San Mateo County Genealogical Society's Blog featuring society events, projects, meeting notes and other items of relevance to genealogists.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

SMCGS Databases: Water Rights Appropriations

These applications for the rights to previously unappropriated state water can include maps, protests of the appropriations and other treasures for those researching in the county.  They date from the 1870s to the 1950s and include applications by both individuals and companies (farms, land developers and water).

The records in the database are located in drawer 67 or in Water Rights Book #1, both in the County Record Repository.

Index to Water Appropriations

Index to Water Appropriations

Index to Water Appropriations

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

San Mateo County Places: City of San Mateo

DiseƱo del torreno [sic] de S. Mateo : [Calif.]
UC Berkeley - Bancroft Library
The Rancho San Mateo, which was comprised of the current Burlingame, Hillsborough and about half of the City of San Mateo was established in 1846 by a grant from Governor Pio Pico to Cayetano Arenas. Cayetano's father Luis sold the rancho to the American mercantile firm of Mellus & Howard with the unpredicibilities of the Bear Flag Revolt and the Mexican American War.

In 1849 Nicolas de Peyster moved into the abandoned outpost on San Mateo Creek, where sheep had earlier been grazed for San Francisco Mission.  He established a roadhouse, the first between San Francisco and San Jose.  A year later he moved the roadhouse to the other side of the creek into San Mateo House.  That structure stood until 1964.  In it's later years it served as a nurse's residence for the adjacent Mills Hospital.

View at San Mateo, San Mateo Co 
Lawrence & Houseworth, 1866 LOC Collections

With the coming of the railroad the area grew.  The first train went through San Mateo of 17 Oct 1863.  The line between San Francisco and San Mateo Was officially completed in 1864. Charles B Polhemus, main architect of the railroad, laid out a town and the population slowly grew.

However, San Mateo did not incorporate until 3 Sep 1894 when by a vote of 150 to 25 it officially became a town.  By then Crystal Springs Dam had been built, giving the area a secure source of water, and a  Fire Department had been established.

Official map of San Mateo County, California. Bromfield, D. (Davenport)
Schmidt Label & Litho. Co.  1894   LOC Collections
In 1902 San Mateo became the terminus of the San Francisco Street Car Line.  The earthquake of 1906 brought refugees down the peninsula and San Mateo along with the rest of the county grew.

City of San Mateo
San Mateo City Charter & Municipal Code
City of San Mateo Document Center
San Mateo Local History Collection - OAC (descriptions and online items)

You will find more information on the history of the City of San Mateo at:

More Maps

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

NARA: Criminal Case Files 1863-1917

Part I  
By Martha Wallace and Cath Trindle

When does a criminal case end up in Federal Court rather than a state court?  The answer is definitely not that it was more serious.  In fact a great number of the cases found in this record set are for such weighty crimes as not paying taxes on the sale of friction matches, not having a liquor license, or cutting trees on federal land for personal gain. The criteria for ending up in Federal Court is that the crime violated a federal law, therefore we find tax cases,  civil rights cases, admiralty cases and the like.

Take for example the selling of those friction matches without a tax stamp.  By the 1870's the friction matches that were manufactured in the United States were most often the type referred to as drunkard's matches, an improvement on parlor matches. Parlor matches combined white phosphorous, paraffin among other ingredients on wooden sticks that were generally left attached at the bottom.  Drunkard's matches were created when the bottom of the match was dipped in a non-flammable substance. An 1877 article in Popular Mechanics, Matches, by John A Garver A.B. describes the manufacture of matches in depth.

A tax on the sale of friction matches had been imposed by the Internal Revenue Act of 1864 (Sec 168) and amended in 1866.  (repealed by the Tarriff Act of 1883). The law required that a stamp be placed on each packet of matches that sold.  The cost was $1 for packages of up to 100 matches, and an additional $1 for each 100 matches or portion thereof.  There were generic stamps that could be used by anyone, and also proprietary stamps that were used by individual companies.  To put this tax into perspective, just those matches exported in 1879 brought in nearly $380,000 in tax revenue.  The article mentioned above also discusses the stamp tax and the effect it had on match manufacturing in the United States.

In November of 1877 James Schyler of Half Moon Bay was charged with possession of twelve (12) packages of matches for which the tax had not been paid. Half a year later the charges were dismissed against not only Schyler but against a number of others charged with the same crime.  But not everyone was so lucky.  William Olden, who had been manufacturing the matches, was sentenced to a fine of $500 or 30 days in the Alameda County Jail.  Those who pled guilty for the most part received a $100 fine or between 1 and 6 months in jail.  Some went to trial and were found not guilty, others found guilty received sentences similar to those who pled guilty.


In 1887 there were a number of indictments surrounding fraudulent public land surveys, against those who benefited by the surveys and those who swore to their authenticity. Towards the end of this record set there are a number of murders at sea with varying decisions and punishments.

With over 2000 case files, in 63 boxes and two docket books, this database just might provide some color for your family history.  Watch the SMCGS Blog for more on the Federal Criminal Court records at NARA.