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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Early Families: Poor Farm Stories

San Francisco Call  8 Feb 1906 p 6
The County Poor Farm was home to many personalities, including supervisors and inmates.

Perhaps the most controversial was Albert Eikerenkotter, Supervisor of the farm in the early twentieth century.  In February of 1906 the Grand Jury charged him with perjury in regards to his testimony before them about dealings on the farm.

They stated he was incompetent and grossly negligent in his duties and accused him of living well on items ordered for the farm, while the indigents were living in terrible conditions.

While it does not appear that he was found guilty of a crime, the charges went on, as late as Jan 1909 the County Grand Jury recommended strong censure for Al Eikerenkotter, as superintendent of the county farm and for the supervisors having supervision over the place, which was, as conducted, "not fit to be occupied by human beings." They reported that their visit to the farm showed that the indigents of the county were living in deplorable conditions. They also called for an investigation into Al's use of the pension money of Edward Hart, a veteran who was a resident at the farm. (SF Call 31 Jan 1909)   A search through newspapers of the time brings up many other articles about Albert and the investigations surrounding him.

SF Chronicle - 20 Feb 1912 pg 9
Charles Ford replaced Eikerenkotter as Superintendent.  In 1912 he also ran into trouble when he struck August Herbst, an inmate and knocked him down.  Ford continued as Supervisor until 6 Jan 1913 when he was replaced by James Eubanks, a butcher.

August Herbst a 66 year old carpenter was a resident of the farm from February until December of 1912.

San Francisco Chronicle
16 Jan 1915 p 5

In 1915 the grand jury was unsure what to do with their discovery of a three month old baby living at the farm.  They debated whether the information should go in their report.  The Burlingame Women's Club intervened and found a home for Mrs. H A Jones and her baby in Capitola.

San Francisco Chronicle pg 3
The oldest resident of the poor farm was Jacinto Floria who died at the age of 114 in 1923.  Born in Mexico City in 1809, Jacinto joined the Mexican army as a bugler at the age of 12.  Wounded two months later he left the army after his recovery, traveling by ship to San Francisco. He left San Francisco within a short time and took a job with a Russian nobleman in Santa Cruz.  Two years later he came north to Pescadero where he lived for more than half a century.  Jacinto finally gave up working and entered the poor farm in 1919.  Over the next few years he could be found tootling around the county with Poor Farm Supervisor James Eubanks who became a friend.

Then there was Basilio Tocchini who was admitted to the farm in 1915 after falling ill in his flower store.  He was thought to be penniless, but in fact has an estate worth over $10000.

These are just a few of the thousands who entered the poor farm, which was also the county hospital until 1923.  Some stayed a few days, some stayed years, some were dead before they came.

A few were only found in one record and little is known about them.  This includes Mary Tilty, Freddie and two babies (one might have been Freddie) who entered the farm before Aug 1916 and were there until at least October when Mary was provided a pair of stockings. Who was she, what happened to her babies, did only Freddie survive? 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

SMCGS Databases Online: County Poor Farm

This listing of Inmates and Patients at the San Mateo County Poor/ Relief Farm was created from a variety of sources.  There were three registers, the earliest dating from the opening of the farm in 1876.  That first register was relatively well maintained and for many individuals gave quite a bit of information including age, birthplace, how long they had lived in California and how long in the county. Some entries included the reason for the admission, the town where they had been living and their next of kin.  Unfortunately, that wealth of information was not carried forward in the later registers.

Besides the three registers, there was a bath list and a series of monthly reports that filled in or supplemented the sparsity of records for the early twentieth century.  Gaps still exist.  The two later registers, were most likely copied from other records.  The handwriting is often close to illegible and the lack of consistency in spelling creates a feeling of basic illiteracy.  Census records were also used to provide more information on individuals, in a few cases individuals listed on the farm in the census were not found in any other records.

Many patients were admitted for just a few days.  Others were residents for a long time, a few for decades.  Many were discharged and readmitted a number of times.  This lists tries to give the first date of admission and the last known discharge date or the death date.  When it is not clear that two entries are for the same person they were not combined even though it seems likely they were in fact the same.

Many of those who are shown as deceased in this list and in the registers were in fact never residents of the farm, or not so at the time of their death.  The farm's cemetery was used as a pauper's burial ground, and those buried there were entered in the register on the date they were buried.  An effort was made to find all those who were deceased in the early county death records, the state death index and/or the coroner's index to verify that they were in fact deceased. That the earliest deaths were not found was expected, however, there were death's after 1906 that were not found.  It is possible that they died outside the county, and even more likely that the names were so badly spelt that they weren't found, although a search was made in most cases just by death date (but only in San Mateo County).

Annual Reports and ledgers provide some insight into the income and expenses of the poor farm, mainly in the early part of the twentieth century.  The Income and Expense reports and the Contracts are located in the County Record Repository at Tower Road in Cabinet RC5B1 drawers 5, 26 and 27.

Employee lists were culled from Census records (families living on the farm are included) and entries in ledgers held by the San Mateo County Historical Association Museum.  Judging from the turnover of cooks and nurses in the records found, the list should probably be much longer.  If further sources are located names will be added to the list.  
 For  a list of sources used to compile the Poor Farm database see:
Additional information was culled from newspaper articles.  They are identified when used.  The early San Mateo Times Gazette is not currently easily accessible in a searchable format.  When it becomes available information on the workings of the poor farm should be uncovered.  An additional resource that has not yet been located would be the minutes of the Board of Supervisors. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

San Mateo County Cemeteries: County Poor Farm

Over the years many burials took place at the County Relief Farm.  Other sources give a date of the start of the cemetery as 1894, but I would suggest that burials took place from the time the farm was opened.  In 1894 the registers started to indicate where those who died at the Poor Farm were buried.  Some were interred on the farm, others were taken to outside cemeteries.  Even after 1894 not all records indicated where the deceased was buried. And not all numbers are recorded in the registers

Support for earlier burials can be found in two facts. First the lack of information for many of the earlier burials in any other records. Second when the Institute for Canine Forensics brought cadaver dogs to search for burials on the Poor Farm Cemetery grounds they found more burials than had been recorded.

 We will never know. No decipherable markers remain in the burial grounds.  There are some ruins that appear to be the remnants of wooden markers, but they might be something else.  It is unlikely that there was ever anything other than inexpensive wooden markers.  Those with family or resources for burial were usually buried elsewhere.

Not everyone who was buried at the County Poor Farm had been an inmate of the Poor Farm/Hospital.  Outside indigents were brought to be buried through the years.  Not everyone who died at the hospital was buried on the grounds.  Many were removed to other cemeteries.  A few were interred and then disinterred and moved.  Some of those buried in the cemetery after 1906 have not been located in the CA death index.  This might be due to the misspellings found throughout the records.  It is also possible that some of the records were miscopied from the original sources and the deaths were attributed to the wrong person.

For those who find an ancestor buried here, the cemetery is located along the south side of highway 92 just east of Ralston Road.

San Mateo Times - 3 Aug 1929
(The register gives a date of 7 Aug 1929
states buried in grave ?
an example of the caliber of records)

SMT - 25 Nov 1915 p 15
Buried in Grave 244

San Francisco Call 20 Nov 1907
Buried Grave 99

SFC - 6 Aug 1911
Buried in Union Cemetery

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

San Mateo County Poor Farm

As early as 1855,  the California state legislature passed a bill known as the "Poor Law of 1855." The bill transferred the responsibility for providing medical care for the indigent ill from the state to the county's Boards of Supervisors. Counties were authorized to raise funds through taxes to establish hospitals and poorhouses. 

Geocaching - The Poor Farm

On 31 May 1876 the Sacramento Daily Union reported that "San Mateo county has purchased the farm of Hannibal Pullan for $10,000 for the purpose of a poor farm and a county hospital. The tract of land purchased contains 139 acres." (v.2 n.186)  Five months later the Marin Journal reported that the farm was in operation and added that the farm was six miles northwest of the county seat. (26 Oct 1876, v.16 n.33)   Alternately called the San Mateo County Relief Farm, the San Mateo County Poor Farm and the San Mateo County hospital, this respite for the sick, helpless and needy which opened 1 Jul 1876 was located in the hills near the current junction of I 280 and Hwy 92.  
San Mateo County Poor Farm
SMCHA Museum Archives

Inmates of the poor farm ranged from amputees, to alcoholics, to tuberculosis patients.  Some were simply old or senile and unable to live on their own.  Many were unmarried men, however at times there were widows and widowers, children and married individuals.  Some were there for a day, a few for decades. Those housed beyond the need for "hospitalization" were there at the bidding of the Board of Supervisors.  Over the years a few families paid support to the county for caring for their elderly relatives.  

I have seen some suggestion that there were "prison inmates" located at the farm, but I have found no records supporting this contention.  A few men were transferred to the county jail after being treated, but "inmate" is a term that was used for those committed to hospitals or asylums for care. Those inmates who were capable of working on the farm were expected to do so. A few were discharged because they refused.  Some of those committed to the farm did not choose to be there, a few ran away, others left as soon as they were able.  

Inmate registers, various financial reports, contracts and employee records have been located and a variety of databases to help find those connected to the poor farm in any way will be posted later this month with updates as further records are accessed.  Many of the records are incomplete and badly kept.  The same inmate might have his name spelled in three different ways on the same page and have different statistics for each of those entries. Many details were left out of the registers kept after 1916 leaving mainly names and dates. It seems likely that that register was done after the fact as much of the writing was in the same hand and looks to be written with the same pen.  Perhaps it was a copy of a volume that is no longer available, perhaps it was an attempt to consolidate information that had been kept only in the bath list and in monthly reports.
SF Call Vol 102-41 11 Jul 1907

The farm was seldom free of controversy.  Newspapers provide details of colorful characters and alleged corruption and abuse by those in charge.  Two supervisors were brought up on charges, Albert Eikerenkotter for misuse of resources and John Ford for striking an inmate. (See more in a later blog)

SF Chronicle 31 Jan 1909 p 26
As early as 1907 the Board of Supervisors put the farm up for sale.  What happened with that original sale is unknown. Locating the Board of Supervisors minutes for those early years might provide some answers, as well as details of some commitments to the farm. We do know the farm remained intact.  In 1909 the grand jury decried the deplorable conditions at the poor farm. and the grand jury in 1910 stated that while the farm was being well run the facilities were unfit. (SF Call v107-74 12 Feb 1910)

SF Call v113-85 23 Feb 1913
In 1912,  the grand jury recommended that the poor farm be sold and a fifteen acre plot be purchased near transportation. (SF Ch 31 Jan 1912 p4)  On 21 Feb (SFCh p8) it was reported that the Supervisors were considering the sale, that there had been an offer of $8000 and that there had been a bid from the Spring Valley Water does not say they are the same.  It is noted that the indigent list of the county is too small to need the larger acreage. 

In the end the only bid for the poor farm acreage was from the Spring Valley Water Company's Bourne who wanted the acreage, not for the water company, but to build a home for himself.  The county eventually rejected the bid and the farm went on as it had.

By 1918, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors decided it was time to replace the original San Mateo County Community Hospital and Poor Farm. Dr. Kellog reported that the main building was a fire trap. Lighting was inadequate, the building was badly ventilated and the four wards were overcrowded. Toilets were flushable, but there was no water, he continued, as the wells had run dry. The nurse dispensed medicine at her own discretion, clinical records were not taken of the patients and there were no regular visits by the county physician, he added, the place smelled bad.  In 1919 construction of a new county hospital began in Beresford (San Mateo).  It opened it's doors in Sept 1923 leaving the Poor Farm to serve it's initial purpose, housing those unable to financially and physically care for themselves.

Improvements were made to the property in the 1920s.  T A water system with pump, 50000 gallon tank and pipe lines was put up for bid in 1925 by County Engineer Kneese, who estimated it would cost about $1700.  The second register for the poor farm has a entry in the front, "Electric Lights were Light for the first time on May 22,24 by Wm Tribblet, inmate."  Perhaps those lights were run by a generator for in 1926 PG&E submitted a bid to install a power line. Later that year the Bourne road was completed providing a direct route to the vicinity of the poor farm from Redwood City via Whipple Road.

There are some references to the buildings at the farm burning in 1925, but no direct evidence of the fires has been found to date.  It might explain the incomplete second register, however.  Perhaps the original register burned and the one we have was created to take it's place.

In 1929 the cost of maintaining the farming aspects of the relief home was again questioned.  The Board of Supervisors cut the budget, eliminating the 40 head of dairy cattle which were to be sold. Purchasers at an auction held in September included Manuel Cunha, JW Paulson, Manuel Sequera, JW Palson, Charles Beffa, Frank and Fred Marsh, Ralph Danz, Leo Domecus, Tony Azara, Mat Calahan, A Laurn, Joe Fassler and Ben Inderbutzen.  (E - Treasurer's Receipt Book)   On 20 Oct 1930 John Garcia renewed his lease on 100 acres of pasture at county poor farm for $700, the renewal indicating the land was probably originally leased out the year before after the cows were sold.

Still the Poor Farm continued, located registers stop in 1942.  Some sources claim Crystal Springs Rehabilitation Center was established in the 1920s, replacing the poor farm. No records have been found records supporting a particular date that the one replaced the other, the registers say Poor Farm. Today, besides Crystal Springs Rehabilitation Center, you will find the County Library Administrative Offices, the County Election Office, Hillcrest, the Sheriff's Office Crime Lab and more on the original grounds of the poor farm.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

SMCGS Spring Seminar

San Mateo County Genealogical Society Spring 2016 Seminar

Successful Searching with Thomas MacEntee

Saturday, May 7, 2016 - 9am-3pm
A Program of Four Lectures:

  • They're Alive: Searching for Living Persons In this session you’ll learn not only why it is important to locate living relatives, but how to leverage the power of Internet to make certain you have the correct contact information.  You’ll also learn how making contact with the living can hone your genealogy research skills and actually help you break down those brick walls.
  • After You're Gone: Future Proofing Your Genealogy Research: Through a combination of planning, common sense, and new technologies, we’ll review how to create an action plan for preserving your genealogy research.
  • Successful Collateral and Cluster Searching: Learn why researching those in-laws, “shirt-tail cousins” and others who may not be a direct-line ancestor as well as “friends, neighbors and associates” can help you break down your genealogy research brick walls
  • The 15 Habits of Highly Frugal Genealogists: Learn how savvy genealogists are finding success with 15 basic habits of frugality. You’ll not only find a list of key resources but more importantly you’ll learn how to embrace the “mind set” of finding the best ways to save money while researching your ancestors.

Menlo Park LDS Church - 1105 Valparaiso, Menlo Park
Doors open at 8am - Registration, Book Sales & Silent Auction
Family History Center will be open during breaks, lunch and after the Seminar

Successful Searching with Thomas MacEntee”

What happens when a “tech guy” with a love for history gets laid off during The Great Recession of 2008? You get Thomas MacEntee, a genealogy professional based in the United States who is also a blogger, educator, author, social media connector, online community builder and more.

Thomas was laid off after a 25-year career in the information technology field, so he started his own genealogy-related business called High Definition Genealogy. He also created an online community of over 3,000 family history bloggers known as GeneaBloggers. His most recent endeavor, Hack Genealogy, is an attempt to “re-purpose today’s technology for tomorrow’s genealogy.”

Thomas describes himself as a lifelong learner with a background in a multitude of topics who has finally figured out what he does best: teach, inspire, instigate, and serve as a curator and go-to-guy for concept nurturing and inspiration. Thomas is a big believer in success, and that we all succeed when we help each other find success. 

 Directions to Menlo Park LDS Church:  1105 Valparaiso Ave., Menlo Park

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