Days (And Nights) At Your Museum

by Don Edwards | Jun 14, 2012

Don Edwards

Can you discover genealogical treasures in museums? Museums hold the "first hand history" of artifacts, original records, oral and family histories, biographies plus photos to enrich your family trees. Museums often house ethnic, genealogical and historical societies collections.

A museum is a professional organization that displays artifacts with historical, cultural, natural or military significance. You can visit exhibits in person and explore them online. Besides genealogists, historians, researchers, educators, students, lawyers and writers use museum archives.

As I travel, I include museums in researching my own or client's genealogies. I use siteweb or online visitor's resources, like chambers of commerce, to find museums. I contact the museum staff for their location, hours and types of genealogical records or special collections they maintain. I email my specific queries and find out how curators or docents can assist me. I time my museum visit during special events, like "Living History Days."

Three museums are covered here - the Lake County Historic Courthouse Museum in California's Wine Country, the historic Charleston Museum of Charleston, South Carolina and the spacious Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum inside the San Francisco International Airport. I have been a Lake County Museum docent since 2006 and frequented the Aviation Museum when I worked at United Airlines.

Lake County Historic Courthouse Museum, Lakeport, California

As a volunteer docent, and board member of the Friends of the Historic Courthouse Museum in Lakeport, California, I uncover genealogical gems for visitors, and for my own family. Our free, 1871 brick museum is a Clear Lake resort and Wine Country destination.

Some museum researchers find our museum via the Lake County Visitors Center, LakeCounty or the Lake County Genealogical Society which maintains a library inside the Visitors Center, CagenWeb.


I manage the educational outreach program, where volunteer docents visit Lake County 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade students at their schools. The students learn about Indians and Gold Rush settlers, including many of their own ancestors. The scholars handle artifacts from Pomo Indian rabbit skin baby blankets to Wells Fargo stage coach lanterns.

During subsequent museum field trips, docents guide students, their parents and teachers through the Indian, outlaw and gun exhibits. John Johnson, of the Wiyot Indian tribe, is a museum volunteer whose Indian lore fascinates the visitors.

Students hold mock trials in our well preserved courtroom. These budding legal minds are tough - the junior jurors always find the defendants guilty! The students are required to write stories and draw pictures about their learning experiences to meet California state teaching standards. The scholar's permanently filed articles and art work become our newest research source.

The museum preserves special Pomo Indian and pioneer records. These include historian Henry Mauldin's 10,000 page written histories, which patrons can use themselves. Curator Linda Lake notes the museum hold the earliest Lake County court records like trials and deeds. The 4,000 photos collection includes those of the British actress Lillie Langtry, who received her 1897 divorce in our courthouse. The statuesque Lillie, consort of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), moved to California due to the state's liberal divorce laws. She founded Guenoc Winery (1888), still in operation.

My Lake County Boggs relatives were distant cousins of my great grandmother, Martha Boggs Wright (1843-1935). Lakeport businessman Henry Carroll Boggs (1820-1898) was a son of former Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs (1796-1860) and his first wife, Juliana Bent (1801-1820). Juliana's brothers founded Colorado's Bent's Fort on the Santa Fe Trail. Henry Boggs' stepmother was Panthea Boone (1801-1880), granddaughter of frontiersman Daniel Boone (1734-1820). Henry Boggs and Lindsey Carson (1818-1886) founded Lakeport's bank. Lindsey was a brother of Christopher "Kit" Carson (1809-1868), who scouted along the Oregon and California Trails. As the Boone, Carson, Boggs and Bent families had trail blazed the American West,many wagon train descendants visit our museum for ancestral pioneer journals, oral histories, letters and biographies.

But I could not place other Boggs family members listed in ranching records. According to basket maker Luwana Quitiquit of the Robinson Rancheria (reservation) Pomo Indian tribe, these Boggses were Pomo Indians who worked for the white Boggs family, then adopted their surname.

Curator Linda Lake advises researchers to send emails, be specific in requests for people, dates, places, events and be specific in what you want to know. Some researchers have provided original documents and photos to our museum. The Lake County Courthouse, across the street from the museum, has more recent county records.

Special museum presentations included the 150th anniversary celebration of the founding Lake County in 1861. The Lake County Historic Courthouse Museum is at 255 North Main Street, Lakeport, California 95453. Phone 707 263-4555. Website.

More genealogical resources are found at the Lake County Genealogical Society and the Lake County Historical Society.

The Lake County Genealogical Society's Lenore Clark Genealogy Library is located at the Lake County Visitor Information Center office at 6110 E. Highway 20, Lucerne, California 95458. Phone 707 274-5652. The collection includes vital record and cemetery indexes, family and county histories, wills, probate records and regional collections. Their mailing address is Lake County Genealogy Society, P. O. Box 1323, Lakeport, California 95453. Website.

The Charleston Museum, Charleston, South Carolina

At the Charleston Museum in downtown Charleston, South Carolina (America's first museum, opened in 1773), I accompanied fellow genealogists studying Civil War exhibits during the 2011 National Genealogical Society's conference. Native South Carolinians in our tour explained the military campaigns, where my Revolutionary War and Civil War ancestors had fought. The Charleston Museum's weapons and uniforms spotlighted South Carolina's pivotal roles in both conflicts.

I had used the newspaper files to find my Confederate kinsman Colonel Thomas Hamilton Boggs (1830-1862) and Doctor Alfred Walker Bethea (1816-1865), a signer of the Session Ordinance (the document which took South Carolina out of the Union and into the Civil War). Both had served in several regiments, then died during the war. A docent explained that high casualty rates among South Carolina Confederates soldiers forced reassignments into other regiments. The docent presented me with regimental histories covering the men and battles.

My Carolina cousins regularly visit the museum's bookstore to send me their ongoing Civil War publications. The Charleston Museum is at 360 Meeting Street, Charleston South Carolina 29403, phone 843 722-2996. Website.

Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, San Francisco International Airport

The globe trotting lives of airline pilots, flight attendants and aviation heroes are remembered in the Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum collections inside the international terminal of the San Francisco International Airport. According to Julie Takata, the museum's librarian, the records and archives trace the development of commercial aviation of the West Coast and the Pacific Rim countries. These include manuscripts and oral histories like those of Pan American World Airways China Clipper pilots, military ace Jimmy Doolittle and solo flier Amelia Earhart.

United Airlines was the first airline to hire women nurses as flight attendants in 1930 in San Francisco. The "Pan Am" ABC television series staffers poured over the museum's Pan Am pilot and flight attendant memoirs and uniforms, to replicate early 1960s international airline travel. I located my pilot relative, First Officer Bill Bethea, among the Pan Am employee records.

The museum's 11,000 square foot facility is modeled after original 1937 airport passenger waiting area. The aviation library and museum houses 17,000 artifacts, plus an 8,000 volume library, dedicated to commercial aviation. Children especially enjoy chatting with museum volunteers, as some are retired airline employees.

Researchers should go online, Here , then call for an appointment with librarian. You do not need an airline boarding pass to visit the museum, as it is before airport security. The free San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Museum is located on the Departures Level of the International Terminal. Phone is 650 821-9900. I know from my personal experiences as a docent how museum staff members can uncover the genealogical gems you seek.


- Various sites to locate your local museums.
- Information on California museums and events.
- Sources of public records such as Recorders' offices, maps.
- A comprehensive source for state and county genealogical resources, including museums.

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