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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Genealogy Works on Stubborn Stains

From the Medfield (Mass.) Press:

Soiled name restored for Stain
By Amanda J. Mantone/ Staff Writer
Thursday, June 30, 2005

One of Medfield's most famed criminals is getting a long-due redemption.

David Leighton Stain, wrongly convicted of murder and then shunned the rest of his life because of it, lies in an unmarked grave in Vine Lake Cemetery. Next week, he'll get a headstone for the first time since his death in 1915, thanks to a long-lost descendant who became unexpectedly entwined in his story while mapping her genealogy.

"It really started when I had my own child. As I was trying to fill in my son's baby book, I asked my mother what her grandfather's name was, and she didn't know," said Rhoda Boutin, a Pittsburgh native who now lives in Florida. "I was president of a small neighborhood women's club, and one day we had a genealogy specialist to a lunch meeting. She came to talk to us about how to research our roots, and that kind of sparked me."

That was five years ago. She could barely use a computer, but by typing the only thing she knew about her grandfather, his last name - Stain - into www.ancestry.com, she hit upon a murder trial from 1888, Stain and Cromwell v. the State of Maine.

"I said to myself, 'hmm, my grandmother must have had some relatives that got in trouble,'" said Boutin.

She traced the case to a magazine article from the 1890's, where she read about an unknown chapter of her family's past: David Stain, her great-grandfather and a longtime Medfield resident, and his son-in-law Oliver Cromwell, were charged with a murder in Maine in 1887, for which they were later pardoned and released from prison in 1901. Armed with that basic information, Boutin called Medfield Town Clerk Carol Mayer to help trace the family.

[snip]

Stain was released when his son Charlie, later thought to be mentally ill, confessed that he had lied about Stain's involvement while testifying, spilling the scoop to a sensationalist New York newspaper reporter that wined and dined him in exchange for the story. Barron's death was never resolved.

[snip]

On Thursday, July 7 Rhoda and her husband Mike will unveil the long-awaited gravestone, next to the stone that marks Stain's wife's grave in Vine Lake Cemetery. It's cut in the same style as other markers from that period in the cemetery, and sits shaded by a tree on a hill overlooking route 109. It reads simply, "David Leighton Stain, born Jan. 20, 1830, died July 7, 1915. An innocent shoemaker."

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Leave Genealogy Out of It

A recent court case in New Jersey concerning same-sex marriage may not at first blush seem relevant to genealogy, but one citation should draw genealogists into the discussion.

In his concurring opinion, Judge Anthony J. Parillo cites Daniel Cere, the Director of the Institute for the Study of Marriage, Law, and Culture at McGill University, who argues for "the rich genealogical nature of heterosexual family ties." Setting aside the more contentious issues, is the implication of this phrase true? Do the children of heterosexual couples have a genealogical advantage?

One can certainly argue that same-sex marriage makes genealogy more complicated. Numbering systems and GEDCOM formats presuppose heterosexual marriages—try to enter a same-sex marriage into your favorite genealogy database program, and you'll likely earn a stern rebuke from the software. Of course, there have been other biases in these programs that have required modifications or work-arounds in the past, including biases toward the Western ordering of names (not all cultures place the surname last) and patrilineal descent.

Genealogy is, technically, the study of one's genetic descent—tracing one's genes from their sources. The child of a same-sex couple cannot trace her genetic descent through both parents. The same can be said of adopted children, step-children, and children conceived through donor-contributed sperm or eggs. All of these children are at a genealogical disadvantage, but only if we consider it advantageous to have regular contact with the people who share genes with us (an odd notion, I think).

In the real world, people are just as interested in their family history as in their genetic history. This is especially true when speaking of the recent generations of one's family. If I were adopted, I might want to trace the roots only of my adoptive parents. But if my great-grandfather's great-grandfather were adopted, I might want to trace only his birth family.

If we consider genealogy in the loose sense of "family history," a child need not be penalized for illegitimacy, adoption, or the sexes of her parents. As to the question whether "heterosexual family ties" possess a richer "genealogical nature" than those of same-sex couples, we must ask why having two patrilineal or two matrilineal lines is any less interesting than having one of each.

Whatever we think of their parents, every child has a family worth investigating.

Genealogist Aroused by Dowser

From The Wichita (Ks.) Eagle of June 29, 2005:

For him, grave dowsing is no myth

Associated Press

SOLOMON - Whether a person believes grave dowsing is just speculation or whether someone is a true believer, Ron Britt of Abilene is convinced that the method works.

Britt, president of Genealogy Researchers, was among several members of the group who recently met at Prairie Mound Cemetery in Solomon to experience the phenomenon of grave dowsing.

Dowsing is the practice of finding water or minerals by holding a forked stick in a way that allows the stick to swing up or down when walking over an area where the materials, such as water, are believed to be.

[snip]

Since beginning his quest, [Lee Modrow of Lincoln, Kan.] has helped locate 250 unmarked graves. Most date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.

[snip]

As Modrow walked a straight line with the dowsing rods pointing straight forward, the rods would move outward as he passed over what he believed to be an unmarked grave. Modrow claimed four bodies -- three adults and one baby -- were buried at that spot.

"If you enter over a body and it's an adult, the rods will either both swing out or cross over each other," he said. "If it is a young child, one rod or the other will swing outward."

Modrow said the way to tell the body's gender is by using one rod and holding it straight in front of you.

If the body is a male, the rod will swing outward toward the back of the investigating person's foot. If the body is a female, the rod will remain straight or go inward toward the head.

"My goal now is to place stones on the graves," he said.

[Read the whole story]
My hackles have been raised. Placing stones on graves without good evidence of what lies beneath is like slipping extra documents into a file at the National Archives.

Two points about dowsing:

(1) You can't swing a dead cat in an old cemetery without finding an unmarked grave. The easiest way to find one: go to those parts of the cemetery where there are no markers, and look down. (BTW, do not swing a dead cat in an old cemetery. You will be arrested.)

(2) Who is confirming that he found these graves? Do they follow him around with a backhoe?
There are better ways of confirming a burial, including: sextons' records; contemporary newspaper accounts; previous transcriptions (to find if the grave was ever marked); and, as a last resort, excavation. I've seen a 19th-century diary entry which describes the exact location of an unmarked grave ("He was buried in the northeast corner of the yard. . ."). Ground penetrating radar is a great (if expensive) way of finding graves (though the sex and age of the occupant will remain a mystery).

Don't resort to pseudo-science until every other method has been exhausted.

And even then don't resort to it.

Elective Surgery in Victorian England

From Reuters:

New Jack the Ripper theories put sleuths in a spin
Sun Jun 26, 2005

By Elizabeth Fullerton

LONDON (Reuters) - A mental patient, a butcher, the artist Walter Sickert, a serial wife poisoner and even Queen Victoria's grandson have all been touted as Jack the Ripper suspects in one of the greatest whodunits in history.

[snip]

A . . . new book, "Uncle Jack" by Tony Williams, proposes the killer was the author's ancestor, Sir John Williams -- a gynaecologist to Queen Victoria's children and the founder of the National Library of Wales.

Williams had set out to explore his family history when he stumbled upon a box of Sir John's personal effects, including a knife, three medical slides and diaries with the 1888 entries ripped out.

He discovered that besides his posh Harley Street surgery, Sir John had a clinic in Whitechapel, giving him access to the prostitutes who thronged the area.

[snip]

Williams believes Sir John was enraged by the prostitutes he saw getting pregnant while his own wife was unable to have children and killed them either out of vengeance or to use their organs for researching a cure for infertility.

"These women were having children left, right and center and he wanted this cure," said Williams.

However, shortly after the killings stopped, Sir John had something akin to a nervous breakdown, gave up medicine and returned to Wales for good.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
Is it appropriate to include the occupation "serial killer" in a GEDCOM file? (By the way, an uncle, however "great", is not generally considered an ancestor.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

History Defectives

History Detectives on PBS is a show I really want to enjoy. The premise is one that should hearten any genealogist: follow four researchers as they use "traditional investigative techniques, modern technologies, and plenty of legwork" to solve mysteries submitted by viewers. In fact, some of the mysteries entail genealogical research—like last year's episode featuring an detained Chinese immigrant, and a case two years ago involving letters written by abolitionist John Brown.

But inevitably the four researchers miss important clues, skip obvious steps, or jump to shaky conclusions. Last night's episode was par for the course. Mystery number one required that they find out whether the uncle of two viewers built the engine for Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. After some false starts, the researcher consulted an aviation expert, who pointed him toward an article published in 1970. The subject of the article was the uncle in question, who, as it turns out, did build Lindbergh's engine.

Granted, the article was published in some obscure journal. But the first rule of genealogy (or maybe it's the fourth or fifth) is this: Find out if someone else has already published an article on the mystery you're trying to solve.

The second mystery solved on the show—concerning a poison pin commissioned by the CIA—was handled pretty well, and was solved to my satisfaction. Since this doesn't fit with my thesis that the History Detectives are nitwits, I will ignore it.

The third was the worst of the bunch. A woman had found a blurry photograph of men on horseback, inscribed with the words "Geronimo saluting a crowd of 100,000 people and surrounded by U.S. soldiers at Ranch 101." The woman supposed that "Ranch 101" was the one owned by her ancestor in New Mexico, which sent the History Detective assigned to the case off to Santa Fe in hot pursuit. There she ran smack into a dead end, but was quickly rerouted by a fellow researcher to Oklahoma, where she discovered that the photograph depicted a staged event at a Wild-West-themed ranch, at which Geronimo was a main attraction.

The mystery was solved, certainly, but one important step was skipped. Try this experiment yourself. Go to Google, and type in the following query:

"Ranch 101" Geronimo soldiers -"history detectives"

(The last phrase needs to be excluded, because of recent publicity about the PBS program.) Only one search result is found: a page from Oklahoma Historical Resources—Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch. Browse the site for a while and you will find another page, which describes how in 1905 the War Department gave "consent to allow the old Apache chief [Geronimo] to be used for exhibition purposes at the '101'." This Googling wouldn't have closed the case, but it certainly should have kept PBS from funding a plane ride to Santa Fe.

Of course, the researchers and their producers might follow false leads intentionally, to heighten the drama and exaggerate the "legwork" involved. The Detectives almost always suggest the most obvious and least convenient place to find information. Have a baseball card you're curious about? Drive to Cooperstown! Wonder if your grandfather's brother was Harry S. Truman's butcher? Call David McCullough! Instead of suggesting good research strategies, the History Detectives are trying to make good television.

And failing.

Colonial Family Stalls Development

From NewsZap.com:

State seeking descendants, Bowers Beach family plot holds up to 150 burials

By Kate House-Layton, Delaware State News

LITTLE HEAVEN - When someone dies, typically the next of kin is notified.

But try notifying them more than 100 to 200 years after a person's death and burial. That's the task the state Historic Preservation office is facing as it seeks out descendants of those buried in a family plot along Bowers Beach.

The office is searching for descendents of the Newell family who once owned and occupied a farm south of Mulberrie Point Road, east of Skeeter Neck Road and west of Old Bowers road near Little Heaven. A legal notice was placed in the Delaware State News June 12.

The family cemetery was discovered a few years ago when landowner and Wilmington attorney L. Vincent Ramunno sought development of the 202-acre property into Bowers Landing, which has since been approved for 202 homes along Skeeter Neck and Old Bowers roads.

[snip]

Mr. Ramunno said he was glad the cemetery was found.

"It was rather, frankly, interesting although expensive," Mr. Ramunno said. "The last thing you want to do is dig it up and have a problem."

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
Yet another real-estate developer who should heed the lessons of Poltergeist.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

What Lewis and Clark Left Behind

From the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune of June 26, 2005:

Corps of Discovery descendants abound

By ERIC NEWHOUSE
Tribune Projects Editor

Darlene Fassler of Great Falls has known all her life that she was the great-great-great granddaughter of Pvt. Patrick Gass of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame.

But last summer at a family reunion in Astoria, Ore., Fassler discovered Gass had 1,061 descendants over nine generations.

"I met 167 relatives in one day," said Fassler, who also volunteers at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

Fassler's not the only one with lots of famous relatives.

The members of the Corps of Discovery have thousands of descendants — both from their later lives and from sexual encounters during their passage two centuries ago, including many Native Americans with strong evidence of family ties.

The Clatsop Genealogical Society, a key repository of expedition records in Oregon, has identified 1,669 descendents of about half the expedition's 32 permanent members.

Many may not know of their heritage.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
I guess they'd try anything to win over the natives.

Indian Pauper Inherits Taj Mahal

From The Times of India:

Mera Taj!
NONA WALIA

TIMES NEWS NETWORK [SATURDAY, JUNE 25, 2005 08:35:24 PM]

And you always thought the Taj Mahal was a national monument maintained by the ASI? Think again. Prince Yakub Habeebuddin Tucy says he is the last direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar and, consequently, the rightful owner of the Taj. Delhi Times on monumental claims...

His story sounds as bi-zarre as Rani and Abhishek leasing out the Taj Mahal in Bunty Aur Babli. However, Prince Yakub Habeebuddin Tucy's story isn't a movie script.

Tucy claims he is the last of the living Moguls. His truth is simple: "Taj Mahal mera hai!" Why? "I'm the great-great grandson of the last Mogul ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar. I'm staking my claim to the ownership of the Taj. When I'm alive, why should anyone else be allowed to take care of my inheritance?"

Why didn't Tucy stake such a claim earlier? "The ASI takes care of the Taj and I was happy with that. But then, when a person called Irfan Bedar of Agra, who has nothing to do with my royal lineage, laid claim to the Taj, I felt annoyed. If ownership of the Taj has to be transferred to anyone, that person must be a direct descendant of Shah Jahan, the emperor who erected the monument."

For now, Tucy lives "in extreme poverty in Hyderabad" and introduces himself as "The second son Yaqub Arifuddin Tucy, who in turn is the son of Laila Ummani, "a great-granddaughter of Bahadur Shah Zafar, who had 49 sons and daughters. Thereby, I'm the great-great grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar."

Tucy has a genealogy chart to prove his claim. In the chart, there are pictures of Babar, Akbar... and Tucy himself, ‘the last living descendant of the Moguls'. "It's ironic that, today, I have to buy a ticket to see the Taj," says Tucy.

[Read the whole story]
And we all know a genealogy chart can't possibly be faked. . .

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Woman Touches Leg of Civil War Veteran

From MyrtleBeachOnline.com of June 25, 2005:

Civil War soldier's wooden leg is prized possession at museum

LINDA MCNATT

Associated Press

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. - Slowly, carefully, Christine Brooks Young slipped her fingers into the white cotton gloves and pulled the protective covering over her hands.

Hesitantly, her hand moved to the dark, aged wood lying on the table at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City.

Seemingly reaching across the generations, Young touched the artificial leg of Isaac Byrum Jr., her great-grandfather.

"It just makes me very proud, after hearing what he accomplished," said Young, a Suffolk resident who started researching her family history recently and found out about the leg.

"I remember, early on in my life, hearing about a relative who had served in the Civil War."

Byrum, a hardworking farmer from eastern North Carolina, lost his left leg in the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloody exchange that many consider the turning point of the war.

Fitted with a wooden leg at a Richmond hospital once he was released from a Union prison camp, the 24-year-old Byrum walked home and resumed his life. He would clear 55 acres of farmland, marry and have several children.

And, when the first wooden leg wore out, he carved two more - one for everyday use and one for church. In 1916, Byrum was buried in his "good" leg, said Don Pendergraft, museum exhibits chief.

"It really does have its own aura, doesn't it?"

[snip]

Young, a Suffolk businesswoman and wife of a local lawyer, said she thought little about her ancestry when she was younger. But, as she got older, she said, it became more important.

Once she became a grandmother, she wanted to know more about her own family history so she could pass it on to her granddaughter.

She learned about the leg when a cousin, who still lives in North Carolina, stopped by her office one afternoon and announced: "Your great-grandfather's leg is in the Albemarle Museum."

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

That's Too Much Information!

Genealogists researching Maine families sometimes run into a problem using the International Genealogical Index (IGI). When searching for a marriage record, they will sometimes find two records for the same couple, each bearing a different date, each recorded in a different town, and each transcribed from an original record. How can this be?

We in New England are spoiled with excellent town records of births, deaths, and marriages, dating back to the 17th century. Genealogists living elsewhere in the country, where jurisdiction over vital records lay with the county, and where recording requirements were lax in early years, should be envious. But, there is a price for this. Let's call it matrimonial overdetermination (or, on the other hand, let's not).

Here's an example. Charles B. Brooks of Oxford, Maine, and Roxana A. Cordwell of Greenwood, Maine, were betrothed in the spring of 1842. They were required by law to publish their intentions to marry in their towns of residence. So, in Greenwood a publishment—a publication of intentions—was entered on the books:

Intentions of Marriage between Mr Charles B Brooks of Oxford and Miss Roxana A Cordwell of Greenwood were Published in Greenwood April 26th 1842.
A similar notice was entered on the town books in Oxford, on April 30.

A couple of weeks passed, and no one objected to the marriage, so the town clerk in each town certified the couple's intentions—i.e. gave them a marriage certificate. In Greenwood, this happened on May 14, in Oxford on May 18.

The couple was married in Greenwood on May 22, 1842.

Here we have five different dates associated with the same event, only one of which is a marriage date. And it gets worse. Ministers were required to return a record of each marriage they performed to the clerk of the town where the ceremony took place. The marriage return was often dated (a sixth date) before it was recorded, at which time the clerk could affix another date (a seventh).

The Brooks marriage is also recorded in county marriage returns. Records of hundreds of other Maine marriages were returned to the state, and are now available on microfilm. And let's not forget contemporary newspaper accounts, Bible records, the records of ministers and Justices of the Peace, divorce records, pension files, etc.—all of them possible sources of marriage dates. Further, some marriages were recorded in more than one town, and could be returned to the county or state by any or all of those towns.

So, when different marriage dates appear in the IGI, recorded in different towns, often one of the records is a date of publishment or certification of intentions. One great flaw in the IGI is its failure to distinguish between actual marriage dates and dates preliminary to this (also a fault of the contributors, I suppose, who substituted an intention date wherever a marriage date couldn't be found).

There is one great advantage to finding and jotting down an ancestral couple's marriage intentions: intentions were almost always recorded chronologically, while marriage records were recorded as they filtered in from ministers and JPs in the community. Intentions are truly primary records—written down at the time of the event, probably with one or both of the marrying parties standing in the room. Marriage records, though legal and official, were copies of records kept by the officiators. (Charles and Roxana's marriage record is perhaps more authoritative than some others; they were married by the Greenwood town clerk.)

As genealogists, which should we prefer: many, possibly conflicting, records of a marriage; or one record, perhaps inaccurate, but also irrefutable? There should be no question. Despite the possibility of conflict, it's always better to have more data than less.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Missing Any Irish Friends?

Serious researchers of Irish genealogy have long depended on the eight volumes of The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot, edited by Ruth-Ann Mellish Harris, Donald M. Jacobs, and B. Emer O'Keeffe (Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1989-). Now these records are coming to the Internet, albeit in abstracted form, through Information Wanted, a website of the Boston College Irish Studies Program.

The Missing Friends advertisements, dating from 1831 to 1921, were placed by those seeking information about an Irish immigrant to America, and contain a varying amount of identifying data.

The advertisements contain the ordinary but revealing details about the missing person’s life: the county and parish of their birth, when they left Ireland, the believed port of arrival in North America, their occupation, and a range of other personal information. Some records may have as many as 50 different data fields, while others may offer only a few details. The people who placed ads were often anxious family members in Ireland, or the wives, siblings, or parents of men who followed construction jobs on railroads or canals.
Anyone finding a relative will still want to consult the original text, but the online index will surely help speed their research in the right direction.

George Bush Not That Offensive to Muslims

From The (Calcutta, India) Telegraph:

Bush 'ancestor' book

Cairo, June 23 (Reuters): Censors at al-Azhar, Cairo’s centre of Islamic learning, today passed a 19th century biography of Prophet Mohammad by a scholar portrayed in the Arabic media as an ancestor of President George W. Bush.

The Academy for Islamic Studies, which censors religious books, had recommended last year that the government ban The Life of Mohammad by American scholar George Bush, first published in 1830 and reissued in the US in 2002.

[snip]

The censors did not give a reason for retracting the ban.

Last year, newspaper articles had criticised the book’s account of early Islamic history and quoted Bush as saying Muslims spread Islam by force and persecuted Christians, for example. At least one of the newspaper articles came with large photographs of George W. Bush and his father, former President George Bush, and references to the Bush family.

The genealogical link between the author of the book and the President could not be confirmed by the book’s US publishers or the Bush family. Family trees of the Bush family on the Internet do not include the author, who was a prominent biblical scholar and preacher.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
A book released last year argued that both George W. Bush and John Kerry are descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. Small world.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Geneology," and Other Crimes Against Genealogy

I once received an email about a family history I had posted online, the purpose of which was to inform me that I had misspelled geneology. The message was written in a cordial tone, so I resisted the urge to respond. I rarely welcome unsolicited advice, especially when it's incorrect.

Anyone can misspell a word, and "genealogy" is a doozy. We all had to learn the correct spelling as newbies, and we all should forgive the beginner who mistakenly spells the word like it sounds (a foolish mistake in the English language). But what of those who profess to know what they're talking about, and yet persist in the mistake?

A search in Google for "geneology" turns up 748,000 results. Many of these are intentional misspellings—I myself have placed "geneology" among the hidden keywords of a website, knowing that people will be searching for it. The sponsored ads to the right of the Google search results belong to companies who have paid cash for the term "geneology." After all, even poor spellers might subscribe to Ancestry.com.

Some of the top search results, though, belong to websites that are not targeting the orthographically impaired. Take, for example, Genealogylinks.net, a site which claims to have been in service since 1997. The titlebar of the main page reads "Over 30,000 Genealogy Links; geneology for US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ" [emphasis added]. Dozens of pages within the website repeat the misspelling. Another website, Genealogy-Geneology.net, attempts to turn the mistake into an acceptable, alternate spelling.

There are worse crimes against genealogy—plagiarism, failure to cite sources, dependence on secondary or tertiary sources. But writing "geneology" on a message board or personal website will broadcast to the world that you are inexperienced. Nobody wants that—even if it's true.

Kimberly Powell suggests a mnemonic device:

Genealogists
Evidently
Needing
Endless
Ancestors
Look
Obsessively in
Grave
Yards
Mark Howell's device is similar:
Genealogists
Examine
Needed
Evidence
At
Lots
Of
Grave
Yards
Or, you can try my trick. Learn the correct spelling.

More Censuswhacking

In my first experiment in censuswhacking, I tried to find individuals or families in the 1880 census each with a unique first or last name. This time, I've looked for unique and unusual combinations of first and last names.

Fictional characters: Clark Kent (there were four Lois Lanes in 1880), Marcia Brady, and Harry Lime (for those who remember the Third Man). There was also a Chris Kringle, whose first name was undoubtedly misspelled by the enumerator.

Musicians: Paul McCartney, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline.

Actors: Richard Gere, James Spader, and Linda Lovelace (really).

Literary figures: George Orwell and Virginia Woolf.

It is rather disturbing to find that there were four women in 1880 named Fanny Large, and two named Fanny Grumbles. Fortunately, there was only one Fanny Poker then living in America.

One wonders if the Nice Dame living in Mississippi ever met the Mean Beavers living in Alabama.

Harry Chin lived in Louisiana, while Harry Knee lived with his folks in Pennsylvania. (Before you ask, there were five Harry Butts spread across the country.)

Essential Sites: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

An interest in genealogy inevitably leads to other interests: whether Civil War re-enactment, tin-type photography, or, as in my case, cartography. I have found, both on- and off-line, dozens of historical maps of my corner of Maine, each of which adds something to my understanding of the region. Historical USGS Maps of New England and New York provides free topographical maps (often more than one for a particular area), while Old Maps of New England, New York & Pennsylania sells matted reproductions of 19th-century town maps which show exactly where each resident lived, where he went to church, and where his children went to school. The map collection at American Memory includes panoramic maps of many American towns.

And then there is the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, which "has over 11,000 maps online."

The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North and South America maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the World, Europe, Asia and Africa are also represented. Collection categories include antique atlas, globe, school geography, maritime chart, state, county, city, pocket, wall, childrens and manuscript maps. The collection can be used to study history, genealogy and family history.

Indeed, it can. The site allows four different ways to view the maps, the easiest of which is the Insight Browser, the coolest of which is the 3d GIS Viewer that "lets you fly through historic maps in three dimensions." The scanned maps are of the highest quality, and may be manipulated and printed.

The collection includes Moses Greenleaf's famous 1829 maps of Maine, showing town and county lines, grants and purchases, and topography. Comparing maps from 1795 through 1860 shows how the counties of Maine evolved. Farther afield, there is an 1857 map of Los Angeles, an 1874 map of Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and a 1795 plan of the future "City of Washington." Wherever your ancestors lived in the U. S., there will be at least one map in the Rumsey Collection that lends new understanding of their state, county, town or city.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

They Always Seemed Like Such Nice Folks

From The Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal of June 22, 2005:

Residents used to questions about roads with Hitler in name

KRISTY ECKERT

Associated Press

CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio - When he refers to his street address, Larry Harris always waits for the pause.

"Bitler?" people sometimes respond, thinking they've misunderstood.

No, the name begins with an H.

"Like Adolf," Harris says. "But he doesn't live in our neighborhood."

His wife said she often ends up spelling it out: H-I-T-L-E-R.

Otherwise, they're hardly bothered by their association with the Nazi dictator of World War II. After about 30 years here, the Harrises said they're accustomed to strange looks and questions. Their neighbors are, too.

Long before Adolf came to power in Germany, the Pickaway County Hitlers were well-known farmers in Circleville, where three rural roads are named for them: Hitler No. 1 Road, Hitler No. 2 Road and Huber-Hitler Road.

[snip]

Down the lane from [Idabelle White's] home, several Hitlers are buried at the Hitler-Ludwig Cemetery. The cemetery caretaker said he also fields his share of questions - and pranks.

"I get some weird calls on the answering machine," said Duane Howard, as he walked among tombstones on Hitler graves from as early as the 1800s.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

British Vital Records Outsourced

From the (Manchester, England) Guardian Unlimited:

Population database will move to India

Protests at offshore move for lists of births, marriages and deaths

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
Thursday June 23, 2005
The Guardian

A database containing details of every birth, marriage and death in England and Wales since 1837 - all 250m of them - is to be transferred to India in one of the biggest offshore contracting deals ever to be signed by the government.

The controversial deal - due to be signed in a fortnight - is going ahead despite criticism from MPs, peers and trade unions that to transfer the information could be illegal, could put people's personal data at risk and could lead to inaccuracies in historical registers.

[snip]

The MPs also questioned whether the move was lawful without a new act of parliament because the Births and Deaths Registration Act forbids the information leaving England and Wales. Evidence was also given to them suggesting that an Indian workforce may have difficulty spelling complex Welsh and English names.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
How hard could it be for them to spell English names? Could it be any harder than spelling Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam?

Top Five Poems for Genealogists

5. Emily Dickinson, "I died for beauty. . ." It always makes me want to recommend techniques for cleaning tombstones.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
"For beauty," I replied.
"And I for truth, — the two are one;
We brethren are," he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

4. Elizabeth Jennings, In Memory of Anyone Unknown to Me. A beautiful poem, but the author obviously lacks the curiosity to make a good genealogist.

At this particular time I have no one
Particular person to grieve for, though there must
Be many, many unknown ones going to dust
Slowly, not remembered for what they have done
Or left undone. For these, then, I will grieve
Being impartial, unable to deceive.

How they lived, or died, is quite unknown,
And, by that fact gives my grief purity—
An important person quite apart from me
Or one obscure who drifted down alone.
Both or all I remember, have a place.
For these I never encountered face to face.

Sentiment will creep in. I cast it out
Wishing to give these classical repose,
No epitaph, no poppy and no rose
From me, and certainly no wish to learn about
The way they lived or died. In earth or fire
They are gone. Simply because they were human, I admire.

3. Walt Whitman, With Antecedents, from Leaves of Grass. Not his best work, but certainly relevant.

[Excerpted]
WITH antecedents;
With my fathers and mothers, and the accumulations of past ages;
With all which, had it not been, I would not now be here, as I am:
                .       .       .

With the small shores we look back to from our own large and present shores;
With countless years drawing themselves onward, and arrived at these years;
You and Me arrived—America arrived, and making this year;
This year! sending itself ahead countless years to come.

2. Edgar Lee Masters, Cassius Hueffer, part of his Spoon River Anthology, a collection of free verse epitaphs contributed by the deceased. It was difficult to choose just one.

They have Chiseled on my stone the words:
'His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him
That nature might stand up and say to all the world,
This was a man.'
Those who knew me smile
As they read this empty rhetoric.
My epitaph should have been:
'Life was not gentle to him,
And the elements so mixed in him
That he made warfare on life,
In the which he was slain.'
While I lived I could not cope with slanderous tongues,
Now that I am dead I must submit to an epitaph
Graven by a fool!

1. Robert Frost, The Generations of Men. He describes well a typical family reunion in New England. (I'll pass up the chance to include in this list his infamous epitaph, "Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee, and I'll forgive Thy great big joke on me.")

[Excerpted]
Someone had literally run to earth
In an old cellar hole in a by-road
The origin of all the family there.
Thence they were sprung, so numerous a tribe
That now not all the houses left in town
Made shift to shelter them without the help
Of here and there a tent in grove and orchard.

Genealogists at Risk of Cancer?

From WKYC in Cleveland, Ohio:

New evidence suggests that family history may lead to lung cancer
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

CLEVELAND -- New evidence suggests that family history, not just smoking, may lead to lung cancer.

Researchers found a two-fold increase in risk among people related to someone fighting early onset lung cancer. . .
Okay, the headline got me worried.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the GenForum

Though there are dozens of forums and message boards available for the genealogically inclined (see Cyndi's List for a good number of them), I frequent only two—GenForum and the message boards of Ancestry.com/Rootsweb.com. Both are now owned by mega-company MyFamily.com, but aside from past misguided attempts to place pop-up ads on the Ancestry boards, and the occasional page-size ad in the GenForum header, the forums seem to function independent of the for-fee portions of the sites.

So which is better? I have always found GenForum easier to navigate. The "Jump to Forum" feature makes it easy to surf from one surname to another, while on the Ancestry boards the same action requires two clicks: one to search for the surname, and then another to reach the forum.

In GenForum one can search within any forum, but don't try to "Search all of GenForum." The search engine hasn't worked for years (though, curiously, the powers-that-be have continued to keep the search box on each page). There once was a way around this, when Google indexed every message on the forum. By limiting your Google search to the GenForum site, you could find any message you needed. Now, though, it is predominantly the index pages which are spidered and appear in Google search results, undoubtedly because MyFamily.com prohibits large-scale spidering of individual messages.

The Ancestry.com global search engine works, but even its "Advanced Search" doesn't permit searching for phrases. So, if I search for "John Smith," the results are messages in which both first and last names appear—whether together or apart (127,878 of them in all). A better way to search: use Google. Individual Ancestry.com messages are spidered (though not cached). Searching for "John Smith" with Google: 193 results.

Which forum is better may depend on what surname, topic or locality you're interested in, and how active the community is in that area. Ancestry.com has more categories of topics than GenForum, but you may find that your topic is not visited often by serious, helpful researchers. And a forum is only as good as the help given.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Rest in Peace (After a Cheek Swab)

From M & C News:

New service preserves DNA of deceased
By Steve Mitchell Jun 21, 2005, 1:53 GMT

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- Families can hang on to their departed loved one's DNA through a new profile preservation service offered to funeral homes by genetic-testing company Orchid Cellmark.

The company, based in Princeton, N.J., said the DNA information would be useful for medical, legal and genealogy issues.

"A record of an individual's DNA can provide a number of safeguards to families -- as a possible protection against future estate or lineage issues, as a way to trace family genealogy and identify ancestry, and so families may be able to track more detailed information about their medical history as technology advances," Orchid said in a statement.

Orchid's President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Paul J. Kelly told United Press International the service was launched "in response to a lot of research we've done with the funeral industry" indicating there is a heavy demand for this type of product.

Bob Vandenbergh, past president of the National Funeral Directors Association, told UPI that demand may increase in the future, but in his experience almost no clients are requesting the service.

[snip]

The procedure involves taking a cheek swab to obtain a sample of the deceased's DNA, which then is preserved on Orchid's trademarked Heritage card, a long-term storage device. The family also receives a written profile of the person's DNA.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
I suppose it's better than what they did to Ted Williams.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Dedicated Hakamaira

From the Japan Times of June 19, 2005:

Tomb raver

By SETSUKO KAMIYA
Staff writer

Teenage years are often a time of confusion. But for one 37-year-old who goes by the pen name Kajipon Maruko Zangetsu, it was a time of torment due to family problems and a majorly broken heart.

To escape his painful reality, Kajipon sought refuge in the world of literature and art. He read and read, from Osamu Dazai to Goethe, and absorbed himself in the music of Beethoven and Mozart.

[snip]

At age 19, by which time he was an out-and-out arts junkie, Kajipon flew to Leningrad in the U.S.S.R. (now St. Petersburg in Russia) to visit the grave of the writer Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski, whose "Crime and Punishment" had inspired him. "I wanted to thank him in person for saving my soul," Kajipon said.

But Dostoevski literally changed his life.

"As I stood before his grave, his writings became so vibrant. It felt as if he was talking to me," Kajipon recalled. "Until then, he was just a name, but his existence in this world suddenly felt so real."

Shocked but delighted by this realization, Kajipon then hit on an idea that has steered his life ever since. "If this happened with Dostoevski," he explained, "I thought that the same thing must occur with Soseki and Shakespeare. There was no way that I wouldn't visit them, too."

So it was that Kajipon became a pilgrim -- or what he calls a "hakamaira," a word he invented by combining the Japanese word hakamairi (grave visit) with the sound of the English suffix "er" to signify someone who visits graves.

And certainly he's nothing if not a devoted hakamaira, as, since that first pilgrimage in 1987, he has visited the graves of 600 "heroes and heroines" in 40 different countries.

[snip]

[H]e makes it a strict rule not to visit the grave of anyone whose works he is not familiar with -- or hasn't been impressed by. "This isn't sightseeing; that would be very rude," he insists.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

Kicking Down The Doors of the Dead

From the (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call of June 19, 2005:

Determination unlocks history

Forgotten key, willing locksmith open tomb in Martins Creek.


By Tyra Braden
Of The Morning Call

In the end, Bob Rice saved the day.

The Martins Creek locksmith toiled more than an hour Saturday to conquer the rusted, misaligned lock on the heavy door that since 1892 has stood guard over the Kern-Kiefer mausoleum at Church Hill Cemetery in Martins Creek.

Behind the slab of galvanized steel lay what Dennis Kiefer hoped would be more clues in his quest for family history. Kiefer and his wife, Patsy, had traveled from their home in Memphis, Tenn., to the cemetery several times, and they'd found plenty of Kiefer's kin in plots at Church Hill, but Kiefer wanted to know who was entombed in the granite, concrete and marble mausoleum tucked into a hillside at Church Hill.

Trouble was, no one could find the key.

[snip]

On Thursday, Bush, said, current superintendent Bertha Ross found a hinged key that folds in half, which looked like it could be the one.

[snip]

About 45 minutes into the job, [locksmith] Rice gave the door a few good kicks. It didn't budge.

An hour after Rice started, the door swung slowly inward. "Oh, my God!" Swope yelled. "It's open." Someone told her to step inside and look around, to see if the building looked as it did when she was a child.

[snip]

An inscription on the mausoleum dates it to 1892. Inside are 20 compartments. Six appear to be empty, for their faceplates bear no names. In the others rest Kiefers and Kerns, the youngest of whom died at age 2 months, and the oldest at age 91. One compartment's date is 1891, indicating its inhabitant was moved into the mausoleum after its construction. Kiefer recorded the names to add to his growing genealogy.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

Illinois Man Makes Genealogy Look Too Easy

From The Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat of June 19, 2005:

Genealogy can be interrupted by war and van breakdowns

BY WALLY SPIERS

News-Democrat

EUGENE Hausmann, a Belleville architect, had a lot of coincidences and luck while tracking down German relatives in trips to the old country in 1999 and 2001.

[snip]

"I'm not what people would call a serious genealogist. I don't have copies of every document I ever looked at," he said.

But he was able to track down the Hausmann and Fellner families, relatives who stayed behind when others emigrated from a group of little villages north of Nuremberg in the Bavarian region of Germany.

Hausmann said he studied German for a while before going but struggled with the language over there. He said he couldn't understand all of what a priest was saying at a church service, but caught enough to know he was talking about the people from America who had come home.

One family Hausmann visited pulled out a picture of him and some of his family in front of St. Luke's Catholic Church in Belleville.

[snip]

Hausman said when he discovered a bed and breakfast owned by Adolf Fellner, he had to stay there, but he didn't know at first whether they were related.

"They didn't know and they weren't terribly excited to find out," he said. It turns out they were related.

Hausman tried to visit a nearby castle, built in 965 A.D., where local records were kept but a van breakdown stopped him.

He and his traveling companions knocked on a stranger's door who helped out. They became friends and corresponded.

Two years later, when Hausman went back, his new friend had done the research on the Fellner family and had another surprise. He had been able to find a lease signed by a long-ago Fellner relative.

[snip]

"I had a lot of sheer coincidence and luck," Hausman said. "But I managed to get enough information for a nice little booklet for my family."

Read the whole story
Imagine what he might find if he did take genealogy seriously.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Non-Essential Sites: Famous Folks in the US Census

We've all tried it. When first presented with a census subscription, we searched for a few family names, then tried "Humphrey Bogart," or "Ronald Reagan." Michael John Neill has gathered together on one website The Rich and Famous in the US Census, complete with free census images. My own favorite is Calvin Coolidge—a distant cousin of my paternal grandmother—whose entry in 1880 has been helpfully marked "President" with an arrow to his name. A similar unauthorized mark has been placed beside the name of Jesse James in 1860.

Other favorites:

An Elaborate Trap for Genealogists?

From the Roanoake (Va.) Times of June 17, 2005:

Fake headstones turning heads in Blacksburg

A Virginia Tech project could help cemetery operators and average homeowners with their lawn care.

By Kevin Miller
381-1676
New River Current

BLACKSBURG -- Mike Goatley had anticipated the questions from curious callers. After all, you can't create a graveyard overnight next to a well-traveled Blacksburg road without attracting attention.

Had Virginia Tech opened a pet cemetery? Could Hokie fanatics buy a burial plot on this near-sacred land just around the corner from Lane Stadium? Or were the simple, white headstones meant as a political statement?

In truth, the only thing planted in the soil of Goatley's Southgate Drive cemetery are grass seeds. But the Virginia Tech researcher believes the eventual findings of this eye-catching experiment into turf types could be of monumental interest to anyone who spends time tending a lawn in Southwest Virginia.

Goatley, a turf specialist with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, and his assistants are trying to figure out which grass types achieve the best look for the least amount of work. He then intends to convey his findings to cemetery owners, who devote countless hours to grounds maintenance.

"It truly is for cemeteries, although the data will apply to anyone," he said.

[snip]

But why the headstones?

[snip]

The headstones help delineate the different treatment areas. Goatley's research team also painted lines two inches from the headstones' base to determine when the grass needs mowing.

Lastly, they're a good way to get the public interested in the research. Goatley set up a similar fake cemetery at Mississippi State University, his former employer, and got plenty of attention.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Third-Class Cemeteries in Pennsylvania

From the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Tribune-Review:

Aging volunteers ask city's help in maintaining old cemetery

By Dan Hilliard
for the Valley News Dispatch
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

For the past five years, a group of volunteers with relatives buried in Round Hill Cemetery along Industrial Way have made sure the grass surrounding its chalky tombstones is clipped and neat.

Now, they'd like the city to lend a hand. Preferably two, attached to a lawn mower.

[snip]

The volunteers are backing up their request for city funding and labor with a 1923 state law requiring "townships" to adopt abandoned cemeteries.

Solicitor Stephen Yakopec said the volunteers' reasoning is dead wrong.

According to Yakopec, the law requires only townships to adopt abandoned cemeteries. Lower Burrell dropped its township status and became a Third Class city in 1935.

If state legislators had intended to saddle Third Class cities with abandoned cemeteries, Yakopec said, they would have done so in writing.

[snip]

Despite the city's apparent lack of legal obligations, Mayor Donald Kinosz said he will not allow the cemetery to become an eyesore.

"Ultimately, we've got to take care of it, somehow."

Kinosz said he and Yakopec will meet with the volunteers soon to plot their options.

He also said he will try to contact the cemetery property's last owner, though he said a seance might be more appropriate than a telephone call.

"The ones who started it probably are in it," he said.

[Read the whole story]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Buried Among Enemies

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Pierce City apologizes for dark past, refuses to pay for moving remains
Associated Press
06/14/2005

PIERCE CITY, Mo. (AP) -- More than 100 years after this southwest Missouri community's entire black population was run out of town by angry white mobs, city officials have apologized for the dark chapter in local history.

But they're drawing the line at paying to move the remains of a Civil War veteran who died three years before the Aug. 19, 1901, riots and lynching that forced his family to flee to Springfield, The Monett Times reported.

Charles and James Brown of St. Louis were researching their family's history when they learned of the 1901 events in Pierce City. They also discovered that their great-grandfather, James Cobb Sr., was buried in a cemetery there.

"It causes the family grief to think of him down there; alone, in a hostile, unrepentant environment, where he and members of his race were hated, maltreated, and where many were run out of town for nothing more than being black," Charles Brown wrote in a letter to Pierce City Mayor Mark Peters.

[snip]

Cobb's remains were unearthed on June 2 and taken to a cemetery in Springfield where other family members are buried. Afterward, Brown requested that Pierce City -- which remains a largely white community -- apologize for its treatment of blacks and pay the costs of moving Cobb and for a tombstone to mark his new grave.

[snip]

Peters, in his response to Brown's letter, agreed the community owed an apology for the atrocities committed on its former black residents -- but not any money.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

Censuswhacking in America

The recent article from BBC News about "censuswhacking" inspired me to attempt the same, using the 1880 U.S. Census. The challenge is to find a first name or surname which is unique in the transcription (obvious misspellings or mistranscriptions should not count). Examples are given from the British version, some of which are only unique and interesting combinations of first and last names:

Fatty Atkinson, 1881
Peter Pan, 1891
Banana Pointer, 1891
Crusoe Robinson, 1871
Clara Slime, 1901
Nasty Clough, 1861
Ester Bunney, 1871
Sherwood Forest, 1901
My own first attempts found only one person named "Egyptian" in 1880 America—Egyptian M. Ashe of Murphy, Cherokee County, North Carolina. There was a Ghost Wright, and a Chinese miner in Rough and Ready, California, whose name was given only as "Hunger."

The British rules for the game require that a surname occur "in only ONE family in any census." The Horror family of Allegheny, Pensylvania, would qualify. More difficult would be finding a single individual with a unique surname. For example, William Underwater, Elen Crotch, or Carry Dingleberry.

Censuswhacking and Other British Diversions

From the BBC News of June 13, 2005:

The kinship of strangers
By Rob Liddle
BBC News website

What do family historians do when the trails for their own kin go cold? They join forces to uncover the life history of a randomly chosen individual from the past.

Pursuing one's ancestry used to be a labour-intensive affair - all packed lunches, trips to dusty records offices and unseemly fights over tomes with other frazzled researchers.

[snip]

Now, with a wealth of genealogical information available online and an explosion in the number of people eager to research their roots, family history can be a completely different experience.

You can access birth, marriage and death indexes and census details instantaneously and quickly link up with people who have other useful resources at their disposal or specialist knowledge.

Random number

And with these developments a new breed of genealogist has emerged - ready to root at will and for whom the process of recreating people's lives and times is an end in itself.

Members of the 16,000-strong Rootschat forum now take part in a monthly challenge, in which an individual with whom none of them has any known connection is randomly selected from the 1881 census.

The job is to find out as much as possible about the mystery person within the next four weeks. It's pot luck - the person could have died a week later - but there's always something interesting to discover about them.

"I suppose it's almost like getting a bit of a hit," explains Sarah Mackay, who with partner Trystan Davies set up Rootschat, which attracts up to 140 new members every day.

"People doing their own family may get stuck for years, but it's very addictive and when you can't get any further yourself, you're still quite desperate for the same hit.

[snip]

Censuswhacking

There is a serious side to the project, and the hope is that the randomly chosen person will fit into another researcher's family tree - something which has actually happened on each occasion so far.

Researcher Paul Etherington, who initiated the challenges, sees the site as a "truly altruistic experience".

[snip]

Paul also came up with the idea of censuswhacking - searching for a first name, surname or occupation that appears only once in a given census (as transcribed) - which has proved a big hit on the site.

Where else would the lives of Ginnie Pig, Spud Murphey and Alfred Goold - 1901 occupation "living on condensed milk" - be recorded for posterity?

[Read the whole story]
The thread from Rootschat may be viewed here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Essential Sites: Ellis Island in One Step

In web design, it's always a mistake to choose form over function. Google's design is bare-boned, but perfectly suited to the task of searching the web. The Ellis Island passenger record site is attractive, but its original interface made its 25-million-name database useless for many researchers.

The alternative for genealogists whose immigrant ancestors were not named "Smith" or "Brown" but "Wiszniewski" is Dr. Stephen Morse's Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step.

The key to a good search engine is the combination of parameters by which one can limit a search. The One-Step interface expands the possibilities by taking full advantage of the Ellis Island website. By sometimes requiring less (say, only the first three letters of the surname) and sometimes more (the town of origin, or the passenger's ethnicity), search results may be expanded or reduced. "There is no required field, not even the last name," the site boasts, though in practice one may have to fill in most of the fields for a useful outcome, especially if the name searched for is common.

In December of 2004, the Ellis Island website acknowledged One-Step's contribution, and upgraded its own site to include Morse's interface as a new Advanced Passenger Search. Why visit the One-Step site? If a manifest you need to view comes up missing, One-Step provides a back door to finding it. Have an Ancestry.com membership? One-Step allows you to search for records from other ports of entry. There are pages for searching vital records, naturalization records, census records, and more. See a full list of available search interfaces here.

Mystery (Almost) Solved

From the Waterbury (Ct.) Republican-American:

Markers Mystify Historians

Monday, June 13, 2005

By Alexander MacInnes

Copyright © 2005 Republican-American

NAUGATUCK -- The mystery of the missing headstones has begun to unfold.

Flossie M. Matteson, a 16-month-old, died Feb. 18, 1882, leaving her parents M.D. and F.E. Matteson. That is the only information etched into the stone. What it was doing with another headstone believed to be from that era in the back yard of a housing complex on Highland Circle in Naugatuck is just one of the questions gnawing at area historians and the woman who found the burial marker.

Alison Sgrillo went looking for the legs of a patio table that disappeared last week. She began searching a pile of discarded household appliances behind the apartment complex.

Staring up at her from the weeds -- and from the past -- were two big, heavy stones, one with the name of Flossie M. Matteson. The second, she said, was that of a boy or man, dated 1892.

[snip]

Enter Alese Kummer, the curator of the Seymour Historical Society. Given the pertinent information, Kummer dug through the society's archives and old, cemetery records Saturday. She found some information, though not all she had hoped.

Flossie Matteson was the daughter of M. Delos and Francis E. Matteson. She found no birth records for the daughter, nor marriage records for the parents. There were also no records with the name Matteson from any of the town's cemeteries, Kummer said.

"My feeling is they didn't live here in town," Kummer said.

[snip]

Wherever the headstones are from, Sgrillo hopes they find the appropriate final resting place.

"It's the history and legacy of family," Sgrillo said. "Family is very important to me."
Widow Frances Matteson was living in Sunderland, Bennington, Vermont, with sons George and Perley, daughter Christie, and an unnamed daughter (Flossie) born in May 1880 [see the abstracted census record here]. Frances and husband M. D. were living in Sunderland in 1860 (her name given as "Emma F.) and 1870 (his name given as "Daniel"). Frances had four children, three of whom were living as late as 1910.

The next step for anyone interested? Check the 1880 Mortality Schedule for Sunderland for the death of Flossie's father, and search for the family in Sunderland cemeteries.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

New Ways to Enliven Your Gravesite

From the The Beaver County (Pa.) Times/Allegheny Times:

Memorable trends
April Johnston, Times Staff
06/12/2005

The death industry hasn't changed much over the years. Most people get laid out and buried. It's solemn, it's simple, it's predictable.

Until now.

[snip]

[W]ith the growing popularity of genealogy, [monument dealers] Steckman and Dioguardi are recommending their clients not only carve the years of their birth and death into their gravestone, but the day and month, too.

[snip]

Enter Robert Barrows.

Barrows is a sculptor, television commercial producer, songwriter and author from San Mateo, Calif., who could soon add patent-holder to his resume.

He is in the process of patenting the "Video-Enhanced Grave Marker," a hollowed-out headstone that holds a computer chip and flat-screen TV, so people can record video messages before they die for loved ones and even strangers to watch - using remote controls and headsets - after they've passed. He estimates his invention would add $4,000 to the cost of a headstone.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
Putting days and months on gravestones? Now, that's nuts.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

(Another) Aussie Loses His Heir

From ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corp.] Online:

George Francis Thompson - mystery man

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

Reporter: Paula Doran and Simon Wallace

If you're one of George Francis Thompson's descendants, then you could be in for a nice little payday.

Sue Macbeth is a forensic genealogist, and she's in search of one of George Francis Thompson's relatives - and the answers to some mysteries about his life.

"We know probably a reasonable amount from 1937 on, and very little from before 1937," Ms Macbeth says.

[snip]

Ms Macbeth was hired by the trust company handling George's estate to track down any of his relatives; the company needs to know where to direct his almost-million-dollar estate.

[snip]

The search will continue, Ms Macbeth says, until the mysterious Mr Thompson's descendants are found. If they can't be located - or if there are none - the money will ultimately go to the government. Given that it's nearly a million dollars, Ms Macbeth wants to find those descendants.

It's more than just the desire to see the money go where it belongs, though.

"I really need to find out who he was. I need to find people who recognise the photos and say 'that's my uncle' because I think there are people around who should be able to do that.

[snip]

So, if you think that 'George Francis Thompson' - or whatever his real name was - is a relative of yours, what do you have to do to claim the money?

"Come up with similar photos and tell me some of the story that I'm not mentioning - some of the early stories. I'd love to know who lived in number 138."

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

The Self-Amputating Aquatic Scotsman

From The (London, U.K.) Times of June 11, 2005:

Myfamilyandotherweirdos.com
Ben Macintyre

Thanks to the craze for climbing our family trees, we now see history from a more democratic viewpoint

MY LATE FATHER liked to shock strangers by claiming that he might be the illegitimate son of George VI. The sole basis for this outlandish assertion was that my grandmother had met the Duke of York then at a party in Perth, Australia, the year before my father was born, and got on very well with him.

There were other, equally unverifiable tales of our ancestry: the grandfather who supposedly died, post-prandially, after falling down a manhole outside the Sydney Bridge Club; the hard-hunting 19th-century Irish aunts who rode their horses up the stairs; the Macintyre clansman who severed his own hand and hurled it to the shore in order to win a swimming race; mad Aunt Rachel who turned out, post-mortem, to be an uncle.

I have no idea whether these stories of my forebears are even remotely true. The reality was probably much more prosaic: hairy Scots-Australian sheep farmers on one side, English sailors and a smattering of vicars on the other. But I have always clung to the family legends of self-amputating aquatic Scotsmen and peculiar Wodehousian aunts.

Today, thanks to the internet and DNA testing, I could find out my origins for sure, as millions of others have already done. The tracing of family history is the world’s fastest-growing hobby, no longer restricted to brassrubbing or to elderly folk with time on their hands.

[snip]

The craze for family genealogy has democratised history in a way that was impossible a generation ago. The ordinary, everyday lives of your ancestors and mine hold as much fascination as the actions of the great and good, the famous and the infamous. This reflects the wider shift towards personalised microhistory: the simple men who fought the battles and not just the great men who ordered them; the women who sewed the clothes rather than the duchess who wore them. These people traditionally fell outside official history, acknowledged only as faceless cannon fodder or social statistics.

[snip]

Family genealogy can be addictive, and expensive. James LeVoy Sorenson, the American catheter billionaire, so enjoyed discovering his Scandinavian origins that he decided to draw up the entire genetic map of Norway, at an estimated personal cost of $500 million.

[snip]

I, for one, will not be submitting my DNA to a genealogy database. For there are some things about the ancestral past one would rather leave ambiguous, and some legends best left undisturbed. And I know my cousin Prince Charles feels the same.

[Read the whole story]

Friday, June 10, 2005

Devoted Father Dies at Son's Grave

From The Arizona Republic:

Father's devotion to dead son leads to own death at gravesite

Connie Cone Sexton
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 7, 2005 12:00 AM

Dark clouds were building in the Tucson sky as Joseph Cooper closed his tailor shop for the day. He was intent on making one last stop before heading home and may not have heard the beginning rumblings of the thunderstorm as he drove down Grant Street.

As with every Saturday after work, Joseph, 70, was going to the place that gave him peace of mind, where he could lose himself in the past and pour out his heart. He turned into the East Lawn Palms Mortuary & Cemetery and followed the road's familiar curve, stopping at the grave of his thirdborn son.

[snip]

He was heading to his place of solace. There was no way to know it would be the place where he would lose his life. It was after 5 p.m., and storm clouds were moving across the cemetery. Joseph was standing beneath the tree where Oscar was buried, and it was there that a bolt of lightning came out of the sky, through the tree and into Joseph.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

UK Genealogists Close the Case

From BBC News of June 10, 2005:


Genealogists help police inquiry

Police have turned to amateur internet genealogists for help with an inquiry into a girl's death 50 years ago.


A West Mercia detective constable was trying to find out what had happened to the four-year-old in Bromsgrove.

But with the coroner unable to find any details for the name given, the officer asked Rootschat forum members for help.

They scoured the records and eventually found the relevant death certificate. Police said that thanks to their input, the investigation was now closed.

Close matches

Bromsgrove police were attempting to establish whether the girl was killed in an old woodyard in the town some time in the 1950s.

They had an idea of the girl's first name and a surname was suggested, but they did not match any of the existing records.

The officer posted an online query, saying he would welcome any contributions Rootschat members could offer and admitting he had no expertise in historical research.

They got to work, suggesting lines of inquiry and searching for documents online with matches or close matches with the name and submitted information.

Within three days, they had uncovered details for the likeliest candidate, a girl with a similar name to that suggested, who was run over by a lorry in Bromsgrove in 1956.

Police said that this was the record they wanted, and thanked forum members for their "invaluable" help.

Co-founder of the 16,000-strong Rootschat forum Sarah Mackay said: "We are very proud of being able to help the police in this matter.

"It's amazing that people from all over the world can contribute to what is a local police inquiry."
RootsChat.com is a message board for UK and Irish researchers. You can read the constable's initial posting and the responses he received here.

Whakapapa in the Scrum

From sport.telegraph:

Maori traditions rooted in the never-ending tour
By Brendan Gallagher
(Filed: 10/06/2005)

The clash between New Zealand Maori and the British and Irish Lions [rugby teams] at Hamilton tomorrow - the so-called fourth Test - may be viewed by many as a massive culture clash, but you only have to scratch the surface to realise that it is a meeting of kindred spirits.

The Maori, like their opponents, are always on tour, even in their own country. They are a team of no fixed abode, though they can pitch their tent anywhere on the North Island, where 90 per cent of New Zealand's Maori population live.

[snip]

The eligibility process governing those who can play for Maori is thorough. Those wishing to be considered have their credentials examined by the kaumatua, or cultural advisor, who will trace the players' whakapapa or genealogy.

Waiting for the green light can be a tense business. Christian Cullen - with largely Tongan and Anglo-Irish antecedents - was deemed to have no chance but the kaumatua found him to be 1/64th Maori.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
I'm glad the Boston Celtics don't have a similar requirement. . .

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Poll: 27% of Americans Not Fascinated by Genealogy

From Ancestry.com press release at PR Newswire:

Americans' Fascination with Family History is Rapidly Growing
A Full 73 Percent of Americans are Intrigued by Their Family Roots

PROVO, Utah, June 9 /PRNewswire/ -- The popularity of family history is officially on the rise. That's the outcome of a recent poll by Market Strategies, Inc. (MSI), a national, research and strategic consulting firm and MyFamily.com, Inc., the Internet's most popular and comprehensive family history research and connection resource. According to the poll, 73 percent of Americans are interested in discovering their family history. This figure represents a 13 percent increase over a similar Maritz Poll that was conducted in 2000, in which 60 percent of Americans said they were interested in discovering their family history.

Questions and Ancestors
Is there royalty in my roots? When and where did these family traditions begin? Who gave me my red hair and freckles? People have all sorts of questions about their family history -- and many unique motivations to explore it. Of the people surveyed, 65 percent said their interest is due to simply hearing stories from relatives. Thirty-five percent have had their interest piqued after attending a family reunion or family event. Talking to a friend, colleague or family member who was researching their family history got the ball rolling for 29 percent. And 25 percent of respondents became interested in family history after just searching for their surname online.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]

Elvis' Military Records Released (with 1.2 million others)

From the (Biloxi, Miss.) SunHerald of June 8, 2005:

Archives to open sealed military documents

BETSY TAYLOR

Associated Press

OVERLAND, Mo. - When Elvis Presley entered the Army, a fretful public launched a letter-writing campaign.

"Will you please, please be so sweet and kind as to ask Ike to bring Elvis Presley back to us from the Army? We need him in our entertainment world," pleaded one 1958 letter from a Sacramento, Calif., couple to then-first lady Mamie Eisenhower.

The anxious missive is among documents included in the 1.2 million military personnel files the National Archives will open to the public Saturday for the first time.

Among the documents are records related to famous politicians, military leaders - and at least one rock 'n' roll star. The bulk, however, relate to former enlisted personnel in the Navy from 1885 to 1939, or in the Marines from 1906 to 1939.

[snip]

Bryan McGraw, the [National Personnel Records Center]'s assistant director for archival programs, said there are about 56 million records relating to inactive military personnel at the center. They usually are available only to the veteran, next of kin, the agency that created the record, or by approved special request.

The Defense Department and the National Archives Records Administration agreed in 1999 to work to release some documents because of interest from the public and researchers.

"I think those records will help the average American trying to explore genealogy, a family past," said Michael Pavkovic, the diplomacy and military studies director at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
For more see the Records Center website.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mayor Miffed at Miserable Mowing

From the Princeton (Ind.) Daily Clarion:

Unkempt yard owners on notice; cemeteries may be next
Posted: Monday, Jun 06, 2005 - 11:11:42 pm EST
By ANDREA HOWE
Editor, the Daily Clarion

PRINCETON-Overgrown lawns are at an all-time high in Princeton, says the city's building commissioner.

Bill Lemmons told Princeton's Common Council Monday that three city departments are hopping to try to get people to mow their grass. A city ordinance calls for notices to owners of unkempt properties, and if there's no response, the city can mow the property and charge the owner for the work.

Lemmons appealed to the public to avoid getting a notice. "Please get off your TV chair and go out and mow your grass," he urged.

Mayor Bob Hurst suggested the city may want to consider including cemeteries in its ordinance, considering the calls he took about the condition of two local graveyards following the Memorial Day weekend. "If we don't do something, it's an issue that's just going to keep coming up every holiday."

City Attorney Jerry Stilwell said he believes cemetery owners can be held to the same standard as residential property owners. "I believe they can be given the same friendly notice: Get your place cleaned up," he said.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
Can eviction notices be far behind?

Monday, June 06, 2005

"Most gravesites don't have exhaust pipes"

From the New Britain (Conn.) Herald

A grave undertaking
By ERIC REED, Staff Writer
06/06/2005

FARMINGTON -- In a town as old as Farmington, which has seen more than 350 years pass since its incorporation, secrets of the past tend to accumulate.

Arrowheads turn up in backyard gardens, cellars hide Underground Railroad bolt-holes and, sometimes, tombstones lie undiscovered in a corner of the back yard.

[snip]

"We purchased the house two or three years ago," [Todd] DeMattio said, referring to himself and his wife Suzanne. "As we were clearing (the undergrowth) out, we found this structure and the gravestones."

[snip]

According to [Boy Scout Andrew Valero], his team unearthed the monuments in May, and spent Sunday afternoon cataloging and transporting them to the home of the Historical Society on Main Street. The stones rested in the ground absent any interred bodies, which has given rise to speculation regarding precisely how the approximately 27 monuments got there in the first place.

A rusted exhaust pipe found discarded among the broken tombstones has led Valero to his own conclusions.

"That indicates that this wasn’t actually a gravesite, and that these stones were just discarded here," Valero said. "Most gravesites don’t have exhaust pipes."

Internal combustion engines were also a rarity in the 18th Century, which is the date range for all of the stones found so far.

[snip]

[Read the whole story]
One question remains: How do they know there are no "interred bodies" below?

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