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01 December 2010

There's One in Every Family: The Wanderer

They call me the wanderer.
Yeah, the wanderer.
I roam around, around, around, around.

There's one in every family. You know the one I mean – the wanderer – the one who can't seem to put down roots and who will never settle down. From our earliest days, the California Genealogical Society has been a wanderer!

CGS has never owned a building so housing our books has been a challenge. An evening spent perusing decades of newsletters and journals revealed countless hours spent by society officers dealing with this issue, over and over again. Throughout its 112-year history, the California Genealogical Society has moved around – a lot!

Up From the Ashes

The society was founded February 12, 1898, in San Francisco, where it was headquartered for the first one hundred years. In the early days, the books collected by the society were kept in members' homes or offices – until disaster struck in 1906. At the time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, the collection of over 300 volumes was housed with the society's librarian, Mrs. Walter Damon Mansfield, in her apartment at the California Hotel on Bush Street. The hotel was completely destroyed and the entire library went up in smoke.

Mrs. Mansfield escaped and she continued to be the guardian as the society rebuilt its collection. I've written before about how CGS solicited donations from across the country and received books from individuals and institutions, including the Newberry Library. By 1910, Mrs. Mansfield, and the books, moved to the Fairmont Hotel, where in 1912 a special "Library Room" was established for the CGS collection.

The Many Homes of CGS

After Mrs. Mansfield's death in 1916, the CGS Library shared space with a series of illustrious institutions and groups. In 1917, the State Library in San Francisco was established to house the private library of Mayor Adolph Sutro, who stipulated in his will that the collection remain in the City. CGS was allowed to shelve its books at the first Sutro location on the third floor of the Lane Medical Building at Sacramento and Webster Streets. In 1923, Sutro (and CGS) moved to the San Francisco Public Library in the Civic Center.

That arrangement ended with the Depression. In the early 1930s the society was forced to remove its books from the SFPL due to funding cuts. CGS shacked up with the Sons of the American Revolution when they moved into their quarters in Room 327 in the newly constructed War Memorial Building in the San Francisco Civic Center in 1933. Things were stable for more than a decade until the SAR and CGS were forced out in 1945. World War II was coming to an end and the federal government took over that building for the United Nations.

Most of the CGS books were put into storage for a couple of years while the society was homeless until CGS moved in with the SAR again in June 1946, this time in offices at the DeYoung Building at Market and Kearny Streets. Things were stable for many years.

Partnership with the California History Society

In 1962, the California Historical Society acquired title to the CGS collection and for the next twenty years the library was housed at the CHS building at Pacific and Laguna Streets. The relationship with the California Historical Society lasted until CGS leased a new headquarters in the Flood Building at 870 Market Street, Suite 1124, San Francisco, and moved in on November 1, 1983. After months of negotiations, the society reached agreement with the California Historical Society and reacquired 85% of the genealogical collection sold in 1962. More than 60% of the membership voted to approve the CHS/CGS agreement in December 1983.

In 1986, CGS moved again – to the fourth floor of 300 Brannan Street, San Francisco – where the library and headquarters remained for twelve years.

Across the Bay to Oakland

Facing skyrocketing rental rates in San Francisco, the society's leadership explored several options before making the move to the Latham Square Building, Suite 200, on Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, in 1998. After the initial five-year lease expired, the society signed on for three more years and moved down one floor to Suite 100.

In March 2007, CGS moved to its present site in the historic Breuner Building at 2201 Broadway, Suite LL2, Oakland, California. We're staying put – at least for now!

Written for the 100th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy,


1.  Eric Maresca, "The Wanderer," Lyrics. Originally recorded by Dion, 1961. Lyrics Freak, accessed Dec. 1, 2010.

2.  Dorothy Fowler, "The California Genealogical Society's Library – A Century of Growth" (unpublished manuscript, California Genealogical Society, 1996).

3.  Dorothy Fowler, "Where the Books Were – CGS Library 1898 to 1998," The Nugget 9, no. 1,   (1998): 3.

4.  "Latham Square Building – the New Home of the California Genealogical Society," The Nugget 9, no. 2, (1998): 3.

5. "At the Society – Library Settled in New Location," CGS News 38, no. 2, (2007): 3.

COG poster courtesy of footnoteMaven.

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


Michelle Goodrum said...

Enjoyable take on the history of the organization.

Tim Cox said...

Nice article! Loved reading about the nomadic life of the library.

J.M. said...

Wow, quite a bit of wandering indeed! Nice post.