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Researching Family Stories for 50 Years

Our Blog

Please enjoy these feature articles from recent editions of our newsletter, WinePress.

  • 8 Jul 2024 3:30 PM | Editor (Administrator)

    by Mark Perkins

    The journey continues! Our antique quilt from Depression-era New England is less than six months away from settling in someone’s home in present day California. The lucky person’s name will be drawn at the NVGS Holiday Reception on December 11, 2024.

    Raffle tickets can be purchased by stopping by the NVGS library during open hours or by sending your request, payment, and address to info@napagensoc.org. Tickets sell for $5 a piece or three for $10.

    Kept with love, the quilt has been in my father’s family for nearly a century. The name of the artist is not known for certain. She was one of several women living in Massachusetts or Maine. We do know her heritage stemmed from the British Isles.

    If you look closely at the quilt, you will notice successive rows built around a single square in the center. This design, called Around the World, found favor with quilters during the Depression because it could be made with small pieces of fabric. Scrap quilts enabled their makers to avoid the cost of expensive fabrics.

    The other feature that makes this quilt unique is the size of the finished squares. While traditional finished squares in this pattern measure 1 inch, this quilter produced finished squares of 1/2 inch! Experienced quilters have marveled at the time and persistence it took to create this stunning work.

    In NVGS’s 50th year of researching family stories, we hope you will consider making this quilt part of your family’s story. Your home might be the next stop on this quilt’s magical journey through time.

  • 30 Apr 2024 10:26 PM | Christine McKenzie (Administrator)

    by Mark and Sally Perkins

    What could be better than having an experienced group of genealogists help you hunt down an elusive ancestor? Ask-A-Genealogist, our newest member benefit, is just that resource. Chris Burditt, research services coordinator, heads up a team of volunteers ready to help pinpoint resources and strategies to get your research on track. All it takes to start the conversation is an email to him at research@napagensoc.org.

    My wife, Sally, and I decided to try this approach for ourselves. Here is the initial request we sent to Chris:

    “We are looking for the death date and place for Sally’s 3rd great grandfather, Charles L. Barret. Charles was born in Virginia between 1781 and 1784. He married Sarah D. Taliaferro at Amherst, Virginia in 1806. Family lore has it that the Barret family migrated to Tennessee around 1832 and then continued to Texas without Charles in the late 1830s. Some accounts say Charles died in Tennessee and others say he died in route to Texas. Your input would help us prioritize the next steps in finding the details of Charles’s fate.”

    Right off the bat, Chris helped us locate Charles in Tennessee. His research uncovered land tax records for Charles and Sarah in 1836. As genealogists, we should be grateful for taxes! The records gave us a time and place to hunt for more records related to Charles - property, probate, and death records. With Chris’s input, we hope to one day solve the mystery of this husband and father who remained behind.

    One other gift came from this consultation. Chris encouraged us to look for companions who journeyed to Texas with the Barrets. As he said, “Going from Virginia to Tennessee to Texas in those days was something you didn’t do alone. Likely traveling companions would be extended family and church members.” This advice has prompted us to explore the who and why behind the Barret’s journey. Chris’s vision reminds us that sometimes an “outsider” can see the bigger picture while we bushwhack our way through the facts.

    After using this new benefit, Sally and I urge NVGS members to give it a try. Do an inventory of your research and choose a spot where you’re blocked. Send an email to Chris with your question and let the Ask-A-Genealogist team go to work. Who knows, you may acquire some new genealogical traveling companions!

    Members: Learn more about Ask-A-Genealogist.

  • 30 Apr 2024 2:57 PM | Editor (Administrator)

    by Mark Perkins

    Springtime has inspired several projects to make our library building more beautiful and manageable. Earlier this year several volunteers with Master Gardener experience placed native plants along the California Boulevard side of our building. When weeds threatened to take over this area, NVGS volunteers got their hands dirty at a weed pulling party.

    NVGS Member Margaret Beaubien helping at a recent weed-pulling party

    To keep plants healthy around all sides of the building, we hired a landscape contractor to rehabilitate the irrigation system. This project involved installing a new controller and valve box, and then fixing the many leaks that made the system nonfunctional for years. Now all our plants will have the water they need to grow and thrive.

    Our brand-new irrigation system!

    The final step will be cleaning up years of overgrowth and neglect. The landscaping crew will return in May to do a cleanup that will include refreshing the courtyard area prior to our 50th anniversary celebration in June. To keep our grounds looking their best, we are exploring cost-effective options for ongoing maintenance - weeding, pruning, leaf removal, etc. We want our outdoor space to be inviting to all who come to the library.

    As more people visit the library, we want the inside space to be equally welcoming and comfortable. Volunteers have chipped in to clean, dust, and vacuum when needed, but to ensure the library gets regular attention, we have hired an experienced cleaner. We hope the pride we feel about our building and its contents will be obvious to everyone who enters!

    Plan a visit to our library today.

  • 27 Feb 2024 5:02 PM | Christine McKenzie (Administrator)

    By Sue Ziemski

    The Napa Valley Genealogical Society Library offers numerous resources for research. Cemeteries have often been great resources for conducting genealogical research. With this in mind, in 1989, a group of NVGS members began a project to survey and record the inscriptions of every cemetery in Napa County, both public and private; from “Indian Burial Grounds” to small family cemeteries. These records are available at the NVGS library. Many of these lists include more information than just tombstone inscriptions and most of these surveys are indexed. Notable examples are described below.

    Monticello Cemetery (now Spanish Flat Cemetery):  In the 1950s, the graves of the original cemetery were disinterred and transferred to the new Spanish Flat Cemetery prior to the building of the dam and the flooding of the valley. In the process many errors were made, especially with the earlier graves, and much information was lost. Prior to this process, the Army Corps of Engineers had made a survey of the cemetery. NVGS obtained these records and integrated the information with the physical survey at the new cemetery, thereby creating a complete record of a cemetery that disappeared under the waters of Lake Berryessa.

    The Mont La Salle Cemetery (aka Brothers Cemetery) is on the upper part of Redwood Road. The records of these burials from The Brothers of the Christian Schools of San Francisco include the given name of the person as well as their “brotherhood” name and other information about birthplace.

    The survey of the Pioneer Cemetery in Calistoga includes the records from the office ledger as well as additional information from Juanita D. Larimore that is from the Graves Family History. The Graves Family from Illinois were part of the Donner Party. There were 6 children from that family that survived the disaster and three of them are buried in Pioneer Cemetery. Pioneer Cemetery also contains 23 veterans of the Civil War.

    Entrance to Pioneer Cemetery

    Off Highway 29, south of the city of Napa, is the Memorial Gardens Cemetery. Many of the graves in this cemetery are military burials that include the service information of the person. In addition, there are about 4,000 cremations from deaths at Napa State Hospital that were transferred to this location in 1968. This list of patient cremations is included in the office ledger information.

    Some of the smaller cemeteries also provide additional information. The Biter Family Cemetery has only 3 burials with little information. Additional research was done by J. D. Larimore and added to the record.

    The record of another small cemetery, Los Posadas Pioneer Cemetery (aka Morris Family Cemetery), includes an application for heritage designation for this older cemetery. The application has a history of the Morris Family and photographs of the tombstones.

    Check out our digitized collection of cemetery indexes (login req'd).

  • 27 Feb 2024 4:11 PM | Christine McKenzie (Administrator)

    by Linda Jesmok and Jeanine Layland


    NVGS is a FamilySearch Affiliate Library - So What?

    FamilySearch (FS) has three levels of access to all of their online/digitized materials. The difference between these levels is based on what material is accessible to the researcher.

    Level 1: Accessible only from the Salt Lake City Genealogy Library and any location directly attached to Genealogy Library systems. Level 1 has access to everything in LDS genealogy system.

    Level 2: Affiliate access (what NVGS has) and special LDS member access from their own computers. Level 2 has access to most things but not to any whose copyright does not allow sharing outside the LDS system.

    Level 3: Anyone who signs into a personal FamilySearch account. These accounts are free to anyone who signs up. Level 3 is limited to material that has no copyright restrictions at all.

    NVGS’s static IP address is what tells FamilySearch in Salt Lake City that we are an Affiliate. Anyone signing in from our router/WiFi is automatically in Level 2 access. You can be on one of our computers or on your own laptop (using NVGS WiFi).

    If you are researching at home and find a record locked, make a note of the record description or bookmark it in your account. Then bring your list to the library and sign into FamilySearch as “you” in your account (NVGS does not have its own account). If you are lucky, the record will be unlocked. Many times this technique works to open records that are unavailable at Level 3 status!

    So — having access to an Affiliate Library can be an immense help to a researcher. If you hit a snag at home, visit our Library and give it a try.

  • 8 Jan 2024 12:04 PM | Editor (Administrator)

    by Linda Jesmok and Sue Ziemski

    Note: The exhibit described below is no longer on display at NCHS, but we've kept this article here for educational purposes and your enjoyment.

    As a partner for the new exhibit at the Napa County Historical Society, City of Immigrants: An American Story, the Napa Valley Genealogical Society dove into our records and those available online to build stories around four individuals who lived in the Valley between the 1830s and 1920s. One of our goals was to choose a variety of everyday people who represent the diversity of the Valley but are different from the historic individuals usually covered in the histories of the time. We searched through governmental records, photographs, and newspapers building out chronicles of facts from birth to death. Joseph Chenette, Araminta Blake/McComb/Sawyer, Enos Anthony Valencia, and Levi Asa Chapman came from different backgrounds, but all lived and worked in Napa Valley during the first hundred years of mass historic immigration. All but one were born elsewhere.

    Although we found photos of all three men, there is no known photo of Araminta McComb Sawyer. The seven US censuses of the period between 1850 and 1920 do not always capture everyone and we are missing the important 1890 federal census which was destroyed by fire.  We found often confusing and contradictory information because families shared names and the spelling of these names varies by document. Without a doubt, the information assembled is uneven but it is enticing and we are excited to share it.

    Our assembled information was taken by the Historical Society's Exhibit Committee and translated into a visual exhibit for each person. The Historical Society's Tidings article showcases some of the challenges we were confronted with when researching these four Napa Pioneers. The full-length article delves deeper to help clear up some misnomers and further build out the lives of Joseph Chenette, Araminta Blake/McComb/Sawyer, Enos Anthony Valencia, and Levi Asa Chapman.

    The first challenge we ran into was searching out international and other state documents. Joseph Chenette was a shoemaker by profession who owned a shoe shop in Napa and lived on Vallejo Street between 1880 and his death in 1904. He was born in French-speaking Quebec, Canada in 1825 (St. Denis-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada Baptismal Records). Joseph lived in Illinois, Oregon, and Washington before coming to Napa. We were able to trace marriage records and births of his children creating a chronicle of where he lived and when. We also found references to Chenette’s patents for an extendable shoe last (a tool used for crafting and repairing footwear) and a self-threading sewing machine. Possibly the most interesting story regarding Mr. Chenette was about his huge diorama of the City of Babylon that he offered to the Chicago World Fair (Napa Journal 27 October 1890). Unfortunately, the model was rejected and its fate was lost to time.

    Another challenge we ran up against was the similarity of names and spelling of names.  Araminta Blake and Levi Asa Chapman were particularly challenging in this respect. Araminta Blake came to Napa from Indiana in the early 1850s with her brother Aaron. At age 14, Araminta married Isaac McComb in 1856 (Napa Marriage Records). Isaac’s family came to Napa in 1848 with James Clyman’s wagon train (Clyman Wagon Train Roster 1848). He had a sister named Araminta who also immigrated to Napa in 1848 at age 34. In subsequent documents, Araminta’s name is spelled Aramenta, Amita, and Arimintha. To make it even more confusing after divorcing her first husband in 1870, and remarrying John Earl Sawyer, Araminta went by her middle name Henriette.

    Levi Chapman came from a large extended family in Connecticut.  Within the family the name Levi and Asa were very popular, making it often confusing who was who. Cousins and brothers Lyman, Asa, Solon, Levi, William, and Stephen all immigrated from Ledyard and Groton, Connecticut between 1848 and 1860.  Levi’s father Levi came to California in 1848 prospecting at Hawkin’s Bar (St Helena Star 28 January 1938).  The Chapmans owned farms, hotels, and grocery stores, as well as managed banks and insurance companies.  The fact that Levi’s middle name was Asa makes it easy to confuse who did what in Napa.  His cousin Asa had a big house that is captured in a lithograph by Smith & Elliot (Illustrations of Napa County, California), but Levi and his wife Pauline lived on Randolph Street throughout most of their marriage and ran the grocery on the southeast corner of Brown and First Streets (Polk’s Napa City Directories 1898, 1900, 1904, 1906).

    Finally, avoiding being captured in the government census is not a modern phenomenon. No census is perfect, individuals were claimed to be living with families when they had already left and not claimed when they might have been absent the day the census taker arrived. Evidence of prevailing racism, chauvinism, and political preference is evident in who was recorded and who was left out. The US Federal Census of 1850 only records around 400 people living in Napa Valley, none of which are Mexican or First People, yet the California Economic Census of 1852 records over 400 Mexican and First People living in the Valley. The City Directories of the late 19th century omitted women and their professions mainly due to the political fight for Women’s Suffrage at the time.

    Enos Valencia is the only one of the historic pioneers that we researched who was born in Napa. He was born on George Yount’s rancho in 1860 and although he was not captured in a census until 1900, Enos was a well-known hunter and hunting dog trainer. Numerous articles in the local paper remarked on his exploits and through his connections to Martha Higuerra Frias we learn of his parents and childhood (Napa Journal 10 December 1891). It is also through the newspaper that we have a picture of Enos (Napa Journal 9 February 1936). His life is also captured in marriage and voting registrations and thus we know that it was his second wife Flora Rojas Valencia who sold the popular tamales from her home and later ran a tamale parlor.

    Although the information we were able to assemble for these four historic Napa pioneers is uneven, we were able to use the documents available online and in the archives to build out their lives, catch glimpses of their trials and successes, and gain a perspective of early historic Napa Valley. These individuals saw great changes in Napa Valley through the course of their lives, experiencing mass immigration into the Valley that dramatically transformed the region. They witnessed the transfer of governance from the First People to Mexico, to the United States, and they contributed to everyday life.

    We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the lives of Joseph, Araminta, Enos, and Levi!

    Read the full-length article on the NCHS website. Visit the exhibit through March 30, 2024.

  • 1 May 2023 2:00 PM | Editor (Administrator)

    by Sue Ziemski 

    Walking with Your Ancestors: A Genealogist’s Guide to Using Maps and Geography ( Family Tree Books, 2005) is the title of a recent donation to the NVGS Library. This very interesting book covers all aspects of analyzing and researching maps as well as the history and development of various types of maps. The first chapters give a comprehensive overview of using maps for genealogical research and finding places in your family history. For an example of one piece of valuable information there is a section on using metes and bounds in older maps to plot out the actual dimensions and configuration of the property described. This section includes a chart for converting older measurements to modern terms:

    There are chapters on topographic maps, land divisions and county maps and atlases, migration trails, military maps, urban maps such as fire insurance maps and a chapter on using GPS. (See NGS Magazine article below that offers more detailed instructions.) The volume has numerous resources listed throughout as well as an index of map collections listed by state. This list also indicates those sites that include extensive collections of fire insurance maps.

    This book is available in the map section of the library where NVGS has a collection of atlases and map books as well as flat maps. Also in this area is another volume that is much older (1964) but also interesting in what it offers beyond just maps. The Europa Shell Atlas of Europe has fold-out maps of the European countries; but the valuable information is the extensive index of place names as they were in 1964.

    Find more great resources using our Library's online catalog.

  • 2 Jan 2023 11:58 AM | Editor (Administrator)

    recommended by our Librarians:

    Ordnance Survey Maps of Great Britain & Ireland

    From 1805 to 1844, Great Britain began a project of detailed surveys of the entire country. These maps are known as Ordnance Surveys. The goal was to be prepared for an invasion by Napoleon by understanding all resources available especially military needs for transportation of supplies and troops. Every road and pathway are noted, all villages and other residences and buildings, the topography and every waterway. All of these maps have been digitized and can be purchased or researched online. There were many series completed over the years. Wikipedia has an article on these surveys and complete sets of the various series.

    Survey maps of Ireland are available from Ordnance Survey of Ireland (OSI) which provides public viewing of the maps on its website. In addition, there is a series of 40 volumes entitled Memoirs of Ireland. While doing the survey during the 1830’s, the engineers and surveyors conducted detailed interviews of residents of Ireland and noted details of the buildings and residences. Because this information was recorded before the Great Famine it includes valuable facts about Ireland prior to this major change. Many of the interviews include family histories and other personal information. These volumes were not published until the 1990’s but are now available on various websites.

    Our National Archives

    The National Archives in Washington, D.C. encompasses over one million square feet of documents and artifacts. All of this information has been digitized and is on microfiche. The Napa Valley Genealogy Library has numerous books that provide a guide to researching this collection (Call No. 027.5). There are guides to military information, a guide to slavery information, a guide to documents about the War of 1812 and much, much more.

    After researching the guides to the collection, there are several ways to access the information. It can be ordered or viewed at a Regional Center. All of this process is discussed in the books in this section. In California there is a Regional Center in San Bruno where the microfiche can be viewed.

Napa Valley Genealogical Society

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1701 Menlo Ave

Napa, CA 94558

Corner of Menlo Ave and California Blvd


(707) 252-2252

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