Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Best. Prank. Ever.

From the Chester (Pa.) Daily Times of Oct. 5, 1877:

A great many people in St. Louis have seen something of the peculiar performances of a young mulatto named Albert Rhodes, who follows the river for a regular living, but whose chief delight is in exhibiting his skill as a whistler and ventriloquist before crowds wherever he can find them.

At Vicksburg, about two months ago, he attended a funeral. The burial service was recited, the coffin lowered into the grave, and the boards adjusted. As the first clod of earth fell on the boards there came a low moan as if from the coffin. The sounds at first were very indistinct, but in a minute they became loud and frantic, as if the corpse had come to life and was struggling to free itself from the habiliments of the grave. Most of the bystanders fled in dismay, the women and children shrieking. Those who remained hastily raised the coffin from the grave, and, without waiting to unscrew the lid, pried it open with an axe. It was at once discovered that it was not possible that there could be a spark of life in the corpse. Decomposition had set in. The next day it leaked out that Rhodes was the offender.

On the Track of 'Trick or Treat'

A genealogist thinks he's found the first two appearances of the phrase "Trick or treat" in print.

In his research for his Wikipedia entry on trick-or-treat, writer Steven Dhuey traced the term to the Nov. 2, 1934, editorial [in The Helena (Montana) Independent] and also to a story that ran Nov. 1, 1934, in the (Portland) Oregon Journal. Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, that is written and edited by volunteers.

"It's interesting to me that that corner of the country had the two earliest references to the term," Dhuey said from his home in Toledo, Ohio. "It makes you think, was there a certain ethnic group that dominated the area?"

Dhuey, also a law student, professional genealogist and author of more than 300 Wikipedia entries, said that it's notable to consider the number of Scottish immigrants in Oregon and Montana at the time. According to 1930s Census data, these two states had healthy concentrations of Scottish immigrants. [Link]

Mabel Knew Ma Bell As Well

Mabel Grosvenor, a granddaughter of Alexander Graham Bell, died Monday at 101. She may have been the last person alive with personal recollections of the famous telephone inventor, who died when she was 17.

In the early 1920s, as Mr. Bell neared the end of his life, Ms. Grosvenor travelled with her grandparents to Scotland, where Mr. Bell searched for long-lost ancestors.

"He called it a farewell visit," Ms. Grosvenor said during an interview in 1994.

"He didn’t really get interested in genealogy until his father died and one reason he went back was to try and look for more information. We went to parish offices to look through records and visited cemeteries. He found several cousins he didn’t know existed." [Link]

We're Not in Salem Anymore

From The Indiana (Pa.) Democrat of Oct. 30, 1879:

Several girls were recently brought before a justice in Scranton, Pa., on a charge of stoning a peaceable old lady. Their defence was that she was a witch, and they believed it to be their duty to stone her to death.
From The Marion (Ohio) Daily Star of Mar. 6, 1882:
A Wisconsin farmer has been put under bonds to keep the peace on account of his attempts to mutilate an old lady whom he believes to be a witch. He avers in defense that she had bewitched his cattle and has repeatedly entered his domicile through the chimney, the keyhole and other inconvenient and inappropriate apertures, contrary to his wish and to his great terror and distress.
From The Madison County (Ill.) Courier of Apr. 19, 1866:
The following witty yet suggestive anecdote is related of Chief Justice Holt, before whom an old woman was once brought accused of witchcraft. The evidence against her was that she had been seen to ride through the air on a broomstick.

"Well, my good woman," said the humane judge to the demented old creature, "did you ride through the air, as the witnesses say?"

"Yes, sir," replied the accused, supposing that what everybody said must be true.

"And I know of no law against it," said the judge, who immediately discharged the prisoner.

Better Safe Than Sorry

From the Sedalia (Mo.) Daily Democrat of Jan. 23, 1875:

Nicholas Borolajovak, a Servian nobleman, died in Paris recently under peculiar circumstances. He had been forced to leave his own country by an ugly legend which pronounced his family vampires. It was said that for three generations the eldest son in his family had invariably returned from the grave to drink the blood of its living members. Strange to say, Prince Nicholas himself believed the legend, and when he was first taken ill, five days before his death, he asked his host of the Hotel de France et de Roumanie to have his heart taken from his body as soon as life was extinct. This, he believed, would prevent him from leaving his tomb. He was a man of brilliant powers and high culture, and but for this mania regarding vampires would have proved an ornament to any rank. He was buried in Paris.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Last Living Neanderthals?

Bryan Sykes's Saxons, Vikings, and Celts—which I reviewed a few days ago—has an amusing aside about two brothers in Wales known as the "Tregaron Neanderthals." Sykes was interviewed last month in Wales on Sunday about the pair.

The twin bachelors lived behind the ruins of a Cistercian monastery at nearby Strata Florida, where they were apparently visited every year by school pupils eager to learn about human evolution.

Prof Sykes told WoS: "By the time I heard the story, they were dead, but it was always said that these bachelors were neanderthals. It is just possible. Children would be taken to see them in geography or history lessons.

"I have looked at 10,000 people in the UK and I have never seen a piece of neanderthal DNA, but I have not given up hope." [Link]

Parting Shots

More than six million tributes are submitted to Legacy.com each year by people wanting to share memories of a deceased friend or relative. But not every submission is accepted.

In 2006, more than 300,000 were deemed "inappropriate" and removed before "going live" in an obituary.

Unacceptable entries range from airing family "dirty laundry" to accusations of misbehavior on the part of the deceased. "She was an awful boss," "He had a mistress," or "He owed me money" are common themes, as are rehashing old grudges and feuds, says Hayes Ferguson, Legacy.com's chief operating officer. [Link]

They Did Not Approve

From The Petersburg (Va.) Index of June 13, 1868:

Col. John M. Chivington, in St. Joseph, Nebraska, recently married the widow of his own son, which led to the publication of the following card from her parents:

A Card to the Public.—We, the undersigned, take this method to inform the public that the criminal act of John M. Chivington, in marrying our daughter, Mrs. Sarah A. Chivington, the widow of Thomas M. Chivington, was unknown to us, and a thing we very much regret. Had the facts been made known to us of the intentions some measures would have been taken to prevent the consummation of so vile an outrage, even if violent measures were necessary. Hoping that this may be a sufficient explanation, we remain, &c.
John B. Lull.
Almira Lull.
The Lulls' opposition to the marriage probably had less to do with the father-son relationship of their daughter's two husbands than with Col. Chivington's 1864 escapade in Colorado.

San Francisco's Multilayered History

Andrew Galvan is curator of Mission Dolores, site of one of San Francisco's oldest cemeteries (backdrop, by the way, for a scene in Hitchcock's classic Vertigo).

When Mission Dolores cemetery opened in 1777, Ohlones were among the first to be buried there. By 1898, when the last grave was dug, some of the city's notable characters, including a mayor, volunteer firefighters and even vigilantes were buried -- on top of the Ohlones. That's what makes Galvan's latest project a bit ironic. Galvan [...] is finishing up the construction of an Ohlone-style tule house atop unmarked graves. The tent will replace a grotto (made out of tombstones) that stood until the mid-1990s.

"We're basically building a memorial to Indians on top of white people who in turn are on top of Indians," Galvan says. "That might be a first." [Link]

Oldest WWI Vets Meet, Bloodshed Minimal

Britain and Germany's oldest World War I veterans met for the first time on Saturday. Henry Allingham is the oldest man in the UK at 110, and Robert Meier holds the title in Germany at 109.

Ninety years ago, air mechanic Henry flew over the Somme crouched in the back of a biplane and dropped bombs on to the battlefield where infantryman Robert dived for cover. But today the warmth of their greeting leaves many in the room in tears.

Henry's trembling hand reaches out to touch Robert's cheek and, as his eyes fill up, he says: "It's a joy to meet you, old chap."

Beaming Robert clutches Henry's shoulder and says: "Wunderbar!".
As the wine and beer flow, Robert gees up teetotal Henry: "Where were you at the Somme? I was waiting to meet you."

Henry laughs: "It was a long time ago, but I didn't shoot you!" [Link]

Genealogists Unemployed in New Zealand

Nathan Fien's decision to play for the New Zealand rugby team instead of his native Australian team has sparked a controversy. The international constitution requires that a foreign player's grandparents be from the country he is representing, and some in Australia are demanding proof that Fien's grandmother really was a Kiwi. An Australian newspaper went so far as to call 20 relatives and friends of Fien to ask if they had ever heard of the grandmother in question, Irene Lilian Maude-Lett.

They gave almost the same answer. Not one of them had heard of Fien's grandmother Irene or of his supposed New Zealand heritage. Others tried desperately to pour cold water on the controversial subject. When we contacted Fien's uncle Ron, he abruptly hung up after saying: "That's a question that only Nathan should answer."

Repeated calls to Fien's father, Arthur, and sister Kara went unanswered. Mysteriously, Cathy Martin, a Fien family friend said: "I don't know the Fiens." She then hung up. [Link]
For its part, the New Zealand Rugby League argues that grandmothers are notoriously forgettable.
NZRL chairman Selwyn Bennett believes that sort of investigation is nonsense and that most people could ring 20 friends and relatives who would not know who their grandmother was.

He says the implied accusations are dangerous and people have to be taken at their word as they do not employ genealogists, and it would be a sad day if they did. [Link]

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Greenbrier Ghost Contest

Juliana Smith and Ancestry.com are offering a prize to the first person who can identify the illegitimate child of The Greenbrier Ghost, Elva Zona Heaster.

In a nutshell, Elva gave birth to a son out of wedlock in 1895, married a guy named Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue in 1896, had her neck broken by Shue in January of 1897, and haunted her mother until he was arrested. But what became of her child?

Whoever identifies Elva's offspring first gets an Ancestry.com World Deluxe subscription (or upgrade or extension). How hard could it be to chase down the child of a ghost?

Ancestors in the Arctic Attic

Ancestors in the Attic—hosted by the enthusiastic and sometimes spastic Jeff Douglas—is airing only in Canada, but you can catch some webisodes here. The second of these, Lost Gravestones, tells of a search requested by blogger Kate Johnson. There is also a Web Log where genealogist Paul McGrath gives a behind-the-scenes account of the research that underpins each episode.

If an American cable channel picks this up, it could be our best Canadian import since Alex Trebek jumped the fence.

Epitaphic Wit

Spike Milligan was not allowed to have "I told you I was ill" inscribed on his headstone, but the diocese that governs the St. Thomas Church in Winchelsea, East Sussex, did allow him the Gaelic equivalent: "Duirt me leat go raibh me breoite."

This and other apocryphal-sounding inscriptions today from Gordie Little:

"Grim death took me without any warning. I was well at night and dead in the morning."

"Here lies Ezekial Aikle aged 102. The good die young."

"Beneath this grassy mound now rests one Edgar Oscar Earl who to another hunter looked exactly like a squirrel."

I have a friend who tells pretty good ghost stories himself. His name is John Ford. I wonder if he knows there is a gravestone in England with the following inscription: "Here lieth Mary, the wife of John Ford. We hope her soul is gone to the Lord. But if for Hell she changed this life, she had better be there than be John Ford's wife." [Link]

Would the Cisco Kid Tell a Lie?

Duncan Renaldo was an actor best known for his portrayal of the Cisco Kid on film and television in the '40s and '50s. For a time in the 1930s, he was better known as "the man without a country."

His career was going great guns in Hollywood until in 1930 he applied for a passport to Africa [to film the movie Trader Horn]. He was an orphan, whose assorted foster parents had taken him all over the world, but they all assured him he really had been born in Camden, N. J. He listed that town as being his birthplace and that was a serious mistake.

While he was appearing before the cameras in Africa, the immigration bureau was looking up his record. It became increasingly confusing.

"The officials eventually found birth certificates showing I had been born in four different countries," he recalled. "I had served in the U.S. army during the World war and I was willing to be listed as anything the officials wanted to call me, but I went to trial, anyway, on charges of being an alien illegally in this country." [The Zanesville (Ohio) Signal, Sept. 22, 1939]
This first-hand account leaves out one juicy detail: Renaldo and co-star Edwina Booth were rumored to have had an affair while filming Trader Horn. Renaldo's wife found out and reported his illegal entry into the United States during their divorce proceedings. He may indeed have been an orphan, but he was also a stoker aboard a steamship who came ashore in 1921 and never left.

Renaldo's claim to have "served in the U.S. army during the World war" also bears scrutiny, given his reported 1904 birth date. A June 1936 AP article said that he served for three years with "the famous 77th Regiment of New York" after jumping ship, which—if he served at all—would be more plausible. [Update: According to court records, Renaldo actually arrived in 1917, which would have given him time to enlist in America as an extremely young doughboy.]

Having been found guilty of perjury, Renaldo was sent to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary near Seattle for 18 months. He was released and pardoned by President Roosevelt in January of 1936 thanks to the appeals of his friends in Hollywood, but he still faced deportation. The court had ruled that he was a Romanian citizen named "Vasile Dumitree Coghieanas." Romania had no record of his birth, and refused to give him a passport. Again his friends intervened, and in the spring of 1936 the United States agreed to grant him a passport, but only if he traveled to Tijuana and re-entered the country "on the Rumanian quota." Renaldo became a U.S. citizen in 1941, exclaiming, "I finally made it, thank God!" He died in 1980, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Santa Barbara, California.

100% English, But 24% Middle Eastern

The DNA test results for the daughter of former UK PM Margaret Thatcher were something of a surprise. They showed that Carol Thatcher's ancestry is 76% North European and 24% Middle Eastern.

The family’s blood ties to the Middle East will be revealed next month in a Channel 4 programme, 100% English, which explores the DNA of eight people who considered themselves completely Anglo-Saxon.
Carol Thatcher, in Australia filming a new I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, the reality TV show that she won last year, said: “Do I know if any of my great-grandfathers had any associations or came from the Middle East? I haven’t got a clue. I will do what research I can. I am now very curious.

“My brother did once compete in a motor rally across the Sahara desert and rather famously got lost, so I think he will be astonished to know he should have done better.” [Link]
Thatcher was crowned "Queen of the Jungle" on the aforementioned reality series after eating "jungle bugs and kangaroo testicles to help sustain her fellow celebrities." Her mother did the same thing during a 1979 campaign appearance to prove herself qualified for the Prime Minister's job.

Irish Coats of Arms: Pricey But Worthless?

Irish coats of arms have been granted to presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, but the Garter King of Arms in London says they're not worth the vellum they're printed on.

Guy Power, a civil servant with Nasa in California, wrote to the College of Arms in London asking it to reregister a grant of arms made by the Irish chief herald in 1981. Peter Gwynn-Jones, the Garter, replied that this posed a considerable difficulty.

In a letter to Power he said an order made in 1943 by the Irish government “did not include any explicit measure empowering the new chief herald to grant armorial bearings”. He noted that several recent judgments also indicated that powers the Irish state thought it had “have no such origin”. [Link]

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ancestors Abroad Are Coming Aboard

Ancestorsonboard.com, which I wrote about in April and September, is bringing the first of 30 million UK passenger records online in the next few weeks. If you want a preview, buy some units at 1837online.com and then go here to search "a sample of the records from 1890 to 1899." Click on the image below to see what info you can expect to glean from this subset of records (later records may be expected to include more details).

Bloodsucking Yankees

Belief in vampires was once prevalent in some parts of New England, where people went to great and disgusting lengths to ward them off.

Following the death of a family member from consumption (i.e., tuberculosis), other family members began to show the signs of tuberculosis infection. According to the New England folk belief, the "wasting away" of these family members was attributed to the recently deceased consumptive, who returned from the dead as a vampire to drain the life from the surviving relatives. The apotropaic remedy used to kill the vampire was to exhume the body of the supposed vampire and, if the body was un-decomposed, remove and burn the blood-filled heart or the entire body.
A corpse was exhumed in Griswold, Connecticut, in the early 1990s that showed evidence of both tuberculosis and postmortem tampering.
Upon opening the grave, the skull and femora were found in a "skull and crossbones" orientation on top of the ribs and vertebrae, which were also found in disarray. On the coffin lid, an arrangement of tacks spelled the initials "JB-55", presumably the initials and age at death of this individual. [Link]
FoodfortheDead.com has more details on the Griswold discovery (including photographs of the gravesite and an artist's reconstruction of what "JB" might have looked like) and on vampire incidents elsewhere in New England. (Flash player is required; click on a town's name to view its gruesome history.)

Old MacDonald Had a Cow ... and a Granddaughter

From the Decatur (Ill.) Review of Dec. 15, 1918:

"The value of vital statistics might be cited from the following, vouched for by Dr. Hurty of the Indiana State Board of Health.

"A farmer in Indiana left his valuable farm in trust to his unthrifty son, to go to his granddaughter on her twenty-first birthday. When she believed she was 21 and claimed her inheritance, her father disputed her age, saying she was only 19. The family Bible was consulted, but the leaf with the record was gone. The court was in a quandry. At last a neighbor remembered that a valuable cow belonging to the grandfather had given birth to a calf on the day the girl was born, and he could swear to the coincidence; perhaps the grandfather had recorded the date of the birth of the calf. His farm books showed that he had done so, and the date of the birth of the girl was thus established. This story has a cheerful ending; in too many instances hardship and loss have been suffered because of a similar lack of indisputable birth records."

We Live, We Die, We Decay

Donald and Betty Timberlake recently met their great-great-grandfather for the first time. He was buried in an iron coffin in 1863 and disinterred because of encroaching development on the grounds of his former Virginia plantation. He's now being inspected at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History.

First, Shelley Foote, a specialist in 19th century clothing, examined the corpse.

"He was buried in a suit," she said. "The cutaway coat was typical of a man's daytime wear. It's a little unusual that the lapels have velvet facings. He must have been wearing a cotton shirt because cotton disintegrates quickly and there's no sign of it."

Pathologist Larry Cartmell took samples of hair, fingernails and body tissue, placing them in plastic bags for lab analysis.

"From the hair and fingernails, we can determine what medicines he was taking and how much he used tobacco and alcohol, Cartmell said. "We can do tests to determine how much meat he ate. We will x-ray the teeth to look at that abscess. We will put everything together and attempt to come up with a cause of death."
Asked her thoughts about viewing the remains of her great, great grandfather, Betty Timberlake shrugged. "It's all part of life. We live, we die, we decay." [Link]

Book Review: Saxons, Vikings, and Celts

Bryan Sykes's forthcoming Saxons, Vikings, and Celts (UK title: Blood of the Isles) is a genetic guidebook to Britain and Ireland that answers such age-old questions as "How are the Irish and Scots related?" and "What the hell is a 'Pict'?"

Sykes—a pioneering geneticist and founder of Oxford Ancestors—moves easily between myth, history, and science, as he must to tell a story this convoluted. The early history of the Isles—mostly a series of invasions, recoveries from invasion, and preparations for invasion—was poorly documented, if documented at all. Over the centuries this history was reshaped to suit current political needs, with historical events mythologized and new origin myths historicized. From this dubious mess Sykes seeks out "crumbs of credible historical fact," some of which foreshadow his own discoveries.

The arithmophobic layman has nothing to fear from this book. Sykes only once reduces his findings to a list of numbers, for which he immediately apologizes, saying, "This is no way to treat our ancestors." (For those who don't care how our ancestors are treated, the nasty details may be found on the companion website.) His explanations of how DNA may be used to discover genetic origins and migration patterns are made easier by reference to the now-famous Seven Daughters of Eve. If you don't grasp how Y-chromosome and mtDNA testing works when you pick the book up, you will when you put it down.

In the second half of Saxons, Sykes describes his travels to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England to gather DNA, each travelogue followed by an overview of that region's test results. The two genetic histories of each region are discussed: the one told by the Y-chromosome (passed from father to son), and the other told by mitochondrial DNA (passed from mother to child). The strongest conclusions are drawn from Scottish results; those drawn from English results are the most vague, owing to the common genetic origins of the later invading forces (Saxon, Dane, Viking, and Norman).

The historical details that Sykes teases out of the genes of the living are remarkable. Vikings in Iceland really did import their wives from Ireland and Scotland. The Romans left scarcely a genetic trace in England. The Picts were nothing more than mislabeled Celts. And, as ancient myths suggested, a large number of Irish Celts came from Spain.

Sykes describes his work as "genetic archaeology." What a perfect term to evoke the history buried in our cells, waiting to be brought to light.

(This review was based on a free "advance reading copy" of the book sent to me by the publisher.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Official Irish Dirt

Two enterprising men are selling "Official Irish Dirt" to Irish-Americans looking to soil their caskets with a lump of the Old Country.

Pat Burke, 27, and Alan Jenkins, 65, have just shipped their first $1 million load of 'official' Irish soil to New York – at $15 per 12-ounce (340-gram) bag – and confidently expect it will be followed by many more.

'The demand has been absolutely phenomenal,' Burke, an agricultural scientist from County Tipperary, said on Friday.
Burke said the idea for the business – whose Web site www.officialirishdirt.com will go live shortly – came about after Jenkins attended an Irish association meeting in Florida.

'He found that all that these second, third and fourth generation Irish wanted was a drop of the old sod – a true piece of old Ireland – to place on their caskets,' he said. [Link]

23 Hours and Two Generations Apart

Terry Lamb of Culver, Indiana, had a child and a great-grandchild born a day apart this week.

Lamb, 59, a truck driver, is Terrian's daddy. Wife, Kim, gave birth to Terrian Tuesday at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend.

On Wednesday, Lamb's granddaughter, Danyiel Shireman, formerly of Bremen and now of Argos, gave birth to Lamb's seventh great-grandchild, Addison, at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Plymouth.

So, that makes Terrian about 23 hours older than Addison. It also means Terrian is Shireman's aunt and Addison's great-aunt.

"It was kind of weird at first," Shireman said Thursday at the Plymouth hospital as she handed little Addison over for kisses to new daddy Evan Byers. "It seems pretty natural now, because we were pregnant together." [Link]

Genealogical Mudslinging

From the Steubenville (Ohio) Daily Herald of Sept. 8, 1875, copied from the Norristown (Pa.) Herald.

A man in a neighboring county who wished to write a history of his family, was unable to obtain the necessary material; but when he got nominated for Congress the opposition papers furnished him a complete history of the same for six generations back, and didn't charge him a cent. But he says he doesn't believe his great-great-great-grandmother was burned for being a witch, and that his great-great-grandfather was hanged for stealing a sheep, as stated in the papers.

A Kerfuffle in Hollsopple

Ed Holsopple is lobbying to change the name of a Pennsylvania town from "Hollsopple" to "Holsopple." The controversy stems from an old disagreement within the Holtzapfel family as to how to spell their name. They settled upon "Holsopple" in 1880, but the town wound up with an extra letter.

Residents in this leafy community unsurprisingly are mixed on the name change.

“If they’re going to change it, I’m for it,” said Mike Burkett. “I believe that’s the way it was originally spelled.”

Others sided with two L's.

“I’m so used to writing it this way. I’d like to keep it,” Chad Varner said.

“It doesn’t matter, but I’m used to spelling it with two L's,” added Wanda Rager before entering the post office.

One woman remained indifferent to the spelling dilemma.

“It doesn’t matter to me as long as I get my mail,” said Mabel Fox. [Link]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Vital Source of Novel Ideas

Writing novels and short stories is Steve Whisnant's night job. He gets some of his ideas from his day job, as field representative for the Vital Records Division of the Arkansas Department of Health.

“The death certificate is one of the last documents of the living, so we want to make sure it’s filed properly,” he says. “We do queries if something on a death certificate looks wrong.”

In his story “Hospicetality,” a deputy sheriff suspects something odd about an old man’s death, but his only evidence — the body — has been cremated. In “Certificate of Death,” as the author tells it, “somebody is looking at death certificates, and they come across their own death.” The idea might be scarier if he didn’t describe it so good-naturedly. “I enjoy my day job,” Whisnant says. [Link]

Time to Fill In the Blanks

It appears that the genealogist we've known and loved as Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak is changing her name to "Diane Blank." As with most name changes, it's being done against her will by the Mainstream Media.

It'll Take Movie Magic to Give Houdini Descendants

Walden Media, producers of The Chronicles of Narnia, are looking for a writer and director for their next big hit.

In a shocking move, it’s not actually based on a children’s book. No, this is a Walden original, and though it doesn’t yet have an actual title, it does have a plot—a 14-year-old discovers that he’s a descendent of Harry Houdini. When he learns of his legacy, he kicks off a journey of discovery, learning some of his ancestor’s past along the way. [Link]
Whomever they find to write the screenplay is in for a challenge: Houdini had no children. Some web sources speculate that he was rendered sterile by frequent visits to his brother, "New York's first X-ray specialist."

Don't Worry, They're Not Contagious

From The Berkshire Evening Eagle of Pittsfield, Mass., Nov. 7, 1951:

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (UP) — Tonsillitis Jackson, 19, of Ardmore, Okla, was in the Navy today after unbelieving recruiters checked up and found he was not ribbing them.

He told Chief Petty Officer E. G. Old that his mother had a sore throat when he was born. His brothers and sisters, he added, are: Meningitis, 16; Appendicitis, 14; Laryngitis, 12; Jakeitis, 10; and Peritonitis, 9.

"We thought he was kidding us," Old said, "but we checked at Ardmore, and he wasn't."
A good dose of penicillin would have wiped out half this family.

The Men Who Would Be King

Robert Brown isn't the only one trying to burrow his way into Buckingham Palace. Today's Daily Mirror lists some other pretenders to the throne, past and present.

UBERTO Omar Gasche would be King of England if English monarchs were allowed to marry Roman Catholics and the throne could be inherited by the oldest child, rather than the oldest son.

Instead, the eccentric Italian aristocrat with a droopy moustache breeds Great Danes rather than corgis.
THIS Portuguese furniture restorer claims descent from a love child of Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington.

The 43-year-old from Lisbon whose mother ... is said to resemble the Queen, has written to HRH asking for DNA samples to prove his point and to meet the Royals. [Link]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Don't Argue With the Beeb

Guardian columnist Marcel Berlins is skeptical that the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation I mentioned last week is 100% accurate.

I used to present a weekly radio programme on BBC Radio 4, which meant that continuity announcers were frequently obliged to mention my name in trails. The trouble was, they were not pronouncing my surname the way that I did. Their emphasis was on the wrong syllable. I went up to the pronunciation unit and informed them of the correct version. This turned out to be unacceptable to the chief pronunciator, who told me politely but firmly that I had no idea how to pronounce my name. One of us had to give in. It was me. Since then, I have adopted the BBC diktat, except sometimes when I forget and go back to saying it the old way. So if you knew me 15 years ago, I'm still happy to be a first-syllable emphasisee; new friends hit hard on the "lins". [Link]

Life Was Hard, But At Least They Had a Monkey

Nigel Green dug up some Victorian mugshots of child criminals in northern England for his book Tough Times and Grisly Crimes: A History of Crime in Northumberland and Durham. Then he tracked down some of the scamps' descendants—including Alma Bell, whose grandfather, among other things, stole meat from a butcher's shop and received as punishment "six strokes of the birch."

Alma, who now lives in a smart terraced house in East Boldon, near South Shields, was amazed when - with the help of a genealogist - Nigel was able to trace her and show her the mug-shot of her grandfather.

She says: "My grandfather's life sounded very hard but I suppose life was like that in those days. George worked in the docks. I think he was a labourer. I remember stories about them having a monkey in their house, which had come off one of the ships. Apparently it used to swing from the lights." [Link]

Genealogy Blog Search

I've just created Genealogy Blog Search using Google's new Custom Search Engine service. It's just like the standard Google search you're familiar with, except the results are limited to genealogy blogs I have specified.

So far, I've included more than 80 more than 150 active blogs. If your blog doesn't show up in the results (and has been indexed by Google), drop me a line at the address in my profile and I'll add it.

Babies Are Not Interchangeable

From The Daily Commonwealth of Fond du Lac, Wis., Sept. 20, 1912:

Pittsburg, Pa., Sept. 20.—That scores of parents in Pittsburg are unwittingly rearing children of others is the intimation given by members of the Associated Women's clubs, who are investigating the maternity wards of hospitals here. The accusation is that babies born in the hospitals are laid in a row on one bed. When the mother asks to see her child the nurse picks up the first one handy and presents it. Frequently, it is said, mistakes have been made. At the hospitals the suggestion that any mother could be deceived about her own child, even if all infants look alike, is scouted.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two-Toned Twins

Alicia and Jasmin Singerl of Burpengary, Australia, are the twin daughters of a Jamaican-English mom and a German dad. But people will forever wonder if they're really related.

Alicia has dark brown eyes and complexion, while Jasmin is blue-eyed and fair-skinned.

Experts say the chance of twins being born with such different physical characteristics is about a million to one.
[Their mother said] "When we go out people stop and ask if they are twins. Other people will look but not say anything. Maybe they think I am babysitting one of them.

"Someone even asked me if I was sure there wasn't a mix-up at the hospital. But there was no mix-up – they are my girls and they are both so beautiful." [Link]

Woman Picks Up an Heirloom at Wal-Mart

Abraham and Carol Kershaw of Elgin, Ill., are trying to find a lost family heirloom. Abraham's walking stick had been passed down in the Kershaw family for four generations, but some Bad Samaritan drove off with it last month.

While at Wal-Mart in Denison, they left Abraham's walking stick in a shopping cart. Once they realized that, they rushed back to the store, but the parking lot attendant told them a woman had driven by while he was gathering carts and said it was her walking stick.

"The funny thing about is this that we left the cane in the cart, and the parking lot attendant was going to head inside to put it in the lost and found when a woman drove by and said it was hers," Carol Kershaw said when called by the newspaper. She added there was no way the parking lot attendant could have known that it wasn't the woman's cane. [Link]

Singer Risks Cholera to Perform 'Puppy Love'

Donny Osmond will play a concert next June in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, the hometown of some of his ancestors.

Utah-born Osmond travelled to the town last year to track down his heritage and succeeded in tracing his family roots back 500 years.

He found the grave of his great, great, great grandfather Dr John Martin who was chief surgeon at the local steelworks.

He also found that his family fled to America to escape the dangers of mid-19th century cholera outbreaks and not to flee religious persecution as was first thought. [Link]

It's Good to Be the President of Turkmenistan

The nutty leader of Turkmenistan had his family history published on Tuesday. "The Tree of Life of Great Turkmenbashi" traces eight generations of the family of Saparmurat Niyazov—who calls himself "Father of All Turkmen."

The book, written in Russian and Turkmen languages, will help "reveal the phenomenon" of Niyazov's personality and help the younger generation follow the "glorious example of his honorable forefathers," it reported.

Last year, Turkmenistan's Central Bank issued golden and silver coins with profiles of Niyazov's family members, and in 2002 he renamed days and months in the calendar after himself and his parents. [Link]

Do Hags Get Paid By the Hour?

A press release from Ancestry.com reports some of the spooky names found in the US and UK census indexes. The intrepid Kimberly Powell dares to turn it into a learning exercise:

Alla Witch identified in the above mentioned press release is actually "Ella Ulitch." The last name in the 1920 census appears to have been misread - the "Ul" being misidentified as a "W" which is an easy mistake. The Alla for Ella appears to have been misspelling on the part of the census taker. The family's name in the 1910 Census is more easily read as Ulitch, and the Ella's husband is also easily identified as Henry Ulitch on his WWI Draft Registration Card. Entries like this are very common in the census and other genealogical records, and are why we should always try to find more than one source, when possible, to support our facts. [Link]
I do like some of the occupations mentioned in the release:

Be Careful What You Sign

From the Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent of May 24, 1920:

Geneva.—"They have pretty nearly convinced me I'm dead," mourns Paul Bergot, French soldier here. He was reported killed in action by the French army. One day a gendarme called on him and he signed a paper he later found was his own death certificate. Now he is fighting in court to prove he is alive. "We have his word for it he is dead," says the government.

Finding Oprah's Roots ... Again

The sequel to Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s African American Lives is now in production, and will focus on the ancestry of a famous talk-show host. Surprisingly, it's not Maury Povich.

In “Oprah’s Roots,” Gates will teach audiences how to trace their own family trees as he traces Oprah Winfrey’s family background. The companion book, “Finding Oprah’s Roots: Building an African-American Family Tree,” will be available in February. [Link]
Apparently Miss Winfrey's roots were misplaced sometime after the airing of African American Lives, on which she also appeared and had her family background traced.

Two Well-Funded Genealogists

Most lottery winners are overrun with relatives hoping to share in their good fortune. But Xia Rattanakone, who with her husband Sommay won $55 million in the Mega Millions lottery last week, will be spending some of her cash actively searching for family members.

Besides retiring early, the Rattanakones plan to buy a new house and car and set aside money for college for their two children.

They also intend to help a Catholic orphanage in Laos where Xia was reared before she was adopted and brought to the United States. They will travel to Laos to research Xia's family history.

"I don't know my parents," she said. "That is my wish, to find them." [Link]

Monday, October 23, 2006

Stones in the Cellar and Stove

If you can't find your ancestor's tombstone in Suffield, Connecticut, you might want to pay the Kaputs a visit.

In Carol and Thomas Kaput's 18th century home, two tombstones - one etched with "In Memory of Isaac Griffin" - lie side-by-side on the basement floor. A small stone that appears to have been carved for an infant rests nearby against the water heater.

"They're all over the place," Carol Kaput said of the tombstones in her house. "We're just waiting for the next one to pop up somewhere."
[She] found another headstone shoved into the home's wood-burning stove, apparently to absorb some of the heat. Kaput, a schoolteacher, found the location sacrilegious and dragged the stone, engraved with "Larmon Holcomb/Farewell my friends and children/Keep me in your memory," to her herb garden in the back of the house. [Link]

Man Enjoys Cemetery Visit Too Much

The head of a cleaning company in Scotland was nabbed for romping naked in a graveyard.

Charles Rose, 35, was captured on CCTV running around the cemetery in Edinburgh, and leaping over gravestones.
Sheriff Elizabeth Jarvie decided not to place him on the sexual offenders' register, while admitting that his behaviour was 'certainly unusual.' He was instead placed on probation for six months.

A second charge of rubbing his gentials on a gravestone was dropped. [Link]
Whatever "gentials" are, I hope they were confiscated to prevent a recurrence of this aberrant behavior.

A Mother of the Highest Caliber

From The Evening News of Lincoln, Neb., Jan. 31, 1895:

A remarkable woman is Blanche Leon, who lives with her four children in a New York tenement house. As a mother Mrs. Leon claims distinction. Though only 47 years old, she has borne 33 children, of whom seven are now living.

She is the wife of Joseph Leon Navachelski, Barnum's old "solemn clown." She was born in Madrid and at 13 married Leon. She joined his company and was the original human "cannon ball."

She went under the name of Blanche Sullivan and was nightly shot from a cannon. In 1862 her first children were born. They were twins, and within five years she presented the happy Leon with four more pairs. The first four children were born in Havana, and of the others two were born in Paris, two in Russia and 25 in the United States. Mrs. Leon shows birth certificates and gives ample evidence of her statement that she is the mother of 33 children.
The 1880 census shows Joseph and Blanche living in Manhattan with exactly zero children. Note that Joseph's age was then reported as 28. If correct, he would have been about 8 when he married Blanche, and the father of ten children by the time he was 15. No wonder he was "solemn."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Women Behind the Curtain at Roots TV

Roots Television is bound to be a success considering who's in the (virtual) head office.

Headquartered in Utah, Roots Television, LLC is an independent media company that is the brainchild of national media producer Marcy Brown and professional genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes, her real name).

Largely a virtual operation with partners scattered around the globe, Roots Television™ takes a broad view of family history and is committed to providing programming – both original and from talented producers and independent filmmakers around the world – that appeals to avid genealogists and family history lovers of all stripes. [Link]
You might remember Brown and Smolenyak's previous attempt to record the activities of genealogists in their native habitat: Brown produced the Ancestors television series that aired on PBS stations several years ago, and Megan signed on as lead researcher for Ancestors II. Perhaps not coincidentally, episodes from both series are now available at Roots Television.

She Was a Hogg All Her Life

The 1975 obit of Miss Ima Hogg described her as a philanthropist and "perennial 'First Lady of Texas.'" She was the daughter of Gov. James Stephen Hogg of Texas, who explained in an 1899 article the origin of her name.

Ex. Gov Hogg, of Texas, says regarding the stories about his children's names: "The truth of the matter is that my girl's name is Ima Hogg. She was named by her mother. Her mother was reading a book somewhere in which one of the characters which interested her exceptionally was named Ima. About that time the little girl came along and she was named Ima. We never noticed the play of the name until it was called to our attention. The boys all have rational names. They are Tom, Mike and Will." [The Stevens Point (Wis.) Journal, Sept. 9, 1899]
This explanation can easily be reconciled with the account given in Miss Ima's Wikipedia entry.

Finger-Pointing at the O.K. Corral

Thursday is the 125th anniversary of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Friends Wyatt Earp and Terry "Ike" Clanton are relatives of men on opposite sides of the fight, and still can't agree on who was to blame.

“I’ve always said it was the first form of police brutality in America,” says Clanton, a cousin of the infamous Clanton clan.

“It’s amusing,” says Earp, a nephew of the storied lawman. “(Clanton) talks about the Clantons and McLaurys as not being bad guys. Oh, boy. I know better.” [Link]

'Chimney Rage' a Possible Motive

While we're on the subject of witchcraft, an article in today's Hartford Courant gives some additional details of the case against Mary Sanford—the ancestor whom Debra Avery is trying to clear.

Among other suspicious behavior, Sanford's accusers noted that she had partaken in "a bottle of sack" (liquor) on the Hartford town green. Avery guesses that perhaps such behavior ruffled the stodgy community.

Chimney rage is another possibility. Mary's husband, Andrew Sanford, held the post of "chimney viewer" - one who makes sure everyone's chimneys are clean and in good condition. One could have made plenty of enemies with such a job. [Link]

Woman Hanged for Having Clean Shoes

Longtime friends Philip Reyer and Steve Latham of Limestone County, Alabama, have a bond that goes back more than three hundred years. Both are descended from women convicted of witchcraft in Salem.

“Our grandmothers rode the same wagon to be executed, up to Gallows Hill, and now how many hundreds of years later we meet," said Latham.
Reyer, who has worked at Limestone County Archives for more than 20 years, was a descendent of Susannah North Martin, as well as Edward Bishop and Sarah Wildes Bishop. The Bishops escaped hanging. Martin was not as fortunate. She was known for being a strong and independent woman, Reyer said. She was also a stickler for cleanliness.

“Susannah was a very liberated woman. Very clean,” said Reyer. "On a rainy day, she visited her neighbor and had no mud on her shoes when she arrived. Then they thought she had to be a witch." [Link]

Did the Princess Hide a Pregnancy?

Robert Brown, an accountant born in Kenya in 1955, claims to be the illegitimate son of Princess Margaret, and 12th in line to the British throne.

At the heart of his claim is a meeting he had with a woman he believes to have been Princess Margaret when he was a young boy in Nairobi.

"I don't recall ever seeing her before but I know this woman spent some time with me. I remember we were playing games and during the day she told me that I must be on my very best behaviour because one day I might be king of England. That meeting has stayed with me and kept me going. Although I don't think I ever saw her again."
A key part of his case is that at the time of his birth, the Princess is described in at least one report of the day as [having] been confined to bed with a "hacking cough". [Link]
"Hacking cough" is, of course, an English euphemism for the expulsion of a child from one's uterus.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What, No Jam?

From the Stevens Point (Wis.) Journal of May 22, 1896, copied from the St. Louis Republic:

The Soar family of Ambaston, Derbyshire, England, have a curious heirloom in the shape of a loaf of bread which is now over 600 years old. The founders of the family, it appears, were great friends of King John. When that monarch died, he made several land grants to the Soars. One of the tracts, it appears, had always been conveyed with a loaf of bread as a witness of good faith. When King John made over the papers to the original Soar, he sent the traditional loaf along with the "writings," and the deed and the loaf are both kept to this day as sacred relics.
Sadly, the loaf was served at a dinner party by mistake in 1934. There were no survivors.

Calling All Joneses

Here's an update on the single-surname soirée to be held November 3 in Wales. Pop singer Grace Jones is scheduled to appear at the Jones Jones Jones event, as well as soprano Dame Gwyneth Jones and tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones from the opera world.

Presenter and singer Dai Jones who is also taking part said: "Grace Jones' singing style is very different to mine, but I really can't wait to see her perform.

"Dame Gwyneth's repertoire I know somewhat better, but these two famous names reflect the cross-section of Joneses who will give this evening an international flavour." [Link]
The Jones Jones Jones website has the results of an online survey, which reveal that 3% of European Joneses prefer not to bathe.

Ancestry.com Has a Biography Bot

cleverhack dot com noticed that Ancestry.com is sending out a bot to find biographical information on the web. From the MyFamilyBot Information Page:

What is MyFamilyBot? Why is it accessing my files?:
MyFamily is creating an index based on a powerful person-based biographical ranking engine that gives superior results over searches done using the more general purpose internet search engines. Ancestry.com indexes the biographic text and provides a search service that points users back to the originating website.
The bot seems to have been crawling as early as last spring.

Political Debate Gets Genealogical

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
A heated debate was held Friday evening in Ypsilanti, Michigan, between incumbent Republican Congressman Paul Engstrom and Democratic challenger Harold Kimball. Tempers flared when Kimball accused Engstrom of failing to disclose his great-grandfather's ties to the Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover administrations.

"I have in my pocket the obituary of the man, which states that he was a lifelong Republican," said Kimball. "Is my opponent prepared to denounce his great-grandfather for voting in favor of corruption and economic depression?"

Engstrom refused to respond, but countered that Kimball had "a long family history of failing to support our troops."

"It's a matter of public record," the six-term congressman said, "that Harold Kimball's ancestors opposed the Civil War. They opposed the Spanish-American War. They even opposed World War II, and that was the best one we ever had. Being Quakers is no excuse for that kind of un-American behavior."

Accusations of infidelity and illegitimacy in the candidates' respective families followed. In response to a question from the audience, Engstrom produced two sets of DNA test results to demonstrate how little he has in common with President Bush.

The debate reached a head when Kimball accused the congressman of damaging books at the local Family History Center by folding over the corners of pages. Engstrom answered that he had never bent over pages and that, if he had, it was only because of his drinking problem.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Father Hoped Kids Would Hang Together

From the Evening State Journal of Lincoln, Neb., Dec. 10, 1936:

NEW YORK. (AP) The will of Giuseppe Gallo, who left five cents to each of five children with the expressed hope each would buy a piece of rope and hang himself, was upheld by Surrogate Heitherington.

The surrogate ruled that the children, attacking the will in which the father left about $17,000 to "my dear friend, Emeila Mozzara," had not established that Gallo was of unsound mind or had been unduly influenced. Only 25 cents for the children was set aside in the strange bequest—five cents to each "to use to purchase a piece of rope in the hope each will strangle himself or herself with the rope."

Couple Says 'I Do,' But They Don't

From the Davenport (Ia.) Daily Republican of Dec. 24, 1895:

In the county clerk's office at Lancaster, Ky., a couple from the country obtained a license to marry, and the Rev. C. M. Reed was called in to perform the ceremony. Another couple accompanied the bride and groom as attendants to the wedding. The minister made a mistake and married the wrong couple. Seeing his mistake, he called them back and married the right ones. The minister said the bridesmaid and best man answered the questions, and he thought them the interested parties.

The More Things Change...

Debra Avery, a ninth-generation descendant of a woman hanged as a witch in Connecticut, is among those asking the state to pardon their wrongly convicted ancestors. State historian Walter Woodward opposes the request.

Most early settlers were deeply religious and believed strongly that the devil existed and worked through humans, he said. Accusations of witchcraft were taken seriously in the colonies, where settlers lived in fear of disease and attacks by Indians.

Witch prosecutors "had the best interests of their communities at heart, he said. They were frightened, but they were not intentionally cruel or evil.

"We live in a different world today, and we look back and see things very differently," he said. "But is it appropriate to make judgments on the past and should we be correcting past judgments?" [Link]
He's right. I can't imagine living in a world so consumed with fear that a government would surrender common sense and human liberties in a misguided effort to protect the populace from very real dangers. I wonder what that was like.

Where on Earth Are Your Ancestors?

Gary Hodges at Students of Descent blogged Thursday about the launch of GeoGed.com—a free service that takes the events from your uploaded GEDCOM file and locates them on Google Earth.

Hodges gives a good overview of the features and limitations, thus saving me the trouble of signing up and uploading a file of my own. Note that use of GeoGed.com is free, but with one catch: You owe the proprietor a postcard.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Marriageable Women

From The (Atchison, Ks.) Globe of Mar. 15, 1879:

Last summer a Swedish girl, who had just arrived in this country, walked into the office of Superintendent Jackson at Castle Garden and said, "I want you to marry me." Mr. Jackson was much surprised and somewhat alarmed at this abrupt demand, but was soon relieved by finding that she wanted him to perform the ceremony. The incident got into the papers, and since then the Superintendent has received letters from hundreds of young men, old batchelors, and widowers, asking him to furnish suitable wives for them from the immigrants, and offering him liberal compensation therefor. These letters come mainly from the west, where women are comparatively scarce, but Mr. Jackson invariably responds that there is, unfortunately, no matrimonial bureau attached to Castle Garden.

Expressions of Disgust Run in My Family

Scientists at the University of Haifa in Israel have concluded that at least some of a person's facial expressions are genetically determined. They came to this conclusion after interviewing 21 blind volunteers and comparing their facial movements with those of 30 sighted relatives.

The subjects, all blind from birth, would not have been able to mimic their relatives' movements, suggesting that shared facial expressions would have arisen innately.

Volunteers were asked to relate experiences that involved sadness, anger and joy. Other emotions like concentration, disgust and surprise were elicited by other methods.

The researchers found that significantly more of the blind volunteers' facial movements involving concentration, sadness and anger matched a family member's expressions than those of a stranger. [Link]
Next they'll be testing the if-you-keep-making-that-face-it'll-stay-that-way hypothesis I first heard posed by my mother when I was six.

Canadian Clippings

I've just learned from The Internet Guy that the New Brunswick Provincial Archives has added Daniel F. Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics to its website.

As someone who has thumbed through the 102 volumes of this collection at the Maine State Library, I know what a huge boon this will be to genealogists with roots in the Maritimes. What's most remarkable about the collection—aside from the fact that the compiler is, like me, a native of Maine—is that it was mostly a one-man project.

Danny worked persistently and comprehensively mining all English-language New Brunswick newspapers available in original form or on microfilm. He copied out notices of births, marriages, deaths, and also of ship wrecks, trips outside the province and many other events, all containing names that would further the search for an ancestor. The work is remarkably accurate although as Danny was not a strict proof reader, preferring to use his time to push ahead with indexing and transcribing, occasional typographical errors crept in. Danny sold many copies of the Vital Statistics volumes to libraries, historical societies and individuals over the years and maintained a list of on-going subscribers.

Danny kept the extracted information in a database to which he later added a search capability enabling him to provide a service to researchers who did not have access to the published volumes. In celebration of the first 100 volumes of Vital Statistics, he produced a CD index of the entire series. It is hard to convey what a monumental undertaking the vital statistics project was and what a unique and invaluable benefit it is to research. [Link]

Mamaw Wasn't So Fancy

Franklin Sousley was one of the six Marines who raised the American flag at Iwo Jima in 1945. He's portrayed in the new Clint Eastwood movie Flags of Our Fathers by actor Joseph Cross, his mother by actress Connie Ray.

A number of Mrs. Sousley's descendants were given a private screening of the film in Cincinnati on Tuesday, and came away satisfied with the depictions of their relatives.

One thing they would have changed was the portrayal of Goldie Sousley -- she was just a little too glamourous for the familiar grandmother they knew and loved.

"Mamaw would have been pleased to see herself played by such a fancy actress," Geneva Price said. [Link]

Life After Death

Modern science is very good at creating ethical dilemmas and genealogical puzzles. Dylan Campbell-Savours became a father last week 18 months after his death from Hodgkin's Disease, thanks to in vitro fertilization and a new UK law that recognizes posthumous parentage.

Legislation which only went through last year means that Dylan’s name will appear on the birth certificate - one of the first such instances where a mother can place the deceased father’s name on the document.

“It was very important that Dylan’s name should be on the birth certificate,” [his widow] Kathryn said. [Link]

'Lost' Husband Found

From The Decatur (Ill.) Republican of Mar. 11, 1869:

An old lady applied for a pension in Indiana as the widow of a soldier of 1812, stating that her husband was lost on the Ohio river in 1847. The department replied that the soldier was still living and receiving a pension in Tennessee, and the lady is now after the truant of twenty-two years.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Mr. Lincoln Goes to Washington

USA Today has a great story tonight about Ralph Lincoln—a distant cousin of the late president to whom he bears a striking resemblance.

It all began with a broken leg a couple of years ago. Ralph Lincoln was recuperating at home, wondering how to pass the time, when he decided to grow a beard.

Along with his face, his life began to change, too. With facial hair, the 49-year-old looks hauntingly like Abraham Lincoln, albeit 6 inches shorter.
A recent visit to Washington brought Ralph to Ford's Theater, site of a poorly reviewed performance by John Wilkes Booth in 1865. He was quickly swarmed by fifth-graders from a suburban school.
"Are you Abe Lincoln?" asks Annie Kruger, 11, of Washington, D.C.

"A Lincoln," he replies.

She gives him a thumbs up.

"How old are you?" asks Luca Grifo-Hahn, 10, of Bethesda. "I thought you were dead." [Link]
Last February, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an article about Ralph that included a more complete description of his relationship to the president and a cool side-by-side comparison of the two Lincolns' mugs.

A Pronounced Difficulty

Christine Sangster is one of the editors of the new Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation, and undoubtedly hates listening to Americans speak.

She said one of the most commonly mispronounced words - and the one that provokes the most complaints to the BBC - is genealogy. It should be pronounced "jee-no-AL-uh-ji", although many persist in replacing the "AL" sound with "OL". [Link]
I'm no phoneticist, but wouldn't that be the pronunciation of "genoalogy"?

Connubial Convolution

From The Gettysburg (Pa.) Times of Jan. 18, 1909:

There exists in this state a curious family relationship. An aged farmer having two sons engaged a woman who had two daughters as his housekeeper. The farmer married the youngest daughter, aged 16 years, one of his sons married the other daughter, and the other son married the mother of the girls. All are living together in the same house.
Sounds like a great premise for a sitcom. Or a reality TV series. Maybe we can get Paris and Nicky Hilton to be the daughters.

Senator's Parents Predicted Everest Ascent

It's good to know that even Wellesley-educated Senators can fall for dubious family stories. Hillary Rodham Clinton was always told that she was named for Sir Edmund Hillary, famous for summiting Mount Everest.

Even though Bill Clinton repeated the story in his 2004 autobiography, “My Life,” Hillary Clinton did not mention it in her own autobiography, “Living History,” which was published in 2003.

But one big hole has been poked in the story over the years, both in cyberspace and elsewhere: Sir Edmund became famous only after climbing Everest in 1953. Mrs. Clinton, as it happens, was born in 1947. [Link]

They'd Be Crazy Not to Attend

The first settler of Dallas, Texas, ended his days as an inmate at the State Lunatic Asylum, and was buried in an unmarked grave. On Saturday, John Neely Bryan's descendants will gather to dedicate a headstone somewhere near where he might be buried.

Family historian M.C. Toyer of Pilot Point will present a brief biography of John on Saturday. He has doubts about ever finding his grave – not after 129 years. "It's just not feasible," he said. "I don't think there's much there."

For him, it's enough that the general area of John's interment has been found and that he will have a headstone.

It's a modest stone marker noting John's service as a private in the Confederate Army. At the bottom, it simply says: "Founder of Dallas Texas." [Link]

Could This Be a Marriage Record?

I wrote back in February about Lazarus and Molly Rowe, who hold the Guinness record for longest-married couple, having put off divorcing for 86 years. But newspapers in 1910 reported another couple even more interminably wed.

Florence, Colo.—Ninety years wedded is the unique record of Francisco Espor, aged one hundred and ten, and his wife, Rafael, aged one hundred and seven. The couple were found by the census enumerator at the home of the great-granddaughter, Mrs. Julia Montoya, who brought them here from a pueblo in New Mexico a few years ago, where Francisco Espor was born.

Although their mental faculties are somewhat dulled and they are physically very feeble, this remarkable couple converse in their native tongue, and the husband, who witnessed the rebellion of the inhabitants of Mexico against Spanish rule when Mexico gained freedom, recounts many thrilling incidents of the war.

The couple was married at Santa Fe, N. M., in 1820, and located in Pueblo, Colo., when it was a village of log huts and the Indian trading post. Of the ten children of the couple but one is living, a son, 85 years old. There are thirty grandchildren, sixty great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. The latter are the daughters of Mrs. Montoya. [Sheboygan (Wis.) Evening Press, June 13, 1910]
A few errors and inconsistencies are apparent. For one, it's unclear whether the couple lived in a pueblo in New Mexico or in Pueblo, Colorado, or both. The 1910 census shows them living in the second ward of Florence, Colo., but without a Mrs. Julia Montoya. The census also states that Mrs. Espor had only two children, neither of whom was then living. The wife's name was not "Rafael" but "Rafela." The "Espor" surname is also questionable, as only two or three other people seem ever to have borne it.

Until someone turns up some corroborating evidence, I think Lazarus and Molly can keep their trophy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Post-Mortem Portraiture

I debated whether to link to this gallery of Victorian post-mortem photographs, but then recalled that I have no scruples. I think the photos reveal something about our 19th-century ancestors, though exactly what I couldn't say.

I have in a box somewhere the last photograph ever taken of my great-grandfather as he lay in his casket in 1968. My mother had thrown it away, but I rescued it from the trash because I'm a family historian and it's my job to preserve the trash of my relatives. I would never publish it online (Hey, maybe I do have scruples!), but I can't help thinking it might come in handy someday. Perhaps, someday, the story of how I rescued it could serve as an amusing anecdote to finish off a disturbing blog post.

[Hat tip: Boing Boing]

Don't It Make My Blue Eyes Rare

Kimberly Powell spotted this story in the Boston Globe about the increasing rarity of blue eyes in America.

Once a hallmark of the boy and girl next door, blue eyes have become increasingly rare among American children. Immigration patterns, intermarriage, and genetics all play a part in their steady decline. While the drop-off has been a century in the making, the plunge in the past few decades has taken place at a remarkable rate.

About half of Americans born at the turn of the 20th century had blue eyes, according to a 2002 Loyola University study in Chicago. By mid-century that number had dropped to a third. Today only about one 1 of every 6 Americans has blue eyes, said Mark Grant, the epidemiologist who conducted the study. [Link]
I have blue eyes despite having a couple of 20th-century immigrants in the lower branches of my family tree. It may have helped that they immigrated from Finland—a country with perhaps the highest proportion of blue-eyed people on the planet.

Odd Place to Hold a Carnival...

The 10th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is out, held this time in the neighborhood boneyard. The selected blog entries are chock-full of taphophilic goodness, with something for everybody—so long as everybody is interested in forgotten graves, tombstone iconography, and Madagascan burial rituals.

A Baltic Blue Blood

The Vilnius newspaper Lietuvos Rytas has broken the news that Queen Elizabeth II has a speck of Lithuanian DNA in her cells.

According to new research, the Queen is descended through 20 generations from Lithuania's 14th-century ruler the Grand Duke Gediminas. The link runs via the Polish royal family, the Hohenzollerns and Hannover, the paper reported.
The Queen has no lack of distinguished ancestors. Her family tree includes, among others, William the Conqueror, Robert the Bruce and Harald Bluetooth, the Viking king of Denmark.

According to mediaeval legends, the kings of Britain are ultimately descended from the Greek goddess Aphrodite. [Link]
Coincidentally, Elizabeth was also born from the white foam produced by the severed genitals of heaven.


Today at 7:46 a.m. (EDT) the 300 millionth American will be born—or, more likely, will slip across the Mexican border astride an elephant.

Back in 1967 when Robert Ken Woo was anointed the 200th American, President Johnson held a news conference. This time, the government is scaling back the festivities somewhat.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the Bush administration isn't playing down the milestone, though he said he had no plans for Tuesday. Census Bureau employees planned to mark the moment Tuesday afternoon with cake and punch. [Link]
You can watch the population clock roll over here.

The Vampires of Omaha

From The Helena (Mont.) Independent of Aug. 24, 1883:

In Omaha, Nebraska, there resides an eccentric family consisting of a father, mother, and seven children. They live in a neat little cottage on a cross street that is sparsely built up. In this house the man and wife have lived nearly ten years, and neither parents nor children have ever stirred outside except at night, when they occasionally walk out in the dark of the moon. They have dealt with one grocer, who sends the supplies in the evening, to be taken in through a window. Another freak of this curious family is that they keep a coffin in the house for each member.

Hitching a Ride Home From the Hereafter

Some requests for genealogical help are downright paranormal. Back in 1959, Mabel Chinnery was visiting her mother's gravesite in Ipswich, England, when the strangest thing happened.

After taking some photos of the gravestone she took an impromptu pic of her husband in his car.

It wasn't until the film was developed that she saw an image of a woman sitting in the back seat of the car wearing glasses.

She immediately recognised the spirit as her departed mother.
Ivan Howlett is filming a documentary for French television that will feature the photograph, but has run into trouble determining where it was taken.
Mr Howlett is keen to find out more about the circumstances surrounding the photo having attempted to find the gravestone of Mrs Chinnery's mother.

However it is not known what Mrs Chinnery's maiden name is.

Meanwhile it is unclear exactly where at Ipswich Cemetery the photo was taken.

Mr Howlett is hoping relatives of Mrs Chinnery or anyone with knowledge of the photo will shed some light on the situation. [Link]
Seeking the help of area genealogists is wise, but I would recommend that Mr. Howlett also submit the photo to That Was Me!—a website where you can find out "who was lurking in the background of your photographs."

Monday, October 16, 2006

We're Born to Booze

Steven Johnson's new book The Ghost Map takes as its subject an 1854 cholera epidemic in London. Turns out, the key to surviving such an outbreak may have been popping into the pub for a pint or two. Or thirty.

Ghost Map ... contains surprising historical nuggets: Did you know, for instance, that because citizens who drank alcohol rather than water were less likely to fall ill, "most of the world's population today is made up of descendants of those early beer drinkers, and we have largely inherited their tolerance for alcohol"? [Link]
As of 2004, the Czechs were the most tolerant people on earth.

Who Were They Covering For?

Officials at Ellis Island grew suspicious in 1907 that a firm was secretly importing hundreds of contract laborers from Italy. And arming them with umbrellas.

A few days ago the registry clerks on the island began to notice that each man in parties of immigrants arriving from Naples carried an umbrella. The officials failed to recall when they had last seen an immigrant bring an umbrella. The umbrellas were examined and found to be made by one firm in Italy. Each was incased in a glazed cover.

An inquiry was made, but all the immigrants said that they had just happened to feel as though umbrellas were necessary in America, and so they purchased some at Naples or Genoa, according as the whim. [The Washington Post, Mar. 26, 1907]

What's His Ancient Chinese Secret?

Dr. Gong Du Ruo posted an appeal for a wife on his blog last Wednesday. He holds two PhDs, is three times divorced, and is 105 years old.

Dr Gong said he was looking for woman who knew a bit about medicine, and if she were as young as 50, 'that would be a plus'.
Some have questioned whether Dr. Gong is looking for a wife or an apprentice, but by Thursday he already had received applications from ten women, including a Ms. Zhang, 52.
When asked about the 50-year age gap, Ms Zhang replied: 'My father is 20 years older than my mother. Anyway, an instant warm feeling ran through me when I saw his pictures online.' [Link]

It Pays to Keep in Touch

Back in the 1880s, former slave Matthew Jones paid $225 for a parcel of land on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Now the land is worth millions, and 180 of Jones's heirs have banded together to reap the profits.

Some of the family members had approached attorney Horace Jones to help them clear the title to the property so it could be sold. Brown suggested that instead of selling, the family consolidate the title and form a limited liability corporation to develop the tract. The effort involved tracking down descendants across the country.

"The good thing is the family was large but they kept in touch with each other," Jones said. [Link]

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Groom Misplaces Bride's Name

From The Appleton (Wis.) Motor of Oct. 24, 1861:

A Forgetful Bridegroom.—A few days ago, a man applied to the proper authorities for a marriage certificate, but upon being questioned, he had forgotten the name of his intended. After some time spent in silent thought, he remarked that the lady was named for some city in Massachusetts, and he believed that it was "Worcester." But when the couple stood up before the clergyman, the lady, with a reproachful look at her careless lover, stated that her name was Somerville.

American History 101

I do like this profile of fellow Mainer Zimri Bridges, but one paragraph stopped me in my tracks.

According to an exhaustive family history charted by Zim’s niece, Rosalie Doughty, the Bridgeses came to "the Colonies" even before the Mayflower. Ancestor Edmund Bridges was born in England in 1612 and came across the ocean aboard the James in 1635, seven full years before those nouveau riche Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1642.
I don't have time to drive down to Plymouth to confirm this, but I'm almost positive they have a rock down there with the year "1620" chiseled into it. Now, I sincerely doubt that they'd have gone to the trouble of chiseling that date on a rock without first checking a book. Or at least Wikipedia.

DNA Test Suggested at Dinner Table

Amateur historian Winifred Bennett died last week in Arlington, Virginia. Her casual suggestion at a dinner party sparked an investigation into the extracurricular activities of an American president. (No, not that one.)

One evening in 1996, over dinner at the [Eugene A.] Foster house, the talk turned to DNA. For years, a Charlottesville woman, Anna Anderson Manahan, had claimed to be Anastasia, the long-lost daughter of Czar Nicholas II. Manahan died in 1984, and in 1994, DNA testing disproved her claim.

Mrs. Bennett wondered whether DNA might resolve the Jefferson question. Dr. Foster began to research the subject.
As a result of Mrs. Bennett’s idea, an international team of scientists embarked on a genetic study of Jefferson and Hemings descendants. Their findings [pdf], published in the journal Nature in 1998, indicated that a male of the Jefferson family, most likely Thomas, fathered at least one of Hemings’s children. [Link]

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ancestral Turf Came With Serfs

The Daily Mail has tracked down actress Helen Mirren's Russian relatives—including a branch descended from a famous 18th-century field marshal and ally of Catherine the Great.

Her ancestors' estate was at Gzhatsk, which in Soviet times was renamed after its most famous son - Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, who came from humble peasant origins in one of the local villages.

It is extremely likely that Gagarin's forebears were serfs who worked the fields owned by Mirren's ancestors.

After being told of the Mirren link, the museum in Gagarin has put a picture of her on the wall. A proud doorkeeper said: "Now we have a famous daughter as well as a famous son." [Link]

Desperately Seeking Doppelgängers

Montreal photographer François Brunelle is seeking doppelgängers—apparently unrelated people who could pass for twins. He wants to take 200 photos for a possible book and exhibition, and has a form on his website for participants to sign up.

Brunelle has travelled to Britain, France, Switzerland, Spain and Germany to find look-alikes, sending press releases to the media there and hoping for stories, which inevitably turn up new doppelgängers. He made a cold call to Rowan Atkinson's office — in his younger days Brunelle was often told he resembled Mr. Bean, the character made famous by Atkinson — and nearly got thrown out. The media-shy actor allegedly liked the project, but declined to participate.

Brunelle has shot 140 portraits so far. He hopes his quest will result in a book. If it doesn't, he's enjoying the ride. [Link]

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