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31 March 2020

The Census: It Ain't What it Used to Be

image: United States Census Bureau

Wednesday, April 1, is the deadline for all U.S. households to respond to the 2020 census.  If you somehow haven't gotten around to it, Uncle Sam will soon be in contact (though the current pandemic situation will have an impact on operations). Of course, you really want to respond to this once-in-a-decade survey, because it's essential to get an accurate count of residents in each of the 50 United States and its five territories: population determines how much funding local communities receive and how many seats each state gets in Congress.

It's super easy to fill out your census questionnaire this year: you can do it either online, by mail, or by phone. If you've already filled out your form, you probably noticed how short it is. The 2020 census consists of just 9 questions. It asks the name, sex, and birth date of every person in the household, whether the home is owned or rented, and the relationship of household members to one another. There are two questions about race and ethnicity: one for those of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin, and another for all other races, with a subcategory for the respondent's self-identified ethnic origin(s). This is likely to produce a huge variety of responses. For a fascinating look at the country's history of recording race, see this article from the Pew Research Center: "The changing categories the U.S. census has used to measure race."

Genealogists who've scoured earlier censuses for clues to an ancestor's place of birth, education, occupation, or date of immigration may find the current census sadly lacking in detail. Genealogist Judy Russell recently mused about this in a post at her Legal Genealogist blog. In fact, this is nothing new: the 2010 census was similarly brief. The government ditched the long-form questionnaire after 2000, opting instead for the American Community Survey, which is sent out every year to a small percentage of the population. It's a safe bet that most of us who are counted in this year's census won't be around when those records are unsealed in 2092. By then, genealogists will surely rely on different sources and records for their research.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

25 March 2020

An Update from the CGS President

As most of you know, the CGS library has been closed since March 12 and we have canceled all public CGS activities through the end of April. Fortunately, many of our volunteers are able to work from home. The library closure and cancellation of classes may continue into May. Please check our website: for the current status. These are extraordinary times for CGS and this closure is unprecedented in the memory of any of us–but I’m sure you’re aware of why we have taken these steps. Due to the age demographic in the genealogy community, CGS will remain on the cautious side of any government mandates. Although I am not aware of any library or class attendees having tested positive for the coronavirus aka COVID-19, the threat is real and we are concerned for the health and safety of our patrons, friends and volunteers.

Individually, we will come through this and CGS will come through this. We are already planning the transition back to normal CGS operations on the other side although when that transition will start is unknown at this point. Rescheduling of canceled classes or events will have to be coordinated with the instructors and the calendar of events at each venue. We appreciate your support and understanding as we go down this road. The library closure will cause some disruption in our processing of membership dues renewals but we will not drop any members for non-payment of dues until the end of June. Rather than having individuals cancel their class registration, rest assured that all fees paid will be refunded for classes or events if they have been canceled.

I think most genealogists have tasks that have been put aside until someday when they have more time. Well, that time has come for many of us. It’s a good time to organize your family history files. I’ve started writing a narrative history for each of my grandparents based on years of accumulated information. And after that, I have to complete work on eight great-grandparents. Those narratives can be revised if new information is discovered but this is a great time to get started.

Jim Sorenson, President

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

23 March 2020

Genealogy learning in the time of coronavirus


While genealogy is often seen as a solitary pursuit, the abundance of conferences, classes, and other gatherings is evidence that we also work and learn together as a community. Although the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many planned events this year, the virtual learning goes on. This is a great time to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with the multitude of high-quality free webinars available to anyone with an Internet connection. While we can't list every single webinar, here are some good places to start:

Conference Keeper boasts "the most complete collection of genealogy events online!" This huge calendar advertises events from throughout the U.S., Canada, and sometimes other countries. New events are added often, so check the calendar frequently.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society hosts a multitude of webinars in March and April 2020. CGS past president Linda Harms Okazaki is speaking this Friday, March 27 on "A Japanese American Family from 1902-1992: Finding Records to Recreate the Hirai Family Story."

Ancestry Academy is a huge repository of free lectures and presentations on everything from beginning genealogy to understanding vital records to specialized courses on Mexican Civil Registrations, Quaker Research, common genealogy myths and so much more. The web videos range in length from a few minutes to an hour or more. Browse the collection here:

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City usually hosts weekly or monthly classes and webinars year-round. As with Ancestry, its collection is huge and topics are varied. While the library is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, live webinars continue through March; this week they include presentations on Germans from Russia, Irish ancestry, and descendancy research. All web classes are archived and accessible at FamilySearch.

The BYU Family History Library at Brigham Young University also hosts regular free webinars on various genealogical topics, and keeps them archived on their website so they can be watched any time.

RootsTech, possibly the largest annual genealogy conference in the world, makes its sessions available online during the event and keeps them viewable for free on its website afterwards. You can watch RootsTech sessions from 2015 through 2020 at their Video Archive.

Legacy Family Tree, partnering with MyHeritage, the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and other organizations, hosts free live webinars throughout the year, many led by some of the biggest names in genealogy. In the next few weeks, for example, Craig R. Scott speaks on "Using Fold3 to Your Advantage," Rick Sayre talks about "The General Land Office Website: A Genealogical Gem," and Rebecca Whitman Koford discusses the Maryland State Archives. Anyone may register and watch the live seminars for free, but you must pay an annual membership fee ($49.95) if you want to access instructors' notes or view the recorded sessions afterward. The Webinar Library does contain many archived recordings that are free to the public.

The Southern California Genealogical Society offers webcasts once or twice monthly, on a model similar to that of Legacy Family Tree, where anyone may register to watch the initial broadcast for free. You must be a member of SCGS to view the archived broadcasts. Next up: Julie Goucher talks about "Foundations to Researching in Europe" on April 4.

American Ancestors offers webinars (free) and many online classes (for a fee) throughout the year. The next free webinar is scheduled for April 30, when Curt DiCamillo presents "Treasures of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society." Learn more at

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

18 March 2020

Update on CGS Library closure

Due to concerns about COVID 19, the CGS library will now be closed through at least April 15. All CGS classes and events have been canceled through the end of April (except for those held with remote conferencing). This closure and cancellation may be extended, so please check our website before visiting. Note that this also applies to classes scheduled at the Oakland Family Search Library: OFSL, as well as the Family Search Library in Salt Lake City, announced their closure on March 13 until further notice.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

16 March 2020

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Here's a recipe for Irish Soda Bread

Theresa Murphy shares this family tradition:

Irish soda bread and Mayo flag
Part of the fun in telling our family stories is sharing the recipes we cherish that bring us comfort and fond memories of our homes. My family and my husband’s both came from Ireland and at this time of year, I like to bake Irish soda bread as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Especially now, as many of us are staying in to stay healthy, I thought it would be fun to share this recipe–a way to connect and something to try now that we have more time on our hands.

Now, having traveled in Ireland, I can tell you that there are as many soda bread recipes as there are townlands. This recipe has its roots in County Cork. My mother-in-law was the family historian and genealogist, and she both visited Ireland and stayed in touch with friends and relatives in Inchigeelagh, her father’s home, and Coolclogher, her grandmother’s birthplace.

Here’s the recipe for Mary Kearney Murphy’s Irish Soda BreadSlainté (to your health)!

4 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking soda
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 ½ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. shortening
½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 ½ c. buttermilk
1 ½ cup raisins
2 Tbsp. caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine dry ingredients, except raisins and caraway seeds. Cut in shortening. Add buttermilk, raisins, and caraway seeds. Mix well and knead on a floured board until smooth. Shape dough into a ball. Place on a buttered cookie sheet and flatten into a 7-inch circle. Cut a cross in the top with a floured knife. Bake 30-40 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.

Optional: Melt 1 Tbsp. butter and brush on top of loaf as soon as you take it from the oven. (I do not do this.)

If you have a favorite family recipe and a memory to go with it, why not share it? Email blog editor Jennifer Dix:

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

13 March 2020

Now's Your Chance

CGS member Chris Pattillo writes:

For all our CGS members now is your chance to focus on that brick wall or organizing project that you’ve been putting off. What else are you going to do now that all the fun things you’ve planned are being canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus?

No more excuses that you don’t have time. Suddenly, time has been freed up. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As you cross out plans on your calendar because they’ve been canceled replace those notes with "Work on My Family History," or "Tackle That Brick Wall," or "Start Writing Now!"

Maybe you’ve been putting off a big organization project or avoiding facing a massive pile of filing. What about scanning all those photos? Well, now you have chucks of free time–the perfect time to tackle one of those boulders.

Above is a photo of my paternal grandmother Anna from the time when she lived with her older sister Kate in Rhyolite, Nevada. This is one of three photos that I described in detail on my family history blog for her biography.

Do you really want to start writing your family’s story but just don’t know how to start? Well, here is an idea–one that I’d planned to introduce during my blogging class that was scheduled for March 28 at the CGS Library but has now been postponed indefinitely. If you don’t think you can write, try this and see what happens: Find or buy some kind of audio recorder–I use an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder but a smart phone that takes voice messages will work. Even an old-fashioned reel-to-reel or a cassette recorder will work. Next find some old photos that show the person, family or event that you want to write about. Then pretend you are talking to someone from a future generation who will be thrilled to find what you wrote when they find it fifty years in the future. Turn on the recording device and simply describe what is in the photo. Tell a story about that person and some of the little things that you remember about them, or your parents or grandparents told you about them.

Here is another photo from the same time period. I used these to write about the individuals, and the setting-what the landscape looked like. I described the house in detail and even estimated its dimensions to explain how small the house was. I also pointed out the pet dog that appears in both photos.
Lots of people say they can’t write but I’ve never met anyone who said they can’t talk. So just talk normally and describe the person or event. Then play the recording back and type it up. That’s it, you’ve started writing your family history. Keep going–why not, what else have you got to do with all your free time? Oh, and forget about cleaning the garage.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

07 March 2020

COVID-19 announcement: CGS Library closed through March 28

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the spread of the novel coronavirus, we have decided to close the CGS Library until March 28. We prefer to exercise an abundance of caution rather than to potentially expose our volunteers and patrons to infection. At this time, classes held at the Oakland Family Search Library are not affected. We will refund all fees paid for canceled classes.

Given that this is a rapidly evolving situation, we will re-evaluate the state of affairs in two weeks.

For up-to-date information on COVID-19, it is recommended you consult one of the following websites:

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

06 March 2020

Mountain View Cemetery Events - A Tour for Every Season

CGS members can join our "Naughty and Notorious Tour" of Mountain View Cemetery on March 21. You may not know, however, that this famed, park-like cemetery of 226 acres in North Oakland also offers free tours every second and fourth Saturday.

We just missed a Black History Tour that happened on February 22 but it is an annual event, so mark your calendar for next year.
One of the spectacular floral displays from a previous Tulip Festival

The weekend of March 27-29 is the 14th Annual Tulip Exhibit, which features spectacular floral arrangements created by Bay Area florists, garden clubs, and local college floral design classes. On March 28, Jane Leroe and Michael Colbruno will lead a tour for Women’s History Month, highlighting the lives of influential women such as Julia Morgan, Ina Coolbrith, and Anna Head.

April is when the cemetery hosts the Ching Ming Festival (remembrance of ancestors). This year, it is held April 4-5. On April 25, docent Chris Pattillo, a CGS board member, will lead a tour exploring the Trees of Mountain View Cemetery. 
Deodar Cedar at the Miller pyramid tomb on Millionaire's Row
at Mountain View
Local historian Dennis Evanosky gives a great tour following the Memorial Day Commemoration at the Civil War Plot on May 25. Jack London’s father is buried in the plot, as is Obediah Summers – an African American who served during the war. This tour starts after the commemoration event, at about 11 a.m.
Obediah Summers is buried in the Civil War Plot
Dennis also leads a June 27 tour about the California Gold Rush and Railroad.

This is just a smattering of the Mountain View offerings in 2020; other events include concerts, seasonal festivals, and more. Tours usually start at 10 a.m. and run about two hours. Plan to meet at the office just inside the cemetery gate. For complete details, visit their website:

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

05 March 2020

"Paper Sons and Picture Brides" in NGS Magazine

Exciting news! The cover of the newly published January-March issue of NGS Magazine features an article by CGS members Grant Din and Linda Okazaki. "Paper Sons and Picture Brides" is an in-depth look at Record Group 85 found at the National Archives in San Francisco. This group of records, titled "Immigration Arrival Investigation Case Files, 1884-1944," contains information about immigrants to California during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a particularly rich source for those researching their Chinese and Japanese ancestors, who often had to employ strategy to enter the U.S. at a time of heightened anti-Asian sentiment. Many prominent Asian Americans, from architect I. M. Pei to Congressman Norman Mineta, trace their ancestry to these early immigrants.

Beautifully illustrated with photographs and documents, Din's and Okazaki's article offers a broad historical overview that gives context to these documents. It also has a sidebar explaining how the activism of a group of genealogists and historians saved these files from destruction. The article includes anecdotes that show the sometimes grueling experience of Asian immigrants: an eight-year-old Chinese boy was grilled with more than 100 questions, including details of his village, house, school and neighbors, before he was allowed to join his father; a teenaged American citizen was detained for ten days upon returning to the U.S. from Japan. Din and Okazaki offer detailed information on how to access and interpret the files.

National Genealogical Society members can view the magazine online at the NGS website:

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

01 March 2020

March 2020 Events and Classes

Happy March! It's the month when we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, Women's History Month, and spring officially arrives on March 19 (a tad early this year). We have a lot of fun and educational events and classes coming up. If you see something that interests you and you haven't yet registered, please sign up!

Here's what's on tap this month:

March 18-April 8: Building Skills for Successful Family History Research, a four-week series taught by Pamela Brett, kicks off March 18 at the Oakland Family History Center. She shares "skills acquired from many years of beginner's mistakes." This is a great opportunity to tune up and sharpen your research skills with an experienced guide and fellow classmates.

Other happenings:

March 15: The Fifth Annual Irish Ancestry Network Meetup is a fun opportunity to network with others researching their Irish ancestors. Includes socializing, potluck lunch, and speakers TBA.

March 21: "The Naughty and Notorious Tour" of Mountain View Cemetery, led by docent Michael Colbruno. A special treat for CGS members.

Also March 21: West Coast Immigration in the 20th Century, a talk by Linda Okazaki, examines the ports of entry and the experiences of immigrants to the West Coast, many of them Asians, in the last century.

March 28: "Blogging to Share Your Family History" Chris Pattillo offers tips "for writers and non-writers" about starting your own genealogy blog.

Don't forget our monthly First Saturday "Intro to Genealogy" class, and our various 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