Let others leave their hearts in San Francisco — you’re here to find your ancestors.
California’s “golden gate,” epitomized by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, was more than merely metaphorical for the ancestors of millions of today’s Americans. For the forty-niners who came from the East seeking their fortune, California’s appeal was literally golden. For immigrants from Asia, California was the gateway to a new land.
Many of this latter group came through Angel Island, “the Ellis Island of the West,” the largest island in San Francisco Bay. A fishing and hunting site for the Miwok Indians for more than 6,000 years, the hilly island became an immigration station in 1910. But World War I cut short the flood of Europeans who were expected to arrive via the Panama Canal. Over the next 30 years, most of the immigrants through Angel Island came instead from Asia — 175,000 from China alone. Because of restrictions on Asian immigration, the wait here was longer than at Ellis Island — an average of two to three weeks, though some were detained for months or even years.
Today, the former immigration station on Angel Island is a National Historic Landmark. A museum in the old barracks building re-creates one of the detainee dormitories and preserves poems carved into the station’s walls by immigrants waiting for their chance at a new life.
The island is open from 8 a.m. to sunset year-round. Tours of historic sites are offered on weekends from April through October (call 412-35-3522 for information), and you can take a motorized tram tour weekends in March and daily from April 7 through Oct. 31 (925-426-3058). Ferry service to the island is available from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco ($10.50), Tiburon, Oakland/Alameda and Vallejo; links on the island’s Web site <www.angelisland.org> give complete fare and schedule information. You can also write the Angel Island Association, Box 866, Tiburon, CA 94920; for park-ranger information, call (415) 435-1915.
You’ll find the heritage of those Asian-Americans throughout San Francisco, but especially in Chinatown. There, the new Chinese American National Museum and Learning Center (965 Clay St., 415-391-118, <www.chsa.org>) and the Pacific Heritage Museum (608 Commercial St., 415-399-1124) celebrate the city’s Asian influences.
If your ancestors came from the other direction, lured by gold, you can get a feel for the Gold Rush at the Wells Fargo History Museum (420 Montgomery St., 415-396-2619, <www.wellsfargo.com/about/museum_info.jhtml>) and the Museum of American Money in the Bank of California (400 California St., 415-765-0400). The nearby Jackson Square Historical District is the best place to see buildings from the Gold Rush era.
San Francisco was built on seafaring as well as gold, and you can discover that heritage at the San Francisco Maritime Museum (500 Beach St., 415-556-8177). Besides models and exhibits inside, don’t miss the remarkable collection of actual ships on nearby Hyde Street Pier (415-556-3002). This whole Fisherman’s Wharf area is rich in the heritage of the Italian immigrants who founded the city’s fishing industry in the late 19th century. (And if you had ancestors in prison, Alcatraz is just a short ferry ride from here, near Angel Island.)
Nearby Fort Mason (415-979-3010) reflects not only the city’s military history but also its rich ethnic traditions: Almost 50 cultural groups make their home in Fort Mason Center, including the Mexican Museum (415-441-0404, <www.mexicanmuseum.org>) and Museo ItaloAmericano (415-673-2200, <www.museoitaloamericano.org>).
More state history is celebrated at the California Historical Society (678 Mission St., 415-357-1848, <www.californiahistoricalsociety.org>). The society’s North Baker Research Library is open by appointment only.
For actual genealogical research, your first stop should be the Sutro Library, a branch of the California State Library Association. Open free to the public Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the library features the rare book and manuscript collection of Adolph Sutro and the largest genealogy collection west of Salt Lake City: 150,000 books and 65,000 microforms. Collections of city directories (more than 20,000), family histories and local histories are particularly strong. (Bring your notepad — there’s no photocopying of city directories or any older books.)
The Sutro Library is located at 480 Winston Drive, between the north campus of San Francisco State University and the Stonestown Galleria mall. Without a car, the best bet to get there is to take the Muni Metro train to the mall (almost the end of the line), walk through the mall and out the back and downhill to the left. The library is a low-slung building rucked into a hillside on the right-hand side of Winston Drive, a challenge for cab drivers to find.
You can search the library’s catalog online before you go using the links at <www.library.ca.gov>. For more information, call (415) 731-4477.
San Francisco’s regular libraries also offer much for genealogists, such as the San Francisco History Room and Archives in the handsome New Main Library (100 Larkin St., 415-557-4400, <sfpl.lib.ca.us>), in the Civic Center area. (If you’re staying in the nearby Union Square hotel area, don’t be tempted to stroll here through the iffy Tenderloin district.) While there, check out the exhibit of the Museum of the City of San Francisco <www.sfmuseum.org> in the neighboring City Hall Light Court at Grove and Van Ness.
The Bay Area is also home to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Pacific Region headquarters (1000 Commodore Drive, 650-876-9001, <www.nara.gov/regional/sanfranc.html>), about 12 miles south in San Bruno, near the airport. Among the records here are those from federal agencies and courts in northern California, Hawaii, Nevada (except Clark County), the Pacific Trust Territories and American Samoa.
Across the bay in Oakland is the California Genealogical Society Library (1611 Telegraph Ave., Suite 200,510-663-1358). It’s open to the public; there’s a $5 daily fee for non-members.
Whatever resources you target, San Francisco’s multifaceted public transportation system makes it easy to get around. Your best bet is probably a hotel in the Union Square area, which is convenient to the Muni Metro and to cable cars for Fisherman’s Wharf or Chinatown. (It’s also a shopper’s paradise.) The San Francisco Hilton (333 O’Farrell St., 415-771-6807) and San Francisco Marriott (55 Fourth St., 415-777-2799) are obvious big-hotel choices. Or opt for a bit of history at the classic Sir Francis Drake (450 Powell St., 415-392-7755) or the Westin St. Francis (335 Powell St., 415-397-7000), built in 1904. An affordable alternative on the other side of Market Street from Union Square is the recently renovated Pickwick Hotel (85 Fifth St., 415-421-7500).
The problem with dining in San Francisco is the confusing variety of options in what’s one of the world’s great restaurant cities. Try sampling some of the city’s heritage: Italian at Puccini & Pinetti (129 Ellis St., 415-392-5500), seafood at Aqua (252 California St., 415-956-9662), Chinese dim sum at Yank Sing (427 Battery, 415-781-1111) and Japanese at Mifune (1737 Post St., 415-922-0337), in the striking Japan Center (Post and Buchanan streets, 415-922-6776) at the heart of the city’s Japanese community. The other problem with dining in San Francisco, as you’ll discover, is that it’s hard to put down your fork and get back to your genealogy.
– David A. Fryxell
Civil War Battle Re-Enactments
APRIL 21, MAY 19, JUNE 16, JULY 21, AUG. 18, SEPT. 15, OCT. 20
Re-enactments and living history at Fort Tejon State Historical Park. (661) 248-6692 <www.forttejon.org>
• Santa Barbara
Old Spanish Days
JULY 31-AUG. 4
This Spanish and Mexican heritage festival has been celebrated since 1924.
(805) 962-8101 <www.oldspanishdaysfiesta.org>
• Los Angeles
This Little Tokyo festival, one of the oldest Japanese-American events, features a Nisei reunion and cultural activities.
• San Diego
Enjoy a weeklong festival and re-enactment of the 1542 discovery of San Diego Bay by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.
(619) 232-3101 <www.nps.gov/cabr>
• Hawaii County Genealogical Society
Box 831 Keaau, HI 96749
• Hawaiian Historical Society
560 Kawaiahao St. Honolulu, HI 96813 <hawaiianhistory.org>: Tracing Hawaiian history since 1892.
• Hawaii Mayflower Society
• Hawaii Atlas and Gazetteer
• Hawaiian Genealogies: Extracted from Hawaiian Language Newspapers
by Edith Kawelohea McKinzie (University of Hawaii, $25)
• Hawaii Factsheet
<ancestry.com/learn/reference/state/hi.htm>: Information on vital, court and land records.
• Hawaii GenWeb Project
<rootsweb.com/~higenweb/hawaii.htm>: Links to state and county resources.
• Hawaii Mailing Lists
<rootsweb.com/~jfuller/gen_mail_states-hi.html>: Subscribe to state or county-level mailing lists, plus special interest lists.
• Hawaii Resources at RootsWeb <resources.rootsweb.com/USA/HI>: Archived messages, queries, message boards.
• Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, Hawaii
<raogk.rootsweb.com/hawaii.htm>: List of volunteers who will help with Hawaii research.
• The Royal Family of Hawaii
<geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/7545/Hawaii.html>: Early history, plus links to Hawaiian royalty.
• Vital Records Information
<vitalrec.com/hi.html>: Get birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees.
• Aloha Week Festivals
The Hawaiian cultural festival starts at Honolulu, and each island takes one week thereafter.
First mostly extant federal census: 1900
Statewide birth, death and marriage records begin: 1913
First mostly extant federal census: 1850
Statewide birth, death and marriage records begin: 1905
First mostly extant federal census: 1900
Statewide birth and death records begin: 1853
Statewide marriage records begin: 1951
First mostly extant federal census: 1850
Statewide birth and death records begin: 1903
Statewide marriage records begin: 1906
First mostly extant federal census: 1850
Statewide birth and death records begin: 1907
Statewide marriage records begin: 1968
• Genealogical Forum of Oregon
Box 42567 Portland, OR 97242 <gfo.org>
• Oregon Genealogical Society
Box 10306 Eugene, OR 97440 <rootsweb.com/~orlncogs/ogsinfo.htm>: Publications, classes, pioneer certificates.
• Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave. Portland, OR 97205 <ohs.org>: Exhibits and publications on Oregon history.
• “Oregon Records and Resources” lecture by Connie Lenzen (Audiotapes.com, $8.50)
• Research in Oregon by Connie Lenzen (National Genealogical Society, $6.50)
• Center for Columbia River History <ccrh.org/content.htm>: Oral history archives.
• Oregon Genealogical Links
<gesswhoto.com/genealogy.html>: Links to geographical Web sites, cemeteries, military and census records.
• Oregon GenWeb Project
<rootsweb.com/~orgenweb>: State and county resources, Oregon Trail history.
• Oregon History and Genealogy Resources
<rootsweb.com/~genepool/oregon.htm>: Links to searchable databases, research aids and resources.
• Oregon Mailing Lists
<rootsweb.com/~jfuller/gen_mail.states-or.html>: Join state, county or special-interest lists.
• Oregon Resources at RootsWeb
<resources.rootsweb.com/USA/OR>: Search archived queries and messages.
Find your ancestors at the end of the Oregon Trail.
As the last stop for many hardy Oregon Trail pioneers, Portland, Ore., was founded with an adventurous spirit that’s still apparent in its people and places. Today, it’s a hotbed of family history activity and a perfect place to research your own ancestral trails, particularly if your family’s past included a passage to the Pacific Northwest.
If you want to do extensive genealogical research in the area, plan your steps using the Oregon Guide to Genealogical Sources by Connie Lenzen, available at libraries.
Start your search for ancestors at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon library (1505 SE Gideon, 503-963-1932, <www.gfo.org>). With more than 22,000 volumes and thousands of reels of microfilm, it’s one of the largest genealogy collections on the West Coast. Holdings include records from all US states and several foreign countries, but focus on the Northwest region and states that were common starting points for Oregon Trail overlanders. If you’re researching a pioneer, investigate the Early Oregon Settler Files, on families who arrived in Oregon prior to 1900, and the Oregon and Washington Donation Land Claim Abstracts, plus a complete set of the Oregon Donation Land Claim files on microfilm. You’ll also find indexes to Oregon marriages, deaths and divorces, as well as original Multnomah County marriage certificates; all Oregon census records and indexes; Portland and other Oregon city directories; records on Oregon Civil War veterans; Library Association of Portland Newspaper Index; county histories and cemetery books. Strong collections include an extensive CD-ROM collection, published passenger lists and the Daughters of the American Revolution collection.
The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) Library (1200 SW Park Ave., 503-306-5198, <www.ohs.org>) is another treasure trove of genealogical information. Search for pioneer ancestors in the Pioneer Index of recollections gathered during reunions of pioneers’ descendants, or in the Overland Journals of pioneer letters and diaries. The Biographical Index lists names that appear in Portland and Salem newspaper articles, scrapbooks and county histories. Almost all the sources cited are at the OHS library. A Manuscript Materials file contains letters, diaries, business papers and architectural drawings. Vital records indexes include Portland births, marriages, Oregon deaths, Portland deaths, Portland death certificates and divorces. The library also holds some Native American records kept by federal agencies; cemetery records; federal and state census records on microfilm and in print; Grand Army of the Republic applications for headstones; Oregon Donation Land Claims; Catholic Church records; indexes to Catholic mission records spanning the second half of the 19th century; local and regional city directories; and Indian Wars pension papers of veterans of 1847 and 1855 wars with local Native American tribes. Search for news of your ancestors in the 16,000 rolls of microfilmed newspapers from 100 Oregon cities (1846 to now) and 600 rolls from Washington, California, Idaho, Missouri and Hawaii (mostly 19th-century titles). A few minutes’ walk from the city center along a tree-lined street known as the Park Blocks, the library is in the Oregon History Center, also home to the Oregon Historical Society Museum. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursday until 8 p.m.). The $6 visitors fee includes museum admission.
The Oregon Historical Society Museum exhibits show Portland history, Pacific Northwest maritime history, models of historical vehicles, antique quilts and Native American artifacts. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursday until 8) and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for students, $1.50 for children 6 to 12 and free for younger ones. Seniors visit free on Thursdays. Call (503) 306-5198 or visit <www.ohs.org>.
Looking for copies of original birth, marriage and death certificates? Order them in person, by telephone, fax or online from the Oregon Center for Health Statistics, located in Portland. Birth and death records begin in 1903, marriage records in 1906 and divorce certificates in 1925. Access to birth records less than 100 years old is restricted, as are death certificates and marriage records less than 50 years old; contact the Vital Records office. The office at 800 NE Oregon St. is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call (503) 731-4109 or visit <www.ohd.hr.state.or.us/chs/welcome.htm>.
Your journey to the end of the Oregon Trail will be much easier than it was for the pioneers: Hop in a car and drive 20 to 30 minutes south of downtown to Oregon City. The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center’s trademark wagon-shaped buildings stand where the Oregon Country’s first elected governor, George Abernathy, allowed newly arrived pioneers to camp and graze their oxen behind his house. Your trail guide leads you safely through the Missouri Provisioner’s Depot, a mixed-media presentation, exhibits such as Pioneer Family of the Month and a trades and crafts store. Call (503) 657-9336, or visit <www.endoftheoregontrail.org> for tour schedules and Oregon Trail information (including pioneer diaries). Admission is $6.50 for adults, $5.50 for seniors, $4 for kids 5 to 12 and free for younger children.
The Oregon State Archives is an hour’s drive south to Salem, but it’s worth the trip. It’s the place to go for provisional and territorial records dating from the earliest government in Oregon (1841). County records include maps, government information and court and land records. Check the Web site first <arcweb.sos.state.or.us> for some of the most-used records, including a searchable index to Portland births (1881 to 1899), a provisional and territorial records guide and a Genealogical Information Locator with more than 180,000 entries compiled from archives records. The archives reference room is open 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (503) 373-0701.
At the end of the day, fill your belly at one of Portland’s fine dining establishments. The MAX light rail system makes it a snap to get around for dinner. Take it downtown, for example, for Italian pasta and salad at Pasta Veloce (1022 SW Morrison, 503-916-4388).
McMenamins Kennedy School Courtyard Restaurant (5736 NE 33rd, 503-249-3983), part of a local chain of brewpubs, is located in a former grade school that also houses a movie theater and guest rooms.
Higgins in downtown Portland (1239 SW Broadway, 503-222-9070) serves Northwest cuisine made from locally grown ingredients. Reservations recommended.
If you’re in a spontaneous mood, walk through Portland’s trendy Northwest neighborhood, concentrated between NW 21st and 23rd avenues. Choose from a variety of eateries such as Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant (1201 NW 21st Ave., 503-248-9442) or Tuscany Grill (811 NW 21st Ave., 503-243-2757). Opt for an early dinner, as parking can be difficult in this area.
Finally, put up your feet at one of these lodgings, all within about a mile of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon library:
• Doubletree Hotel Downtown (310 SW Lincoln St., 503-221-0450)
• RiverPlace Hotel (1510 SW Harbor Way, 503-228-3233)
• Marriott (1401 SW Naito Parkway, 503-226-7600)
• Residence Inn Riverplace (1710 NE Multnomah St., 503-288-1400)
– Diane Haddad
• Oregon State Archives
<arcweb.sos.state.onus/banners/genealogy.htm>: Searchable archives of Portland birth and death records indexes.
• Oregon Trail
<www.isu.edu/~trinmich/Oregontrail.html>: Fact-filled site about the Great Pioneer Trail.
• Tribes and Villages of Oregon
<hanksville.org/sand/contacts/tribal/Or.html>: Links to Native American reservations and councils.
• Vital Records Information
<vitalrec.com/or.html>: Get birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees.
• Baker City
End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
Exhibits and re-enactments portray life on the Oregon Trail.
(541) 523-1843 <www.or.blm.gov/nhotic>
Chief Joseph Days
Enjoy a weekend of Native American-themed events honoring the great chief at the Wallowa County Museum.
(800) 585-4121 <www.wallowacountychamber.com>
• Washington State Genealogical Society
Box 1422 Olympia, WA 98507 <rootsweb.com/~wasgs>: Cemetery guide, pioneer certificates.
• Washington State Historical Society
1911 Pacific Ave. Tacoma, WA 98402 <wshs.org>: Searchable site, publications, exhibits.
• Washington Atlas of Historical County Boundaries by John Long (Charles Scribners Sons, $130)
• “Washington State Genealogical Research” lecture by Sarah Little (Audiotapes.com, $8.50)
• Vancouver Barracks Cemetery Index
<geocities.com/Eureka/4458/vanbar.html>: Alphabetized list of persons buried at the Vancouver barracks.
• Vital Records Information
<vitalrec.com/wa.html>: How to order birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees.
• Washington Genealogies
<internetpi.com/genealogy/washington.htm>: Links to online obituaries, including the dates and areas covered.
• Washington Genealogy Resource Center
<accessgenealogy.com/washington>: Links to online vital records, cemeteries and burial register images.
• Washington GenWeb Project
<rootsweb.com/~wagenweb>: County and state-level resources, queries, message boards.
• Washington Mailing Lists
<rootsweb.com/~jfuller/gen_mail_states-wa.html>: Join state or county lists.
• Washington Resources at RootsWeb
<resources.rootsweb.com/USA/WA>: Search archived messages and queries.
Gathering of Tribes
This Native American heritage festival features music, dancing, drumming, arts and crafts, storytelling and kids’ activities.