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Unearthing My California Roots:
By Alison Pence
I was on bedrest once for four long months. My 93-year-old grandmother, seeking to preserve my sanity, casually gave me a notebook to read that she said had been "in the family" a long time. It was an old leather-bound journal, a diary, written in a tiny scrawl. Some entries were made in pencil and were now faded and smudged. Others resembled chicken scratch made by a quill pen having a fight with an inkwell on a bumpy road in the middle of the night.
It turned out that these scribbles were the outpourings of a man who had crossed the continent from Ohio to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. I don't think the journal had been read since his lifetime. I filled my laptop with transcriptions from the diary. He met Indians, crossed rivers, listened to wolves. He ate bacon and hardtack for weeks on end and saw "nothing but sage, sage, sage."
When he reached Sutter's Mill -- on the South Fork of the American River (near the present-day town of Coloma) -- the daily entries stopped.
What happened to him? Did he strike it rich and buy a mansion on Nob Hill? Or did he sink into oblivion?
I did not know the name of this man who lived five generations ago, his relation to my family, nor his occupation, but I decided to try to find out as much as I could.
Off on a Wild 'Moose' Chase
When I opened the journal for the first time, a little slip of paper fell out that read, "This is the journal of Matthew Franklin." In his first entry, "Franklin" describes making the decision to go to California:
This 49er remembers when a mere boy to have imagined that some day he would cross the Rocky Mountains--a mere passing fancy, like many others of his. However, the thought of leaving home in Cincinnati for California began to grow stronger day by day. But still, from about February 1849, it was spoken to no one until the plan of making the trip was fully matured in his own mind. Only one thing could deter him, and that was a refusal of the sanction of Father or Mother. They were at last told. Their boy had counted the cost every way and had resolved to go unless they would be made unhappy by it. They consented after a struggle to have him go.
Many friends no sooner heard of my intended expedition than they expressed the greatest astonishment and disapproval. "Why, Moose," they said, "you are the last man [from whom] I would have expected such a thing. Here you are with bright prospects, an education, a career before you, starting off on a wild goose chase, to go 2,000 miles among savage Indians, over mountains and deserts with a crowd of roughs, sure dangers, and among strangers, away from family and friends. Have you lost your senses?"
For the next few months, I came to know Matthew Franklin through his diary. I called him by his nickname, "Moose." I learned that he successfully traversed the country, thanks to his mules, and that he staked a claim on Bullard's Bar on the North Fork of the Yuba River.
A postscript to the journal, dated June 1, 1854, read:
It has been five years since the journal began. I have settled in San Francisco near Mission Dolores on 10 to 12 acres with my brother. He has served on the City Council two years and been elected to the State Senate....
Brother Was a State Senator
I decided to expand my research by looking into the brother who became a state senator, since I thought information might be more readily available about him. So I called the San Francisco Public Library's History Room for assistance. When a librarian returned my call, I had quite a shock. There was no one named Franklin in the Senate in the 1850s. I quickly ran down a list of names of my distant relatives for the librarian. He stopped me at Moore.
Elliott J. Moore served as a state senator for the 185253 term. That's when I realized that my "Moose" must have been a Moore -- Joseph H. Moore, to be precise -- my maternal grandfather's maternal grandfather, or, expressed another way, my great-great-grandfather on my mother's side. The journal's smeared entries had been so difficult to read I had mistakenly transcribed the author's name as "Moose" rather than "Moore."
The note I'd found inside the journal with the name Matthew Franklin on it had probably belonged inside another journal my grandmother had loaned me. Had I not made that transcription error, I might have guessed early on that the note did not belong with this journal.
The moral of this story is to be wary of someone else's notes when looking into your family history. There is no substitute for good research--and good research takes time, attention to detail, and tenacity.
Could Jos. be Jas. of 21st Street?
Now that I had a name to go on, I was pleased to find the framed face of Joseph H. Moore on the wall of my grandmother's study in Walnut Creek. All Grand-
ma knew about Joseph Moore was that he was an attorney with two daughters, Alice and Emma, and that Emma Moore Elder was my grandfather's mother.
My next stop was the Sutro Branch of the California State Library, where I spent some time nosing around in the library's resources and located a listing for Moore's law practice, "Moore, Joseph H. (Waller & M) dwl N s Clay nr Powell," through the city directory of 1860. According to the librarian, the abbreviations meant the business "dwelled" on the north side of Clay near Powell. It wasn't much, but it was exciting nonetheless to find this little nugget.
At the San Francisco Main Library, I searched through the "block books," which provide neighborhood-by-neighborhood listings of land ownership by the property owner's name. The earliest book the library carries is for the year 1894. Moore's journal had mentioned "10 to 12 acres near Mission Dolores," and I was hoping he had not sold all the property and was still living on a portion of it in 1894.
I flipped through page after page of city blocks before I found a possible listing -- Jas. Moore on 21st Street, between Church and Sanchez. Even though the abbreviation for Joseph should be Jos., not Jas., I now think this is a listing for Joseph H. Moore, since I found relatives of his living nearby. His wife's family, the Hawkshursts, resided at 24th and Hoffman, and his daughter Emma's in-laws, the Elders, lived on the parcel adjacent to that of Jas. Moore. It is thrilling to think that 100 years later I am living in Noe Valley hot on the trail of my lost roots.
A Lawyer with Scruples (I Hope)
A trip to the California Historical Society turned up three documents relating to Joseph H. Moore. In one, he argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of a railroad company that did not want to pay a man for his services. Uh-oh, I thought, another good ol' boy. In the next document, he was being sued by a man who claimed to own the land near Mission Dolores through a grant from California's Mexican governor. Uh-huh, I said to myself, a real bad good ol' boy.
Fortunately for me, the third document, written by Moore himself, revealed a more modern, p.c. kind of ancestor. It was a pamphlet, published by Moore at his own expense and titled, "How Members of Congress Are Bribed." In the pamphlet, he rails against lobbyists, more specifically, Collis P. Huntington and the railroad barons. Thatta boy, Joe! You tell 'em, I cheered.
Pay Dirt: He's a 'Pioneer'
It was many months before someone suggested, "Hey, have you contacted the Society of California Pioneers?" Well no, but that sounded like just the right place for me to dig up some more information.
I called and asked about Joseph H. Moore. A week later, a representative from the Society called back to say that she had nine pages on Moore and that I could purchase copies of the documents. It turns out that not only had the Society heard of him, but he had been a Life Member of the group.
By perusing an article that the Society prepared as a memorial to him, I learned that Moore stuck with his mining interests until he became a lawyer in 1857. He was a civil attorney and director of the City Railroad Company for 18 years. The article offered a glowing tribute that portrayed him as a private family man, a man one could trust and respect. He died on Feb. 8, 1899, at age 72.
Well, that's how far my research on "Moose" has taken me to date. In the years to come, I'm sure I will continue to fill in the missing pieces. All in all, it has been a pleasure getting to know my great-great-grandfather Joseph. I came to know his 20-year-old self through his journal, and his mature, professional self in the library documents.
The nicest discovery has been that my ancestor likely lived and raised his children in Noe Valley. It is almost as if he is a neighbor of mine whom I look forward to getting to know better.