26 January 2010

The Heller Brothers of San Francisco - Part 2

I left off yesterday with the discovery that before Martin and Moses Heller came to California, they had been living in Montgomery County, Alabama where Martin was naturalized in 1852 and his brother Moses in 1853. I found this information in the California Great Register of Voters for 1867. I decided to let this sit for the time being and move on to San Francisco County history books.

A search for Martin Heller in the
San Francisco County Golden Nugget Library gave me "The Bay of San Francisco: The Metropolis of the Pacific Coast and its Suburban Cities; A History." In it I found a bio for Martin Heller. This had to be one of the most detailed biographies I have ever come across. At the time of publication all of the Heller brothers had passed away except for Martin. Two pages of information about Martin's life but these snippets were the most important to me at this point in my research:

"Mr. Heller married, in 1850, Miss Babeth Kupfer, a native of Germany. Six children have been born to them, the first two in Alabama and the others in San Francisco. Their names are Carrie, Sarah, Emanuel, Moses, Clara and Sigi. Two of the sons and one of the daughters are married and reside in San Francisco, and the others live with their parents at their beautiful home."

". . . came to the United States in 1844. For three years he was a peddler in New Jersey. He then opened a store in that State on his own account, and remained there three years longer. From there he removed to Montgomery, Alabama, and continued in business at that place till 1856, when his brothers and himself came to the Pacific coast . . ."

Aha! Another reference to residence in Alabama, plus when he came to the U.S. and where he lived. For brother Moses Heller, I found a biography of his grandson in “The History of San Francisco” :

"The grandfather of Edward H. was Moses Heller, a native of Bavaria, who emigrated to the United States in 1848, and first settled in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1850, he came to San Francisco by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and here became one of the pioneer wholesale merchants. He was also a member of the famous vigilance committee, one of the most effective law-enforcement bodies in America pioneer history, and he was very active in all civic movements and in Masonic work. His wife, who was Amelia Nickelsburg prior to their marriage, was also born in Bavaria, Germany, and came to the United States about 1860. They were married in San Francisco, and became the parents of three sons and two daughters."

If your research leads you to the San Francisco Bay area, there are two websites that should be on your list. The Golden Nugget Library has oodles of online, searchable databases that include: Social Registries, Articles, Directories, Argonaut Passenger's Lists, Government Rosters, Organization's Members lists, Church lists, 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Photos, 1870 Petitions and Links to Biographies.

The other site is
San Francisco Genealogy. This site has online databases that contain records for the city and county of San Francisco. Here you'll find birth, marriage, and death records. Also land records, probate records, tax lists, census records, ship passenger lists and unique obscure databases like the coroner's reports and funeral home records.

Before I went on the hunt for passenger lists and naturalization records, I wanted one more source to back up the information I had just found. Where to look when you want a life story other than a biography? Why yes, that is correct - OBITUARIES!

I found the obit for Moses Heller first. Moses died 13 October 1885 and his obit in the “Daily Alta California” the following day was an entire half page!

“Deceased was born in Pretsfeld, Bavaria, in October, 1816, and early in youth came to this country in company with his three brothers, Jonas, Martin and William, the last-named being the eldest. Moses went to the South, traveling through the country with a peddler's wagon, . finally locating in Montgomery, Ala. He opened a dry goods store and lived there several years. From there he came to this city. His brothers William and Martin soon followed him. Then was established the firm of M. Heller &, Bros., Martin, Moses and Jonas being associated together, the last named being the resident partner in New York. “

The news of Martin Heller’s death on 22 September 1894 made headlines in the “San Francisco Morning Call”

“Martin Heller was born in Bavaria, where he was educated and received his first training in the dry-goods business which he followed through the remainder of his life. He came to the United States in 1844 and began his career as a peddler, making New Jersey his first field of labor. From the modest beginning of a peddler he opened a store, but soon after went to Montgomery, Ala., where he engaged in his favorite pursuit for some years. In 1858 he and one of his three brothers came to the Pacific Coast and very soon opened a dry-goods establishment in San Francisco under the firm name of Heller & Brothers.”

and the “San Francisco Chronicle”

“Martin Heller was born at Pretzfeld in Bavaria and was therefore 73 years of age at the time of his death. He came to the United States in 1844. Lived and did business in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and finally settled in 1847 in Montgomery Alabama with his brother Moses who was his lifelong companion.
There is a story that while living in Montgomery during the yellow fever epidemic of 1849-1850, he sacrificed his business for his interest in humanity and went to the aid of the sick without fear of catching it himself.
The Heller brothers remained in Montgomery until 1856 when they came to San Francisco and founded the firm of M. Heller & Brother . . .”

For online historic California newspapers there are 3 places I go. Each site is unique in their holdings:

The California Digital Newspaper Collection

Chronicling America at the Library of Congress


Tomorrow join me as I track down passenger lists and naturalization records.

25 January 2010

The Heller Brothers of San Francisco - Part 1

Some of you may remember my research adventures with my Sister-In-Law's family. Well I am back on that train again and thought I would share an afternoon research session with you.

Let me introduce you to the Heller Brothers. Four brothers come to America . . . . It is the family tradition story that when heard, every genealogist begins to do some heavy sighing and eye rolling. But not this time. In this story the four brothers DO come to America, just not at the same time. They arrive within a couple of years of each other, become American citizens and become very successful businessmen. I am getting ahead of myself here.

Once upon a time . . . far, far away in Pretzfeld, Bavaria, Emanuel and Caroline Heller had four sons: William (b. 1814), Moses (b. 1816), Jonas (b. 1819) and Martin (b. 1821). The Heller family were Jewish and their life was tightly regulated. Jews in some parts of Bavaria were often forced to live in a particular area of town. They were required to purchase an annual letter of protection from a noble family. Authorities tried to limit the number of Jews living in any particular town. The only way a Jew who came into maturity could stay in a town is if another Jew died. It was because of these restrictions that between 1840 and 1870, more than 20,000 of Bavaria’s 59,000 Jews immigrated to America. The Heller Brothers were among these emigrants who wanted a better life.

I knew that the Hellers came to San Francisco right after the gold rush so I started with the census. Once I located Martin and Moses Heller in the 1860 census living in San Francisco, I turned to the California Great Register of Voters to help me with when the Hellers came to the U.S.

The California Great Register of Voters
California's Registry Act of 1866 established the Great Register. All voters , which were males age 21 and over, were required to register providing their full name, age, state or country of birth, occupation, and address. If they were of foreign birth they were also to give the date of naturalization, the name of the court which granted citizenship and where the court was located. In 1895 a revision added the voter's physical description, including height, complexion, color of eyes and hair, location of visible marks or scars, and ability to read and write English. You can search the 1867 register
here and the 1872 register here. While both of these are free, ancestry.com has California Voter Registration 1900-1968.

In 1867 Martin Heller was living at 5 Mason Street in San Francisco. He was naturalized on 1 December 1852 in the Montgomery County, Alabama Circuit Court. Moses Heller was living at 32 Ellis Street in San Francisco. He was naturalized 15 November 1853 in the Montgomery County, Alabama Circuit Court. ALABAMA? What were they doing in Alabama?

24 January 2010

SNGF - My Other Life

Last night was Saturday Night Genealogy Fun over at Randy Seaver's place. Our mission, should we decide to accept it:

Tell us about your "other" hobbies or interests outside of genealogy and family history research, writing, speaking, etc.

I love puzzles, all sorts of puzzles. I love word logic puzzles and my all time favorite - jigsaw puzzles. My dining room table or the kitchen table will always have a puzzle in progress on one of them.

I collect buttons and beads and have oodles of jars (45 to be exact) filled with them and displayed in the dining room hutch. I also have almost 150 Barbie Dolls.

I love to read. Horror and Sci-Fi are the kind of books that I really enjoy.

I love to do yard work. Not the sissy "prune the rose bushes" kind of yard work, but the lawn mowing, tree branch cutting, getting all dirty and sweaty kind of yard work.

Me mowing Tina Sansone's lawn near Memphis, Tennessee

When I was down with the swine flu and then bronchial pneumonia a couple of months ago, I started watching TV, alot of TV. I am now hopelessly addicted to "24", "NCIS", "Stargate Universe" and "Caprica"

22 January 2010

Pro Bono Anyone?



The case I have been working on for an eternity - well ok not an eternity, but damn close to it - the one I was using for my #6 requirement in my BCG Portfolio has just gone down the crapper!

I do not have a back up that fits the bill for this report. So, I am going to take the advice I've been given and make a plea to John Q. Public. (Er that would be all of you)

Does anyone have a project that they need researched? The ideal case would involve any of the following:

a) Conflicting evidence

b) No direct evidence - scads of indirect evidence

c) 4 or more generations

If I take your project on, I will do it pro bono. In return I will need your permission to use it for my portfolio. You can reach me at :


So what about it John Q. Public - what do you have for me?

21 January 2010

Helen Leary Videos - She Had Me At "Genealogy Is Fun"

I just spent the last 30 minutes watching a series of short videos that have touched me down to my very soul. The National Genealogical Society has on their website a series of interviews that they did with Helen F. M. Leary, CG(emeritus)*, FASG, FNGS.

Helen Leary is the Queen of North Carolina research, nay the entire Upper South. Back in 2001 the NGS Quarterly devoted an entire issue to the Thomas Jefferson - Sally Hemings debate. Because of her expertise, they had asked Ms. Leary to evaluate the evidence and the result of that research produced a most excellent article - "Sally Hemings Children: A Genealogical Analysis of the Evidence." As if the videos were not enough of a treat, you can
download the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings Special NGS Quarterly for free!

Listening to Helen speak in these interviews made me jump up and say, "Yeah! Me too - those are the reasons I am a genealogist!" Take the time to visit the site and treat yourself to a most delightful and insightful 30 minutes!

12 January 2010

Happy x 4 = Giddy With Glee

I am late acknowledging the latest in awards going around the Geneabloggers but want to thank the 4 people who passed it on to me.

Cheryl Palmer from
Heritage Happens

Bill West from
West In New England

Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski from
In my Life

Linda Hughes Hiser from

I am a huge fan of all four of these blogs. Take a minute and check them out.

I will name ten things that make me happy but fear I am too late in passing the award on.

1. PIE
2. Getting the bills paid on time
3. Not having a fine for overdue books at the library
4. New clients
5. Old Clients
6. Attending IGHR at Samford University
7. The possibility of attending the NGS Conference in Salt Lake City this April
8. My Dear Geneablogger friends
9. My husband and children - most of the time, but there are times that . .
10. PIE

I will pass on this: Try to take the time to leave a comment after reading someone's blog. It really does mean alot to the writer and in some cases, makes a difference in whether they continue writing or not.

10 January 2010

Got Shades?

These folks are prepared to be dazzled with brilliance. You can experience the same when you read the latest edition of "Shades of the Departed - The Magazine." That's right, the January 2010 issue is hot off the press and just waiting for you.
The footnoteMaven has outdone herself once again with this piece of eye candy. It is a pure pleasure to read this publication. Best of all? It is FREE and available as a PDF download to read at your leisure.
Some of the articles in the issue are: "Sketching Your Ancestors", "Release Your Inner Ken Burns" and "Reconstructing A Community" and of course my column "The Year Was" where this month I travel to the year 1910.

SNGF - Super Heros and the Powers That May Be

Randy has come up with a great exercise for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun .

1) Answer the question: Do you have a genealogical “superpower”? (i.e., a unique research ability or technique that helps you track down records or assemble conclusions that others can’t?) If so, what is it?

2) Tell us about it in a blog post, a comment to this post, a comment to Dean's post, or a comment to this post on Facebook or Twitter.

3) If you have a picture of yourself in superpower mode, please show it to us!

Well I know what super power I would like to have - Flying.

I would be able to fly where ever the research took me. No worries about airline reservations, or long lines going through security. The only thing I need to work out is how to get all those documents and records strapped onto my back for the return flight home!

Where did I get the cool avatar of me as a Super Hero? You can "Super Hero" yourself over at The Hero Factory

07 January 2010

Volunteerism or What I Do With My Free Time

Volunteerism - Before I started my formal education in genealogical studies, I found different ways to learn. One of the best opportunities to learn is to volunteer your time and talents. Way back when, I didn't have a vehicle so it really limited my choices, or so I thought.

I started trolling the web looking for calls for volunteers. I came upon the Brigham Young University's "Immigrant Ancestor Project." The project identifies and acquires microfilmed, digital, or photocopies of emigration records for emigrants that left their native countries in Europe for the Americas. Volunteers extract the original records and make the extracted information available online free of charge. The site also provides the contact information and a form letter to the archive where the original record is located so that users can ask for the original record. I was quickly placed in the British records section extracting information from writers petitions to the East India College. I was even honored as one of the first volunteers of the month!

Next I found work in Iowa. While on the Iowa GenWeb site, I came across an announcement that they were looking for volunteers to transcribe information from headstones that were compiled during a survey conducted by the WPA (Works Project Administration) in the 1930's. I transcribed the entire county of Poweshiek and part of Pocahontas. You can search the database here.

Missouri was the next stop. A few years ago The Missouri State Archives began its Death Certificate 1910 to 1955 Transcription Project. I worked 8 months extracting information into a database that makes that information available online through a searchable index that links to a digitized image of the original death certificate. You can search the database here. I also worked 6 months transcribing land patent records which you can search here.

Currently, I found an opportunity a little closer to home, the San Francisco Mortuary Indexing Project. The final index and images will be freely searchable at SFgenealogy. This project will index the digital images of actual mortuary records. We are currently working on the records from the Martin & Brown funeral home. The records from Halsted Mortuary 1923-1974 are complete and can be searched here.

Working with different types of records, either transcribing or extracting, has enriched my genealogical eduction unlike any classroom ever could. It is ALWAYS a "win-win" situation when you become a volunteer.

"Forgotten Patriots" Wins The Donald Lines Jacobus Award

DAR Publication Forgotten Patriots Honored with American Society of Genealogists Award

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The DAR publication, Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War, has been honored with the prestigious Donald Lines Jacobus Award from the American Society of Genealogists (ASG).

The Jacobus Award is presented annually to a model genealogical work published within the last five years, and was established to “to encourage sound scholarship in genealogical writing.” Forgotten Patriots was considered to be such an important publication that the ASG Fellows chose this genealogical resource guide to receive the recognition when, traditionally, the award is typically given to published compiled family genealogies. A complete list of winners can be found on the ASG Web site.

In presenting this award to Forgotten Patriots, ASG notes that the book “will greatly improve the breadth and accuracy of research” and “opens new doors in an increasingly compelling field of genealogy.”

Published in 2008, Forgotten Patriots documents nearly 6,600 names of African Americans and American Indians who contributed to American Independence. The 872-page book includes details of documented service of the listed Patriots, historical commentary, and an extensive bibliography of research sources.

Eric Grundset, DAR Library Director and Editor of Forgotten Patriots, says, “The subject of this book is essential to the work of the DAR to document the history of the role of all individuals in the Revolutionary War and to preserve it for future generations.”

In addition to the Jacobus Award, the DAR publication has also received critical acclaim. A book review in the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Forum states that Forgotten Patriots is a “must-have reference book” and “will enrich the research of every discerning student of genealogy.” The Journal of Southern History states, “This work is an amazing jumping-off point for all kinds of projects on Revolutionary War topics. Any historian, genealogist, or Revolutionary War aficionado cannot go wrong acquiring this huge, well-organized, data-packed volume.”

03 January 2010

I Stand Corrected!

There was a bright spot in 2009 after all. I don't know how I overlooked this achievement in my goal to "Go Pro" in the world of genealogy and historical research.

A couple of days before 2010 began, I received in the mail, my certificate of completion for ProGen I.

I am proud to say that I am one of the original Progen Study Group participants and made it through the 18 months with only a couple of bumps and bruises (usually happened during frantic rush to get an assignment turned in on time). This course will help you sharpen your skills in all aspects of the field - writing and communication skills, how to conduct research more effectively, how to market yourself once you decide to hang out your shingle. Monthly projects include writing contracts, business plans, and client reports; creating research plans and locality guides; analyzing evidence, and constructing proof arguments. Members also do peer reviews of our assignments.

If you are considering making the 18 month commitment to help you become the best genealogist that you can possibly be, then head on over to the ProGen Study Group website and tell Angela McGhie that I sent you.

01 January 2010

Oh Yeah, I Am Off To A Great Start For The New Year

At least that is what I am telling myself when I get around to kicking myself in the ass for spending an entire evening playing with timewasters. But they are the cream of the crop when it comes to timewasters. Nothing but the best for you, my friends!

Star Trek Yourself - Need I say more? For those of you who really do not have a clue, I am a Vulcan.

MadMen Yourself - Set in 1960s New York, the sexy, stylized and provocative AMC drama Mad Men follows the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising, an ego-driven world where key players make an art of the sell. The series also depicts authentically the roles of men and women in this era while exploring the true human nature beneath the guise of 1960s traditional family values. I think it made my butt look big so I cut that part out of the end result.

Be Funky Yourself - A photo app that lets you do everything to your pics from going Warhol to charcoal-drawing to stencil. I went with the charcoal-izing feature.

Pho-ho-oto Booth Yourself - Are you still searching for the right caliber of cheesiness when creating your own gawdy retrofied look?

Create Your Very Own Donut - This is such a tease, you get to create your own donut - type of dough, filling, frosting, etc. - and then they leave you a drooling donut junkie with a photo of your creation to haunt you until you can't take it anymore and you get in the car with the photo of the damn donut and you drive all over town looking for a donut shop that will let you make your own donut and . . .

Well now that I have that out of my system, I am ready for some serious genealogical research. Now where did I put it........