Twenty five years of experience has taught me many lessons
when looking at family history records.
City directories are an example of a genealogical record that requires
meticulous analysis. On the surface, a
city directory provides somewhat limited information about a family. City
directory listings usually give the name, address and occupation of an
individual. Upon closer examination, you
will see much more information in City Directories than you might expect.
For example, let’s use city directories to help piece together the puzzle of two of my ancestors. The oral history passed down to me by my grandmother and grand aunt was that their mother, Mae Blanche Moss 1882-1963 and her mother Anne B. Lanstein Moss 1860-1922 lived in Sacramento in the 1890s. There is a women named Annie that is listed in the Sacramento City Directory in the 1890s. This could be my ancestor but I have not yet found any other records that would definitively corroborate that it is her. If I could have found Annie and Mae residing at the same address that would have been more definitive but alas it is not to be at least for now. I keep looking for more evidence.
|Annie Moss in 1895 Sacramento City Directory|
|Mrs. Annie B. Moss in 1896 Sacramento City Directory|
|Mrs. Annie Moss in 1898 Sacramento City Directory|
My grandmother and her sister also told me that Annie and Mae were living in San Francisco together during the 1906 Earthquake. Mae had been working for Mr. C.L. Goetting in
a fancy fruit and vegetable market as a cashier. When the earthquake struck they had to
evacuate their lodging near the current site of the Fairmount hotel on Mason and California Street. Mae was able to get a gentleman to help her
carry her trunk up California Street. Mother
and daughter made their way to Golden Gate Park. Eventually they were rescued by Mae’s fiancé,
Ernest Coffman and taken to live with his aunt, Viola Coffman Hughes in
One way to verify
that claim is to look her up in the City Directories of San Francisco. In the 1900 San Francisco City Directory we
Moss, Anne widow, r. 7 Liberty
Mary A. Miss, dressmaker, r. 7 Liberty
This seems very promising!
It is always wise however to continue to scan the listings for the
surname to see if there are any others listed at the same address. If we look a little closer we see:
William P., bookkeeper, r. 7 Liberty
|Anne Moss & Mary Moss at 7 Liberty Street in 1900 San Francisco City Directory|
A. Moss is listed as a “Miss” it is clear that she is an unmarried woman. It is very common to see widows enumerated
in City Directories with their children in the same household. We do not know for sure but we can theorize
that Mary A. and William P. Moss are the children of the widow, Ann Moss.
At first I
thought these might be my people. My
great grandmother, Mae Blanche Moss was always a good seamstress but she worked
as a cashier for most of her working life.
Is it possible that she tried her hand at dressmaking before settling in
as a cashier? Her name was Mae not
Mary. Her middle initial was “B” not
“A”. But it was awfully close to our
family story. Did Grandma Mae have a
brother? Why didn’t my grandmother and
her sister mention him? [SOURCE: 1900 Crocker-Langley
Directory of San Francisco, page 1254 accessed on Ancestry.com. ]
an exhaustive search of the 1900 census to try to find this family. I found the enumeration district of the
census that includes the address 7 Liberty.
I searched all of the names on Liberty Street. I found a listing for 9 Liberty Street but
nothing for 7 Liberty.
The 1901 and
1902 directories of San Francisco are not available at Ancestry.com.
In the 1903
Crocker-Langley Directory of San Francisco we find Miss Moss, the dressmaker is
May not Mary. That seems even more promising!
May A. Miss, dressmkg. 139 Post, r. 459 Guerrero
But her family is listed differently:
Moss, Bridget, widow. r . 459 Guerrero
Moss, Patrick W. r. 459 Guerrero
In the 1904 City Directory we can’t find Mary/May but we do
find the following listings:
Bridget widow, r 459 Guerrero
William P, tilesetter, r 459
Comparing 1900 with 1903 and 1904 directory listings we see
variations in the names. The dressmaker
is seen in 1900 as Mary A. and in 1903 she is May A. The widow Moss is first listed as Ann but
later listed as Bridget. The first
listing for the presumed son is William P., the second listing is Patrick W.
and the third listing is William P.
We found Bridget and William P. in the 1910 census with a
new addition to the family. William was again
working as a tile setter which helps to confirm that this is indeed the same
family. The census listing follows:
1910 United States Federal Census about William P Moss
Name: William P Moss
Age in 1910: 31
Birth Year: abt 1879
1910: 192 Douglas Street, San Francisco
Assembly District 34, San Francisco, California
Head of House: Son
name: Bridget A Moss
Name Age Relation
Bridget is shown with a middle initial “A” which helps to
tie the family together. Most likely her
full name was Bridget Anne Moss. It is
very common to see first names and middle names used interchangeably in
The census does show that William P. was indeed her
son. His full name is most likely, William
Patrick Moss as we have seen with the names William and Patrick used
interchangeably in the records.
that we know that Bridget Ann Moss was born in Ireland and that she had a son,
William Patrick Moss born 1879 in California, it appears fairly certain that
this is not my family. Annie Lanstein
Moss and her daughter, Mae Blanche Moss came to California in 1890. There is nothing in our oral tradition about
a brother nor is there anything about Irish heritage on the Moss line. There is enough variation in the names to
make it difficult to make these puzzles pieces fit together properly.
analysis shows that genealogical research can be very painstaking work. Sometimes you spend a lot of time analyzing
records that don’t belong to your ancestors.
This can be very frustrating to those who prefer instant results. However, this meticulous analysis is required
to insure that we thoroughly prove that a record belongs to a particular
So why are
Mae Moss and her mother, Annie not showing up in the San Francisco City
directory prior to the 1906 earthquake? The story about Mr. Goetting seems to fit as
there are plenty of records that show that he and his fruit and vegetable
market did actually reside in the California Market. Is it possible that Mae had another
name? She married Ernest Coffman in
Oakland on the 5th of February 1907 and the marriage record lists
her as Mae Moss, resident of San Francisco.
Perhaps she had only recently arrived in San Francisco. The mystery remains unsolved after 25 years
of diligent effort. Stay tuned for more
episodes of this story.
|California Market was a grand shopping market with meats, produce and groceries for the citizens of San Franciso. California Market covered an entire city block from Pine to California, between Montgomery and Kearny. Omey and Goetting offered domestic and tropical fruits and produce from Stalls 28, 29, 30, 67, 68, and 69 according to an advertisement appearing in the Council Cook Book dated January 1, 1909 and published by the San Francisco Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. This book was found on Google Books Extracted 3 Nov 2014|