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26 February 2016

Meet a Genealogy Trip Leader & Volunteer: Jim Sorenson

by Jim Sorenson

Photo courtesy of Ron Madson

Recently Jim Sorenson, one of our trip leaders for the upcoming 16th Annual Salt Lake City research trip, answered questions for our blog.  Here are his thoughts on genealogy and the upcoming April 24th-May 1st trip.

Why did you start researching your genealogy
In high school, a history teacher asked us to talk to our oldest living ancestors and construct a family tree. I completed the assignment and the tree was tucked away.  A year later, I met my future wife and was impressed by the family tree her parents had hanging in the living room.

Fast forward to 1985, a cousin of my mother sent her a scrapbook that had been put together by their mutual grandmother and it rekindled my interest, but I didn’t make much progress.  Nine years later the last of my grandparents died, so I sat down with my parents to ask them all the things I should have asked her. With an upcoming move from Los Angeles to Maryland, I knew I was finally ready to find out about my family’s origins.

What did you need to learn?  Everything.  At this point, there was very little available on the Internet, so it was very old school.  Fortunately, living in Maryland gave me close proximity to Washington, DC and its unique research resources.  

Suddenly, all of our empty nester vacations had a family research objective for either my wife or myself.  We had a blast scouring New England, NY, PA, WV, KY, OH, MT, GA for genealogy!
We even made a few trips to Northern California.  I have roots in the area going back to 1868, plus it was where both of our sons were attending college.  Ok, so it’s also beautiful and there’s San Francisco...

What helped you master genealogy research?  
I attended several National Genealogical Society (NGS) conferences and learned a lot of the nuances of research.  I was still living in Maryland and didn’t know many people outside of work, so I threw myself into genealogy. 

Some of the more useful things I picked up along the way: How to use census index books, how many different ways there are to spell the same name, the value of researching siblings, how to research at a courthouse with their unusual indexing methods, how to read property records and old maps, and how to read a family journal written in Welsh.
What were some of your first experiences with the California Genealogical Society (CGS)? 
As I faced retirement, I knew we would be moving to the Bay Area to be near our son’s family in Alameda. I searched for a good genealogical library and found CGS. 

I became a member in 2007, two years before moving. Once settled into our new home, I volunteered to do look-ups for the research group. I loved doing research for others and began to get heavily involved with the society.  I’m also now a member of the board.  One thing I can definitely say, “I don’t feel retired!”

As one of the leaders of the upcoming research trip to The Family History Library in Salt Lake City (SLC), what can a researcher gain by attending? 
Although a lot of their microfilmed information (over 2 million rolls) is now available on, about half is not.

Although I’ve done research in over 25 courthouses and more than twice as many local libraries, in my opinion a trip to SLC is less expensive and more productive than traveling all over the country.

Their international records can’t be matched anywhere else in the world. Plus, traveling with like-minded researchers exposes you to new ideas and sources.  Fellow trip leader Lisa Gorrell and I are also available each day to help point you in the right direction.  Some of our attendees have been going every year for the past decade!

Have you had a personal "a-ha/brick wall break-through moment" while researching in Salt Lake City?  If so, would you describe? 
I’ve busted several brick walls and encountered some surprises, in addition to verifying many items found online.

Perhaps most notable was what my wife found in one day. We knew she had a great grandmother born in Sweden to English parents (Sprague) but didn’t know the story of why. I had found a tree online that mentioned that two of the Sprague children were born in Nova Scotia.

In SLC, she was then able to find images of their birth registers.  One register mentioned that the father was a mining agent in Nova Scotia who in 1869 had married in Sweden, while the other mentioned the name of the parish in Sweden.  We still didn’t have our answer.

However, at the international desk there was someone who spoke Swedish who found a Swedish book that covered the parish that had been gleaned from the Canadian records. The book mentioned that an English group had established the Swedish Copper Company Ltd, in 1863---and voila, we understood!  Because of all the incredible resources available, I was later able to unfold the whole story using the incredible Swedish church records for that parish. 

Do you have any last thoughts on genealogy?  
As a volunteer researcher for the California Genealogical Society, I find that most of our research clients have already gathered the low-hanging fruit of their family tree, either from family members or popular online sites.

Our researchers can lend value to a client primarily in four different ways:
  • Breaking down brick walls  
  • Verifying unsourced “facts” in online trees  
  • Broadening your family tree in a search for cousins   
  • Seeking the truth behind various family stories

Two things to consider before embarking on your family’s genealogy:  Your ancestors were human, subject to the same aspirations and temptations we all face.   And you will most likely find secrets that are unknown to the current generation, which to some people may be inconvenient truths.

Lastly, due to the recent advances in DNA genealogy research, it is more important than ever to identify the paper trail for each of our 32 great, great, great grandparents.  They each have a story to tell, but we must be vigilant to insure that the stories we discover are truly the stories of our ancestors.
That’s where genealogy research is invaluable!

Copyright © 2016 by California Genealogical Society

24 February 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Senior Tech Fair, San Francisco Public Library

Maureen Hanlon speaks to a participant
Maureen Hanlon, Lynne Skelton and Kathleen Beitiks pictured

All photos by Linda Harms Okazaki

Copyright © 2016 by California Genealogical Society

23 February 2016

A Remembrance: Dr. Eugene Peck

Dr. Eugene Peck
photo by Kathryn Doyle
Dr. Eugene Peck was a Life-Member of the California Genealogical Society, a beloved volunteer who donated time and resources with much generosity for more than thirty-five years.

“Gene” grew up near Springfield, Ohio. He attended medical school at Ohio State University and subsequently was a well-known pediatrician at Kaiser in Oakland. Gene retired from medicine in his sixties and enjoyed tending his roses; he had over 100 varieties in his garden and he even volunteered for a time at the Horticultural Center in Golden Gate Park. Gene also loved the arts.

Gene developed lifelong friendships in our library. He enjoyed the camaraderie of the Library and Manuscripts Committees. He came to the library every Thursday for many years and one of his great pleasures was enjoying a cup of hot chocolate with his friend, Anne Robinson.

Dr. Eugene Peck & Anne Robinson
photo by Kathryn Doyle 
Fellow long-serving volunteer, Dick Rees, tells us the following story about Gene and Gertrude Stein:

“During World War II, Gene was stationed in Europe; when the war ended, he decided to stay on for a while. He had sent a note to Gertrude Stein about something memorable she had written, and Miss Stein not only replied, but invited Gene to visit her “when you come to Paris.”

Gertrude Stein and Picasso's Portrait of her, 1922 | © Christine/Flickrcommons
So one day, not too long after receiving the invitation, Gene paid a call at the Stein/Toklas flat in Paris. The first thing he noticed was that the hallway and other rooms were lined with paintings, stacked along the baseboards, some facing out and some facing the wall. Gertrude didn’t care much for art, but she did care for artists and she bought their works in quantity!

Gene’s visit with Gertrude was quite pleasant, with the exception of Alice B. who was sitting in a dark corner of the salon. Every once in a while she would make some sarcastic or cutting remark, addressed to Gertrude, but clearly designed to intimidate Gene. He said, “She certainly didn’t want me there.”

As those of us who were privileged to know him can state, Gene was not one to be easily intimidated, and the visit passed without bodily harm to any one.”

Fellow genealogists will miss Dr. Eugene Peck.  Arlene Miles recalled that “his warm and compassionate understanding of people were traits I noticed from the very first time we met.” Under Gene’s guidance, Arlene took on the role of Periodicals Manager while he moved on to our extensive Manuscripts collection, where he “dug right in, reading, transcribing, and summarizing them so they could be made available to the public.”

Pat Bonderud, described Gene as “very gentlemanly, a kind man.” Gene was personable and progressive, as well as an intellectual who especially enjoyed researching the Tooker family of Ohio.

No service is planned. He will be buried alongside his grandmother, in South Charleston, Ohio, near Springfield.

Memorial gifts in his name may be sent to the California Genealogical Society, 2201 Broadway, LLS, Oakland CA, 94612-3031.

Copyright © 2016 by California Genealogical Society

18 February 2016

Back from the Dead: SF History Expo is now San Francisco History Days

San Francisco History Days, formerly SF History Expo, will be held March 4-6 at “The Old Mint” in San Francisco.  For more details and transportations options, check out:

What’s happening?  
A FREE Community Open House on Saturday and Sunday (Mar 5 & 6) at the historic “Old Mint” comprised of a series of pop-up, San Francisco history museums.   

They’re hosted by many local organizations that celebrate and tell the stories of the City's unique past and staffed by community historians, archivists, genealogists, archaeologists, researchers, educators, historical re-enactors and other history enthusiasts.  Past history weekends at the Old Mint have brought together dozens of organizations to celebrate and tell the City’s unique history, and have attracted several thousand participants. 

Note:  Friday, March 4, 2016 is set aside exclusively for students.  We are not participating in the Friday events.  

Schedule of Events 

11:00 AM to 5:00 PM for Saturday, March 5 

Theater One
12:00 PM: San Francisco History Association – Magic Lantern Slides
Speaker: Ron Ross

1:00 PM: Freedom Archives and the GLBT Historical Society Archives – Re-framing the Archive: From Preservation to Community Engagement
Speakers: Claude Marks and Nathaniel Moore of the Freedom Archives with Joanna Black and Jeremy Prince of the GLBT Historical Society

2:00 PM: AfroSolo Theatre Company – Dr. Carleton B. Goodlett: The Man, His Life, and the Street Named After Him (1914–1997)
Speaker: Thomas Simpson

3:00 PM: The Private Collector, Western Neighborhoods Project, and Open SF History – 100,000 Pictures
Speakers: Woody LaBounty, Nicole Meldahl, and David Gallagher

Theater Two
1:00 PM: Cable Car Museum – Cable Car Powerhouses and Car Barns, Their Design and Construction
Speakers: Don Holmgren and Mike Phipps

2:00 PM: Bernal History Project – How to Research your SF House—For Free!
Speakers: Vicky Walker and John Blackburn

3:00 PM: National Japanese American Historical Society – World War II Internment
Speaker: TBD

11:00 AM to 4:00 PM for Sunday, March 6

Theater One
12:00 PM: San Francisco History Association – Magic Lantern Slides 
Speaker: Ron Ross

1:00 PM: San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History Center – Digital Preservation: Identify What You Have
Speaker: Christina Moretta

2:00 PM: Historypin – Mapping the Visual Histories of SF Neighborhoods
Speaker: Kerri Young, Historypin Community Officer

3:00 PM: Victorian Alliance – Northern California 19th Century Architecture 101 
Speakers: Professor Hank Dunlop and Author Paul Duchscherer

Theater Two
1:00 PM: Maritime Museum – The Ocean: A Highway or a Barrier?  An exploration of the historic ship collection at Hyde St. Pier
Speaker: Ranger Chris Edwards

2:00 PM: Living New Deal – San Francisco Transformed: The Coit Tower and Rincon Annex Murals, and What the New Deal Did for The City In Between
Speakers: Gray Brechin and Harvey Smith

3:00 PM: Treasure Island Museum – Pacific Pageant: Treasure Island and the Golden Gate International Exposition
Speaker: Anne Schnoebelen
How is The California Genealogical Society involved?  
Our exhibit theme is the California Gold Rush, featuring our genealogical publication, The California Nugget.  We'll have enthusiastic volunteers available to help provide San Francisco family history search information. 

Volunteers Needed!  Would you like to help?  
We need you to help with the following:  welcome visitors at our table exhibit, discussing the benefits of a society membership and genealogy library, describing our sponsored educational activities (classes, events) and the SF-SIG (Special Interest Group) research monthly group meeting.  A basic training session, given by Sandra Huber, will take place 30 minutes before your volunteer shift begins to make sure everyone is ready.

For more information, please contact Coordinator, Sandra Britt-Huber.  She’ll be there helping on both days and is currently looking for volunteers to fill our 2-hour shifts.  Sandra can be reached at

What times are volunteers needed for each day (Sat & Sun)?
  • 10:00 AM - NOON
  • NOON - 2PM
  • 2PM - 4PM
  • 4PM - 5PM (Saturday only)
*Closing times:  Saturday the event closes at 5PM.  Sunday the event closes at 4PM.

Why is the event important?
It brings San Francisco's rich history to life and helps us understand what makes the city unique.   When it was known as the SF History Expo, it was well attended by those who have a love for all things San Francisco.  

It's important to us because it draws large and diverse crowds from around the Bay area that get introduced to us.  They learn about our society and our library's vast collection of genealogical research materials.  

In addition, past visitors to our table have expressed an interest in our SF-SIG, so they can learn more about their SF family connections.  

Ready to come and see what this event is all about?  Great, we hope to see you there!

Copyright © 2016 by California Genealogical Society