General Genealogy

The 1906 Earthquake Leaves a Mark on My Relatives

My relatives were native San Franciscans with a history that went back to the early 1850s. At 5:13am, 18 April 1906, an earthquake shattered the lives of everyone in the city and many others of the Bay Area region. My relatives were impacted by this horrific event in more ways than one.

The Jacksons Are Uprooted
My great grandparents were living on Jesse Street in San Francisco. On that day, they were roused from their sleep. In a few short minutes, Harry, his wife Margaret, their 3 week old baby, John, and Margaret’s father, Thomas, were out in the street, avoiding the debris. It took some doing to get Thomas out of the house. He had caught a mirror that had fallen and didn’t want to let it go for fear of seven years bad luck.

Before they left, they tried to get a neighbor to leave her front porch. The woman would not budge. She had just paid her rent and come hell or high water she wasn’t moving. The Jackson’s turned away. Then they heard a crash. The women was dead–buried under the building she refused to leave.

In the ensuing days, the Jackson’s took residence in one of the refugee camps in the city. They ate what food could be found, used newspaper for toilet paper, and kept out of harms way. Because of the fire that ravaged the city, they could not return home.

When the fire subsided and people were allowed home, the Jackson’s made their way to the place they once lived. Their home had been destroyed and they had nowhere to go.

Margaret’s sister, Josephine’s house was still standing. Thus, many of the relatives took up temporary residence there. By 1907, they moved from Josephine (Jones) Pohley’s house and were living at 22 Aztec Street, still in San Francisco.

But the aftershocks and widespread devastation were always with them. By 1909, they decided to move across the bay. They found a home on 25th Ave in the Fruitvale District of Oakland. This was where they would raise their family.

Patrick Dolan’s Will and the Battle Between the Meincke’s and the Dolan’s
When the dust settled, Mary (Kelly) Meincke had to attend family business. Her Uncle, Patrick Dolan, had died in 1905 and named Mary as administratix in his will. So many things were lost during the earthquake and fire. Patrick’s probate had not been resolved before the earthquake and most official records had been destroyed.

Mary had the opportunity to refile the case. If Mary could produce enough evidence that the probate was in process before the earthquake, she would then be able to restart proceedings.

It turned out that Mary had enough documentation to satisfy officials. So in 1907, Patrick’s probate case was reopened. Mary began doing the tasks necessary for an administratix. One of those tasks was publishing certain information in newspapers.

Unbeknownst to Mary, relatives back in Boston who had not been heard from in years, got wind of this refiling. Since Patrick had lived in Boston for a few years, a public notice was published in a Boston newspaper. At any rate, these cousins seized the moment. Part way through proceedings, three cousins from Boston came forward–each claiming to be Patrick Dolan’s one and only true heir.

For the next seven years, the Dolan’s and Meincke’s battled it out. Each needing to provide proof of their claim. Lawyers worked on behalf of the Dolan’s, affadavits were filed, interviews were held, and mounds of paper created.

In 1916, a ruling was made. Mary (Dolan) Collis was born out of wedlock to Patrick’s sister, and thus, got nothing. Bridget (Coyne) Wall and her brother, Michael Wall, received the most money. While Mary (Kelly) Meincke, Matthew Meincke, and Catherine (Kelly) McSweegan received smaller shares. Curiously, there is no information as to why one side of the family got more money than the other. Even more curious is the fact that not everyone was represented. Their were Dolan cousins in the Bay Area who never came forward, nor did the Jones’ or Small’s.

Gertrude (Jones) Burke Becomes A Widow
While only the Pohley’s had a home to go to, most of my relatives came out of 1906 alive. This is remarkable since many of the woman were either pregnant or had children under the age of two to take care of. Gertrude (Jones) Burke was not so fortunate. In the early hours of April 18th, she and her husband lost contact. It’s uncertain if John Burke was even home on the fateful morning. Gertrude was left to fend for herself and her children. She most likely met up with family as I’m told they all stuck together.

But, when the dust settled and people returned to their lives, John Burke was nowhere to be found. The family searched for him everywhere. It was then that they discovered that John had perished in the earthquake. According to family, John always wore rings. When his body was found, he was stripped of his rings and his wallet. With no identification, John was buried quickly in a public burial plot. And so, while many of my relatives had to rebuild homes and possessions, Gertrude came out of 1906 a widow.

Researching where disaster strikes really becomes a challenge. These stories are all that remains of that era for my family. There are no photographs or family heirlooms. I’ve been very fortunated that these snippets remain. And, I must say a bit lucky. For instance, had Patrick Dolan’s probate not been lost in 1906 been refiled and disputed, I would not have known we had cousins still living in Boston after 1855! But, since this is only a small amount of what I would have learned had the earthquake not destroyed everything, it is small consolation for a genealogist!

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