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29 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: A Genealogist's Fairytale Come True

Chris Pattillo is collecting "Quarantine Quests," stories of genealogical projects and discoveries made by our members while sheltering at home due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This story is from CGS Member Ron Madson.

Ron Madson’s Quarantine Quests story began in the Summer of 2019 when he traveled to France and Switzerland to attend the Women’s Soccer World Cup. While there he visited a cousin, Claire Daams, who is an attorney in Bern and happens to be conversant in seven languages, including Old German. Recognizing an opportunity, Ron asked Claire if she might help him with his second-great-grandfather Niklaus GlaĆ¼s. Ron had attempted to read the records that are available online at the Bern StateArchives but with little success.

Claire agreed and within minutes had identified Ron’s second- and third-great-grandparents. Even better, she gave Ron a personalized lesson in how to read Old German. Ron refers to the script as nothing more than "squiggles" but with Claire’s help, he quickly began to be able to decode the information contained in the documents. These records typically include the basics – birth, death, and marriage. Marriage records sometimes include the bride and groom's places of origin, the names of their parents, and sometimes the dates that the parents were married. Some death records include the date and place of birth. Some do not include date of birth, but include exact age at death: years, months, and days. But many of the older death records do not contain this vital information, although they may have "extras" added by the priest or officiant. "I try very hard to read this 'extra stuff,'" Ron says. "And it kills me that ninety percent of the time I can’t, while knowing that beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is 'good stuff' there."

After his lesson, Claire asked if Ron would like to visit the village where his ancestors were from – “a genealogist’s fairy tale come true,” he says. Ron’s ancestors lived in a small village in the foothills of the Alps in the Interlaken District of Bern. While there is no way to know the exact home or farm where his ancestors lived, Ron did recount the pleasure of eating lunch in a local restaurant right on the lake. He ordered fish that had been caught in the lake and knew that his ancestors had fished in that same lake generations before.

Fast-forward nearly a year and now while Ron is quarantined at home he is working feverishly to find, decipher, and document new ancestors and more records. Ron reports that he has added hundreds of new ancestors since he learned to decode the Old German text. Each time he thinks he has found a new ancestor he says “I look for other records to shed light on the found record, to prove or disprove that this is the correct record. Depending on the circumstances, the names, area, year(s), record information, what, and where I look varies.”

For each new person he tries to find birth, marriage and death records. He then enters the data into his Family Tree Maker genealogy program. Like most of us, he makes copies of every document he finds. He then imports the digital file into Adobe Photoshop and extends the page at the bottom and top to add research notes. At the top he includes the name of the document and a summary of what it says. At the bottom, he adds his source information.

Ron has identified the two oldest living people on this line: Florine (Lee) Glaus, now 93 and living in South Dakota, and Clare Leone Glaus, who is 102 years old and lives in Seattle. He was able to interview both of them and has fifteen hours of recorded interviews plus stories, documents and photographs.

When I asked, “Have you established a particular routine for doing this work during the shutdown?” Ron explained, “my wife and I have dinner, then we watch a movie, after which I spend several hours each day – sometimes into the wee hours – working on my genealogy.” Ron is also planning to listen to a podcast to learn more about how to read Old German so he can continue his research on a different family line.

Have you made any big discoveries while you have been staying at home? Let us know and we will share your story. You can reach me at

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

27 April 2020

Message from the President

CGS President James Sorenson

I hope you are all weathering the COVID-19 storm. These continue to be extraordinary and unprecedented times for all of us. I know most of us want to return to “normal." For CGS, normal would be resuming our classes at the library. Although we closed our library and canceled classes before it was required, our continued closure is a function of county health mandates. We will not be able to open our library or resume classes at the library until some time after there is some relaxing of general restrictions. Phase One of relaxed restrictions will still prohibit gatherings of people greater than some number (say 10) people. I have not heard anyone say when Phase One will start in Alameda County, and certainly no one can say when the later phases will occur. 

We have decided to cancel classes which were scheduled as part of a series, if the front end of that series has already been canceled. That doesn’t mean those classes will not take place this year but they will not take place as currently scheduled.

CGS has been working with remote-access technology and we had our first remote-access class on April 9. We are working on having other remote-access classes and they will be posted on our website and in our blog as they are developed and scheduled. This is new territory for CGS and we are working diligently to bring these classes to our CGS membership and other members of the genealogy community who look to CGS for guidance and instruction. 

James Sorenson, President

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

26 April 2020

Online Genealogy: Week of April 27-May 3

Each week we will share news of upcoming online genealogy events. Most of them are free. Check our previous post, “Genealogy Learning in theTime of Coronavirus,” for a list of archived classes at Ancestry, FamilySearch, RootsTech, and more.

Heads up: The National Genealogical Society will hold a Virtual Family History Conference this year, beginning May 20. Visit their website for details.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society continues its series of webinars. Next up is a presentation by CGS member Grant Din!

April 28: "The Joys and Challenges of Chinese American Research" by Grant Din
April 29: "German Records Online" by James M. Beidlar
May 4: "Using Third-Party Tools to Analyze Your Autosomal DNA" by Blaine Bettinger

Legacy Family Tree and MyHeritage continue their ongoing series. This week:
April 28: "Working with DNA segments on MyHeritage" by Ran Snir
May 1: "The Future is Still in the Past: An Introduction to Online Parish Clerks in the United Kingdom" by Wayne Shepheard

Conference Keeper lists most of the above, as well as these webinars:

April 27: "Jersey Roots Genealogy" presented by Michelle Tucker Chubenko
April 29: "Break Down Brick Walls" a Zoom chat with Illinois librarians
May 1:Getting Done Your Family History Projects” a four-part class by Heirloom Films
May 2:  "First World War Internment Camps" with Hannah Bell via the BYU Family History Library (link takes you to the list of classes; you can click to enter the class at time specified)

Stay safe, and happy learning!

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

24 April 2020

DNA Day test kit sales!

the famous double helix

Saturday, April 25, is National DNA Day, commemorating the day in 1953 when molecular biologists James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and chemist Rosalind Franklin and colleagues published papers describing the double-helix structure of DNA. Many DNA testing companies lower their prices for "DNA Day" sales every year. Ancestry DNA, the most popular test with the largest database, does not appear to be participating at this time (watch them for discounts around the holidays), but many other leading companies are offering deep discounts on their test kits this weekend; some are extending their sales into next week. Here's a partial listing:

Living DNA is selling its ancestry and health kits at a discount of up to 30 percent.

23 and Me offers discounts of 20 to 25 percent off their ancestral DNA and genetic health test kits through April 26.

Family Tree DNA has discounts up to 30 percent on their Y-DNA, autosomal, and mtDNA tests through April 26.

MyHeritage's ethnic DNA and health test kits are half off through April 29.

Confused about which test is right for you? You may want to check the DNA Testing Guide website, which offers detailed information about and comparisons of the best DNA tests on the market today. The site's blog is full of information about the basics of DNA and covers topics including Asian ancestry, African American ancestry, Native American ancestry and much more.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

22 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: A Lifetime of Postcards

Chris Pattillo is collecting "Quarantine Quests," stories of genealogical projects and discoveries made by our members while sheltering at home due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This story was shared by CGS Board Member Arlene Miles.
Jamaica is one of the places in Long Island, New York that
Arlene Miles lived
I telephoned Arlene Miles, chair of the CGS Library Committee, a few days ago with a question about the library. While chatting I learned about Arlene’s Quarantine Quest project. After thinking about it for three or four years Arlene has now begun to scan her collection of postcards, partly because she now has extra time to do so.

The collection was started by her husband Ted – a regular visitor to the CGS Library. In his youth Ted had a vision problem that made it difficult for him to take photographs so his mother agreed to let Ted buy postcards of the places he visited and things he saw. Before he and Arlene married in 1984 Ted had already compiled a sizeable collection of postcards that reflect his life and his personal interests in trains, historic homes, streetcars, sailing ships, lighthouses and more.
Ted Miles's collection includes many historic buildings such as
the Wading River Congregational Church on Long Island, New York,
where he and Arlene were married
After Arlene and Ted were married the two of them continued the tradition and the collection has continued to grow. Now their two collections tell the story of their lives in postcards. Arlene has postcards from the schools she attended, from St. Francis de Sales Church where she was confirmed, and from St. John’s Church in Riverhead, New York, where she and Ted were married. They have post cards from their vacations and cards from every place they have ever lived. Arlene is considering starting a blog where she could use her postcards to illustrate her family history – “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Arlene considered several scanner models before deciding on the Brother DS-720D, a small, compact unit that sells for $129 (she found one on sale for $109 at Office Max). “It is easy to use, will scan one or both sides, does full-color scanning and is self-feeding,” she says. She estimates that she can scan about 400 postcards in two hours. Images can be saved as either a PDF or JPG file.

The scanner comes with software that helps you organize, label and add information for each card. Arlene and Ted are maintaining the same organizational system that they created for the original cards – so they are grouped by subject matter. After the cards have been scanned Arlene uses Picasa software to crop, straighten, adjust the brightness, and make whatever adjustments are needed.

St John's Church in Riverhead, Long Island, New York
I asked Arlene, “How many have you finished scanning?” and was impressed when she said she had scanned about 1,600 postcards. But then I asked “How many cards do you have in your collection?” and I was truly speechless when I heard her answer. Arlene estimates they have 60,000 to 80,000 postcards in their combined collection! Hopefully the quarantine will not last long enough for the project to be finished. It seems Arlene is making good use of her at-home time while staying healthy.

The Miles collection includes postcards from 42 towns in
Long Island, New York
Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

19 April 2020

Online Genealogy: Week of April 19-26

Each week we will share news of upcoming online genealogy events. Most of them are free. Check our previous post “Genealogy Learning in theTime of Coronavirus” for a list of and links to free archived classes you can find online at Ancestry, FamilySearch, RootsTech, and more. 

Legacy Family Tree continues unlocking new webinars every day this month. This week:
The New York Genealogical & Biographical Society hosts 3 webinars this week:
FamilySearch hosts a daylong "English Research Seminar" in commemoration of St. George's Day, Thursday, April 23! Topics include:
  • A Researcher's View of Old English Life
  • England Non-Conformist Church Records
  • I Give and Bequeath: English Probate Records
  • Introduction to English Heraldry 
Your DNA Guide offers the free webinar "Understanding MyHeritage DNA" twice this week, on April 21 and April 23.

Conference Keeper keeps an up-to-date calendar of genealogy events from all over. Check their site for a list that includes many of the events mentioned above, plus some other gems that might be overlooked.

Don't forget to check the websites of your local genealogy and historical societies!

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

17 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: Writing Leads To New Discoveries

Possibly the footstone at Hiram Gaines's grave
One of the inadvertent benefits of writing one’s family history is that sometimes the process leads to new discoveries. My current genealogical focus, during the CV-19 shutdown, is Hiram W. Gaines, a third-great-grandfather on my paternal line. I previously shared my story of how I was able to confirm the name of his father – that was the inspiration for this Quarantine Quests series.

I had been waiting to write Hiram’s biography for my family history blog until I could include the names of his parents. Since I now feel confident that I have that figured out, thanks to Ancestry’s ThruLines, I decided to write Hiram’s bio. That is what I’ve been working on for the last few days.

My process for writing an individual biography, once I have substantially completed researching that person, has two parts. I use the list of facts and the timeline features in my RootsMagic genealogy database to compose the narrative. Once that is complete I look through my source documents and select material to illustrate the post. Sometimes, particularly for more distant ancestors, I turn to Google to help embellish the story. After all, I want my siblings and cousins to read what I write so I try to make it as appealing as possible. For example, the list of possessions that were recorded in Hiram’s probate packet included a gig wheel, an inkstand and whip, and a flaxwheel and reel. I entered each of these in the Google search box and easily found images of all three to augment my story.
This image came up in Google when I entered Gig Wheel
I finished the text for Hiram’s bio yesterday afternoon. After dinner I was looking through the documentation I have for Hiram which includes a series of photos I took in 2017 of his original probate papers. Yes, the archive I visited in Abbeville, South Carolina allowed me to look for, handle, and make copies of Hiram’s material as well as the probate packets of several other Gaines relations.

While trying to decide which page of the probate packet to use as an illustration, a line item popped out at me and momentarily took my breath away. It simply read, “Monticello - .50”. Yes, this was a reference to the Monticello – the home of President Thomas Jefferson. Three years ago, I reviewed each item in his probate packet including this list of expenses and gave no thought to that specific entry; but recently I have done a lot more research on my Gaines line, and in doing so I learned that Humphrey Gaines was a carpenter at Monticello. Humphrey was Hiram’s uncle. Using good ol’ Google I found this website that lists Humphrey and two of his brothers as workmen who were employed at Monticello.
This is a page from Hiram's probate packet
showing the reference to Monticello

I doubt that there is any way of ever learning exactly what services or materials my third great grandfather sold to  Monticello but I believe this original record shows that there was a connection and that pleases me. Had I not endeavored to write a biography of this ancestor I would never have known this, but I did and now I do.

Let me know if you have a Quarantine Quests story. I’d like to hear from you. I will do the writing or edit what you write if you prefer. You can contact me at

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

13 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: An Irish cousin provides vital clues

This Quarantine Quests story was shared by CGS Vice President Maureen Hanlon.

In August of 2015 Maureen made an Ancestry DNA connection with a fourth cousin, Michael Clarke. Michael lives in Warwickshire, England. He and Maureen share third-great-grandparents with the surname Reilly through their respective maternal lines.

As part of their initial correspondence Michael shared the research he’d done in south county Dublin – the area from which Maureen’s great-grandfather, Charles Downes, immigrated from in the 1860s. Most helpful was that Michael was able to provide the location of a cemetery and headstone with names and dates for three generations. This helped to confirm the critically important name of the townland where her ancestors had lived. But even with the new information neither Maureen or Michael could determine the first names of either of their third-great-grandparents. 
Chart showing the relationship between Maureen and her cousin Michael Clarke
Fast forward five years to March 2020, when Maureen found herself stuck at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Seems like a good time to tackle this brick wall and see if I could find the elusive Reilly great-grandparents.” Back in 2015, Michael had pointed Maureen to the 1911 Ireland census, where she had found her grandmother’s Downes first cousins. Armed with this information Maureen was able to build a tree backward and connect those cousins to her grandfather’s siblings, parents and grandparents!

Now Maureen used that same 1911 census to identify the only Reilly family still in the same geographic area. Again she built a tree backwards, using civil records which cover 1864 onward. She used the free website, which also holds the church records for Dublin. Once she had built this theoretical tree she sent it to cousin Michael seeking his opinion of her hypothesis.

Michael agreed that she was on the right track up to a point, but because of missing early records and the number of families in the area in those times with the same name, it was impossible to confirm Maureen's proposed tree.  The land records Michael had thoroughly reviewed were in conflict with Maureen’s thesis.  Michael believes that Maureen is probably missing a generation.
Saint Ann’s Cemetery, Glenasmole, Tallaght Civil Parish, Dublin, Ireland,
where Maureen’s third-great-grandparents Thomas and Honora Downes are buried

So this mystery is yet to be solved, but there is a silver lining. During their recent correspondence Michael, whose paternal line is also from the same area, shared, “a recent discovery with a new vocabulary word for me," Maureen said. A relative of Michael’s had found a letter dated October 1921, which revealed that Michael’s father was the company quartermaster of the Glenasmole IRA. According to the letter, Michael’s father had turned over custody of the parabellum (weapons) which were stashed in a secret cave to Thomas Downes, Maureen’s first cousin twice removed, proving that Maureen’s ancestors were actively engaged in the Irish fight for independence – new knowledge to embellish Maureen’s family history.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

09 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: Jim Sorenson Tackles His Maternal Grandfather

Chris Pattillo is interviewing our members about some of the genealogical projects they are working on while sheltering at home. This Quarantine Quest story was shared by CGS President Jim Sorenson.

Earl Morgan 1899
Like many of us, Jim’s interest in family history began with a school assignment. It was in the 1960s, when he was in 11th grade and one of his teachers asked each student to interview their oldest living relative and write about their heritage. At that time Jim’s mother’s mother and his father’s grandmother were still living, so he interviewed both of them and learned things about his family’s story that one would never find in written records. Jim still has his original notes from the class assignment.

In the back of his mind, Jim has thought, “Someday I’ll break my leg, I will be in a cast and unable to do anything–that is when I’ll tackle my writing.” Well, this is Jim’s break-a-leg event. If not now, while we are all housebound because of the Covid-19 shelter-in-place order, when?
Join the Break A Leg Club and write a bio for one of your Ancestors
So Jim has decided to write biographies for each of his four grandparents. He decided to start with his maternal grandfather, Earl Wright Morgan, whose work for the Standard Oil Company brought him from Pennsylvania across the country to California. During our interview, Jim shared several stories about Earl. I am not going to write about that because it is Jim’s story to tell, but I can tell you that when he is finished, it is going to be a fascinating read–something that deserves to be added to the Richmond History Museum and Standard Oil archives. Currently, Jim only plans to share Earl’s story with his family but I hope he will agree to have it published in the Nugget at some point.
Earl Morgan with his mother,  Julia Sweney Morgan, 1910
Over the years Jim has visited over 30 courthouses and at least that number of libraries to research his family and collect documentation that proves and expands upon the stories he has heard. He has done research in newspapers, city directories, at the Family History Center in Salt Lake City and of course, he has done a lot of research online and at the CGS library.

At this point, Jim has collected a lot of material about his ancestors. Originally, he made paper copies of everything he found. Jim explained, “I use to measure my research success by how many pieces of paper I had at the end of the day–one hundred pages was a real good day.” Now Jim is proud to say that for the past several years when he leaves Salt Lake City, he isn’t carrying paper copies – everything is digital on a thumb drive. Early on Jim decided on a file naming system that works well for him. Each document starts with the year, month and date. That way all his files are in chronological order. He has over 20,000 items in his family history files. He is still using an old version of Family Tree Maker from 2000 as his primary organizer for the information he has collected.

For many years Jim has been a member of our CGS Research Committee. He admits that he prefers to do research rather than write. But he wants to share what he has learned from his research with his family members. Like me, Jim has a small family–one living child and two grandchildren, who are only mildly interested in family history. Like me, we both write hoping that some future descendant will discover our writings and be thrilled to learn what we have to share. As of now much of what Jim has pieced together about his family is still in his head. He understands that he needs to get it written down so that others will not need to repeat the process he has gone through to find and put together the pieces of the puzzle.

While the process of researching has always been enjoyable, Jim has not gotten the same pleasure from writing. In recent years he has been doing more writing, including working on an article for The California Nugget. Jim shared that serving as president of CGS has actually helped in this regard. Having to communicate regularly with the CGS board and membership has caused Jim to do more writing and doing so has made him more comfortable with the process. 

Jim shared a tip for writers. He feels, and I think most would agree, that telling the story in chronological order is the best approach. But one should not feel bound to rigidly record every part of the story in precise chronological order. While Jim’s piece is about his grandfather Earl Morgan, for the story to make sense it needs to include information about Earl’s parents, and about his boss at Standard Oil. Jim does this by devoting separate paragraphs to each of these sidebar subjects. This is how “I try to contain the detours so they don’t break up the flow of the story,” says Jim. It works for him and may help others tell their family stories. 

If you have a Quarantine Quest story you'd like to share please get in touch with Chris Pattillo or Jennifer Dix.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

02 April 2020

Our first online class: "Blogging to share family history"

blog post image
A recent blog post by Chris Pattillo

We recently shared a list of online webinars and related genealogical activities that can be accessed from home. Now CGS is joining the online learning community with our first class: "Blogging to share family history" with Chris Pattillo on Thursday, April 9. This presentation is free to all.

Chris, who blogs about her family at Pattillo Thornally Ancestors, will talk about using the easy platform and offer tips and tricks for tackling family stories and putting them into words. The presentation starts at 10 am. If you join, please sign in by 9:45 to make sure you are able to see the program. We will send you a link the night before the class, which will get you right into our class.

To register and for more details, go to our EventBrite listing.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

01 April 2020

Quarantine Quests: A Hobby With Infinite Possibilities

Chris Pattillo writes:

It’s times like these when I most appreciate being interested in family history research because I can do it from anywhere and the possibilities of how to spend my time are infinite. Now that I have so much extra time while I shelter-at-home, it is nice to enjoy a hobby that keeps me engaged endlessly. There’s no fear of feeling lonely when I am able to find new ancestors and share my discoveries with my siblings and cousins.
From your Ancestry account, look for ThruLines
on the DNA tab, then select "Filters" to view matches.

Two days ago, I was poking around on my Ancestry account on the ThruLines page, which is under the DNA tab, and I noticed for the first time a button labeled “Filters.” I clicked on that and saw a category for “Potential Ancestors.” What I found when I clicked on that choice is something I’ve been pursuing fervently for the past three years – ever since I nailed down my third-great-grandparents Hiram W. Gaines and Hulda Waller, while I was on my 2017 Genealogy Journey and traveling in the Southern United States–South Carolina to be exact.

Ever since that find, I’ve been seeking Hiram’s parents. I have worked pretty hard on this. Various searches led me to well-documented trees for Hiram Gaines (1725-1805) married to Margaret Teliaferro (1775-1783), but no matter how hard I tried I could not prove a connection to this family. These trees included several Hiram Gaineses. As it's a somewhat unusual name, I felt certain this was my family, but I could find no proof and did find negative clues that showed that I was wrong. Has this ever happened to you?
This screenshot shows me with a DNA connection to William S. Gaines
But the beauty of DNA is that it does not lie. ThruLines told me I have a DNA connection to William Shanklin Gaines (1757-1851) and that he is my fourth-great-grandfather: the man I have most wanted to find for three years. As a bonus, it also showed a DNA connection to his father, Hiram T. Gaines, my fifth-great-grandfather! Needless to say, I was pretty excited to find this but before I shared my discovery with others I thought I should make sure it was right, so I called CGS member Vinnie Schwarz and asked her about it. She confirmed that I could trust ThruLines. This is something I appreciate about CGS. I am grateful to be able to reach out to other CGS members, who are more knowledgeable than I am, and to be able to ask for guidance and confirmation. It is one of the best and most valuable things about being a member of our society–especially at times like these.

Have you made any big discoveries while you have been staying at home? Let us know and we will share your story.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

COVID-19 update: Library closed through May 6, Salt Lake City trip canceled

President Jim Sorenson has issued this update:

"The closure of the CGS library has been extended through May 6. All CGS classes and events have been canceled through the end of May. However, we are working on having some classes conducted via remote access; the first of these will be on April 9. Among the events canceled are the CGS research trip to Salt Lake City. Refunds are being issued for all canceled classes and events. 

I'm sure everyone knows that the closure and cancellations are a dynamic process and we can not say for sure when CGS will be able to resume normal operations at either the CGS library or the Oakland FamilySearch Library. The health of our patrons and volunteers is of paramount importance to us."

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society