Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Learning to unlock their past" article on SDGS

The San Diego Union-Tribune published an article about the San Diego Genealogical Society and its members on 28 February 2008; the article was titled "Learning to unlock the past" by Alison DaRosa, and is online here (although I don't know for how long).

The article reads:


SAN DIEGO – Peter Steelquist was intrigued when he received an e-mail at the San Diego Genealogical Society from a woman who wanted to know more about her father.

“He was stationed here in the Navy and soon after my birth he was hit by a car and died,” the San Diego woman wrote. “I know his name and that he was born in Pennsylvania. That's all my mother told me. Now, with advancing age, I'd like to know more.”

Steelquist, a past president of the San Diego Genealogical Society, couldn't resist the challenge and started searching. It's just what they do at the organization.

Steelquist and other members of the San Diego Genealogical Society, founded in 1946, are dedicated to helping one another – and the public – dig up their roots. The nonprofit maintains a 12,000-volume research library where those hunting for ancestors can peruse documents ranging from the Harvard Alumni Directory to San Diego's Greenwood Mortuary Obituary Collection from the 1920s through the 1980s.

“Part of what we do is collect, preserve and publish San Diego County genealogical and historical records,” said Karna Webster, a 25-year member of the group. The latest publication is a 311-page history of the El Cajon Cemetery, including an alphabetical listing of 8,800 burials there from the late 1880s through June 2007.

The 350-strong, volunteer-run organization, whose members range in age from 35 to 96 (four members are 96 years old), has its headquarters at 1050 Pioneer Way, Suite E, in an El Cajon industrial park. The library is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays; members get the combination lock to the door so they can hunt for ancestors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“If you go back 10 generations, you have a total of 2,046 ancestors,” said Marna Clemons, the group's president. “Then, after you have the names, you get to put the meat on the bones: find the diaries, ephemera, military records and so forth. That's the fun part.”

When Steelquist started his search for the San Diego woman's past, he hoped her father's “somewhat unusual name” would help. It did.

“I quickly found him in the 1930, then the 1920 Pennsylvania census records,” Steelquist recalled. That provided his parents' names, which led Steelquist to military records listing the family's ancestral home town in Slovakia.

“With sibling names from census records, I searched online and found his brother's obituary, which reported that the woman's father lived in Ohio,” Steelquist said. “With that lead, I found the father's death in the Ohio Death Index. He had died in 2002. The obituary listed his family and survivors.”

The San Diego woman was doubtful Steelquist had found her father, but she contacted the Ohio family and sent along a photograph of her father. “The Ohio relatives knew immediately that their father was in fact her father, too,” Steelquist said. “Neither family had ever known about the other.”

Apparently, the San Diego woman's mother had met him in Hawaii and become pregnant. She had moved to San Diego to live with an aunt and have her baby. Her mother had made up the rest of the story and never revealed the truth to anyone."

Added Steelquist: “Our San Diego woman not only found her father, but an entire new family as well as her ancestral line back to Europe.”


The article also has an information box about SDGS:

San Diego Genealogical Society facts:

* The group's headquarters and library are at 1050 Pioneer Way, Suite E, in an El Cajon industrial park.
* Annual membership costs $25 for one person, $15 for each additional family member.
* The society meets at noon on the second Saturday of each month at St. Andrews Lutheran Church, 8350 Lake Murray Blvd., San Diego.
* The group hosts events including a weeklong research trip to Salt Lake City in October.
* For more: rootsweb.com/~casdgs/ or (619) 588-0065.

This was an excellent article that generated some interest in SDGS immediately - there were many visitors at the monthly meeting on 8 March, quite a few new members, and 30 attendees at the first session of the beginner's class.

All societies should be so lucky to get press like this! The "Our East County" special section of the San Diego Union-Tribune had a shorter article about SDGS in the 14 February edition, but I can't find that online. As I posted several weeks ago, the Chula Vista Genealogical Society had favorable publicity in February also, and received some benefit from it in terms of new members and community interest.

I learned something from this article about San Diego area records - that SDGS has the Greenwood Mortuary Obituary Collection in their Library! I didn't know that, and have never heard it mentioned before.

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