Recent Posts

16 May 2017

Newtown Sawmill: An Unexpected Genealogy Discovery

by Jean Taeuffer

Why do we do genealogy research?  For me, it's about connecting with family, history and all that makes me who I am.  Sometimes genealogy discoveries come from the most unexpected places.  It is so important that people realize not everything can be found online and that there are friendly volunteers out there just waiting to help us in our quest.

What sparked the odyssey
Several years ago, during a visit to my hometown of Healdsburg, California in Sonoma County, a dear cousin of mine shared with me an old scrapbook she had come across while clearing out her recently departed Mother’s home. In it was a newspaper article, written in the 1930s, that relayed some stories about our shared ancestor, John E. Congleton, who had arrived in California during the Gold Rush. 

The article quoted his daughter, Amelia Jane (Jenny) Congleton Smith Cook, as having stated (among other things) that her father “was not so much interested in gold mining as he was in the lumber business, for he [had] established a sawmill at ‘Rough and Ready.’” 

I had never heard about the family owning a saw mill in my prior twenty years of researching this family. I vowed then that someday I would make an attempt to verify this for myself.

The research begins
In October 2016 I traveled back to Healdsburg to attend my High School reunion. I decided to extend the trip to include stops at several of the Northern California repositories I had wanted to visit since beginning my family research in 1994. My first stop was the California Genealogical Society and Library (CGS) in Oakland. 

There I found John Congleton’s name in a microfiche of “Kitt’s Index to Records in the Nevada County Recorder’s Office for July 21, 1856 to January 26, 1922.” It was not abundantly clear what the notations following his name indicated, but it sure looked like it was the location of a land record to me. A quick search of the Nevada County Recorder’s Office website confirmed that they no longer were in possession of records of this vintage. Too bad.

Kitts Index at CGS Library
Photo courtesy of Jean Taeuffer
If at first you don't succeed...try...try, again
Armed with the cryptic notation, I proceeded to the Doris Foley Library in Nevada City, California. I asked the helpful volunteer if he was familiar with Kitt’s Index, to which he responded, “Of course. And we have the original records on microfilm if you would like to see them.” 

After a short happy dance, I found myself looking at the records of my great great grandparents, John E. and Almira Congleton, selling their property, which including their residence and their one third interest in the “Newtown Sawmill,” to Porter Gilman in 1857 for $800. The description of the property indicated it was located at the bridge on Deer Creek on the East side of the Newtown Road Bridge.

Saw Mill Deed at Foley Library
Photo courtesy of Jean Taeuffer
My new best friend at the Foley Library encouraged me to head over to the Searls Historical Library, also in Nevada City, to look for additional details. Once there, the friendly volunteer informed me that, sadly, the assessor’s records went back only to 1862 because earlier ones had been destroyed in a series of courthouse fires. 

However, she did bring me the original book, “Kitt’s Index…” In it, I was able to find later transactions by the individuals named in my ancestor’s deed. Using this information I was able to locate the assessor’s record of the property in the 40-lb. Assessors Book of 1862 that the volunteer was barely able to wrangle off of the shelf. At that time the 160 acres of land improved with “house, barn, fencing, fixtures, five cows, two horses, and two mules” was valued at $450.

Ready to solve the puzzle
My next stop was on Google Maps to look for the intersection of Newtown Road and Deer Creek. Unfortunately, I learned that the current Newtown Road ends at Bitney Springs Road just a few yards before it would cross Deer Creek. Undeterred, I headed out in the pouring rain to see what I could find. 

The GPS on my phone guided me onto Newtown Road and I followed it as it wound around for several miles before it turned and began running parallel to Deer Creek. As I approached the end of the road, I pulled to the side and took off on foot with camera and umbrella. As I gazed across Bitney Spring Road I realized that I was looking at the abandoned continuation of Newtown Road and the decrepit old bridge across Deer Creek!

The decrepit old bridge across Deer CreekPhoto courtesy of Jean Taeuffer  
After another happy dance, I ambled over and found myself standing on the land that my ancestors had owned 160 years earlier. This is why we research genealogy...for these moments of connection with our family from the past. And it all started two weeks earlier with an obtuse microfiche at the CGS Library in Oakland.


Jean Taeuffer

Jean Taeuffer, a California native and amateur genealogist, has spent six years as a Volunteer Librarian for The Southern California Genealogical Society. She has also served as a Member of their Board of Directors, as Recording Secretary, and as 1st Vice President.  She is also a member of The California Genealogical Society, The Sonoma County Genealogical Society, and the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society.

Jean began researching her family history in 1994 after finding a handwritten note containing details about her great grandfather’s 1873 immigration from Alsace, France among her late Mother’s belongings. Following those clues lead to the discovery of some wonderful 3rd cousins still living in her ancestral village with whom she continues to enjoy visits.

Jean feels that “genealogy can provide us with insight into the challenges our ancestors faced, a perspective on our place in history, and an understanding of how much more there is that connects us than divides us. And besides, it’s fun!”

Copyright © 2017 by California Genealogical Society


Lisa S. Gorrell said...

Wonderful story of your adventure in the Gold Country! So glad you were successful and our library served a part of your success.