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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Digging for Roots Online: Palaeography

 By Dennis L. Maness, MLS

I had just sat down in a RootsTech 2014 classroom for what should have been a class in using non-English language records when it was announced that the speaker had to cancel the class. Instead they were substituting a talk by a professor and graduate student from BYU (Brigham Young University) on a new program and website that was just then being built—the website is called “Script Tutorial: Making sense of oldhandwriting”.  

Now I have to admit that, in spite of this actually being important if one wants to do serious family history research, I have never done much handwriting transcription or abstracting, relying on others to do the job for me. After hearing this lecture that may change.

Before we continue let’s make sure we know what we’re discussing; in a blog post in the UK’s version of The Huffington Post ( , Scott Phillips defines it this way:

"Palaeography Noun (mass noun): The study of ancient writing systems and the deciphering and dating of historical manuscripts."
He continues: “If you have worked with any manuscripts, wills, indentures, deeds, etc. from before the invention of the typewriter, then you know this isn't your father's handwriting we often find ourselves dealing with in our family history.”

At this point may I say that “palaeography” is the British spelling; in the U.S. “paleography” is the more common spelling. But since most of the sites I’ll be mentioning today spell the word the British way I used that in the title.

The site we’re talking about, “Script Tutorial” had literally come live on the Web just two days before RootsTech! As they say on the home page 

“Work on the Script Tutorial will continue throughout 2014, please "Pardon Our Dust" as we make these revisions.” The authors describe the page this way:
This website offers guidance in the deciphering of documents written in handwriting styles or alphabets no longer in general use. It concentrates on alphabets used between 1500 and 1800 in western Europe.
Currently it offers instruction in English, German, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese;Latin and eastern European languages will be added in the future.” (We will be discussing only English in this post.)

The opening screen shows this:

You should click on the center “Researchers” where, on the right hand side, you will see:

You will find an introduction to English Script, Techniques & Tools, Documents, and my favorite, Interactive Exercises.

But, perhaps, before you continue, I would recommend going to the FamilySearch Wiki  and searching for “handwriting”. (They don’t use the word paleography!) You’ll see this:

They also took my next suggestion right out of my mouth: Other web sites can be found by going to Cyndi's List - Handwriting & Script or by doing a search on Google for terms such as handwriting, paleography, or Old English with the term England.


Although I think “Script Tutorial” may become the #1 place to go to learn palaeography for now you may wish to go to the [U.K.] National Archives-Palaeography, and use some of their tutorials.

Another excellent place for tutorials is “EnglishHandwriting 1500-1700: an online course”  

A bit more academic tutorials can be found at MedievalPalaeography.

Clicking on the Henry VIII half groat for instance, will get you to a page with a column of choices:

(This is a partial list) I clicked on “Start reading 1):

There is a good discussion on the “Society of Genealogists: The National Family History Centre” site. (

And on another page (

Kip Sperry is considered one of the best experts on Early American Handwriting. In fact that is the name of possibly the best book on the subject. We have it in our Society library:

Since this blog post is about online learning, I recommend a page offered by that has an excerpt from this excellent book (

And it goes on from there.

I suspect I have just scratched the surface of Internet information on Palaeography/Paleography and that you will find this useful in the future when you run across those seemingly undecipherable manuscripts and records.

Remember, as Legacy Family Tree’s Geoff Rasmussen says,

“Life is short; do genealogy first!”

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SMCGS Spring 2014 Seminar

Saturday, May 3, 2014 – 9:00am – 3:00pm

“Brick Walls:  Bust ‘Em, Don’t Build ‘Em”

Menlo Park LDS Church - 1105 Valparaiso, Menlo Park

Members $20 Non-members $25Lunch $8
Register Online with Paypal  by Apr. 25
See Mail in Form Below

Family History Center open at breaks, lunch and after seminar

  8:00 – 9:00
REGISTRATION & Time to Browse our Silent Auction Items & Book Sales
  9:00 – 9:15
  9:15 – 10:15     LECTURE ONE
“Assumption Is the Mother of All Screw-ups” – Susan Goss Johnston
Genealogy research requires the creation of hypotheses, but those sneaky, silent assumptions that creep into our work may result in maple branches grated onto our oak tree.  Learn how to avoid making those assumptions.
10:15- 10:40
 10:40 – 11:40   LECTURE TWO
“Writing Your Family History One Byte At a Time” – Susan Goss Johnston
Writing a family narrative is a great way to highlight conflicts and holes in your research; and a fascinating narrative will bring your family to life.  Learn how to write it one byte at a time.
 11:40 – 12:45   LUNCH
LUNCH – Time to check out the Silent Auction Items, Book Sales and the Family History Center

 12:45  –  1:45   LECTURE THREE
“Seven Strategies For Finding the Hard Ones – Part 1” -  James Baker
Sometimes our genealogy research hits a “brick wall”.  Mr. Baker will present his seven strategies to “find the hard ones”.  He will talk about the methods for finding new data, the results, and the “payoff”.  Examples of successes using these strategies will be presented.
 1:45  –  2:00   BREAK

 2:00  -   3:00   LECTURE FOUR
“Seven Strategies For Finding the Hard Ones – Part 2” – James Baker

Directions to Menlo Park LDS Church - 1105 Valparaiso Ave. MP

From 101 North or South:  Exit 101 at Woodside Road and proceed west to the El Camino.  Turn left onto the El Camino.  Proceed south through Redwood City and     Atherton to Menlo Park.  Turn right at the stoplight at Valparaiso.  Proceed for 5 left turn only blocks.  Just past Arbor Rd. on the left is the LDS Church.

From 280 North or South:  Exit 280 at Sand Hill Rd. east and proceed east to the El Camino.  Turn left onto the El Camino.  Proceed through Menlo Park to the stoplight at Valparaiso Ave.  Turn left onto Valparaiso.  Proceed for 5 left turn only blocks.  Just past Arbor Rd. on the left is the LDS Church. 

Right click on form to open in a new tab for printing

Friday, February 28, 2014

Burial Place Finally Found!

Burial place finally found – thanks to indexing volunteers who helped get the Holy Cross Cemetery records online at!

Joyce Morey

One of the people I started researching when I first became addicted to this hobby was my husband’s great grandfather, Cherubino Mariotti.  He immigrated to San Francisco from Corsagna, Italy around 1870. He married Maria Fischer in 1880 and sadly died in 1883 at the age of 33.

I searched for his burial place for a long time.  I had been to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma numerous times as this is where most of the family had been buried.  I had asked them if he was also buried there but was told they had no record of a “Cherubino Mariotti”.  (My fault – I could have found him sooner if I had known way back then to be very specific with my request and not so specific with the name but to look for variations in spellings and to get a list of everyone with the same surname.)

While visiting the cemetery with a cousin a couple of years back we asked them to look up a gravesite for us.  They told us that the index was now online so we could look it up ourselves next time.  The index is online at  I was able to look up the other family members on it so I thought I would try to find Cherubino again.  This time I know better than to rely on any specific spelling, however, I got lucky with my first try on the last name Mariotti – there was one listing but it listed the first name as “Columbus”.

Well another lesson I have learned over the years is to look at the image itself which fortunately was attached.  Sure enough it did say Columbus BUT the other information was a good match for Cherubino.

Line 8:
Name: Mariotti, Columbus
Nativity: Italy
Married/Single: Married
Occupation: Laborer
Residence: 424 Fulton
Parish: St. Bon
Death: Typhoid Fever? (hard to read)
Died: 1883 Nov 28
Age: 31
Purchaser: Catherine Mariotti

While the first names are not correct I believe this is Cherubino.  The residence 424 Fulton was his and Maria’s address at that time, their parish was St Boniface.  St. Boniface was a German parish and while Cherubino was Italian he attended this church with his German wife.  The death date is the same and age is very close.  This register would only have been as correct as the information they received from the informant at the time.  The informant may not have even been his wife, since she was 22 years old and 8 months pregnant at the time, someone else may have helped her provide the cemetery with info for his burial.   (And in all of my research I have never come across a “Columbus” Mariotti in San Francisco).

Mount Calvary Cemetery was originally part of Lone Mountain Cemetery (cousins have said this is where they were told he was buried) which was located between Geary Blvd, Turk ST, Joseph's and Masonic Avenues.  His grave was among those removed and reinterred at Holy Cross. There are no individual grave markers, only three crosses standing at the top of the mound.

Inscription on base:
Interred here are the remains of 39,307 Catholics moved from Mt. Calvary Cemetery in 1940 and 1941 by order of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Rest in God's Loving Care.

The Removal Record was also found on this website. Cherubino was reinterred on 24 April 1940.  The family was still living in San Francisco at that time. I wonder if the family could not be found and that’s why he ended up with the other people who had not been claimed instead of in a separate grave with the rest of the family buried at Holy Cross.

It’s possible that his surviving family could not be located.  Even though they still lived in San Francisco, the family changed their name from Mariotti to Morey in 1911…but that’s another story!

Register was found at under Cemeteries.

"San Francisco Colma Cemetery Index," database, SFgenealogy. ( : accessed 29 Jan 2013), entry for Mariotti, “all collections” searched .

Sunday, February 2, 2014

An Irish Research Update

The Irish Family History Foundation has published a new digital newsletter Clann. You will find information on what's happening in the county research centres and elsewhere in the Irish genealogical community as well as a few how to items.

Add to your monthly free subscription to Irish Lives Remembered  and Ireland's Genealogical Gazette (free but joining the Genealogical Society is worthwhile for their other benefits) for up to date information on the genealogical records of Ireland

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays

Here are a few links to Library of Congress blogs and materials to get you in the holiday mood.

Songs of the Winter Season Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell  Collected by the California Works Progress Administration 1938-1939.  Here you'll find some wonderful ethnic and folk songs for the holidays.

Topics in Chronicling America: "Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?"  "In 1897, Virginia O'Hanlon writes to the New-York Sun with a simple question and the response goes on to become the most famous newspaper editorial ever published....This topic page provides useful information for searching about the famous "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" editorial in Chronicling America's historic newspapers, including significant dates, associated search terms, as well as sample article links... Read more about it!"  Click on the links to the articles on the bottom to put yourself in a holiday mood.

After checking out these holiday links take a side trip to the LOC Blog Page and sign up for those that interest you.

Monday, December 16, 2013

San Mateo County First Families Blog

Russ Brabec actively researches Daly City and Colma Pioneers.  He's compiled family histories using records in the San Mateo County Record Depository, newspapers and other resources. Check out his list of available families the San Mateo County First Families blog.  While you are there check the other pages where you will find links to cemeteries, place histories and more.  This is a slowly growing collection of San Mateo County materials.  Do you have information you'd like to share?  Are you looking for information on early San Mateo County residents.  Contact to contribute to the blog.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunset View Cemetery

San Francisco’s Cemetery for the Paupers and the Indigent
By Russ Brabec

The San Francisco City Cemetery [also known as the Golden Gate Cemetery] at the site of the present day Palace of Legion of Honor was ordered closed in 1898, to the pleasure of the Outer Richmond District residents of San Francisco.  No burials were to be made after March 1898.  With nowhere to bury these souls, undertakers searched for land that would be approved as a new paupers cemetery.  A. Verkonteren in 1899 saw the benefit of burying paupers on property that he thought he owned in northern San Mateo County.  His widow, Olive Verkonteren, quickly sold the land in 1899, and the cemetery operated by the Hagen brothers, James, Joseph, and William, grew to encompass a full square block of the Abbey Homestead Association subdivision east side of Hillside Boulevard. The ledger books containing the burials, which for a long time were thought to be lost, were given in 2013 to the Colma Historical Association by Olivet Memorial Park. The books cover the years 1901-1904, 1907-1919 and 1922-1948.  The book for the period 1905 and 1906 may have been lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and burials because of that event may have overwhelmed the record keeping. The cemetery is not maintained and the gravestones were removed many years ago. "The land is currently owned by the privately held Cypress Abbey Corporation."