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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.

23 October 2014

The 2014 Genie Awards!

By Diana Edwards, CGS Membership Chair

It's Thankful Thursday, and we'd like to extend our thanks to the wonderful volunteers at CGS!

2014 CGS Genie Awards: L-R: Marcelle White, Kathie Jones, Arlene Miles (back), Linda Okazaki (front), Lavinia Grace Schwarz, Nancy Peterson Photo: Ron Madson
CGS has incredible volunteers- they are dedicated, loyal, hardworking and fun- and we want to honor every volunteer.  Our board works tirelessly, sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes front and center. Our committee chairs don’t just sit around, they make things happen.  But it’s the rest of the volunteer corps that really deserves the credit. 

If you haven’t met her already, I’d like to introduce you to our Volunteer Coordinator, Kathleen Beitiks. Be sure to say “hello” and welcome her. If you are interested in volunteering, she can help you find a great task.  Kathleen, along with Diana Edwards, membership chair, Diana Wild, library volunteer extraordinaire, and Linda Okazaki, our fabulous former Volunteer Coordinator, are the force behind this event. 

Last year we honored our longest serving volunteers, those that had served in some capacity for twenty years or more. This year, the volunteer committee wanted something different. Something memorable. They couldn’t come up with a “volunteer of the year” because there are too many people who work their magic in countless ways.

So what did they do?
After asking the board for suggestions and nominations, they decided to set some parameters. Looking at the volunteer database from 2013, they realized well over 100 individuals donated their time to CGS last year. As a result, the committee decided to create two award categories, and limit the nominees to just five individuals in each.

The first category is for volunteers who completed monumental tasks in the past year, those who have gone above and beyond.  The second category is for volunteers who have moved on from certain roles, though not necessarily from volunteering, just from very important roles which they had filled for a long time. 

Next year, we'll have different categories. In fact, we hope to have many awards events in our future. Today, we'll focus on those two categories- Above and beyond, and Moving on. 

Without further adieu, we present the first ever CGS Genie Awards! 

Mover of Mountains Award 
Arlene Miles
This mover and shaker is a former library assistant who volunteers two days a week. You might recognize her as the woman in the tie-dyed shirt, or the one giggling in the back office, or the lady who loves trains. She became a member in 2007 on the very day CGS opened its doors at this location. Most of us know her as the processor of periodicals, but really it’s so much more than that. She set up a database to track current periodicals. She helps Henry Snyder with anything and everything, she trains and orients new volunteers, she oversees a team of volunteers who checks and rechecks everything on the shelves, and she helps to coordinate our eBay sales, taking photos of items for sale, then packages and mails the sold items. 

Today we honor her for the monumental task affectionately known as the “Shelf Shift”. She is literally our “Mover of Mountains”...a mountain of Books...thousands and thousands of Books! CGS received hundreds of boxes of donated genealogy books last year.  After Henry and his Library Committee finished sorting and cataloging, and labeling the hundreds of new additions to our collection, new shelving was installed, and our honoree, Arlene, stepped in and organized a massive “shelf shift”.

She recruited volunteers, trained and supervised them, kept the books in order as we moved them (while explaining the Library of Congress numbering system over and over and over.)..all with humor and patience, sweat and stamina. She got our new books on the shelves!   Then, just to be sure we got it right, she turned around and “read the shelves”, methodically checking to make sure each book was in it’s place, so you and I can find them when we look.

The Orchestrator of eBay
Marci White
A member since 2009, Marci is not a long time volunteer, but she stepped in with the perfect skills at the exactly perfect time to do a much-needed job for CGS.  Remember the hundreds of boxes of books donated to the library? Well, we didn’t keep all of them for our shelves...some were duplicates, etc. Henry had decided we could make some money by selling books we didn’t need or want. How to do this? eBay was the obvious answer. 

And this is where Marci stepped up. She helped set up our eBay accounts, not an easy task, and worked with the Library Committee to put the book sale process in place, she worked with the Website and Computer Committees, the Finance Committee, Publications and Marketing. She put all of the pieces together and then trained the next people to take over. The result was a monumental symphony of collaboration. Thank you, Marci, for your monumental contribution. 

As huge as the eBay venture was, we did not let Marci sit on her laurels as a valuable Library Committee member. We recruited her to become a Board Member, and she took over as editor of the eNews, working with Shannon on the Marketing Committee. Now that she is working full-time-and-a-half, she is looking for an eNews replacement, but that’s OK. Volunteering is flexible, and must fit your life. Marci will continue to be a valuable volunteer in new roles.    

Wild Thing
Kathie Jones
A member since 1999, this recipient retired as the owner of a toy store, but hasn’t lost her sense of fun. Playful and entertaining, she and I met on one of the Salt Lake City trips. She has been volunteering several days each month to keep our member enrollment and renewal system up to date. She used her talents as a videographer to produce YouTube videos with Shannon Reese. She was on the planning committee for Their Roots are Showing and produced the screen visuals for the show. 

But today we are honoring her for one job she recently completed. She went over and beyond to move our membership database from an accounting system, “Quickbooks” to the modern membership database “Wild Apricot”. This system is full of bells and whistles that will help our society to grow and serve members in many new ways. Not only did she research the new data system, she tested several, installed it, transferred our existing membership data without losing her mind, or any members, in the process.. She has also “moved on” from her role on the membership committee entering data (we are looking for new volunteers!)  She is our newest board member, and is Treasurer for the society. 

California Genealogical Society Award for Excellence in Juggling
Lavinia Grace Schwarz
Our next recipient is a Tuesday fixture, serves as chair of the Research Committee, an active group that spends at least one full day at the library, solving genealogical puzzles and answering the queries sent to CGS from all over the world. She currently organizes the group of volunteers that teach our first Saturday Introduction to Genealogy classes and last year, helped orchestrate a revised Beginning series held at the Family History Library. 
She also spent five years as an active member of the Board of Directors, during the exciting years when the society outgrew it’s last Oakland location, and moved to our present space with double the membership.

She is a speaker, member of the Website Committee, a fabulous researcher known for her talent at breaking through brick walls. She has research interests in Haiti, New Orleans and Hawaii.  As if this weren’t enough, She performed magic behind the scenes at Ancestry Day last fall. For this, we are honoring her today…CGS offered to do research consultations...for a fee... at this event and Vinnie was asked to find the volunteers and schedule the consults. Well, the offer was VERY successful, and Vinnie found herself with the task of finding volunteer experts in many specific areas and scheduling 300 consults in one room on one day!! A Rubik's cube of a puzzle, solved with grace, patience, and talent.

The Mistress of Change Award 
Kathy Watson
A member since 1993, our next recipient is truly a wizard. In her previous roles, she built the CGS website which was redesigned to a Lotus notes website. She organized a The Master Genealogist users group. In her spare time, she is active in both the DAR AND the Colonial Dames.  These days she is Chair of the Computer and Websites committees. She and her team are the genies responsible for the maintenance of our entire computer system, including the website, where she makes changes on-demand. She graciously responds to any and all calls for help from CGS with all things technical, from "I forgot my gmail password" to "the router blew and the internet is gone".

But today we are honoring her for a monumental task which was completed last year. Our recipient oversaw the purchase, installation, configuration and troubleshooting of the library’s new computers.This entailed switching from Internet Explorer to Chrome and setting up our new Google volunteer email system. She deserves a second genie lamp just for graciously handling the myriad of whines and questions as we all had to learn a new system.  Let’s give a big round of applause for Kathy Watson. 

Part 2: Moving on, but not gone
Those individuals who have made enormous contributions to our society and have moved into new horizons. Not out of CGS, but into new roles. 
The first was a surprise nomination. 

People Who Need People
Linda Okazaki
Linda developed the formal role of Volunteer Coordinator. She put in lots of time getting to know the people serving on the many active CGS committees, and their needs. Then she spent lots of time getting to know members who wanted to volunteer to help them find the “just right” task for their interests. She set up a database for the OVER 100  volunteers and has now handed the position over to our second-ever Volunteer Coordinator, Kathleen Beitiks. 

Linda has also served as a front desk volunteer, a first-Saturday Introduction To Genealogy class teacher, contributed articles to the Nugget, and reached out to the Japanese American community to introduce people interested in their Japanese roots to CGS. She’s a friendly face at many CGS events.

Associate Number Cruncher 
Judy Zelver
A member since 2005, this recipient might be quiet, but she is a powerhouse when it comes to research,  especially when New York and New England are involved. She has been a consultant for Ancestry Day and was the lead New England researcher working on the Tim Alexander genealogy for Their Roots are Showing. She is organized and thorough, and has volunteered in countless positions, including but not limited to assistance with indexing, and working with microfilm and microfiche. Pleasant, cheerful and always willing to help, this recipient is being honored for her role as Assistant Treasurer, where she spent five years helping with opening the mail, depositing the checks and cash, data entry, bill paying and other treasury-related tasks. 

Money Makes the World Go Round
Laura Lee Karp
A former accountant and current Walnut Creek resident, this recipient hails from the South and is best known for her research in Virginia. Her husband frequently accompanies her on genealogical adventures, reading his physics books. With her southern charm, this former accountant added and subtracted her way through our accounts, making sure that all was right, She worked magic with numbers, devoted countless hours to making sure our finances were secure, balancing our checkbook, preparing our budgets and budget reports. 

Marketing Magic
Kathryn Doyle
A member since 2000 who served on the board for six years representing the Publications and Marketing Team, she helped to bring CGS into the new millenium. She was trained as a pharmacist, but always dreamed of being a journalist. She completed the Boston University Certificate Course in Genealogy and recently attended GRIPP. She has research interests in the US, Japan and Greece. She has served on more committees than we can possibly count, and the Board of Directors, but she is most proud of “branding” our society. She developed our URL, she started developed the eNews and Blog, she served as our representative to FGS, she worked with the website committee and developed our image in the greater genealogical community. Though she has moved on from her role in Publications and Marketing, we can’t wait to see what she has to offer next. 

Executive Producer & Wizard of Wonder 
Jane Lindsey
This woman joined in 2000 and it’s hard to believe she has only been a member for fourteen years. She started out as the event coordinator, which really was much simpler in those days. From there, she went on to chair many events, including some which were spectacular. She led the Salt Lake City trip for fourteen years, the Boston trip four times, the Allen County research trip three times, headed up the strategic planning committee twice, served on Desk Duty for at least four years, the nominating committee for four years. 
She also was our very own start-up, before anyone knew what a start-up was. She started the eNews with Kathy Watson before turning it over to Kathryn Doyle, began our participation in Family History Month when we were in our previous location, started our summer Thursday evening series, and was the unofficial volunteer coordinator before there was even such a position. On top of all that, she was co-chair of Ancestry Day twice (in 2011 AND 2013). She orchestrated the move to our current location with Verne Deubler after the search committee found the building. And of course, she served on the board as President for six years and as past President for two years. Though she has moved on from many of her vast responsibilities, we know she will continue to serve CGS. Her wealth of knowledge and experience are a valuable resource as our society grows and changes. 

Remarkable Retired Researcher 
Nancy Simmons Peterson
It’s hard to believe that our next recipient has only been a member since 2004. She is an author, a researcher, Stanford grad and Olympic swimmer, this recipient is known to all of us. In 1998, years before joining CGS, she won the National Genealogical Society Writing Contest. This award winning narrative remains on the BCG website as an example of work for aspiring genealogists to emulate. 

In her tenure at CGS, she has served on the board, and was co-leader of our Salt Lake City research trip for many years. She is the author of Raking the Ashes, our extraordinary book and terrific resource for anyone doing research in San Francisco, or really, any place where records have been destroyed.  Last year, she was the lead researcher for Billy Beane’s paternal line at our event, Their Roots are Showing. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and holds the revered distinction of being a Certified Genealogist. 

But today, we are recognizing those who have moved on from specific roles within the last year. Our recipient has retired from years of service on our Research Committee where she traveled weekly from her home on the peninsula to spend Tuesdays sharing her knowledge to benefit our society. 

CGS Genie Award cake Photo: Ron Madson

Copyright © 2014 by California Genealogical Society and Library.

09 October 2014

Extending your genealogical knowledge: thinking about interpretation

Where are you in terms of your genealogy and family history? What's your next step in better understanding the documents you've collected? Do you have a specific goal? 

Searching for clues in other resources. Lisa Gorrell at the SF Maritime Museum Library. Photo: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco
For many people, defining the answers to these questions can take several routes, from hiring our Research team, consulting the CGS Library or attending classes in person. There are many virtual options, a tendency that has increased with the changes in technology. Determining an area of focus for skill set or geographic area can lead you to new resources for taking your work further. 

While documents are central to genealogical practice, understanding the context for how those documents were created and used is also important.  I asked CGS member, lecturer and instructor Susan Goss Johnston, what should people keep in mind about how this context relates to their own family history? 

Susan agreed that while documents are central to genealogical research, she stressed that
"understanding the historic, legal and inherent context of those documents is not just important, it's essential. If a researcher doesn't understand the history behind a document's creation, he or she might not understand important events in an ancestor's life. If a researcher doesn't understand a document's legal context, they might misinterpret the true meaning of that document. If a researcher doesn't study that document in the context of other similar documents, they will miss important patterns and inferences not explicitly stated anywhere."

So, it's simply not enough to just have the documentation, but to also learn about these different facets, which can add so much more to your family history. Look at history written at different scales, the larger picture of events in the past, down to legal and social histories, or even material culture studies that can tell you more about life at that time. 

Some excellent approaches can include using the lists at H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online) a nonprofit organization housed at the Wisconsin State University.  H-Net sponsors over 100 interactive newsletters (discussion boards) in order to advance teaching and research.  Its H-Net Reviews section is devoted to in depth reviews of publications that can be searched for specific topics relevant to doing genealogical research. For example, you can find recent reviews of books and exhibitions that you might have missed otherwise. 

Explore archival websites once you've charted a portion of your tree- you'll probably come away with some insights into the era your people were living in. DNA offers other routes to connect with relatives, now that testing has dramatically changed over the last five years. 

Consider a small study group, that meets in person or virtually, such as reading groups such as the NSGQ Study Groups [National Genealogical Society Quarterly] that meet online, or webinars. Tour local historical sites of interest with your genealogy society.  At CGS, we have SIGs (Special Interest Groups), so that people can systematically explore a topic together. Visit our Facebook page, blog and homepage and check for events of interest. 

Do you have an area of interest in genealogy or family history that you'd like to attend a discussion on? Contact us-- we're always looking for members and volunteers to delve into new areas of interest!

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