If you have ancestors who lived where a major calamity struck, you know that the amount of resources available to you are limited. Such is the case of my San Francisco relatives who had the audacity to show up San Franciscan shores in the 1850s. Those that didn’t survive beyond the 1906 earthquake and fire and but a memory. The details of their lives lost for good.
How does a genealogist get around that lack of records? I have found that newspapers can be a great source of family history. They extend through the time and cover the gaps that official records miss.
On my quest to find the Dolan family, I came across the California Digital Newspaper Collection. They have the San Francisco Call, the Chronicle, and the Examiner for various years from 1849 to 1911 (not all newspapers are covered for every year). I did a few searches and was amazed to find some interesting things about my family. Not the Dolans, but the Meincke’s who owned a boarding house and saloon.
My relatives owned the Five Mile House, the Six Mile House, the Seven Mile House, and maybe the Eight Mile House on Mission Road which went between San Francisco and San Mateo. The miles marked off how far the boardinghouse was from San Francisco’s city center.
From the newspaper, I found that Mission Road (now Mission Street) must have been a rowdy, lawless stretch of land. Kidnappings, robberies, murders, and tragedies happened on a regular basis.
- On the 19th of May 1887, the Daily Alta California reported a tragedy near the Five Mile House. 2 year of Josie O’Dea ran out into the road and was run over the milk wagon. And wouldn’t you know it, it was a hit and run accident! The driver, Henry Langemann eventually turned himself in. Josie O’Dea died at the scene. Her family lived near the Five Mile House.
- On the 14th of September 1890, the Daily Alta California reported that August Huber had been arrested on charges of arson. He was trying to burn down the Five Mile House! Huber was neighbors to my relatives, Frederick and Mary (Kelly) Meincke. Evidentally, there was bad blood between the two and it wasn’t the first time Huber had tried to thwart the Meincke’s.
- On the 30th of September 1890, the Daily Alta California reported that Huber went to court. Although a bundled of oil soaked rags were found near the Five Mile House, the Judge threw out the case for lack of evidence.
- On the 23rd of April 1900, the San Francisco Call reported that a stabbing occurred near the Five Mile House. Andrew Flately, James Rowan, and William Wright got into a fight in the wee hours of the morning. Flately was knocked down and jumped by Rowan. Then Flately took out his pocketknife and stabbed him. Rowan was taken to the city hospital, treated, and sent home. Flately was arrested and charged with assault to murder.
- In the 19 Oct 1906 issue of the San Francisco Call a Francis Lewin stopped in at the Five Mile House at the saloon for a drink after his long drive from San Mateo County. Two men approached him claiming their were police officers. They shared a drink with Lewin then got him to agree to give him a ride in his wagon. Once on board, they beat him with a club. He fought back and eventually surrendered his purse with $35. But that’s not it, Lewin’s business partner didn’t believe the story. He challenged Lewin to call the police or he’d charge him with embezzlement. That’s where the story ended, so I guess I will never know! Perhaps my relatives watched Mr. Lewin in his wagon and wonders what he was up to.
Those are just a couple of the stories I found related to the happenings on Mission Road near the Five Mile House. I wonder about my relatives living there with all this stuff going on. Did they see it as every day stuff in the wild streets of San Francisco? Did they fear for their safety, keeping their children close to home? I’ll never know the answer, but I’ll sure spent alot of time thinking about it.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com