Recent Posts

30 January 2020

Update: USCIS comment period extended to February 10

You may have heard that U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) is proposing to exponentially increase fees for retrieval of their genealogy records. In some cases this would mean raising costs as much as 500 percent. We wrote about this previously in our blog. USCIS is the repository for most immigration and naturalization records from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. The proposal has drawn protests from historians and genealogists and even from some Congressional members, most notably Senator Mitt Romney

Alien Registration File for Raymond Hiroshi Hirai, Alien Registration #A1740872,
Records of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Photo courtesy of Rina Hirai.

The deadline to submit public comments on the issue was originally December 2019. Now USCIS has extended the deadline for public comments to February 10, 2020. The folks at Records, Not Revenue recently announced the extension of the deadline and offered the following advice:

"We have four steps for you to take right now to help us oppose the fee hike:
1) If you haven't yet submitted a comment, please do so. All the information you need to know is at Submit your comments at:

2) Once you have submitted a comment, or if you have already done so in the past, please make sure you write your Senators and Representative! We have received interest from several Congressional offices, and hope this two-week extension can gain us some further interest.

3) If you have submitted a comment AND written your Senators and Representative, you are welcome to submit supplementary comments! There is no need to submit repeat or duplicative comments. If your comment has not yet posted to the online portal, but you received email confirmation and/or a receipt number from your previous comment, there is no need to submit the same comment again. However, you are welcome to add additional thoughts to your previous comments; just be sure to include reference to your previous comment in your supplementary comment.

4) Share share share! Make sure your spouse and your siblings and your parents, cousins, neighbors all submit a comment, too. About 20% of the current posted comments are about the Genealogy Program - and that takes up just 2 pages of the 92-page proposed rule. Every single comment matters. Download the one-pager from our website for an easily shareable document.

As always, let us know if you have questions, if you hear anything from your elected officials, or if we can help in any way."

CGS has made a formal statement of opposition to the proposed fee increase. Board members Linda Okazaki and Grant Din are our representatives with the committee. If you haven't yet weighed in on the issue, this is your chance!

Copyright © 2019 by California Genealogical Society

27 January 2020

CGS Member Perks: A Visit to the Oakland Library History Room

Photos by Kathy Ikeda and Jennifer Dix

Librarian Dorothy Lazard in the Oakland History Room

One of the many perks that come with being a member of the California Genealogical Society is getting to go on special members-only outings every year. On January 23, a group of us got a close-up look at the Oakland Public Library’s historical and genealogical holdings. The delightful Dorothy Lazard, principal librarian at the Oakland History Room, gave us an introduction to the library’s rich trove of books and artifacts.

The History Room holds numerous documents that could prove invaluable for local genealogical research. These include bound volumes of Oakland birth and death certificates from 1870 to 1904, records of the West Oakland Home orphanage, Oakland Police arrest records from 1877 to 1912, indexes to vital records and cemeteries in several other counties, numerous old photos, and much more. For details, check out the old-fashioned card catalog, housed in good old wooden storage drawers (the library catalog is also online).

The library has some very detailed resources for property research in the Map Room. Dorothy passed around the oversized “Block Books,” tax assessment records showing owners’ names block by block. They also have a finely detailed Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, which showed the footprint of buildings and recorded physical details such as building material, number of floors, whether it has a basement, etc. Dorothy showed us that by backlighting pages, you may detect previous structures that were pasted over during later surveys.

Looking at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map in the Map Room
Dorothy demonstrates how backlighting may reveal
earlier elements of the map

Dorothy gave us a brief overview of Oakland’s history. West Oakland is the original core of the city that was incorporated as Oakland in 1854. It grew quickly over the next half century and by 1909 was the second largest city in California. We got a rundown on the origins of the annexed districts: for example, Brooklyn was originally settled by Mormons and named for the ship that brought the settlers from New York in 1854; the San Antonio neighborhood takes its name from the old Peralta family ranch. The glass display case in the History Room is used for rotating exhibits. Currently it showcases Oakland’s final annexation in 1909, when the city came to encompass Claremont, Fruitvale, Dimond, Fitchburg, Beulah, Melrose and Elmhurst districts.

While only a fraction of the library's historical collection is available online, there's still a lot to see. Go to the library's home page and click on "Oakland History Online" to start exploring. Our thanks to Dorothy Lazard for the wonderful tour and to Jane Lindsey for organizing the event. Our next two outings are coming up soon! Click on the names below for more information:

Feb. 25: Field Trip to the California Historical Society

All smiles after an informative and enjoyable visit!

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

25 January 2020

February Classes and Events

No Valentine-themed events this month, but we're still sure you'll LOVE our selection of lectures, classes, and other events. 

We start off with our FREE "Intro to Genealogy" class, Saturday, February 1. This month, Dick Rees gives tips on "Using the Census."

Then it's on to more adventures:

Pam Brett discusses how a well-planned on-site research trip will increase your chances of answering your most perplexing research questions and enhance understanding of the lives of your ancestors. 
Lisa Gorrell kicks off her popular five-week course for those ready to go beyond vital records and the census. This intermediate class will focus on court records, church records, emigration/immigration and naturalization, land and property records, and demonstrate how to find these records both on and off line.

Ron Madson leads a hands-on photo scanning class using a PC or MAC to assist you in scanning documents for use with genealogical projects. 
(CGS members only) CHS reference and outreach librarian Frances Kaplan will describe the Society's diverse holdings and share selected materials for our perusal. 

AND: Planning ahead? You can still register for our May trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City!

Don't forget our Special Interest Groups!
All our events can be found listed on our website
Or at the CGS Facebook page
Or at (search for "California Genealogical Society")

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

14 January 2020

Report from the Annual Membership Meeting: New Board Members and More

We held our Annual Membership Meeting last Saturday, January 11, and were happy to see a good turnout for the election of Board members and reports from our various committees. Among the items covered were the new website, soon to be launched; the Society's current financial health; and upcoming events and classes.

President Jim Sorenson made some short remarks and noted that while we here in Oakland often refer to the California Genealogical Society "and Library," our organization's legal name has been and remains simply the California Genealogical Society for business purposes.

We thanked Past President Vicky Kolakowski for her service, and gratitude was also extended to departing Board members Felicia Addison and Nancy Cork. Then membership voted in the new slate of nominees: Jim Sorenson, who has been serving as interim President since July, was confirmed as the new Board President, and Maureen Hanlon as Vice President. We also confirmed three new nominees to the Board. Meet Grant Din, Theresa Murphy, and Joanna Shear:

Grant Din
Grant Din has been interested in genealogy ever since a cousin told him forty years ago that he was in the 36th generation of Gongs! Since that time, he has researched his and many families' immigration histories, including when he was on the staff of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. He has worked in the Bay Area nonprofit sector his entire adult life. He completed Boston University's Certificate Program in Genealogical Research in 2015 and enjoyed being a part of the team that researched the six Chinese seamen who survived the Titanic for the film "The Six."

Theresa Murphy
 Theresa Murphy has been researching her ancestry since 2016 when she traveled to Ireland to visit her family's homelands and meet newly found cousins. She has been a member of CGS since 2018. Since joining CGS, she expanded her research to her New England ancestry with the help of one of our members. Theresa is a native of Oakland and spent her professional career as a CPA in auditing, consulting, and systems implementationsskills which have proven invaluable in genealogy research. She is currently serving on the Website Committee, assisting in the development of our new website, and is teaching a workshop on creating a family history book.

Joanna Shear
 Joanna Shear joins the Board Officers as Corresponding Secretary. She was born in Boston, grew up in Missouri, and landed in the Bay Area 21 years ago. A member of CGS since 2016, she has a BS in physics from Indiana University, an MSE in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech, and has completed Boston University's Certificate Program in Genealogical Research. She was first drawn to genealogy by an unknown name on a mysterious engraved silver chalice, which led to a reunion for family separated by the Holocaust. Eleven years down the road, she is deep into the history of her Jewish ancestors as they moved within Europe and emigrated to other continents. She now also uses DNA to go beyond the documentation and trace new family connections. As her research for family and others has grown into new areas, so has her dedication to making genealogy open and accessible to all.

We're very excited to have Grant, Theresa, and Joanna on the Board. We know they will bring new perspectives and skills to further advance the Society.

The meeting was followed by a delicious potluck and celebratory cake (thank you, Kathleen Beitiks!), and then several CGS members shared their family memory booksand in one case, a large full-color family tree poster. Chris Pattillo stood by with a watchful eye on her phone timer, making sure presentations were kept to three minutes, and a good time was had by all.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

12 January 2020

Our Library Collections: Maps

This Berkeley map can be viewed online
One in a series by CGS member Chris Pattillo, highlighting some of our holdings at the CGS Library in Oakland. For a fuller listing of books, journals, and more, consult the CGS Library catalog in WorldCat.

I began my research for this post by entering “maps” in the Library Catalog that is accessible from our website, which sure is convenient. If you have not tried it you might want to. Doing so could save you time while in the library and it may give you ideas of things to look for that you had not previously considered.

I learned that there are 710 entries for maps available at our library plus 728 articles that contain something about maps.  That’s not counting the many atlases in our collection. We have all sorts of maps including:

·       City, county, state and country maps
·       Traveler and tourist maps
·       Highway and street maps
·       Historical maps
·       Ethnology maps
·       Business and shopper maps
·       Bicentennial maps
·       Genealogical maps, and more

Each entry in the catalog includes a description that includes the name of the publication, a physical description, author, title, language, and something about the contents and subjects shown on the map. It also notes the staff view, OCLC number and identifies the genre of the item–in this case, maps. Scrolling down you find the cartographic mathematical data, i.e., the scale of the map and a few notes. The particular description I happened to open was for a map prepared for the Lowndes Bank, so in this case the notes tell us that the street names are indexed and there is an illustration of the bank.

Marin County, another map viewable online from our catalog
The first listing is Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. A description appears with the listing and explains that this map “shows U.S. county boundary maps for the census decades superimposed on modern county boundaries. Gives background information on each census, including census availability for each county…”

Some of the catalog listings include a button labeled "Access online." Selecting this will take you to an image of the map. As an example, the link to the City of Berkeley map takes you to an 1880 Sanborn map of Berkeley which is part of the David Ramsey Map Collection. You can enlarge the map to study the detail and see for example that the campus was labeled “College Homestead” in 1880. Cataloging of the Ramsey collection was done by our very own volunteer Phil Hoehn.

The entry for Metsker’s map of Alameda County, California explains that this map shows “land grant lines, judicial townships, mines, roads, railroads, trails, creeks, rivers, schools, camps, airports, parks, lookouts, and power lines.
Birds-eye view map of Reno, Nevada

The Official Map of Alameda County, California, 1900 links to the Earth Sciences & Map Library at UC Berkeley and divides the county into three sections. Each can be enlarged to study the detail.

I also found a Business Map of San Francisco, 1886 that covers the blocks between Dupont and East Street from Market to Jackson Street. It identifies the business that occupied each parcel of every block in 1886. My great grandfather owned a surgical supplies business that was located on Kearney Street in 1889 so I looked for his business but did not find it. Another time I will look for a later map.

Key system map for Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda and beyond
You will find our physical maps in the flat file cabinet that sits to the right of the door to the classroom. The top few drawers contain large-format family trees. The maps are in the drawers labeled with numbers preceded by “G.” As I looked through the layers of maps a few caught my eye, including a colorful state map of Kentucky and Tennessee where my Stover ancestors are from; another Tennessee map dated 1795 that shows rivers and mountain ranges; a map of Texas Missions and Presidios dated 1760; a birds-eye-view map of Reno, Nevada; a map of San Francisco and the peninsula dated 1869 that depicts shockingly little development; a street map of Oakland from 1930; and a really interesting Key System map of Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda, showing the network of train routes including connections to small grids of streets that represented San Leandro, San Lorenzo and Hayward in 1911. Each of these maps provide a wealth of historic information and many are graphically interesting to study. I’m a bit of a map “junkie,” but I suspect just about anyone could find something of interest in the CGS map case.

State map for Kentucky and Tennessee

Phil Hoehn organized and cataloged our map collection as a member of the Library Committee. We are very lucky to have Phil as one of our many stellar volunteers. Phil is the co-author of Dictionary of Abbreviations and Acronyms in Geographic Information Systems, Cartography, and Remote Sensing, published while Phil worked at the UC Santa Barbara Map and Imagery Laboratory. Phil was also a regular contributor to the Western Association of Map Libraries News and Notes publication. Next time you see Phil be sure to say thank you for his ongoing service to our society!

Genie awards recipients. Phil Hoehn is on far right.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

09 January 2020

New in the Library: The Bedecarré Family History

One of the newest additions to our library should be an inspiration to everyone. The Bedecarré Family History begins some 400 years ago in France, with a family named Bedecarrat (later changed to Bedecarré). The book is a hefty one, weighing in at six and a half pounds, and is divided into eight sections that include Ambrose, McKisson, Broomhall, Griffith, Sloyan and Reid relations, plus a section on the patents invented by a G. Griffith.

Bedecarrat family members sail for France, May 1923
The Bedecarré line begins circa 1600 with Bernard Bedecarrats-Buru in Esquiule, France, and includes ten generations ending with John Bedecarré, who was born in San Francisco in 1922. John and his wife, Cathy (Reid) Bedecarré worked with John Maestri from Bodega Bay to research and produce the book, published in 2016.

Photos of John and Cathy (Reid) Bedecarré from the book
Each section of the book provides background information about the places John's and Cathy’s ancestors lived, with lots of color photos. Biographical information and more photos of individuals from each generation follow. Original documents are included with relevant facts highlighted in red. Each document is clearly dated and labeled and personal signatures are emphasized. The book includes all kinds of documents and historic family photos–people, residences, businesses owned and more.

In reviewing the book, CGS Corresponding Secretary Nancy Cork called it “a uniquely beautiful and informative volume that will not only aid in research, but will also inspire other family historians trying to preserve their own stories. This is a truly lovely creation.”

Family photo from the book
Our library team is currently cataloging the new book and it will be on our shelves soon. The Bedecarré book will be available at the annual meeting on January 11. We invite members to bring a family book you’ve created and share a little about it in a three-minute presentation. It should be fun and informative. After the presentations authors will be available to answer questions.

One of many images from the section on G. Griffith's patents

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

07 January 2020

Annual Business Meeting & Potluck, Saturday, January 11

Some of the Board and other members at last year's Annual Meeting
The annual CGS business meeting for members will be held Saturday, January 11, CGS library classroom, 11 a.m. Our agenda includes voting on Board of Directors, approval of the 2020 budget and revisions to the bylaws. Members are invited to bring family history books, photos, family trees or other graphic family history exhibits/projects to show and share. Immediately following the meeting all are invited to join us for a potluck lunch (dessert will be provided) and socializing.

Questions? Contact Chris Pattillo.  

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

04 January 2020

January 2020 classes and events

Events and Classes words

Happy New Year! We kick off the new year and the new decade with some exciting classes and outings. Don't forget our Members' Business Meeting and potluck on January 11th! Details to follow in a separate post.

Here's what's coming up in January. Preregistration is required for all classes (click on the links to register or for more details).

January 8 - Introduction to DNA and Genetic Genealogy
Mark McLaren leads this six-week course on Wednesday mornings. It's an introduction to DNA as an exciting new tool for genealogists.

January 18 - Getting Started With DNA and Using it for Brick Walls
Sue Severson offers this two-hour seminar on basic DNA concepts, and using DNA data to break through those otherwise impenetrable "brick walls" in your research.

January 23 - Field Trip To Oakland Public Library & Oakland History Room
(CGS members only) Jane Lindsey and Dorothy Lazard lead this tour of the Oakland Main Library's impressive repository of historical and genealogical artifacts.

Stewart Blandón Traiman demonstrates how spreadsheets can help with your genealogical research and record-keeping.

Don't forget our FREE "Intro to Genealogy" classes and monthly meetings of Special Interest Groups! All our events can be found listed on our website
Or at the CGS Facebook page
Or at (search for "California Genealogical Society")

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society