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

Sunday, December 27, 2020

What to do in January

It's 2021! What's your New Year's resolution?
  • Sort all your families into folders
  • Clear out your inbox!
  • Find that illusive missing ancestor
Here are some events to help you:

VIRTUAL: Finding Your Orphan Ancestors
WhenThu, January 21, 2021, 3pm – 5pm
Whereonline (map)

In this talk as Dvorah shares her own journey, attendees will learn how to trace orphan ancestors through go-to genealogical records, like census and city directories, as well as the types of records created by the orphanages themselves from annual reports to internal newsletters. Researching orphanage records is what originally sparked Dvorah's interest in conducting her own genealogical research.

Register here

Presented by the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library.
Dvorah will also be speaking on Thursday, Jan. 28 at The Marin County Genealogical Society.

Children Left Behind 
San Mateo County Genealogical Society
Presenter: Judy Fambrough Billingsley
Saturday, January 23, 2021 10:30am - 12:00 pm, via Zoom
Social hour 10-10:30 am, via Zoom

Judy was born in Friedberg, Germany, shortly after WWII and was the daughter of a white German woman and a black American soldier, whose mixed race led to her becoming one of many unwanted “Brown Babies” abandoned by their mother.  Her book Too Brown to Keep:  A Search for Love, Forgiveness, and Healing recounts the inspirational odyssey as the search for her birth parents leads to discovery of the good, the bad, and the ugly family secrets that she had struggled to unearth for decades.  

This event is free and all are welcome. For more information about our monthly meetings, go to

Join a Special Interest Group!
Commonly called SIGs, special interest groups meet alongside the regular monthly meetings and activities to discuss specific areas of interest to the members. SMCGS currently has three SIGs running: German, British/Irish, and DNA.

Take a class!
There are several Bay Area classes going on this year via remote teaching.  Here are a few:

Santa Clara County Historical & Genealogical Society

SVCGG  Meetings and classes:  Reunion for Mac

California Genealogical Society

San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society

And see the listing of local genealogy classes on the SMCGS website

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Spread your wings!

Are you stuck in a genealogical rut? Have you researched the Boston civil records until your head spins?
Sometimes it helps to look at your research from a slightly different angle.  Sort of like the way you can see objects in the dark better from the corner of your eye.  (It's something to do with rods and cones.)
What about looking for clues outside of your area of interest (hereafter known as your research bubble)?
My ancestors came from Ireland to Five Points in New York.   Now we know that the Irish and Chinese communities interacted here.  In fact we know there were a number of marriages between the groups.  (Surplus Irish lasses and Chinese men, you get the idea).  And Transfiguration Church, where Maggie and James married, is now in the heart of Chinatown.  Do you think it's possible that the Chinese museum there has information about life back then?  Or records?  Their first born child died there.  Who was the doctor?  Was there a hospital?

They left during the NY draft riots, which were in large part race riots between Irish and Black residents.  The center of the rioting was on their street, and a neighbor was killed.  Do you think I want to know a bit more about this history and the street where it happened?
Another example:  Some of my family came to Wisconsin, where they lived in a largely German community.  How did this affect their occupations?  Religious practices?  Marriage prospects?
You can see that we want to look at the people and places associated with our ancestors.  

But what if I don't HAVE any connection with the Poles of Warsaw?  Oddly enough, I can apply their research to the way I look at MY research.  No copyright infringement involved.
In the interest of spreading your wings, here are some active groups which may repay a virtual visit.  

San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society (SFBAJGS)
Transcriptions!  Events!  At least three former SMCGS speakers!

Sacramento German Genealogy Society (SGGS)

Even though SGGS is based in Sacramento, its over 800 members live in forty states of the United States, and in three foreign countries.  Magazine!  At least one former SMCGS speaker!

African American Genealogical Society of Northern California

For events see:

Also The San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society
The Society collects, preserves and uses archival and print resources depicting economic, political, cultural and religious life of San Francisco's African American community

Chinese Genealogical & Historical Organizations
A listing of URLs including Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.....where SMCGS went for a field trip!

Go figure.
Wow!  Archives.  Land records.  Extensive library

San Francisco Latino Historical Society
The San Francisco Latino Historical Society aims to document and preserve the Latino experience in San Francisco, California.  Resources for genealogists.

There are many more societies in the Bay Area.  Some are connected with museums, or churches, or libraries.  Additions resources may be found at:

Margaret Melaney 2020

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Do you know what a SIG is?

Commonly called SIGs, special interest groups meet alongside the regular monthly meetings and activities to discuss specific areas of interest to the members. SMCGS currently has three SIGs running: German, British/Irish, and DNA. 

Meetings of the groups are held either once a month, or once every other week.  As a member of SMCGS you are able to attend any of these meetings without charge.  In fact, you can pick and choose, and rotate among groups as your interests change.
Here's what the groups are doing right now:

Haben Sie deutsche Vorfahren? The German SIG emphasizes sharing family histories and recent research successes, seeking  advice on overcoming brick walls, and learning from others about useful research tools, techniques and online resources. Recent presentations include one on the occupations of members of a German family using pictures from old books and another on the use of Google maps to show locations where ancestors lived in Germany and United States.

DNA SIG: You've seen the wonderful results of DNA testing on shows such as "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr." on PBS. The purpose of this group is to help you better understand how to use DNA in your family research. We explore various ways to make use of testing sites like AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and 3rd party DNA sites of interest. We work collaboratively to interpret your DNA results, and attempt to help answer your DNA questions.

British/Irish SIG.  In hopes of a soft Brexit, we have now combined the British and Irish groups into one peaceful collaboration.  Recent explorations have been for an unusual surname in Devon which shows up all too frequently, a Lancashire ancestor who (surprise, surprise) is commemorated on a monument in a Dublin cathedral for going on a rescue mission to the Arctic, and a long missing ancestor discovered under a rug in the Berkeley (UK) church.  We are hoping for someone to come in looking for medieval ancestors.  Challenge us!

Currently the SIGs are held via Zoom.  To sign up, see the listings on our webpage with contact emails.

Do you have ideas for other SIGs you'd like to see?  
Would you be interested in a New England SIG?

Please send your thoughts and suggestions to the Blog editor, Margaret Melaney, at

Friday, December 4, 2020

Where in San Mateo County?

Sometimes we think all the history has been erased from San Mateo County and put on a shelf in the museum.  But it's there if you know where to look.  Can you identify these sites pertaining to SM history?  Answers below.


1.  Remnant of Western entrance gate to Flood Park, designated as "of historical interest".  Flood County Park originally opened in the early 1930s, and existing adobe structures on-site were constructed during that era as Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects. These adobe structures include an administrative office, a ranger residence, maintenance and electrical buildings, restrooms, and remaining fragments of an adobe wall adjacent to Bay Road.

2.  The sign, of course.
Redwood City's slogan, emblazoned on arches across Broadway at the east and west entrances to downtown, is "Climate Best By Government Test." This is based on a climatological survey conducted by the United States and German governments prior to World War I. The area centered on Redwood City tied for the world's best climate with the Canary Islands and North Africa's Mediterranean Coast. The local paper had a contest for a city slogan to attract new residents and Wilbur Doxsee entered “By Government Test, Our Climate is Best” which won the $10 prize money in 1925.
  1.  "Matters Historical: The great climate debate of 1920s Redwood City". January 18, 2017.

3.  Former site of Ohlone village, corner of Main and Pennsylvania, RWC.

4.  John Offerman house, c. 1857.  "Built circa 1857 and remodeled and enlarged in the 1870s, the John Offerman House is the oldest building remaining in downtown Redwood City."

5,  Pilarcitos Cemetery, Half Moon Bay.  "The Pilarcitos Cemetery in Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County, is currently overgrown with weeds and bushes. The gravesites, with cracked tombstones and mining markers, are in disrepair. The abandoned cemetery was also the site of the Church of Nuestra Senora del Pilar. The cemetery, in use from 1820 to 1923, was established by priests from Mission Dolores."

6.  Union Cemetery, Woodside Road. Est. c. 1859

7.  Diller's Island.  Named after John V. Diller, who ran a store in downtown RWC.  If you're standing in front of the library (formerly the fire department) you're on an island.  Don't get your feet wet crossing Main Street.  "From 1864 until 1895, Redwood City school children followed "Schoolhouse Lane" and crossed footbridges to reach the "Island" school. "

All photos by author
m.melaney 2020

Friday, November 13, 2020

And the winners are....

Last Saturday was our Fall Seminar with Lisa Louise Cooke. 
If you had technical issues or need to review parts of the video, please email, and she will send the link to you. Please do not pass it on. Our agreement with Lisa is that the video is for the attendees only. The link is valid until November 30.  
Also, check out her Genealogy Gems YouTube channel and Facebook page.

And we had our popular Silent Auction, which was extra silent this time, since we were all online. Final bids totaled $706.

The winners are: 1-year Membership             Susan Cohen

British Genealogy Mystery Bag                 
Jo Ann Hacker

Colonial/New England/Midwest Books      Susan Crawford

Findmypast 1 month subscription              Adrienne Smith

Findmypast 12 month subscription            MaryAnn Clifford

fold3 by ancestry                                        Joleen Sharp

GenealogyBank                                          Mary Kabakov

GenealogyBank                                          Sara Hayden

German Genealogy Books                          Kathleen Shannon

Irish Genealogy Books                                Kathleen Shannon Subscription                    Rebecca Zeren

Thursday, November 5, 2020

2020 Fall Seminar -- Gems for Genealogical Research with Lisa Louise Cooke this Saturday!

It's here!  Our online seminar with Lisa Louise Cooke.  You should have received your confirmation of registration, the URL to sign in, the handout, and a list of silent auction items. 

Gems for Genealogical Research
Presenter: Lisa Louise Cooke
Saturday, November 7, 2020. 9 am - 3 pm (social time 8:30 am - 9 am)
Via Zoom -- the link will be sent via email to registered participants several days before the seminar.

Members $50, Non-members $60. Registration is now open -- register soon!

Lisa Louise Cooke is a well-known speaker on genealogy and technology. She is an author, columnist, host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, and podcast producer for Family Tree Magazine Podcast. Her podcast brings genealogy news, research strategies, expert interviews and inspiration to genealogists in 75 countries around the world.

Four topics to up your technology skills for your genealogical research:

  • The 2020 Genealogist's Google Search Methodology
  • Google Books: The Tool I Use Every Day
  • Cool Cases Solved: How to Identity Your Photos
  • Future Technology and Genealogy – 5 Strategies You Need

An online Silent Auction will be part of the Seminar event. All registered participants will receive both the seminar link and the silent auction link two days before the seminar. Auction items include memberships to AncestryGenealogyBankFindmypastfold3, and There will also be mystery grab bags of used books on various topics.

Register online here. For a seminar flyer with mail-in registration form, click here.

Here are our Silent Auction Items.  You must be registered for the seminar to bid.

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Mystery Aussie with Pam Wong - a review

Last Saturday we had a presentation by Pam Wong about Jan See Chin, her ancestor who had a remarkable career both in Australia and China.

Pam explained that Eastern Europeans weren't the only ones who changed their names on arrival in a new country. Jan See Chin's experiences relates to those many of our ancestors went through.

Among the comments from TMGC were:
We didn't realize how much ethnic prejudice there was in Australia
Pam kept the audience engaged with cliffhangers.
Fugu!  OMG!

Pam used the history of the place and unusual resources, such as museums and academic papers to tell her story, and included some backstory to help us understand better.
One of our classmates suggested that this could be adapted well as a story for young readers.

A video of her talk is available on the member's page of under handouts and recordings.  This will be available until October 26th.  Information about ordering the book is available in the handout or by contacting her directly.
Pam can be contacted at  

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Quonset Huts of San Mateo County Part 2

Part 2

Margaret Melaney


Our readers discover more huts!


From Ruth Satterthwaite:

There are still some along El Camino Real in Palo Alto.

…The Old Pro at the intersection of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, which was shut down in April 2007 and replaced by the AT&T retail store.

…. 4 Less Smog Check of Palo Alto at 3508 El Camino Real and Nine Minute Oil & Lube at 3839 El Camino Real, Palo Alto.  If you can get your hands on a copy of Over Time Palo Alto 1947-1980, by Ben Hatfield with Barry Anderson (ISBN 978-0-7385-4691-9, published in 2008 by Arcadia Publishing), you should find a number of aerial photos of Palo Alto, several of which show Quonset huts, only some of which still exist.  


From Barbara Ebel:

In the Belmont Corporation Yard on Sem Lane (off Shoreway Rd) the sign shop is housed
in a Quonset hut.  (I worked for the City of Belmont for 21 years.)  

Got it!  Thanks for the addition.  I see it's even got curtains in the windows.  Did you ever go in it?  I wonder what it's like in the summer.     Maggie

Yes, I've been in it.  I know the auto shop (building 

opposite)was hot in the summer.  I stored some material for a county-wide storm water program I chaired for a while in the auto shop.  The shop manager added ceiling insulation bit by bit and that helped.   I don't know if Rick (sign guy) did the same; probably.  They were all very good with construction and fixing things.        Barbara

Quonset huts started to appear as surplus after the war.  The earliest ads are from around 1945-6.  Notice that one article reports that a hut was washed up on the beach near Half Moon Bay and taken as salvage!

Articles from                                San Mateo Times,  27 June, 1946

San Mateo Times, 12 Dec. 1952

San Mateo Times, 3 May 1946

San Mateo Times 18 July, 1953

Because so many were located near the old San Carlos Airport, it was thought that they might have functioned as airplane hangars.  Did you know there was an airport on Old County Road?  Right where Home Depot is today!

It appears from the caption that there may have been huts here prior to the War.  I haven't been able to confirm that from maps.  According to the San Carlos Airport Association "In 1940 operations were moved near to Brittan and Industrial Roads. The airport was relocated to its present site on the east side of 101 in 1948"  So the airport would have been gone by the time huts were available as surplus.

Quonsets show up very well on Sanborn Maps.  If you're interested in the history of an area, these maps are invaluable for learning about buildings.

"The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, urban planners, teachers or anyone with a personal connection to a community, street or building.  The maps depict more than 12,000 American towns and cities.  They show the size, shape and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories and other structures.  They indicate both the names and width of streets, and show property boundaries and how individual buildings were used.  House and block numbers are identified.  They also show the location of water mains, fire alarm boxes and fire hydrants."

Here are some of the San Carlos huts as shown on 1952 Sanborn maps.
These are the front and rear views of the auto shop at 1527 Old County Road.  The building which used to be to the right is missing. 

Another section shows the two huts on Center Street, front and side views.  You'll notice that they are all colored grey on the map.  The Sanborn map key identifies these structures as "Iron buildings".  This was certainly important from a fire insurance perspective, since it determined the risk involved in insuring, and also let the fire department know what to expect.  The maps also included locations of fire hydrants.

Perhaps you've driven past a few Quonset huts but never really thought about them.  But once you start looking, they'll pop up all over the Bay Area.  Here's another group I'm calling "Quonset Gulch", spotted by sharp-eyed Barbara Ebel.  They're at the corner of Howland and Winslow in RWC.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Federation of Genealogical Societies Part 2

Well, I imagine you are on pins and needles waiting to hear about my second presentation at FGS yesterday....... 

My plan had been to learn more from CeCe Moore and Lisa Louise Cooke. This was not a successful day. My internet connection became unstable, and after struggling with the dratted spinning thing trying to load the content, I gave up. 

Here are my takeaways for a successful virtual conference. 

  • It doesn’t work very well if you don’t have a strong internet connection. At our house, sometimes it works well, and sometimes it doesn’t. Where is the library when I need it?

  • I need frequent breaks. It was easy to quit during CeCe’s presentation because the sessions had been back to back, and I had been sitting too long. 

  • I love having a computer and a second monitor. When Ron Tanner was talking about the new features on FamilySearch, I was able to log on separately and follow the steps he was using. 

  • While I missed CeCe and Lisa Louise, I will get a chance to see them between September 15, 2020 and March 15, 2020. Great planning.

  • A registrant can choose how many On-Demand sessions to attend. I picked the lite registration, so I will have access to 10 of about 90. 

  • Most importantly, I want to learn how to manage our society to serve and build our membership. From September to March, I will have access to 16 workshops on building membership, marketing, website and more.

  • The handouts from this conference are outstanding. They list what will be covered, expand on those items somewhat and include resources and references.

  • The software for the conference is very frustrating. I didn’t receive instructions on how to log in to get started. Choosing my 10 on demand sessions has been problematic. The system is very fussy and often there is no way to go back. I have to start over. Sigh. Lesson? Be persistent! You’ll learn something.

  • Has the pandemic arrived just to help us gain new skills??

  • The best part? I can do this any time of day or night in my PJs.

    Kara Rosenberg, President SMCGS

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The President's blog - NEW!

Today I attended my first virtual genealogy conference. The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) , is an organization supporting member genealogy societies, disseminating genealogical knowledge and promoting ethical standards in genealogical research and practices. Following the conference, it will merge with the National Genealogical Society, so this is its last conference. I decided to attend to learn more about expanding our own society and maintaining a society that has purposes similar to those of FGS.

Following the introductions and history of FGS I attended two of the live sessions. The first was given by Judy G. Russell called Quarantined! Genealogy, The Law & Public Health. Judy submitted the proposal for this presentation about a year ago. How prescient were both she and FGS? This engaging presentation gave us knowledge about all the unusual places we can research to embellish the stories of our ancestors who were involved in epidemics. Her advice is to “Think As If There Is No Box.” Look at burial permits, death certificates, funeral home records and quarantine station records. Then look for clues in news beyond headlines such as ads and photos. She showed an early 20th century photo in which the mother had just died, and the remaining family members, including the cat, were masked. She asks us to explore what this photo means. Move on to history books of the location your ancestors are from, family papers, legal papers and even land records. She showed us how to find clues in each of these.

Does it work to attend a virtual conference? For me, it is excellent. Once I’ve mastered the online system, I can find what I need easily. I don’t spend time scurrying around to find the correct room, or to get from one presentation to another. I am also able to both see and hear the presentations. The downside? I don’t make connections with people who might help me achieve my goals or just be new friends. The lack of networking must lead me to find other means of making those connections.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about my second presentation.

Kara Rosenberg, President SMCGS

Monday, August 31, 2020

It's a great time to be a genealogist!

Your correspondent has recently heard from John Gleed who's just come back from attending a talk at the Devon Family History Society. I'm sure it was fascinating and he learned a lot. But how did he get there and back so quickly?

You may be aware that genealogical events have changed in the last few months. SMCGS is now holding everything online via Zoom. Even our classes are online - which is why we have students from around the US.

What does this mean for us? For some societies, it means there are no meetings, no classes, and no access to archives. For the rest of us, it means that we can now attend meetings in Reykjavik, Iceland, if we so choose.

Just look at the offerings from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. These are online, many are free, and anyone can register. 

Want to go further abroad?

The National Archives UK has a series of talks from authors with Q&A sessions.


Here are some examples:

Dermot Turing: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park
9 September | 19:30 to 20:30
In discussion with our Collections Expert, Mark Dunton, Dermot Turing will discuss his latest book which examines the lives of the brilliant and eccentric individuals who cracked the seemingly unbreakable Enigma code.

Trevor Barnes: Dead Doubles
7 October | 19:30 to 20:30 
In conversation with Professor Chris Andrew (author of the official History of MI5, The Defence Realm), Trevor Barnes will discuss his new study on one of the Cold War’s most notorious spy cases – the Portland Spy Ring.

Roger Dalrymple: Crippen
23 November | 19:30 to 20:30
110 years to the day after the execution of Dr Crippen, Roger Dalrymple will talk about how the murder caused a sensation at the time that still resonates today. Roger will draw on official records to examine the case itself and the public’s fascination with the brutal crime.

Since we were talking about Devon:  

They have virtual talks on a regular basis, and you might get to ask questions.

The UK Society of Genealogists also have online talks.

A friend in Gloucestershire just mailed me some information about the History Festival, an annual event of talks and tours.  This will be the first time I'm actually able to go....and I won't need a plane ticket!

What part of the world did your ancestors come from?  Take advantage of the opportunity NOW to attend events around the world, and to interact with experts and ask questions.  

- Margaret Melaney

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Quonset Huts of San Mateo County

 The Quonset huts of San Mateo County

Part 1

 If you know where to look you can see them, hidden behind store-front fa├žades or boldly announcing their presence to the street.

Quanset huts were manufactured starting in 1941 to provide the US Navy with lightweight prefabricated buildings.  The original buildings were 16 X 36ft., with the later models 20 X 48 ft.  After the war the surplus were sold to the public for use as storage, businesses, or even homes. (1)

The remaining huts in San Mateo County tend to be clustered in industrial areas east of Old County Road in San Carlos, and just west of Bay Road in Menlo Park. There are no doubt others you know of.


Huts can sometimes be identified by the presence of a false front facing the road and a glimpse of rusted metal behind.  Another way to spot them is on Google Maps Satellite view.  The curvature and color is a giveaway.  

Here’s an aerial shot of 2645 Fair Oaks Ave. compared to the street view.  Who would guess?




Here’s a side view of the property at 701 Hurlingame.  It’s been cleverly divided to provide an auto repair shop in the back, with a cut-out entrance for cars.  A large can opener??


Where have the Quonset huts gone and why were they put here in the first place?

Lost huts include:

Redwood Trading Post:  Redwood Trading Post began in a Quonset hut down at Five Points, near El Camino and Woodside Road, in 1952. (2)

Quonset on East Bayshore Road - Redwood City - gone

Old Cargill Site, Seaport Rd  Architectural review board says "nothing of interest here".


Were they possibly used as airplane hangers?

See Part 2 next week for the Old San Carlos Airport theory and "Sanborn Maps tell a story".

 -  Margaret Melaney

Do you know of a hut we've missed?  Email me at and I'll include it.

1.  Michael Lamm (Winter 1998), "The Instant Building"Invention & Technology, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp. 68–72.   From


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

What can I do in September?


September 2020 Meeting - The Mystery Aussie - via Zoom

The Mystery Aussie
Presenter: Pam Wong
Saturday, September 26, 2020   10:30am - 12:00 pm, via Zoom
Social hour 10-10:30 am, via Zoom

This book is much more than a typical immigrant story. Admiration, anger, fear, and amazement accompany the reader through this tale of rags to riches, whites-only politics, and assassination set in Australia and China.

Pamela Wong writes about Chinese immigrant experiences against the backdrop of historical events. Passionate about preserving oral stories about experiences of the elders, a UCB alumna, Pam writes about future generations in mind to help them understand that they stand on the shoulders of their predecessors.

AND you can now register for our Fall seminar with Lisa Louise Cooke

Fall Seminar 2020:  Lisa Louise Cooke, Gems for Genealogical Research

Saturday, November 7, 2020   9:00 am - 3:00 pm
Via Zoom -- the link will be sent via email to registered participants several days before the seminar.

REGISTRATION, open August 15 - November 6.
    $50 Members, $60 Non-members.

Click on this link for registration information

The Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society presents:

April Halberstadt
The Early German Heritage of Silicon Valley

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 6:30-8:30 p.m.

A Zoom Presentation

Can't make it to the Family History Center just now??

New: Online Genealogy Consultations with Family History Library Experts  - FREE

Family History Library—A Wealth of Genealogical Information

The Family History Library is the world’s largest repository of genealogical records, and it is staffed with experts in area-specific genealogical research. The library is extending access to that expertise and their resources so people throughout the world can succeed in their family history research regardless of their ability to travel to the library in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

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