Friday, May 13, 2011

Isabel Wilkerson, "The Warmth of Other Suns", May 25, 2011

Isabel Wilkerson, the author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration and the first black woman in American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize, will speak at Oakland's African American Museum and Library on Wednesday, May 25, 2011.  The talk is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.  The library is at 659 14th Street, Oakland, CA 94612; to reserve a seat call (510) 637-0200.

The Great Migration refers to the massive movement of a significant proportion of the American black population from the South to the Northeast, Midwest, and West between about 1915-1970.  This was the topic for the January class of the African American Genealogy Workshop I'm participating in.  We watched a Podcast of a lecture by Wilkerson, who talked about her book.  The presentation on May 25 may be similar to the Podcast, but I have been told that audience members will be encouraged to ask questions after the talk.  The visit to Oakland is part of her national book tour.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Grants to Translate Yiddish Texts

The Yiddish Book Center has launched an initiative to encourage and support translation of Yiddish texts.  The Center will award two grants of $1,000 each for the translation into English of a Yiddish text from any genre.  Grant proposals are due by June 1, 2011.  More information about the grant program and submission requirements are available at the Yiddish Book Center Web site.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stories My Mother Told Me

My mother and her mother are two of the biggest reasons I became interested in family history.  From the time I was a little girl they told stories about the family, so I grew up knowing a good amount of family history.   Over the years, as I became more interested in genealogy, I have become the de facto family historian, keeping the photographs, remembering the stories.   But because I am not married and have no children of my own (other than ones with fur or feathers), I haven't been passing that information on.  In honor of Mother's Day, I want to share some of the stories my mother told me.

Her maternal grandfather was born in Russia and was the first member of his family to immigrate to the United States.  My mother was the first granddaughter, and he loved to spoil her.  He also loved to bounce his adored granddaughters on his knees, but he had what she called "the look."  If any of the kids was misbehaving, all he had to do was give "the look", and they knew they better stop right then.  He didn't even have to say a word.

Her maternal grandmother never really learned to speak English, although she lived in this country for 59 years.  My mother would speak in English to her, and she would respond in German to my mother, and they managed to communicate that way.

My mother was living in Chicago with a friend of the family.   This was during the period of the first Mayor Daley and everything that time is famous for.  She always carried a $20 bill tucked behind her driver's license in case she was stopped.  That was just the way things worked in Chicago.

After my parents married, they had chickens for a while.  My mother hated the chickens and always called them "the cluck-cluck things", even years later.

My parents were married in Florida and drove to California, where I was born.  My mother always used to complain that it took three whole days to drive across Texas.

She got a spinal and was reading a Mickey Spillane novel when I was born.

My mother took me to Florida when I was just a tiny baby so my great-grandmother, who was still alive, could meet me.  (This one drives me crazy because there's no photograph.  My father has told me he remembers my mother taking the trip.  So how come my grandfather, who took photos of just about every other event in the family, missed the shot with four generations?)

I am a year older than my brother.  The due date given for each of us was April 1.  I was born a week afterward.  The next year, two weeks after the due date, my mother decided she was tired of waiting for my brother to come out and went dancing.  Boom!  She went into labor.

When I was a toddler, we had a standard poodle who took it upon himself to "protect" me.  If my mother got mad at me for something and started yelling, the dog would stand in front of me and not let my mother get to me.  Don't misunderstand -- my mother was not abusive or anything.  But the dog had decided I was its "puppy", and it took care of me.  Later the dog died of an epileptic fit.  (As many times as my mother told me this story, she never told me the name of the poodle.  So I asked my father, who said it was Pepe.)

While my mother was pregnant with my sister, she had to take my brother and me with her when she went to visit the doctor.  I apparently used to run up to all the little boys in the doctor's office and kiss them.

Not all the stories were accurate.  My mother always claimed she was part Irish, but I don't have a drop of Irish blood on either side of my family.  She said that she and my father had taken a motorcycle trip to Death Valley while she was pregnant with me.  My father confirmed the trip but said she was actually pregnant with my sister.  (Heaven knows who was watching me and my brother!)

When I think about these stories, I can hear my mother's voice.  It's a good way to remember her.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Online Database of Hong Kong Protestant Cemetery

WWI Navy Grave
A new free database for the Hong Kong Protestant Cemetery listing names, plot numbers, and tombstone inscriptions has been launched on a Hong Kong history Web site.  The site says that "[t]he database was compiled as part of Patricia Lim's research for her recent book.  She has generously agreed to make it publicly available, and to let us publish a copy here on"

Lim's book is Forgotten Souls: A Social History of the Hong Kong Cemetery.  It discusses the lives of the people buried in the cemetery.  Some sample chapter headings are available on the Web site.

The database will eventually provide a complete listing of those buried at the cemetery (more than 6,000 graves), with inscriptions and plot numbers.  The database is still being developed, but you can currently search for names at, note the plot number, then look up the plot through one of three links to find the inscription.  Later, photos and notes from the author will be added.

Presentation on Mary Ellen Pleasant, May 7, 2011

The >San Leandro Public Library will host a "living history tribute" to Mary Ellen "Mammy" Pleasant on Saturday, May 7, 2011 from 2:00-3:00 p.m.  The library is at 300 Estudillo Avenue.  Admission is free.

The presentation will be given by Dr. Susheel Bibbs, who directed, wrote, and starred in a television documentary about Pleasant that aired in 2008.  The announcement says that Dr. Bibbs is currently a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, although she does not appear in the campus directory.

I am sure this presentation will be interesting to behold.  Dr. Bibbs describes Pleasant as an activist, entrepreneur, and the "Mother of Civil Rights in California."  I edited a book on historical San Francisco, and Pleasant was discussed in the book.  I found nothing in her history with a connection to civil rights or activism.  She was definitely an entrepreneur, but in fields not necessarily considered suitable for polite conversation and which are fairly well documented, which is probably why the event carries a notice that it is for people aged 14 or older.

I wish I could attend this event, but I have a previous volunteer commitment.  If anyone does attend, I would be most interested in hearing what it was like.  It sounds suspiciously like revisionist history, but there may be some substance behind it.