Sunday, March 10, 2013

How Unexpected Research Trips
Fall Together

In the quest to document our family history saga, the opportunity to at last pull away from the computer screen and get back out there in that real world becomes a rare but valuable treat. Perhaps, in this Internet age, it becomes a little too rare a treat.

With such limited opportunities to get away and pursue genealogy research, you’d expect such a venture to be handled carefully—with great attention to detail. After all, when we’re still part of the working world, our “vacation” time is severely limited—and after retirement from that rat race work world, when we are rich in time, we are often severely limited in travel funds. With restrictions like those, it takes careful planning to maximize the resources we do have.

Despite all this, I’ve found myself, in the last two research trips, gleaning details on the hoof. Granted, that thought would be anathema to those considering a destination like the first trip I’ve referred to (the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne). I’m thinking that even my most recent impromptu research trip—a weekend escape to nearby San Jose and surrounding south peninsula environs—some would find unforgiveable.

Lest anyone get too hasty about judging me for my poor planning skills, let me set the stage for you. It all started over a year ago, when a friend of our family invited my husband and me to her organization’s crab feed. It was a fundraising dinner for the Central California Hemophilia Foundation. This friend has a son who, though a remarkable young man, is afflicted with hemophilia. Naturally, his parents became active in this support group—his mom eventually serving as secretary for their Board—and, by extension, so have her family and friends.

One of the evening’s features is a silent auction. You have surely been to such events and know the routine. Perhaps the offerings that you have noticed may seem lackluster, but let me tell you that is not the case in this instance. The team of members working behind the scenes to gather such a variety of great destinations and offerings for this event does a fantastic job—so much so that my husband and I found it wise to adopt a shopping strategy for the evening.

For last year’s event, we perused the offerings with one goal in mind: find auction items featuring an out-of-town stay at an upscale hotel or resort. After all, our anniversary was coming up. We thought that might be a nice way to celebrate. If we could do that and support a worthy cause, who could beat that combination?!

Mission successful! Actually, more than successful: somehow we landed up as top bidders on three different offers. One was for Monterrey, California, an ocean-front destination that we enjoy frequenting. We snatched that one up right away, and thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

The others? They were for San Jose.

Ah, pedestrian San Jose. As common to a fellow northern Californian as a commute to Oakland. Let’s just say, for whatever reason, those two auction winnings didn’t get used when we intended.

Granted, there were extenuating circumstances. For one thing, we were entering the first full year of operating a new family business—you know, the time when you emerge from the prohibitive set-up costs and into the season in which you have to, you know, actually make some money. Get contracts and stuff. That part of the business cycle.

Work can certainly keep you busy, I’ll admit. Oh, and throw in a surprise family crisis of an elderly single relative’s fall which caused a broken neck among other injuries. And the holidays. And…

Before we knew it, a year had passed. And we still had to finish celebrating that anniversary. Before some coupons expired.

As our year came to a screeching halt, coincidentally the need to go back and revisit some family history documentation surfaced. If you’ve been reading my posts on the Bean family history in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, you know what I’m talking about.

That’s where the serendipity of circumstances and location gelled in my mind: now I want to check out the details of Samuel Bean’s arrival in California. It wasn’t until now that I got curious about Leon’s business. It was now that I realized I could revisit Leon’s grave in San Jose and get an updated photograph of his headstone.

Of course, if I had made that perfunctory trip to San Jose last year when I was supposed to, I wouldn’t have been able to snag these extra opportunities. But last weekend, I could.

Of course, we had to wheedle our way through explanations of why we were in Ohio with my injured aunt in January when we should have been making reservations to use the auction awards before they expired. I don’t know how my husband handled that, but I know it was with his characteristic grace and aplomb.

I just didn’t have any idea of how good he would be at that task.

When we arrived at our destination at downtown San Jose’s Fairmont hotel, I was about to find out how well he handled that assignment. Keep in mind, I’ve stayed at the Fairmont before, when attending conferences in San Jose. That, though, was not enough to prime me for such a wonderful stay.

I have to say, when we opened the door to our assigned accommodations, it took my breath away. Whether it was the original designation for the gift donation that the Fairmont had made to the Central California Hemophilia Foundation, or whether it was partially thanks to the exchange between my husband and the hotel management associate in charge of handling the arrangements, a mere mention of our anniversary plans transformed the Fairmont staff into an attentive extension of our celebration efforts.

I am still pinching myself.

From the refreshing respite of an evening enjoying all San Jose had to offer—after all, it is the tenth largest city in the nation—capped off with a late night view of the city’s sparkling skyline from our suite’s high-rise vantage point, that certainly transformed my tune from “just San Jose” to a more respectful admiration.

The added bonus? Carving ninety extra minutes from drive time for a research detour, we were able to hop on the freeway and get to the two Redwood City libraries I needed to visit in less than a half hour.

Granted, that trip didn’t showcase my strongest organizational suit. But it wasn’t really a research trip in the first place. Sometimes, you just need a respite from humdrum routine. A pause that refreshes. And reinvigorates you to then jump back in the race and pursue what is needed.

It’s okay to take advantage of what you have at hand—even if it ends up leading to an off-the-cuff journey to pick up research odds and ends. I’m certainly glad that even when circumstances seem to stand in the way of making better plans, despite the unforeseen difficulties, I can trust that somehow, a guiding hand seems to set things right again.

Photograph, above: The Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose, California; photographer Luiz Eduardo; courtesy Wikipedia via Flickr; under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license. 


  1. Oh I love the Fairmont, although I've never had the opportunity to stay there since I always stay with family when I'm in San Jose. My dad's office used to be right across the little paseo - the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Center. I'm not sure if it's still there, though. I'm anxious to hear if you went to any cemeteries. I have a lot of history at Oak Hill on Curtner Avenue - my dad is there and I just learned my 3rd great grandfather is also there.

    1. Oh, Debi, I wish I knew! We did go to the Oak Hill Cemetery, and took photos of Leon's grave. I could have looked up your third great grandfather's plot there and taken photos for you! It is a sizable cemetery--not huge, but big enough to need a map.

      I hope to post more about Leon and download the photo of the cemetery in a few days.

  2. And all the stars aligned ....

    1. ...and the angel choirs sang. Don't forget the music!


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