My sister and brother-in-law have become interested in geneaology in recent years, finding all sorts of long-lost tidbits about our respective families — tidbits that are all the more interesting because my sister married her childhood sweetheart, who hails from a family I’ve known since I was three years old. Long story.
Anyway, I learned a while ago that my great-great-great uncle, Dr. Arnold A. D’Ancona, served on the San Francisco Board of Education in post-earthquake San Francisco (prior to that, he was dean of UCSF’s medical school). Dr. D’Ancona is pictured above, and below with my late grandmother around 1925 (she’s the little girl wearing roller skates; he’s the gentleman with the white hair):
Dr. D’Ancona served as President of the Board of Education in 1913, and presided over the dedication of Lowell High School when it moved into a new building at Hayes and Masonic that year (the structure now houses the John Adams campus of City College). Sadly, Dr. D’Ancona presided over a Board that restricted Chinese students to only one school, and had recently stated (in 1896) that its desire was that “Chinese or Japanese not be employed in or about the school buildings.” I have to hope he was opposed to these and other similarly racist policies but I haven’t done enough research to know.
Next: I’m still trying to verify this, but family lore says that a few years later, in 1921, my great-grandfather on the other side, C.H. Snyder, was a civil engineer who helped build the lovely building at 135 Van Ness Ave –the building we hope will someday soon house the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. (Great-grandfather Snyder also served as the civil engineer for our current City Hall, which rose from the ashes of post-earthquake San Francisco in 1915). It also turns out that Bert W. Levit, who served on the SFUSD Board from 1948 to 1958, is related by marriage to my brother-in-law. Later, Mr. Levit served as the first Finance Director for the state of California under Gov. Edmund G. Brown, the father of our once and future Governor, Jerry.
All of which is to say that history is always, if you dig deeply enough, personal. The joke about geneaology is that people always seem to find a connection to famous historical figures (who among us isn’t related to Cleopatra by marriage?) Still, it’s surprisingly moving to me that my connection to San Francisco and its schools is deeper than even I thought.
If you dig into your family’s historical roots, what connections to your current life will you find?
My kids are the first San Francisco natives. I’m a New England native. My father came to the US from India in 1959. Both my parents are India natives.
I was born in Maine the day before civil rights was passed. I’m a child of immigrants. I’m the “other” as it were. My dad came here as a scientist. He ended up at Cornell to get his PhD as a Civil Engineer. Then taught in University of Maine. He was sponsored by the University right as I was born. After he died, I found a letter he wrote asking what would happen to his baby (me) if he couldn’t stay (because pre civil rights there were color quotas).
Anchor babies are a myth. The parents of babies born in this country can’t stay. Nor can the babies. The letter told us that I could come back when I was 18. However. after civil rights, the color quota was lifted. University of Maine sponsored my dad as a professor. Some years later he moved to Worcester. Where I grew up.
And if one wonders? This is why I find math so important and was so distressed by how the SFUSD implemented the sequence. Engineering is what kept us here. I’m an engineer as are my siblings. My kids strength is this. I found my work around. And my daughter is thriving in Geometry in 9th grade.
You are not a Real San Franciscan! 🙂