Working on Josie's story finds me immersed in the politics of San Francisco and the USA in the 1880s and 1890s - how did I not know that in most of the States in the American West women got the vote as early as the 1890s, way before the 19th Amendment in 1920 which finally gave all women over 21 the vote? Shout out to Wyoming by the way which came in as a State with the right to vote for women in their constitution and had given women that right in 1869 when it was a territory! In California it was 1911 after an amendment to the state constitution failed in 1896 because the Liquor Association convinced men in the cities to vote it down (the rural areas voted overwhelmingly to give women the vote, but like now there are more folk in the cities which generally carries Statewide politics). Reading the newspaper accounts at the time it looks like poor women, like Great-grandma Josie in the South of Market slum worked for that 1896 ballot initiative even as many poor men opposed it. Blessings on all the women and men who worked tirelessly for decades to give women the right to vote. May I never ever take this history for granted and always exercise my hard won right to vote.
Spent the evening reading "A Report Upon a System of Sewerage for the City and County of San Francisco" from 1899 as research for my new book. No surprise that the slum where my great-grandma Josie and her family lived at the time had some of the worst conditions which contributed to routine epidemics of "sewer" related diseases that claimed the lives of countless poor children and adults. It is amazing to me that even now in 2017 poor rural areas and poor urban neighborhoods are still far more likely to have water and sewer related illness and deaths because of politics. Blessings on the descendants of those who lived to find better conditions, blessings on those still living with horrible health conditions based on income.
At first I didn't even know she existed. I had a sad court document that said my great-grandpa David had run his step-daughter out of the house, but the only step-daughter listed in another document I had was Virginia Lindsey, age 6 1/2, who was removed from his care and placed into an orphanage, so I assumed it was her. I continued to dig and find information about my great-grandma Josie's family with her first husband, Alex Lindsey. The 1900 census gave a list of all the children living at that time, and I was introduced to Margaret Lindsey born 1893. More digging found that she'd had an older sister and brother who died before she was born, and an older sister who was killed in a terrible street accident when she was 5, and that her father died when she was 8. For a long time I thought she'd died in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire because I could find nothing more about her, no matter how hard I looked into old newspaper records, census data, or marriage and obituary listings. It was not hard to simply imagine that she was just one of the thousands of deaths that went unrecorded because the city officials were trying to downplay the magnitude of the disaster in their quest for investment money to rebuild.
I was so relieved to finally find her mother, my great-grandma Josie's obituary from October of 1907 and see that Margaret, who I had come to think of as my Aunt Maggie, was listed as a surviving child. She was 13. I cried with joy that she hadn't been burned to death in the rubble of her neighborhood. Then I realized that she must have been the step-daughter run out by my great-grandpa David. I could only imagine the possibilities for a 13 year old orphan among thousands of poor working class people still in refugee camps a year and a half after losing their whole life in the Earthquake and Fire. I kept looking for evidence of her, but assumed the worst, that she ended up on the street, that she ended up dead with no record like so many poor young girls. I found myself mourning my Aunt Maggie, someone who I hadn't even known existed.
Then yesterday I stumbled on the photo image of a small, tattered, and much hand-edited document indicating who was to receive the Union Navy pension of my great-grandma Josie's first husband, Alex Lindsey. My great-grandpa David (the same one who had run Aunt Maggie out and had all the minor children, including his own two, taken away from him) had returned to the court in 1908 to make sure they knew that his step-children were eligible for their father's pension. Scrawled across her name on that tattered piece of paper were the words "now Lind."
From that tiny clue I have now found more about Margaret Lindsey, "now Lind." At 13 years old, just days before her mother died in October of 1907, Aunt Maggie married Edward Lind, who was ten years her senior. They had five children: Edward, Evelyn, Albert, Myrtle, and Virginia. They lived in San Francisco, then Seattle, and seemed to settle in Los Angeles. During The Depression she worked as a power operator at a flag factory. By the 1940 census she is listed as divorced and working as a floor woman in retail services. Her household consisted of herself, her divorced daughter Evelyn Armstrong (who owned her own beauty parlor), her other divorced daughter Myrtle Mueblavauen (oh I love that name!), and Myrtle's three children: Barbara, Roy and Virginia.
Blessings to you Margaret Lindsey, "now Lind," my strong and resilient Aunt Maggie. I am so glad to know you existed and that you didn't die all the horrible deaths I'd feared for you. It sounds like you had one hell of a life and were an amazing woman.
In 1890, 1900 and 1910 on the US census form these two questions appeared: "Mother of how many children?" "Number of these children living?" While my country's infant and child mortality rates have declined since the government began tracking them, they are still painfully high among poor families. Thinking this day of all the mothers, like my Great-grandma Josephine whose answer to those questions in 1900 was 8 children, 4 living. Blessings on all those around this world who live with such grief.
I have spent the day doing research on the tenements where my great-grandparents lived in San Francisco prior to their South of Market neighborhood being completely destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire - in their building and most of the building around them there was no water, and there were no windows, no skylights, no ventilation of any kind, no wonder my great-grandmother died of throat cancer at age 43 - I can't even imagine the level of cooking and kerosine smoke she must have inhaled daily! There is this wild idea that San Francisco didn't have the same kind of tenements and slums that many other cities had around the turn of the 20th century but that is just not so - it's just that the evidence of them were completely destroyed. I am mindful that there are places like that in our world even today - may we as a species work together to change that.
return to the Land of Your Soul.”
This morning I woke to geese singing their honking song as they flew over me returning North. What is it that compels them to make this migratory journey of returning, North to South, South to North? My mother says that when she married my father he also had a compelling need to migrate from French Gulch (the small, Northern California mountain town where they both grew up), to the city of San Francisco which lay to the South. It was very out of character. My father was born in the woods, high in the Trinity Mountains, raised in the mountains, and spent most of his life living and working in those Northern California mountains. But for a brief time, after he married my young mother, they flew South, to San Francisco where they nested in an apartment on Geary Street near Van Ness. They only lived there long enough for her to get pregnant and have me at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. By the time I was six months old we had migrated North, back up into the mountains, returning to the land of his soul.
“Return again, return again, return to The Land of Your Soul.”
Going to college was not part of my family culture. But from a fairly young age I felt this drive, this need, this compulsion to fly myself South to San Francisco to go to college. I didn’t even know what colleges were there, I just knew I needed to get there. So at the very same age my mother had been when she gave me birth seventeen years before, I migrated South to San Francisco State University. It was the late 1970s and part of my college experience was playing designated herded (we didn’t drive) for my eclectic group of friends. With our fake IDs we danced to driving disco at a Queer bar called The Stud, which at the time was on Folsom Street, South of Market.
“Return again, return again, return to The Land of Your Soul.”
My father still lived in that small Northern California mountain town called French Gulch in October of 2012 when he died, two weeks before my October birthday. I was with him as he breathed his last breath. After his death I began to feel a compelling need to find out more about the early years of his mother, my grandma Winnie who had lived most of her long life up North in the Trinity Mountains, but was not from there. She had migrated there as a young bride, her husband, my grandpa Russell, brought her North to those Trinity Mountains where he had been born and raised. But I knew she had originally come from San Francisco, born just a couple of years before the great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. What I later learned was that her family lived in the part of the city known at “South of the Slot,” only a couple blocks from where I, as a young college student, danced to driving disco in the late 1970s. As I continued my search for her story I found that the orphanage where my grandma Winnie lived after her mother died in October of 1907, was less than a block from the apartment on Geary Street where my young father felt compelled to live at the time I was born, in October of 1959.
“Return again, return again, return to The Land of Your Soul.”
A few days ago I sat at my computer continuing my work to discover and tell the story of my Grandma Winnie’s family, the family whose story had been lost in the trauma of Earthquake and Fire, death and orphanages. My grandma’s mother, Josie Romero Lindsey Smith, died on October 22, 1907 in Hahnemann Hospital, which had been located on California street in San Francisco. I suddenly felt a strong compulsion to look at my birth certificate and tore through my files to find that Children's Hospital, where I was born on October 23, 1959, was also on California Street in San Francisco. The two hospitals had merged somewhere between my great-grandma Josie’s death in 1907 and my birth in 1959, fifty two years later almost to the day.
“Return again, return again, return to The Land of Your Soul.”
This morning I woke to geese singing their honking song as they flew over me returning North. What is it that compels them to make this migratory journey of returning, North to South, South to North? What was it that compelled my father to migrate South to San Francisco just long enough for me to be born where my great-grandma, whose name he didn’t even know, had died? All I know is that I am grateful to him for flying South, so that San Francisco would be the land of my soul, the place for me to return again, and this story could be told. What’s remembered, lives.
And you? Where are you compelled to fly? Where do you return again? Where is The Land of Your Soul?
The line, “Return again, return again, return to the Land of Your Soul” is from a chant I learned as a college student at women’s retreats in San Francisco in the late 1970s.
Music and Lyrics by Schlomo Carlebach - sung by Shaina Noll - and I just noticed that this particular video was posted on YouTube on August 22, 2015 which would have been my father’s 79th birthday….
I spent the day in the downtown public library in Santa Barbara. First of all I want to give my appreciation and gratitude to the reference librarians, especially the woman with the red hair whose name, I am embarrassed to say, I did not get. I was there all day going over obscure local history books, pamphlets, magazines, clippings, and pages of The Santa Barbara Independent on microfiche. Not only did she go way and beyond the call of duty for me, but patiently gave an elderly homeless man crayons and paper because he wanted to draw pictures of his friends, answered all manner of questions from a wide range of people, and made sure folks there for computer help were taken care of...what a gift she is to this library and community.
Not long into my searching I struck a vein of ancestral gold. Turns out my Great-grandma Josie Romero's father, Mariano Romero, was a saloon keep. I am beginning to think that every ancestral root I follow down into the past has either a bartender or minister. It appears that I can not escape the mandate of my DNA which calls me to carefully listen while people tell me their troubles.
I spent the day reading about my ancestors, the Romero family, putting on big dances and parties in honor of the patron saint of Montecito (just south of Santa Barbara), Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (Blessed Mary mother of Christ). I spent the day finding bits of the story of Katie Fogleman (aka Vogleman) coming to work for the Swift family and falling in love with neighbor Mariano Romero - both raising young daughters from previous relationships. I read about how they lived on "Romero Hill" with uncles and aunties and cousins all around. When I found a photo of great-greatgrandpa Mariano, my heart danced. I left the library and walked down the street wanting to say to anyone who spoke Spanish in my hearing, "Could you be my cousin?"
Tomorrow I head to Mission Santa Barbara for more digging.
When my grandma Winnie was a toddler she was one of 60,000 poor folk displaced completely by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire when the crowed South of Market slums where they lived were destroyed. She and her family lived in a refugee camp at the foot of Potrero Hill until October of 1907 when the court took the remaining minor children and placed them in different orphanages after her mother's death. I have spent the last year finding their stories and am beginning the journey of crafting them into a book to honor their lives, lives that were forgotten for so many years. In my Reclaiming Witch Tradition we say, "What's remembered, lives." I will be blogging about this journey of researching, remembering, writing, and bringing them to life. Already for me they are very alive and I'd like to introduce you to them through this blog as I write this book. Please join me in this journey of making them live again, I would love your company. - Blessings Lizann
From the upcoming Winter issue of SageWoman Magazine issue #89 "Roots and Wings"
It is a strange thing, the idea of healing the wounds of our ancestors. It requires going deep into the Earth that holds the great and intricately entwined roots that were their relationships, experiences, cultural identities, and the historical events through which they lived. I couldn’t really begin the long process of tending to my Grandma Winnie’s wounded roots (she, a crone when I was born into her life in 1959), until I became a crone myself over fifty years later. I wonder if that is part of the work of crones. If somehow when we are the oldest living generation, with memories that stretch back into the lives of the dead, yet engaged with several generations of the living, that we are more prepared to help heal those roots. I wonder if croning makes us more open to the hard magic of tending those wounded roots so that the generations from which they sprout, can fly freer, with mended wings.
Growing up I only knew my Grandma Winnie was a complicated and mercurial being who could go from cackling delight to flashing anger in short order. But I didn’t know why. Growing up, I only knew her in the second half of her life, an old, but still wild woman, living in a shack with my grandfather in a small mountain town in Northern California. I only knew her surrounded by the history and stories of his family, but not hers. When I was a child, if I asked her about her own family roots she would simply say, “There are some things better left forgotten.” Yet, by the time I was an adult I had became aware of some of her wounded roots.
As a toddler she had lived through the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, and ended up in an orphanage. I learned that she had a younger brother with whom she hadn’t spoken since they fought over something she “couldn’t remember,” back in their twenties. When I was in my thirties and she was in in eighties, I finally convinced her to call her estranged brother. His widow answered the phone, he had died six month before. I was old enough at that time to feel that she carried a sense of shame and deep wounds, but could not find a way to get her to even talk about it, and so I could not try to follow those wounded and exposed roots down into the ground of her younger life.
After her death in 1992, my father and I cleaned out her shack, and he stored away photos and papers. Twenty later, when he died, I inherited them. As a witch, the dead and I have always been friends, and somehow, having my father as an ally on the other side of the veil seemed to make me bolder about wanting to follow my Grandma Winnie’s tender roots down. With my father now on her side of the veil, there even seemed to be a shift in her presence. She seemed to move aside and no longer block my curiosity and wondering. So I began that long and dark descent down those wounded roots.
However, even though Grandma Winnie had now given me her tacit assent, she was not an active presence as I learned about her family of origin. I learned that Grandma Winnie’s mother, Josie, died of cancer a year and a half after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. The family was still living in a refugee encampment made up of the displaced poor from their South of Market immigrant neighborhood when my great-grandma Josie died. My grandma Winnie was not an active presence as I learned about her father’s violence, and why the children were taken from him and placed in an orphanage. All that information began to shed light for me on why my Grandma Winnie thought she should be ashamed of her family.
My great-grandma Josie on the other hand was delighted to be remembered after generations, and I strongly felt her presence. She and I fell deeply in love as she guided my research and chatted away about every scrap of information I discovered while pouring through census records, old city directories, and stacks of newspaper editions (both of us excited at each mention of their names or any news of their neighborhood). My great-grandma Josie added a running commentary as I poured over books about San Francisco in the 1880s, 1890s, and through the turn of the century. She guided my historical research and she introduced me to her first husband and their nine children. As I uncovered the facts of their lives, her strong presence helped me feel her heartbreak at the deaths of four of their children, and then the death of her first husband. Yet, she also helped me feel the joy and pleasure she’d had in her 43 years of life growing up Josephine “Josie” Juarez Romero in Santa Barbara, then moving to wild San Francisco and living as Josie Lindsey with her first husband and their brood, and finally as Josie Smith when she married her second husband, my great-grandpa David and gave birth to my grandma Winnie and her little brother. I realized that I now knew much more about my grandma Winnie’s family that she had ever known in her own life.
This wonderful relationship and knowledge of my great-grandma Josie, gave me the strength to travel down the wounded roots of my great-grandpa David. In my grandma Winnie’s papers and photos was a document from The California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, in which David was portrayed as a violent alcoholic. That was the only scrap of information Grandma Winnie had of him. I found myself holding his presence at bay as well, although twice he’d come to me in dreams. I continued to do historical research about him. I found out he’d been a carpenter. I found that he’d lived across the street from my Grandma Josie and her first husband, and that they’d married three years after she’d become a widow. I found out that not long after Josie died and the children had been placed in orphanages, that he came back to the court to make sure they knew his step-children we eligible for the Civil War pension of Josie’s first husband. I found out that my great-grandpa David never remarried, and that he’d died in the 1930s. Still, I didn’t feel comfortable embracing his presence for a long time. I realize now that I was feeling the echo of my grandma Winnie’s sense of shame, based on the very little she’d know about him in her life.
Deep into the process I finally asked a dear friend who is a powerful worker of magic, if he would help me build a magical container/space so I could finally meet my great-grandpa David. We went far into the Redwoods to a place strong with its own magic, and cast a circle. My friend called Lady Love and Father Time. I stood swaying following my own DNA down those tangled wounded roots. I was expecting pain and suffering, violence and anger. Instead I found a gentle presence who had lived through great grief. My great-grandpa David and I spent time just being with each other.
I finally had a sense of my great-grandpa that, while not excusing that period of violence in his life, explained it. I understood with compassion his deep love for my great-grandma. I understood the deep friendship he’d had with her first husband and the sense of responsibility he’d had for not only his two children, but all his step-children. I understood his PTSD and self-medicating with alcohol. As I followed those wounded roots down, encountering the rocks they had grown around, my own heart flooded with compassion and love for my great-grandpa David and our whole extended family.
My understanding and compassion for all of them flowed down through my own roots, through my DNA, though my father’s roots, through his DNA, through my grandma Winnie’s roots, through her DNA. My understanding and compassion for all of us flowed through each wounded and tender root, down to the people who were the parents and family my grandma Winnie never knew in life.
Then something amazing happened. I felt the wounded roots of my ancestors begin to heal. With that healing process has come joy. Grandma Winnie’s presence is vastly different. There is less shame now that the story is more fully known and understood with tenderness, gratitude, and deep love. I swear she even looks different in all the old photos I have of her, more buoyant, no longer weighted down. Now I feel those same roots feeding my generation and the generations after me with greater strength and new sweetness. It is a strange thing, this idea of healing the wounds of our ancestors, but if we can, it indeed does allow the generations that follow, to fly freer, with mended wings.
After over a year of research, both historical and deeply spiritual, I'm starting to write my next book based on the life of my great-grandma Josephine Juarez Romero Lindsey Smith (Josie) and her family. They lived "South of the Slot" in San Francisco in the late 19th century and through the 1906 earthquake and fire. She had 11 children, seven of whom lived to be adults. Her life had been forgotten but now she lives and speaks through my heart and imagination and DNA. Please wish me well as I start the writing part of what has already been a remarkable relationship with Grandma Josie and her life and spirit.