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11 May 2020

A Message from CGS President Jim Sorenson

As various governing bodies take actions to phase in a reopening our economy, CGS is monitoring those decisions to see when we might be able to re-open our library and resume classes at the library. Even after it appears that we can open, CGS will need to determine what measures are needed to ensure compliance with County restrictions as well as to provide for the continued safety of our patrons and volunteers. At this point, I do not expect us to open until mid-summer. Before we re-open, we will publish our new operating procedures in the blog and provide notice of them on our website. Among our "new normal" procedures under discussion are:

  • Library access by reservation only.
  • Social distancing and the wearing of masks while at the library.
  • Rules for the cleaning of touch surfaces.
  • Limitations on the size of classes, SIGs and committee meetings at the library.

These measures are expected to remain in place for several months. Some of our committees and SIGs have already started having meetings using remote conferencing and we are taking steps to enable the presentation of many of our classes using that technology. Those classes will be announced on our website as well as on our blog and elsewhere. As a follow-up on a previous blog posting, I’m continuing to write sketches of each of my grandparents as I remain at home. The following is just a brief summary from that work:

My paternal grandparents were married, but not to each other. She was 19, he was 43 and her family doctor. The specific circumstances of the encounter which led to the birth of my father will never be known. The doctor died three years later in 1921 of what he thought was the flu. Months later, the public health service determined that he had died of typhus fever at the front end of an epidemic within the Navaho community in New Mexico where he was supervising the construction of a hospital for these often-neglected people. He may have been the worst of my grandparents but also the most noble.

We will have plenty of time to learn more about our ancestors. We will have time to tell the stories of our ancestors. But right now, our ancestors would want us to stay safe so that we will be able to do those things in the future.   

James Sorenson, President

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

09 May 2020

Chinese Couplets: A daughter's long search for her immigrant mother's past

On Mother's Day, we are pleased to share this story by guest contributor Felicia Lowe.

I didn’t really know my mother.
She spent most of her life hiding who she was.
Lying about where she came from, how she got here.
What secrets were so dark that the truth had to be concealed?

These are the opening lines to my documentary “Chinese Couplets,” which explores the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943) on four generations of women—my maternal grandmother, my mother, Lettie Kam, my daughter, Alana, and me. The story is shaped by my quest to unravel the mystery surrounding my mother’s origins, the revelation of her illegal immigration to America during the period of Chinese exclusion, and the resulting web of secrecy and shame underlying her assimilation and achievement of the American Dream. The journey takes us from contemporary San Francisco to 1930s rural China, across the world to pre-revolutionary Cuba, post-Mao rural China and again to California, a place on the cusp of its own revolution in multiculturalism.

Felicia Lowe's mother (center) as a baby,
with her mother and older sister.

The research was complicated and messy.  There was not a single source to gather the information I needed to formulate a picture of my mother’s journey to America. For one, she was a “paper daughter,” meaning she had assumed the identity of a child of a citizen, one of the few exempt classes allowed to enter the United States in 1937. For me, the intrigue began when I was three years old and my mom instructed, “If anyone asks where I come from, say Hawaii.”  I knew from my aunt, her older sister, that they were born in China so it was very confusing.

My mother maintained her “born in Hawaii” persona most of her life and refused to offer any explanation as to why her maiden surname was Kam (Kam Sau Quon) while her sister’s last name was Louie.  At the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Kam Sau Quon’s files revealed the story of a family with three young children who left Hawaii for China in 1924, then chose to return in 1937 as war was escalating in China. To learn of my mother’s early life, I read my aunt’s immigration transcripts.  She left China in 1931 in an arranged marriage so there was no subterfuge in her interrogation answers.

An ally in my investigation was my daughter, Alana.  She was able to break through her grandmother’s shell of secrecy by interviewing her for a school assignment. Out of it emerged a huge revelation.  My mother did not meet her father until he returned from Cuba when she was 15.  He’d left his pregnant wife and five-year-old daughter to find work there.  Chinese in Cuba?  That was new news to us.

Trips to Cuba and China followed in search of answers.  The most precious was a visit with my mother to Dutou, the village she’d left six decades earlier.  Like the Chinese couplet, a traditional poem consisting of two lines of verse held in contradictory and complementary balance, my family’s cross-generational tale encompasses a series of interlocked pairings: my mother’s secretive relationship to the past and the mother she left behind when she emigrated to America… my own fraught relationship with my mother… and my daughter Alana’s less-burdened curiosity about her Chinese ancestry and the bright hope it offers for healing the immigrant cycle of rupture, abandonment, denial and shame.

The turbulent times in which my mother came of age, the powerful challenges that all immigrants face, and the strength of the women, both my grandmother and mother, define my daughter and me.  It is their gift and our legacy–secrets and all.

Felicia Lowe is an award winning television producer, director, and writer with 40 years of production experience.  Her films “Chinese Couplets,” “Carved in Silence,” “Chinatown,” and “China: Land of My Father” have been broadcast on PBS and are used in classrooms across the country.  She’s long been associated with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation through her films and activism.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

08 May 2020

Online genealogy: Week of May 11-18

Here are some of this coming week's online genealogy events. Most of them are free. See our post “Genealogy Learning in the Time of Coronavirus,” for links to archived classes at Ancestry, FamilySearch, RootsTech, and more.

Asian Americans, a five-hour film event, premieres May 11 & 12 on PBS. "Told through intimate personal stories, the series will cast a new lens on U.S. history and the ongoing role that Asian Americans have played."
The National Genealogical Society's Virtual Family History Conference begins May 20. Visit the NGS website for details.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society continues its series of free webinars.

Legacy Family Tree and MyHeritage offer these webinars: 
May 13 & 14: The Ultimate Family History Interview by Nicka Smith
May 15: Fridays in May: DNA with Diahan by Diahan Southard

Also, Legacy Family Tree continues to unlock one archived webinar per day for free viewing. The classes are based on a 7-day rotating theme:
  • Sundays - Methodology
  • Mondays - DNA
  • Tuesdays - Ethnic Genealogy
  • Wednesdays - TechZone
  • Thursdays - Around the Globe
  • Fridays - Beginners
  • Saturdays - Technology
This week:
May 11: Foundations in DNA 1 of 5: Genealogy and DNA by Blaine Bettinger
May 12: Full Circle: Tracing the Descendants of a Slaveholding Ancestor by Nicka Smith
May 13: 3 Ways to Use Gmail Smarter by Marian Pierre-Louis
May 14: How to trace your UK ancestry by Kirsty Gray
May 15: Time and Place - Using Genealogy's Cross-Hairs by Jim Beidler
May 16: Advanced Googling for Your Grandma by Cyndi Ingle
May 17: 50 Records that Document Female Ancestors by Gena Philibert-Ortega
May 18: DNA Rights and Wrongs: The Ethical Side of Testing by Judy Russell

Conference Keeper lists many of the above, as well as these events:

May 12: How to Interview Military Veterans with Kayleen Reusser
May 13: Quhat's in a Nayme? by Maureen Brady
May 13: Finding Military Records by the Genealogy Zoom Chat Series: An Illinois Multi-Library Event
May 14: Acadia with Mark Labine, hosted by the Minnesota Genealogical Society
May 14: Legalese for Genealogists by the Genealogy Center
May 15: Your Next Step: Write Your Family History with Stephen Szabados
May 16: Meet the Pilgrims! by Pinellas (Florida) Genealogy Society

Stay safe, be well, and happy learning!

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

04 May 2020

Online genealogy: Week of May 4-10

Here are some of this coming week's online genealogy events. Most of them are free. See our post “Genealogy Learning in the Time of Coronavirus,” for links to archived classes at Ancestry, FamilySearch, RootsTech, and more.

NOTE: The National Genealogical Society's Virtual Family History Conference begins May 20. Visit their website for details.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society continues its series of free webinars.

May 4: "Using Third-Party Tools to Analyze Your Autosomal DNA" by Blaine Bettinger 

Legacy Family Tree and MyHeritage have an ongoing series, including a series of "Fridays in May" live Q&As with a different expert each week. This week:

May 5 & 6: "Smarter Search Strategies for Genealogy" by Thomas MacEntee 
May 6:  "Crème de la crème: Targeted Autosomal DNA Testing to Isolate Pertinent Genetic Cousins" by Paul Woodbury
May 8: "Fridays in May: Tech with Thomas" kicks off with a live Q&A with Thomas MacEntee
Conference Keeper lists many of the above, as well as these events:

May 5: "Learn to Build an Online Family Photo and Video Collection With Collectionaire"
May 6: "Ancestry Library Edition" presented by the Genealogy Zoom Chat Series: An Illinois Multi-Library Event
May 6: "Jewish Genealogy and Home DNA Testing: A Virtual Discussion," hosted by Gordon Center for Performing Arts
May 6: "3 Steps to Prepare for a German Heritage Tour" by Family Tree Tours
May 8: "Pandemic 1918! Combating the Influenza Epidemic During the Great War" with Tina Beaird

Stay safe, be well, and happy learning!

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

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 Glaüs. 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 [email protected]

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society