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31 December 2014

Before the Year Ends...

The roots of CGS began near the time of this photograph. Lake Merritt, 1898-1905. Image: Wikimedia Commons.  

I'd like to thank all of you who've helped CGS this year, whether you're a member, a volunteer or a board member. Mil gracias! 

Without your dedication and support, we wouldn't be able to move forward.

So, just a gentle reminder, please support CGS - if you've already donated to our Annual Appeal, thanks so much-- if you haven't yet taken the opportunity to donate for the 2014 tax year-- the year is almost over!

Donate by check or visit us online at & click “Donate.”

All my best for 2015!

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco
President, Board of Directors

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

18 December 2014

Looking for Landowners? The HistoryGeo database at CGS

By Philip Hoehn

HistoryGeo is a useful tool for finding ancestral names on old maps, along with related information such as land records.  It has two parts:

First Landowners Project.  You can search the surname of more than 8.8 million original landowners in most of the 30 public land states plus Texas.  The number of states covered is growing and currently includes Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. The results lead to detailed Bureau of Land Management-General Land Office township plat maps showing properties and highlighting the landowner name.  It can also be informative to see names of surrounding landowners who could well be relatives.  While viewing the map you can click to view parcel details plus links to the boundary history of the county, the area on Google Maps, the BLM-GLO source, and an image of the actual land patent document.  You can also search by county name.  Recently added to the expanding coverage are California, Florida and Oregon.

Antique Maps Collection.  This is an expanding collection of some 4,000 maps from various sources, areas and time periods.  Most of the maps are searchable by surname.  Results take you to a zoomable map of the relevant area.  Searching can also be done by map name, for example a city or county name, and by latitude and longitude.

Sample from Antique Map collection available on HistoryGeo 
To take full advantage of various searching and navigation features, you are encouraged to view the two informative, if somewhat folksy, tutorials available at 

HistoryGeo is available on-site on all of our Library’s public computers.

The Library’s subscription to this database is provided through generosity of member Sally Houston.

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

10 December 2014

Help us Help you: The CGS Annual Appeal

Holiday Lights. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
At the heart of the holiday season, we at the California Genealogical Society give our sincere appreciation for your support. If you're a member in California, you'll soon be receiving our Annual Appeal letter, so don't forget to donate. Your help is crucial to increase the breadth and diversity of our classes and events, as well as add to the library's collection and teach generations of genealogists how to research and tell their families stories.

Thank you for being part of our largest membership in our 117 years.

Over the years, CGS has survived earthquakes and migrations, and grew by staying true to the goals of members and directors of previous years -- to maintain and share a high quality genealogical library and help others learn about their own family history. 

Don't forget-- when you contribute, you're helping to sustain a dedicated genealogy library with over 38,000 volumes of hard to find materials that can further your family history research

Our volunteers donate thousands of hours to help our members and the broader community to discover and tell the stories of their ancestors, at the library and through archival visits and research services. Thanks to them and to your support, we've grown a community of like-minded lovers of genealogy. So many people have learned from each other, discovered new family connections and even found a distant cousin among CGS members. Many realize what an invaluable resource it is to belong to a community of like-minded individuals focused on one thing: genealogy
  • We’re proud to announce a new membership perk: a discount on new annual World Subscriptions with 
  • We’re finalizing details on our events calendar, including a special Irish Heritage event in March. 
  • We’re building on our nationally recognized website to bring new online services for our members.
  • We’re adding to our library collections and the ways you can discover our materials.
Keep an eye on your inbox for more information on these new benefits and other exciting news from the dedicated volunteers at California Genealogical Society. 

Help us grow better and stronger by donating today. California Genealogical Society is maintained entirely by volunteers---we have no paid staff.
 Your gift goes directly to supporting the library’s rent, acquisitions, publications, subscriptions, bookshelves, computers, website and outreach. 

Donate by check or visit us online at & click “Donate.”

With gratitude and many wishes for a wonderful New Year, 

                        Ellen Fernandez-Sacco
                       Kim Cotton
                       Vice President

California Genealogical Society is a 501-(c)(3) non-profit corporation, so your donation is tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Please note that the Society is solely supported by individual donations like yours -- we do not receive funding from the city, county, state nor Federal government!   CGS Federal Tax ID #:  #94-6130842

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

01 December 2014

Want to know more about our 2015 Board nominees?

by Shannon Reese (bios provided by Karen Lemelin)

Well, it’s that time of year again for the California Genealogical Society.  After various meetings over the past few months to discuss both open positions on the board and new board of directors’ candidates for 2015-2016, the board nomination committee (comprised of Chair Karen Lemelin with Jeffrey Vaillant & Kathleen Beitiks) has three excellent candidates that were presented to and accepted by the board at the November meeting. These nominees will be presented at the Annual Business Meeting on Saturday, January 24, 2014 at 1:00 p.m., so mark your calendars!

Before we get to the good stuff, here are the technical details you need to know:

The California Genealogical Society's bylaws outline the requirements for Directors in Article V, Section 1:
1.      The number of directors shall be not less than five (5) nor more than twenty (20). 
2.      The last active past president, he or she consenting, shall serve as a Member of the Board of Directors until replaced by a new past president willing to serve on the Board of Directors.
3.      Immediate family members of Directors are ineligible for candidacy during the period of the sitting Director's term.
4.      The term of each Director shall be two (2) years from the date of election.
5.      Any vacancy in the Board during an unexpired term may but is not required to be filled by the Board. Such Director shall serve until a successor Director is elected.
6.      Directors shall be limited to a maximum of three successive two-year terms, or a total of six (6) consecutive years. 

In addition, Kathie Jones is now our interim Treasurer since the board position was vacated by Edie Daly and is nominated for her first full term.  All of the candidates have one thing in common:  they were instrumental to the successful execution of our first Their Roots Are Showing celebrity fundraiser held in October 2013.  Without further delay, here are the proposed new board of directors’ candidates nominated for their first two-year board term ending January 2017:

Linda Harms Okazaki is a fourth generation San Franciscan who has lived all but two years of her life in the Bay Area.  Her interest in genealogy began as a hobby in 1998 but has since grown to a personal quest. Linda has been researching her husband’s ancestry for the past several years, documenting his family in the internment camps and in Japan. She is passionate about researching, documenting, teaching, and sharing the stores of Japanese Americans.

Linda is a member of APG and the Genealogical Speakers Guild. She is a 2012 graduate of NIGR. As a CGS volunteer, she first started in Book Repair before joining the Desk Duty team. She served as the Volunteer Coordinator for two years and managed the research team for Their Roots Are Showing in 2013.

In her previous career, Linda worked with hospitalized children. She holds a BA in Human Development and an MA in Education. Recently she has been able to combine this background with genealogy by presenting family history to children ages 4-8.

Todd Armstrong first became interested in genealogy as an early teenager when he received his great-great grandfather’s 1864 Civil War diary (and, thanks to and some sleuthing, discovered this ancestor’s unmarked grave in Los Angeles in 2012).

He joined CGS while attending the first Ancestry Day and went on to take the beginning and intermediate genealogy courses offered by the Society. In 2013, he played an active role in the research and presentation of CGS’ fundraiser, Their Roots Are Showing. In addition to CGS, Todd’s a member of genealogical societies in southern California, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania, as well the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Sons of Veterans Reserve, and Sons of Spanish American War Veterans.

Todd is a publishing and strategic communications consultant based in San Francisco. He has been in the publishing industry for more than 25 years, with the majority of that time in the higher-education category. Past positions include being an executive-level acquisitions editor and/or a director of marketing at the following publishing houses: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, Prentice Hall/Pearson, McGraw-Hill, W.W. Norton, and SAGE. He holds B.A.’s in English and in History from the College of William & Mary

Therese Hart-Pignotti is a fourth generation Walnut Creek-er and the only daughter of a Marine Corps Colonel. Her mother is a retired elementary school teacher, and her older brother is a Vice-President at Sony Gaming.

Therese says, “My hobbies are genealogy, genealogy and did I mention genealogy? I love it and all though I enjoy surfing the net in my PJs at 3:00 a.m., I really like antique books and family bibles. I have a growing collection at home.”

Therese has a BA in Communications from JFK University as well as a BA in Business Mathematics from the University of South Australia.  She has worked as a paralegal at the same law office for about 20 years (with an 8 year break while she lived abroad in Australia).

One of the attorneys she works with has a practice in real estate and corporate law, but has a very specific "niche" practice as an expert witness. He appears in court (all over the US) and talks about the division of property (land and other large assets) upon the death of someone who has no known next of kin. She pedigrees a family, and it is submitted to the court along with his live testimony. It's great for Therese, as she loves doing all things genealogical.

In 2014 she produced, along with CGS, Their Roots Are Showing, which raised substantial funds for the society. She also works the front desk during our Thursday Late Night Summer Hours. Therese really enjoys her time at CGS.

Kathleen Dunn Jones, better known as “Kathie” is now serving as the Treasurer for the society.  She has been a member of the California Genealogical Society since 1999. Before joining the society, she owned a specialty toy store for 23 years. As a small business owner, she wore many hats and developed skills in finances, advertising, marketing, display and sales. 

Kathie has been instrumental in converting the society over to the Wild Apricot database and membership management software program that helps manage our finances as well.  It will serve as a platform to allow both the society to grow and to serve our members in many new ways.  Kathie was also a team member on CGS’ Their Roots Are Showing fundraiser, serving as both the video and presentation editor for all three celebrities’ screen visuals.  Kathie has also used her editing talents to help produce several YouTube videos for the society. Kathleen was born and raised in San Francisco, but has spent her adult life living in the Oakland Hills. She has 2 children and 4 grandchildren.

With the help of CGS classes and other members, she has learned much about her ancestors and her brick walls have come tumbling down. Kathleen and her husband Tom have been Oakland A’s baseball fans for 25 years and have visited every major league stadium in the U.S. During these stadium trips they have been digging into their family history and have met a few distant cousins along the way.

In addition to the new board nominees, here are the details on the existing Board of Directors:  Marcelle White, Felicia Addison and Tim Cox are continuing in their first term (Jan 2014-2016). Karen Lemelin, Kim Cotton, Nicka Smith and Henry Snyder are continuing in their second term (Feb 2014-2016). Jeffrey Vaillant continues in his third term (Mar 2014-2016).

Diana Edwards and Shannon Reese are nominated for a second term (Feb 2015-2017). Lisa Gorrell and Jim Sorenson are nominated for their third terms (Mar 2015-2017). Ellen Fernandez-Sacco will serve as Past-President.

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

19 November 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Boston NEHGS Research Tour, Photo: Jane Lindsey

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

13 November 2014

Think kids don’t like Family History? Think again.

Teachers announce special visitors to Ventana School. 

by Shannon Reese

You would think we were going for a big presentation to the board-- instead, we were on our way for our first talk with an even tougher crowd: 1st and 2nd graders.  If there’s one thing kids are, it’s that they’re honest, so we knew we had to be on our game to hold their attention.  With that in mind, Linda Okazaki and I made our trek over to Los Altos to teach the children about family history and genealogy. 

Why we came 
In late June, a first grade teacher, Corinne Fischer, at the Ventana School in Los Altos contacted CGS President, Ellen Fernandez-Sacco about a possible field trip. Ventana is a small, private school housed at an Episcopalian church. The students come from mostly affluent families, yet there is some ethnic diversity. The educational philosophy of Ventana is “Reggio-inspired”, and the curriculum is largely driven by the students. We knew these kids were thinkers and were prepared for the onslaught of questions that were to come.

Excited, we agreed to participate in this experimental outreach opportunity (2 different days with similar presentations for 2 different classes) on behalf of CGS. Linda created a curriculum (her background is child development and education) to introduce family history to children ranging in age from 4-8 years old.  Although my background is in sales and marketing, I agreed to participate because I have a kindergartener and enjoy learning how to inspire these little learners!

Linda (Lower right) consults with students at Ventana School. 
Back to the kids  
One classroom, split between children in grades 1 and 2, consisted of two teachers, Corinne Fischer & Courtney Priddy, and 19 children that ranged in age from 6-8 years old. The other classroom was 1st grade only with two teachers, Elisa Merrifield & Julie Kelsey, and a total of 20 children. Most, if not all of the children came from traditional families. Prior to our visit, the teachers in both classrooms had previously discussed families, interviewing, and story telling.  The classroom that was split between first and second graders had even discussed heredity. 

Students work on their pedigree charts. 
So what happened?  
The children sat on a carpet ready for a performance. We used a giant (well, at least to the children) flannel board to display our terminology: Family History, Genealogy, Parents, Grandparents, and Great Grandparents.  We broke-down the words “Family History” into “Family”, then “History” and finally “Story”---we emphasized that stories were the end result of the research and were really what everyone could get excited about and remember about their loved ones.

Family stories by students at Ventana School. 
After a discussion about terminology, the children returned to their tables and completed “pedigree charts”.  Given the wide range of skills within each classroom, children could choose between a traditional four-generation pedigree chart and one in which they could draw their family members. 

Naomi's three generation family tree. 
All hands were on deck as the adults (teachers, plus Linda and myself) worked simultaneously with the children to provide help throughout the exercise. The children also wrote their full names on paper leaves that we left for the teachers to use for a “community tree”, a concept that was directly related to a previous classroom discussion of the difference between families and communities.

Afterwards, we told the children two different stories about our own families using laminated photos of ourselves, parents, grandparents, etc. (to create a visual family tree), along with our trusty friend, the children’s classroom globe. These stories were limited to a few generations and included concepts of immigration, relocation, intergenerational families, and geography.  I told a story about my own Nordic ancestry and asked “Snakker du Norsk, anyone?” Amazingly, one little girl responded in fluent Norwegian.

The children began to respond
All children love to talk about themselves and their own families, so we kept this in mind as we continued the lesson. Dozens of little hands clamored for the sky as each student had a seemingly endless stream of questions for us. We heard wonderful little tales from other students who told of their Chinese, Russian, Korean, Indian, French, Irish and English ancestry.

We told the children to think about what they might ask their own grandparents. One little girl said she would ask her great-grandmother, “Did you lose your front teeth, too?” She was so charming and endearing that we couldn’t help but assure her that, “yes, your great-grandmother also lost her front teeth”.  After receiving this affirmation, all seemed right in the world for her.
Reviewing trees with their teacher. 
What did we learn?  
Family History can be introduced to different age groups, as long as the curriculum is presented in a developmentally appropriate manner. The experience at Ventana was overwhelmingly positive. The children were engaged, as were the teachers.  It was a pleasure representing the California Genealogical Society at this event! 

Need a speaker for an event (children or adults)?  Contact Shannon Reese

All photos by Shannon Reese

Copyright © 2014 by California Genealogical Society

06 November 2014

A Perfect Pilgrimage: Angel Island

By Linda Harms Okazaki

Linda Harms Okazaki, Katherine Yamada, SCGS genealogist and Grant Din, CGS member & Community Relations Director, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. Photo: Glenn Yamada

Angel Island is beautiful place for a picnic, a picture-perfect location for tourists, hikers, and locals alike. But the real beauty lies in its history. I am a fourth-generation San Franciscan who grew up in Marin County, but it wasn’t until I was an adult, with children of my own, and began my own genealogy that I understood my personal connection to this gem.

You see, from 1910 to 1940, the U.S. Government operated an immigration station on Angel Island where thousands of individuals first set foot in the United States.

My English immigrant and great grandfather, William Ambrose, worked as a night watchman in the Quarantine Station for 11 years. It was during this time period that my husband’s Japanese family members, the Okazakis, were “processed” through the Immigration Station. My children are doubly connected to the island.

Linda Harms Okazaki's Father in law, Terumi Okazaki with Ted Okazaki at Angel Island. Photo: Sharon Harms
On October 4, 2014, the Nichi Bei Foundation, a non-profit media organization serving the Japanese American community, hosted a Japanese American Pilgrimage to Angel Island to honor the 85,000+ Japanese who immigrated through this location, as well as those Japanese ancestors who were detained there during World War II.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi and his wife Sadako with Diana Edwards. Hiroshi is a playwright, author, poet, actor who read a poem about his mother's experience on Angel Island.
The California Genealogical Society, along with several other community organizations, was honored to participate in the planning and execution of this historic event. More than 600 “pilgrims” came by ferry, to the sound of Taiko drums. A handful arrived by boat and kayak. It was wonderful to see old friends reconnect and new friendships made. The event included speeches, entertainment, poetry, community awards, and a Bento (Japanese-style) lunch. I presented to the crowd the family story of the trials and tribulations of the Okazakis’ immigration journey.

L-R: CGS genealogists: Todd Armstrong, Linda Harms Okazaki, Diana Edwards, Eva Goodwin, Adelle Treakle.
Photo: Jiro Yamamura  
In addition to the formal presentation, the informal activities created a real sense of excitement and discovery for the visitors: exhibits in the original Mess Hall visually displayed a historical overview of the conditions at the Immigration Stations; the Japanese American Museum of San José provided a kids’ corner where participants played games, made buttons, and drew their family trees; and five seasoned CGS genealogists—Todd Armstrong, Diana Edwards, Eva Goodwin, Adelle Treakle, and I—provided complimentary family history consultations throughout the day to eager and inquisitive attendees. Families learned how to get started on their own research, about understanding census and vital records, as well as exploring records dealing with immigration—such as passenger lists and border crossings—and naturalization. Looking at Internment Camp newspapers from the early 1940s was rewarding for many as it brought to life those harrowing times.

View from barred window inside the Immigration Station. Photo: Melinda Crawford
Thanks to spectacular weather, enthusiastic attendees, and engaged participants, it was truly a moving pilgrimage for all involved. 

Video of the Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage:

Immigrant Voices: Former Park Ranger Andrew Weiss

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

30 October 2014

National Archives 2014 Virtual Genealogy Fair, Oct 28-30

Ulysses S. Grant rejoices about having online access to NARA...
by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco

The National Archives' 2014 Virtual Genealogy Fair has just ended, and presentations will be on YouTube by the end of November.  

But don't despair-- the slides, along with presenter's biographies and handouts are available at

There were 17 presentations in all, with coverage of new collections at, National Archives in Atlanta, Kansas City, Maryland and St. Louis. Topics ranged widely from World War records, to doing family research with the FBI's Freedom of Information Act records (FOIA), working with Alien Case Files, using Patent Records in genealogy, to Civil War Soldiers and Homesteading. 

Handouts include annotated photographs of sample documents with highlighted information, for easy identification of important details, and can run to well over 20 pages. 

Here are a few of the sessions: 
Session 2, by Mary Lynn Ritznthaler, Chief of the Conservation Laboratory at the National Archives at College Park, MD gave "Preserving Your Family Records" which engaged paper, photographs with guidelines on how to mount and preserve them using archival materials. She also noted that The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works offer a referral service for conservators in your geographic area.

Session 4, by Jessica Hopkins, Archivist at the National Archives at Kansas City Missouri, is an "Overview of American Indian Records and Resources on"  which featured redesigned  pages and updated record sets with five main portals for better access to Federal records that engage Indian peoples across a wide range of times and locations. Check the revamped site out at:

Session 11, Rick Martinez, Archive Specialist at the National Archives at Denver, Colorado, presented "Wagons West: Land Records at the National Archives." This introduction to Federal land records covers tract books, township survey plats and land entry case files along with online resources for the 30 Public Land States. Federal land records can be accessed at NARA in Washington DC and at regional archive locations.

Session 15, given by Theresa Fitzgerald, Archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis, highlighted the records that detail Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) and civilian personnel records at the National Personnel Records Center.  

Session 16, by Elizabeth Burnes, Archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis presented "Friend or Foe? Documenting Alien Ancestors during Times of War", covers 19th and 20th century record sets with applications, files and lists used by a variety of Federal agencies from the Civil War to World War 2. There are over 3,000 series of records from the 18th - 21st centuries available on individuals defined as 'Aliens' (not a citizen of the US) or 'Enemy Aliens' (citizen of countries involved in conflict with the US). 

There's much to learn about Federal records, and these presentations are a wonderful introduction to working with a variety of sources for filling in details of your genealogy and family history. Dig in!

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.