One of the most exciting things to come out of the California Family History Expo was a discovery I made once I got home from it. While at the Expo I got to meet Kathryn Doyle of the California Genealogical Society and got a copy of their publication A Most Dreadful Earthquake. I'm very excited to start reading the book because it centers around San Francisco right after the 1906 quake from the perspective of a woman living through the chaos. I knew the story of my great-grandmother's family and their experiences during and after the quake but until the other day I thought that was the extent of my personal connection to the quake.
Then I showed the book to my mother and as she was perusing it she dropped a bombshell. I mentioned great-grandma and what had happened with her family when my mother casually added "well, you know about the violin story also, right?" WHAAA?! I immediately quizzed her because it was like she was speaking a foreign language it such a shock.
She went on to tell me about my great-grandfather, Gideon G. Berger and how he was in San Francisco at the time. I never knew he ever lived in San Francisco, none of the records showed it and as far as I knew he was strictly an Oakland boy until he became a minister and left the Bay Area. But him being in San Francisco at the time explains so much, like why he had a collection of photos of the city right after the earthquake and why there are pictures of him from the same time frame at various addresses that I Googled and found to be San Francisco locations.
The story goes that he was living in the city at the time and after the quake was wandering around the rubble when an older gentleman came up to him. The man was starving and hadn't eaten in days but he was a musician and had a Stradivarius he was willing to sell for $10. My great-grandfather managed to get the money and bought the violin.
Now it is very romantic to believe that it was a Stradivarius. I have no idea if it is or not (I doubt highly that it is), but I do know the violin does exist, in fact, I've seen it. It sits in my grandmother's living room. I even held it but never examined the instrument closely because of how fragile it is. I've even asked her about it. Unfortunately, when I did it was after I had quizzed her on many other family heirlooms and stories and she was clearly getting tired. By the time we got to the violin, I was getting three or four word answers and knew it was time to stop. All she said was "it belonged to [her] daddy" before looking for a chair to sit down. I can see now that I'll need to ask her about it again (as well as examine the violin for any maker's mark or names).
The story needs more investigation but at present I have no reason to doubt the basic points of the story. I have to thank Kathryn and the Society for giving me the book that inspired this wonderful new piece of my family history. It was so exciting to learn and made me realize that even when you think you've exhausted a resource (in this case my living relatives) they could still surprise you.