29 July 2010

Finding the Father by Searching for the Sons

I've had yet another experience reinforcing the necessity of researching entire families when presented with problem areas in research. It was one of those experiences that underscores all the research rules you learn when first entering genealogy (look at neighboring families in the census, research witnesses to documents, etc.)... those rules that I have, for the most part, stuck to, but some of which have fallen by the wayside in the general forward thrust of everyday research.

Such was the situation when I was trying to establish the death place and date for my GGGG-Grandfather, Robert May.

Good things happened for me when I searched the Sons of Union Veterans grave database. I had been researching Robert, and since I didn't (and still don't) have a firm birthdate for him, I was unsure about his potential Civil War service. I decided to check the SUV database on a whim, even though I estimated he was probably too old for service.

Finding results on Robert null, I tried a general May search, and found listed therein R. R. May, of San Jose, CA, my GGG-Grand Uncle! I had written about Richard recently in my post The Veteran Who Never Served, so finding that he had military designation for his burial was interesting enough, but I had been unable to find his death date until this time, so was happy to get a lead. I could have shrugged my shoulders and filed away the information without following up on it--after all, Richard, though interesting, is "only" a GGG-Granduncle, and not my direct ancestor. I could have re-focused my effort to find Richard's father Robert, and left the lead on Richard for another day.

Luckily for me, the May family is part of a very minute and detailed research project I am undertaking, in which I am truly taking the time to "do it right" and scrutinize each iota of information and follow each and every lead for everyone in the family group. With the information from the database I was able to call his cemetery of burial in San Jose (Oak Hill Memorial Park), which kindly mailed me information on his burial. Imagine my joy when I found out that Richard was buried with five other relatives, including his father, Robert May! According to information from the cemetery, Robert died in San Jose at the age of 91, on 29 March 1897. He was buried with his son, Richard, his daughter-in-law, Marion P. (Gould) May, two of his grandchildren, and a great-grandson-in-law.

I was lucky enough to stop by the cemetery when I was in San Jose recently, and visited the gravesite. I found the spot where my relatives were buried, but unfortunately, aside from Richard May's headstone, the lot only held some depressions in the grass to mark the other burials:

I have a death certificate for Robert May on order from the Santa Clara Recorder's office, which should (hopefully) arrive soon.

Taking information from the cemetery, I was also able to locate an obituary for Robert in the SF Call, 31 March 1897, page 4:
San Jose, Cal., Mar 30- Robert May, an old resident of this city, died at the home of his son, Robert R. [sic] May, last evening. He was 92 years of age and a native of England. He came to the United States in 1837, and twenty-five years ago arrived in California. May leaves two daughters and six sons, the youngest of whom is fifty years of age.

The news that Robert had died in San Jose was interesting, since as of the 1880 census he was still in Stanislaus county, where he had been since at least 1870. I had checked death records, wills and cemetery transcriptions for Robert in that county, and was frustrated to not find any evidence of death.

MOST frustrating of all? Upon re-reading a biography of one of Robert's other sons, I saw that the biography had said, explicitly that Robert had died in San Jose in 1900. While the year was off, I am still left unimpressed with my research skills, in that I didn't take the lead and run with it, and request a record search of Santa Clara death records as soon as I had read the biography! (And I don't want to be vindicated by having the death record not found... Please genealogy G*ds, don't let that happen!)

In all, it has been a major lesson for me in the merits of taking the time to discover all you can about associated family members, and not ignoring them in the pursuit of direct-ancestor glory. It seems totally basic, totally rudimentary, totally elementary, yet so incredibly easy for me to forget!

28 July 2010

California Quotes: Cast off the Bow, Fast

"SALEM, MASS, March 17th, '49--Saturday, 3:30PM, we cast off from the wharf, and in the good barque "La Grange", Captain Joseph Dewing, made sail and started for San Francisco. Since noon, the crowd on the wharf had been continually increasing, until it numbered thousands, who had assembled to take leave of friends who were about to embark on a long and somewhat novel and perilous enterprise. Many now leave their homes for the first time, and none can say it may not be the last.

"Cast off the bow fast; leave the ship, all who are not going to California", sings out the pilot, and spreading the canvas to the northwestern breeze, her bow recedes from the wharf, the last grasp of the hand is given, friends hurry ashore, and excepting the pilot, none remain on board but those who are to be in intimate companionship for many long months."

From: The Overland Monthly, Volume VIII. San Francisco, 1886. Page 93

27 July 2010

Tribune Tuesday: A Plucky Woman

29 October 1894

Mrs. Fred Gatter and her Woful [sic] Accident, [sic]

Mrs. Fred Gatter, the victim of the unfortunate shooting accident at Spanish Valley, which necessitated the amputation of her left leg above the knee, has returned to this city and is now resting quietly at her home, 540 Twenty-third street. The accident took place four weeks ago last Monday, and Mrs. Gatter is now progressing favorably toward health.

The main features of the accident have already been published in THE TRIBUNE, one of which was that five and a half hours elapsed from the time of the shooting until Dr. S. McCurdy of St. Helena, twenty miles distant, arrived at her side, after a remarkable drive over the mountain. During those hours it was a fight between the patient and death. When she saw how badly she had been wounded the thought occurred to her, she said, that it would require only half an hour for her to bleed to death. But she made up her mind that she would not die, and kept this resolution during the long interval, notwithstanding that she saw the blood gradually flowing from the limb despite the fact that ligatures had been placed around it in three pieces.

One of these bands during all these hours was kept tight by Fred Gatter, her husband who never allowed the ends of the ligature to leave his hands. The strain was most exhausting and Mr. Gatter was kept from fainting only by frequent applications of cold water to his head.

When at length the surgeon arrived, Mrs. Gatter was so faint that life, it was thought, could not be maintained, to say nothing of surviving the shock of amputating the limb. Indeed, after chloroform had been administered, Mrs. Gatters's pulse could not be felt. Stimulants, however, restored circulation and this patient survived the operation and shock with wonderful heroism.

The amputation was accomplished by Dr. McCurdy with no professional assistance, because no one could be obtained and the successful and tender manner in which he performed the important work has been the subject of comment that section of the country ever since.

26 July 2010

CA History in the News 04 - 25 July 2010

* A touch of Abe Lincoln in the Golden State

* Saving the home of the San Jose artist who saved Big Basin

* A man in Auburn shows off his collection of 700 books... all copies of the same book, Two Years Before the Mast, "the 1840 true-life classic of the high seas, partly set in pre-Gold Rush California – a best-seller in the mid-19th century that collectors call one of the 80 seminal works of historic California." (The book is available on Google Books here.

* Who knew? The California Rice Commission (a new one to me) is trying to save the first Japanese settlement in the United States in Coloma, California.

* History or No History? Michael Jackson's Neverland as State Park? I'm sure our descendants will thank us.

* Visit a 1926 Roland E. Coate home in San Marino hills

* Lands surrounding the mid-19th century Willson Ranch in Gilroy are saved through purchase by the Nature Conservancy

* Concerns about the effect of the proposed high-speed rail on the historic park dubbed the "Ellis Island of Los Angeles"

* The last remnants of Rancho Cucamonga's Chinatown may soon disappear

* SF's Historic Preservation Commission surveyed Van Ness Avenue's "historic auto row"

22 July 2010

When Greenbacks Go West

In the wake of last week's post on the Panic of 1873, I thought I would share this tidbit I ran across. It is in regard to the effect of currency issues on immigration to California:
The great financial panic of 1873, presaged by that monetary cyclone, "Black Friday in Wall Street", had no immediate effect upon business in California. The years 1873 and 1874 were among the most prosperous in our history. Through good and evil report California had clung to her gold and silver money. The specific contract act of the Legislature of 1862, making debts payable in gold coin, virtually demonetized the government legal tender and the national bank notes in our State... It certainly did for a time retard immigration to California from the East. The eastern immigrant landing on our shores with $1000 in greenbacks found himself compelled, before he could make an investment, to convert his paper into gold. Theoretically, he might be convinced that the six or seven hundred dollars in gold twenties which he received in exchange were equivalent to his thousand in government legal tenders, but practically he felt that somehow he had been worsted in the exchange... The capitalists of the East preferred to retain their wealth where resumption of specie payment was gradual instead of instantaneous, as in California. The bulk of immigration to Southern California in the early '70s was from the central and northern parts of our own State.1 (emphasis mine)

Although the quote above represents speculation on Guinn's part (and contradicts other sources claiming heavy east-to-west coast immigration due to unemployment), it is interesting to consider how something so fundamental could have an effect upon the migration patterns of our ancestors. The Specific Contract Bill, passed in 1863, did actually allow most commerce in California to take place in gold coin, instead of the federal greenback. One imagines that this could have had very real implications for anyone from "back East" who sought to start up or engage in business in California2.

1. Guinn, JM. "Los Angeles in the Sixties and Seventies", Southern California Quarterly Volume III, 1893. p. 68.

2. For more detail on the "Specific Contract Bill" see A Financial History of California by William Fankhauser (1913), p. 221.

21 July 2010

California Quotes: The Meat of the Cub

"The grizzly did so much damage to the farms, and besides, he furnished so much meat, he was industriously hunted for years, until his numbers are greatly reduced. His food is largely vegetable, though he is fond of fresh meat of nearly every sort, and especially of fresh pork. The cub is easily tamed, and is most playful and amusing; he can be taught many clever tricks. The meat of the cub is tender, and like young pork, but that of an old bear is very strong, so much so as to be scarcely palatable."

From: Pacific Bank Handbook of California. San Francisco: Pacific Bank, 1888. Page 203.

20 July 2010

Tribune Tuesday: Death's Bride

Note: The legibility of the article was very poor, thus all of the omissions in the article below. But the story seemed worth telling despite the fractured narrative. -jjr

From The Oakland Tribune, 31 October 1894

Miss Caroline Lembs' Last Wish Carried Out
She Was Buried Today in Her Wedding Dress
The Sad Story That Closed in a N?b? Young Life

One of the most sorrowful funerals which ever took place in this city was that of Miss Caroline Lembs which was held this afternoon at 4? Walsworth avenue.

The remains of the young woman were attired in bridal robes, although she had never been a ???? Death had stepped in and deprived ??? that pleasure, --- --- she --- --- the marital ceremony --- performed. Last Saturday night --- --- --- been married to O?? W????? --- -- officer on the --- --- --- Wa?ub had come --- --- --- ceremony, --- --- --- --- was taken ill several days --- --- --- and the nuptials were deferred --- the groom expectant sailing away at the request of Miss Lemb, on a short cruise up the Pacific coast.

Mean??? Miss Lembs died, and, owing to the fact that W???b could not return, the funeral took place without the groom expectant, --- --- being held in the cosy but unfurnished home which Wa?ub had erected as above given. The funeral attracted many sympathetic friends. The remains were interred in Mountain View Cemetery.

15 July 2010

The Panic of 1873 and the California Constitution

Note: I had occasion to do some research recently on The Panic of 1873 and its effects--particularly in California; I thought I would share the fruits of my research with you. -Jennifer

The Panic of 1873 is a particularly interesting research topic* as it came at such a dynamic time for the United States: society was shaking off the ills of the Civil War, Reconstruction was under way, expansion in the West was in full-force, and the economies of the Eastern seaboard were trying to bloom into their full industrial potential. Businesses were being born, and people were on the move. Optimism in the newly reunited country was high, and the potential for individual and national success seemed unlimited. Then calamity struck, and struck hard.

In California, in particular, the legacy of the Panic of 1873 was a political one as much as an economic one--powering grassroot movements and building ideologies that culminated in the formation of the state's constitution.

The Panic
The Panic of 1873--known in the rest of the world as "The Long Depression" or "The Great Depression", was most immediately triggered by the collapse of the railroad bubble, which had seen its apex in the United States in the years following the Civil War. Economic troubles in Europe--a ready lender to US businesses--meant that the market for investment in railroads became a stale one, and many companies on the brink financially (both banks and railroads) felt the effects:
[A] sharp financial panic in May 1873 on the Vienna Bourse warned every European investor and banker that he must watch carefully his commitments and set his financial house in order. The Vienna panic stopped the negotiation in Europe of bonds of new railroads, and made difficult the sale of those of companies of established credit. The glut of American railway bonds in Europe forced the New York bankers to carry the new railroads which they backed, by straining their own individual credit. This became increasingly difficult.1

Resultant collapses in the banking sector wreaked havoc on the fledgling industrialized US economy, and the country entered a despondent period of "declining markets, exhaustion of capital, a lowering in value of all kinds of property including real estate, constant bankruptcies, close economy in business and grinding frugality in living, idle mills, furnaces and factories...labourers out of employment, reductions in wages, strikes and lockouts, the great railroad riots of 1877, suffering of the unemployed, depression and despair.3." These economic troubles would persist until the economy finally cycled up again in 1879.

The deflation following the panic, and its companion reduction in prices, was particularly hard on farmers who depended upon sustained food prices to keep their operations afloat. Many had also borrowed heavily in the boom times and were now finding themselves either in peril of default, or without means to borrow to fund further expansions of their businesses. Workers in industrial fields--many of whom had been working for now-defunct railroads--were also affected as high unemployment and excess labor pools meant low wages, long hours and little job security4.

These economic hardships were a trigger to political action; grassroots movements became energized and powered calls for change and agitations for legislative and economic reforms across the country. In California, the agitation resulted in a new state constitution.

One party working actively in California in the years following the panic was the Workingman's Party led by the vociferous and provocative Dennis Kearney. This urban movement was characterized by a strong foment on the part of the labor class, along with a denunciation of the monied and propertied echelons of society and the bearer of all capitalist evil: the railroads. The party also soon began to cave to xenophobic tendencies, captured in the mantra "Chinese Must Go":
[R]adicalized white workers denounced capital and the owning class, but they also were already blaming “coolie” labor for dragging wages downward. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad led to a big influx of skilled Chinese workers, who came to dominate employment in cigar making, shoe making, and textiles. Thousands of white workers came to San Francisco during this same period, seeking work out west in the wake of the economic depression back east. But the railroad brought the depression along with the workers5.
The party took to inflammatory rhetoric and intimidation tactics like large-scale rallies and rioting, but called all the while for legislative changes at the state level that would address their concerns about the power of the wealthy and the effect of immigration on labor.

Similar agitations for change were occurring in rural parts of California, where farmers were aggregating to discuss grievances under the auspices of a movement known as The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, or "The Grange". This fraternal order became a political organization of powerful momentum, which took on what farmers saw as two major evils: the excessive rates for freight charged by the tyrannical railroads, and the profligate expenditures of government6.

Both factions--rural and urban--soon became unlikely allies in the revision of the California Constitution:

Instead of going on with the idea of revolution, the Workingmen's Party now set out, with the assistance of the discontented Grangers, to capture a majority of the delegates [to the Constitutional convention] to be elected in June, 1878. So successful were their efforts that when the votes were counted it was apparent that the farmers and laborers together had won a clear majority of the seats in the convention. Continuing their co-operation, the Workingmen and Grangers wrote a new constitution for the state that embodied most of their radical ideas.7

Many of those ideas--particularly stringent statutes against Chinese immigrants--were later deemed illegal under the US Constitution. The agendas which both political factions brought to the table at the Constitutional convention did leave some legacy, including corporate and railroad regulation, and a number of tax policies. For anyone interested in the details of the California Constitution, both the original 1879 Constitution and the working papers from the 1878 Constitutional Convention are online.

* I've read on the internet that Glenn Beck recently had words to say about the Panic of 1873 and the Workingman's Party, tagging the event and the organization as the "racist roots" of the union movement. I wrote the majority of this post before his commentary aired, and my discussion of it here has nothing to do with Mr. Beck's commentary or his opinions.

1. Rhodes, JF. History of the United States, Vol. VII. London: MacMillan & Co., 1912. pp. 40-41.

3. Ibid. Page 53.

4. Ayers, et. al., American Passages. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing, 2008. Page 472.

5. Carlsson, Chris. The Workingmen’s Party & The Dennis Kearney Agitation

6. Hittell, TH. History of California, Volume IV. San Francisco: NJ Stone & Company, 1897. Page 517.

7. From Unrest in California, by Prof. J. D. Hicks.

14 July 2010

California Quotes: The Graves of the Forty-Niners


I have always had a strange love for visiting the graves of the dead forty-niners. I love to read their names and learn their history. Near where I reside are the resting-places of three that have long attracted my attention, perhaps from the seeming mystery that enshrouded them. One is that of young man with whom I was acquainted before coming to California. He sleeps on a beautiful ridge on the northern bank of Dry Creek-a rough board marks his lonely bed, and the following words are marked thereon:

Sacred to the Memory
Julius Bulkley.
December 27th,

This was a young man from Illinois. The hardships he endured crossing the plains, together with the privations he met with here, was too much for his delicate frame to bear. He was taken with a lingering fever, and never recovered. His relatives, if he have any still living, will be glad to learn that kind friends were near to administer to his wants until called upon to perform the last sad office--the burial of the dead.

Near the grave of this young man was that of another forty-niner. No mark or inscription tells his name--no block or stone is at his head. Nought but the narrow ridge of earth informs us that it is the resting place of one who in life shared the dangers and hardships of a pioneer. The oldest inhabitants can tell nothing of its name or history. All they know is that he was buried there in '49. The rest must remain a mystery, perhaps, forever...

The third grave is beneath an old oak tree, upon whose trunk is carved, with much care, the following:

Here Lies
Nicholas Downing,
Of Missouri.
Oct. 29th, 1849."

From: Hutchings' Illustrated California Magazine, Vol. 3. San Francisco: Hutchings & Rosenfield, 1859. Page 133

13 July 2010

Tribune Tuesday: A Correction

From: The Oakland Evening Tribune, Friday Evening, 07 August 1874

The funeral of Mr. Albert E. Warner, from the Methodist Church, yesterday, was largely attended.--News.
It was the wife of Mr. Albert E. Warner that was buried yesterday. Mr. Warner has had a series of misfortunes or bereavements. He is the same who lost his arm in a mowing machine a short time ago.

08 July 2010


Perennial favorite blog resourceshelf pointed out a great web tool, Readability, which has the ability to declutter, streamline and customize pages to increase their, well, readability. You may think installing another tool in order to avoid clutter seems silly. If, however, you are anything like me, and you struggle with trying to accomplish satisfactory in-depth reading online due to all of the poopoo flung in the sidebars and in-between paragraphs on most sites... Readability may well be for you.

Here's an example of the detritus that Readability removes, from a book review at the New York Times, the first is the page as normal:

And here's the page after invoking Readability:

Much cleaner, and less distraction! Hyperlinks are bumped down to footnotes, pics are gone, and the text fills the screen in luscious, black-on-white readability! Scrumptious!

Installation of Readability is very easy (took me about ten seconds on Google Chrome). Here's the video on installation from the company:

Readability - Installation Video for Firefox, Safari & Chrome from Arc90 on Vimeo.

07 July 2010

California Quotes: From the Maelstrom of Insanity

"During the calendar year ended December 31st, 1877, the following suicides, with their supposed causes, were reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Assigned or Supposed Causes of Suicide
Males Females Total
Losses in mining stocks, etc. 20 2 22
Insanity (Cause not stated) 5 0 5
Intemperance (Cause Not Stated) 12 0 12
Incurable disease 7 0 7
Love 4 3 7
Ill Treatment 0 2 2
Religion 1 0 1
Remorse for Murder 1 0 1
Unknown (or not stated) 24 3 27
Total 74 10 84


(Viz: Love 9, and religion 1), appear to have kept up their normal ratio as opposed to whisky and stock in California; religion emerging from the maelstrom of insanity as almost perfectly sane, having only aberration to cite."

From: Transactions of the California Medical Society, Volumes 8-11. Sacramento: H. S. Crocker & Co., 1878. Page 153

06 July 2010

Tribune Tuesday: Sad Accident

From The Oakland Tribune, Thursday Evening, 27 August 1874

Child Falls from a Window and Dies from the Injuries Received
About one o'clock yesterday, the little daughter of C. P. Williams, West and Fourteenth streets, fell from an up-stairs window on to the hard, gravel sidewalk, and was mortally injured. She struck an [sic] her head. and according to Drs. Bradway and Reiley, fractured the skull, from the effects of which she died this morning.
The little girl-"Belle" by name-after going up stairs, was attracted by the voice of her sister outside below, and she then climbed up on a trunk to look out of the window, when she lost her balance and fell a distance of about eighteen feet, with the aforesaid result. She was between three and four years of age.

03 July 2010

CA History in the News 26 June - 03 July 2010

* The Coast Guard and the town of Ferndale, CA are tussling over custody of a 142-year old lighthouse lens

* The town of Arcata, CA is undertaking the survey of its historic buildings

* The Old City Cemetery Committee had a very cool tour of a Sacramento historic cemetery recently. What a great idea!

* UC Santa Cruz is trying to restore an historic barn on campus.

* Big news in California as Sierra No. 3, famous rail star, returns after an image rehab and full-scale makeover.

* Finally, a short visit to California Hill in Nebraska, one of the many points of struggle for westward-bound pioneers:

01 July 2010

California Oral Histories

I recently set out to see what types of oral histories relevant to California research were online. I was stunned to see the breadth and depth of oral history information on the web, and the list below is just for California! I hope someone finds a gem in here, as there are countless hours of first-person history here to be perused.

* CSU Fullerton: Featured collections include town histories, various ethnic collections, WWII and labor issues. None online.

* The Bancroft Library (UCB) focii include: Italian-Americans, Portugese, and Jewish. Recordings and videos online.

* The Regional Oral History Office, in connection with the Bancroft Library, has a number of transcripts online at archive.org. Topics include regional history, the AIDS epidemic, Napa Valley history, agricultural history and more.

* The Holocaust Center of Northern California has oral histories available to researchers and the general public. None online.

* UC Santa Cruz has a program devoted to regional and institutional histories. Transcripts online.

* CSU Monterey Bay has an African American Legacy project centered on the central California coast. Video online.

* CSU Long Beach has various ethnic collections, as well as regional and labor histories. Recordings online.

* The Marin County Free Library has a host of interviews online regarding early Marin County (and Bay Area) history. Audio clips and full transcripts online.

* UCSB has various regional, ethnic and event histories. None online.

* The California State Archives has conducted individuals with notable governmental figures since 1986. None online.

* UCLA library has a huge collection of oral histories, on a large variety of subjects. Some transcripts online.

* USC maintains a collection of interviews concerning the history of social work in the State. None online.

* The California State Military Museum has histories of WWII submarine veterans online.

* Claremont College has a number of interviews on a large variety of subjects. None online.

* Caltech has oral histories involving various technical projects and professorial studies. Transcripts and audio online.

* Urban School of San Francisco has an oral history project covering Civil Rights, Japanese internment, the Holocaust, and issues surrounding the redevelopment of the Fillmore in SF.