GT sits down with 2010 Historian of the Year Marion Pokriots
When I meet 2010 Santa Cruz Historian of the Year Marion Pokriots at her Scotts Valley home, where she’s lived since moving to the area in the 1950s, I find the dining room table stacked with volumes chronicling her own rich history. The books she’s authored, including “Some Early Santa Cruz Families: 1797-1847,” “The Joseph Majors Story,” “The Hitchcock-Patterson Saga” and the most recent, titled “Remembering Scotts Valley,” are piled alongside research projects or booklets she “just puts together” like one about Mount Carmel Cemetery and a scrapbook of press clippings by and about her from over the years.
We sift through the materials, journeying through her extensive adventures deciphering Santa Cruz County history, arriving at a thick packet of research on David Morrill Locke—a New Hampshire man who made his fortunes selling water to California gold miners and used it to settle on 1,100 acres in Scotts Valley. The project was for a Santa Cruz County history class she took in 1984 at Cabrillo College taught by esteemed local “history dude” Sandy Lydon. Her foray into the legacy of Locke launched her into an endless exploration of other notable Santa Cruzans from years past.
“That [project] really was my initiation into historical research and it was such fun I just continued,” she says. “One thing would lead to another.” Locke steered her to the Bolcoffs, then to the Majors and eventually to the Castros—all prominent early Santa Cruz families—which then sparked her fascination with the Californios and the families who lived here before it was part of the United States of America.
This volume of accomplishments, as well as her involvement with local history organizations, has won Pokriots the title of 2010 Historian of the Year through the Museum of Art and History. Notably, she has been a member of the Santa Cruz Genealogy Society since the 1970s and of Researchers Anonymous, a group of local historians, since it was founded more than 15 years ago.
Pokriots was interested in genealogy long before she took Lydon’s class and got hooked on local history, having inherited a hankering for family lineages from her mother, who took up the habit after her father passed away. “My father would always say, ‘Marion, don’t ever get into genealogy,’” Pokriots remembers, laughing. “That was because she got really into it and he was just left alone.
“Once you get into it, you are just really addicted to it,” she continues; now speaking from her own experience. “You have to find out what happened—who and what date. It becomes a hobby you can’t let go [of]. There’s always something to do, something to find. It never ends.”
This ensnaring hobby became a career for Pokriots over the years (“I don’t have any letters after my name, but I do it as a profession,” she quips), and she is still for hire to do family genealogies as well as property histories. “I like doing property histories because you never know who might have owned that land,” she says. Even an old building can impart knowledge of generations of people with stories worth knowing—and it’s the families, and the individuals within them, that she finds most fascinating. “People and their relationships are just … wow,” says Pokriots. “So I don’t really read novels anymore. This is more exciting than anything in a novel.”
But genealogies aren’t just full of colorful characters and timeless family drama—they’re key pieces of a larger historical tale, but perhaps (and most excitedly, for Pokriots) the kind “they didn’t teach in high school and college.”
“I learn so much history by delving into families,” says Pokriots.
All the talk of family histories got me thinking about my own and how little I really knew. Her genuine interest shining through, Pokriots asked about my family names and the nations of my ancestors. And before I knew it, she was helping me fill out my own genealogy chart.
Do you ever feel like a detective? I ask. “Oh, definitely,” she says. “It’s more fun than being a detective, I think, because there are no criminals involved … well, hopefully.”