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10 February 2021

A big win for access to immigration records

Alien Registration File for Raymond Hiroshi Hirai.
Courtesy of Rina Hirai.

A hard-fought battle to keep records affordable has resulted in victory. The U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) has backed off a proposed "astronomical increase" in fees for copies of records essential to immigration research.

In late 2019, genealogists and other research advocates sounded the alarm about a proposed increase of fees for USCIS records. Rich Venezia, founder of Records Not Revenue, spearheaded the campaign to protest the fee increases, spurring nearly 40,000 individuals to post comments on the agency's website. We wrote about the issue at the time, detailing the ways in which increased fees would effectively put this unique resource for immigration records out of reach for many researchers. CGS members Grant Din and Linda Okazaki were among those active in spreading the word, and the California Genealogical Society board wrote a letter opposing the fee change, along with hundreds of other genealogical societies, historical organizations, and genealogists around the country.

The proposed fee increases also would have applied to visa and immigration filing fees, increasing hardship for current immigrants, as well as hobbling their access to their A-Files to defend against removal, apply for immigration benefits, and naturalize. A recent article on the website Immigration Access details the judge's ruling in December 2020 which ordered USCIS to make those records available in a timely fashion. On February 2, President Biden issued an Executive Order directing that agencies should promote access to the legal immigration system and specifically calling out the proposed fee increase.

The work continues for access to immigration records. Genealogist Judy Russell points out that there may still be a fee increase in the future. Many people have asserted that these are public records that should be available through the National Archives. Records Not Revenue is working on strategies to push USCIS to get these records to NARA. The story continues. Meanwhile, congratulations to Grant and Linda and everyone who lent their name to this effort!

Copyright © 2021 by California Genealogical Society

05 February 2021

Online genealogy, week of February 8-14


Our weekly roundup of upcoming genealogy events. Numerous associations offer online genealogy classes every week. Most are free. To register for one of the events below, click on the name of the host organization.


February 12-19: Genealogica 2021: the first German virtual genealogy conference (in German)
February 13:
"Looking Backward, Moving Forward: 2021 Black History Month Conference" (
African American Special Interest Group & Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society)


February 13: Monthly Board Meeting. All welcome.

American Ancestors

February 9: “An Explosion of Beauty: The Art, Architecture, and Collections of British Country Houses, Part II” by Curt DiCamillo (3-part course)

February 11: “Stories from the Archives: Samplers” by Judy Lucey and Todd Pattison

BYU Family History Library

February 10: The Power of Stories in Family History: Discovering and Sharing Your Family Stories” with Kathryn Grant


Legacy Family Tree 

February 9: “Making the most of MyHeritage resources with the Help Center, Knowledge Base, and site settings” by Daniel Horowitz

February 10: “Chinese American Research: Challenges and Discoveries” by Grant Din

February 10 & 11: "Researching Your Maine Ancestors" by B.J. Jamieson

The San Francisco Bay Area Genealogy Calendar lists a wealth of Bay Area events and exhibits. This week:

February 8: “Citations: Easier Than You Think" by Stewart Blandon Traiman (Livermore-Amador Genealogical Society)

February 9: PBS' "The Black Church" – Sneak Peek and Discussion (KQED Community Outreach)

February 10:  

SF Chinatown Neon Tour (Chinese Historical Society of America)

February 11

"Think Like an Archivist: Libraries and Archives for Genealogy" With Nancy Loe (Contra Costa Genealogical Society)

February 12

“Black Family History” (San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society)

February 13

“American Chinese Restaurants” (Chinese Historical Society of America)

“Hellacious California: Tales of Rascality, Revelry, Dissipation, Depravity and the Birth of the Golden State” by Gary Noy (Sonoma Valley Historical Society)

Conference Keeper has a large calendar of classes (too many to list) from beginning to advanced, hosted by various genealogical organizations. Here are some of the coming week's highlights:

February 8:

"Family History in the Kitchen" with Gena Philibert-Ortega (MyHeritage Facebook Live)

February 9:

A Brief History of the Evangelical Synod of North America (Tri-State Genealogical Society and Willard Library)

"Polish-Jewish Genealogy & Protecting Polish Jewish Cemeteries" (JewishGen)

February 10:

The Lives of Amish Women (Max Kade Institute, University of Wisconsin–Madison)

February 11:

"The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold: An American Life" (HistoryCamp)

"Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery" (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

February 13:

"Searching for Your African-American Homesteaders" (Los Angeles Public Library)

"FROM SLAVERY TO DNA: Dealing with the Challenges of African American Genealogy" (Pinellas Genealogy Society)

"Freedmen's Bureau eXperience" (Allen County Public Library)

"Mass State Police Crime Lab" (Massachusetts Society of Genealogists)

03 February 2021

Write for the CGS blog!

Calling all bloggers: 

Do you enjoy the CGS blog? Would you like to write for it? Regular readers of this blog will know we welcome contributing writers, either on a one-time or recurring basis. We've published stories about family history, like this one about one of Georgia Lupinsky's ancestors. During Asian Pacific Heritage Month last May, we were fortunate to feature stories from CGS members Grant Din, Gordon Hamachi, Marisa Louie Lee, Felicia Lowe, Trish Hackett Nicola, and Cindy Thomsen. You are probably also familiar with Chris Pattillo's occasional "Quarantine Quests" series (see previous post for an example), as well as her previous series on our Library's collections. 

This is the blog for the California Genealogical Society, and it is made richer by a variety of voices and perspectives. If you have an interesting story about your research, or want to share anything of genealogical interest, please let us know. We're also happy to consider writers who want to contribute on an ongoing basis, either occasionally or regularly. Please contact Jennifer Dix,   

Copyright © 2021 by California Genealogical Society

01 February 2021

Quarantine Quests: The Memoir of Ellis Willard Gibson 1893-1985

Ellis W. Gibson, 1914
By Chris Pattillo
A few months before the pandemic began Gibran Rath received a parcel of material about her great uncle Ellis Willard Gibson from her mother’s cousin. Included in the envelope was a 73-page memoir written by Ellis. This treasure came with some challenges, though. It was written in longhand with a combination of black and purple ink on both sides of the paper. On most of the pages the ink had bled through, making it difficult to read. Gibran’s first challenge was to figure out a cost-effective method of reproducing the pages so they would be legible. Once that was accomplished, she reviewed what she had and started focusing on documenting and augmenting the account.


This has been one of four projects Gibran has focused on during the past year while sheltering at home and helping to care for her three-year-old granddaughter. Much of Gibran’s previous family research focused on her Scottish father’s side so she was particularly pleased to receive new insight into her mother’s ancestors. For some reason unknown to Gibran her mother rarely talked about her side of the family. Gibran recalls meeting this great uncle on at least two occasions but she was too young at the time to remember much about him. This memoir, which she believes Ellis wrote for his youngest daughter who was interested in family history, has given Gibran “a window into a different time when my grandfather, Lyle (Ellis’s older brother), was a child and what his home life was like.” She shared one particular story told by her great uncle that I could strongly relate to. Ellis wrote of times when he and his mother would go to visit her father, Ellis’s grandfather, after church, and that Ellis would be anxious to leave, get home and have lunch.


Gibson family, 1900

The memoir shed light not only on what Ellis’s life was like but the pages he wrote include his recollections of his father and grandfather. The extended family all lived in and around a small town in Pennsylvania called Venango.

Gibran also noted that the memoir contained funny old remedies–one she remembered was that when Ellis fell and cracked his head, his mother bandaged his head with sheets soaked in turpentine and brown sugar.


Willard and Minnie Gibson's children, 1905

Throughout our interview Gibran’s allegiance to the facts, to the truth, was a recurring theme. She said the source of this sensibility comes from her scientific training and career as a licensed medical technologist. When I asked why she went to so much trouble to reproduce the original pages instead of simply retyping them, Gibran admitted to being suspicious of transcribed documents and noted how easy it would be to edit out details that might not jibe with the story the writer chose to portray. 

While in quarantine Gibran has researched this branch of her family, finding three men who served during the American Revolution, three who fought in the War of 1812 and two who were drafted during the Civil War but saw no service because they were farmers. She has augmented the memoir by finding some wills, other probate documents, a few censuses, and some portraits and she has filled in a family tree to help organize everything. Before the pandemic began Gibran had visited Pennsylvania and found family graves in the local cemeteries.

Ellis (right) and Pearl Gibson, 1967


While Gibran has undertaken years of research and worked on other family history projects, this project is the largest she’s taken on. Having extra time because of the pandemic no doubt is a factor as to why she is doing the project at this time. For Gibran the research is the fun part–that’s the scientist in her. She said she will leave it to others to take her material and produce a family history book, a picture book, a blog or whatever they choose to do with what she's found and assembled for her extended family.

Gibran concluded our interview by giving a description of Ellis as a kind and soft-spoken man who had an inner serenity.  She added, “whenever he would visit, he always washed all my mother’s windows and polished the silver.”

Copyright © 2021 by California Genealogical Society

30 January 2021

Online genealogy, February 1-7


Our weekly roundup of upcoming genealogy events. Numerous associations offer online genealogy classes every week. Most are free. To register for one of the events below, click on the name of the host organization.


February 2: Transcription Tuesday! 5th Annual Online Volunteer Transcription Event (WDYTYA Magazine)

February 5 & 6: Native American Research (New Jersey Family History Institute)

February 6: Houston Genealogical Forum Spring Seminar with Jill Morelli

February 6: North Carolina AAHGS Black History Month Genealogy Regional Conference (Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society)

February 6: African American Genealogy Day (Georgia Archives and the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society)  


February 2: "Finding, Reading and Platting Deeds" Workshop SOLD OUT
February 6: First Saturday FREE "Intro to Genealogy." This month: Using the Census.

American Ancestors

February 4: “The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women—and Women to Medicine” by Janice P. Nimura

BYU Family History Library

February 3: “Smashing Brick Walls with DNA: Finding a Revolutionary Soldier” with James Baker


Family History Library

February 1: "Using the FamilySearch Catalog"

February 2: "Overview of FamilySearch"

February 4: "The Tired, the Poor, and the Huddled Masses: U.S. Immigration 1820-1954"


Legacy Family Tree 

February 2 & 3: "Nurturing Your Family Trees: Online or On Your Device (or both?)" by Cyndi Engle

February 3: "Me and My 1000+ DNA Cousins" by Diahan Southard

February 5: "Finding Indian Ancestors in African American Families" by Angela Walton-Raji

The San Francisco Bay Area Genealogy Calendar lists a wealth of Bay Area events and exhibits. This week:

February 1: “Beginning Genealogy” and Intermediate/Advanced Genealogy Workshop (Acalanes Adult Education)

February 3: "Critical Family History - Placing Family History Within Larger Contexts" (Sutro Library)

Conference Keeper has a large calendar of classes (too many to list) from beginning to advanced, hosted by various genealogical organizations. Listed below are some of the coming week's many events observing Black History Month, but check the calendar for classes on Irish, Czech, and Scottish ancestry, methodology, and so much more:

February 1:

“Family and Plantation Record Research for Owners and Enslaved” (Spartanburg County Public Library)

“From How to Who 101-The African American Family Beginners Search” by Constance Terry-Morris


February 2:

“Looking for My Babies: Freedmen Searching for Family” (Virtual Genealogical Association)

“A Virtual Black Abolitionist Tour of London by Hannah-Rose Murray


February 3:

“Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative” (Library of Virginia)


February 4:

“An Introduction to African American Genealogy” (New York Public Library)

“Your Results Are In! Using DNA in Your African American Research”

“In Search of Our Black Queer Ancestors” (Mills College)

“The 1870 Community-Cluster: Gateway to Your Ancestor’s Enslavement” (Clayton TX Library)