Monday, November 24, 2014

City Directories Contain Pieces of Your Ancestor Puzzle

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 fiancĂ©, Ernest Coffman and taken to live with his aunt, Viola Coffman Hughes in Oakland.

 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 find:
                Moss, Anne widow, r. 7 Liberty
Moss, 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:
Moss, William P., bookkeeper, r. 7 Liberty

Anne Moss & Mary Moss at 7 Liberty Street in 1900 San Francisco City Directory

Since Mary 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 ]

I conducted 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 
In the 1903 Crocker-Langley Directory of San Francisco we find Miss Moss, the dressmaker is May not Mary.  That seems even more promising!

Moss, 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:
                Moss, Bridget widow, r 459 Guerrero
William P, tilesetter, r 459 Guerrero

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
Birthplace:          California
Home in 1910:   192 Douglas Street, San Francisco Assembly District 34, San Francisco, California
Race:     White
Gender:               Male
Relation to Head of House:          Son
Marital Status:   Single
Father's Birthplace:         Ireland
Mother's name:               Bridget A Moss
Mother's Birthplace:       Ireland

Household Members:   
Name    Age   Relation
Bridget A Moss 60  Head
William P Moss  31  Son
Margaret Moss 4  Granddaughter

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 genealogy records.

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.

However now 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.

This 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 ancestor.

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

November Dates to Remember

Our daughter got married this weekend.  It was an extravaganza, a celebration par excellence.  Suzy and Todd were the third generation in our family to be married in November.  The dates include November 15, November 20 and November 25.  These three generations represent a combined total of 102 years of marriage.  Our family has a lot to celebrate this month.

We also celebrated Veterans Day on the 11th and in honor of the occasion, Fold3 has made  their World War II record collections available for free until November 30.  

Most of the major genealogy websites provide these free access periods and it is always a good opportunity to explore the wealth of records.

Mae Moss about 1903
November 1963 was a traumatic month for me.  November 9, 1963 was the day that my Great Grandma Mae Moss Coffman Forbes died.  On November 22 President Kennedy was shot.  I remember that many of the children in my elementary school were distraught and crying when we found out.  Grandma Helen Stewart Mayne died on November 23.  On November 24 the family was gathered in El Cerrito, California and we were watching the television reports about the assassination of President Kennedy.  Then we heard that Jack Ruby had killed Lee Harvey Oswald.

November 12, 1935 was my mother's birthday.  On her first birthday the family celebrated by driving from San Francisco to Oakland across the newly constructed Oakland Bay Bridge to visit her Grandma Mae.

Today, November 17 is my brother's birthday.  Happy Birthday Vince!

Vince Cimino

 November 20 is our anniversary.  I love you Robin!

Robin and Nick Cimino
November 20, 1976
Special events in your family life should be recorded in a timeline fashion. Intersperse those dates with events in our collective history that affect us all.  This will help to give the historical context to your family history.

Monday, November 10, 2014 & William Phebus, Oklahoma Lawman

Old newspapers can contain wonderful stories which illuminate the lives of our ancestors.  I use dozens of newspaper sites to conduct these searches but has been touted as the new "one stop shop" for newspaper searches.  Dick Eastman blogged about it this morning in his blog entitled: Eastman'sOnline Genealogy Newsletter.  Does truly allow you to search "all of the world’s digital newspapers from one place and at one time."

Eastman ran a simple search and the very first article on the list was from the San Francisco Call of 6 September 1891 about a Vermont moonshiner named Eastman:
  • Darling Eastman, the long-sought-for Vermont moonshiner, is under arrest in this city. Eastman’s capture and escape at Corinth, Vt., last April, was the most sensational that has occurred in the State for twenty years. Orange County has been notorious for its stills. The most daring and successful operator in that section was J. Warren Eastman, who lived in an isolated quarter of Corinth. In April last a large posse of officers made a descent on the Eastman homestead. In an old blacksmith shop they discovered a still of the largest and most approved pattern in full operation. The father, Warren Eastman, his son Darling and his son-in-law were captured in their beds and heavily manacled.
  • Eastman’s comment was: “Yes, that sounds like one of my relatives! Admittedly, I have never found this family in my family tree before but they certainly sound like they might belong.”
William Phebus 1868-1950
photo taken 5 Jul 1901 probably at his farm near Carbon, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory

The moonshine article reminded me of one of our family’s favorite ancestors: William Phebus, 1868-1950, who was an Oklahoma lawman who was particularly active during prohibition.  I put “William Phebus” into the search at and instantly found an article that I had not seen before in the Durant Weekly News of January 14, 1921:

  A tip that an auto loaded with booze was due to go through McAlester between midnight Saturday and sun-up Monday morning, produced the biggest haul in many a day for James B. Dowell, federal enforcement officer, who along with William Phebus, chief of police of Krebs, and John Larison, McAlester officer, intercepted the auto at 3 o'clock Monday morning, getting sixty-nine gallons of corn whiskey.
  One of the men who gave the name of John Smith, of Hollis, Arkansas was captured, but the driver of the car eluded the officers.

The reason that I had not found this article before was that I had been focused on papers from Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. had already proved its usefulness in one simple search.  However, I know from prior research at the Chronicling America website and the Gateway to Oklahoma History website that there were many more articles about William Phebus than the two articles found at

I tried another search for “Phebus + McAlester” and a few more articles appeared but still not as many as I had already found.  Suffice it to say that is a helpful website for newspaper research but continue to use the search engines at the federal, state and local newspaper sites that seem to be emerging daily.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Heirloom Reunions

When I am browsing at antique shops or estate sales I always look for items that include names, dates and places that might help to identify their original owners.  Some of my favorites are photographs, family bibles, letters, and postcards.  I have also found several autograph books which tell very interesting stories about their original owners.

A recent example was an autograph book owned by a fourth grader named Carolyn Reeves.  Several of the early entries were dated 1957.  The name of her school was Sally Curtis and her home address was 725 Yount Street.  

A Google search for Sally Curtis School revealed Sally Curtis Elementary School at 6225 North Circuit Drive in Beaumont, Texas.  The Beaumont Enterprise featured an article dated Aug 27, 2012 – “Sallie Curtis Elementary opened this morning, bringing the district one step closer to finishing up the $389 million bond...”  This made me wonder if the school had been moved to a new location so I decided to look for a listing in the Beaumont City Directory on  The City Directory for 1957 listed Sally Curtis School at the same address.

A search of Google maps revealed that the Reeves home at 725 Yount was just a few blocks away from the school.  Looking for Reeves in the City Directory, I found that Carolyn’s parents were Eugene J. and Nalda Reeves.  Eugene was a chemical engineer at “Mag Pet Co.”  I was not sure what that abbreviation stood for so I went to the page with the “Mag” listings and found Magnolia Petroleum Company located at the east end of Burt Avenue in Southeast Beaumont, Texas.

Eugene & Nalda Reeves, 725 Yount Street, Beaumont, Texas City Directory

OK so now I was hooked on this little Ancestor Puzzle!  I began searching for all of the records that I could find on Eugene, Nalda and Carolyn Reeves.  I estimated that Carolyn was born about 1947 and that her father Eugene was born 25 years earlier in 1922.  Several searches later I ran across a listing on for Eugene Joseph Reeves born January 26, 1921 and died January 8, 2010.  The FindaGrave memorial included his obituary which stated that he was a chemical engineer.  He was survived by his wife Naldia Peteete Reeves of Beaumont and daughter Carolyn Jean Reeves of Clear Lake, Texas.

At the bottom of the FindaGrave memorial there was a “Family Link” to his daughter Carolyn Jean Reeves (1947-2011).  Carolyn’s obituary was also included on FindaGrave.  She was a math teacher at Clear Lake High School before her retirement.  She loved her family, playing blackjack, eating Mexican food, steamed crabs and traveling on cruises.  I contacted the husband of a friend who also retired from Clear Lake High School and they knew Carolyn very well.  He offered to arrange an “Heirloom Reunion” with a family member.

Do you have an heirloom that you would like to reunite with a descendant?  I have been able to facilitate many reunions by searching for descendants.  I would be happy to offer advice on your search or do the research if you prefer.  I have many more of these stories to tell. I enhance the stories with visual aids and it makes a fun presentation for your club or society meeting.