Friday, March 8, 2013

Online Research Meets
Boots-on-the-Ground Genealogy

Though I’ve currently hit what some may consider a sweet spot in online genealogical research—especially considering the mother lode of newspaper articles I’m finding on deafblind Samuel Bean in the Oakland Tribune—there’s a lot of the story that’s still missing.

But not lost.

There is a wealth of information yet to be found, and much of it is far from being added to digitized collections. The only way to access it is much the same way as it has always been: go there—wherever “there” might be—drill down and tap into it for ourselves.

Fortunately, in the case of Samuel Bean, his twin brother, older sister, and parents, that is fairly easily remedied for at least this researcher. My mother lode—for this Bean family—happens to be not far from where I live.

A trip to Redwood City, California, and surrounding areas last weekend was just enough to get me started. I thought I had a jump start, thanks to the online index to the Schellens Collection provided by the San Mateo County Genealogical Society. As it turned out, however, once I got to the library where the collection is housed, I found much more than I dreamed was available.

Some of the newspaper articles I found through the Schellens Collection index might seem to be insignificant sparkle for most researchers. Take this one instance, found in the Redwood City Democrat on January 14, 1892:
Bean and Mallott, Contractors and Builders. Store and office fittings a specialty. Jobbing promptly attended to.
Granted, it must have been an advertisement. Nothing earth-shaking. It told me a few things, though. First, because of the date of the publication, it showed me that this was an ad for Sam’s father, Leon and his business, rather than Leon’s father’s carpenter business. Leon’s father, also a Samuel, had passed away at a fairly young age in 1874, so this time frame was beyond that.

Second, it told me that Leon Bean was in business with a partner, Mr. Mallott.

Third, it confirmed that Leon’s business focus was on commercial properties.

Finding that little newspaper clipping also primed me for the next snippet I found from the Schellens index. From the same small town newspaper, barely a month later on February 11:
The contracting and building firm of Bean and Mallott has been dissolved by mutual consent. Mr. Bean will hereafter conduct the business.
Mutual consent? Oh, now doesn’t that open up a whole line of questions?! What a sedate and professional way to put it—when what may have really happened could have included rants, raves, screams, threats, loss of money, loss of reputation, impropriety…

Wait. My melodrama gene is carrying me away.


I would still like to know the rest of the story. This may mean some future glances into legal records archived in some dusty governmental storage bin.

Lest I get too carried away with the possibilities in my first two discovered entries, I have to focus on the fact that there are dozens more references to the various members of this Bean family and related lines in this same resource—not to mention in any of the other local volumes in this genealogical collection.

Take, for instance, this gem:
Married in San Francisco July 6th, by Rev. T. Starr King, Mr. Samuel Bean of Redwood City to Miss Celia W. Hankerson, of Readfield, Maine.
So far in this series, I haven’t mentioned much about Leon’s father Samuel or his wife. I knew their names, and the fact that they both came—separately—from Maine to San Francisco. For now, though, I don’t have much to report because I don’t have access to records that would provide the information I need.

Somewhere buried in the oldest of my research files, I have a photograph of Samuel’s broken headstone from the historic but then-abandoned Union Cemetery in Redwood City—something, at the time, I had to obtain by stepping over weeds and trash in the deplorable condition of disrepair into which the cemetery had fallen. It did take transforming into a cemetery sleuth to actually locate the grave—finding, first, the current repository for the now-defunct funeral home’s records before proceeding to the cemetery. It was indeed like following a course to where “‘X’ marks the spot.” Only “X” wasn’t there to mark that spot, anymore.

But those were records that I’ve packed away—years ago—in a storage box. It will take some time to unearth those files. And I want to know the details now.

This brief newspaper article I found last weekend thanks to the Schellens collection housed with San Mateo County Genealogical Society’s holdings at the Cañada College Library. It was dated July 20, 1861. Though the entry did not include the name of the publication, I’m confident that will be a small detail to retrieve later.

In the meantime, look at what I’ve found: the specific town of origin for Celia Hankerson Bean. Now, I can begin matching up data for Hankersons in Readfield, Maine, and this one Hankerson who emigrated to California. No longer am I left to conjecture when it comes to where in Maine this one single young woman originated.

That, however, is just one instance of hands-on discoveries from an afternoon of researching—not online, but back in the stacks, the way things used to be before we all had personal computers and online services.

Don’t get me wrong. Online resources are fabulous. Nothing beats the search—and matching—capabilities of online databases. We now can do in hours what used to take weeks and weeks of pursuit, chasing after civil jurisdictions who charged fees while taking months to produce one single requested page in this paper-chase of ours.

Instant access online is great. But it is not complete. It is not everything. Maybe someday it will be. For now, it will not rob us of the primal thrill of the chase, the pursuit to find the elusive mention of that mystery ancestor. If that report is out there—though not yet digitized—we can still find it. It won’t be quick. And it won’t be easy. It may take some tactical effort. And relentless, dogged determination.

There still is a place for that boots-on-the-ground genealogy. And it is still worth the battle.


  1. Wow it almost sounds like you have found a history book in that newspaper. That's absolutely fantastic. I hope to come across something like that someday. I guess I really can't complain though because I have found loads of family info in the newspapers, just not so much on one person.


    1. Thanks, Betty. It really has been a rush to find all that information. Now to get it all in one place and take a closer look.

      Keep in mind, only a short while ago, I had no idea all this material was available to me. If it weren't for some web resources I found through a #genchat on Twitter a couple weeks ago, I still wouldn't know these articles were there to be accessed! You may find yourself stumbling upon a gold mine, too, some day.

  2. Now if only someone could replace all the microfilm records with images (and better yet, searchable and accurate ocr'ed indices)!

    1. I totally agree, Iggy! With time, hopefully all those gibberish OCR messes will be cleaned up and usable. However, I've noticed that, if I take the time to search the titles found at one resource (with an OCR scan), I can sometimes find a second resource with the same title, properly scanned, readable and even searchable!

  3. It was a good trip then! Good for you! :)

    1. Good enough to make me want to go back and get more...I know: insatiable, aren't I?!


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