Father’s Day Trip into the Past

    The fathers in my family, my father and my husband, had a Father’s Day to remember this year. They took off the father mantle for 3 days and became kids again. I planned and took them on a weekend adventure into old gold mines, ore mills, dirt, and ghost towns. It was also a trip into genealogical history, though I certainly didn’t phrase it that way to them.

From 1909 to the mid-1950s, my mother’s family owned a gold mine called the Kate Hardy Mine. The Kate Hardy Mine began in 1860 and had a productive history prior to entering my family lore. In 1909 my great-grandfather, Will Beggs, bought the mine in partnership with another man, and continued to mine ore. The mine itself was managed by my great-granduncle, John Beggs, and later by my grandfather, Merle Beggs, between 1909 and the early 1920s. In the 1940s and 1950s my father, as designated “son” accompanied my grandfather on several trips to the mine. His last visit was 60 years ago.

The Kate Hardy Mine is located in a very remote part of California. I know it is hard to believe that there is a really remote part of California, but if anywhere qualifies as remote, Sierra County is it. One major road, Hwy 49, winds through the county, dotted with its largest cities: Downieville (population in 2010 was 282), Sierra City (221), Sierraville (200), and Loyalton (769).

To prepare ourselves for the Kate Hardy Mine, we visited the relatively well-preserved Kentucky Mine, outside of Sierra City. This is a park run by the Sierra County Historical Society. It was here that any semblance of fatherly maturity vanished, at least on the part of my husband; smiles, hands touching artifacts and rocks, running the blacksmith’s Pelton wheel, flashlighting the dark tunnel, playing with one- and two-jack drills, enjoying stories of powder blasting hard rock, barely contained from jumping in the ore cart for a ride, and helping power the much larger Pelton wheel that ran the stamps in the mill. We visited a representation of a miner’s cabin, a very luxurious miner’s cabin, truth be told, the blacksmith shop area inside the entrance to the mine, a bit of the tunnel itself, and the stamp mill.

Photo: The Kentucky Mine Stamp Mill, courtesy of the Sierra County Historical Society

The stamp mill was Stamp-mill-3-2011-300x200by far the most interesting building. Three-plus stories basically enclosed one machine designed to crush quartz ore into a powder. The one-ton ore cart filled with quartz rock rode on rails from the mine entrance into the top floor of the mill. The ore was dumped onto iron grates, of varying sizes, called “grizzlies”, designed to separate the ore by size. The ore was then funneled down through chutes to the next floor where the 10 stamps, large wooden pillars capped with iron ends, powered by a Pelton wheel, crushed the ore into powder. In front of the stamps are large wooden trays where the powdered ore was washed in a slurry over mercury coated copper sheets. The gold adhered to the mercury forming an amalgam. The powder that remained was washed into the lowest story of the building to shaker tables, where it was sluiced, to recover more gold. The amalgam was separated outside in a way that vaporized the mercury, leaving only the gold. The vaporization itself was enclosed, so as to recapture the mercury for reuse. All in all, a very dangerous and exhausting occupation.

The Kate Hardy Mine is located just outside of Forest, California, also called Forest City, on Oregon Creek, in the heart of Sierra County. Forest is a ghost town, has been for many years. Maybe was when my father last visited 60 years ago. A photo tour of Forest is available online at Ghost Town Explorers (http://www.ghosttownexplorers.org/california/forestcity/forestcity.htm). There are a few hardy souls who live in some of the remaining houses. The land is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Once a year the Clampers (E Clampus Vitae) open the small historical museum and run a portable stamp mill on the property. We timed our visit to see the museum and the mill. We also took the self-guided walking tour of the town, with its 150 year-old houses, stores and schoolhouse.

Just northwest of town is 39the Mountain House Cemetery, which is still in use today. This is the “new” cemetery, with graves dating back to the 1860s. It is here that we went to see the grave of my great-granduncle, John Dixon Beggs. He died dramatically in 1911, while he was living here as manager of the Kate Hardy. His obituary in a weekly journal of the time, Mining Science, 7 September 1911, tells the tragic tale of his pistol falling from his holster while he bent to fix a loose board, accidentally firing a bullet through his heart, and John falling dead at the feet of his wife.

Further west is the small winding dirt road to the Kate Hardy Mine. The mine is now owned by the Brush Creek Mining Company, but is not being worked at this time.

2 Kate HardyThe buildings are in disrepair, but still standing are a large shop, the old ball mill, and the building with the shaker tables, among others. In the case of the Kate Hardy, the mill used iron balls, about the size of a cannonball, in a drum to crush ore, instead of the stamp mill with vertical crushers. My father also recalled a house on the property where some of the men lived when he visited. The openings to two tunnels were blocked but visible.

2b bridge to south tnnels and powder storage shed

5 south tunnel interior

6 original mine opening

Over the three days, in addition to the two mines, we visited five museums: Sierra City, Downieville, Forest, Alleghany, and Goodyear’s Bar, all with small but interesting historical collections. Alleghany’s collection of mining paraphernalia was particularly interesting, with maps of the local mines and a demonstration of miners’ lamps using candles and carbide.

Fire, water, black powder, dirt and rocks, sledge hammers, Pelton wheels, loud stamps and balls, deadly chemicals. Hard and dangerous work.


NGS Conference

Disclaimer- no creative writing in this post. May is an officially crazy month this year. This conference in LV and then daughter’s graduation in WA on top if my two Study Group projects have sucked up any potential blog time.

Conference comments:

1) Enjoyable

2) Overscheduled

3) Blisters

4) Absolutely great to connect with former BU classmates

5) TGFHFR- Thank God For Hotel Fitness Rooms

6) OMG Pays to attend the NGS luncheon, and stay until the end. I just won a year subscription to Ancestry.com WORLD EXPLORER. Unbelievable.

7) Note to self. Remember. Don’t leave early. I had my favorite sessions on the last day.

Spring Inertia

Last week we had beautiful Spring weather. Spring in southeast Texas lasts about 1 minute between cool wet winter and blazingly hot and humid summer. Enjoy it while you can. The days are countable.

I took this beautiful Spring day as an opportunity to wander through an old cemetery in Falls County, a 2 hour drive northwest of where I live. Rolling hills, rural as it gets here, and at this time of year, miles of green, green fields and wildflowers. The cemetery I explored is the small Powers Chapel Cemetery across the road from the Powers Chapel, a white frame church that has been having services since 1850, and the cemetery has headstones nearly that old.

I have been working on an ongoing project  for a friend. Part of the project has been to find out more about some of her ancestors in Texas. Sometimes it is easy to do genealogy in Texas. Lots of things are online. Records sometimes just seem to fall out of your computer and onto your lap. How cool is that.

But Texas is also a place that many people wandered to during the years following the Civil War, when the south was in chaos. And many people wandered into Texas wanting to leave their past lives and that chaos behind. So immediately after you pick up those lovely documents that just fell onto your lap, you usually run into a brick wall.

Feast or famine. We all run into this. Sometimes I put down a project for a while, and just think about it. Sometimes I just keep running myself into that brick wall over and over, hoping to find or make a little chink. The man from Falls County has had me doing both things for a long time. Since it is a pro bono project, I luckily have the luxury of time.

Which is a good thing. It is usually a long drive when I am researching a project on the ground here in Texas. Everything is far away from wherever you are.

Sometimes it is not just the physical distance through time. Sometimes it is the mental distance that I must pass through.  Is this normal?  I don’t think it is procrastination, though there may be some of that. It is more of a post-organization inertia. Ready, set, stop. I am noticing it also happens when I am working on projects for my study groups or portfolio. Gather that info, outline, cite, good to go. Stop. Eventually everything will begin to flow again. Maybe it is just a little Spring Inertia.


A Spanish word meaning corner. The inside corner, not the outside corner. In Spanish there is a different word for that.

 The inside corner is a protected place. In Santa Cruz County, California, there is a place called Rincon. It is the inside corner of a steep and curvy highway. It was the name of a huge Mexican land grant, a parcel that included the canyon, from the steep curvy road to the San Lorenzo River at its base. It has been reclaimed by the forest, but it used to be a logging camp.

 Highway 9 curves northward out of Santa Cruz, heading up into the mountains, toward Felton and Ben Lomond. Now it is surrounded by the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Hikers, not loggers. But people do not stop at the corner, the rincon, they drive by, on the way to their hike. On the edge of the road in the big curve, the big rincon, a couple of miles out of the city limits, there still sits an old moss-covered water trough.

Trough at Logging Camp

Across the road is a very small flat area. This is Rincon. The Corner. It is the place that my grandfather and his sisters were born.

Site of old Logging Camp

Nonno came to this place about 1890. He brought my great-grandmother to this place. They lived and worked at the logging camp. There in the forest in this small flat corner of land they made their home. Three of their children were born here. And they lived here until about 1896. Then they left the woods.

 If you stop today you will be surrounded by a wall of green overlooking a cliff of green. When you step off the road onto the small flat area, you are surrounded by redwoods. The tallest trees in the world.

Old Logging Camp at Rincon, Santa Cruz, CA

Old Logging Camp at Rincon, Santa Cruz, CA

Moving Through Time

She loves the mixture of painstaking order and backbreaking work, hauling earth about      like a navvy one minute and dusting the sand away from a shard of bone the next. She      loves the sight of a neat trench, its sides perfectly straight, the soil below exposed in clear layers.                                                                                                             Elly Griffiths A Dying Fall*                                                                                                                                                                                          

 Archaeology, no genealogy, no archaeology, no genealogy. What is she describing…of course archaeology, and I read this and I see genealogy.

As they walk along a path through a forest or across a field, they see an odd-shaped mound of earth, rising out of an otherwise flat landscape. It has meaning. It is a sign post of people who lived long ago, their village, their temple, their grave. And they wonder who they were, what did they leave behind. Slowly, from this moment, they can scrape through layers of earth and see the picture of what existed before. Who lived here, what they did in their lives here. One layer at a time. Through the present to the past.

As we walk along a path in a cemetery, we spot an intriguing gravestone. A sign post of a person who lived long ago, a name, maybe a date or two. Or we listen to a story about a great-great-grandmother, some bit of her history told out of context. And we wonder who she was, who did she leave behind. And we take the time to slowly search for the documents of her life, her past.

Sometimes we can follow the clues from the present, an obituary, an address, a newspaper article. It is hard to access the records of the present. They are private, they are protected, we must search carefully from odd angles to find the shards, the bones in the present, but they are there. And when you find one, you can sweep away layer after layer to another, saving, labeling, filing away each clue, noting it carefully, where it found, who left it, through the layers of time. Through to the past records, and find who lived there, what they did in their life there. One layer at a time. Through the present to the past.

When an archaeologist digs, it is a one-time opportunity to move from the present into the past. Once a bone or a shard is moved the story is gone. It has to be read and recorded before it is touched. Often, this is how we work, from the present to the past. But sometimes we cannot identify a clue from the present, and we have to jump back in time. There we may find a baptismal record, and then, slowly, work forward, adding layers one by one, creating a life as we move forward in time, from the clues we find from that direction. For genealogists, the story does not disappear as it is discovered. It only becomes more clear. Through the present to the past to the present…


* Elly Griffiths, A Dying Fall, Kindle ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), location 122; downloaded from Amazon.com.

Asti to Asti

Immigrants come to this country in many ways. Some in luxury, some crammed into cargo containers. This list is likely almost as long as the list of immigrants themselves. Some like my great-grandfather were recruited, lured by dreams of the future.

Asti, California was developed as an agricultural colony in 1881. The original intent was to create a vineyard and wine-producing cooperative, worked by immigrants from the area of Asti, Italy. This idea of a cooperative agricultural colony was developed by Andrea Sharboro, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child in 1844, and came to San Francisco in 1852. He prospered in the grocery business and later in providing loans to immigrants in the San Francisco Bay area. But he wanted to provide other ways for his countrymen to establish themselves in this country. His idea of a cooperative did not ultimately, work, as many of the immigrant farmers were not willing to give up the option of a wage in favor of investment.  So the colony became employers to the immigrants. The colony, those that did invest, and the immigrant farmers prospered.

These Italian and Swiss immigrants, farmers from the wine-producing region of Piemonte in northern Italy, brought skills and motivation, and settled in northern California. They were expected to stay and work for the colony for a period of time. It was hoped that they would acquire some of their own land and stay there raising families. That was not always the case. After working for a period of time, the immigrants often chose to move on to other areas.

Nonno, my great-grandfather, (“nonno” means grandfather in Italian) arrived in Asti, CA as soon as he turned 18, in 1888, after the Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony was well established. He stayed and worked for a couple of years, and then, followed the lure of other dreams.


Childs, Harwood Lawrence. “The Asti Colony: the story of a successful cooperative association in California.” Public Opinion 33 (28 August 1902). Online archive. Google eBook (http://books.google.com : 2013).

Gregory, Thomas Jefferson. History of Sonoma County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county, who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present time. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911. Online archive. eBooksRead.com (http://www.ebooksread.com : 2013).


It is interesting, this whole internment issue. I grew up in CA, in the San Francisco Bay Area, so not in a remote place. My father’s family is all from Santa Cruz, both the Italian and the Anglo sides. During WWII, Santa Cruz and the Bay Area were some of the areas most affected by internment, of Japanese- and Italian- Americans
, in the whole country. And I heard first about Japanese internment in the 1970s, when a book Farewell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, came out. That was 30 years after internment ended. Granted, I did not know many kids of Japanese descent. But still. I thought this was huge news. Why had I not even heard it mentioned?

And guess when I found out about Italian-American internment. 2009. Are you kidding me? Am I so oblivious? No. Although my family was not interned, having come to the U.S. in the mid-1800s as farmers and loggers, they certainly would have been close to the fishing families who were personally affected. Talk about embarrassing secret, well I guess this was it. It wasn’t even beginning to be talked about until the late 1990s and early 2000s, and that was because a man, Lawrence DiStasi, researched, published a book, and put together a traveling program about it. The book is called, appropriately, Una Storia Segreta. The information about Una Storia Segreta is at this website http://www.segreta.org/. But even after this came out, it was not widely publicized, and you would not have seen it unless you happened to be a member of one of a few Italian-American organizations or on one of the university campuses where it was exhibited.

My dad was even a member of one of the Italian-American organizations that hosted it, and it snuck right by him. Probably while he was at “Opera Night”. Last summer, Rosemarie DiMaggio, director of the Pittsburg Historical Society’s museum in Pittsburg, CA, was kind enough to let my dad and me wander through the exhibit in the room where it is permanently stored when not on display. It is a touchingly sad collection of photos, letters, newspaper stories and other artifacts of the Italian-American internment experience.

Italian-American internment was for the most part very different from Japanese-American internment. Most Italian-Americans were targeted because older members of the family had not obtained citizenship, and Italian-Americans do not let mama and papa get moved by themselves. So they had to give up jobs, boats, businesses and homes along the coast and relocate inland, sometimes as far inland as Nevada. Some Italian-Americans were targeted because of their affiliation with Italian language schools or newspapers, or other cultural enterprises. They, like the Japanese-Americans, were sent to distant camps, but they were targeted as individuals, not families. Most Japanese-Americans were sent to camps as whole families.

I have wandered, many times, around the place that was Manzanar. If you read my previous post about artifacts, you can imagine the town I described that is no longer there. This is Manzanar. Granted, in this case, there remains an actual building, the gymnasium, unlike the town in my post. It has been refurbished into the National Park museum. It houses the artifacts of internment in a wonderful display. There are also 3 reconstructed building that provide a tangible experience of what the buildings were like. But if you come to see Manzanar, those buildings are only a small part of the experience. Manzanar is much more. It is the extremely remote and lonely space pressed up against the back-side of the Sierra Nevadas. Absolutely freezing in winter, hot and dry in summer, few trees, and windy all the time. Actually an incredibly beautiful area, along one of my favorite drives in California. The town itself remains as only a few square miles surrounded by some dirt roads between scrub and small trees. But look. In among the scrub you can see the remains of what were well-tended gardens and pools, a still-maintained cemetery, and squared off areas that once held hundreds of portable buildings which were the homes, schools, factories, hospitals and churches, for thousands and thousands of people.

What strikes me about Manzanar is the resilience that you can still sense. The harsh environment may have reclaimed the town, but its site still stands testament to the people who were forced from their comfortable urban homes. They did more than exist in this place. They planted, built, created a space, where for the time they were there, they could live.


DiStasi, Lawrence. Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment During World War II. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2001.

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1973.