A Call for Images of the Calaveras River

Volunteers from Stockton's Friends of the Lower Calaveras River and professionals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with videographers from NarrativeLab of Portland, Oregon, are working on a video documentary of the removal of barriers along the Calaveras River to fish that migrate between fresh and salt water.

Recent photograph of the Calaveras River.

Recent photograph of the Calaveras River.

The participants have already searched the holdings of the San Joaquin County Historical Museum, the Haggin Museum, the University of the Pacific, and the Bank of Stockton for related photographs and drawings.

If you know of any images not found in those archives, or if you own any you would be willing to deposit in an appropriate local repository or have scanned for digital access, please send a message to the following address: leighjohnsen@sanjoaquinhistory.org.

Subjects of particular interest include:

  • The Calaveras River before damming and development.
  • Early development along the Lower Calaveras River (Highway 49 to Stockton).
  • Fish and fishing activity along the Calaveras River.
  • Images of Native American activity along the Calaveras River.
  • Major flood events involving the Calaveras River.

Genealogy Seminar Scheduled for Stockton

How could local genealogists be so fortunate? One month ago, I posted a notice in this blog about an upcoming genealogy workshop in Seaside, California. (See post for January 3, 2014.) Recently, I learned about another genealogy seminar coming up in Stockton.

Burns Tower, University of the Pacific.

Burns Tower, University of the Pacific.

This all-day seminar will occur on Saturday, February 22, 2014, in the Biological Sciences Building, 3312 North Kingston Way, Stockton, on the campus of the University of the Pacific. It will start at 8:30 a.m. and last until 3:00 p.m.

The organizing force behind this event is the San Joaquin County Genealogical Society, with sponsorships from the California State Genealogical Alliance and the Jacoby Center for Public Service and Civic Leadership, at the University of the Pacific.

The seminar will feature four sessions:

1. "Family Stories: Genealogy Beyond Just the Dates." Presenter: Linda Serna, member of the research team for "Genealogy Roadshow," and Vice President of Programs for the Orange County Genealogical Society.

2. "Fun Tools to Help Genealogists Work Smarter." Presenter: Tim Cox, a resident of San Francisco and Education and Events Coordinator for the California Genealogical Society.

3. "Researching Your Mexican Ancestors." Presenter: Letty Rodella, President of the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research.

4. "Reconstructing Family Information When You Start with Almost Nothing—A Case Study." Presenter: Janice Sellers, member of the Oakland, California FamilySearch Library, and editor of The Galitzianer, a quarterly newsletter focused on Jewish research; The Baobab Tree, journal of the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California; and ZichronNote, journal of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society.

The seminar is free, though registration is required at the following site: https://sjgsseminar.eventbrite.com.

For additional information, contact Sheri Fenley at sherifenley@gmail.com.

Trivial Pursuit: The San Joaquin County Edition

One of the Museum's staff members has been working forever on a project that has taken her through every single issue of the San Joaquin Historian, the Society's historic periodical, ever since its creation in 1963. And she's done it several times. Last week, I suggested half-seriously that she knew enough to put together the authoritative San Joaquin County edition of Trivial Pursuit.

Richard Nixon: San Joaquin County favorite?

Richard Nixon: San Joaquin County favorite?

I might as well have invited her to pull out her toenails. Her reply was swift and firm: No way! I think I detected more than a hint of exhaustion in her voice. She may have actually rolled her eyes as she turned away.

But, come on, why not? Really. Why don't those of us with a passion for San Joaquin County and its history pool our talents and create our own special edition of Trivial Pursuit? I can't imagine a more entertaining way to build community and quicken aging synapses. The exercise might even be educational.

I'm willing to prime the pump with a few questions of my own. Here we go:

1. What was Tillie Lewis's unofficial title? a. Potato Queen; b. Tomato Queen; c. Delta Queen; d. Dairy Queen; e. Tillie who?

See how much fun this could be? Here are a couple more questions:

2. French Camp got its name from: a. French mercenaries; b. Canadian trappers; c. tasteless European art; c. a nearby POW facility.

3. Which presidential candidate won the popular vote in San Joaquin County during the election of 1860? a. Richard Nixon; b. John C. Breckinridge; c. Nobody; California wasn't part of the United States; d. Abraham Lincoln.

You get the idea. The possibilities are endless. I also like the idea of a wiki devoted to San Joaquin history. But I doubt that misguided entrepreneurs could resist the temptation to use it as a billboard for selling discounted Viagra.

What do you think? If a special edition of Trivial Pursuit charms you, send me some sample questions at the following address: leighjohnsen@sanjoaquinhistory.org. I'll try to share them with our resident San Joaquin County history expert. Maybe she can be persuaded to look them over if we promise not to harm her toes.

More Help for Historic Researchers

I thrive on research. I never know what insights I might gain as I wander from book to book and document to document. But sometimes I don't want to wander. I just want an answer, and I don't want distractions: I want it now.

Government records housed at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum.

Government records housed at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum.

Enter the computer.

Over the past few weeks, the Museum has been the site of activities that promise to help streamline research in San Joaquin County's government records. The objective of those efforts is to digitize most of the County's deeds and to make major parts of them available over a computer at the recorder's office.

This is a significant event. In recent years, the County's collection of historic deeds have been scattered among a number of locations, the county museum being one of them. Some volumes might be found in the archives of the Museum, whereas others might be housed in downtown Stockton. The same goes for indexes: a researcher might need to travel miles to view volumes that should be sitting next to each other on a shelf.

Digitization of these records promises to bring about major changes. Not only will the project end up creating one centrally located digital repository, it will also enhance capabilities to search and view. In addition, it will save users time and money, reduce their levels of frustration, and enable them to manipulate data in ways previously impossible.

Meanwhile, preparation of the updated historic records inventory discussed in the previous blog promises to facilitate research in other county records.

The digitization project has only started. The person to thank for this turn of events is the San Joaquin County recorder/county clerk, Kenneth Blakemore, under whose direction the scanning has commenced.

Stay tuned for occasional updates.

Where Have All the Records Gone?

Let's say you want to find out how wide the right-of-way is for a road somewhere in San Joaquin County that was created in 1890. What historical sources would you consult? You're right if you said "the county supervisor's records." Where would you go to view them? You get bonus points if you said "the San Joaquin County Historical Museum."

San Joaquin County Courthouse, Stockton (ca. 1950).

San Joaquin County Courthouse, Stockton (ca. 1950).

Historical questions like this can often be answered easily. But others can be more challenging. Even if researchers know which county records to consult, they don't always know where to find them. At times, researchers don't even know whether the records still exist.

San Joaquin County and the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum have embarked on a joint project that promises to make research in the County's historic records easier. The goal is to locate all existing historic records generated by the San Joaquin County government since the 1850s. The results will be compiled in an inventory, which will be made accessible to the public.

The motivating force behind this project is the County's Historic Records Commission, recently reactivated after years of inactivity. The Commission, which was appointed by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, consists of Supervisor Larry Ruhstahler, former Board of Supervisor clerk Lois Sahoun, and Bank of Stockton archivist William Maxwell.

The project updates another inventory of local civil records published in 1989 by a previous incarnation of the County's Historic Records Commission. A close reading of that document indicates that many of the resources it lists have changed location over the past quarter century and that many others were overlooked.

The project welcomes insights, sent to the project coordinator at the following address, about the location of previously overlooked historic county records: leighjohnsen@sanjoaquinhistory.org.

Genealogy Made Easier

Some of the most tenacious people I know are genealogists. I have the honor of working with genealogists all the time here at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. Piecing together tiny bits of biographical data from hundreds of different sources can be rewarding. However, I also know from personal experience that it takes lots of time and calls for a lot of patience.

Genealogical paydirt: marriage license from 1874.

Genealogical paydirt: marriage license from 1874.

Genealogical research might be getting a little easier. Last week, the Museum received an announcement for the Thirty-third Annual Ancestor Roundup Genealogical Seminar, conducted by the Commodore Sloat Chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. The event takes place at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1024 Noche Buena at Plumas Avenue, Seaside, California, on Saturday, January 25, 2014, and runs from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The seminar will include more thirty classes. Those who attend can learn more about newspaper research, state and national archives, cemetery records, DNA, genealogy software, and lineage societies. They can also gain new insights into Portuguese, Irish, and Mexican research.

The keynote speaker for the day will be Ralph F. Severson, the director of the Oakland FamilySearch Library. Severson will also teach three classes: "Using Family Search and Family Tree Optimally," "Why Mormons Do Genealogy," and "Azores/Portugal Research."

For additional information, phone Serita Sue Woodburn at (831) 899-2121, or e-mail her at seritasue2@comcast.net.

Stockton’s Stillborn Aircraft Industry

I like to travel on airplanes. But my attitude would change if I discovered they had a nasty habit of falling apart in midair. In-flight disintegration would surely be a public relations nightmare for any airline or airplane manufacturer and probably shatter the confidence of customers. So it was with efforts during the 1930s to build the Capelis Safety Aeroplane in Stockton.

The Capelis Safety Aeroplane XC-12 (ca. 1938).

The Capelis Safety Aeroplane XC-12 (ca. 1938).

Last week, the San Joaquin County Historical Museum received a small collection of historic material related to the Oranges Brothers Airport, in Stockton, the site of which is currently occupied with houses. Among the contents was a prospectus to raise twenty-five thousand dollars for construction of a factory and hangers, as well two six-passenger airplanes.

The founders had big plans: "Several sizes of airplanes from two to fifty passengers are now being designed," reads the prospectus, "construction of which will begin immediately after the Company is completely established in Stockton." Small planes would be sold to "individual fliers at a nominal cost," and large ones placed with "new proposed transcontinental and transoceanic airlines."

The Capelis was the brainchild of Socrates H. Capelis, later modified by University of California professor John E. Younger. Both men valued safety. The only Capelis ever built, the twelve-passenger XC-12, incorporated such revolutionary features as safety glass, retractable landing gear, and gas tanks that could be dropped in an emergency. Plans called for monocoque construction, "the most rigid of all types," entirely of aluminum, and a cockpit "so designed that the pilot has perfect visibility."

Despite its many innovations, the Capelis XC-12 had a fatal shortcoming: Much of the skin was attached with screws, rather than rivets. The screws vibrated, worked their way loose, and frequently needed tightening. (Pilot to terrified passengers: "Don't mind that attendant inching her way across the wing, she's only securing that panel flapping in the wind.") In 1938, authorities grounded the Capelis XC-12 over safety concerns. Moviemaker RKO Pictures bought it the following year for use as a prop.

Memory of the Capelis Safety Aeroplane faded quickly. In 1943, RKO Pictures apparently scrapped the XC-12 after using it in five movies. The most famous of these was Five Came Back (1939), a melodrama whose positive reviews of Lucille Ball's performance helped launch her career as an A-grade actress.

Stockton's fledgling aircraft industry never recovered after the death of the Capelis, for reasons still needing to be explored.

A White Christmas?

Are you dreaming about a white Christmas? I'm not—not in California's Central Valley, anyway. In my view, the words "snow" and "San Joaquin County" usually don't belong in the same sentence.

Giant snowman, Stockton, California, Jan. 1, 1916.

Giant snowman, Stockton, California, Jan. 1, 1916.

But that doesn't mean they're totally unacquainted. The San Joaquin County Historical Museum holds more than twelve thousand photographs in its archives, many of which give insights into historic weather conditions. According to these images, the County has experienced snowfalls in 1873, 1880, 1883, 1916, and 1930—at least. One longtime resident tells me he also remembers snow sometime during the 1970s. It probably fell at other times, too.

The winter of 1915-1916 was especially noteworthy. According to the January 3, 1916, issue of the Stockton Daily Report, the snow that fell on Stockton during the early hours of New Year's Day was the heaviest the city had ever seen. "The air was filled with flying flakes of snow," it reported. "It looked like a real old fashioned 'Down East' storm."

Stories printed in the newspaper suggest that the urge to throw snowballs was irresistible, especially among young people, whose wayward missiles shattered at least one street car window. Meanwhile, older, more staid members of the Elks Club—who should have known better—climbed to the upper story of their building to pelt passersby with snow "bombs."

The revelers included members of the Stockton Fire Department. "You may have seen one of those big American La France fire trucks going up the street," reported the newspaper, "but it was loaded with snowballs instead of fire hoses. The firemen were having their fun along with everyone else."

Chief M. D. Murphy gathered some of his men and invited a newspaper reporter along for a visit to Stockton State Hospital. "At every street corner the firemen exchanged snowballs with the crowd," wrote the reporter. The group toured the hospital grounds then posed for a group picture before making the rounds of the city and dropping the firemen off at their stations.

Will we get snow again sometime over the next couple weeks? Who knows? If we do, remember how much fun it can be. Remember not to focus on numb fingers, muddy slush, and cars sliding out of control. Keep in contact with your inner child. Repeat to yourself: I'm having fun; I'm having fun; I'm having fun….

All in the spirit of our fun-loving ancestors.

If it worked for them, it can work for us.

When a Docent Cheats

I admit it! I cheated on the Museum! I spent volunteer hours with another organization in a far-away and exotic place. Can I ever be forgiven?

“Delightfully similar” children. (Photo Russ Livingston)

My plan for my month-long trip to Thailand was to spend time in a Buddhist monastery and temple, meditating and studying, and teaching English to novice monklings. I arrived at the Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (really), on the top of a hill far above the town of Maehongson, which is in farthest northwestern Thailand a few miles from Burma, after trips in five separate airplanes and a tuk-tuk, a sort of suicidal golf cart taxi.

My "cell" was a small room with a cement bench for a bed platform, and it had a tiny rudimentary bathroom attached. I added a foam pad decorated with smiling stars and sleepy teddy bears, since my "bed" was a blanket with a sheet around it. The temple and pagodas were ornately decorated with gold gilt and scores of statues of Buddha and other manifestations of Thai Buddhism, angles and spires and lattice and a virtual riot of decoration, color, and, exuberance.

After two weeks of studying, meditating, and giving English lessons to novice monks, I felt I was as learned and enlightened as I was likely to become for that time, so I moved to a simple room in a hostel-like "guest house" in town. I spent evenings conversing with travelers from many lands in many linguistic combinations, and in fascinating daisy-chain translations: one night in English, Yorkshire, Spanish, Thai, Karen (hill tribe), French, Danish-English, and Rice Whiskey. Other nights found differing combinations of languages, though nearly always including Rice Whiskey.

My hosts, Noi, a Karen tribe man, and his Chan Chinese wife, Boodt, were helpful and friendly, as were indeed all Thai people I met (except for one small group of rice harvesters who, when I stopped to take a picture of their traditional labors, expressed their opinions of my action most clearly…). Noi, using government grant money, has established a traditional Karen village and a large meditation complex some thirty miles from Maehongson, to which Boodt motor-scooted my raggedy old bod.

During the next two weeks we visited, via scooter, other villages populated by diverse ethnic groups, including Kayan ("Long Necks" and "Big Ears": brass rings about their necks, arms and legs, and large earlobe inserts), Chan, Karen, Chinese, LIsu, Hmong, Mien, and others, all having different languages and different colorful styles of dress.

I continued to help the monklings with their English pronunciation whenever scheduled. Junior high and high school students seem delightfully similar whether Thai, Central American, or U.S. American (silly twits), just as my Fellow Travelers from around the world are so akin in many ways. We, all of us, truly are The Family of Mankind.

Russ Livingston is a retired K-8 principal and a docent at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum.

Stockton’s Industrial Foundations

Have you ever wondered why history has taken the course it has? Those of us who work at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum sometimes do. One of the questions that arises at times is why Stockton developed a manufacturing base in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Wagon factory (lower right) in early Stockton.

Wagon factory (lower right) in early Stockton.

The San Joaquin County Historical Museum recently acquired two photograph collections that offer insights. One is comprised of images taken by an employee of Holt Manufacturing Company early in the twentieth century. The subjects range from family to work-related activities. The other includes what appear to be official photographs from Samson Tractor Company, one of Holt's competitors. The images in that collection range from factory scenes to tractors that Samson produced.

Holt and Samson weren't the only heavy equipment manufacturers based in Stockton during that era. Other notable companies produced LeTourneau earthmoving equipment, Harris harvesters, Graham cars and trucks, and the Stevens Brothers boats. Smaller suppliers of goods and services dotted the city, too. I recently came across evidence that businessmen in the Stockton even considered making—and may have actually made—airplanes locally during the 1920s or 1930s.

Why did all of this happen in Stockton? Several possibilities come to mind. One crucial ingredient was the presence of innovative entrepreneurs like Benjamin Holt and R.G. LeTourneau. Both men not only understood the challenges of farming in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, but also recognized the potential for personal profit by addressing those challenges with marketable products.

Geographically, Stockton offered a number of advantages. Not only did it afford inexpensive access to raw materials by water over the San Francisco Bay and San Joaquin River, but it also stood close to an extensive market that stretched inland throughout California's Central Valley. Furthermore, local wealth acquired over decades of farming in the productive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta assured the availability of capital for investment in machinery and factories.

There was one other crucial element, as well, which is illustrated in the Museum's two new photograph collections. Stockton had a critical mass of skilled workers—machinists, mechanics, and technicians—that seems to have grown steadily after the end of the Gold Rush. Without those workers, the assembly of each complex piece of machinery in that labor-intensive setting could never have taken place.

I offer this scenario as a hypothesis, not as a definitive explanation. Perhaps somebody, someday can use this model as a point of departure, tease out historic details, and develop a compelling narrative that helps us understand more fully the history of Stockton, San Joaquin County, and this part of California.

Meanwhile, I intend to savor each new addition to the Museum's collections and try to figure out how it fits into the puzzle.