Monday, February 24, 2014

Geneabloggers Interview

I was interviewed recently by Gini Webb of Geneabloggers!  Here is a link to the interview for those who might be interested:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What a Day for Genealogy in Stockton!

Saturday's free genealogy seminar, presented by the San Joaquin Genealogical Society (SJGS) and cosponsored by the California State Genealogical Alliance (CSGA) and University of the Pacific's Jacoby Center for Public Service and Civic Leadership, was a roaring success.  Well before the event, SJGS president and event organizer Sheri Fenley proudly announced that the seminar was completely filled — all 180 registration slots had been taken.

On a gorgeous February morning, everyone gathered in the Biological Sciences Building on the University of the Pacific campus.  The lecture hall was totally filled with excited genealogists.  We actually started early (!) and managed to stay on time throughout the day.

Linda Serna, vice president of the Orange County Genealogical Society, talked about how to create family stories by starting with the facts you have and adding background historical information for context.  She particularly emphasized that Google is your friend and can help you find lots of great details to add to your stories.

Letty Rodella, president of the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research, gave a lot of practical advice on how to research Mexican ancestry.  She discussed several online resources, including,, and a free guide to transcribing Spanish-language records (I've already downloaded it to my computer!).

Tim Cox, program and events chairman for the California Genealogical Society, shared a lot of tools that can help genealogists do their research smarter, more easily, and sometimes just better.  He covered databases, software, gadgets, computer equipement, and even the Internet.  And he was even generous enough to send everyone registered for the seminar a PDF listing all of the resources he talked about in his presentation!

I was the last speaker of the day.  I used some research I had done as a case study and showed how even when you start with only a few pieces of information, if you work methodically and use a large variety of resources it is possible to learn a lot of information about a family and build a tree of several generations.

Throughout the day attendees asked a lot of great questions and were very engaged.  All the talks were well received.  And there were freebies!  The National Institute of Genealogical Studies (NIGS) had sent certificates for every attendee to register for one complimentary online class.  Then we had prize drawings after Tim's talk.  NIGS had also donated two special gift certificates, and Tim had prizes from Clooz and Snagit.  So seven people were especially lucky and went home with a little something extra.

Many thanks to Sheri Fenley, SJGS, UoP, and CSGA for a fun day spent learning about genealogy!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

2014 San Francisco History Expo

It's back!  Once again history will come alive at the Old Mint in San Francisco when the doors open on March 1 and 2 for the largest San Francisco History Expo to date.  More than 60 exhibitors will participate, including historical associations from all over San Francisco, small museums, libraries, and genealogy groups.  This year the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California will join the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, SFGenealogy, California Genealogical Society, and Sutro Library in our little corner of the expo focused on genealogy.  Come by and visit; we'd love to talk to you about your family history!  Presentations and films are planned for both days of the expo on the vault level.

This is the fourth annual San Francisco History Expo.  The theme is "Piecing Together Our Past" (which fits nicely with my concept of genealogy as a jigsaw puzzle, don't you think?).  The Expo is presented by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.  There is an admission fee this year of $5.00, but children under 12 are free, and no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

There will also be a raffle, in which most of the exhibitors are participating.  SFBAJGS will be giving away a year's membership in the society.

The Expo will be held on Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2, at the Old Mint, 88 Fifth Street, San Francisco.  Hours are 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Saturday and 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Sunday.

For more information about the Expo visit or call (415) 537-1105 x100.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Two Journals Finished and Soon to Be Mailed

Oh, I love it when I start to catch up on my schedule!  The February 2014 issue of ZichronNote, journal of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, and the Winter 2014 issue of The Baobab Tree, published by the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, are both done and will be mailed soon to the societies' respective members.  ZichronNote is on schedule, and Baobab should really have come out in January, but considering the previous two issues were two months behind, one month late is a distinct improvement.

This issue of ZichronNote has the conclusion of the article that began in the November 2013 issue, where someone was very surprised to find that her great-grandmother apparently was born Jewish.  Not what one would expect when the woman in question had been known to her family only as an enthusiastic Christian Scientist!  Other articles are the story of unexpectedly finding a cousin in Russia while on a research trip, a description of the genealogy class that was part of the curriculum at a Jewish high school, and thoughts on how to make sure your years of genealogy research will be saved for many generations to come.

The winter issue of The Baobab Tree leads off with the third article in a series exploring some of the surnames originating with slave owners that are still common among blacks in Arkansas.  In addition, the regular column "Genealogy 101" covers a list of some basic vocabulary terms genealogists need to understand; an author expounds on her opinion of why wildcards are far better than Soundex; the descendant of the daughter of a Dutch immigrant and an African slave in Schnectady, New York, who married the son of French-Canadian immigrants tells a little of their story; and the recent movie Twelve Years a Slave generated interested in reading the original book.

ZichronNote and The Baobab Tree are each a benefit of membership for joining the respective genealogical society. Articles for both are accepted from both members and nonmembers.  If you submit an article that is published, you will receive a copy of the issue with your article even if you are not a member (but think about joining!).  Submissions may be articles, reviews, graphics, or almost anything genealogy-related, both original and previously published, and must be relevant to either Jewish or black family history research, respectively.  Submission guidelines for The Baobab Tree, including deadlines, are available online.  For details about submissions to ZichronNote, write to me for more information.

So send me an article!  Can't you tell I love to read?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Black Family History Events

Researchers working on black family history can attend two upcoming genealogy events in the greater San Francisco Bay area.  The first is Black Family History Day, taking place this coming Sunday, February 16, from 1:00–5:00 p.m. at the Oakland FamilySearch Library, 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, California.  The event is free and is presented by the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC) and hosted by the Oakland FamilySearch Library.  This is the fourth year that AAGSNC and the library have worked together on the event, held in celebration of Black History Month.  Attendees can participate in genealogy how-to workshops and receive one-on-one assistance with their research.  More information, including a link to preregister (always a good idea!), is available on the AAGSNC Web site.  I will be one of the volunteers helping people with one-on-one research assistance.

Not too far away, on Saturday, March 8, the 9th annual African American Family History Seminar will be held from 8:30 a.m.–4:00 p.m. at the Sacramento FamilySearch Library, 2745 Eastern Avenue, Sacramento, California.  This event is sponsored by Sacramento City Council member Bonnie Pannell, the California Black Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau Juneteenth Committee, and the Sacramento FamilySearch Library.  It looks like there will be twenty classes this year covering a range of topics, from Reconstruction to newspapers to cemetery records and more.  The seminar doesn't have a Web site, but you can download the registration flyer from my site.  I'll be teaching two classes in Sacramento:  using online historical black newspapers, and finding women's maiden names.

Classes can be a great way to help you make progress with your research, and the different perspective another person can give in individual research sometimes makes a huge difference.  See if one or both of these events fits in your schedule, and maybe you'll be the one making a huge leap in your research this year!

Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Black Family History on "History Detectives"

I've written about History Detectives before.  People who think they have interesting items with historical relevance contact the program, hoping to have research confirm the items' importance.  For Black History Month, I decided to collect links to all the stories having to do with black family history.  I was surprised and delighted to see how many there were!  I've listed them chronologically in order of the events or documents they focus on.  Most of the segments no longer have the videos online, but all of them have PDF files of the transcripts (which really could use some editing!), so you can at least read the text of what was said.

A 1667 land grant to a black woman named Christina, the wife of a former slave, was signed by General Richard Nicolls, the first governor of New York.  The property, which is now in downtown Manhattan, was referred to in the document as being in "the land of the blacks."

A viewer has a photocopy of the record of the manumission of his ancestor Agnes Mathieu, which was granted through a court case in New Orleans in 1779.  The manumission is unusual because it was signed by Bernardo de Galvez, the governor of Spanish colonial Louisiana, whereas most such papers were signed only by the former slaveholder and notarized by a local clerk.

A Continental Army muster roll from 1780 includes the name "Paul Cuffee."  This turns out to be the same Paul Cuffe well known as a Quaker whaling captain and shipbuilder.

Someone bought an 1821 document at a flea market and believes it was a "freedom paper" for the man named on it, John Jubilee Jackson.  Jackson was actually freed in 1818 and the document is a seaman's protection certificate.

Among her grandfather's possessions, a woman found an 1829 bill of sale for a female slave named Willoby.  The woman wants to learn whether Willoby lived long enough to see emancipation.  (I've posted about this segment in some detail.)

The owners of a beautiful home in Natchez, Mississippi, learned that it was built in 1851 by Robert Smith, a free black man.  The owners have also discovered that Smith arrived in New Orleans on a slave ship and now want to know how he came to own the house.

A banjo bought at an auction had a note inside stating that the instrument dates to the mid-1800's and was bought from a former slave by an abolitionist family.  The segment traces both of the families to find the truth of the story.

A face jug discovered in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1950 is traced via the Underground Railroad to its origins in South Carolina.  (This museum catalog shows other examples of face jugs.)

A ca. 1861 tintype of what appears to be two Civil War soldiers, one white and one black, is analyzed in depth, including the relationship between the two men, to answer the question of whether a black man actually served in the Confederate army and carried a weapon.  The tintype was appraised on an Antiques Roadshow episode, and later the owner asked History Detectives to find more information about it.
A woman in South Carolina has some old family letters, including one written in 1877 by her grandmother's brother, suggesting that he was going to Liberia as part of the "Back to Africa" movement.  But the woman doesn't know if he actually made it there.

A Grand Army of the Republic photograph from about 1900 shows two black men in a group of about twenty men.  Along with discussing racial integration (or the lack thereof) in the time period, the investigation tries to identify the two black members of the GAR post.

A poster titled Our Colored Heroes tells the story of two black soldiers during World War I who defended a post against more than twenty Germans.  The poster has a quotation from General John Pershing praising the two men.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Newest Member of the Sellers Family

My niece and sister-in-law
My brother sent out the news today — I am an aunt again!  My new niece is named Miriam Myra.  Miriam is for Moses and Aaron's sister from the Bible; Myra is for her paternal grandmother.  She weighed exactly the same at birth as her older brother did:  6 pounds, 10 ounces.  When Miriam is old enough to understand, I look forward to telling her that her birthday, the first day of February, was also one of her grandmother's plays on words:  the "oneth" of the month.

I hope she will enjoy music and dancing, as her namesake did:  "And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed after her with tambourines and with dancing" (Exodus 15:20).