Finding Your Roots: Applauding Local Historians

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown March 15, 2011 09:29

Isabelle MacLean Drown

Genealogy miracles small and large have been experienced by most family history researchers … and recently, I watched one unfold.

Have you ever bumped into a good friend while in a distant city – what a thrill to see them – someone from home!  And if that doesn’t happen, the next best thing is to be in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and take a book off the shelf to find it was written by a good friend from back home in Sonora. Her name is Kristine Childres and “Tuolumne County, California marriages 1850-1900” is her book, full of lists of marriage details of brides and grooms.

I was standing there between the stacks of books, marveling at this labor of love, when a lady, frustrated and annoyed, pushed past me… her look was enough to make me try to excuse myself for breathing.

I held out Kristine’s book, muttering “… a friend – marriages – Tuolumne…” and that was all I managed to get out before the lady – her countenance changed from annoyance to hope – took my book!  As I watched her retreating back, I thought, “Well, she could have at least said, “May I?”  But I decided the better part of valor was to reach for another book and forget it.

Minutes later, she walked toward me again. This time I gripped my book tightly. Even though her face had been transformed into a wreath of smiles, she wasn’t going to get this one!

“I found them!  After all these years!” she said, almost reverently. Yes, the impatient, frustrated lady (and which genealogist hasn’t been there?) had found a long-sought-for marriage record for her ancestor.

Coincidence?  That I was standing there, holding the exact book that held the answer to her research?  I don’t think so!

How many such gifts, similar to that, have our local historians given us? Their efforts are often taken for granted. Most simply donate their books to a history or genealogy society without even looking for recompense.

This is my salute to local historians such as Kristine Childres, well-known in Sonora for the many volunteer hours she devotes to preserving local history.

Darlene Mills wrote “C.H. Burden Undertaking Company burial records, 1890-1953.”  Darlene alphabetized burials, giving the name of the deceased’s age, death and burial dates, and the cemetery where the deceased was buried.

J. Carlyle Parker wrote “Memorial and biographical history of the counties of Merced, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa, California.” He created a personal name index from memorial and biographical histories.

Viola McRae, Mary Ann Devalle, Shirley Drake, authors of “Index: The Saga of Old Tuolumne, by Edna Bryan Buckbee, New York, 1935.” McRae and Devalle transcribed this index from “The Saga of Old Tuolumne.” Shirley Drake then produced this index.  

Thomas Robertson Stoddart wrote, “Annals of Tuolumne County” with an introduction, critical notes, and index by Carlo M. De Ferrari.  The notes are so well-documented by Carlo, the county historian, that I am tempted to suggest that anyone wanting to begin research in Tuolumne County should study this valuable book first.

Mary Grace Paquette authored “Then Came the French: The History of the French in Tuolumne County, California.” It contains a history of the French Argonauts who arrived in Tuolumne County during and after the Gold Rush, and tells of their contribution to the county’s development. It also includes biographical material on many of the county’s early French settlers.

Calaveras County also has several historians who have preserved its history. In the Family History Library catalog you will notice that Calaveras County has 13 categories, with multiple books and films.  I noticed how many excellent lists were contributed by the county clerk – which really means a small army of unsung volunteers worked together to make it happen.

Edith Gunn Jensen and Bernice Murphy Olsen compiled a tome entitled “California Motherlode Records” with Calaveras births from 1856-1915. The Calaveras Genealogical Society has great offerings of research gems in, “The Froghorn” (I love that title!).  The FHL has editions from Spring 2006 to Fall 2010.

Richard Coke Wood presents otherwise forgotten lists such as honor roll lists of students in 1871 in his “Calaveras: The Land of Skulls.” It is so well documented – a researcher’s dream. Edna Bryan Buckbee (1876-1956) is a daughter of Southern Mines pioneers and presented a treasure of illustrations in “Calaveras County: Gold Rush Stories.”

This does not even touch the number of local historians who selflessly donate time, effort and always the cost of carrying out their projects. Just look around when you go to a Tuolumne or Calaveras genealogy society meeting, or as you visit the local archives, museums, historical societies or LDS Family History Center. There you will see just some of the people quietly working to preserve our precious history. Give them a pat on the back for their efforts.

Until next time, good luck with your research.

Sonora resident Isabelle Drown is a geneaological expert currently completing a one-year sabbatical in Salt Lake City, Utah.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown March 15, 2011 09:29