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15 May 2015

Before Facebook...Locating Californians in City Directories

by Dr. Henry Snyder           

Photo of Sherman Room housing City Directory collection
Come see our expanded collection of California Directories

City directories are an invaluable source for genealogists. They fill in gaps between censuses. Even more important, they extend the period for which residence information is available since the federal census is only available through 1940. CGS has had several hundred city directories for California in its collection for some years. We have exceptionally strong runs for San Francisco and Oakland-Alameda-Berkeley. Elsewhere our holdings are quite spotty. Now in an exceptionally generous donation, Dr. Stephen Harris, our former president, has given us his complete set of California directories. When combined with our collection the total number of unduplicated volumes comes to 963! They are shelved altogether, alphabetically by city, in new shelving acquired specifically to house them and installed in the Sherman Room.

Most of the directories were published by the C K Polk Company who began publishing directories over 140 years ago. A 1916 directory lists 58 areas in California—some cities, some counties—for which Polk published directories; we have at least one directory for 52 of the areas. The number varies from 98 directories for San Francisco to many single directories for some localities. Among the best represented are Bakersfield (42), Chico (16), Eureka (21) Fresno (46), Long Beach (17), Los Angeles (40), plus suburban areas, Merced/Madera (15), Modesto (32), Napa (34), Oakland-Alameda-Berkeley (43), Palo Alto (22), Pasadena (16), Richmond (18), Sacramento (61) and Suburban Sacramento (18), San Diego (27) and Suburban San Diego (6), San Francisco (98), San Jose (58), San Mateo (17), Santa Barbara (20), Santa Rosa (23) and Stockton (17).

A number of cities and counties in California and elsewhere in the United States have collections of directories for their own town. So far as we are aware, there is only one other substantial collection of California city directories and that is at the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley, where they are stored off-site and where they must be paged individually, volume by volume. Our collection, then, is a unique resource: Readers can go directly to the shelves and utilize any or all volumes they wish to consult.

But this is not all. Dr. Harris also donated his substantial collection of California telephone directories. These telephone directories fill in gaps in the city directories both place-wise and date-wise. What this means is that for most cities of any size in the state we have telephone directories which can provide essential residence information extending from before the turn of the century until about 1980. This extends the coverage provided by the census another four decades! 

Separate lists of the city directories and of the telephone directories are posted on our webpage. (We are in the process of transferring our online catalog from one utility to OCLC to make the records more accessible. We expect that transition to be completed by the end of May.  At that time we will update the catalog entries to reflect the full richness of our collection.)

We are delighted to be able to offer this unparalleled, unique resource to our members and guests and encourage you to visit now and often to make use of it.

I want to give special thanks to our devoted library team – Arlene and Ted Miles, Shirley Hoye, Gibran Rath, Kristi Wessenberg, Phil Hoehn, and Nancy Cork as well as to additional volunteers, Ted Okazaki and Todd Armstrong, for disassembling, moving and assembling shelves and moving hundreds of unwieldy, heavy volumes two, and in some cases three, times.  

           Copyright © 2015 by California Genealogical Society and Library

13 May 2015

Mechanics Institute: Our Story

Diana Edwards with members of IOOF

CGS Board Members Todd Armstrong and Diana Edwards

Dr. Henry Snyder and Linda Harms Okazaki

           Copyright © 2015 by California Genealogical Society and Library

04 May 2015

Spring Specials

Interested in volunteering at CGS? Don’t miss our 2015 Spring Specials!

By Kathleen Beitiks, Volunteer Coordinator

Photo by CGS member Jan Brandt

Spring is here – our native poppies are blooming, birds are singing (sometimes too early in the morning for me!), and the sun is warm and mellow. It’s also a time of new beginnings, new plans, and new ideas. 

At the California Genealogical Society (CGS), it’s a time to welcome new volunteers who come with fresh ideas, lots of energy, and a contagious enthusiasm for the world of ancestral mysteries.

And…if you forgot to make a New Year’s resolution, this is your chance to redeem yourself!  Donate your time and talent to CGS — become a CGS volunteer.

On our website, we maintain an ongoing list of volunteer positions that need to be filled. For our purposes this month, however, we have three jobs that we would like to highlight as our 2015 Spring Specials! Please take a look:

Tech Guy/Gal – We have a crack team of tech-savvy members who are responsible for maintaining our computer system. Maintenance is scheduled 3-4 hours on Mondays. Commitment is once a month. Training is provided. If you’ve got the skills, we’ve got the keyboards!

Wordsmiths – You love to write. You can be cryptic. You are pretty sure someday scientists will discover a writing gene in your family (wouldn’t that be fun?). Meanwhile, CGS needs: a Blog Editor (preferably who knows about “Blogger”); proofreaders; and members who have worked with publications in general. Training? Of course!

Desk Duty – Basically, this is the receptionist position in the CGS Library. And you know that receptionists rule. They are the pulse of the organization. They are the go-to-guys-or-gals. And they only have to work once a month! (Library hours: Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) A great way to get to know the ins and outs of CGS and some ancestry gossip!

Interested? Contact Kathleen Beitiks for all the details.        

Copyright © 2015 by California Genealogical Society and Library

03 May 2015


May Is Asian Pacific Heritage Month
The following article celebrates the life of Japanese immigrant, Yae Takahashi

Written by guest blogger, Adelle Treakle

Yae (far left) and Takahashi Family
Picture Bride

Yae Kawakami was born in the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan, in 1889. She was my grandmother.

She was the oldest of nine, and she had a fierce, independent streak.  Yae was allowed more freedom than many girls at the time. She enjoyed riding the streetcars of Tokyo and fishing in the small streams near her home. 

As a young woman, Yae taught elementary school and was a talented artist. In her early twenties, she became a “picture bride.” Selected by her husband’s family, she was married by proxy to Yoshizumi Takahashi. As was the custom, she lived with her in-laws for a year in order to prove her worth before immigrating to the U.S. 

In 1914, she sailed alone to Seattle where she stepped off the ship, the SS Yokohama Maru, and married a man she had never met. 

Her life in America was not what she expected. Her husband was a foreman for Japanese farm workers in California’s San Joaquin Valley. She was put to work cooking for them, though she had no experience.

Yae raised seven children on a farm leased in the central California Valley. The entire family participated in the planting, harvesting, and selling of the crops, which included grapes, watermelon, and lettuce.

In 1941, her world changed forever. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she and her native-born children were looked at with suspicion and distrust. One of Yae’s sons joined the U.S. army within one month of the Japanese attack. The rest of the family was “evacuated” to the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona. [Editor’s note: the acceptable terminology today is incarcerated.]

They spent two years in Poston, trying to build a community out of the sand. After being released, Yae and her family farmed for a time in Utah. Eventually they resettled in California. Yae continued to paint and to watch over her growing family until her death at age 83.

Takahashi Family at Poston WRA Camp (Yae is 4th from right)
"Songbird" by Yae Kawakami Takahashi

The California Genealogical Society aims to connect people to their diverse family heritage. If you would like to contribute an article to the blog celebrating your own family history, please contact the editor

                 Copyright © 2015 by California Genealogical Society and Library