Genealogy Roadshow–San Francisco

This week, Genealogy Roadshow left its heart in San Francisco and made sure to wear some flowers in its hair.

Truth be told, I have been looking forward to this episode more than the previous two.  With all due respect to Nashville and Detroit, neither city’s history–nor in fact any US city with the exception of New York (and arguably Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia)–has anything as colorful as San Francisco’s.  There’s just so much there.  The Gold Rush, the railroad, the Chinese and Irish immigrations, the 1906 earthquake, the Counterculture, the Gay Rights Movement–San Francisco is just so darn interesting.  I also have a small connection to the place; my great-great-grandfather’s brother moved out there and I recently discovered a whole large family on the West Coast.

This week’s episode took place at the Old San Francisco Mint, and although the history of the building is usually the best time for a bathroom break, I actually thought it was rather interesting.  Mints are fascinating places.  I loved visiting the one in Philadelphia.  I also remember looking at my coins to see if I could tell they were printed.  I believe it was a P for Philadelphia, an S for San Francisco, and a D for Denver, but if I am wrong I am sure some kind soul will correct me in the comment section.

As always, we are guided by our intrepid hosts Kenyatta Berry and Joshua Taylor, the latter of him looks different, perhaps it is a snazzier haircut.  I hope fame is not going to his head.  (I also wonder about the other genealogists who do work behind-the-scenes.  I highly doubt just Berry and Taylor do all the research.)

Our first participant was Lisa Gates, a fourth generation Californian, whose mother is the family history and who was at the Mint for the family presentation.  Apparently Lisa’s mother told her that they were related to James Marshall, the man who discovered gold in California, but other relatives said that was not true.  Lisa also wanted to know about the circumstances surrounding the death of her great-great-grandfather Clinton Augustus Edson.  He was murdered, but the reasons were unclear.  Was it an angry, cuckolded husband furious about an affair his wife had with his boss Clinton?  Was it a disgruntled employee?  (Could the disgruntled employee be disgruntled because his boss had an affair with his wife?)  Berry traced Lisa Gates ancestry back to Maine and found no evidence to connect her to James Marshall, who was from New Jersey (Lisa’s reaction?  She tells her mother, “You’re in trouble.”)  Berry was however, able to tell Lisa how Edson was murdered.  An employee named Charles Becker killed him.  As Edson was in is 50’s and Becker and his wife were in their 70’s at the time, it was probably not about an affair.  Becker alleged that Edson hadn’t paid him for three years and owed him $800.  Becker filed an unsuccessful lawsuit and then took matters in his own hands.  Becker killed Edson and was sentenced to San Quentin for eight years for manslaughter.  Lisa joked about whether they still owned the Becker family and would be hunted down.

Cecilia Chen is a fourth generation Chinese American in the San Francisco Bay area.  Her father said that they were related to a gangster named Big Jim Chen.  Cecilia wanted to know about how her family and her connection to her history as an Asian-American.  Taylor told her that Big Jim Chen was very hard to trace.  Then we get a history of the Chinese immigration, how they were first embraced and then in the 1870’s blamed for an economic recession which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and which in turn led to a rise in criminal activity and secret societies.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943 and the quotas were eliminated in 1965.  For Cecilia’s family, her grandmother Mary Fat Yee came to San Francisco with her family from New York, but it was neither direct not easy.  (Cuba was involved somehow in their travels.)  The family had to carry picture identification with them at all times, which was bad for them, but great for Cecilia who got to see pictures of her great-grandparents Fat Yee and Chin Shee.  Fat Yee was a native-born citizen, but still he was interrogated because he was Chinese.  Chin Shee came from the same region of China as Big Jim Chen (who also went by the name Chin Shin), but other than that Taylor could not find a connection, sort promising that he would keep trying.  Big Jim Chen was apparently a really good gangster, which meant that he was really good at hiding the paper trail.  So in the absence of documents, only the oral history is left.  Then Taylor says something about the American dream, and I kind of tuned out thinking I had wandered into Who Do You Think You Are.

Jennifer Weed’s great-great-grandfather was John W. Lambert, the inventor of the first gasoline-powered automobile–years ahead of Henry Ford and others.  The story in Weed’s family was that there was a feud with Ford, and no one in her family has driven a Ford since.  Taylor confirms that Lambert did invent the gasoline-powered automobile (and was also the first crash in American history when he ran into a tree), but there was no evidence of a feud, so Jennifer can safely drive a Ford.

Dava Segal’s family was from the South and she wanted to know if they were involved in the Civil War.  They were. Her ancestor George Efner was in the Confederate Army, the Shreveport Rangers from Louisiana.  They were an elite side who fought in major battles including the Siege of Vicksburg, where Efner was wounded and taken as a POW.  Despite taking an oath of allegiance, Efner returned to the fighting, and I think I heard that he was taken as a POW again.  One of Efner’s ancestors, Joseph Efner, fought in the Revolutionary War under Benedict Arnold at both battles of Saratoga.  Although no one said this out loud, Dava now can petition to be in the DAR.

Casey Robbins was researching her father’s side when she discovered that she may be connected to the Folger family, one of the original families to settle Nantucket.  Benjamin Franklin was also a Folger and Casey wanted to know if there was a connection to him.  There was a history segment about Franklin’s early life (being from Philadelphia, I am quite familiar with Ben Franklin.  There was however, a really interesting article about his sister Jane a couple of months back in The New Yorker.)  Casey did have a connection to Nantucket; her 5th great-grandfather Jesse Bunker was a Nantucket whaler who died at sea.  Bunker’s widow was Eunice Folger Bunker.  Eunice’s line could be traced back to Peter Folger (Casey’s 10th great-grandfather), who was one of the first settlers of Nantucket.  He learned the languages of the native tribes, was a court clerk, and wrote all the early records.  His wife Mary Morell came over as an indentured servant, but Peter paid $20 to buy her contract and married her (“the best appropriation of money I ever made.”)  Apparently Mary Morell was mentioned by Herman Melville in Moby Dick as Franklin’s grandmother.  ( I need to try to read that book again, but every time I give up.)  Benjamin Franklin and Casey are first cousins 10 times removed.

Michael Logan got a DNA test.  When he went to give blood for the bone marrow registry, he was discovered to have an unusual pathogen, which will be fatal if he gets sick. On that less-than-cheerful note, Berry went through the results of his admixture test–primarily Northern European descent, some Southern and Eastern European descent, and a tiny amount of North African descent.  His paternal line (Y-Chromosome) appeared to originate in Scandinavia (“ABBA country, right?”)  Maybe it’s just me, but that seemed rather glib and uncomfortable: “I could die.” “Okay; let’s check your DNA results.”  I think that perhaps different decisions should have been taken in the editing room.

Karla McLaren had troubled getting past her grandparents on one branch of her tree for her own research, so Taylor tells her about her grandfather, his father Delaney Rogers, and Delaney’s father who fought for the Union in Civil War from 1861-64.

Jamie O’Keefe is a 5th generation San Francisco native whose great-grandparents, Frank and Anne (Savage) O’Keefe, met as a result of the 1906 earthquake (you knew they had to get that in somewhere).  There was confusion about how they met.  Was his home destroyed and he stayed in her barn or was hers destroyed and she stayed at his bar?  According to Berry, Timothy O’Keefe, Jamie’s great-great-grandfather, immigrated from Ireland in 1874.  He ended up in San Francisco where the Irish were a third of the population.  In 1896, Timothy opened a grocery store and saloon (O’Keefe’s Saloon).  Seven years later, he died and his son Edward took over.  Edward’s younger brother Frank was 19.  Anne Savage was also of Irish descent.  She and her sister owned  business which primarily sold ostrich feathers.  Frank, in the Mission District, survived as did his business and much of his neighborhood.  Anne was not so lucky.  In 1909 Frank and Anne were married, all of which points out to her taking refuge in his saloon.

Finally Jim Saltzman wanted to know about his relative who was reportedly a survivor of the horrific 1860 Wiyot Massacre on an island off Humboldt County.  He brought in a walking stick that he thought belonged to his ancestor Eliza Lindgren, but his mother said it belonged to Josephine Beach, who he thought was Eliza’s sister, and who was the survivor in question.  Josephine got lost in a fog, and as a result, she escaped the massacre.  The rest of her family was not so lucky.  It turned out that Eliza and Josephine were not only not sisters, they were not even from the same tribe.  Using the 1900 censuses (General and Indian), Taylor was able to tell Jim that although Eliza and Josephine were not sisters, there was a connection–Eliza’s daughter married Josephine’s son.  The walking stick belonged to Jim’s ancestor.

And that is it for this week.  Next time, the season finale.

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4 responses to “Genealogy Roadshow–San Francisco

  1. Nice report. I have been to the SF Mint many years ago. I took my class there for a field trip. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake they closed the mint along with other cool places to visit like the Levi factory. I enjoyed it a lot.

    Reading the history of the Chinese in California has given me a new perspective of my visit to Chinatown when I was in grade school. It really hadn’t been that long since the Chinese had become acceptable people. I remembered being fascinated by their culture…and yes, I love Chinese food!

  2. Great show I about flipped when I seen the picture of John Lambert He was a relative on my Grandmothers side I have a lot of stuff pertaining to the Buckeye factory were Lambert autos were built

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