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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Lost Souls

Buried in Maine vital records (those between 1892 and 1955 are readily available on microfilm) are dozens of death records few genealogists consider. Lacking surnames, they are filed under "U" for "Unknown," and include some of the most disturbing cases of crime and misadventure the state has witnessed.

A large proportion of the records are of infanticides. The exact place of discovery was usually noted—often a river or seashore, a pasture or woods. Newborns were found in a box, "in a tin dinner pail," and in a "kettle in Back Bay." They were found in the bushes in Houlton, a snow bank in Portland.

Another large category of deaths includes travelers, transients, and tramps, who often found their end on the railroad tracks. A boy of about 17 years died in Clinton after "falling from MCRR train, while riding between freight cars." A tramp was killed in Berwick "by striking overhead bridge on B & M Railroad." Another died at Long Pond who was "Evidently stealing a ride." The death record of a man killed by the cars at Wells while "Attempting to board or alight from a moving train" is made more poignant by the notation that he was "by tools found in his pocket supposed a shoe laster."

Sometimes a first name is given. A man "Called John" died in Hermon of heart disease in 1901. The records of adult deaths are almost always for men, but there are a few women, the deaths of some filed here because their married names were unknown, though their given names and even their parents are noted. Both first and last names are given for nine bodies transferred from "P. M. S. to Bowdoin Medical School" in 1921. (Presumably "P. M. S." stands for Portland Medical School. Why these death records are filed here is unexplained.)

In the fall of 1920, sixteen woodsmen died when their motor boat caught fire crossing Chesuncook Lake. Seventeen others were saved. Of the dead—many of them Lithuanian immigrants—five found their way into the Unknown file, identified only as #1, #4, #14, #16, and #19.

An especially sad case is that of a 72-year-old man, thought to be a Maine native, who died at the National Soldier's Home (now the Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center) Nov. 18, 1916. One hopes that he found his way home.

Essential Books: Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century

Programs like Family Tree Maker and Personal Ancestral File are great for compiling data, but when the time comes to publish a family history, the reports such programs output don't always live up to the standards set by the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Those wanting to accurately emulate the "Register style" should seek out Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More, edited by Henry B. Hoff (Boston, MA : New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002).

Genealogical Writing is a slim volume, but full of good advice—whether you choose to stick with Register style or not. The book is especially important if you intend to submit an article for publication in any of the major genealogical journals, magazines, or websites. Brief extracts from each chapter follow:

Chapter 1: General Advice about Writing and Style

For the Register and compiled genealogies, dates should be written as day, month, year (12 August 2001). For all other NEHGS publications, dates should be written as month, day, year (August 12, 2001). [p. 3]
Chapter 2: Writing for the New England Historical and Genealogical Register and Other Genealogical Journals

The basic unit for presenting Register style is the family group. The earliest head of a family group is assigned the number 1. Following the given name, a superscripted number informs the reader how many generations from the immigrant this person is removed. His or her name is followed by a "lineage line" in italics, giving the name of each progenitor back to the immigrant — and sometimes earlier if known. [p. 16]
Chapter 3: Writing for New England Ancestors and Other Popular Genealogical Magazines

One of the best ways to get ideas for articles is to read or scan all the popular magazines and attend national conferences. You'll notice that there are only a few core topics in genealogy and most of them revolve around types of sources, methods for using sources, and research/problem-solving techniques. [p. 21]
Chapter 4: Writing for NewEnglandAncestors.org and Other Websites

Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, are the standard for print publishing. For electronic publishing, however, sans-serif fonts should be used. [p. 34]
Chapter 5: Writing Genealogical Books

If you plan to write a family genealogy, think about how far you will include female lines. Deciding to include these lines will mean many more surnames to research. Nevertheless, it may be the right choice if none of the family histories has been previously compiled or if you are dealing with a group of interrelated families. [p. 37]
Note: A nice addition to the text is the template for Microsoft Word provided by one of the book's contributors, Helen Schatvet Ullmann. A VHS companion lecture titled Genealogical Writing: Style Guidelines and Practical Advice is also available.

The West Wing: Pseudo-Fact or Fiction?

On NBC's The West Wing, President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet claims that his "great-grandfather's great-grandfather was Dr. Josiah Bartlett, who was the New Hampshire delegate to the second Continental Congress, the one that sat in session in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. . ." Setting aside the fictional status of Jed Bartlet, could this claim be true?

First question: Does Dr. Josiah Bartlett have any male descendants bearing the name "Bartlett" or "Bartlet"?

The seven volume Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, by Frederick Wallace Pyne (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, 1997-) is now the standard source for dealing with such questions. Volume One shows that Josiah and Mary (Bartlett) Bartlett of Kingston, N. H., had thirteen children, four of whom were sons, two of whom died without issue. Succeeding generations contained few male Bartletts who married and had children. Six male Bartletts had issue in the third generation, but only two in the fourth generation. According to Pyne, only one great-great-great-grandson of Josiah Bartlett bore the name "Bartlett." He was John Wilkinson Bartlett of Illinois, who died Oct. 5, 2001, in Aurora, Illinois, at age 85 years. His obituary from the Beacon News in Aurora reveals that he had two sons at the time of his death—Hugh and John, Jr.—who are apparently the only Bartletts who can claim that their "great-grandfather's great-grandfather was Dr. Josiah Bartlett."

Second question: Why does The West Wing's Jed Bartlet spell his name with one "t", while his famous ancestor spelled it with two?

The one "t" spelling may have been common once, before the masses became literate and spellings standardized, but it is rarely found today. The Social Security Death Index lists 14,489 individuals named "Bartlett," but only 25 named "Bartlet." According to the U. S. Census Bureau, "Bartlett" was the 693rd most common surname in 1990; "Bartlet" ranked 58,594th. None of the known descendants of Dr. Josiah Bartlett used the latter spelling.

Is Death Contagious?

From the Maine Farmer of Oct. 30, 1841:

A Singular Death — Mr Henry Coolidge of Framingham, a very worthy young man, died on Saturday last, in consequence, as his physicians suppose, of poison communicated to his blood by a razor with which he shaved himself soon after he had shaved the face of his deceased father.

The father was a patriot of the revolution, a pensioner, and advanced beyond the age of eighty, and in shaving the face of the corpse the razor drew a little blood. The son, without wiping the razor, made use of it to shave his own face, on which he also drew blood, and he made use of the same lather and brush which he had used on the corpse. Soon after his face became much swollen and he gradually grew worse for about two days, being much of that time in great torture, till he died.

It is certainly possible, and it seems probable, that a particle of the putrid matter from the face of the corpse was communicated to the blood of the living, and that it operated with as much malignity as the virus by which the small pox is propagated. — [copied from] Mass. Ploughman

Billionaire Ready to Draw Blood

From the Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune of May 25, 2005:

Buffetts: Friends or family?
The billionaire and the singer may have to take DNA test to find the answer

By Ethan Smith
The Wall Street Journal

'Uncle' Warren
'Cousin' Jimmy
Billionaire financier
Renowned island troubadour

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and musician Jimmy Buffett share a 20-year friendship. They talk on the phone regularly about business.

Warren Buffett's sister Doris Buffett, an amateur genealogist, is considering DNA testing to establish a conclusive genetic link.

[snip]

Besides sharing a surname, the two men have long suspected that they also share a common genetic history. "Warren leaves messages for 'Cousin Jimmy' and always has," says the singing Buffett, 58. "I'll take it from him." The singer calls the financier "Uncle Warren."

No one knows for sure. The two are only now coming to the end of a two-decade process of determining how or whether they are actually related.

The attempt to link the two strains of Buffettmania has been spearheaded by Doris Buffett, Warren's 77-year-old sister. "I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to connect up the two families," says Doris. Despite years of research, she has been unable to establish a conclusive link. She says she is considering DNA testing to make a certain determination.

[Read the whole story]
Her next task: Track down Cousin Jimmy's lost shaker of salt.

Essential Sites: American Memory

It's sometimes easy to forget that we family historians are historians. As historians, we're required sometimes to look beyond the names and dates in our GEDCOMs and place the knowledge we've gained in context. That a great-great uncle drowned in the mill stream in 1897 is interesting enough, but the diligent researcher will look further. Was there a freshet that day? Was he suicidal? Context may be found in local newspapers, town and county histories, and—especially for events or trends of national significance—at American Memory.

A project of the Library of Congress, American Memory features collections of books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, films, sound recordings, and more. Need a map of the Battle of Chancellorsville? Or architectural drawings of a Nebraskan sod house? How about one of 2,300 narratives of ex-slaves?

The map collections at American Memory include digitized works from every age of American history, and every corner of the country. Most large cities and many large towns are represented, often by multiple maps drawn over a span of decades.

Photographs in the collections range from the earliest daguerreotypes to Ansel Adams' photographs of Japanese-American internees. Those looking for pictures to complement the text of a family history—whether yours is a family of fishermen, lumberjacks, or prairie farmers—would do well to search here first.

A personal favorite: Words and Deeds in American History, a collection of 90 digitized documents which tell the tale of our nation through the words of an eclectic group of Americans.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Return of the Jedi GEDCOM

The good folks at German Roots have provided an updated genealogy of Luke Skywalker.

The Soundex Code for "Skywalker" is S426.

A search of the Social Security Administration's Popular Baby Names database shows that "Leia" was the 910th most popular name for girls born in 1978—the year after the original Star Wars movie was released. "Luke" has been rising in rank for decades. "Obi-wan" has never reached the top 1,000.

Ancestry.com asks "Is it possible 'The Force' may be in your bloodline as well?" Those anxious to find an online midi-chlorian-detection service will be disappointed to discover this is just a marketing ploy. Users can check to see if their surnames appear in the family trees of Star Wars actors, and then sign up for more info. The site promises only that you "might be related" to one of these actors—an important qualification, given that sharing a surname is no guarantee of common ancestry. (Those tempted by the offer of a 14-day free trial membership should be forewarned of the company's automatic renewal policy. Beware: the Empire grows stronger every day.)

Another Reason Not to Dig There

From the Decatur (Ala.) Daily of May 29, 2005 (Steve Stewart byline):

Cemetery with sewer

More than bodies are buried at the Athens City Cemetery.

John Stockton, head of the Water and Wastewater departments, said there is a sewer line under the graves that date to the 1800s.

"We've gotten flashlights and looked in the manholes and can't see the bottom," John said. "I have no idea how long that line has been there or why it was put there."

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Do Sesquicentenarians Really Exist?

The search engine of HeritageQuest Online allows one to search for heads of household by age range for the 1860-1930 censuses. This seems a useful but unremarkable feature, until one notices that the range of possible ages extends to "141-150." A search using just this parameter produces a list of fourteen individuals above the age of 140, four of whom had reached the 150 year mark.

Of course, none of these people ever approached 140 years. Most of the entries are the result of indexing errors, probably due to a slip of the finger while typing. Ruth Frederickson, living in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, in 1910, was 15, not 145. In other cases, the age was simply difficult to read. John Robbins of Madison, Ohio, appears to have been 150 years old in 1920, but the second digit is uncertain. A check of previous censuses shows that his true age was probably 100.

In some cases, the indexed age is correctly transcribed. Demetria Medina y Calderón de Allende of Párajos, Puerto Rico, is clearly shown to be 150 years of age in 1920, but was 80 years of age in 1910. Charles Smith—a resident of Egg Harbor, N. J.—was 143 in 1920, but a far more reasonable 34 in 1910. Here the errors lie, not with the indexer, but with the enumerator. It was perhaps the enumerator of Ward 4 in Worcester, Mass., who added additional marks to the ages of several individuals in 1870—in one case, making Joseph Reidel 331 years old, and his wife Alice 291.


The lesson: Be aware of the limitations of both censuses and census indexes.

The bronze medal in genealogy goes to. . .

From The (Raleigh, N. C.) News & Observer of May 29, 2005:

Man gets medal for ancestor's Civil War service and death

The Associated Press

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Alexander Eaves of Guyandotte was 29 when he died in a Confederate prison in Salisbury, N.C., six months after his capture during the Battle of Kernstown-Winchester, Va., on July 24, 1864.

Eaves had also seen action at Hurricane Bridge, Point Pleasant, New River Bridge and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Eaves' commanding officer, future president Rutherford B. Hayes, wrote to Eaves' wife that the 13th Regiment of the West Virginia Volunteer Infantry "behaved splendidly" and were "worthy of special commendation."

But it took 140 years for his family to get that commendation.

[snip]

[Cordell] Adkins, 64, proved his connection to Eaves by researching military, census, birth and death records. He discovered he is a great-great-grandson of Thomas M. Eaves, Alexander Eaves' brother.

He received his ancestor's medal in Charleston on Jan. 29.

[Read the whole story]
Since when is a great-great-uncle an ancestor? Close enough for government work, I guess. To claim your own medal (4,000 are still available), visit the West Virginia State Archives website.

Leave Only Flowers, Take Only Pictures

The recent case of a photographer "cleaning" gravestones with a powered wire brush brings to mind a gentleman in my own area, whose name I'll not mention.

This fellow was an ardent genealogist, and known for the energy he brought to all his pursuits. He found in a neighboring town a small cemetery which was home to one of his ancestral families. The graveyard was located on the bank of a small river and, when a dam raised the water level in the mid-1800s, had been closed to new burials. Consequently, a few members of the family were buried in a hilltop cemetery nearby.

Our subject viewed this as a travesty, and set about reuniting the clan. He gained permission to excavate the graves of the displaced family members, placed their bones (after careful inspection) in new coffins, and moved them to the riverside yard.

The same man chiseled new information onto some gravestones, removed one stone to a different cemetery without moving the grave's occupant, and in one case replaced a gravestone and (apparently) discarded the old.

On this Memorial Day weekend, it might be worthwhile to consider the value of cemeteries—not only as sacred places of rest, but as archives. Gravestones are documents, and should be treated as carefully as your great-grandfather's birth certificate, or your immigrant ancestor's passport. For tips on proper treatment of gravestones, see The Association for Gravestone Studies: FAQ.

Get 'em while they last

Seen on eBay:

I See Dead People Genealogy T-Shirt XL



This t-shirt is for the genealogy nut. On the front is a graveyard and the words "I see dead people" ON BACK is a tree with the words 'genealogist' written across in large letters.

I have more of these shirts, so let me know if you need more than one. I think I have about eight of them left.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Genographic Project

So, you've traced your lineage back twenty or thirty generations, tracked down every available fact and rumor about your ancestors, and exhausted the archives of five countries. Think you're done?

National Geographic, IBM, and others, have launched the Genographic Project, aimed at tracking the spread of homo sapiens around the globe—and are inviting you to participate. With $99 and a cheek swab, you can follow the travels of your DNA through the millennia. Each male participant will have his direct paternal line traced, and each woman her maternal line.

This is not the same DNA analysis done by Family Tree DNA and other companies, and won't tell you how you're related to others who share your surname. It will tell you with what ethnic populations you share genetic markers, which may lead to interesting new genealogical possibilities.

Before signing up, be sure to consult the privacy FAQs, and investigate the controversies (also here) surrounding the project.

Aussie Loses His Heir

From the (Victoria, Australia) Herald Sun:

Loner's $1m up for grabs
By TONY RINDFLEISCH
29may05

A $1.2 million fortune is up for grabs as a result of the death of a Brighton recluse.

State Trustees have been searching for months for beneficiaries to the estate of William Overall, 76, who died last June without making a will.

Mr Overall never married and had no children. And the man who is the missing link in his life -- his uncle Percy Marsh -- has not been heard of for 75 years.

Mr Marsh was believed to have once lived in Mr Overall's house in Dendy St, Brighton, but no records have been found of him since 1930.

Mr Marsh, who would be 103 if still alive, is the sole beneficiary.

If Mr Marsh is dead, his children would be entitled to a share of Mr Overall's estate.

But State Trustees genealogy services manager, Rob Skilbeck, said searches of death, marriage and birth records in every Australian state had failed to uncover any information about Mr Marsh.

State Trustees had also searched war records, migration registers, cemetery and obituary documents.

[snip]

[Overall's] run-down weatherboard house sold at auction for $1.2 million in February.

Anyone with information about Mr Marsh is asked to phone State Trustees on 9667 6771.

[Read the whole story]
Note to self . . . invest in run-down Australian real estate.

Friday, May 27, 2005

In Praise of Errors

Several years ago, two articles appeared in the NGS Quarterly giving "Praise for Census Errors."1 The praise was for those errors of inclusion census enumerators made while filling out their schedules, including more information than their job required—like recording town of birth, instead of just the state or country; or, in the 1900 census, giving the full date of birth, instead of just the month and year. The author listed several examples of the errors; below are a few more I've run across over the years:


Full date of birth given:
1900 Bridgton, Cumberland Co., Me.
1900 Hallowell, Kennebec Co., Me. (1st and 2nd Wards)
1900 Lynn, Essex Co., Mass. (part of 6th Ward)
1900 Fond du Lac, Fond du Lac Co., Wisc. (part of 3rd Ward)

Town of birth given:
1860 Harrison, Cumberland Co., Me.
1860 Otisfield, Cumberland Co., Me.
1860 Waterford, Oxford Co., Me.
1860 Boston, Suffolk Co., Mass. (1st Ward)
1870 Standish, Cumberland Co., Me.
1880 Portland, Cumberland Co., Me. (part)
Note:
1Alycon Trubey Pierce, "In Praise of Errors Made by Census Enumerators," National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) 81:51-55 (Mar. 1993); "Update: More Praise for Census 'Errors'," NGSQ 82:216-20 (Sept. 1994).

The Truth Hurts

From the UK National Archives:

Census reveals the gossip columnist from 1861
19 May 2005

In vividly describing his neighbours as “bastards”, “prostitutes” and “syphilitic paupers” in the census, Isaac Norris Hunt could almost be depicted as the 1861 version of a gossip columnist.

A data collector for Stow-on-the-World in the 1861 national census, Mr Hunt took a rather overzealous approach into his task of collating information on his fellow Cheltenham residents.

Along with the vigorous observations of I.N Hunt, The National Archives has unveiled the complete name, birthplace and occupation of residents across all 52 counties of England and Wales in 1861. You can trace the lives of ancestors through the five consecutive censuses.

A railway manager by profession, Mr Hunt took the opportunity to add some highly personal remarks when entering the occupation of his neighbours:
* Several are listed as prostitutes including Emma Cook aged 19 and the 64-year old Mary Newman
* Eliza Williams is said to be ‘kept’ by her ‘paramour’ William Clapton
* The unfortunate Hannah Cokey is described as a ‘pauper, syphilitic’
* William Shall was an ‘absconding bankrupt’
* Elizabeth Wixey ‘cohabits with a man’
* and the two young sons of the ‘very doubtful’ Lavinia Collicott are described rather bluntly as ‘bastards’.
Unsurprisingly, Isaac Hunt does not appear to have undertaken the role of enumerator in any of the later censuses, which are now held at The National Archives.

Dowsing for the Dead

From McCook Daily Express:

Dowsing for the Dead -- Genealogist searches out of respect for sacrifices of the pioneers
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Connie Jo Discoe

He doesn't know why it works. He just knows it does. It's not witchcraft. It's not black magic, or "the work of the devil."

He does it with respect, out of respect for those who have gone on before him ... those who are lying in graves unmarked for one reason or another.

Tom Corey of McCook "dowses" for graves because of his interest in genealogy and history, and because of his respect for the lives and sacrifices of his ancestors.

[snip]
He had me until. . .
The motion of the rods held straight up and down over the grave will indicate male or female, adult, adolescent or baby. . .

[Read the whole story]

You have a friend (an ancestor?) in Jesus

It's not surprising that 101 individuals have posted the ancestry of Jesus to the WorldConnect Project. After all, the authors of the Gospels themselves showed interest in his genealogy. Matthew traced Christ's lineage (through his step-father Joseph) from Abraham; and Luke traced it all the way back to Adam.

What is surprising is how many individuals have posted information on the progeny of Jesus. Entering the names of "Jesus Christ" and spouse "Mary" into the search engine, and checking the box next to "Has Descendants," brings up 18 databases, some of which claim to show living descendants of the couple.

The common source seems to be Bloodline of the Holy Grail: The Hidden Lineage of Jesus Revealed, by Laurence Gardner. Disclaimer: I've never read it, or The Da Vinci Code (nor do I intend to). The apparent gist: All/most/some of Europe's royal families descend from Jesus and Mary Magdalene, so anyone who can prove his descent from these royals can extend his family tree back to Adam.

It has always baffled me why so many genealogists are anxious to prove their descent from royalty—so anxious that they'll accept any specious theory as true. Gustave Anjou didn't say "There's a sucker born every minute," but he should have.

(For more Biblical fun, try searching for "Adam," wife "Eve," father "God.")

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Dark Side of Genealogy

From Science Daily:

Experts: Genealogy can be traumatic

LONDON, April 24 (UPI) -- British Genealogists say that researching family history can be traumatic, uncovering secrets like bigamy, adoption and crime.

The Society of Genealogists and other organizations suggest that in some cases counseling or psychotherapy may be needed, the Sunday London Telegraph reports.

"Burying secrets causes problems, and you have to be incredibly sensitive when dealing with such issues," Else Churchill, a genealogy officer at the society, told the newspaper.

One woman, who did not want her name used, started her research by getting her own birth certificate and discovered that the man she thought was an uncle was her father and her cousins were actually half-siblings.

[snip]

But there is another side to it. A survey last year by a genealogy Website found that 10 percent of those doing research are hoping to find a bad apple or two on the family tree.

[Read the whole story]
So long as they're on the upper branches. . .

Jobs for Genealogists

From the Northwest Indiana News, 25 May 2005:

An urn containing the cremated remains of Mathias Perner was unearthed earlier this month in Portage during excavation work on a new residential development, which was formerly a nudist colony. Officials called on local investigators and genealogists to find out about the man. They learned the former machinist died in 1937 in Cook County. A local minister presided over a short ceremony Tuesday at Blake Cemetery in Portage.

Indispensable Resources

There are none.

Or rather, there are too many to list. When researching my Finnish ancestors, I couldn't do without the Institute of Migration, and the Genealogical Society of Finland's Hiski Project. When studying my Maine ancestors, there was no better resource than the Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire. And for the earliest immigrants to New England, the Great Migration series was indispensable.

Any of the census subscription services will prove invaluable, so long as one's ancestors arrived before 1930. Ellis Island passenger lists (a better search engine is here) are useful for some, a frustrating waste of time for others.

The LDS website, FamilySearch, is perhaps the best free collection of resources on the Web. Rootsweb.com is an eclectic, amazing set of user-contributed databases—the phrase "user-contributed" meant to imply "buyer beware."

Indispensable? None of those I've listed truly is. No two family trees are exactly alike, and the many branches of a given tree might each require a different set of resources. Likewise, no two genealogists will possess or need exactly the same set of skills. A basic knowledge of Finnish terms (for birth, death, son, daughter, etc.) and patronymics are kept handy in my toolbox, together with the books and websites mentioned above. What's kept in yours?

Friday, May 20, 2005

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You have been warned.

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