classes are filled to capacity – thirty students on Saturdays at CGS and fifty at the ORFHC sessions on Tuesdays – so a waiting list had to be created. Registration fliers for more classes starting in April are already available for download at the CGS website.

What exactly is behind the success? Jane and Marge aren't really sure. Certainly the price is right – the classes are free with just a nominal ($15) charge for the series syllabus – especially in this economic environment. And the instructors must be doing something right – more than half of those who took the beginners classes re-upped, and some are bringing their friends.

But I think there's a bit more going on here. Much has been written about whether the Internet has helped or hurt genealogical society membership but no one disputes the fact that the Internet makes genealogy research seem easy. We know that it isn't and that at some point all that surfing and collecting will lead to a confused mess, if you don't know the basics.

In his post "Who Do You Think You Are?" Series is coming - are we ready for it?, Randy Seaver wrote about the potential fascination with family history likely to be sparked by the upcoming NBC television series. First he asked, "What should local and regional genealogy societies be doing to prepare for the anticipated swelling of interest after the series starts? Then Randy gave some answers including: "Have beginning genealogy classes ready to roll after 20 April."*

You're right, Randy, classes are the answer, but there is no need to wait – the interest is already out there. The California Genealogical Society and the Oakland Regional Family History Center found that out when we went with the basics.

*The start date for WDYTYA has been pushed back to the summer.

25 February 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Lunch hour at CGS

Photograph courtesy of Jane Knowles Lindsey, February 10, 2009, Oakland, California.

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.

20 February 2009

How An Item in the Personals Led to a Photo I.D.

My favorite type of genealogical pastime is newspaper research. I've wiled away more hours than I care to admit scrolling through microfilmed papers borrowed through inter-library loan from the Pennsylvania State Library. Obituaries, legal notices, passenger arrivals and news articles provide important information and often point to documents needed for the search. But the really fun stuff resides in the personal columns – the collections of gossip often grouped by neighborhood or town – that offer glimpses into the lives of our ancestors.

Lookups volunteer Patricia Smith stumbled on to a personal item in an Indiana newspaper that led to an unexpected find when the California Genealogical Society acquired last summer.

According to Pat, CGS President Jane Lindsey was helping her to navigate the site and found an item in the personals about the 50th anniversary of Pat's great-grandparents, Alanson and Laura Ross, in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. It was published " Tuesday morning" January 2, 1917, under the headline "Pleasant Lake News."

Mr. and Mrs. Alson Ross celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary last Sunday and a public reception was given them at the home of their daughter, Mrs. Frank Chadwick, from 2 to 4 p.m. The Pleasant Lake concert orchestra furnished music during the afternoon. Mr. and Mrs. Ross were seated in the large window beautifully decorated for the occasion. Those present from a distance were: Mrs. Lucey Widney, of Auburn; Otto Ross and wife, of Louisville, Ky.; Bessie Cross of Fort Wayne; Mrs. Bert McNett and children of Nevada Mills; Donn Ross and wife of Monpelier, O. Miss Laura McEthenie sang "Put on Your Old Grey Bonnett." L.L. Matson gave a short eulogy on the couple and closed by reading Riley's "That Old Sweetheart of Mine." Mrs. Frank Chadwick gave a short poem on "Mother." Miss Helen Huffman read "When This Old Ring Was New" with Miss Maurine Huffman presiding at the piano. A vocal solo, "Silver Threads Among the Gold," was sung by Maurine Huffman. Light refreshments were served, after which the Ross family sang "Bless Be the Tie That Bonds," with the guests joining in the chorus. It is not often that a couple celebrates their fiftieth anniversary who are as supple and robust as Mr. and Mrs. Ross. Fred Fay was present and took the family picture.

Image from

The unexpected find happened when Pat went home and tried to decipher the family relationship of those named in the article. Pat explains:
I recognized the name "Mrs. Bert McNett" as that of my mother's cousin – Parepa Walker McNett – and I remembered that I had a family photograph that included her. When I retrieved it, I noticed that almost everyone mentioned in the article was in the photograph. On the back was written "Taken at Pleasant Lake, Indiana."

The family of Alanson and Laura Ross (left to right): Nellie Ross Chadwick, Alanson Ross, Don Ross, Parepa Walker McNett, Laura Ross, George McNett, Walker McNett, Bessie Ross Cross, Esther Westergren Ross, Ella Ritter Ross, Otto Ross, Gertie Ross and Harry Ross.

On closer inspection, I could see that it was taken in the winter – you can see some snow on the ground. Parepa's little boys were born about 1913 and 1915 and would have been approximately four and two years old, if this photo was taken in 1917, which looks about right. I also know that Perapa had a daughter born late in 1917 and although her waistline isn't totally visible, she doesn't appear to be pregnant, or if she was, she was not far enough along to show.

The news item states that Fred Fay took the family picture and I think, given the above information, that this photo was taken on that January day in 1917.

Do you have a great story about a find made at the CGS Library? If so, leave a comment. Inquiring minds want to know!

18 February 2009

Wordless Wednesday

CGS Research "Look-ups" Volunteers
Patricia Smith, Lavinia Schwarz, Judy Bodycote-Thomas

Photographs by Kathryn M. Doyle, Oakland, California.

16 February 2009

See You at the SoCal Genealogy Jamboree?

Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree
Burbank Airport Marriott and Convention Center
June 27-28, 2009

The Southern California Genealogy Jamboree blog is active again as Co-Chairs Paula Hinkle and Leo Myers and members of SCGS gear up for their annual meeting in June.

The 40th Annual Jamboree will be held Friday through Sunday, June 26-28, 2009, at the Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. The focus of this year's Jamboree is British Isles research – English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh.

Paula has posted an impressive list of speakers, including CGS members Ron Arons, Stephen Danko, Craig Manson, Cath Trindle and Marston Watson. I'm especially looking forward to seeing old genea-blogger friends and meeting new ones at Saturday's Summit 2: Son of Blogger.

This year the California Genealogical Society and Library will be sharing a table in the Exhibit Hall with either the California State Genealogical Alliance or the Federation of Genealogical Societies. I'll be sure to keep you informed as the details are worked out. We're looking for members to help staff the table so please send me an e-mail if you can help.

For detailed information about schedule, speakers, genealogy exhibitors and more, visit the Jamboree blog.

13 February 2009

March Membership Meeting - Frances Dinkelspiel

March Membership Meeting
Saturday, March 14, 2009
1:00 p.m.
CGS Library
2201 Broadway, Suite LL2
Oakland, California 94612

The California Genealogical Society is pleased to have local Bay Area author Frances Dinkelspiel as the guest speaker at our March membership meeting. Her book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, is a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller which has been getting rave reviews since its publication by St. Martins Press in November 2008.

Frances will share some of the backstory about how she learned about her great-great-grandfather and the eight years she spent researching and writing the book. Isaias Hellman’s story is a page-turner and a must-read for anyone interested in California history. The book is a who's who of the banking world made even more facinating by the tie-ins to today's financial crisis.

It's fitting that Frances lecture at the CGS Library because a bit of her research was done here - a small bit when compared to the time she spent at the California Historical Society reviewing some forty cartons of material containing over 50,000 pages of archival documents including letters, receipts, copy books, court cases and newspaper articles.

Dinkelspiel is a fifth-generation Californian who grew up in San Francisco. A graduate of Stanford University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she spent more than twenty years in the newspaper business, working as a general assignment reporter for Syracuse newspapers in upstate New York and the San Jose Mercury News. She has taught at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. Her freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, People Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the Los Angeles Times.

Frances is also the author of a literary blog, Ghost Word: Ethereal Thoughts on Books and Writing
Please note that the short membership meeting starts promptly at 1:00 p.m. Frances' talk follows at about 1:20 p.m. She will be available afterward to autograph and sell books. Please arrive early.

11 February 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Publications Committee Meeting
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Kathryn Doyle, Nancy Peterson, Marianne Frey, Verne
Deubler, Jane Hufft, Barbara Close and Arlene Miles.

Photograph by Richard Rees, Oakland, California.

09 February 2009

CGS is Going Green

The California Genealogical Society entered a new era of paperless communication after mailing the last official issue of the CGS News to members in December. Following the lead of many other societies, the CGS Board of Directors made the decision to "go green" and use electronic means as the major way to communicate with membership. The society will use four online avenues to stay in touch with members: the CGS e-News, the CGSL blog, the CGS website and the CGS Google calendar.

The CGS e-News, e-mailed to members and friends on the first of every month, is in its third year of publication. (I took over as editor in January 2008.) The monthly electronic newsletter features news about upcoming society meetings and events, suggested links, timely announcements and "CGS Ancestors" – a member-submitted photograph with accompanying family story. Up-to-the-minute society news is always available here at the CGSL blog. CGS member volunteers Larry Youngman and Marianne Frey are working hard to keep the CGS website updated with the latest information on upcoming events and program offerings. CGS Events volunteers Carolyn Steinberg and Tim Cox keep the online CGS Google calendar up-to-date. Detailed information about each entry is just one click away.

"Going green" freed up funds in the society budget to allow the reintroduction of a more scholarly journal. Newsletter editor Jane Hufft will turn her attention to the launch of The California Nugget which will be published twice a year beginning with the spring 2009 issue. Hufft has announced that her "goal is to provide a quality publication that will have something of interest for every member." The California Nugget will carry in-depth articles about California genealogy, contain help and guidance for those just beginning their research and provide book reviews. Hufft gave this list of the type of content she plans to feature: "Brick-wall stories, Hispanic research connected to California families, unique unpublished indexes, research highlighting early Bay Area settlers and 'cite-your-sources' articles."

Jane is soliciting manuscripts for The California Nugget from members. Precise submission guidelines will be made available in the first issue. Contact CGS or email Jane Hufft directly with a description of your manuscript.

06 February 2009

Library Closed for President's Weekend

Please note that the California Genealogical Society Library will be closed on Saturday, February 14th (Valentine's Day) for the three-day President's Weekend. Monday, February 16, 2009 is the Washington's Birthday holiday.

The library re-opens on Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 9:00 a.m.

The CGS Library is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m, on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and by appointment. Non-members are welcome for a $5.oo fee. The first Saturday of every month is free to all.

04 February 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday
CGS Manuscript Committee
Pat Bonderud and Linda Darby

Photograph by Kathryn M. Doyle, 7/31/2008, Oakland, California

02 February 2009

French Canadian Interest Group

CGS members with an interest in French Canadian ancestry meet occasionally during the year to discuss research problems. Lorna Jones sent this announcement with the dates of the upcoming French-Canadian Interest Group meetings for 2009:

French-Canadian Interest Group members: (left to right) Mary Beth
Frederick, Al Riel, Lorna Jones, Bill O'Neil and Barry Goyette.
(Not shown: Jane Lindsey, Tom Gesner, Lynn Theuriet, & Ann Cyr.)

Do you have ancestors who may have moved to the mid-west in the early 1800s? Or perhaps some who were born in Canada, but the exact location is unknown? The American-Canadian border was easily crossed; many others came up the Mississippi via New Orleans to settle before the railways were built.

This year the French-Canadian Interest Group will meet at the CGS Library at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 9, 2009 and again on Saturday, September 12, 2009. The meetings are casual and unstructured – someone usually comes with a “brick wall” question and we all dive in and work on it. We frequently have “show and tell” where we share new websites, or a good book someone has found, or some new French translation list. We're a very low-key but entertaining group and the folks who attend are great.

If you would like to join us, please e-mail Lorna Jones to receive a reminder prior to the meetings.

Photograph courtesy of Jane Knowles Lindsey.