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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

SMCGS Sharing Stories 2017

Notes of My Grandfather’s Early Years in San Mateo County

Jim Kelly

My grandfather, James Arthur Kelly, was born in San Francisco on July 18, 1875. Records indicated his father was Patrick Kelly from New York and that his mother was Bridget (Lyons) Kelly, from Ireland. His father may have died shortly after my grandfather’s birth but I really don’t know. What I do know was that his mother was married to a Mr. Edmund Smith (a naturalized citizen from England) and they had had one child, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Anne Smith, born in San Francisco in July 1880.

It appears the family didn’t live in San Francisco long after the birth of my grandfather’s sister. Based on the voter’s registration for his stepfather, the family had moved to a farm along the San Mateo County Coast, referred to today as Moss Beach. His stepfather’s name can be found in the San Mateo County Great Register (a voter’s registration document), living in the Denniston (voting) Precinct.   Edmund first record was found in the 1882 registration, and his registrations continued until about 1901. Of note, in 1896 when my grandfather turned 21, both my grandfather and his stepfather voted in this precinct.
A close neighbor to my grandfather’s family were the Kyne family. In particular, the Kyne’s son Peter, Peter would, in his later years, became well known for his books and stories.  Peter was a few years younger than my grandfather, but Peter, (my great-aunt) Lizzie, and my grandfather all attended a one room school in the area. My Aunt Mary told me that my grandfather kept in touch with his school teacher, a Miss Rose Meechan, for years after he had grown.
I’ve included Peter Kyne because they served together during the Spanish American war and Peter was the best man at my grandparent’s wedding.  Spoiler alert, it appears this friendship ended a few years after my grandparents marriage when my grandfather loaned money to Mr. Kyne and the loan was not repaid.
A family story was that my grandfather had driven a horse drawn wagon for the Levy Brothers Department Store as a young man. The Levy Brothers operated a chain of department stores in San Mateo County, one: in Half Moon Bay, in Burlingame, in San Mateo, and in Redwood City. At least one of the Levy brothers lived in the Half Moon Bay area and that store might have been considered the company headquarters in the early years. The business operated from the late 1870’s until the final store closed in the early 1970’s.  I actually worked in the Burlingame Levy Brothers store for about a year while attending Burlingame High School. I’d estimate my grandfather worked for the Levy’s sometime between the years 1890 and 1905.  A relative told me that there was a photo of my grandfather driving the Levy’s wagon, hanging in a restaurant named the Peanut Farm, in Woodside, California. I understand that restaurant closed about 1985, and I wasn’t able to locate the photo.  Since the Levy’s operated a stage coach line for a short time, I have been interested in whether the wagon was designed for carrying passenger or to haul freight and supplies?
On July 28, 1896, my grandfather’s mother passed away, according to a record in the “Record of Internment” journal from the Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church in Half Moon Bay. Her name was recorded as Bridget Kelly (Smith) (with the name “Smith” enclosed in brackets). According to this journal record, Bridget had emigrated from Ireland and she was 52 years old at the time of her death. She was recorded as being buried in a Half Moon Bay cemetery, most likely in the Pilarcitos Cemetery. I searched for grave marker for Bridget in the Cemetery, but I didn’t find one.  I checked around for a log or map of burials in that site and the church staff provided me with a contact person with knowledge of the site.  I talked with her and she told me that there were many individuals or groups who had administered the cemetery over the years, and that she didn’t know of any books or site maps.
James A. Kelly in his Army uniform.  According to printing on the photograph’s matting and/or on the frame (plus someone added a date in pen on the rear one the photo), this image of my Grandfather in his uniform was apparently taken in Manila P.I. on August 1899 at the Fotografico Espanola Studio.

A photo of my grandfather in his military uniform was always around my parent’s house. With some research, I found both my grandfather and Mr. Kyne served in the Philippine Islands during the Spanish- American War. Both men enlisted on June 18, 1898, according to the “Register of Enlistments”, and were part of the Army’s 14th Infantry from San Francisco. They may have received basic training at Camp Merritt in San Francisco but I haven’t been able to confirm it. They arrived in the Philippine’s in October 1898 and served until both men were discharged on August 16, 1899, in Manila. My grandfather was a cook but I don’t know Mr. Kyne’s assignment, I also don’t find any records of these men in combat.  According to my grandparents 50th Wedding Anniversary announcement in a church bulletin, only my grandfather and Mr. Kyne served in the Spanish-American War from San Mateo County.  When the two arrived home, a party was held in their honor on the coast.

On October 29, 1899, in the Society news section of the San Francisco Call Newspaper, there was a reference to the party in Half Moon Bay welcoming the two local soldiers back from overseas. Here in the S.F. Call newspaper, my Grandfather was listed as James “Kelly” while in the Redwood City Times-Gazette newspaper he was referred to under his stepfather’s last name, or James “Smith”. My father claims his father always used the last name “Kelly”.
Shortly after my grandfather arrived home from Manila, he moved to San Francisco looking for work.  His stepfather sold the farm about the same time and moved to Alameda County.  My grandfather met and married my grandmother, Clara I. Fitzpatrick, a few years later. They married in January 1906, a few months before the great San Francisco earthquake. My grandparents raised six children, including my father, in San Francisco.

James and Clara’s Wedding photo.   From left to right: James A. Kelly, Clara I. Fitzpatrick, Clara’s Maid of Honor: Isabel Tormay, and James’ Best Man: Peter B. Kyne. They were married at St. Peters Catholic Church, San Francisco on January 31, 1906 but that may not where this photo was taken. A copy of this photo was in both Mary (Kelly) Kraut’s and Joan (Kelly) Debrincat’s collection.  I don’t know the story about Clara’s Maid of Honor Isabel Tormay except that sometime after the wedding she joined a Catholic order, later being referred to as Mother Augustine. 
About 1949, after the children had grown, my grandparents retired to a house in Burlingame, California. My grandfather died in February 1962. My father attributes his death to a freak snow storm in Burlingame and that my grandfather (age 86) walked to and from the Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church and became weakened by sitting in his wet clothes. He was buried at Holy Cross cemetery in Colma, California.

From a Catholic Church Bulletin, the Monitor, dated February 17, 1956 is a write-up on my grandparent's 50th Wedding Anniversary. My grandfather must have told the reporter that he was one of two men to serve in the Spanish American War from San Mateo County.
Jim Kelly is a long time member of SMCGS and also a very active member of the San Mateo County Historical Association.  He has been a docent at the Woodside Store for about 30 years. Born in San Francisco, Jim was raised in Burlingame and has lived in San Mateo for the last 35 years.  He worked for the City of Burlingame in the Public Works division before retiring. Jim keeps his family tree on and actively adds cousins in the hope that he will find more DNA matches.  You can contact Jim at jimkelly192003 @ 

© 2017 Jim Kelly - Please contact author for use of any portion of this story.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

SMCGS Database: Homesteads

Index to San Mateo County Homesteads Vol 1-4

We are all familiar with the Homestead Act of 1862 which helped populate the west by giving free land to those willing to settle and improve the land,  but that is not the basis for the Homestead Registers found in California.  

The California state archives gives the following description of the Homestead Registers in their collections: Homesteads Recorded declarations, and usually abandonments, of homestead indicating intent to use property as a place of residence. For declarations, contains name of homesteader, statements on marital status, residence on property, and intent to use property as a homestead, description and estimated value of land, date recorded, and signature of homesteader. Abandonments include statement of voluntary release of homestead rights, date of homestead, and signature of homesteader

Homestead Registers were the result of the approval of a "An Act to Exempt the Homestead from forced sale in certain cases" by the California State Legislature  on 21 April 1851.  The registers, however, do not appear to have been kept separately from other documents until the passage of an amendment to the original law on 28 Apr 1860.   

The San Mateo County registers start after that date as do those in the CA Archives collection.  Earlier declarations and abandonments would most likely be found in Miscellaneous Registers, Sole Trader Registers, or Deed Registers.

Basically the law gave a husband and/or wife (or a head of household) the right to declare, in writing, that a quantity of land with a dwelling house, on which they resided, was a homestead exemption from creditors.  The worth of the homestead could be no more than $5000. The declaration must be signed and recorded.  The 1860 amendment specified that husbands and wives were to be considered joint tenants of any homestead that either declared.

The law goes on to state that the exemption does not extended to any mechanic's, laborer's or vendor's lien which had been lawfully obtained or to any mortgage that was taken to purchase the homestead. Prior to an amendment approved on 12 May 1862 it was necessary to file an abandonment of homestead in order for a new lien, mortgage, etc. to be legal.  After that as long as all interested parties signed the new document the homestead was considered abandoned.

In 1860 the right to declare a residence a homestead was extended to all white residents regardless of whether they were married or head of a household.  The value of the homestead exemption allowed was set at $1000. The amount of land was set at 320 acres or if in city limits no more than 320 feet square.

California still allows homestead declarations. You can find many websites dealing with declaring a homestead today.  The following links are to background information on homestead legislation in California.

General Laws of the State of California, from 1850-1864 - Homesteads
Homestead Legislation in California

This index to San Mateo County Homestead filings covers the years 1860 through 1913.  Digital images of the recordings can be found on FamilySearch.  There are links to the online books at the beginning of the index.

Index to San Mateo County Homesteads Vol 1-4