18 July 2012

Finding The Rancho

Now that I own a house (finally!), I get to start the fun of looking into the history of the land upon which I live, and the area I now call home. Our new neighborhood is in the SF Bay Area, but has a legacy of rural living that is still in tact... something which my husband and I found very attractive given our two young kids, four two chickens (another story for another time), and our new dynamic duo of pygmy goats.

Anyways, the area in which we live, according to our grant deed, was once part of the Rancho Las Juntas, the only rancho in Contra Costa County to be granted to a "gringo," who went by the name of  William Welch. I found a great post on Contra Costa History that gives the full history on Welch and the land he owned here. Of his original 13,293 acre holding, we are now the proud owners of one acre!

According to the article,

The Rancho Las Juntas was formally granted to William Welch by Governor Manuel Micheltorena on February 21, 1844. This grant was for three leagues of and, as surveyed by the United States Government, contained 13,292 acres. The Spanish settlers recognized its boundaries as El Arroyo de las Nueces (walnut Creek) on the East, the Straits on the North, El Arroyo del Hambre (Alhambra Creek) on the Northwest, La Cuchilla del Reliz (the ridge of the Reliz) on the West, and Las Juntas (the junction of streams) on the South.

To approximate the borders of the original rancho, I used the information on the CoCoHistory article along with the East Contra Costa Historical Creek Map to get a sense of Welch's rancho (zoom out to see the full estimated rancho borders):

View Rancho Las Juntas in a larger map

Anyone versed in California research knows that the way in which Mexican land grants were written--using vague, transitive physical markers that neighbors agreed upon as borders--made settling ownership of land difficult once the more substantive land description requirements of the United States were expected. Many families (including Welch's) spent the years after statehood in court fighting off the invasion of squatters, combating illegal claims of ownership to their land, and enforcing the boundaries of their ranch.

Because Welch passed away relatively young, his name doesn't resonate through Contra Costa and California history the way some of his cohorts' did. But he seems to have been an impressive man all the same!

13 July 2012

Where We Live

Well, I remember when the 1940 census release seemed like a "far off in the distance" event, but now that it is out, getting indexed and getting online, I'm really appreciating having a nearer bridge into family history than the 1930 USFC.

Found my mom's family in a tenement apartment in Milwaukee's Third Ward:

Of course, Ancestry had the name indexed wrong, but I was able to call Mom and narrow down her location in 1940 thanks to her strong memories of her neighbors. Got some great reminiscence stories while we wandered virtually around her old neighborhood... everything from being sent with a jug over to the family saloon across the street for some beer, to her first cigarette and first crush on a boy.

Mom and her mom had only arrived in the US from Italy in 1934, so nigh 6 years on, they were still very poor--but my grandfather was a hardworker, and they never lacked for food or clothes. They were, rather, comfortably poor; as Mom puts it, "we didn't realize how poor we were."

According to the census, my grandfather Salvatore (or Sam, as he called himself in the States), made about $1250 in wages in the previous year! Not bad, I guess, for a clerk at a fruit store.

Across the country, my Dad was growing up in quite different circumstances, one of two children born to a naval pilot and his wife. Stationed in Seattle, Washington at the time, they were enjoying a fine rental house on an open Seattle street, and even had a live-in "servant," bearing the memorable name of Hazel Finkbonner (who appears on the next census page):

Dad's upbringing as the son of a pilot (later a Captain) was quite different than that of my mom's. My grandfather Jones ( known as "Doc"-- why is for another post) reported wages of about $5,000 for the previous year... almost four times as much as my other grandfather!

Unfortunately, thanks to Dad's dementia, I can't ask him much about his Seattle days (they moved around a lot as a military family), but I do recall him telling me that his most notable memories of Seattle included a nearby cherry tree which captivated his 9 year-old attention. Yet another opportunity to learn more about my family robbed by a very pernicious disease.

Of course, it's been taking me a while to get around to my genealogy work. It would take you a long time, too, if you just recently bought a new house that looked like THIS inside:

Ugh! Hopefully by the time of the 2020 census, this place will look halfway decent!

Actually, about 6 weeks of ownership and the floors have all been redone, the wallpaper removed and walls decently painted, the roof redone and the windows replaced. Only 4,685 things left on the list, but it will make a good story for the kids some day... "remember how this place used to look?"