San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

NARA: Federal Court Records - 1

An overview of records located at NARA San Bruno - Part 1

Federal circuit courts were established to serve as trial courts for federal criminal cases, suits between citizens of different states, and civil suits initiated by the US. They had appellate jurisdiction over large admiralty cases and appeals from the district courts.

1.   California Federal Courts through the Years  . 

Judge Ogden Hoffman Jr.
San Francisco Call
19 December 1893
a.   California became a state in 1850 and the first federal court opened in May 1851: the United States District Court for the Northern District of California with Judge Ogden Hoffman appointed by Congress. 
Judge Hoffman served from 1851 to 1891. In 1852, the judge of the Southern District died and the Northern District judge also served that post until 1854. 

Merchant Exchange 1856
Bancroft Library
The first courthouse opened in 1855 in the Merchant’s Exchange Building on Battery Street. This court considered cases involving admiralty, land disputes, and public order. In 1866, California became one judicial district and in 1886 it was divided again into Northern and Southern districts.

Matthew Hall McCallister
City Hall, San Francisco
b. In 1850 there were nine circuit courts, originally created for the nine justices of the Supreme Court to “ride circuit.” From 1851 to 1855 there was no circuit court for California. The district courts in California held jurisdiction of both district and circuit courts. At that time, California was too far away from Washington, DC, for an assignment to a Supreme Court justice.

c.   In 1855, the US Circuit Court for the Districts of California was established without a Supreme Court Justice to preside. This court had the same jurisdiction as other federal circuit courts. It met once a year in San Francisco, with special sessions as necessary. Matthew McAllister served as the judge until 1863; his salary was $4500.

d.  In 1863, the California circuit court was abolished and Congress created the Tenth Circuit and appointed a Supreme Court justice to serve that circuit. The first justice to hold that position was Stephen J. Field. Jurisdiction included California and Oregon. In 1865 Nevada was added. The Tenth Circuit was abolished in 1866 and California, Nevada, and Oregon were assigned to the Ninth Circuit, with Lorenzo Sawyer as the first judge. California remained in the Ninth Circuit, with further states added in succeeding years.
Stephen Johnson Field 1875
Library of Congress

Lorenzo Sawyer
History of the Federal Judiciary

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NARA Databases: Fair Employment Practices Committee

WWII War Industry Workers Discrimination Files

By Martha Wallace

Courtesy NARA at SF
Did someone in your family work in an essential war indus­try in Northern Cali­fornia, Washington, Oregon or Nevada during World War II? Was this person a racial or relig­ious minority, or from another country?
The Fair Employment Practices Committee was created by Presi­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt by Ex­ecutive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941. The order banned dis­crimination in any de­fense in­dus­try receiving federal con­tracts by declaring … "there shall be no discrimination in the em­ploy­ment of work­ers in defense in­dus­tries or government be­cause of race, creed, color, or na­tional origin." The order also empow­ered the FEPC to investi­gate complaints and take ac­tion re­garding em­ployment dis­crimi­nation. Only those cases that in­volved essential war­time indus­tries were inves­tigated.

It was created by President Roo­sevelt after A. Phillip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened a march on Washington unless something was done to cor­rect the great injustices in employ­ment discrimi­nation that were occurring, not only among Afri­can Ameri­cans, but also because of relig­ion and nationality. FDR agreed to have the FEPC pro­hibit discrimination in de­fense plants, but he re­fused to address the is­sue of segregation in the mili­tary, which had been Randolph's original concern.
For the first two years, the Committee existed only in Wash­ington, D. C., with little funding and power. In May 1943, the committee ex­panded to 13 re­gional and 5 sub-regional of­fices with power (and funding) to inves­tigate claims, conduct hearings, and take steps to eliminate dis­crimi­na­tion. The re­gional FEPC office in San Francisco handled all cases on the west coast, including Washington, Nevada, and Oregon, with a sub-office in Los Angeles.
Hiring by wartime industries was done in two gen­eral ways: 
•  Requests sent by a company or a government service (for ex­ample, Alameda Naval Air Sta­tion) to the USES (United States Employment Service).
•  Requests sent to the union by a com­pany with a union con­tract.

 The records contain stories of brave men and 
women who filed complaints with the FEPC

Complaints could be lodged against a busi­ness, union, or gov­ernment agency and fell into the categories of race, relig­ion, na­tional origin, and citi­zenship. Complaints devel­oped from four gen­eral types of griev­ances:

1. Supervisors often gave preference in types of jobs and promotions to whites, giving the African Americans and other minorities more me­nial jobs and not ad­vancing them to posi­tions which had better conditions and higher pay, al­though in many cases the complainant had received govern­ment training for the better position, and often had moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest or the South to take advan­tage of the job opportuni­ties. Often minority workers doing the same job as white workers received less pay.
2. Company policies and practices did not al­low the hiring of certain groups. Often the excuse was that the whites, or whites from the South, would not tolerate working with the minorities. This trans­lated into a need for separate facilities (changing rooms, more offices, etc.) leading to greater cost and space problems.

Report from Richmond Shipyards, Electricians Union B-302. 
Courtesy NARA at SF
3. The other workers wouldn’t tolerate working with minorities. As explained above, companies said they tried to deal with this at great cost and inconvenience. The FEPC often sent a pamphlet “How Management Can Integrate Negroes in War Industries,” or would offer help to the company to deal with the issue.
4. Unions had written into their charters that African Americans and/or women were not al­lowed to join. The companies, especially the ship­building companies, had contracts with the un­ions and would not hire anyone who did not have a “ticket” from the union.
Once this was challenged, the unions created aux­iliaries for African Americans. Although they paid full membership, they did not receive full mem­bership benefits, including insurance, the right to vote, and the right to certain types of jobs – usu­ally the better jobs in terms of conditions and pay.
A California Supreme Court Case, James vs. Marinship and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (February 1944) dealt with union dis­crimination. The decision held that aux­iliaries were il­legal and that unions could not ex­clude African Ameri­cans when there was a closed shop in the industry. It effec­tively vacated the union’s practice of re­quiring auxiliary member­ship for African Ameri­cans who worked in the shipyards and ordered the union to grant them equal mem­bership with other shipyard workers.

Letter to President Roosevelt from Lila James, Thanksgiving Day, 1942. 
Courtesy NARA st SF

 The records contain stories of brave men and women who filed complaints with the FEPC. When the situations are described, the discrimi­na­tion is often so blatant and the opportunities so obvious for retaliation against a complainant, that it is clear that it took amazing courage to come forth with the complaint.

The records produced in the San Francisco office of the FEPC for northern California, Portland, and Seattle had been stored away and rarely in­vesti­gated until the recent creation of a database  by Helen Crisman and Martha Wallace. The database is  which is available at the National Archives, Pacific Re­gion and on the SMCGS website.

These files are a valuable resource for those who are researching family history, wartime in­dus­try, the labor movement, and civil rights.

Check the FEPC Index (link below) If you find a file of interest fill in the research form and contact NARA to set up a time to view the files, which need to be brought from the stacks. The thrill of reading the whole story and perhaps finding a letter with your ancestor’s signature is not to be missed!

Betty Reid Soskin 3376
NPS Photo

During World War II Betty Reid Soskin worked as a clerk for Boilermakers Union A-36, an Afri­can-American auxiliary. Today she is a park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Rich­mond, which explores and honors the role of women and African-Americans in war industries

The National Archives, Pacific Region, San Francisco
1000 Commodore Drive, San Bruno, CA 94066-2350
(650) 238-3501

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NARA Databases: An Overview

The San Mateo County Genealogical Society is pleased to announce that we will be hosting a series of databases created by Martha Wallace, a volunteer at the National Archives at San Francisco (actually in San Bruno).  The databases will be available on  Click on Research and choose DATABASES.  On the Database Page look for the heading NARA - Pacific Region - SF.

Records held by the National Archives at San Francisco involve only Federal Activity. They mainly cover  Northern California, Nevada (except Clark County), Hawaii and the territories of American Samoa, Guam and the former trust territory of the Pacific Islands.  In some cases when a federal agency's region was centered in these areas with wider coverage,  you might find records for other states and Southern California.

The databases that Martha Wallace has created focus on two areas, the FEPC records from WWII and District and Circuit Court Records covering the years 1851 to 1912. Since San Francisco was the judicial center for California in early statehood, the court databases provide an opportunity to find people who lived in the bay area. Future blog posts will provide descriptions of those records, links to other relevant websites and most importantly links to the databases, which are indexes to individuals and companies involved with some description of the contents of the cases.

Remember, the National Archives is a just that, an archival repository.  Records are not available instantly, it is necessary to make an appointment.  When making the appointment you should provide as much information as possible on the records you would like to view. For more information on making an appointment visit the NARA Contact Page.

The databases we will be hosting are just the tip of the iceberg of records held in San Bruno. Available holdings are contained in 109 different record groups. Finding Aids for Records in NARA at San Francisco provides a link to a guide that describes the contents of the collections. There are also links to more detailed descriptions, lists and indexes for some of the collections .  One example is the index to Alcatraz Prisoner files,