Sunday, December 31, 2006

He's Not a Cliché

Marc-André Cliche (pronounced "Cleesh") plays for a hockey team here in Maine, and must constantly battle to keep the accent off his final E.

Every year, when the 19-year-old from Rouyn-Noranda, Que., arrives in Lewiston, Me., where he toils for the Maineiacs of the Quebec major junior league, it's the same routine.

"I get my new jersey and I have to take off the accent because it's already on there," he says, laughing. "It's weird."
"In Moncton, for four years they've been calling me Cliché when I score a goal or whatever," he says, shaking his head. "It gets me so mad. But whatever, you can't do anything about it." [Link]

The 2006 Genealogue Awards

It's time to hand out the Genealogue Awards again. For those of you who have been looking forward to this post all year, I would recommend electric-shock therapy.

2006 was a census year in many countries, and not everyone was forthcoming. Canadian enumerators showed admirable persistence, and one Nigerian census taker even tied the knot to elicit results, but the winner for Most Dedicated Census Taker is Susan Dyck, who had the foresight not to use public transportation.

There was only one entrant for Best Census Avoidance Technique. Graeme Cairns reminded us that cryogenically frozen ancestors may not have been counted by census takers.

In the category of Most Unlikely Couple, we have a tie. I can't decide whether it's more noteworthy to marry a porpoise for love, or a goat for sex.

The award for Most Inappropriate Cemetery Behavior goes to Charles Rose, whose performance exhibited far more enthusiasm than that of the small-bladdered James Scott.

The award for Family Heirloom I'd Least Like to Eat goes to the Soar family's Medieval bread. Close behind was the 50-year-old tin of chicken Les and Beryl Lailey ate on their wedding anniversary. Ty Thomson's 38-year-old ice cream parfaits were disqualified, because I really would like to eat them.

I consider myself a devoted researcher, but I'm not in the same league as the three nominees for Most Extreme Genealogist. Lottie Smalls almost earned herself a restraining order, and Rudyard Edick crawled under a church to find an ancestor's grave. But the winner is Jennie De Bout, who traveled 2,300 miles—mostly on foot—to retrieve a copy of her birth certificate, only to find that the Probate Court didn't have it on file.

The co-winners for Most Unwelcome Discovery are complete opposites. One found that her ancestor cared too little for animals; the other found that her ancestor cared too much.

The Bing Crosby Parenting Award goes to Giuseppe Gallo, whose children must have loved him as much as Mona Vanni's children loved her.

The winner for Most Sensible Grave Arrangement is St. Rose Cemetery, where "The way you drop is the way you flop."

The Worst Epitaph Award goes to Mr. Anderson, Provost of Dundee. Hallelujah, Hallelujee!

Finally, the prize for Best Genealogical Advice is posthumously awarded to Henry H. Crapo, who described genealogy as a "deplorable ... expenditure of vitality." As one who has spent as much time genealogizing as sleeping in the year past, I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Enslaved For His Own Protection

Walter Belt Jr. wants a new Houston reservoir to be named for his ancestor, Martin Allen, but the city reportedly turned the name down because Allen owned a slave and killed an Indian.

According to Belt, the family story goes that a black youth walked onto the property and was given a place to live. The young man was counted as a slave — valued at $800 — only as a way to protect him upon Allen's death.

Belt said there's no proof Allen killed any Indian and, to the contrary, he was respected by local Native Americans when he ran a ferry boat at Harrisburg. However, he cannot verify the negative accounts are false. [Link]

How Many Ways Can 'Mackenzie' Be Misspelled? has the top baby names of 2006, and the top baby name trends. Earning a notable mention is Mackenzie—27th most popular name for girls, and the name with the most spelling variations at 45.

The name's high ranking is undoubtedly due to the continued popularity of 1970s teen actress Mackenzie Phillips.

Unlike Father, Unlike Son

Antawn Jamison of the Washington Wizards took special care in naming his newborn son "Antwan Cortez Jamison Jr."

Jamison, whose first name is pronounced "an-TWAN," said his parents didn't mean to switch the letters around when he was born.

"The hospital made a mistake on the birth certificate, and they just left it alone," Jamison said. "They just never dealt with it." [Link]

Friday, December 29, 2006

Mistress to Mrs. in One Year

I found an interesting selection at Google Books called The Geography of Marriage: Or, Legal Perplexities of Wedlock in the United States, published in 1889. The author notes inconsistencies in the marriage laws of various states, and expounds upon the dangers of miscegenation, of polygamy, and of living in Arizona.

A mistress or concubine up to the present time has never been accorded the rights and privileges of a wife, and it has come to be a maxim that mere concubinage can never drift into matrimony, nor become wedlock by lapse of time. This rule, however, has been reversed in Arizona, by a law passed February 28, 1887, whereby it is declared that parties who have lived together as husband and wife and continued to do so for a year, shall be considered as having been legally married; and if either die within the year the same result follows, and the children are declared legitimate. Within the geographical limits of Arizona, therefore, if nowhere else on the globe, it is possible to become husband and wife without getting married at all. [Link]
According to Wikipedia, Arizona banned common-law marriages in 1913, shortly after becoming a state.

Everything's Relative in Howardtown

The residents of Howardtown, Alabama, are all descended from the same couple: James Jackson and Elizabeth (Sweeney) Howard.

If you live in Howardtown, you are either a Howard, you married a Howard, or your mother or grandmother was a Howard.
If you grew up in Howardtown, you know how to speak Howard, and it is no big deal; but to those of us who did not, it is fascinating. "My man" or "governor" is a male greeting. "Where are you going?" Quo Vadis. "Where have you been?" Elsworth. A shotgun is a smokepole but a rifle is a stick. Purvis is tobacco and a Purvis blade is a pocketknife. A dallas is a nap.
What's most fascinating to me is the patronymic naming system that the family has adopted, which incorporates nicknames.
Albert Parnell has a son called Buddy; i.e. Buddy Albert. The formula really gets multi-layered though, when both father and son have nicknames as in the case of Lloyd Howard and his father. Adon Howard's nickname was Ajack, while Lloyd's is Whitey. Lloyd becomes Whitey Ajack. [Link]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

When in Doubt, Ask a Genealogist

LaJoyce Ice hadn't heard from her elderly cousins in a while, and only recently learned of their deaths. She also learned that the cousins' court-appointed attorney had failed to find any living relatives back in 2001, and that she had been left out as a beneficiary of their substantial estate. She never would have known all this without the help of an 82-year-old genealogist from Texas.

When Bill Lynch of Denton read in The News last month that the Veatch sisters had no known living relatives, he was skeptical. Genealogy has been a hobby for years, so he started looking for information about the women. He found their mother's obituary and started tracking relatives.

"I knew everybody has some relatives somewhere, so I started digging," he said.

With a little help from librarians and a search of the Social Security death database and newspaper obituaries, he tracked down Ms. Ice and her sister Maxyne Yell.

"If an old farm boy can find it, why couldn't they have found it?" he said. [Link]

Marital Limbo

A woman in Xi'an, China, may be stuck with her husband for life because he tore up their marriage certificate in a fit of anger.

The local registry office refused Huang's divorce application and told her she must first apply for a marriage certificate again, but her husband refused to go with her.

The law stipulates that marriage certificates can only be applied for by couples, not individuals. [Link]

Anarchy in the UK

Angus Lindsay discovered a log of letters that prove his grandfather wasn't just a railway station master, but also an anarchist.

The logs were written in shorthand as a form of code because of the anarchist nature of the letters.

Mr Lindsay has recently had them translated to discover more about his heritage.

He said: "I have never really had much recollection of him and my own father was very conservative, so I was surprised to learn that my grandfather was an anarchist.

"I had no idea." [Link]

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Kids Will Be Kids

J. L. Bell of the always excellent Boston 1775 today gives us the opening sentence from Patrick M'Robert's account of his 1774-75 visit to America.

We met with nothing material on our passage; only a little girl of about nine years of age fell over board and was lost. [Link]

She Kept Her Promise

I wish I could find a picture online of the Whiskey Bottle Tombstone of Clayton, Alabama.

The bottle-shaped headstone and footstone, which mark the final resting place of William T. Mullen (1834 -1863), still contains their original removable stone stoppers. Such a memorial obviously tells a story and the story behind the stone goes something like this: Mr. Mullen, a local accountant, acquired a reputation as a heavy drinker. His wife, Mary, a devout teetotaler, threatened that if he drank himself to death, she would let the world know by erecting an appropriate memorial. The Whiskey Bottle Tombstone testifies that she kept her promise. [Link]
Update: Thanks to Sharon for finding the requested picture. Now I can die a happy man.

The Oldest Woman Alive?

Alberta Davis of Thomson, Georgia, celebrated her 125th birthday on Sunday. She recently received paperwork from "the Social Security office" that allegedly confirms her age, and we know the SSA is never wrong, and people never fib about their ages.

"We just been looking at it and I just can't believe she's really this age, but that's what the papers say. She was right all these many years," said one family member. [Link]
The GRG classifies Alberta as a "claimant," meaning that her claim has been neither proved nor disproved.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Philippines' Only Piper

Roy Espiritu lives in Manila, but descends from the Macgregors of Scotland. He spent £400 for a set of bagpipes six years ago, then discovered that none of his 87 million fellow Filipinos knew how to play. Fortunately, he was able to find a tutor online.

Roy, who has never been to Scotland, is so proud of his Highland roots that his son six year- old Cholo is already practising on the chanter.

He added: "To be honest, he doesn't really like my playing much. And my wife Cheryl - well let's just say she tolerates my playing." [Link]

Not a Statuesque First Lady

A statue of Julia Dent Grant—wife of President Ulysses S. Grant—erected in Galena, Illinois, is receiving tepid reviews. The man who conceived of the tribute thinks the head should be "lopped off and redone," and the locals, too, are unimpressed.

They complain that the statue is imposing, unshapely and out of proportion, with a head that is too big and arms that are too small. Around town, the popular nickname for the statue is "Mrs. Butterworth," because it resembles the matronly shaped bottle of that brand of syrup.
Great-great-grandson Ulysses Grant Dietz thinks his stocky, cross-eyed, slave-owning ancestor deserves better.
Dietz said his ancestor was a warm person with a sunny personality whose support was crucial to her husband's success. None of that shines through in the statue, Dietz said. "It didn't strike me as a statue that was either flattering or beautiful in itself and possibly not the best way to honor her," he said. [Link]

Be a Sharer, Not a Hoarder

Michael Shaak—who started his career in genealogy by asking his father who they were related to and receiving the reply "Nobody"—is dealing with a "hoarder" who shares his interest in the Shaak surname.

“What he does is he gets information from people on their family and ‘corrects it’ and sends back some other information that is totally incorrect,” Shaak said. “And then they never hear from him again, or until he wants more info. He never even gives them a printout of their family.”

This has an impact on Shaak. When he contacts a family member and says he’s a genealogist, they sometimes put him in the same class as the other guy.

“I’d love to see his stuff, just to see how he connects the dots, because the info he has given me, which isn’t much, just doesn’t jibe,” he said. [Link]

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas From The Genealogue!

[Photo credit: Tough day for Santa by KGSims]

Take My Wife, Please

An article about the late Marjorie "Granny" Gomez—mother of 19 children (none of them twins)—offers this tantalizing tidbit:

Her Danish ancestors arrived in New York in 1639. Laurens Duyts promptly sold his wife. [Link]
The details are here:
The Court Minutes of Harlem relate that Laurens Duyts of Holstein received sent[e]ncing from Stuyvesant on November 25, 1658, for selling his wife, Ytie Jansen, and forcing her to live in adultery with another man, and for living himself in adultery, he was to have a rope tied around his neck, and then to be sever[e]ly flogged and have his right ear cut off, and to be banished for fifty years.

Male, Female, or None of the Above?

Because of a 20-year-old court decision, anyone tying the knot in Clark County, Ohio, has to take a strange oath before Probate Court deputy clerk Sharon Weldy will issue a marriage license. It starts: "Do you solemnly swear you are not a transsexual..."

"Most of the time, I'd say 75 percent of the time, when I give the oath I get laughter or giggles or questionable looks. You know, they can't believe that's what they're being asked to say," Weldy said.
"Some ask me why they have to say that. Or they look at each other and say 'Are you a transsexual?' to the other one," Weldy said.

No one has ever answered yes.

"I think the average man and woman, by the time they're getting married, kind of just assume that their partner is not a transsexual," said Richard Carey, Clark County Probate Court judge. [Link]

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Cemetery Mistaken for Ash Dump

A box containing the cremains of James William Hodge showed up in a Wyoming cemetery 25 years after his death, but nobody knows how.

Dema Gilbert, Pine Bluff's town clerk for 25 years, said the community would love to find out how Hodge's remains found their way to the town.

"I guess we’re kind of at a dead end," said Gilbert, who will be retiring Jan. 4 after 25 years, with tongue stuck firmly in her cheek. "Actually, it's kind of sad that maybe somewhere he has family that might want his ashes back." [Link]

Christmas Deliveries

What do Sir Isaac Newton, Humphrey Bogart, and Jesus have in common? They were all allegedly born on Christmas Day. Add to that list my niece Elisabeth (middle name "Noëlle") and Carol Herzog of Stanton, Michigan.

Herzog’s father was able to come two weeks later to take his wife and daughter home. When he went to write the name “Eleanor” on the birth certificate, he found that his wife had decided to name their Christmas present Carol instead.

“He said I “caroled” all night long as a baby,” Herzog said. [Link]
It could be worse. I ran across a boy born May 8, 1896, whose parents named him Arbor Day Jackson.

The Perfect Son-in-Law

Dan and Patty MacInnis were hoping for a son to carry on the family's Scottish surname, but had three daughters. Luckily, one of those daughters found an amenable fiancé in Gary Fletcher.

Seems that about six weeks before their wedding, Heather asked Gary to consider changing his name. First he was very quiet, she said, but "he let me know he'd think about it."

After much thought and realizing his brothers could carry on his surname, Gary agreed to legally change his last name to MacInnis. [Link]

Coal Miner's Great-Great Granddaughter

The Daily Mail has traced Kate Middleton's ancestry back to a family of coal miners. She's the girlfriend and possible consort of Prince William.

By 1890 John Harrison junior, Kate's great-great grandfather, now just 16, was fatherless and already working down the pit. In time, he married a local girl, Jane Hill, from the nearby village of Hetton Lyons.

They set up home in a miner's cottage at 22 Nicholas Street, Hetton Downs, and prepared to live their lives pretty much as John Senior and James Harrison had done: with hard work and constant danger, but within a warm and supportive community. [Link]
William's ancestors led lives very similar, only with less hard work and more time to pursue hobbies like chess and serial infidelity.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Washington Leaves Man in Coma

Oxford University student John Washington was arrested in New York for assaulting fellow American Colin Hall five years ago.

It is alleged that Mr Hall, who lives in Chelsea, was talking to Miss Clegg when Washington - reportedly related to the first US president George Washington - struck him with an empty bottle.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Mr Hall said: "He has shown complete dishonour and cowardice, both by hitting me from behind and sneaking out of the country while I was in a coma.

"How ironic that a direct descendent of George Washington should be eating his Christmas turkey in jail. [Link]
It would indeed be ironic—had George Washington fathered any children. Perhaps Mr. Hall accepts the conclusions of this book.

Christmas Cheer and the Barons of Beer

Collect a whole set of Brad and Lynn Craig's Christmas cards and you'll have a history of Wisconsin beer-making.

For more than a decade, the Muskego couple have been mailing Christmas cards to their friends, bearing a photo of themselves next to the headstone of some great early Wisconsin beer baron or another.

Last year's card -- the 12th in the series -- captured the Craigs at the Madison gravesite of Peter Fauerbach (1831-1886), patriarch of the near-east-side brewery that bore his name until it went out of business in 1966. [Link]

Is There a Christmas Present?

'Tis the season to publish articles about families named Christmas. For instance, the one in Gainesville, Georgia, with two members named Mary.

The Christmas children agree that the only time their last name gets old is roll call at school. Many of them roll their eyes and groan at the thought.

"The first day of the semester in college, I was like, `Here we go,'" said the younger Mary, who graduated from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where one of her professors made her stand up in front of a large lecture hall full of students when he saw her name on the class list. [Link]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

In Utero Baptism

Megan reports that there are still lingering questions about Ellis Island gatecrasher Annie Moore.

The civil registration matches the day and month given on her death certificate -- May 30th -- but her baptism record claims that she was born on May 25th and cleverly christened on May 24th. Guess she's not quite ready to give up all her secrets! [Link]

Genealogy of the Supermarket

You'll never guess whom Aunt Jemima's been fooling around with.

Nina Katchadourian's "Genealogy of the Supermarket" cleverly places the logos of everyday food products in a family tree; we learn, for instance, that the Argo Corn Starch cornwoman is the offspring of the Green Giant and the Land O'Lakes butter maiden. The relations are beautifully intuitive, making sense of the unquestioned ubiquity of these people on our shelves. [Link]
While you're at it, check out Katchadourian's rock family tree. I always thought my family was sedentary, but maybe we're sedimentary.

Looks Kind of Like My Mom

I spotted this in NARA's World War II poster collection. I wonder if the model shows this to her grandkids.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Steve Finds an Actual Factual Error

A Canadian columnist offers these examples of people having their names changed by immigration officers. Too bad they're fictional.

A Chinese gentleman whose name is Jacob Rosenberg explained how he came by this name. “When I entered the country, the immigration officer asked me my name. I said Saim Ting. So he wrote down the name of the Jewish man who was in line ahead of me.”

An elderly Jewish gentleman when asked for his name at immigration had a senior moment and replied, “Shoin fargessen (can’t remember).” So that’s how he got his name — Shaun Ferguson! [Link]
This last example reminds me of a recent post by Steve Danko, in which he examined the marriage record of Joseph Koscinczyk.
What’s so interesting about this record? Well, Joseph’s mother’s maiden name is listed as “Niewiem”, which is not a Polish surname at all. “Nie wiem” is a Polish sentence that means “I don’t know”.

It appears that, when asked for his mother’s maiden name, Joseph answered in Polish, ”Nie wiem”, and the clerk dutifully recorded that response in the register.

Sh*t Happens Again

It's déjà vu all over again.

I blogged last year about an historic black settlement in Ohio fighting to keep a dairy farm out of the neighborhood. Today comes news of an historic black settlement in California fighting to keep a dairy farm out of the neighborhood.

Basque immigrant Sam Etchegaray had two seemingly perfect swaths for a pair of large dairies: 2,000 rural acres of dusty fields, where thousands of cows would be at home in the No. 1 milk-producing county in the nation.

The only problem is that the pastures were next to a state park that pays tribute to a community founded by a freed slave, raising the ire of environmentalists and blacks who objected to the pollution and stench that would come with the cows.
"I guess they're ready to put manure on top of us," said Nettie Morrison, 72, a resident of the unincorporated community of about 120 families. [Link]

I Think He Really Means It

Today's post at This Day in Mythstory includes the following threat request:

NOTE: If you’re a fan of this website, please link to it or forward it to friends. Or it might go dark.
As a fan of that website, and having no friends to forward it to, I am linking to it here. And again here. The blogger is former Daily Show writer Chris Regan, who surely has better things to do than misinform the American public about its history—although I'm hoping that he doesn't.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

The parent company of has changed its name., Inc., the leading online network for connecting families across distance and time, today announced that it is changing its name to The Generations Network, Inc., effective immediately. The company will continue to serve families online through its portfolio of leading brands and websites. [Link]
The new address is ... which redirects to You can also use ... which redirects to Come to think of it, this press release may be a practical joke played by someone who drank spiked eggnog at the office Christmas party.

Grandparents May Soon Be Extinct in UK

A recent change to UK inheritance law has grandparents running for cover.

The Government said that in the future, children will be allowed to inherit from grandparents who have been killed by their mother or father.

Currently people convicted of murder or manslaughter cannot inherit from their victims, but the law also cuts out the killer's descendants from the line of succession.

Ministers have decided that is unfair - even though one of the country's most senior judges has warned that changing the law could encourage people to kill their parents. [Link]
I agree with the judge. If there's one thing people don't need, it's encouragement to kill their parents.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's Even Funnier in French

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shares this anecdote concerning Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997 at age 122.

Madame Calment was quite the bon vivant right up through 120 or so, singing songs and rapping and the like. She had ridden a bike until age 100. A young journalist supposedly asked her on her 120th birthday whether she could count on seeing Madame Calment the following year.

"I don't see why not; you look pretty healthy to me," responded the woman who'd had 12 decades to hone her comic timing. [Link]

Santa Lives!

Father Christmas (first name "William") has been found living on Malvern Drive, Ilford, England.

"I have a standing £10 bet with anyone who can tell me a joke I haven't heard before," he said. "I often throw the naughty one back at them about Christmas only coming once a year."

"I enjoy having the name, especially at this time of year with the kids. I joke with them about being on their best behaviour or I won't be delivering their presents this year. I tell them I wait to grow my beard until a week before Christmas." [Link]
This contradicts the news last year that Father Christmas died at Dedham in 1564.

It's Better to Give Than to Receive Vomit

Dorothy Ferreira of Montauk got the weirdest Christmas present ever from her 82-year-old sister in Iowa.

Inside she found what looked like a gnarled, funky candle but could actually be a huge hunk of petrified whale vomit worth as much as $18,000.

“I called my sister and asked her, ‘What the heck did you send me?’ ” recalled Ms. Ferreira, 67, who has lived here on the eastern tip of Long Island since 1982. “She said: ‘I don’t know, but I found it on the beach in Montauk 50 years ago and just kept it around. You’re the one who lives by the ocean; ask someone out there what it is.’ ” [Link, via Neatorama]
The waxy lump may indeed be ambergris—a substance retched up by sperm whales and prized by our ancestors for its "strangely alluring aroma." Which makes me wonder what else our ancestors tried dabbing behind their ears.

I'll Never Be a Royal Bastard

The Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain—or Royal Bastards—is a group with higher standards than its name would suggest.

Membership in the society is open to anyone who can prove descent from an English, Scots, Welsh or British king through an illegitimate child, grandchild or great-grandchild of a monarch.

The very first person to be admitted was Queen Elizabeth II, who descends from King Henry I through his bastard daughter Constance. In the 27-generation pedigree are two additional illegitimacies.

The Royal Bastards' remedy for the sad state of genealogical research is to emphasize the highest standards of genealogical proofs for admission and to lead by example the rest of the hereditary societies. Obtaining membership in the organization is a mark of genealogical achievement. [Link]

Just a Little Bit Nazi

Descendants of a gynecologist who participated in Hitler's eugenics program were denied compensation for artwork confiscated by Soviet soldiers after the war. Their argument, though clever, did not sway the court.

Dr Schuster was head of the Chemnitz women’s clinic during the war and a senior member of the National Socialist Doctors’ Association. But, said the legal team, he was only one of 14,427 Germans in leading Nazi posts at the local level; he could, therefore, be held responsible for only 0.006 per cent of Nazi crimes. [Link]

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I Couldn't Look Away

Marcy Brown and Megan Smolenyak2 are so happy about the success of Roots Television that they simply must dance.

Click here for a peek. Be sure to turn on your volume and wait for the elevator to arrive. You can watch its progress on the dial on top. That's Marcy on the left and Megan on the right -- well, our faces anyway. We're two of the instigators behind Roots Television, and hope you've been enjoying it as much as we have! [Link]
If you don't like it, you can go Elf Yourself.

Man Finds His Calling Six Feet Under

Business is booming for R. Ward Sutton's company in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

If you wanted to give Sutton a highfalutin title, try this one: "grave relocation facilitator." He's the guy you call when grandma, bless her heart, needs to be moved out of the way of whatever she's in the way of. But one of Sutton's acquaintances has a better title for him. He calls Sutton a "reverse funeral director."

Most funeral directors are in charge of putting you in the ground. Sutton's responsible for pulling you out.
Sutton got his first taste of the grave relocation business back in the '60s.
It was an era when rural family cemeteries -- until then often the default choice for burials -- were starting to give way to memorial gardens, and sometimes the ancestors were moved to those new grounds to help keep the freshly dead company.

"It fascinated me," Sutton says. "I'd rather go out and move a grave than wash a car." [Link]

Friday, December 15, 2006

Lizzie's Descendants Descend on Memphis

They had no trouble filling the pews at 116-year-old Lizzie Bolden's send-off on Friday.

Her funeral was held yesterday in the church where she worshipped for decades - the New Wright chapel of the Missionary Baptist church, founded in Memphis in 1927. Many of her six generations of descendants attended the service, squeezing into the chapel as best they could. At the last count there were two surviving children, 40 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, 150 great-great grandchildren, 220 great-great-great grandchildren and 75 great-great-great-great grandchildren. [Link]

You Can't Beat a Dead Horse

The Sheboygan Press needs some help figuring out what this photograph is all about.

A print of the photo was submitted to the Historical Research Center several years ago, said Kathy Jeske, but there was very little information attached.

"I don't think we have any idea," Jeske said. "There's no name on it, nothing."

The photo does say, on the back, that it was taken at Eighth Street and Indiana Avenue, and that it's of a man sitting on a dead horse. [Link, via Boing Boing]
Sounds like a job for the Forensic Genealogy folks. My own theory: This was an early merry-go-round prototype.

French Busts Lifted

Thieves have made off with six bronze busts from the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris—including that of Carmen composer Georges Bizet.

The busts dated from the second half of the 19th century and were made by well-known artists of the time. Each is worth between €5,000 and €10,000.
Jean-Claude Hitz, a trade union representative for Paris cemetery workers said that although efforts had been made to provide security for the Père-Lachaise, "20 or so wardens were not enough ... at a site whose five gates are open to the public, where the landscape is hilly and where someone can hide behind a cross or a tombstone, out of sight". [Link]
[Photo credit: 1993 Bizet by majorbonnet]

They're Making a Federal Case Out of It

Diana Bijon could have taken husband Mike Buday's last name by simply writing it on their marriage license application.

But if Buday wanted to become a Bijon, he would have to get an order of the court to do so — and not before he had filed a petition, paid $320, advertised public notice of his intention to change his name for four weeks in a local newspaper and then appeared before a judge.

"It strikes both of us — especially me — that this is not on equal ground," said Buday, now married to Bijon for more than a year but reduced to still using his, well, maiden name. "This is about gender equality." [Link]
The couple's case has been taken up by the ACLU, which will argue that the additional costs and delay violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. I'm no lawyer, but I'm almost certain this is why the 14th Amendment was adopted.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Mother Lode of Invention

I am completely jazzed about the just-released Google Patent Search. This is a great improvement over the USPTO search engine, which still will be necessary to search patent applications.

What's especially wonderful is that Google has OCRed patents issued prior to 1976, making them searchable by surname, hometown, etc. If not for this development, I never would have known about Alford E. Jarvis' Method of Producing Human-Hair Scenery and Ornaments.

My invention relates to an improvement in a method of producing hair scenery and ornaments, and has for its object the preservation of the hair of a dead relative or friend in an artistic manner for making artistic hair-work.

Fighting the Rising Tide

Donald Willey is living in a FEMA trailer on Hooper's Island, Maryland, his house having been destroyed by Hurricane Isabel. But his highest priority is saving an island cemetery from slipping into Chesapeake Bay.

"This is our local history, and I just can't see it wash away. It's got to be saved," Willey said. "If it gets out there in the bay, then the body's gone and everything is lost."

In the last 30 years, the waves have devoured the shoreline, moving it 400 feet inland.
Willey said he has a plan to use 2,000-pound concrete blocks to build a base along the shore and cover it with boulders, but at $400 a foot, he said he can only do so much alone. [Link]
You can send a check—or perhaps a 2,000-pound concrete block—to the Anchor of Hope Graveyard Fund at this address:

The Bucktown Village Foundation
P.O. Box 711
Cambridge, Md. 21613-0711

Don't Know Much About Family History

A survey released today reveals that 43 percent of Britons don't know their grandmothers' maiden names, and 38 percent don't know what jobs their grandfathers held.

The poll, carried out by YouGov, found that the average British family's knowledge of its history went back just 128 years, or around three generations, to 1878. Those in the south-east of England keep a better track, with an average of 137 years' knowledge while people from Wales know the least, with an average of just 108 years.

Women also tend to have more knowledge of their families than men, with half knowing where their grandparents were born compared with 42 per cent of men. But despite the apparent lack of knowledge of family history, 80 per cent of those surveyed said it was an important subject and 72 per cent claimed to be interested in genealogy. [Link]
I shudder to think what the survey results would be in America.

A Blue-Collar Blue Blood

The New York Sun tells the interesting story of an enigmatic genealogist and art collector named William M. V. Kingsland, who died last March. No one knew of his origins until two other genealogists, Leslie Corn and Roger Joslyn, took on the case. They found that he was a native New Yorker born Melvin Kohn.

In a motion filed in 1960 to change his name, Kingsland's parents said of their 17-year-old son: "in order to more successfully pursue his career in the field of literature and languages, which are his chief interests, it would be to his benefit to assume the name of William M. Kingsland, as this name has a more literary sounding and flavor."

The family was then living at 1420 Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Reached by phone, the attorney who made the motion for Kingsland's name change, Zoltan Neumark, recalled a quiet young man who "had an idea he wanted an aristocratic name." Kingsland would later tell close friends his middle initials stood for "Milliken" and "Vanderbilt." [Link]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Guy Who Knew Him Best

A former editor of the Arizona Republic was given the byline for his own obituary.

Unflappable. With gentle, good humor. A pro. These are the words that come to mind when we recall Phil Sunkel, former Arizona Republic editorial page editor, who died Saturday.
Writing was in his blood. We were lucky to know him and to work with him. - Phil Sunkel
[Hat tip: Boing Boing]
Update: Phil has lost his byline, but here's a screenshot.

Georgia's Lost Towns

Here is a list of the 488 small Georgia towns wiped off the state map. I'd be proud to have an ancestor from any of them, but my favorites are Poetry Tulip and Hopeulikit.

And the Wall Came Tumbling Down

One genealogist has brought the British government to its knees. Guy Etchells requested access to a single 1911 census record for Bottesford in Leicestershire through a Freedom of Information request. His request was granted, and when Your Family Tree contacted The National Archives (TNA) with the news, they agreed to crack open the entire census ahead of the official 2012 release date.

Starting in January, TNA will offer a limited research service where the address of an individual in the 1911 Census is already known. There will be a non-refundable search charge of £45 (see

Meanwhile, TNA said it hopes to offer a searchable online service in early 2009, with key sensitive information withheld until 2012.
And Mr. Etchells isn't done yet.
Guy told us: “As you may imagine, I was elated with the decision. I now also have questions about the legality of restricting information of any census up to 1981...” [Link]

Six-Word Biographies

I enjoy reading autobiographies, but only if they're really, really short. So The Six-Word Memoir Contest is just what I've been looking for.

Everyone has a story. Can you tell yours in six words? Sure you can. Enter The Six-Word Memoir Contest—and you could win an iPod Nano.

Send us your short, short life story using the form below and sign up for a cool, new free service from Twitter. Then you'll get to read one great six-word memoir every day, sent straight to your cell phone.
As genealogists, we might try applying this concept to our ancestors. Some examples:
  • "Kicked off Mayflower for counting cards."
  • "Eighteen children, none of them attractive."
  • "Thought he was a girl. Whoops!"
  • "Killed by Indians. Probably deserved it."
  • "Never could spell his name correctly."
  • "Lived a virtuous life until executed."
  • "Outlived three husbands. Was never convicted."
  • "Accidentally shot by brother. Seven times."
  • "Really, he was just following orders!"
  • "Was born, married, died. Nothing else."

Feel free to offer your own ancestor bios in a comment below.

American Royalty (Or So They Think)

An article in the New York Observer lays out some of the illustrious family tree of the Mortimer clan.

The Mortimer family traces its origins to John Jay, the nation’s first chief justice. One of the current generation, Robert Livingston (Topper) Mortimer, that trusty husband of Tinsley, is the great-grandson of Henry Morgan Tilford, a president of Standard Oil, and he bears as well the name of Robert Livingston, a drafter of the Declaration of Independence.
One of the Mortimer cousins, Eva Pell, has recently finished a biography of the Pell and Mortimer families called We Used to Own the Bronx. She explains why I will never become her brother-in-law:
“We’re actually very un-America in spirit,” she said. “Horatio Alger would not be welcome in our family. And the idea is to inherit your money and not make it—and the longer ago, the better.” [Link]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

San Francisco's Quietest Suburb

Colma, California—founded as a necropolis in 1924—has "1,500 aboveground residents," according to Mayor Helen Fisicaro, "and 1.5 million underground."

For the first few decades, Colma’s residents were mainly gravediggers, flower growers and monument makers. But by the 1980s, other types of people and businesses were settling in next to the dead. Today the little city has many thriving businesses, including car dealerships, two Home Depots, shopping centers and a game room.
Colma’s motto is “It’s Great to Be Alive in Colma!” And residents say they are comfortable being alive among the mausoleums, the marble obelisks and the tombstones. They express appreciation for the tranquillity of their hometown, where a serene, occasionally whimsical attitude toward death prevails. [Link]

A Land Where Moss Is Better Than Gold

Having nothing better to do, Iceland takes great care in naming its children.

The official Board of Human Names recently turned down requests for registering Malm and Adils as new Icelandic male names. Mosi, Svea, Eybjört and Korka were accepted.

According to Icelandic law regarding human names, given names in Iceland have to fit Icelandic grammar rules and be spelled in an “Icelandic way,” unless the name has belonged to the family of the child for generations.
The board also denied a request to use the female name Gull, which translates to “gold,” but the male name Mosi, meaning “moss,” was accepted. [Link]

Monday, December 11, 2006

Got Milk-Digesting Enzymes?

If you can tolerate milk in your diet, you have your cattle-herding ancestors to thank.

All humans digest mothers' milk as infants, but until cattle were domesticated 9000 years ago, weaned children no longer needed to digest milk. As a result, many shut down the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose into sugars. After cattle were domesticated, however, it became advantageous for their keepers to digest milk, and lactose tolerance evolved.

Not everyone can stomach milk equally, however. Northern Europeans, who tend to be descended from cattle farmers, are much more lactose tolerant than most Asians, who were not as dependent on cattle. [Link]
On the other hand, Asians have been shown to be more tolerant of Jackie Chan movies.

Girls Will Be Boys and Boys Will Be Girls

Marya C. Myers, CG, contributed this item to the January 2006 issue of The American Genealogist under the title "Sexual Ambiguity in Colonial Massachusetts." It's taken from the Newport (R.I.) Mercury of Feb. 5, 1770.

BOSTON: ... about 23 years ago a child was born in the southern part of this province, who bearing a similarity to both sexes, it was disputed what apparel it should be dressed in, but it was at last agreed to dress it in women's, and it was baptized by the name of Deborah; this person grew up, and till lately passed for a woman; but having for some time past lodged with one of that sex, the latter found herself to be with child, and has sworn the former to be the father of it—The consequence has been that they are married together, and the father instead of his former name was married by that of Deborah Francis Lewis.

A Quincy Question

My Finnish great-grandfather spent some time in the copper mines of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and may well have worked for the Quincy Mining Company in Hancock. No one at the museum there knows how the mine got its name.

"It's a constant source of embarrassment that we don't know the origin of our name," said its manager, Ed Yarbrough.

"A number of people have looked for this information and it's not readily found," Yarbrough said. "Even the scholar who has done the most work on Quincy leaves that question unanswered.'" [Link]
Coincidentally, my great-grandfather afterwards lived in Quincy, Mass., which—as the article mentions—was also home to a large Finnish community, and which is one possible source of the mining company's name. But the name wasn't carried from Massachusetts to Michigan by Finns: the company was founded a half century before they began arriving in large numbers.

The SSDI Sometimes Lies

Despite being listed in the Social Security Death Index, David Rotolo insists that he's still alive. (Update: As of May 2007, he's no longer listed.) The SSA blames the mixup on the VA.

Veterans Affairs spokesman Ryan Steinbach said his agency had, in fact, marked Rotolo as dead in February 2005. It listed his date of death as Sept. 7, 2002.
He said the VA has no doubt Rotolo is who he claims to be and that he is alive.

"We're very sure that's the guy," Steinbach said. "We're very sorry for the time we did have him deceased and any problems it may have caused him or his family."

Steinbach said he hoped the error didn't cause Rotolo "any undue pain or harm."

"We can say this," Steinbach said. "He now has something in common with both Mark Twain and Paul McCartney." [Link]

A Good Vehicle for Making Deliveries

Adrienne Hopkins and Craig Buck's forest green Toyota 4Runner was stolen this fall, and with it their daughter's birthplace. Adrienne went into labor the night of Jan. 6, 2003, and gave birth en route to the hospital.

When they arrived at the hospital, nurses rushed out with a gurney to take Adrienne and Molly out of the Toyota, and later cleaned up the car.

The birth certificate lists the family car and state Route 163 as Molly's place of birth.
Molly knows she was born in the car, but it isn't a big deal to the 3-year-old.

“She doesn't know that other kids aren't born in the car,” Adrienne said. “Later in life, it will be pretty special.” [Link]
[Hat tip: Genea-Musings]

It Was Worth a Shot

Back before there was a World Wide Web, the first place to look for one's ancestors was in Alex Haley's Rolodex.

During one of his tours of duty as an engineer officer in the British Merchant Navy, Robert Salmon met Alex Haley.

The "Roots" author, who knew what it was like to search for your ancestors, took one look at Salmon and said, "You look just like my producer." "I said, 'Is your producer named Clyde Reid?'" Salmon remembers.

Of course, Haley's producer wasn't Clyde Reid of Union. But the question was another attempt in Salmon's many tries to find his father. [Link]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Converso Conversations

One historian's introduction to New Mexico's "crypto-Jews" came by way of a whisper campaign.

Within weeks of becoming New Mexico state historian, Stanley Hordes started receiving some odd visitors. They would enter his Santa Fe office, close the door -- and gossip about their neighbors.

"So-and-so lights candles on Friday nights," they would whisper.

"So-and-so doesn't eat pork," they would say.

The young historian was intrigued. Though the people Hordes spoke with were clearly Catholic, they reported following an array of Jewish customs. They talked about leaving pebbles on cemetery headstones, lighting candles on Friday nights, abstaining from pork and circumcising male infants.

When Hordes asked why they did such things, some said they were simply following family tradition. Others gave a more straightforward explanation.

"Somos judios," they said. We are Jews. [Link]

Saturday, December 09, 2006

488 Communities Wiped Off the Map

Georgia has a new official map, but the cartographers decided that 488 communities were so small that no one would ever need to find them.

Georgia's Department of Transportation, which drew the new map, said that the goal was to make it clearer and less cluttered and that many of the dropped communities were mere "placeholders," generally with fewer than 2,500 people. Some are unincorporated and so small they are not even recognized by the Census Bureau.
Gone are such places as Dewy Rose, Hemp, Experiment, Retreat, Wooster, Sharp Top and Chattoogaville, a spot in far northwestern Georgia that consists of little more than a two-truck volunteer fire department, a few farmhouses and a country store where locals fill up their gas tanks. [Link]
Where I come from, a town of 2,500 people is considered a metropolis, and a fire department that gets a second truck is just showing off.

Somebody's Getting Snippy

It's not strange to have your picture taken with a horse. Unless the horse died 39 years ago from being mutilated by space aliens.

Snippy (or what's left of her) was up for grabs on eBay last week, but was withdrawn when a dispute arose over who should own her.

Attorneys for the heirs of Snippy's last owner, Carl Helfin, lawyers for the descendants of Snippy's original owner, Nellie Lewis, and legal counsel for the Alamosa Chamber of Commerce where Snippy once resided, all claim the mare's remains.

Snippy was the first reported case of animal mutilation by space aliens. All flesh between Snippy's nose and withers was removed, along with her brain.

At the time, Lewis said the boots she walked in to where Snippy was found were radioactive.
Frank Duran, hired by Helfin's estate to market Snippy, said Lewis' descendants are upset about the sale and visited his office this week to have a family picture taken with Snippy. [Link]
I don't know about you, but almost none of my family pictures feature a mutilated horse.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Be Sure Your Insurers Know Who's Dead

After her husband's death in 2002, 90-year-old widow Ada Courtright continued to pay health insurance premiums to the school district where she had worked for twenty years. She wasn't aware that she was paying an extra $8,000 to insure her dead husband.

For its part, the school district says it was never informed of Mr. Courtright's passing, and is not obliged to return the money.

District officials feel badly about the situation but add that rules required Courtright's family to notify the district of the death. Until then, Mr. Courtright was still legally insured.

"This is an unfortunate no-win situation," says Judith Christiansen, director of human resources and labor relations for the district. "I don't want to make it sound like we're a big business, but we have a thousand people insured under this plan, and we had to do what is best for those people." [Link]
Doing "what is best" apparently includes picking the pockets of elderly widows.

They Wanted a Woonsocket Wedding

Some town clerks in Rhode Island are helping to investigate schemes in which U.S. citizens are paid to marry illegal immigrants. Woonsocket City Clerk Pauline Payeur has issued hundreds of sham marriage certificates, all the while keeping the authorities apprised.

Two years ago, she noticed couples flooding into her office to get married, and they were all coming from Worcester. "They're going by 20 town halls from here to Worcester, and they choose Woonsocket?" Payeur exclaimed. "Obviously they must have been trying to hide something."
[R]ight after receiving their licenses, the couples would call in a Woonsocket judge and get married on the spot, wherever they could find a space.

"It was ridiculous," Payeur said, sitting in her small office. "They'd get married right in the hallway, or at first they were right in here. After a while, we said, 'This is not a wedding chapel.' The phones would be ringing, I'd have two witnesses and the bride and the groom and the judge standing here. I mean, I'm a nice person, but after a while, I got to say!" [Link]

The Fourth Time Was Overkill

If this story is true, it may be taken as proof that God exists and holds grudges.

A British officer, Major Summerford, while fighting in the fields of Flanders in February 1918 was knocked off his horse by a flash of lightning and paralyzed from the waist down. Summerford retired and moved to Vancouver. One day in 1924, as he fished alongside a river, lightning hit the tree he was sitting under and paralyzed his right side. Two years later Summerford was sufficiently recovered that he was able to take walks in a local park. He was walking there one summer day in 1930 when a lightning bolt smashed into him, permanently paralyzing him. He died two years later. But lightning sought him out one last time. Four years later, during a storm, lightning struck a cemetery and destroyed a tombstone. The deceased buried here? Major Summerford. [Link]

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Three Rs

Here's an example from the Philippines of why, when transcribing official documents, a genealogist should leave even obvious errors uncorrected.

I had a friend whose birth was recorded in a faulty typewriter of a provincial municipality. The typewriter would produce three letters instead of one, such as in his case three Rs instead of one. He was called Rex but the typewriter showed RRRex. Since that was how his birth certificate showed it, he went through life with that spelling because that was what was demanded by every government office he passed. All mindlessly insisted that he spell his name with three Rs. So, he did to save himself grief. It was irrational and ridiculous and he went to his grave with the three Rs. [Link]

Woman Jailed for Making a Good Guess

Mary Martin of Edinburgh is seeking a pardon for her grandmother, Helen Duncan, who was prosecuted during World War II as a witch only because she was a witch "spiritualist materialisation medium."

At a séance in 1943 it was claimed that the spirit of a sailor from the HMS Barham appeared.

The vessel was only officially declared lost several months later.

She was arrested in 1944 and sentenced to nine months in prison at the Old Bailey for crimes under the Witchcraft Act of 1735.
"Some people said it was treason. My grandmother had two sons and two son in laws in the forces ... and there is no way she would have given anybody information." [Link, via Boing Boing]

An Illuminating Tombstone

P. Milton Lupton's headstone says that he is "not dead but sleepeth." The question is, does he sleep with a night-light?

For many years, legend has indicated that a certain tombstone along Cedar Creek Grade is somehow possessed by powers that cause it to glow when approached by cars at night.
Theories about the alleged phenomenon in the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church cemetery have ranged from the type of materials the stone contains to some slightly less scientific theories — such as ghosts and curses.

However, a trip to the cemetery on a recent evening produced no evidence of any particular reflective or glowing properties, despite an experiment that aimed several different angles of low- and high-beam car headlights at the gravestone. [Link]

20th Century Survivor Discovered in Maryland

This article about a Maryland man who celebrated an impressive 101st birthday on Tuesday begins with a singularly unimpressive fact.

Glenn Lemon of Odenton has lived in two different millennia.
The writer may be surprised to learn that elementary schools are packed with people who have lived in two different millennia.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Japanese Ruined Her Honeymoon

The day that Wilson and Roberta Ollis married was a date which will live in infamy.

While they were swapping wedding vows on Dec. 7, 1941 in Orlando, Fla., Pearl Harbor was under attack.

“They were bombing Pearl Harbor as we said ‘I do,’” Roberta Ollis said.
The couple didn’t find out about the attack until they were driving to Daytona, Fla., for their honeymoon. They heard the news of the attack on the radio. They also heard the call for all servicemen to report to their post, meaning Wilson, a staff sergeant in the Air Force, would have to cut his time with his new bride short.
“I would say it is interesting (being married on Pearl Harbor day),” Roberta Ollis said. “It was OK, I wasn’t really happy they messed up my honeymoon.” [Link]

A President Worth Defending

Peter Hess, head of the New York cemetery where President Chester A. Arthur is buried, is fuming over an ornament hanging on this year's official White House Christmas tree. Not the ornament itself, actually, but the biographical sketch that accompanies it.

Hess wrote to the White House Historical Association, which produced the ornament, calling the group's description of Arthur "an absolute disgrace."

Said Hess in a strongly worded e-mail: "The positives are all but eliminated while the negatives are exaggerated to the point of outright lies."

Hess was outraged by several statements in the historical sketch accompanying the ornament. Namely, he objected to a focus on charges of political corruption against Arthur and this summary assessment: "Arthur's notable achievements as president were few." [Link]
At least they didn't call him Canadian.

A Forebear Suitable for Framing?

British TV chef Nigella Lawson was asked recently about finding a felon in her family tree.

You did BBC2’s Who Do You Think You Are? and discovered you had a criminal in your family tree. What did you make of that?

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. There was a felony and a conviction and an appeal but he left the country before the appeal was heard. I’d like to think he was stitched up. The programme told me things I didn’t know but nothing so shocking I needed to sit down and have my brow mopped. [Link]
The BBC's programme info does not mention her ancestor being "stitched up" for stealing and fencing lottery tickets. Maybe she can get O.J. Simpson to help her find the real culprits.

The Ultimate Prenup

Saying she doesn't want to be "tied down," a woman in China has given her impending marriage an expiration date.

Qing, 30, a freelance magazine writer, required her fiancé, an architect, to sign a contract agreeing to divorce in eight years before they registered for a marriage certificate on Monday.

The contract stipulated that the couple would return to the registry office for the divorce in eight years' time. [Link]

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Yes, Virginia, There Are Creoles

Food critic Alan Richman panned New Orleans cuisine in the November issue of GQ, and while he was at it cast doubt on the existence of Creoles.

Supposedly, Creoles can be found in and around New Orleans. I have never met one and suspect they are a faerie folk, like leprechauns, rather than an indigenous race.
An article in Wednesday's New York Times suggests that there really are Creoles, but identifying one may depend on your choice of definition.
“It’s the name everyone wants to be called but no one can tell you what it is,” said Dickie Breaux, owner of the Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge, a Cajun restaurant and music spot a couple hours’ drive west of New Orleans.

Louisiana Creole scholars use a textbook definition that transcends race and ethnicity. They say anyone whose ancestors were born in Louisiana during colonial times is a Creole. But Creole also means a genetic mix of colonial settlers, indigenous people and slaves, so it has a racial connotation. In Acadiana, the Cajun homeland in southwest Louisiana, Creole can be code for anyone who is not white. In New Orleans, some use the word to denote people of color with some white ancestry, but it is also claimed by white descendants of the French settlers. [Link]

A Business Deeply Rooted in His Family

Donny Richards makes some of his "Come Heah Tuh Me" turkey calls with the help of a long-dead ancestor.

It was a well-known fact that Richards' family originally came from the area of Lumpkin, Ga., and that the patriarch, Henry Spivey, was buried somewhere in the area.

“Really, his grave was found by accident when my mother was cleaning the graveyard,” Richard said. “And what was so amazing was that this huge cedar tree was growing right out of my great-great-great-grandaddy's chest.”
Only a small number of the turkey calls are made from the cedar that grew from his great-great-great-grandpa's chest, and those have a unique sound that Richards's credits to the wood. [Link]

Time's a-Wasting

Here's some time-sensitive info that's been piling up at Genealogue Central.

Even if you missed the first twenty-six, you're welcome to attend the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, to be held in Salt Lake City, July 15-20, 2007. The organizers have put out a call for papers.

Until December 15, 2006, the Program Committee will consider proposals submitted online at the event website, Prospective speakers must submit a 50-word biography and a 100-word synopsis. Speakers will be notified of their status by February 28, 2007.
Beginning January 4, 2007, seven former instructors will be offering online courses at GenClass.
Current classes include Scottish, Eastern European basic/intermediate, Native American, Jewish basic/Internet, Lost Family & Friends, Write Your Family History, Great Lakes Research and Adoption Investigation.
Each four-week class includes a detailed course curriculum, online class meetings and more, for the low price of $29.95.
Historical Map Works is one of my favorite sites of 2006, and will remain free through the end of December. Even their subscription terms sound reasonable.
Beginning in January 2007, Historic Map Works will become a subscription site with a yearly fee of $29.99.

Each annual subscription will include one free fine art reproduction print valued at $29.99.

Any map purchase from now until the end of the 2006 will include a free 2007 annual subscription to Historic Map Works.
Jimmy Kavanagh's JMK Genealogy Gifts has some new designs and a couple more days of cheap pre-Christmas shipping. continues its two-years-for-the-price-of-one promotion through December 15.

And the passenger lists at are still free, and will be until the ball drops on New Year's Eve. If you haven't checked out the new databases yet, it's time to come out of your coma.

Grapes and Graves

A Roman Catholic diocese in California is putting some church-owned property to good use by cultivating grapes for sacramental wine.

Robert Seelig, who is in charge of cemetery services for the diocese of Oakland, thinks that the combination of burials and grapevines at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Hayward is a perfect fit. After all, wine plays a central part in the Catholic mass.
Seelig said that the diocese will hire a vintner to manufacture sacramental wine once the vines have matured. If the wine tastes good, the vineyard could produce table wines as well. [Link]

Monday, December 04, 2006

What Your Ancestors Wiped With

My great-uncle claimed to have used nothing but corncobs, but rolled and perforated toilet paper has been available since the 1870s. If you don't believe it, check out the Vintage Collection at The Virtual Toilet Paper Museum.

[Hat tip: Neatorama]

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Biographer Gathers a Bit of Moss

Fred Vermorel is an art history lecturer at Kingston University, and unofficial biographer of model Kate Moss. So he had a very good reason to be examining a piece of her discarded lingerie.

"For me, Kate Moss is the ultimate celebrity," he said. "A friend of mine had one of Kate's basques.

"He gave it to me and I DNA-tested it just to discover her genetic ancestry[.] Scottish apparently. Nothing more," he said. [Link]

Baker's Cousin

One can expect James A. Baker III to be all over the news this week as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group. His African-American relatives will no doubt be watching with great interest.

His family got bigger a couple of years ago, when Baker discovered a whole new branch of the Baker family tree — an African-American branch, living in Huntsville.

Baker was in that town just north of Houston for the dedication of his great-grandfather's grave when a man walked up to him and identified himself as James Baker, his cousin.

"Boy, was I surprised," he said.

Although he later had the lineage researched, Baker took the man's word for it, and even introduced him and others in his family as long-lost relatives at several public appearances he made that day. [Link]

She Almost Got Away With It

This obituary from my local paper pulls no punches.

Marion worked for many years as a CNA, loved to hunt and play cards (she cheated), and the love of her life was her children. [Link]

To Be Frank, It Was a Dirty Job

If your ancestors lived in the vicinity of the University of Maryland medical school, there's a chance they were misappropriated soon after death.

A medical school janitor (named Frank) would follow funeral processions to a cemetery and go back at night to get the body. In 1830, a professor of surgery wrote to a doctor at Bowdoin College in Maine: "It will give me pleasure to render you any assistance in regard to subjects. . . . I shall immediately invoke Frank, our body-snatcher (a better man never lifted a spade) and confer with him on the matter. We can get them without any difficulty at present. . . ."

The professor went on to set the price and promised to send three bodies packed in barrels of whiskey. [Link]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I'm Lucky to Be Alive

I am looking forward to Monday's Carnival of Genealogy, to be hosted by Lee Anders at A Matter of Life or Death. The topic is genealogical blunders—something I really have no experience with. The closest I can come is this:

A few years ago, I was out scouting for cemeteries in Oxford County, Maine—a part of the state known for its lovely scenery and poor road maintenance. I had located several promising graveyards beforehand, and plotted my course in the Maine atlas I keep duct-taped to my steering wheel. The yards lay in two adjoining towns with no tarred road between, but the map showed an unpaved shortcut that would save me fifteen miles.

I set out in my 1991 Geo Prizm to follow the shortcut, but soon discovered that the road was not so much a road as a series of ruts, moose wallows, and very pointy rocks. After driving half a mile, I determined that the 1991 Geo Prizm is a vehicle ill suited to off-road travel. After another half mile, I decided that I would never see civilization again. I steered with one hand and with the other scribbled my last will and testament in the dashboard dust.

The road offered no opportunities to turn around, but I had no intention of turning around. To turn around would be to admit defeat, and a real man will never admit defeat while there is still a chance of failing even more spectacularly.

After miles of slow, jaw-crunchingly bumpy driving, I saw signs of hope. First a hunter's cabin, then a summer camp, and finally a year-round home. I wept and kissed my atlas as the road turned from dirt to tar. I saw a sign to my left. Looking over my shoulder as I drove past, I read: "Road Closed."

[Photo source: The road to the cache by Steve Burke]

Top Ten Signs Santa Is a Genealogist

10. Permitted the Mormons to microfilm his old Naughty/Nice lists.

9. Sole member of the Claus Family Association, North Pole Chapter.

8. Skipped Christmas 2003 because of a GEDCOM crash.

7. White beard hides tattoo of family crest.

6. Has one elf whose only job is checking obituaries.

5. Met the current Mrs. Claus in an AfriGeneas forum.

4. Was caught sneaking down the chimney at the National Archives.

3. Took a DNA sample instead of the cookies you left him.

2. Wouldn't believe he existed until his mother produced a birth certificate.

1. Sold Blitzen to pay his bill.

[Photo credit: Santa Claus by David Wilmot]

Friday, December 01, 2006

CEO Tries Buying Irishness

Nasdaq CEO Bob Greifeld knows how to throw a family reunion.

The guests, 20 of Mr Greifeld’s closest family members, had been invited to the party on August 20, 2004, via parchment scrolls that read: “Oh from far and wide ye young and old shall gather together for the Greifelds’ Grand Family Reunion. From the Big Apple to the Emerald Isle, journey back to discover our distant Irish past in a land of leprechauns and folklore.
The week-long event, held "on the edge of Dublin," cost more than $611,000. Attendees engaged in jousting and falconry, took rides in a private helicopter, and visited a replica 13th-century village set up on the grounds of a rented castle while dressed in period costumes.
A signature champagne cocktail was created for the event, and shampoos in bottles labelled “Greifeld” were placed in each guest room. A team of butlers — one of whom worked for the Crown Prince of the Netherlands — headed a staff of 55. Masseuses were available around the clock, as were leading chefs, sommeliers, cigar experts, equerries, fitness trainers and nannies.
Of course, all this ostentation had little to do with Greifeld's actual heritage.
One of the few sore points of the whole incredible week [...] was the genealogist. Despite charging €1,500 for his services, he was not able to uncover all that many of Mr Greifeld’s Irish ancestors. Fancy that. [Link]

The Family That Preys Together...

One New Zealand police department is using genealogy to track local criminal clans.

Christchurch police are targeting the 10 families with the most prolific offenders - and have taken the unusual step of preparing family trees to help keep track of members and their offending.
One four-generation family of 74 has clocked up 673 offences nationally, costing $2.4 million over five years. One couple, a 53-year old woman and her 52-year-old partner with 70 charges between them, had produced four prolific burglar sons. The eldest, at 26, had 99 offences, mostly for vehicle theft. His youngest brother, 18, was catching up with 71. [Link]

Jews Down Under

In These Are The Names, Rabbi John Levi has documented the lives of 1500 Jews who came to Australia in the early decades of European settlement. He's been working on the book for 40 years.

His wife, Robyn, said each time they went to London or anywhere in Australia for a holiday, religious ceremonies or meetings, Rabbi Levi would take an "extra day" to read old newspapers at the local library, or to explore snake-infested cemeteries.
Though he counts some interesting Aussies among his forebears, Rabbi Levi is "miffed he isn't related to any convicts, although 450 Jewish convicts were sent to NSW, and 230 to Van Diemen's Land." Others are more fortunate.
Former Supreme Court judge Howard Nathan said he was "positively delighted and terribly proud" to learn his ancestor Nathan Nathan had come to Sydney in 1800 as a convict, having snatched a parcel from an old woman in Cornhill, inner London. [Link]

The Life of Brians

Brian Joseph Cantwell was Googling his name one day when he discovered another Brian Joseph Cantwell living two states away. The men established that they were not closely related, but each could trace his ancestry back to the same small town in County Kilkenny. So, they arranged to meet. In Ireland.

[I]t must have confused our innkeeper, to get online reservations for the same three nights from two Brian Joseph Cantwells. Me and my family from Seattle, and the other Brian and his family from Palo Alto, Calif.

Four years after meeting by e-mail, we two Brians met for the first time in person at the doorstep of Mary Farrell's centuries-old farmhouse B&B on the edge of this small Irish town that produced our great-grandfathers. Flower boxes splashed color beneath every window and the pungent smell of cow wafted on the August evening breeze.

"You must be Brian," said the stocky stranger with the friendly face and thick swatch of snowy hair.

"You must be Brian!" I replied. [Link]

Journal of Genetic Gibberish

The Fall 2006 issue of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy is out. It features such lucid, captivating prose as this:

Using a heterozygous sample and DYS385 as an anchor, sequencing could proceed in both directions until a few single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were encountered on the two arms of the palindrome.
While attempting to decode that sentence, I strained a muscle I hadn't used since grad school.

If a title like "Haplogroup Prediction from Y-STR Values Using a Bayesian-Allele-Frequency Approach" doesn't make you want to run away and hide behind the sofa, you might find JOGG a good read. Personally, I think they should've thrown in a Marmaduke cartoon or two for the rest of us.

This Curse Is a Blessing

Archaeologists working in Leicester, England, have unearthed a curse dating from the second or third century AD, inscribed on a sheet of lead.

It has been translated by a specialist at Oxford University, and reads: "To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Riomandus (etc.) ... that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus…"

Then follows a list of the names of 18 or 19 suspects. What happened to them is not recorded.
According to Richard Buckley of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, this "curse tablet" is one of the few artifacts or documents found that identify Leicester residents of the era.
"The curse is a remarkable discovery, and at a stroke, dramatically increases the number of personal names known from Roman Leicester.

"So far, we have the soldier, Marcus Ulpius Novantico, from a military discharge certificate of AD106, 'Verecunda' and Lucius' from a graffito on a piece of pottery and 'Primus' who inscribed his name on a tile he had made." [Link]

Perpetual Pets

A funeral home in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, has created a 10-acre cemetery where people can be buried with their pets.

A buffer of trees and shrubs will screen and separate the pets and people section of the cemetery from the traditional section where people have been buried for decades, said John Flynn, who owns and operates John Flynn Funeral Home and Crematory.
"Many people have asked if they could be buried with their pets. Others have said they wouldn't want to be buried in a cemetery where animals are buried," Mr. Flynn said, which is why the burial areas will be kept separate.

Typically the pets die first and are buried, in their own casket. When the pet owners die, they would be buried in their caskets in the same plot. [Link]
This sounds like a good policy. After all, if you let a dog share your casket, you'll never earn his respect.

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