Thursday, November 30, 2006

Deadbeat Ancestors

Gail writes at GenForum that she sent away for a list of interments at a large New York City cemetery. The response was a plea for money.

"Upon examination of our records, we find that there are outstanding annual care charges due on this graveholding in the amount of $1071.00. A remittance in the amount would be appreciated."

"We recommend that all graveholdings be placed under Perpetual Care. The cost for your graveholding is $1550.00, in addition to the annual care charges mentioned above."
Keep in mind that this graveholding was purchased in 1899, apparently by my great great grandmother. The last burial in the grave was in 1927.
I about had a heart attack when I got the letter--here I am requesting genealogy information and getting a bill for $2500 dollars! My husband said not to do him any favors and order interment lists for his side of the family!!! [Link]

Stump Megan!

With a post like this, Megan at Roots Television is just asking for problems.

I'd like to invite you to submit your unsolved mysteries for possible resolution. I can't do 'em all, of course, but it only takes a minute or two to submit and you just might get that stubborn brick wall knocked down! Here's where to submit:

The Genealogist's Inn

Shouldn't every bed-and-breakfast have a resident genealogist?

Jerry and Nancy Jones own The Golden Lion, a one-of-a-kind bed-and-breakfast. Because of Jerry's expertise in genealogy and his reputation for tracing difficult surnames, the inn attracts many guests named Jones. They arrive clutching birth certificates, death certificates, census records and family Bibles, determined to unearth one more clue to their families' origins.
You don't have to be a Jones or a genealogist to stay at The Golden Lion, although you might be lodged in the Cadwallader Jones room, the Nicholas Jones room or the Griffin Jones room, all named after Jerry's ancestors. And if you ask, he will be glad to regale you with tales of their escapades. [Link]

Beware the Scary Fairies

A burial register for the parish of Lamplugh in Cumbria reveals some interesting causes of death between the years 1656 and 1663.

The manuscript, a later copy of the original, was found in Whitehaven during a national local history campaign. It claims four people were “frighted to death by faries” while another died after being “led into a horse pond by a will of the whisp’.
A drunken duel “fought with frying pan and pitchforks” killed another man, while a second using “a 3-footed stool and a brown jug” as weapons claimed another. [Link]
Two deaths were attributed to "Mrs Lamplugh's cordial water," and eleven poor souls "took cold sleeping at church" and died (a dig, archivist Anne Rowe supposes, at the long-windedness of the rector).

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Man Run Down by Census Taker

Thomas Martinez has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that former census taker Susan Dyck went too far trying to get his cooperation.

Dyck at one point "misrepresented herself as a potential renter" and made late-night phone calls "attempting to convince him to complete a census inquiry," the lawsuit said.

On Feb. 14, 2005, Martinez confronted Dyck and told her he'd call police, according to the lawsuit. Then "in the process of attempting to flee," Dyck backed her vehicle into Martinez, the lawsuit said. [Link]

All Is Lost

Let's all join in a moment of silence for Jason of Jason's Genealogy Work Log.

It's all Gone
All of it, every last record every last bit of research. It’s my fault, I thought I had it backed up, but I didn’t and I was reinstalling the site and lost it all. [Link]

Is That a Pinky Ring or a Wart?

Missouri farmer Greg Ellison thinks he's found a picture of George Dixon, captain of the Hunley.

The man looks to him like the facial reconstruction of Dixon made from his skull, and he is wearing a Civil War-era naval uniform.

And, most significant of all, Ellison says he's wearing a pinky ring much like the diamond-studded ring found in Dixon's pocket on the Hunley.

"I firmly believe that's what it is, that ring," Ellison said. "From what they know about Dixon, he was a sharp dresser, he was rich and had nice jewelry. My biggest clue was the fact that he's wearing that diamond pinky ring." [Link]
Ellison sent a scan of the photograph to the Hunley lab for verification. They concluded that it was not Dixon, and that the object on the man's pinky was not a ring but a wart. Ellison insists that "they looked at the wrong finger."

A Nation Undefined

The Canadian Parliament on Monday officially recognized the Québécois as a "nation within Canada." Unfortunately, no one has a clue what "Québécois" means.

On Ste-Catherine Street in downtown Montreal, there was some confusion.

"Out here we're Quebecers. But if you go a bit further east [in the city], we're Québécois. But what it means to me? I don't know exactly," said Phil Letour, a Montreal resident.
"The Québécois signifies the French Quebecer, which kind of leaves us English Quebecers as … I don't know what we are. And what about all the Franco-Canadians in the rest of Canada? What are they? Are they only Canadian?" mused Heather Laing, another Montreal resident. [Link]

Staten Islands Need Not Apply

If your parents were so cruel as to name you after a certain New York City borough, you can console yourself with a free pizza.

In honor of its new Brooklyn Style Pizza, Domino's is rewarding customers with the name "Brooklyn" or "Brooke Lynn" with a free Brooklyn Style Pizza. Beginning today through December 17, Domino's is giving away gift certificates good for a free Brooklyn Style Pizza to the first 300 people who can prove it.

"We're honoring everything "Brooklyn" with the introduction of our new Brooklyn Style Pizza," said Tim McIntyre, Vice President of Communications for Domino's Pizza. "We created this promotion to reward the real die-hard Brooklynites whose love of the 'old neighborhood' inspired them to name their children after it. What better way is there to salute a great community?" [Link]

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Landmines Would Be More Effective

If you need to visit the Olive Branch Cemetery in Frankenmuth Township, Michigan, be sure to wear Kevlar.

[June] Finger and others can't visit the gravesites because back in 1963, the cemetery was sold by a trustee of the now defunct Olive Branch Methodist Church.

It was sold to Saginaw attorney Joseph Trogan, who has since given the property to his son. The purchase price was $1.

According to the people who try to visit, the younger Trogan guards the property. He claims he protects it from grave robbers, but Kathy Schlegel has relatives there.

"When he kicked us off, he had a gun in his hand," she said. [Link]

Romanian Remains Arrive in the Mail

Aurelia Cenusa of Romania was notified that the graveyard where her father was buried had been sold to developers.

She said she thought the priest was joking when he told her to come and collect her father Rafaila Cojocaru's remains - or receive them in the post.

Cenusa said: "I had entered a lottery a few weeks ago and when I got the large parcel I thought I had won something.

"Instead I opened it up to find a banana crate containing the bones of my dead father. You could still even see bits of his funeral suit even though he died 16 years ago." [Link]
I really wish this had happened in a different European country, so I could use the headline "The Czech Is In the Mail."

An English Name Prevails in Wales

"Jones" is considered a quintessentially Welsh name, but author Rocet Arwel Jones says that it's not Welsh at all.

"If Wales had a surname, it would be Jones," writes Mr Jones in his Welsh-language book.

"And yet it's a surname that starts with a letter that's not even in the Welsh alphabet. Does that make it an English surname?

"It was a surname in England before such a thing as a surname existed in Wales at all."
Jones says that the surname in Wales is an anglicized version of the truly Welsh patronymics "ap John" or "ap Siôn," and appeared only after the English system of using surnames took hold in Wales.
"The first Jones surname appears in Huntingdonshire, in England, in 1279. Looking at the collection of wills in the National Library [of Wales], the first Jones to appear there is Roger Jones from Tregynon who died in 1564." [Link]

More Time to Paw Through the Immigrants has extended its offer of free access to its passenger lists through the end of 2006. has experienced its highest-ever site page views since the launch of the passenger list collection. Average page views per day have increased by 25 percent, from 12 to 15 million over the past month, and by more than 30,000 page views per day from new visitors. In its first week, the site experienced a 26 percent increase in average unique visitors per day from the previous month. [Link]
By way of comparison, in the same period my average page views have increased from 14 to 17 per day. I'll be issuing my own press release shortly.

Some Stains Will Never Come Out

Detective Lt. Nicholas A. Paonessa is using a high-tech forensic tool called the Rofin Polilight PL500 to prove that a farm in Pennsylvania was used as a field hospital after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Records show that farmer Daniel Lady and his family returned to a home filled with wounded soldiers and bodies.

Paonessa's investigation is confirming that story. In the darkened parlor, on his second trip to the farm since September, Paonessa pointed the bright blue light at a vaguely human outline on the wood floor. The shape became a distinct form, from head to knees, of a small-framed man. Four spots by a baseboard were revealed as being the fingerprints of a person sitting against the wall.
Theoretically, Paonessa said, old blood could reveal the victim's identity. Identification would require a well-preserved blood sample -- from between floorboards, for instance -- and a known descendant for comparison. [Link]

Inside the Family History Library

Steve Danko's pictures from inside the Family History Library in Salt Lake City should make any homebound genealogist green with envy. I'm pretty sure this is what heaven looks like.

Birth Blamed on Marx Brothers

New York City lawyer Robert Howard Werbel has applied to change his middle name to "Harpo" to honor a family legend.

According to family lore, the night before he was born, March 30, 1938, his mother went to a Marx Brothers movie, probably "Room Service," which was released that year.

"My mother laughed so hard that she went into labor," said Werbel. [Link]

Monday, November 27, 2006

She Might Not Be Right On the Button

Elizabeth Anne Gwinnett McLeod of Queensland, Australia, is "almost certain" that she inherited her middle name from Button Gwinnett of Georgia, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. I'm less certain.

McLeod and a cousin, Christopher Gwinnett Coote, both share the middle name that has been in her family for generations. But McLeod said she had no idea where it originally came from, or how she might be related to Gwinnett.
McLeod said she did not pass the name on to her daughter, but is beginning to regret that fact. After beginning to do some research, McLeod said she may have to try to convince her daughter to augment her own children’s names with Gwinnett. [Link]

Sprechen Sie Texas German?

Elizabeth Behrend is one of about 10,000 people who still speak the Texas German dialect of their ancestors.

"People could not believe that we could still speak German," said Behrend, a 78-year-old fourth-generation Texan. "They invited their neighbors to hear us speak because they were so amazed by it, and so were their neighbors. They thought we spoke like their grandparents."
The dialect has survived despite efforts during the World Wars to discourage its use.
Growing up in Fredericksburg, Carol Latta remembers, children from this German town weren't seen as cool in the eyes of their English-speaking peers in other towns. At high school football games, the Fredericksburg team brought its own announcer to pronounce the multisyllable surnames. [Link]

A Whirlwind Romance

I love this story of a spur-of-the-moment marriage from Robert B. Fillmore's 1914 Gems of the Ocean. I can imagine my own New England Yankee ancestors proposing in much the same way.

When Ebenezer Hall lived on Matinicus, a great many years ago, there lived in the family a girl by the name of Dorcas Young, a sister to Hall's wife. Joseph Green was paying his addresses to Dorcas at the time. One night Hall invited some fisherman up to the house, so he said to Greene, "Joe, don't you and Dorcas want to get married?" "I don't know," says Joe. He started for the cow yard where Dorcas was milking the cows, and asked her if she thought they had better get married, that night. "Why Joe," says Dorcas, "I have not got any wedding gown." "Never mind the gown," says Joe, so they went into the house, Dorcas washed herself, put on a clean apron, stood up, and they were married, there being a justice of the peace among the crowd. [p. 24]

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Potato Pit or Washtub?

Monacan Indians attacked the Virginia plantation of John and Sara Woodson while an itinerant shoemaker named Ligon was visiting in 1644. A six-foot-long musket now displayed at the Virginia Historical Society played a role in the skirmish.

John Woodson was just riding into the clearing around his cabin when a confederation raiding party poured out of the woods. The doctor was struck by an arrow and fell from his horse. Ligon grabbed the rifle from above the fireplace and took a position at a window. Sara bolted the door from the inside and hid her two sons - John in the potato bin under the house, Robert beneath a washtub.

Ligon, the shoemaker, killed five of the attackers with the musket, and Sara bludgeoned two more to death with a heavy iron roasting spit when they tried to come down the chimney. John Woodson lay dead in the clearing, but his family had survived.

“Ever since, there have been two branches of the family,” said Carolyn Lusardi of Brookneal, a Woodson descendant. “You’ve got the ‘Potato Pit Woodsons’ and the ‘Washtub Woodsons,’ depending on whether your line comes from John or Robert.” [Link]

Keeping Amelia On Course

Stan Moody can still remember visiting "Amelia's Tower" with his father more than 50 years ago and learning of a famous aviator's connection to their Cape Cod farm.

One afternoon when Stan Moody's great-great-grandfather Samuel Moody Jr. was tending to his sprawling cranberry farm in the early 1930s, he was approached by a man who sought the highest point in Harwich, so goes the tale.

The mysterious stranger presented Moody with an odd request: his wife, Amelia, flew small aircraft and they were looking for an appropriate spot to construct a communications tower to relay her flight data and transmissions while she was practicing off the Cape coast. Jay Moody, on that walk with his son, said his great-grandfather allowed the man to erect the tower and it still stood there decades later. [Link]

An Unrecorded Life

Tommy Johnson is a genealogist's worst nightmare.

He likely was born at a KOA campground in the Northeast, but his birth apparently never was recorded.
Johnson said that he learned from his paternal grandparents -- who raised him -- that his biological mother suffered from mental illness and gave birth to him while camping. They never spoke to him about their son, his father.
They registered him at school, and records show a question mark for date and place of birth and the birth-certificate slot was left blank.

Johnson said he is not even sure he had a name before enrolling in school. He cannot recall being called anything as a young child. [Link]

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Genealogy Is a Lot Like Football

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is trying to figure out why his team's performance has been so inconsistent this year. His method is something he can explain only with a strained genealogy metaphor.

"I'm doing a book now on the genealogy of our family, and the person I'm starting to work with told me 50 percent of the people who start doing these books never finish them. I said, 'Why is that?' They start to find out things they don't want to know about their family so they stop the work.

"In this case, when you start asking the question, 'Why isn't the consistency there?' you can start getting answers — if you're really objective and dig — that you don't want to hear. You have to be prepared to deal with those answers. I'm committed to getting this book finished and digging as far as we have to dig to find out why we're not playing with consistency." [Link]

Something Doesn't Add Up

Sometimes it pays to look at old evidence with fresh eyes.

I was looking over the family record of my great-great-grandfather Lemuel Dunham this afternoon, and noticed something odd. On Oct. 3, 1825, Lemuel married Molly (Bisbee) Bryant—a young widow who had borne an illegitimate child at age 17. On Mar. 26, 1826, Lemuel and Molly's first child was born.

I have read these dates thousands of times in the past, but only today did I notice that my ancestors had rolled in the hay prior to taking their vows.

Primoprematurity is nothing new in my family: three of my four sets of great-grandparents had children less than nine months after marrying. My paternal grandmother's father married twice, and on both occasions there was a bun in the oven. But this is the first proof of premarital conception in my Dunham line—proof I can't wait to spring on my father.

Who Needs DNA When You Have Crooked Toes?

Deborah Robinson didn't need science to prove that Lisa Files was the daughter she'd given birth to four decades ago.

Robinson asked Files to describe herself, and was flabbergasted to learn about her daughter's resemblance to herself, from her dark eyes to her crooked baby toes, which all her daughters inherited.

“In a 10-minute conversation, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, God confirmed that she is my baby,” Robinson said, adding that as far as she's concerned, DNA stands for “Don't Need Any.” [Link]

Supercentenarian Liked the Ladies

America's oldest World War I vet died last Sunday. Ernest Pusey was one of fourteen surviving U.S. veterans of The Great War, and was thought to be the third-oldest man in the world.

In a life that touched three centuries, Pusey was a sailor, a machinist, a husband, a father and an unrepentant flirt.

Sure, he was 111 - but that didn't stop Pusey from having bellydancers and Buccaneer cheerleaders at his last birthday party.

"Oh, he loved the ladies," granddaughter Kathy Dieck said. "He was looking as long as he could see." [Link]

Couples Induced to Reproduce

In a PR event to boost their nation's birthrate, the Taiwanese government sponsored a joint wedding on Sunday for ten lucky couples.

At the wedding, under the government officials' witnesses, the ten couples announced that they were willing to cooperatively share the families' responsibilities and take care of their babies together in the future. Then the ten couples walked down the aisle with baby carriages containing their marriage certificates.

In the marriage certificate, each couple promised to have at least two babies. The first baby will be born before the mother reaches 30 years old; and second before the mother turns 35, the certificate states. [Link]

Friday, November 24, 2006

Canada's Bizarre Wedding Customs

Celebrating marriage by abusing the dead is evidently rampant in Canada. Two women were spotted Thursday stealing flowers from graves in an Ontario cemetery.

Cemetery operator Ray Pruellage said the flower bandits seemed to target expensive fresh flowers, such as roses and lilies, adding that the long-time cemetery supervisor Al Reid had never heard of such a thing happening before.

“They were two women in their '50's or '60's, so I am thinking maybe one of them had a daughter who had a wedding coming up and they couldn’t afford flowers. That’s the only thing that crossed my mind,” Pruellage said. [Link]
Meanwhile, Kelsey Ray Taylor confessed to setting fire to a church in Manitoba and then smashing headstones at a local cemetery with a sledgehammer.
"I did it for his wedding present," Taylor told provincial court Judge Krystyna Tarwid, claiming he was forced to smash the gravestones at the Roseland cemetery after his friend threatened to tell authorities about his role in the fire if he didn't.

"He wanted to see it in the paper, as in the destruction, I guess." [Link]

The Genealogist Who Stole Christmas

Javana Jenkins was convicted Wednesday of stealing money set aside for a Christmas party for her co-workers' children. But at least some of the money went to a good cause.

Jenkins admitted to investigators from Attorney General J. Joseph Curran’s office to using the Christmas Party Fund account for two personal expenditures totaling $1,368: to pay off a $1,288.50 debt she owed to a collection agency and to purchase $79.95 in online genealogy services for herself. [Link]

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Give Thanks for Free Access

If you can recover from your turkey-induced stupor in time, here are some free offers for you to exploit this weekend. is offering free access to the whole shebang for three days, and to the immigration collection for the rest of the month.

The National Genealogical Society has opened up its Members-Only Data Section for the weekend, though technical problems have kept many from taking a peek inside. You can attempt to enter by following this link, and then signing in with username member and password ngspromo.

It's not free, but The Origins Network is offering a 25% discount on monthly subscriptions. When you sign up for a subscription, enter the promotional code 23TH and you'll be given the discount automatically. If you already have an account, you'll automatically get the discount.

An Ancestor of Undecided Height

Chris Dolley's grandfather was a sailor who entered New York Harbor four times between 1922 and 1939. Strangely, immigration records show that his height "oscillated between 5' 6" and 5' 9" over a period of 17 years. Never 5' 7" or 5' 8" always 5' 6" or 5' 9"."

His weight, however, did not fluctuate. It increased, gaining 21 pounds over the 17 years. No tattoos though. In fact there was a distinct dearth of tattoos - less than 10% of sailors had one.

The one solace for lovers of the stereotypical is a possible explanation for my grandfather's fluctuating height. A spare, and three inches longer, wooden leg. [Link]

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Vampire Hunt Causes Collateral Damage

What makes the theft of Varnum Waite's headstone from a Rhode Island graveyard especially noteworthy is the possible motive.

Nestled behind the town's 256-year-old First Baptist Church, the cemetery has fallen victim to vampire enthusiasts and vandals ever since rumors circulated decades ago that the graveyard was believed to be the final resting place of the legendary Nellie Vaughn.

The rumor turned out to be a case of bloodsucking mistaken identity, but that hasn't thwarted thrill-seekers desperate to own a piece of American vampire folklore. Punks have been pilfering pieces of the graveyard under cover of night for years. [Link]
The cemetery actually is home to Nellie Vaughn, but she has been "legendary" only since 1967. It was in that year that a group of high school students wandered into the wrong cemetery looking for alleged vampire Mercy Brown and found instead Nellie's stone, which bore the ominous inscription, "I am waiting and watching for you." They, being idiots, took this as evidence that Nellie enjoyed the taste of human blood.

[Thanks for the tip, Carl!]

Barren Barony Titles For Sale

If you're willing to spend at least £50,000 in cash, you too can become a Scottish baron.

Recent changes to ancient feudal law, under the Abolition of Feudal Tenure (Scotland) Act 2000, have meant that Scottish barony titles are no longer attached to the lands that they once came with. As a result, some Scottish peers with spare barony titles are selling them on – and those with the funds can buy themselves the right to be a bona fide Baron.
Brian Hamilton of Scottish Barony Titles explains why someone would spend so much for something so worthless.
"Some people have a connection with Scotland, some people like to treat themselves."

However, he concedes that the owners who are selling them do not usually miss the barony titles.

"Most of my clients have superior titles – the barony title is not a peerage title. If you are the Duke of Something, you are not going to be worried about three or four barony titles." [Link]

How the Pilgrims Lived

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
A book released this week explores the world of the Pilgrims in fascinating detail. In How the Pilgrims Lived, author Eric Fulham provides photographs and descriptions of household items that "came over on the Mayflower."

"I was worried at first that not many Mayflower relics had survived," Fulham admits. "But my research turned up thousands—from kitchen utensils to complete bedroom sets."

The section of the book devoted to Pilgrim furniture includes photos of 12 kitchen tables, 21 bureaus, and 73 rocking chairs, all of which were handed down in families claiming descent from Mayflower passengers.

"It's amazing that they were able to fit so much stuff onto that small ship," says Fulham. "No wonder it was so crowded!"

According to Fulham's research, objects that survived the 1620 crossing will appear on no less than 274 dinner tables this Thanksgiving. Myrtle Spaulding of Missouri will be using Mary Allerton's gravy boat, while the Jaques family of Florida will be seasoning their mashed potatoes with John Alden's salt shaker and Priscilla Mullins' pepper mill.

Fulham says that the items featured in the book were carefully selected from thousands presented by hopeful Pilgrim heirs.

"Sadly, some could not be included for lack of space. William Brewster's DVD collection alone would have taken up three pages."
[Photo credit: Kochen by Martina Oefelein (license)]

Those Confusing Smiths

Enrolled at Consett Community Sports College in the UK are a set of identical twins, a set of identical triplets, and a set of quadruplets. All are named Smith.

The 750-student college has another six pupils with the surname Smith, plus two teachers and two classroom assistants.
To ensure the triplets get the right coursework and marks, teachers have taken to sitting them in different parts of the classroom.

Maths teacher Allan McArdle said: "It can be confusing but the nice thing is that all of them are lovely." [Link]

Not a Search and Rescue Operation

Eagle Scout candidate Jeff Carlson is using forensic evidence dogs to find unmarked gravesites in an El Dorado Hills, California, cemetery.

Members of the Institute for Canine Forensics, a non-profit group based out of Los Altos, the forensic dogs and their handlers spent last Wednesday searching the cemetery.

The dogs can detect the scent of human remains through the ground and are trained to sit when they've made a detection. Carlson and four other Scouts worked alongside the dogs and handlers marking each detection site with a flag.
According to dog handler Bev Peabody, there are fewer than ten dogs in the United States that can sniff out historical graves.
Historical grave detection dogs ignore the scent of live people and only look for residual scent, which comes from decomposing human bodies.

These dogs have assisted in several local investigations, working at Maidu and Miwok Indian historic sites as well as at the Donner Party campsites. [Link]

Drunken Midwifery Is To Blame

A New York man is having trouble proving he was born, thanks to a self-medicating midwife.

The midwife was drunk when she delivered Bill Maglione in an apartment on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx 72 years ago today. Or so the family lore goes.

Drunkenness is the only explanation for why she didn't bother with the paperwork. The midwife, who'd been paid $22 for her trouble, never informed the City of New York that there was a new child on the block.

Thus Bill Maglione was never issued a birth certificate to document the occasion. [Link]

That's One Big Roof

As you dodge elbows and fight over drumsticks at the dinner table this Thursday, give thanks that you're not a member of this family from Punjab.

At 118, Sardar Budh Singh maybe the world's oldest man, and his wife, 112-year-old Sawan Kaur could be the world's oldest woman, and they say the secret of their longevity is 'simple living' and 'family unity'. A Namdhari Sikh family located in the Samra village of Amritsar District, it consists of 99 members, or four generations, all living under one roof. [Link]

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

When Look-Alikes Look Nothing Alike

The project by François Brunelle to find and photograph unrelated individuals who look alike has gained steam since I last wrote about it. He's received tons of emails from people who've found their look-alikes, or who want Brunelle to hook them up with a doppelgänger. Not everyone who asks to participate will make the final cut.

He says it often takes time after a photo shoot for him to really note a true resemblance. "Sometimes, after few months, I look and say, 'Oh my God, they really look the same,'" he says. "Two women showed up once and I think maybe they just wanted to participate. To be frank, I'm still wondering if they look the same." [Link]

The Ripper's Kin?

Laura Richards of Scotland Yard assembled a team to apply 21st-century profiling methods to the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders.

Ms Richards said the 118-year-old evidence shows the Ripper was between the ages of 25 and 35, between 5ft 5ins and 5ft 7ins tall. He was also of stocky build.

Investigators have even been able to pinpoint his address.

Ms Richards said: "For the first time, we are able to understand the kind of person Jack the Ripper was.

"We can name the street where he probably lived; and we can see what he looked like; and we can explain, finally, why this killer eluded justice." [Link, via Family Research]
I ran Jack's composite sketch through the facial-recognition software at to determine which celebrities are most likely descendants of the murderer. The leading candidate: David Schwimmer, a 66% match who suspiciously dropped out of sight following the final episode of Friends.

Celebrity Rubbings

I really like artist Scott Covert's choice of medium, and his choice of subjects. He traveled more than 14,000 miles in less than a month to create celebrity headstone rubbings for his new show at the Craig Smith Gallery in Harbert, Michigan.

[M]any of Covert’s most popular paintings mix the names of dead celebrities who had only a tenuous connection in life. The pairings can be funny, poignant or just plain weird.

One of Covert’s personal favorites is a painting that combines the grave rubbings of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Kennedy family matriarch Rose Kennedy, who share a loose link through Cold War politics. A painting, called “Screaming with Laughter,” mingles names of dead comedians with famous murder victims. Another pairs red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy with the Three Stooges. [Link]

Monday, November 20, 2006

Time to Talk Turkey

I don't know whether to buy Godfrey Hodgson's new book, A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving, after reading this excerpt. It states that "There was a feast in 1621, but not of turkey." A review provides Hodgson's argument, that "turkey couldn't have been served because the Pilgrims' heavy matchlock muskets simply were no match for the few wild turkeys inhabiting eastern Massachusetts at that time."

This would make a liar of my 10th great-grandfather William Bradford, who wrote that "besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc." In his defense, Bradford was reconstructing the Pilgrims' menu many years after the event, and may have been thinking of this painting.

Bathroom Humor

About ten years ago, Mark Sherman discovered a letter written by his grandmother to her son on three-and-a-half feet of toilet paper.

Sherman said the letter, entitled “From the Mountain Mother to a Navy son,” was a spoof intended to provide a few laughs for his father, Dave Sherman, and his Navy buddies stationed in San Francisco in Aug. 1957.
The letter describes the family's new bathroom in Hillbilly English.
But over in the other corner now we really got something, that the dam thing you put one foot in, wash it, and then pull a chain and you get fresh water for the other foot. Two lids come with the dam thing and we aint got no use for them in the bath room, so I’m using one for a bread board, and the other we framed our picture with. [Link]

State Rep Sends Mixed Messages

68-year-old Mary Ann Zubak was profiled in an Indiana newspaper last month and her birth date was mentioned. Someone in State Representative Bob Kuzman's office misread the column, and sent Zubak a note congratulating her on the "recent birth of your child."

"I wish many years of health, joy and love to your new arrival," the note says.

It was on linen paper embossed with the seal of the state, and attached to it was a copy of an Oct. 6 article from The Times, which had featured Mary Ann as one of its people you should know and included her 1938 birth date.
It wouldn't have been so bad, Zubak said, except that she had previously written to Kuzman asking about the possibility of installing a traffic light at Ind. 55 and Greenwood Avenue in Crown Point -- and received a birthday card in reply.

"Is there a lot of feeling put into this? Was it sincere? Absolutely not," Mary Ann said. [Link]

This Polygamist Isn't Picky

A 64-year-old man named Ziona is head of an Indian religious cult, husband to 47 wives, and father of about 110 children.

According to the local people, Ziona got married to at least 10 women during this year alone.

Despite his busy schedule, Ziona is able to maintain the whole family without any hardships.
"We built a society that is more tolerant of personal differences in views and thoughts and where people appreciate and carry forward the value of mutual respect, love and co-operation," Ziona said.

"To expand my sect, I don't mind even going to America to marry a woman," he said. [Link]

Introducing The Ancestry Store

Visit Ancestry Store has been busy rebuilding its genealogy store, which opens today. The Ancestry Store is said to have 30 times the inventory of the old store, which means there are 30 times as many opportunities for you to buy something and earn me a meager commission.

Surnames With Split Personalities

James Pylant has posted another great article over at In "Was Your Ancestor Courteous— Or Did He Just Wear Short Stockings?" Pylant examines family names that have dual origins. Curtis, for example, derives in some cases from the word "courteous."

Curtis, however, has more than one origin. It also comes from Curthose, a nickname given to someone wearing short stockings. The Middle English word curt (meaning short) was coupled with hose, originally a man’s stockings. Perhaps the earliest reference to this nickname morphing into a last name is to Robert Curthose, the Duke of Normandy. Eventually the spelling of Curthose evolved into Curtis and the old spelling faded into oblivion. [Link]
I've run into several homographic surnames in my research, many of them created by Finns wanting to fit in with the locals here in Maine. Komulainen was Americanized to Cummings, Pyykönen to Pike, Heikkinen to Higgins, Hytönen to Whitman, and Mikkonen to the Irish-sounding McKeen.

And then there's my great-grandmother, Mary Jane Knapp, whose ancestors didn't come from Saxony by way of England. Her father was Solomon Knapp (originally Van Knapp), the son of Alexander Van Eps—scion of an old Dutch family from New York.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Truth Will Set You Back $5.95

Dick Eastman today answers a question asked by one of his readers. His response appeals to my sense of irony.

Used Noose Makes News

A granddaughter of Illinois sheriff James Pritchard wants custody of a hangman's noose held by the Franklin County Historic Preservation Society. The noose was used in the 1928 hanging of gangster Charlie Birger, and was lent to the Society by one of Pritchard's daughters. Society president Robert S. Rea wants to make sure that, if the relic leaves his museum, it goes to the right party.

While the woman signed the agreement, her siblings through their descendants could stake a claim to the hangman's noose. The county could also have a valid claim, since the sheriff was on the county payroll and the county undertook the hanging of the Prohibition era bootlegger, arguably the most notorious criminal in Southern Illinois history.

"After the hanging, hangman Phil Hanna, presented the noose and a few feet of rope to Sheriff Pritchard. If he gave it to him in his role as sheriff, the county could have a claim since Pritchard was a county employee," Rea said. [Link]

Urine Trouble, Big Trouble

There are more developments in the disturbing story of a cemetery worker answering the call of nature, and then braining the guy who caught him in the act. The New York Post offered the Brooklyn graveyard a free Porta-Potty, but they turned it down.

Ungrateful employees of the Washington Cemetery in Bensonhurst cursed and angrily spurned the delivery of a blue portable toilet for groundskeeper James Scott, 80.
Scott denies the charges, and retains his position as groundskeeper and director of the cemetery's Public Urination Program. The injured man, Itomor Khaimov, simply wants justice for his grandmother.
"I pay them good money to take care of her grave, to come and see some schmuck peeing on it," he said. "All I want is that he should be fired. A guy like that should not be allowed to work there." [Link]
In related news, the cemetery is considering a new ad campaign: "When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go to Washington Cemetery in Bensonhurst." The same ad agency came up with a slogan for a cemetery in Queens a few years ago: "Your Loved One Would Want You to Try Flushing."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

He Came Looking For Welsh Rabbit

Susan Sarandon has been researching her family history for the BBC Wales show Coming Home, and has "uncovered tales of poverty, illegitimate children and law-breakers"—including one miscreant in her mother's Guyatt line.

She found that brothers John and Charles Guyatt moved from England to Bridgend to work as general labourers at Tondu Ironworks.

But the move seems to have been prompted by a bit of illegal rabbit poaching for which Charles was committed to a six-month sentence.

"Now we have our Welsh connection to Wales," said Susan. "Now I see - through crime we got to Wales. Excellent!" [Link]

The Number One Graveyard Offense

Credit goes to Dave at OakvilleBlackWalnut for spotting this one.

A New York cemetery worker named James Scott grew violent after getting caught "making water" on a grave.

The full details of the alleged incident were unclear, but according to the New York Post, Itomor Khaimov, 28, was walking his dog in the cemetery when he spotted the 80-year-old relieving himself in a vase on his grandmother's grave.

When Khaimov asked the man what he was doing, he replied: "I'm urinating. ... I'm an old man, I can't hold it," the report said. [Link]
Scott then made matters worse by hitting Khaimov on the head with his rake, giving him a mild concussion.

This is why the conscientious genealogist always wears an adult-size diaper when visiting large cemeteries.

Friday, November 17, 2006

No Pulse? No Problem!

Judy Dukes of Indiana is planning a family reunion, but according to this headline it will not be a lively affair.

This would certainly make the three-legged race more challenging.

Live and Let Try a New Name

A British fan of the 007 franchise has decided that he would make a better James Bond than Daniel Craig.

The 23-year-old enthusiast has changed his name by deed poll from David Fearn to - James Dr No From Russia With Love Goldfinger Thunderball You Only Live Twice On Her Majesty's Secret Service Diamonds Are Forever Live And Let Die The Man With The Golden Gun The Spy Who Loved Me Moonraker For Your Eyes Only Octopussy A View To A Kill The Living Daylights Licence To Kill Golden Eye Tomorrow Never Dies The World Is Not Enough Die Another Day Casino Royale Bond.

James, of Walsall, Staffordshire, said: "I wanted to be James Bond and now I am - it's the ultimate fantasy." [Link]

Eternally Online

Genealogist Elliott Malkin has come up with what he calls "Cemetery 2.0," a concept that connects burial sites with online memorials through a live satellite Internet connection. As a prototype, he linked his great-grandfather Hyman Victor's gravestone in Chicago to his "surviving Internet presence," comprising a Flickr photoset, Facebook entry, Pedigree Resource File, and Family Tree of the Jewish People entry.

Conceptual Background
GEDCOM files are strings of colorless facts, a skeleton around which one can construct the narrative of a life. Standard graves, likewise, house little by way of information above the surface of the ground but serve as a public testament to an individual's life. The notion of a digital cemetery, rows of servers in vaults below a mountain in Utah, raises the possibility of combining the electronic burial with its traditional counterpart. In this sense, the project is a step towards the next-generation cemetery — a networked memorial to the electronic record of a man. [Link, via We Make Money Not Art]

She's Easy To Shop For

My grandmother turns 94 tomorrow, but she still has a ways to go to catch Kathryn Rose Gemme of Middleborough, Mass., who turned 112 on Thursday. She is the oldest person in New England, tenth oldest in the United States, and 23rd oldest in the world.

"Imagine that!" was Gemme's response last week to hearing those statistics.
Like my own grandmother, Kate is a woman who wants nothing but her family around her, and who—having that—wants for nothing.
When asked about her birthday wishes, Gemme answered, "I came into the world with nothing. Why should I go out with anything more than a how-do-you-do?" [Link]

Buying Defective Merchandise Pays Off

Renee Zamora has figured out a great way to make extra money for the holidays: Buy an extended warranty for your dead scanner at Staples.

This nice fellow told me that my warranties would pay for themselves. I didn't quit understand how that could be. I gave him my receipt for the old one. That scanner cost $99. I bought the extended warranty for $10. He credited me the money on the scanner and then rang up the purchase on the new scanner, same model, but now on sale for $59. I then purchased an extended 3 year warranty on the new scanner for $25. When all was said and done Staples owed me $5.00. My husband grabbed a soda and candy bar and I picked up a package of cool pens. I now owed Staples .48 cents. I call that a deal. [Link]

Thursday, November 16, 2006

America's Most Famous Rock

If you've ever wondered how Plymouth Rock earned its name, here's a somewhat inaccurate account (in the interest of disclosure, Elder Thomas Faunce was my first cousin ten times removed):

In 1741, 95-year-old Thomas Faunce was carried to the waterfront where a pier was about to be built over an undistinguished rock. With great emotion he said his father, who had arrived in Plymouth in 1623, had told him that it was where the Pilgrims first landed. Maybe so.

The rock itself has had a tortuous life. In 1774, it was decided to dig it up. While being loaded into a wagon, it broke in half. Half of it was taken to the town square. In 1834, what remained had been significantly downsized by hammer-wielding souvenir hunters. While moving it to a safer location at the newly built Pilgrim Hall it fell off the vehicle and broke again. It was finally pieced together with cement and mounted in front of the hall. [Link]
John Faunce, the father, didn't come on the Mayflower (which arrived, so the Rock says, in 1620), but on the Anne in 1623. Faunce's statement was witnessed by Deacon Ephraim Spooner when he was just a boy, and it is upon Spooner's testimony decades later that the Rock was fetishized. Pilgrim Hall Museum has a more complete history of the revered stone on its website.

By the way, Caleb Johnson has written an excellent review of this weekend's History Channel presentation, "Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower."
[Photo credit: Plymouth Rock by John Hartnup (license)]

A Family of Immortals?

I wonder if Guinness keeps track of this sort of thing. An Indiana newspaper reports that Hunter Joseph Collins, born in August, has 15 grandparents living. This includes three five-generation sets.

The first set of five generations involves Hunter, his father Andrew Stroud, his grandmother Becky Stroud, his great-grandmother Vickie Barnes and his great-great-grandfather Claude Sparks. Another set is Hunter, his mother Kimberly Collins, his grandfather Jimmy Collins, his great-grandfather Loyd Collins, and his great-great grandmother Lottie Collins. The third three-generation set is Hunter, his mother Kimberly Collins, his grandfather Jimmy Collins, his great-grandmother Dorothy Collins and his great-great grandmother Joan Shotts. [Link]

Ancestral One-Upmanship

Canadian columist Graham Hicks relates this story of three old men bragging at the old-folks home.

“My great-grandfather, at age 13, fought in the Boer War,” declared one .

“My great, great-grandfather,” said the second, “set fire to the White House in 1812.”

“If my great-grandfather was living today, he'd be the most famous man in the world,” said the third.

“What’d he do?” his friends wanted to know.

“Nothing much ... but he’d be 165 years old.” [Link]

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Killer Grahams

In his 1986 book Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, George MacDonald Fraser explored the dark histories of certain notorious border families. The Reverend Billy notwithstanding, the Grahams were the worst of the lot.

Their specialities were blackmail, protection rackets and kidnappings. At one point in the late 16th century, 60 of them were outlawed for having, among other offences, despoiled more than a dozen Cumbrian villages, protected felons from the fates they deserved, fought the troops of officialdom and murdered witnesses who might have testified to crimes. Every now and then authority retaliated by burning their lands, but nothing, it seemed, could curb them, until James VI of Scotland became James I of England as well; and then retribution, exercised with a Grahamite ruthlessness, followed. [Link]

Boy, They'll Let Anyone Be Irish

The 2007 edition of Who's Who in Ireland expands the bounds of Ireland to include whatever B-list planet Paris Hilton hails from.

Oscar winner Robert De Niro gets a mention because he is a second generation Irish-American. And other surprise additions in the Irish abroad section are socialite Paris Hilton, actor George Clooney and singer Mariah Carey.

Clooney is described as third generation Irish with ancestors in Sligo, while Carey, whose mother was an Irish opera singer is second-generation Irish. Socialite Hilton is fourth-generation Irish American because her paternal grandmother had Irish relations.

Actors Mia Farrow and Kevin Costner — who is third-generation Irish on his mother Sharon Tedrick’s side — and regular visitor to Ireland Bill Clinton also get a mention. [Link]
Paris, of course, is the girl who changes her hairstyle more often than her facial expression.

Genealogist Gets Namesake Back On Track

When conducting genealogical research, it's not unusual to find another person who bears your name. It is unusual to find a trolley car that bears your name.

When retired insurance broker Bernard Wickham went on the internet to trace his family tree the last thing he expected to stumble on was a rusting rail car trolley sharing his own name.
Mr [Peter] Treglown, who has been associated with South Devon Railway since he was 13, said the Bernard Wickham trolley had been made by Hertfordshire-based D Wickham & Co Ltd in the 1970s. It had been powered with a French Bernard Moteurs engine which is how it got its name. [Link]
Mr. Wickham has raised enough money to restore the car and put it into service.

Even Columbus Would Think He's Nuts

Leven Brown, the descendant of Christopher Columbus who rowed across the Atlantic last year, is now planning to windsurf across the same ocean.

Leven couldn't resist the next challenge after spending ten months back on dry land following his last transatlantic odyssey.

And his wife, celebrated milliner Yvette Jelfs, 39, said she was happy to be left holding the couple's first baby.

She said: "I think it is great. I think more people should be like him. People have to go and do the things they really want, I couldn't stand in his way." [Link]

What Was the Name Again?

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article tells how people with difficult-to-pronounce names cope with those whose tongues are easily twisted. Sayeh Tavangar, a native of Iran, uses the name "Lola" when ordering at Starbucks, because "It's just so much easier."

"Every time I tell people I'm Persian, they say, 'Oh, Peru,'" she says, laughing even harder. "And I think, if this person thinks I'm from Peru, is it worth correcting them? Do I even want to talk to them?" [Link]
Tavangar plans to give her children Persian names that are "very hard to pronounce," so that someday they too can order overpriced coffee under the name "Lola."

Incidentally, the article quotes a deputy clerk for the U.S. District Court as saying, "You can change your name to anything but Jesus Christ." This is not true. Just ask Jesus Christ of Manhattan or, for that matter, any of the five people of that name whose numbers are listed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Family Historians Lack Resolution

Dennis W. Stein offers evidence that anyone wishing you a "Happy Family History Month" in October was lying through her teeth.

The Honorable Senator Paul Sarbanes wrote:

Dear Mr. Stein:

Thank you for getting in touch with me to further inquire about Family History Month. I appreciate your taking the time to contact me about this important issue.

Senate Resolution 226 designated the month of October, 2005 as family history month. It was passed by unanimous consent on October 5, 2005. No additional resolutions have been introduced appointing a Family History Month since 2005. [Link]

She May Need Some Roma Therapy

The television program 100% English challenged eight participants to undergo DNA testing, while challenging their preconceived notions of what it means to be English. Not everyone was up to the challenge.

Some participants looked as if someone had just broken wind when they learnt their results. One woman, who has set up a registered charity to represent the English as an ethnic community, seemed disbelieving when her results suggested that she was possibly descended from Romany Gypsies. She has since threatened legal action against the programme, claiming the results were inaccurate and the tests unreliable. [Link]

Shrouded in Style

German fashion designer Afra Banach has designed a line of shrouds for corpses with the most refined of tastes.

Banach talks about the tradition of people keeping their future shroud in their closet during their life time. Spouses even gave each other shrouds as wedding gifts in some Jewish communities, she points out.
A growing number of graveyards prohibit the burial of corpses dressed in everyday clothes -- for environmental reasons. As odd as it may sound, that's the reason why Banach's shrouds are biodegradable. [Link]

Episodic Genealogy

Craig at GeneaBlogie has found inspiration for a blog post in a Gunsmoke episode. I'm hoping that next he'll analyze the estrogen-deficient family history of the Cartwright clan.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Family Reunion Ends Badly

I thought that this was the worst family reunion ever. Maybe I was wrong.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Police said a relative opened fire inside a bar and shot four family members during a family reunion inside a bar on Saturday night. [Link]
More proof that a bar is not the best place to hold a family reunion. Unless there are strippers.

The Untold Story of the Mayflower

Dr. Francis Bremer, chair of the history department at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, wants to set the record straight about Pilgrims: they liked booze and sex.

Bremer says the colonists brought with them from Europe a preference for alcoholic beverages, which were considered an important part of their diet. Drinking was pervasive because water supplies were usually contaminated by human and animal waste. Tea, coffee, and soft drinks were unknown in England when the colonists left. Therefore, alcoholic beverages were the common fare, though they regarded drunkenness as a sin.

Another common myth about both the Pilgrims and Puritans is that they were against sex. "Actually the Puritans had a much more matter-of-fact attitude about sex," said Bremer. "As long as we are talking about sex between a married couple, the Puritans had no problem with that. They believed that God intended man and woman to derive pleasure from sex." [Link]
Bremer will be featured on the three-hour documentary Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower," set to air Nov. 19 on the History Channel. You can see clips by completing a quiz here, or skip the quiz and watch some bloopers at YouTube.

A Man's Mobile Home Is His Castle

Helmuth von Maltzahn, baron of Ulrichshusen, and other aristocrats whose families lost their estates in East Germany under Communist rule have returned to reclaim their ancestral homes. Or at least to live in trailers nearby.

A hard-charging former cosmetics executive, von Maltzahn, his wife Baroness Alla, and their two small daughters gave up comfortable lives in West Germany in 1993 for a barely heated mobile home parked beside the ruins of the former family schloss, or castle. The walls of Ulrichshusen castle date to 1592. But the renaissance structure stands on the foundations of a von Maltzahn stronghold built in the 1100s.

"The communists were here for 45 years," von Maltzahn said during an interview in the main keep. "What's that? The blink of an eye. My family had been here for 800 years. Guess who is gone? Guess who is back? This time to stay. The land is my past, present, and future -- it holds the graves of my ancestors and will be my daughters' inheritance." [Link]
The von Maltzahns have since fixed up the place a bit.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Top Ten Signs Your Ancestors Were Poor

10. Named a child "Coca-Cola" in hopes of sponsorship.

9. Had to sit in the bleachers at the Salem Witch Trials.

8. Always asked the census taker for spare change.

7. Were forced to sell off Uncle Ernie during the Great Depression.

6. Left copious family records, all stamped "Past Due."

5. Had their wedding catered by a soup kitchen.

4. Couldn't afford to change their name from "Dipschitz."

3. Had to give up the family dirt farm when the market for dirt collapsed.

2. Swam behind the ship because tickets in steerage were too pricey.

1. Cardboard tombstones.

The Big Marcinkowski

A Michigan man has the misfortune of sharing his name with a politician, and was on the receiving end of a messy prank last Tuesday.

What are the chances that James Marcinkowski would wake up on Election Day to find his pickup truck covered with ketchup and mustard, and a pile of garbage in the bed? If you're James Marcinkowski of Lake Orion, Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, you might expect it. But if you're James Marcinkowski of Howell — no known relation to the candidate — it might catch you by surprise.
The Howell Marcinkowski said he doesn't know the Lake Orion Marcinkowski.

"Never met him, but I'm sure he's in the family tree somewhere," he said. [Link]
Life imitates art.

Situation Desperate, Send Hookers!

While we celebrate Thanksgiving, Australians will be watching a BBC documentary called "The Floating Brothel," based on a 2002 book of the same name.

Three women - an Anglican priest from Hobart, a Sydney corporate high-flyer and a farmer from Orange, NSW uncover the rags-to-respectability tales of their ancestors, as they trace their journey from London on board a specially solicited all-female transport ship sent to Australia.

In 1789, the fledgling British penal settlement in Sydney was crippled by more than disease and hunger. Governor Phillip was anxious about the moral health of the settlement and sent an urgent dispatch on the first ship back to London, requesting more women to save the settlement from depravity. But help would come from a most unlikely quarter.

Home Office Under-Secretary Evan Nepean answered Phillip's call by scouring the country's prisons for women of child-bearing age. Together they were herded aboard a ship, The Lady Juliana, to be sent out to Australia. [Link]

Something Is Not Rotten in the State of Denmark

James Hepburn—the fourth Earl of Bothwell and husband of Mary, Queen of Scots—died in a Danish prison and was entombed in a nearby church. Now his descendants want to bring what's left of the earl back to Scotland.

Bothwell's mummified body is currently in the vault of Farevejle church on the Danish east coast, where it has been preserved in remarkably good condition in an atmosphere rich in sea salt. Until 1975, when the Danish royal family intervened after pleas from Bothwell supporters, it was on open display as a grisly tourist attraction. [Link]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Name That Inspires Loyalty

Anna Bligh, a candidate to become Queensland's first female premier, is a descendant of Captain William Bligh. Not only was he commander of the Bounty at the time of the famous mutiny, but also Governor of New South Wales at the time of Australia's first and only military coup.

"My father always claimed that there was a relationship, but it had never been verified," she said yesterday.

"He used to say that a silver kettle he had belonged to Captain Bligh.

"People have brought up the name before, but I have always said it was in family folklore, but I had never tried to prove it and certainly could not claim a relationship."

She agreed that the possibility of having a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Captain Bligh as premier of Queensland was a tantalising possibility, 'but I would not comment on this, as this is such an unpredictable business.

"But you can say I am pleasantly surprised." [Link]

Overcharging Charge Brings Change

I learned of this story through the latest Genealogy On Demand podcast. New Jersey builder Joseph Dugan got sick of paying exorbitant photocopying fees at the County Clerk's office, and started a class-action lawsuit against Camden and Burlington Counties.

Now the counties are the ones paying. As a result of a settlement approved last week in Dugan's lawsuit, the counties must offer photocopying rebates totaling $1.6 million to taxpayers who duplicated documents in the county clerks' offices since 1996.

They also have to cut the copier price to a nickel a page, starting in January. The court ordered the 5-cent bargain to remain in effect for five years. [Link]
I now have to decide whether it's worth moving to New Jersey to get cheap copies.

Friday, November 10, 2006

My Cousin, The Hero

Genealogically speaking, Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham and I may or may not have shared a Y chromosome. (Most Dunhams in the Northeast descend either from Deacon John Dunham of Plymouth, Mass., as I do, or from Jonathan Singletary alias Dunham—proven by genetic testing to be from a distinct line.) But on this Veterans Day, I'll proudly count him as a cousin.

President Bush announced on Friday that the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration, will be awarded posthumously to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham.

In April 2004, Dunham was leading a patrol in an Iraqi town near the Syrian border when the patrol stopped a convoy of cars leaving the scene of an attack on a Marine convoy, according to military and media accounts of the action.

An occupant of one of the cars attacked Dunham and the two fought hand to hand. As they fought, Dunham yelled to fellow Marines, "No, no watch his hand." The attacker then dropped a grenade and Dunham hurled himself on top of it, using his helmet to try to blunt the force of the blast.

Still, Dunham was critically wounded in the explosion and died eight days later at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. [Link]

It Was Love at First Gravesite

Maldwyn Hughes, 86, and Shirley Luck-Hughes, 79, have been married for nine years. Both previously widowed, they met in a churchyard in Bethesda, North Wales, while doing genealogical research. After marrying, Maldwyn continued to live in Wales, and Shirley remained in Johnstown, New York.

Mr Hughes, a retired electrical engineer, said: "Neither of us wanted to move away from our families and our homes.

"We don’t see as much of each other as every other husband and wife but we are still happy.

"She calls me every Wednesday and I call every Saturday and we speak for about an hour about what we have been up to in the week.

"I do miss her but it helps that we can keep in contact on the phone." [Link]

Genes Reunited in Record Time

It took adoptee Joe Jenkins all of half a minute to track down his birth father.

He found his mum but there was no trace of his dad until one night he happened upon website Genes Reunited, which traces family trees.

Within 30 seconds two matches were found – one was his cousin and the other his half-brother, who was living with his dad in Rhyl, Wales.

Plucking up the courage he contacted his newly-found relative who passed him on to his dad and the pair spoke for the first time in three decades and arranged to meet. [Link]

Celebrity Spotting at

Even if you have no immigrant relatives to find, it might be fun to poke through the Immigration Collection for famous names while it's free. Here are a few I've found:

Desi Arnaz arrived in Key West from Havana in 1934 at age 17.

This was evidently director Alfred Hitchcock's first trip to America, aboard the Queen Mary in 1937.

Two U.S. Secretaries of State were immigrants: Henry Kissinger (born Heinz Alfred) came with his parents in 1938, having fled from Nazi Germany; and Madeleine Albright (born Marie Jana Korbelová) arrived in 1948.

The von Trapp family of Sound of Music fame arrived in 1939. Also in 1939 came William Patrick Hitler, a nephew of the dictator (ironically, aboard the Normandie).

Steve Danko mentioned Thursday that the collection includes crew lists for World War II naval ships. This encompasses Liberty Ships and Merchant Marine vessels, like the one that brought Woodrow "Woodie" Guthrie into New York Harbor in 1944 (on the same page is listed fellow folk singer Gilbert "Cisco" Houston).

Audrey Hepburn arrived in October 1951, just weeks before appearing in her first Broadway play, Gigi.

William Faulkner passed through New York in December 1950, returning from the delivery of his Nobel Banquet Speech.

And, from the famous to the infamous, since-deported SS guard John "Ivan the Terrible" Demjanjuk slinked into the country with his wife and daughter in 1952.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Genealogist Has a Score to Settle

Matt Reynolds's great-grandfather came to America from southern Italy for the same reason so many of our ancestors came: to find and kill the burglar who had murdered his mother.

He chased the man across the Atlantic and west from New York City but the trail went cold in Cleveland, Ohio, and my ancestor hung up his gun.

He settled in Lyons, a small town near Rochester in upstate New York, where I grew up hearing about him from my mother.

I knew his name, Antonio Perri, and the date he was born, October 14, 1886.

Like many amateur genealogical sleuths these days, the Internet was the first place I turned to for more clues.

Yet I knew little more than the basics when I flew to Rome in September in search of long-lost relatives.

"Too bad you don't know the murderer's name," said my travelling companion, Steve Marra. "You could find his descendants and punch them in the nose." [Link]

Chinese Family Accepts DNA Results With Grace

Jeff Yang writes an entertaining piece at about the current genetealogy craze. His friend Grace had her DNA tested as part of a course in physical anthropology.

"My professor asked us to do research about our ethnic origins, and I told him, 'I can go back a couple of generations in my family, back to my great grandparents, and I'm pretty much sure they're all Chinese,'" she says. "And he challenged me -- he said: 'Don't just take that for granted. Prove it. Do a DNA marker test and show me.'
"My report came back and pretty much said in big letters, 'YOU ARE CHINESE,'" says Grace. "I told my family during a holiday family meal, and everyone just laughed themselves silly. My sister fell off her chair, saying, 'You paid a hundred bucks to learn that? Are you sure that Web site wasn't'" [Link]

Perhaps She Was a Collector

On Halloween, workers dug up a headstone in Emily Dickinson's front yard.

But exactly what Gen. Thomas Gilbert's headstone was doing under 18 inches of dirt in Dickinson's front yard has some experts stumped -- especially knowing his remains are buried in a nearby cemetery with a more ornate grave marker.

"What do you do with a used gravestone?" asked Jane Wald, the museum's executive director. "It might have been used as a step or used to cover a hole in the ground. We don't know exactly why it was placed there." [Link]
This might explain that poem of hers that begins
THE DISTANCE that the dead have gone
  Does not at first appear;
Their coming back seems possible
  For many an ardent year.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Subtle Distinction

I'm sure that this column—published in the Oshkosh (Wis.) Daily Northwestern of Oct. 25, 1939—saved many people from embarrassment.

334 Blogs Logged

The best part of creating the Blog Finder has been discovering genealogy blogs that previously had flown beneath my radar.

Some I'd love for their titles alone—like I Wear Tight Genes and The Complete and Utter History of Our Ancestors. Others stand out for the quality of the writing, like The Washerwoman's Genes.

Most personal research blogs are wide in scope, but a few are targeted at a single individual—for instance, Looking for Katharina Rosa Loewy and What Happened to Robert? One adds a dash of celebrity to the mix: At The Quest for Matisse, three bloggers attempt to link their family to the French painter Henri Matisse.

And then there's old-timer Ralph Brandi, who's been blogging about genealogy off and on since March 1, 2000. Given that the typical blogger comes to his senses and quits after three posts, that is a remarkable achievement.

Wisconsin Votes Against Traditional Marriage

Wisconsin's decision yesterday to ban same-sex marriage will have an unintended effect on the state's 4,100 married Hmong couples. By banning civil unions in favor of state-sanctioned marriages, the measure invalidated traditional Hmong unions.

Registering their marriages is, in one sense, no more than a simple trip to the courthouse to buy a marriage certificate.

The problem, Hmong leaders say, is that represents a cultural shift that could lead to a wider embrace of a legalistic approach to marriage that would encourage Hmong couples to override clan jurisdiction and undermine traditional values of monogamy.

"It will also shock Hmong couples who have seen themselves as married for a long time," [Pheng] Xiong said. [Link]

Genealogy Under Attack

Zoe Williams (check out her less-than-flattering Wikipedia entry before it's edited) climbs on her soapbox today at The Guardian to trash genealogy.

I called this a branch of history, but in fact scraping round for ye olde DNA is the very opposite of history. Historical inquiry would always direct you to the heart of events, whether in the traditional sense (royals) or the revisionist one (radicals, grassroots movements, that sort of thing). From neither perspective can the criterion "they've got to be related to me before I'm at all interested" be anything but an impediment.

A genealogist speaking to the Times at the weekend commented: "It is not just about collecting names. It is about understanding who you are, and how you came to be who you are today. It is about knowing yourself." Superficially that doesn't mean much - in the furthest reaches of the nature/nurture debate, nobody has ever suggested one's distant second cousin could be anything more than a curiosity. And yet that tells you all you need to know about the kind of person who family-trees for a hobby - who thinks that's time well spent, getting to "know yourself, understand who you are". If therapy is for people with more money than sense, genealogy is for those with more time than either. [Link]
See A Defense of Genealogical Obsession for my response to the equally specious arguments of Cary Tennis. I would add that my ancestors were always at the "heart of events," though perhaps not events that Williams would deem sufficiently historic to study. She denies by implication that the life of any given 17th-century peasant is worth researching, making her guilty of the very snobbishness she pretends to abhor in her final paragraph.

The best family historian possesses all the skills of a "real" historian—including that personal connection to his subject which is always the mark of good historical writing. That the connection is familial makes no difference. In fact, I've found that the sense of familial connection gets weaker as the generations recede, replaced by a more general connection of the sort shared by any two human beings. It's harder then to make the connection personal, but with enough research and empathy it can be done.

I'm not greatly offended by this article, because—like Tennis—Williams is attacking a caricature of a genealogist. Let's leave her alone on her soapbox to hurl insults at the straw man she's created. We have important work to do.

Don't Bother Trying 'Nathan'

While looking for blogs to add to the Blog Finder, I ran across one site that bars the door against all but close relatives and persistent genealogists.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Relatively Confusing Family

From the Doylestown (Pa.) Daily Intelligencer of Aug. 31, 1932:

Media, Pa., Aug. 30 (INS)—John V. Murray, Deputy Register of Wills here, decided to trace his family tree.

He soon discovered, somewhat to his amazement, that:

He was first and second cousin to the same person.

His grandparents were grandparents to him twice.

He had an aunt and an uncle who were half-brother and half-sister [sic] respectively to both his father and mother.

In addition to all this, he learned that he has an uncle that is a grandfather and uncle to the same children and an aunt who is their aunt and grandmother also.

The whole thing started during the Civil War when the grandfather of John Bryson, in his mother's branch of the family, died in Libby prison. Shortly afterwards, the wife of John Murray, his grandmother on his father's side of the family, died.

The puzzling relationships ensued when the two remaining grandparents, John Murray and Susan Bryson, decided to marry. They had two children, Milton and Nancy, who then became aunt and uncle in both sides of Murray's family.

Murray had four aunts and uncle on his father's side of the family, exclusive of the two mentioned, and one these aunts, Rebecca, married Christopher Mellinger, who had been previously married and had a daughter, Anna. Through this marriage Murray became the first cousin of Anna Mellinger. Later, three children were born to this union, Charles, Alfred and Vernon Mellinger, who became first cousins to Murray and also step-brothers to Anna.

Later, Anna Mellinger married George Murray, a full brother to Murray's father and also to Rebecca Murray Mellinger. Through this marriage Anna Mellinger Murray became an aunt to Murray as well as his first cousin. To this last marriage, three children were born, William, Harry and Vernon, and they became both first and second cousins to John V. Murray, the Deputy Register of Wills.

In addition to all that, (if you are still with us) Christopher Mellinger became an uncle and grandfather to these latest children, and Rebecca, his wife, became a grandmother and aunt to them. George Murray, husband of Anna Mellinger, also became an uncle and stepbrother to the children of Rebecca Murray and Christopher Mellinger.

And so on, down the line, until Murray doesn't hardly know what to call his relatives when he meets them. Any particular one might be his uncle, cousin, or grandfather.

A Passionate Genealogist

Sam confesses on his MySpace blog that he enjoys genealogy way too much.

On one particularly memorable occasion, I traced my great great grandmother to a school list in Derbyshire, England where her father's name (and address!) was listed. From there, I traced them back into the 1600's. After that moment, I sat back in my seat and shuddered with ecstacy.

If there is a hierarchy, it would have to be this:

1. Genealogy
2. Linux
3. Women
4. Lost / Battlestar Galactica (let's be realistic)

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