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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

San Mateo County Places

Belmont. -- The name meaning  "beautiful mountain" was given to the place by Steinburger & Beard... "and any one who has seem the symmetrically rounded eminence that stands near the town, must confess to the appropriateness of the name. The town was started in 1850, and for California, Belmont is an old town. It was the first county seat of San Mateo county, and before the coming of the Southern Pacific railroad, had considerable commercial importance.

"The beautiful valley, at the entrance to which Belmont is located, is called Canada Diabolo. It is difficult to conceive how this charming little valley received the above designation, unless it was on the assumption that his satanic majesty, having an intimate acquaintance with all parts of the globe fixed upon this as the most desirable. At all events, his taste in making this selection would be universally approved. The fact is, it has been. There are evidences that the aborigines appreciated the soft atmosphere of this storm-locked retreat.
WC Ralston Calisphere Collection

"At a very early day, Col. Cipriani, a man considerably devoted to the quiet pleasures of this world, Arguello), out of this immense grant, selected the Canada Diabolo for his residence. At a more recent date, William C. Ralson, with better taste than any of San Mateo's millionaires, made his country residence in this valley, and with his characteristic enterprise, not only built for himself a princely home, but projected and made improvements generally that added much to the prosperity of the neighborhood. Among the earliest settlers here was Michael Daley.
made his home here, and later the proprietor of the Pulgas rancho  (

"The initial step in the settlement of Belmont, was the building of a hotel by a Mr. Angelo, on what is now known as the Robinson property. This was in the year 1850. A short time prior to that, Angelo had entertained travelers in a canvass tent, a little distance below Redwood City. His hotle in Belmont in those early days, became widely known, especially by the sporting fraternity, whose wants were caredully catered to by the proprietor. A Mr. Flashner succeeded Angelo in the hotel business at this place, and it was at his houise, then called the Belmont hotel, that the first county court of San Mateo county convened in 1856.

"The business of merchandising was begun by Adam Castor, and as a trading point, Belmont at one time was of more than ordinary importance. After W. C. Ralston settled here, he constructed a wharf upon the slough that makes in town the town, and donated the privleges of it to the public. Belmont is extensively and popularly known as a famous picnic ground. In the course of the past year it is estimated that over one hundred and fifty thousand people visited the delightful park at the base of the beautiful hill that gave the town its name." History of San Mateo County, California: Including Its Geography, Topography. Geology, Climate and description.....San Francisco 1883 B.F. Alley Publisher

The register of California Post Offices lists Belmont as an official place name as of July 18, 1854 two years before San Mateo County was split from San Francisco.

Belmont from the middle to the late 1800's was a tiny community. It mainly catered to supplying the summer homes of the wealthy. There were groups of artisans to build mansions and farmers to supply perishables.  Stage stops and a wharf on the Bay provided transportation; hotels supplied lodging.  There was also a thriving oyster industry.

In the 1890's Mrs. Alpheus Bull opened a school for girls, Radcliffe Hall, in the Ralston\Sharon mansion and Reid's Belmont School for Boys opened in "Little Belmont", a building on another part of the same estate.

Over the years Belmont continued to grow slowly, gradually pushing the orchards, ranches, dairy farms and flower fields to the edge of town.  Sanitariums treating mental illness and tuberculosis opened along the Ralston Ave. corridor. Homes were built by people commuting to San Francisco as well as by employees of local businesses and of the Spring Valley Water Company which had a pumping station at the south edge of town.

In the middle twenties the town incorporated to insure civic and sanitary services.  Two events caused excitement and hotly contested voter issues.  The first of these allowed a (short-lived) dog racing track east of town;  60¢ admission provided free parking and band music.  the second issue would have changed the name of the town to Port of San Francisco.  It was an elaborate scheme to place railroad and shipping facilites on the bayshore.  Only a channel was dredged before the depression caused the dream to fade away.

Post World War II years brought rapid growth to the little town, together with a vast increase in the number of commercial business, schools, churches and civic services.  Today Belmont has just shy of 27,000 inhabitants and just over 2700 businesses in 4.62 square miles.

Some historic landmarks in Belmont include: Van's Restaurant, which was a part of the Japanese pavilion at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915.  It was barged to Belmont after the exposition closed.  On the grounds of Notre Dame University is the historic Ralson Hall.  St. Michael's Hall which was built abt. is on the grounds of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Campus. Manor House which is located in Twin Pines Park, is the home of the Belmont History Museum and the San Mateo County Arts Council galleries. Information on other historic structures and landmarks can be found at the Belmont Historical Society.  The society has an extensive collection of  artifacts and pictures of early Belmont and its people; Belmont Voter Registrations Books 1896-1908; and other archival materials

Belmont Government 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SMCGS Databases Online: Coroner's Records

1878 inquest for Daniel F. Gordon
"The Coroner's office must inquire into the circumstances of sudden, unexplained, violent and unnatural deaths. This may require a post-mortem examination sometimes followed by an inquest. The Coroner's inquiry is concerned with establishing whether or not death was due to natural or unnatural causes. If a death is due to unnatural causes, for example in a road traffic accident, accident at work or by drowning, then an inquest must be held by law."  (SMC Coroner's Office Website)

Coroner's files can be a significant source of information.  Not only will information relating to the death of an individual be revealed, you can also find insights into family relationships, clues as to a person's behavior and other items that add color to your genealogical stories.  Here are a few snippets of information from San Mateo County Coroner’s Records......   (Read more in the Nov 2013 issue of the SMCGS Newsletter which is available to members online or in the SMCGS and other genealogical libraries.)  

SMCGS member, Russ Brabec, has created an Index to San Mateo County Coroner's Records.  It currently covers the records from the inception of the county to 1971.  A work in progress, it will eventually cover all records housed in the SMC Record Repository. Barry Goyette has joined the effort.  The index gives the case number, the container, the name, age and birthplace of the deceased and the cause of death.  As you see in this example there are some unidentified bodies, many more are listed as Unknown.

While all of the records can be ordered from the San Mateo County Recorders Office, you can avoid the fee, which is a bit hefty, for reports through 1946 by using the digital images on Family Search. To speed you on your way you will find a Coroner's Records Finding Aid that allows you to go straight to the record set that includes the case you are looking for.

Navigating through these records on FamilySearch takes just a few minutes if you use the correct technique.  Start by finding the right set for the case you want, perhaps #950.  Click on Coroner's reports no 934-988 1920-1921 to open the record set.  This set of records has 510 pages.  950 would most likely be in the first half of those records and probably well before the half mark.  Think easy navigation and pick say 200 type that into the box and assess where it got you.  In this case it was page two of a case.  I hit the back button to page one, but there was no case number so I went back another page and there it was 950.  I admit that was a little bit of luck, but generally I do not have to work very hard to find the record. Say page 200 had been case 940, you might then use the box to go to 250.  If that was case 955, you might go back to page 225.  You now have at the most 25 pages either way to find your record.

Check out the other SMCGS Databases and good luck with your research

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

San Mateo County Cemeteries: Mount Hope

Right next door to St. Anthony's in Pescadero is Mount Hope Cemetery. Like St. Anthony's it is a rural cemetery.  There is no lawn, but the cemetery does not seem untended. Stones stand tall and little touches show a community that cares.  In fact a few years ago, San Mateo County Sheriff's Deputy, Dan Caughey, some prisoners, and a local volunteers worked hard to restore the cemetery to what it is today.

From the top of the cemetery you can catch spectacular views of town below.  Here you will find some of the early settlers, including the Steeles, Moores, Thompsons, Reeds, Blomquists, Williamsons, Weeks and Teagues.

690-1246 Stage Rd
Pescadero, San Mateo, California
United States

Sunday, November 30, 2014

SMCGS Databases Online : Sole Traders

The debut of San Mateo County Genealogical Society's new website brings with it the opportunity to tout some of our great SMCGS offerings.  Over the next few months we will highlight some of the great indexes we have created over the years, starting with our newest.  

Barry Goyette has put together an index of the Register of Separate Property of Married Women and Sole Traders 1856-1913.  While I could tell you about the wonders of California's Sole Traders law, why redo what Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist, does much better.  In two posts published the week of her recent seminar at SMCGS she explained the law and gave examples of what the records might tell you.

Reprise: California’s sole traders - Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist October 30, 2014  
Reprise: Separate property, separate debts - Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist  October 31, 2014

You can the index here:

And I am very happy to tell you that you do not need to order these records from the county!!!!  They are available on FamilySearch.  Be sure to start with a page number from the index to search through these browseable records.

Monday, November 3, 2014

San Mateo County Cemeteries: St. Anthony's


Located on the top of the hill above Pescadero on Stage Road just North of North Street, Saint Anthony's Cemetery dates back to 1883. Halloween weekend was a great time to visit, There were pumpkins, orange flower arrangements and even a few more creative decorations throughout the cemetery, brightening up what is generally a dry pioneer cemetery.

“In 1833, Don Juan Jose Gonzales received the Rancho Pescadero, or San Antonio, as it was officially known, from Governor Figueroa…On June 10th, 1868, James McCormick, Sr. furnished a sum of money to purchase a lot for the Catholic Church (William McCormick and Eli D. Moore procured the catholic cemetery there in 1876) (1). 

You will find some of the early settlers on the coast here. Among them the Brazils, the Moores, the McCormicks and the Smiths.  This is still an active cemetery so you will also find new burials. Look around for a few very creative tombstones (surely subject to copyright restrictions).  

St. Anthony's Church is located nearby on North Street.

Saint Anthony’s Cemetery  

Stage Road 

Pescadero, CA 94060

(650) 712-1679   - Office Hours by Appointment Only  -  Cemetery Hours 8 a.m. to Sunset
Mailing Address
P.O. Box 1577
Colma, CA 940l4-0577

Find-A-Grave - Mt. Hope  lists 318 burials with 96% photographed

(1) Taken from the 100 years commemorative booklet published in 1968 for Our Lady of the Pillar Parish and St. Anthony’s Mission Church

Monday, October 20, 2014

Digging for Roots Online: R. I. P. Google’s Tilde

By Dennis L. Maness, MLS
Some of you (most of you?) read that title and thought “Tilde?”.

In an earlier blog post in 2012 on the subject of genealogy books online I wrote:
 “Quick Search Tip—On Google the use of the tilde “~” (it’s on the top of the upper left key on my keyboard) means that the search will include synonyms of the word you’re searching for. For instance “~genealogy” will include the words “family history”, “family tree” “vital records” “genealogical” “surname” and probably many more in your search.”

The news that this is now no longer available as a search operator on Google is one of the reasons I read genealogy blogs. I recently read the October 9, 2014 Lisa Louise Cooke’s “Genealogy Gems” blog  that announced that the tilde had gone away.

Apparently this happened, with no notice, sometime before June 15, 2013 so all my searches using the tilde since then have been misleading.  Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Why did Google use the tilde? In math, the “~” symbol means “is similar to.” The tilde told Google to search for pages that are synonyms or similar to the term that follows. But I digress.

Now we will have to go back to using (genealogy OR geneology OR “family history” OR genealogical) ad infinitum.

There is a list of Google’s current Search Operators at Search Operators  and 

I missed the “+” sign when Google “deprecated” it (the term they use) and now this. Oh well, life goes on.


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

“Life is short; do genealogy first!”

Monday, September 1, 2014

First Families - Morris

Welcome SMCGS' newest Founding Family, that of Reuben Morris (1833 IN - aft 1866 UNK) and Margaret Lynch (1828 IRE -1901 CA).

Julie Mooney's account of her great-grandfather states: "Reuben Eldon Morris was one of the transportation pioneers in the Bay Area.  He was the owner of the largest stage line leading from San Francisco to the interior towns, according to the obituary of his widow, Margaret Lynch Morris.

"His ‘outerlands ‘routes would have included one to the western portions of San Francisco which were sparsely populated at the time, and to the south to Brisbane and likely South San Francisco. 

"Later he expanded to the ‘Mile House” routes which would have proceeded from San Francisco via what is now San Bruno Avenue around the east side of San Bruno Mountain to Brisbane and then via what is now Hillside Road in So. San Francisco to Mission Street.  The road then connected with El Camino Real.  His routes would likely stop at Castor’s Store in Belmont and end in San Mateo at 2nd Avenue and El Camino or Old County Road. .

"Reuben had a livery adjacent to the original blacksmith’s shop owned by Michael and Dennis Brown on 3rd and what is now Railroad Ave in San Mateo.  His daughter Rachel married Dennis Brown and had two sons.  Their respective homes remain side by side on the west side of No. Delaware Street numbers # 2 and #5 and have been beautifully maintained and restored. (1)

"The family moved to San Mateo County in the late 1850’s as he initiated the first stage line from Belmont Township to Spanishtown ( now known as Half Moon Bay), Purissima and Pescadero.

"In August 1859  the road from Condon’s to Belmont was declared a public highway.  And in October “Stage line and express from Belmont to Spanishtown and Half Moon Bay: Leaves Belmont ( Castor’s Store) at 1 pm every Monday, Wed and Friday…Leaves Spanishtown every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 o’clock , arriving at Belmont at 12 Noon.  R.E. Morris, propr. (2)

Mud wagon"Per the Wells Fargo Archivist, these were not stage coaches as we know them but, mud wagons – similar to the one on display at the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City.

"When the Freeman express contract was bought/absorbed by Wells Fargo Stage Lines, it is likely that Reuben Eldon Morris sold his livery company and routes in the county within a few short years. (3) 

Reuben, the grandson of a wealthy Henry County, IN farmer, most likely arrived in San Francisco in the early 1850s.  According to family tradition he married Margaret about 1855 in the city, but no record has been found to date.  Reuben seems to have drifted between San Francisco and San Mateo counties in the 1850s and 1860s.  He is listed in the San Francisco directories in 1861-63 and again in 1866.

Reuben Morris is last found in records in San Francisco or San Mateo County (or elsewhere) in 1880 when the family is found living in Township 4.

  Margaret Lynch purchased a plot (or perhaps it was a gift from her friend Mrs. Parrott) in St. John's Cemetery in San Mateo in 1887. Although no burial has been found,  it seems likely it was for Reuben. Margaret was living with her son-in-law, Dennis Brown in 1900 and was in the house of her daughter in Livermore in 1901 when she died.

James Crowe Mortuary brought her back to San Mateo and she is buried in the Morris plot in St. John's Cemetery along with her son George. (4)

You will find more information on Reuben, Margaret and their descendants in the San Mateo County Genealogical Society Library's First Family Collection.  Read about other early San Mateo County families on the SMCGS First Families Blog.

(1)  Daily Journal article 10/10/2000 by Paul Buchanan.

(2) R.E Schellens Notes:  ‘in having a roadway or public highway established out of Belmont.  The Board of Supervisors agreed to have such a public highway built out of a meandering farm road leading to Lower Lake sometime in august 1859.  This was followed by the inauguration of a regular stage line and express from Belmont to Spanishtown on Monday October 17, 1859.  R.E. Morris, proprietor.  The express part was taken care of by Freeman & Co. Express, with A.T. Castor of Belmont acting as their agent.  RNT 8/1974

(3) Local Historian John Edmonds in the Journal of Local History  Vol 5. No 2 Addition To San Mateo Stagecoaches: Morris should rightly be credited with developing the original stage line from San Mateo to Half Moon Bay and Pescadero.

(4) SMCGS - San Mateo County Death Records - Pam Reynolds
MORRISMargaret73Ireland10/25/1901Livermore, Cal.MarriedFWhiteHeart DiseaseDr. J. K. WarnerSt. John's, San Mateo11-2-1901Fiedler & Graham

Monday, August 25, 2014

San Mateo County Cemeteries: Holy Cross Catholic - Menlo Park

The current Holy Cross Cemetery started as a town cemetery in the late 1860s.  It was purchased by the Church of the Nativity and converted to a Roman Catholic cemetery in 1883. 

When Stanford University moved those interred in St. Denis's Catholic Cemetery, many of the bodies were moved to Holy Cross.  There is a historical plaque near the entrance commemorating those burials.  

Holy Cross is still an active cemetery with up to 100 burials a year.  The interment register includes over 5400 names.

A quick walk through the grounds reveals names with a multitude of origins....Italian, Samoan, Irish,Tongan, Mexican and many more. Like many of the older cemeteries there are some unique plots and tombstones reflecting the mix of cultures. lists burials through 2005 provided by Fred Kemmerle and FindAGrave lists 4191 burials with 90% having photographs, and the burials 

Cemetery Records, which may include:  date of death, place of death, date of burial, date of birth or age, place of birth, parish from which the person was buried, and mortuary, can be obtained by submitting a Genealogy Request Form.The cost is $35. The website reminds us that cemetery information does not include maiden names, children, or death certificates.  The mortuary might, however, have that type of information if it is included in the cemetery records.

Cemetery Map                                         

Holy Cross Cemeteries 

Holy Cross Cemetery on Twitter

The Cemetery Office is located at  Saint Raymond Catholic Church, 1100 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park  650-323-6375

Monday, August 11, 2014

Digging for Roots Online: Cemeteries and Tombstones

By Dennis L. Maness, MLS

At the July Society meeting we had an interesting program, "Care and reading of old tombstones" by Martha Wallace, and it reminded me of the many places on the Web where I’ve recently seen information about genealogy and cemeteries. To supplement Ms. Wallace’s talk, let me add a few places to “dig for roots” (but not literally, please!)

Usually the first place I start when I’m thinking about specific genealogy topics is the Family HistoryResearchWiki. I typed “cemeteries” in the “Search by place or topic” box and the first entry was “Cemeteries”.

I clicked on the link and got a wonderful page on cemeteries that listed various ways to find cemeteries and links to other websites.

Further searching on the Wiki led me to a page on UnitedStates, Tombstone and Sexton  records:

Next I searched the FamilySearch Learning Center for “Cemetery” and got 9 video or slides on topics such as: episodes of the TV show Ancestors; “Researching Funeral Homes, Gravesites and Cemetery Records”; “Cemetery Art”; and “Messages From the Grave: Listening to Your Ancestor’s Tombstone”!

Now I went to and searched their Wiki for “cemetery records” and got this article from “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy”:

Next I used my third favorite Web site, to search for CemeteryRecords”:

In addition there were links to: “Tiptoeing Through the Graveyard”, “How to Do a Tombstone Rubbing”, Tips for Taking Great Cemetery Pictures” (and yes, they recommend a mirror as mentioned by Ms. Wallace),  and other topics including a link to “The LimitedEncyclopedia of Grave Terminology ”.

The fourth place I go to is the “GeneaBloggers” site by Thomas MacEntee, where one can search almost 3,000 genealogy blogs.

Here I found something I hadn’t even thought about (and have probably broken the law doing!)--an article on the “Legal Genealogist” site by Judy Russell, called “Cemetery Photos-Permission Required?"

Another listing was “Cemeteries and Cemetery Symbols” by Joe Beine.

On another of Thomas MacEntee’s sites, “Blogtalkradio” there is a program called “Bring Out Your Dead! Cemeteries and Genealogy 

And, of course, we can’t forget the fine articles on our very own Blog on San Mateo County Cemeteries by the very knowledgeable Cath Madden Trindle!

There is a site on the MyHeritage genealogy blog called Cemeteries: Gravestonesymbols.

On the blog (yes, they have a free-to-read-blog too) there is an informative article for newbie cemetery genealogists called CemeteryEtiquette: What you Need to Know for that Cemetery Trip.

On a personal note, a few years ago I found, in a used book store, the book Storiesin Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography that is both visually attractive and fun to read. (Note: the link is to the site but the book is available elsewhere. When you look at the prices don’t hate me for paying only $2.00 for my used copy!)

And finally there was recently a news article about a person who did awful damage to many tombstones so they could photograph them for Find-A-Grave (which had no responsibility for this person’s actions). I think it illustrates perfectly what Ms. Wallace told us.

Cemeteries can give us more information about our ancestors and have broken many a genealogical brick wall.

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

“Life is short; do genealogy first!"

Monday, August 4, 2014

Genealogical Societies Revisited

Why have you decided NOT to join a society?
Margaret Melaney

A recent posting by Gail Dever on her website looks into reasons people join genealogical societies.  She now asks the question: Why have you decided not to renew your membership?  The results should be available on her site by the time you read this.  Here are some of her possible answers:

  • o   I had exhausted all of the society’s online resources.
  • o   My research in that region was finished.
  • o   The newsletter did not interest me.
  • o   I took up another hobby.
  • o   The members were snobby about how genealogy research should be done.
  • o   I did not like how the society was managed.
  • o   I joined another society.
  • o   I was no longer learning from the society.
  • o   Opening hours were not convenient.
  • o   No parking.
  • o   The lectures and workshops became stale.
  • o   Staff/volunteers lacked adequate knowledge to assist members.

To this we might add the question “Why have you decided NOT to join a society?”  What genealogical needs do you have that a society does not meet?  Of course, you may not HAVE any genealogical needs, like the researcher I spoke to recently who announced “I’ve traced my family back to William the Conqueror and am taking it to Kinkos to be printed and bound.”  Well fine.  But is it sourced??  Do you have all the photos, maps, documents, wax seals to substantiate and fill out your history?

Oh…you do.  Congratulations.  Will you now take up hang gliding?

Or perhaps, just possibly, the genealogical society, local or otherwise, still has a place for you.  Let’s take a look at the above list from a new perspective:

  • o   I added to the society’s online resources, and explained them to new users
  • o   I changed my focus to another region, or became the society expert in my region.
  • o   I contributed to the newsletter
  • o   I took up photography and created a book about my family
  • o   I showed people how I do genealogical research
  • o   I ran for the board and changed how the society was managed
  • o   I coordinated efforts between my society and another
  • o   I am teaching in the society
  • o   We went online, and open hours became a thing of the past
  • o   Parking is still a problem
  • o   From my contacts, I found new lecturers and workshop leaders
  • o   I’m always glad to share my experience with other members

There IS life after William the Conqueror.  And your genealogical society can be a part of it.  It doesn’t mean you can’t take up hang gliding as well.