Shawn Mainville’s handlebar mustache lent him 19th-century style as he toured the California State Archives on Saturday, soaking up information about how his ancestors lived in Sacramento over the past 160 years.
It was a look that his great-great-great-great-grandfather might have worn when he first arrived in town back in 1856.
“We have a long history in Sacramento, and I’ve been cut off from it,” said Mainville, who has been piecing together missing links in his family history recently.
He took his search for family records to the archives this weekend, where he joined hundreds of other visitors in an annual event that brings state history to life with new research and hands-on exhibits.
The so-called Archives Crawl opens the doors of four downtown museums and libraries, where different history groups present their latest findings and children are challenged to learn about key figures from the state’s past.
Some of the visitors came to watch “The Sacramento Picture,” a 2015 film by Matías Bombal that shows Sacramento’s development since 1910. Bombal shows the film only occasionally.
On Saturday, the movie delighted residents who remember the early days of Fairytale Town and surprised viewers who may have forgotten about contentious decisions to raze neighborhoods for redevelopment in the 1950s and ’60s.
“People had just as wide a variety of opinions as they do now. Some people wanted to preserve it; others wanted to tear it all down,” Bombal said.
Many of the crawl’s exhibits this year focused on classic California water wars, or booze.
Both agriculture and liquor fit the crawl’s theme of “A Thirst for History.”
One piece showed a bottle of whiskey made especially for now-Gov. Jerry Brown. It was bottled and labeled for him when he was secretary of state in the early 1970s.
Another looked at a late 19th-century business called the Natoma Vineyard Co. It turned to agriculture after making a killing by selling water from the American River in the Gold Rush. Prohibition led to its downfall.
“Water is always an issue in California,” said Jacob Mackey of the Folsom History Museum, who created the vineyard exhibit.
Sacramento’s Lavender Library Archives and Cultural Exchange looked to recent news when its members contemplated the crawl’s theme, choosing to map Sacramento’s lesbian and gay bars back to the 1950s.
Their project paid homage to the recent designation of the Stonewall in New York as a national monument, and it acknowledged the hurt their members felt after the June attack that killed 49 people at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.
It was a popular piece, with many people stopping by to ask questions about long-closed bars and to pick up books offered by the library.
“Orlando brings it all back,” said Sam Skow, Lavender Library archivist. “This is not far removed” from when bars were some of the only safe places for gays and lesbians to be together openly, Skow said.
Mainville and his 8-year-old daughter, Violette, toured the exhibits and watched Bombal’s movie. She wore a 19th-century-style dress, an outfit that matches some of her father’s historic clothes. He occasionally wears the uniform of a 19th-century California cavalry troop. One of his ancestors served in that unit about 130 years ago.
He said he’s thinking of more ways he might use the different kinds of records he can dig up at the archives for new projects of his own.
“This is a great opportunity to have everyone in one place,” Mainville said.