Welcome to the CCCGS blog.

The purpose of this blog is to promote the Contra Costa County Genealogical Society by announcing upcoming events and reporting on past events. In doing so, I hope it will encourage all who are interested to attend any of our events and meetings, and share in our enthusiasm of genealogical research.

August 28, 2010

Giant Powder Company-Dynamite!

Contra Costa County has a wonderful richness in it's history. Many famous people lived here, visited here and left their mark. Today I want to talk about a company instead of person. The Giant Powder Company was the first in the United States to manufacture commercial dynamite. The company was granted an exclusive license from Alfred Nobel . The company started in 1868 with locations in Glen Cove and West Berkeley and closed in 1961. It was a very dangerous business to be in. The buildings blew up at least two times and these events were documented in newspapers as far away as the New York Times. The company moved to what is now called the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline after a major explosion in July 1892. Originally, the land was part of Rancho San Pablo granted to Francisco Maria Castro in 1823. The Giant Powder Company moved there to become isolated from the general population for safety reasons. Later the company was sold to the Atlas Powder Company and sold to Bethlehem Steel in 1964.

From California Historical Landmarks:

Pt. Pinole is the last site of the Giant Powder Company, the first company in America to produce dynamite. Following devistating (sic) explosions at their San Francisco and Berkeley sites, the business moved to this location in 1892. Incorporating the established Croation community of Sobrento, the company town of Giant quickly grew into one of the North Bay's industrial centers. Explosives were produced here until 1960 and were essential to mining, dam building, and other construction projects throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Giant Powder Company had it's own housing for employees and their families. There we 20 to 30 families that lived there. The little community was called Giant. My great grandfather was the postmaster at the Giant Post Office in the early 1900's and my grandfather worked for Giant Powder Company for over 30 years. My father was born there.

The 1920 U.S. Census lists the Contra Costa County, Township 10, Giant Precinct (see pages 36-42). There were family residences as well as one large boarding house for single men who worked there as laborers. Occupations were Powder Maker, Foreman, Stock Clerk, Machinists.

In 1989, my father granted an interview for the East Bay District Parks Archives. In it, he discusses what it was like living there. The following are excerpts from his interview.

There were several buildings. Activities were limited in each building. There also was a limited as to the number of men allowed inside a building at any one time. The limit was THREE. This was for safety reasons. If a building blew up, it limited the number of casualties. There were several explosions in the area. There were three or four accidents with fatalities.

Giant School had about 30 students in two rooms. Pupils all came from Giant.

In my family archives, I have a company photo taken in March, 1932. There are 103 men and 1 woman in the photo. I also have all of their names. Unfortunately, the photo is larger than my scanner at this writing. If you want me to check for a name on it, write me at ancestor_hunter@yahoo.com. Cheers!

August 21, 2010

Start with What You Know

Any good genealogist will tell you that you start with what you know or information that you have then see what new information you can find. Usually that information is given to you by family members. Be aware tho', that information isn't always correct. Grandma might not remember all the details or mix up the names. Take it with a grain of salt. You should verify everything by finding documentation that validates what you have been told. Until you have documentation, it's simply hearsay. Consider family information your starting point.

Sometimes a family member has their own motives. They really don't want the whole truth to come out. Maybe they think information about Uncle Joe really should be left alone or it's better to keep those "skeletons in the closet". That was the case with my own father.

I mentioned last time that we were told that grandfather had been in a catholic orphanage. My father knew the name of the orphanage and he even knew the name of the town where his father had been born. When I offered to take him to these places to get the facts, he refused. It wasn't until after he died that I decided to take the trip by myself.

I realized that my father probably knew more than he was telling and was using the orphanage story as a brick wall. As it turns out the orphanage had no records of my grandfather ever being there. (The Catholic Church keeps excellent records.) You could consider that a dead end but I had two other leads. The first lead, being the name of the town where grandfather was born. Fortunately, that town was in the same county as the orphanage.

I followed up by contacting the priest at the Catholic Church in that town. I set up an appointment. Visiting the church, I was able to relate my father's story and asked where I could find baptismal records. I was lucky to have found a gracious priest who was willing to help me.
He had all the baptismal records in the church's vault and was willing to go through them. We found my grandfather in those records with his parents. I also got the name of a sister and brother that we knew nothing about as well as confirmation that grandfather was no an orphan. His father, my great-grandfather, lived until 1905. Mystery solved.

I got a certified copy of the baptismal records for my documentation. The documentation included a copy of the Indian Rolls for the town. The skeleton in the closet for my father was to admit that he was a child of an Indian. Something he denied all of his life. Yet something that I am proud to be.

Oh yeah, the second lead was that my father told us that my grandfather worked at the
Giant Powder Co. in Richmond. More on that next time...

August 9, 2010

Summer of 2010

As the Publicity Coordinator of the CCCGS, I thought it was time to Blog something. So today, my friends, realizing that the public library was closed, I found myself heading to Barnes and Noble to learn about how to write a Blog. Since I like to write and hope one day to write an entertaining book based on my ancestors, I instinctively headed to the writing section of the book store. There were lots of books about style. Books on how to write a book in 30 days and how to write a romance but only one book on blogging. Unsatisfied with the lack of choices, I took a step back to look for more and I noticed that I was standing right next to the Genealogy books. That was a sign! So on this beautiful August evening in sunny California, I begin this adventure.

Here I will share my adventures in Genealogy focusing mainly on the county. Share tips and tricks that I have learned along the way and hopefully you will contact me with your stories, too. If you need any help, just remember that the Society is here to help you with that, too. If you want to write to me, I can be reached at ancestor_hunter@yahoo.com.

Let me think back. Anyone remember Roots airing on multiple nights in 1977? I was in my teens then and cared more about finding a boyfriend than finding dead people. But I thank my lucky stars that my mom caught the fever and that my grandfather wrote long letters about his relatives. For when I finally decided that I wanted to trace my family roots it was 1996. I sure didn't know what I was getting myself into when I started. I can say I have had many hours of fustration, brick walls, and times of pure joy.

As a family, we used to talked about the mystery that surrounded my paternal grandfather. He said that he was an orphan and didn't know who his parents were. My father mentioned that his dad told him he was in a catholic orphanage in Marin county as a boy, worked on a ranch in 1900 in El Sobrante and worked at the Giant Powder Factory (now Point Richmond) for 35 years so I figured that I had enough information to find out the facts.

Solving a mystery, that has to be the definition of genealogy. Only the farther back you go the harder the mystery is to solve! Oh yeah, I have solved that mystery.. I will tell you next time.