Thursday, September 29, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: American Consular Service Documents

You never know what someone will think is important enough to save.  This envelope is 9 3/4" x 4 1/8".  The paper is now yellowed, although it was likely white originally.  It has an interesting texture but no watermark.  In the upper left is printed "American Consular Service."  Handwritten in blue across the front of the envelope, in what appears to be Jean La Forêt's writing, is "Forms — Personal Services as Vice-Consul and others."  The envelope had been sealed but was opened before I received it.  Inside the envelope were two forms.

The first form, #212, "Certificate of Registration of Child Born Abroad of American Parents", has "Established April 19, 1907" at the top.  The second form, #88, "Certificate of Acknowledgment of Execution of Document", has "Corrected March, 1914."  Each sheet is off-white (probably having taken on color over time) and 8" x 10 1/2".  Both forms are preprinted and easy to read.

Form #212 does not register the birth of a child born abroad of American parents, but rather registers that child's intention to remain a citizen of the United States.  Would Jean and Emma La Forêt's daughter, Rosita, have had to fill out one of these?  Based on the information we have seen so far, Rosita was born September 4, 1909 in Switzerland and moved to the United States in 1917, when she and her mother traveled on an emergency passport during World War I.  So she was 8 years old when that happened.  The one example I found online of a reference to this document having been filed (transcription only, unfortunately) was for a 24-year-old man.  Since the form appears to require the foreign-born individual to sign, it probably was intended for an adult.

The only other reference to this document found through a Google search was in the Digest of Circular Instructions to Consular Officers, January 1, 1897 to May 25, 1908, compiled by Augustus E. Ingram, an American Consular Assistant (the book is downloadable from Google Books).  I was amused to see that the book says the form was established April 19, 1906, not 1907.  No description or other information about the form is included.

A search for the second form garnered more results, thirteen in total.  The form seems to function the same as a notarized statement accompanying a document, and in fact the form and its use are described in A Notarial Manual for Consular Officers (1921) by C. E. Gauss (also downloadable from Google Books).  So I guess consular officers could fulfill the duties of a notary.  In addition to that reference, I found two scanned examples of completed forms.  The first (click the image in the upper left), dated April 13, 1910 and completed in Turkey, has "Corrected February, 1908" at the top.  (I used to collect stamps, and I love the $2 consular stamp on the bottom of the form.)  The second, dated February 25, 1936 and filed in the United Kingdom, is the same form that Jean kept a blank copy of, with the March 1914 notation.  I didn't notice any differences between the two forms; maybe someone else will.

None of this, however, points to any reason Jean would have bothered to keep these blank forms.  Maybe they were simply packed with other papers when he left Algeria and no one ever bothered to throw them out.  That doesn't explain the note on the envelope, however.  Yet another mystery about M. La Forêt!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Books Do You Read?

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge was suggested to Randy Seaver by Jacquie Schattner, who gave us last week's inspiration also.

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

What kind of books do you read now and do they reflect your genealogy hobby? What was the last book you’ve read?

(2)  Share your response in a comment on this blog post, in your own blog post (and provide a link in a comment on this post), or on Facebook or Google+.

I'm sure this will sound odd to many people who know I'm an editor, but I don't read books that much.  When I started working as an editor, reading for pleasure went right out the window.  So many books nowadays are so poorly edited, it pains me to plow through them.  So almost everything I read is nonfiction, which often still has editing problems, but not to the extent that fiction does.

One of the most recent books I read all the way through (I actually read it twice) was The Black Russian by Vladimir Alexandrov, about a son of former slaves in the United States who decided he could find more freedom and better opportunities by leaving the country.  He went to Europe and eventually became a Russian citizen.  The author used a wide selection of archival resources for his research, which I particularly enjoyed.

I'm still trying to finish Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw, about a non-Jewish couple in Paris during World War II who helped the Resistance.  The story is interesting and the writing style is good, but I stalled halfway.

The last book I read, earlier this year, was Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language by Nora Ellen Groce.  Last year I began taking American Sign Language classes after 25 years of having dropped them, and this book was recommended to me by my teacher.  It was interesting both from a linguistic perspective and from a genealogical one, as the author researched the family links to determine who the original deaf inhabitant of Martha's Vineyard was who passed the hereditary deafness down to his descendants.

When I do read fiction, it's almost always mysteries.  Many years ago I was up to about the letter M or N in the Sue Grafton alphabet mystery series, even though two of the first three books had serious plot flaws.  And then I wasn't working with the person from whom I had been borrowing the books, so that fizzled out.  When I was younger, I read everything written by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and a few others.  I also made it through all of the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and some other series for kids.

Most of what I read currently, however, is reference books, and I'm not usually reading them all the way through, just looking for the information needed at the time.  That obviously does reflect on my genealogy hobby.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mark Your Calendars: San Francisco History Days, March 3–5, 2017

What is quickly becoming a San Francisco institution will return for its second/seventh year, taking place on March 3, 4, and 5, 2017, at the Old Mint.  San Francisco History Days (our second year under that name; prior to that, for five years the event was known as the San Francisco History Expo) will once again open the doors of the Old Mint to everyone who appreciates history and wants to celebrate it.

As usual, History Days will host a mix of historical and ethnic organizations, museums, libraries, genealogical societies, and historical reenactors.  In 2016 we had about 80 groups, and we hope to add to that for 2017.

San Francisco History Days will take place on Saturday and Sunday, March 4 and 5, at the Old Mint, 88 5th Street, in San Francisco.   Hours will probably be 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. on Saturday and 11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. on Sunday.  The event will be free and open to the public.  In 2017 History Days will again be officially hosted by the City of San Francisco's Mayor's Office and NonPlusUltra, Inc., the current tenant of the Old Mint and also the event's underwriter.

We plan to have our second Education Day, a day exclusively for students, on Friday, March 3.  Interested educators will be able to reserve a two-hour look at the Old Mint and meet a dozen or so History Days exhibitors with their school groups.  For information on Education Day activities and plans, contact Patty Pforte at

More details on specific programming and participating groups will become available during the coming months.  To follow our progress, visit  I look forward to seeing lots of people at the Mint next March!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans Meet in Panama

It would appear that Jean La Forêt was following the story of the creation of the Panama Canal.  This article was among the items saved in my "treasure chest."  The article was published in the Excelsior on Saturday, October 11, 1913.  The Excelsior was a French newspaper that ran from 1910–1940.  It was particularly known for publishing large numbers of photographs.  (Some of its World War I photos have been digitized and are available online here and here.)

The page I have, page 5, is not complete.  It was cut off at the bottom.  I don't know how large the original page is, but the piece I have is 14 3/4" x 15 1/2".  It has several folds, and I unfortunately don't have something large to store it in, so I keep having to fold it up again.

This map was pasted over the upper left of the photo montage about the Panama Canal.  You can see on the Canal article where I folded it out of the way so that I could scan the entire article.  Neither the front nor back of this 7" x 6 1/4" clipping indicates the name or date of the newspaper from which it was cut.  Lord Cowdray and his withdrawn oil contract do not appear to be relevant to the story of the Panama Canal, as that event occurred November 27, 1913, a month after the canal was finished, but the map shows where a canal was possibly being considered in Colombia.

Because the Panama Canal article is in French, I've transcribed and translated it below.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

Les eaux de l'Atlantique et du Pacifique se sont réunies hier

Le barrage qui retient les eaux du lac de Gatun

Une equipe d'ouvriers au travail

Carte panoramique de l'isthme de Panama traversé par le canal interocéanique
Fortifications projetées / 2 Ecluses / 1 Ecluses // 3 Ecluses / Barrage / Fortifications projetées / Port
Océan Pacifique // Océan Atlantique
Cd(?) de San Juan / Cerro de los Hormigueros / Comboy(?) / Limite de la zone concedée / Peña Blanca / Sra de Piña(?)
Panama / Miraflores / Pedro Miguel / La Culebra / Gorgona / Lac de Gatun / Gatun / Rio Chagres / Chagres
Limite de la zone concedée / C Mitra(?) / Las Cruces / C C—— / Lomas de Ahorca Lagarto / Colline de —ge / Colon
Ruines du Vieux Panama

Coupe du canal de Panama
Atlantique / Colon
Ecluses de Gatun / 26 m d'Elévation des eaux au dessus du niveau de l'Atlantique
Longueur du Canal  50 kilomètres
Montagne de La Culebra / Niveau à 26 m au dessus de la mer
Niveau des Océans
Pedro Miguel (Ecluse) 9 m 50
Miraflores (Ecluses) 16 m 50 d'elévation
Pacifique / Panama

On fait sauter un tronçon de terre pour la percee du canal

La disposition parallèle des ecluses

Hier matin, à neuf heures, l'ocean Atlantique et l'océan Pacifique ont mêlé leurs eaux dans le canal de Panama.  A cette heure, en effet, le président Wilson, sans quitter la Maison Blanche, à Washington, a pressé sur un bouton électrique, et immédiatement, à 3,000 kilomètres de là, vingt tonnes de dynamite ont fait exploser et sauter la digue de Gamboa, dernier obstacle qui empêchait les océans de se rejoindre.  Nous publions ici quelques photographies prises au cours des travaux que nécessita cette gigantesque entreprise.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

The waters of the Atlantique and the Pacific met yesterday

The dam that holds back the waters of Lake Gatun

A team of workers at work

Panoramic map of the isthmus of Panama crossed by the interoceanic canal
Projected fortifications / 2 locks / 1 lock // 3 locks / dam / projected fortifications / port
Pacific Ocean // Atlantique Ocean
City(?) of San Juan / Hill of the Ants / Comboy(?) / limit of the canal zone / Peña Blanca / Sra de Piña(?)
Panama [City] / Miraflores (locks) / Pedro Miguel (lock) / La Culebra / Gorgona / Gatun Lake / Gatun / Chagres River / Chagres
Limit of the canal zone / C Mitra(?) / Las Cruces / C C—— / Ahorca Lagarto hills / (?) hill / Colon
Ruins of Old Panama

Panama Canal cut
Atlantic / Colon
Gatun locks / 26 m elevation of water above the level of the Atlantic
Length of canal 50 kilometers
La Culebra Mountain / 26 m above sea level
Sea level
Pedro Miguel (lock) / 9 m 50
Miraflores (locks) / 16 m 50 elevation
Pacific / Panama [City]

A section of land was blown up for the canal cut

The parallel arrangement of the locks

Yesterday morning, at nine o'clock, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean mixed their waters in the Panama Canal. At that time, President Wilson, without leaving the White House in Washington, pressed an electric button and immediately, 3,000 kilometers away, twenty tons of dynamite exploded and blew up the Gamboa dike, the final obstacle that prevented the oceans from meeting.  Here we publish some photographs taken during the work that this gigantic enterprise required.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

So why was Jean interested enough in the Panama Canal that he saved this newspaper article?  Panama was not mentioned in any of the entries in his journal.  Maybe he went there during one of those stretches he did not document.  Or maybe he was simply noting it because it was a significant engineering accomplishment.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Started You Actively Researching Your Family History?

Randy Seaver announced that the topic for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun was suggested to him by Jacquie Schattner:

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

What was the "trigger" that started you actively researching your family history and genealogy?

(2)  Tell us about it in a comment on this blog post, in a blog post of your own, or in a Facebook post.

My interest in family history started when I was very young.  My mother and grandmother were always discussing family members:  birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, visits, normal everyday events, whatever.  I grew up knowing the names of many of my collateral relatives, along with the names of their chidlren, when their birthdays and anniversaries were, where they lived.  I met several of these relatives, but the others already felt like family because I knew so much about them.

What actually got me hooked on actively researching was a junior-high-school assignment when I was 13 years old, in 1975.  We were given a purple mimeographed piece of paper with a family tree and told to research our families back four generations, to our great-great-grandparents.  I still have that family tree.  (It's packed in a box somewhere right now, otherwise I'd scan it and share it with everyone.)

I interviewed all the family members who lived in the area (this was when I lived in Niceville, Florida) and wrote down everything they could remember about the family.  I talked to my father, mother, aunt, and grandfather.  I learned names and other pieces of information, such as that one ancestor was exceptionally tall and that a collateral relative had committed suicide.  I still have all those notes, too.  I wrote to my grandmother who lived in Minnesota.  I have her letters responding to my questions.  She told me what she knew about her mother's family in England and the names of her mother's brothers and sisters.

At the time, I am pretty sure I was able to fill out all my great-great-grandparents on my mother's side of the family.  I think I had all the names from my paternal grandmother's family.  I had my paternal grandfather's parents' names, but not their parents.

Over the years I contacted various relatives with questions about family history.  Whenever I travelled, I tried to find relatives in the area I could meet.  I shared information with everyone.

Of course, not all of the information I was told at the beginning was completely accurate.  For example, I did a lot of research on the Sellers line, taking it back to 1615 in Germany, before discovering recently through DNA that my grandfather's biological father was not a Sellers after all.  And so my family tree, kept in a computer program nowadays, of course, is updated when I learn new facts or correct old ones.  But I'm still plugging along, 41 years after I started.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Calling Cards from the Paytavins

Last week I had an envelope from the Paytavins with nothing inside.  This week I have cards from the Paytavins with no envelope.  The card at the top, that of Mr. A. Paytavin, is 3 7/8" x 2 3/8" and is on heavy buff cardstock.  It is another copy of the same business card (Administrative Officer, Health Service) as the one on which Mr. Paytavin wrote when he announced the birth of his son.  On this card, in what appears to be Jean La Forêt's handwriting, is a note in pencil:  "Rec'd May 5 – 13 – Bonbon [?]".

This smaller card is printed on the same heavy buff cardstock as that of Mr. Paytavin, but it is a calling card for Madame (Mrs.) Paytavin.  It is only 3 1/6" x 1 3/4" in size.  The front of the card has her name, while the back has, in pencil, "Rec'd May 5" and something I simply cannot read.

So it appears that on May 5, 1913, Jean received these two cards.  I presume they were probably sent by mail, but this time he didn't save the envelope, or at least it did not survive for me to see it.  As I cannot read the word after the date on either card, I don't know if they would help explain why these were sent.

This was the business card Paytavin mailed December 17, 1912 when he was in Constantine at the (probably military) hospital.  The next communication I have from Paytavin is the envelope mailed January 10, 1913 from France.  I was thinking that maybe he was no longer in the same position, but these cards were received May 5, 1913.  Maybe the Paytavins were on vacation in France over the Christmas holidays and returned to Algeria afterward?

These cards don't tell me much about Jean, other than confirming that he liked to save things.  Maybe someone else can read the problem words, which might shed more light on this mystery.