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Steve Hansen: Discovering just how small the world really is

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I’m not from Lodi and didn’t grow up here. As far as I was concerned, no relative existed in this Valley town. At least that’s what I thought until I read the recent obituary of long-time resident, Howard Mason.

I knew he went to local schools. Needham Elementary and Lodi Union High School were among them.

Mason had a long local career in California agriculture. He managed the Nash De Camp operation. He served on the board of directors of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association and held the offices of vice president and president. Among other important agricultural activities, he also served on the California Table Grape Commission and was a manager at the M & R Packing Co.

I first met Howard at my wife’s Lodi High School reunion in 1986. They were both graduates of the same class, but did not know each other beyond names.

During our conversation, Mason mentioned he thought we had the same great-great-grandfather. I wasn’t sure how he came to that conclusion and was not aware of any connection to my family. But he did know the name of our assumed common ancestor.

I asked my sister, who was the most familiar with our family tree. She claimed she did not know Mason, and the story was soon forgotten.

But then, 27 years later, the obituary for Howard Herschel Mason Jr. appeared in the Lodi News-Sentinel. The last paragraph caught my eye. It stated he would be buried in the Groveland cemetery. Groveland?

That caught my curiosity. Why would someone who had spent his life in Lodi want to be buried in the same foothill town were many of my relatives settled well over 100 years ago?

So I began to research the situation. I won’t bore you with the details, but it turns out that Mason was related to me via Louis Cassaretto of Groveland and Lena Bruschi of Coulterville and Groveland. Apparently, we did have the same great-great-grandfather!

Mason had a strong interest in early California history and wrote a detailed piece about our relative in common, Francisco Bruschi (pronounced Bruce-key). The pioneer was born in Italy and came to New York in 1846. Bruschi headed west in 1852 with a friend, Jacob Laveroni, and walked across the Isthmus of Panama. Like many Californians of his time, Bruschi got into the gold mining business. But he was also one step ahead of most by opening a store and serving those who hoped to strike it rich. Of course, most never did. He also raised horses, mules and cattle.

As with many in those days, the Italian immigrant was a jack of many trades. Mason wrote that Bruschi was also the local banker and held gold dust for numerous miners in preparation for shipping to the mint.

Francisco Bruschi died in 1893 and was buried in the Coulterville cemetery. His son, Virgil, was a pioneer in his own right. Among many ventures, he became a San Diego city councilman during the 1920s.

So, what does this all mean? Well, even in a town where one is presumed to be an outsider, it can be a surprising twist as to who might be standing next to you in an unfamiliar crowd.

Maybe it’s an adopted child, a disowned uncle from a forgotten feud, or perhaps even a long-lost cousin like Lodi’s Howard Mason.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.