Even though I have yet to actually apply for membership to the Association of Professional Genealogists, I took an opportunity yesterday to go with the APG Northern California chapter on a field trip east to Stockton.
Stockton has never been high on my list of places to visit. I grew up in the Central Valley so most Central Valley towns/cities remind me of why I moved to the Bay Area. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived on campus. In the crisp, unseasonably sunny day, the buildings looked downright quaint, and I was struck by how much more historic the campus appeared than anything where I grew up.
I made my way to the William Knox Holt Memorial Library where I found a small group, recognizing one as a fellow California Genealogical Society volunteer. After introductions, waiting for others to arrive, and….some more introductions, we descended the staircase to arrive at the archive of the Holt-Atherton Special Collections.
Our host, Michael Wurtz, was friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to say when he didn’t know the answer to any of the questions of minutiae I’ve found typical of any group of genealogists (no slight intended — we’re a group whose conclusions can be turned on minutiae that others dismiss). First he showed us the archive room itself. Obviously a work room and not generally accessible by the public, it was filled with movable shelving which housed dark grey archival boxes of various sizes and configurations. Our attention was drawn to the David Brubeck Collection, a jazz musician whose name I hadn’t heard before, but whose music was immediately recognizable when our host hummed a couple of bars. The collection was sprawling compared to the tight but more revered works of John Muirhoused on one-third of the space on the opposite side of the room.
Michael brought one box down and pulled from it a notebook, turning the delicate pages, separated by sheets of (presumably) acid free paper to display notes and sketches in pencil. The entire collection has been fully digitized and is available online, but the art historian in me will never find that ideal compared to seeing something like this IRL (In Real Life).
By the way, if you don’t know who John Muir is, run don’t walk to your nearest PBS outlet and watch at least the first installment of Ken Burns’ The National Parks. There. Don’t you feel better now?
Back to our tour. We had seen the big names of the collection, and after perusing the stack labels and asking some questions, we made our way into the reading room to view a short presentation. This was where it got particularly interesting for me, as I had completely glazed over the description in the APG invitation on Sheri Fenley’s The Educated Genealogist Blog. Turns out, Stockton was the first site of the California State Hospital, aka The Asylum for the Insane. Well, that’s not exactly true…the first was actually a ship docked at a pier in San Francisco located about where the Transamerica Building is now (that also, is not exactly true, but it sounds more identifiable for any readers who aren’t intimately familiar with the Financial District of San Francisco — for those who are, I believe the pier location was cited as Sacramento & Battery, an area that is now filled in, pushing the docks blocks east). Stockton was at one time 1/10th insane, which as a native to Fresno, I find infinitely amusing. More importantly however, I find it fascinating to learn about the differences between asylums, or state hospitals depending on the era, on opposite sides of the country. As some of you might know, I’ve more than a passing interest in the Connecticut State Hospital of Middletown, so the entire presentation had my full attention. We saw Annual Reports listing causes for commitments, which crops were grown on hospital grounds, etc., and learned about various superintendents and notable patients. There were even tales of a duel. Though I was enthralled, the presentation had to end.
Afterward, Michael was kind of enough to bring out various collections that had been requested in advance. I had asked to see the Stockton Assembly Center Roster from the Japanese-American Interment Collection. A few others were particularly interested in some GAR related items, while the rest started a lively debate and discussion centered around the Mug Books from the San Joaquin County Sheriff. I can not express how incredible they are! Bound together, breaking at times, each is a book filled with mug shots from 1890’s to early 1900’s. Almost every photo had a name, and many had more information such as crime committed, alive or dead, and often, a code associated with what appeared to be a case file or prisoner number from assorted prisons in California, and sometimes other states (Walla Walla was listed on at least one). They were mostly Caucasian men, though not exclusively (other races were represented, as well as a few women). Most were photos, obviously taken after incarceration. Some were pencil sketches. Some were obviously studio photos. Some even included families.
Let me make myself clear: We were faced with a collection of photos, with associated names and potential sources for further research through criminal case files dating from the 1900 give or take a couple of decades. Obviously the genealogical potential is significant, and the online finding aid doesn’t do it justice. Our group decided it would be a great project to digitize the photos if permission was obtained, but that even getting online a searchable copy of the names index that was in a binder, compiled around 1997, would be a big help to let genealogists know that this nugget of named photographs was even available. I truly hope the project comes to fruition — I think y’all would really dig the collection.
Till then, if you’re interested in seeing it, you’ll have to travel to Stockton.