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Friday, March 31, 2006

Honest Mistake or Cruel Joke?

In what I suspect is an ingenious April Fools' Day prank, the Columbia Star is asking South Carolinians of Scottish descent to show up tomorrow at the State Museum in their finest kilts.

On April 1, 2006, Tartanfest is an opportunity to show the younger generation, and all others interested in the contributions Scottish Americans have made to the nation's history and culture, especially in SC. [Link]
The official Tartan Fest website spoils the joke by giving the correct date for the event: April 8.

Recognition Petition Comes to Fruition

The Pilgrims had no trouble recognizing their Indian neighbors, but the U.S. government drew a blank until this afternoon. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has received preliminary approval of their request for federal recognition, with final approval expected within a year.

"History in one respect now comes full circle," tribal chief Vernon Lopez said in a statement. "Our ancestors, as a sovereign nation, met the Mayflower, and that meeting led to the birth of this great nation. Today, our government has reaffirmed this status and the faith of that first meeting." [Link]
And yes, the Wampanoag have expressed interest in starting up a gambling operation. Perhaps a floating casino aboard the Mayflower II?

2010 Census To More Efficiently Undercount Population

When your descendants look you up in the 2010 census, they won't have to decipher the writing of some census taker in need of sleep and opposable thumbs. A Florida company has won a contract to automate the process.

In the past, census employees -- many of them temporary workers hired specifically for information-gathering -- went door-to-door with paper address lists, maps and questionnaires.
With the new systems, census-takers will use small computers that are wirelessly linked to nearby vehicles that will upload the data to central offices, updating statistics in near-real-time, and getting that data integrated from other sources. Previously, the process could take hours or days. [Link]
Lockheed Martin was tasked last fall with creating a system to process census data from households via the Internet, telephone, and snail mail. The Census Bureau estimates that, with all this new technology, the chance of them spelling your name wrong will drop to 78%.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

And Please, No Tippling While Toppling

If you're like me, you live in constant fear that a headstone will tip over and crush you like a bug. That's why I always carry a ToppleTester from Pearson Panke Ltd.

ToppleTester is the most widely used topple-testing device in Europe, and has saved countless Britons from the embarrassment of being squished. Simply hold the ToppleTester against an unstable monument, and wait for it to topple. The load read-out will tell you how much force was necessary to destroy the only evidence of your ancestor's existence.

Warning: The ToppleTester is not intended for use on cows or other large farm animals.

Study: Genealogists Live Longer

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
A study released today by the esteemed Holcombe Institute reveals that people who engage in genealogical research for at least 30 minutes a day live up to ten years longer than people who perform no daily research, but instead smoke three or more packs of cigarettes.

The outcome came as a shock to lead researcher Dr. Nigel Wyckoff.

"The correlation is truly remarkable," he said at a hastily arranged news conference. "There can be no clearer proof of the positive health effects of genealogy than this."

"Don't believe it," responded consumer activist Carol Paulsen. "Scientists will prove whatever they're paid to prove. It wouldn't surprise me if Wyckoff and his crew were deep in the pocket of some genealogy conglomerate."

When confronted with this accusation, Dr. Wyckoff conceded that his study was financed by a grant from genealogy giant Ancestry.com. Still, he insisted that his conclusions are sound.

"I stand by my results, and encourage anyone with doubts to inspect my data. It's available at Ancestry.com for just $14.95 per month. Sign up today for a free 14-day trial!"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

More people than ever are asking to spend eternity with their cell phones. The trend started in South Africa among people who feared being buried alive while under the spell of a witch, but has now spread to Ireland, Australia, Ghana, and the United States.

Mobile phone batteries cause nasty explosions when incinerated, so crematorium clients require special arrangements.

Some funeral parlours will now arrange for the phone [to be] put into the box with the ashes following the cremation.

And one service in South Africa will put a number of batteries in the coffin just in case the dead person wakes up much later and finds their own battery has run out. [Link]
I'd hate to be on the other end of that phone call.

Going to Karolina in My Mind

The folks who frequent GenForum are a bit skeptical about this recent plea for help:

Dear fellow genealogists,
I am a grad student at the Jagiellonian University (Cracow, Poland) conducting research on the interest in doing genealogy.
Please contact me if you would be willing to do a questionnaire for me. I need to compile a list of email addresses to send my questionnaire to.
I will be most gratefull should you decide to become a part of my Master's dissertation.
In return I will gladly be your tour guide if you ever decide to visit the beautiful city of Cracow.
Please consider this. I am counting on genealogy.com to help me.
Sincerely,
Karolina karolinawalczyk@poczta.onet.pl
A cynical few have suggested that Karolina is in fact a spammer (gasp!) seeking valid email addresses for nefarious purposes. I prefer to believe that Karolina misplaced her campus email address, and unwittingly signed up for an account on a domain implicated in previous Internet scams. I also choose to believe that she is 23, single, and eager to meet a Western genealogist with $230 in his bank account and no visible scars.

Disorder at the Border

In the current immigration debate, one argument has arisen that demands response. Daneen G. Peterson has voiced it in a particularly bold-faced way, insisting that we are not a nation of immigrants:

Most Americans today are NATIVE BORN and therefore NOT IMMIGRANTS! What is left unsaid in the above phrase is the significant fact that our American ancestors came to this country as LEGAL immigrants, which is the antithesis of the current invasion of ILLEGAL ALIENS supported by the open borders, pro-illegal alien crowd! [Link]
What is left unsaid in the above screed is that our borders were far more open in our early history than today. (Does it even make sense to distinguish "legal" from "illegal" immigrants where there are no immigration laws?) And that immigrants sought ways to avoid U.S. border inspectors even in the 19th century.

Take this passage from Marian L. Smith's 2000 article on immigration by way of Canada:
In earlier years immigrants landing in Canada were largely from Britain, Scandinavia, northern Europe, or Russia. In the 1880s, as the United States began to impose more stringent immigration rules at its own ports of entry, even more immigrants from the same regions and elsewhere chose to travel via Canada to avoid the trouble and delay of U.S. immigrant inspection. By the 1890s, steamship companies began to advertise passage through Canada as a more desirable route for immigrants who wished to avoid U.S. inspectors. While much of this traffic remained Irish, Swedish, Norwegian, or Russian, the business of carrying Italians, Greeks, and others from Mediterranean ports to Canada grew. [Link]
The Mexican border was no less porous than the Canadian, and the people aiming to start a new life in America no less determined than our modern-day border-crossers.

We can all agree that illegal immigration is a problem in urgent need of a solution, but let's not mistake our ancestors for saints. Or dismiss them as criminals.

What If I Hate My Grandma?

One South Carolina conservator asks us to treat our family records as if they were old women suffering from osteoporosis and stinking of Bengay.

Sharon Bennett, archivist with The Charleston Museum, says to think of old family photos and documents as if they were your grandma.

"Would you keep her in the attic or basement?" Bennett asked. "If it's comfortable for us, it will be comfortable for your collection." [Link]
Would Grandma really be comfortable in an acid-free archival-safe top-loading sheet protector?

Swiss Roots Eases the Search for Good Cheese

Swiss Roots has come online with its promised genealogy resources. The interlinking of surname lists with immigration and other records could prove useful. The section called Famous Swiss in the U.S. finally answers the question, "What do Cyndi Lauper and flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker have in common?"

See also the interview with Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Swiss Roots: We're trying to arrange a trip for you to go to Switzerland and show you the sights, including a visit to your great-grandfather's town in the Bernese Emmental.

Ben Roethlisberger: That'd be awesome! If that town is known for their cheese, then I should take my dad: he loves cheeses, and he actually used to work in a cheese factory, so I know he'd love that.

A Dozen Graves to Pave

The Rev. Michael Wishart of St. Mary the Virgin Church in Bishops Lydeard, England, has a problem: His church's ex-parishioners are taking up too much space in the yard.

"I'm suggesting we take part of the churchyard to create a car park.

"However, this will mean we'll have to move about 12 headstones to create enough space."

Mr Wishart said most of the headstones date back to the 1800s, but the church was doing all it can to contact relatives to gain their permission to move them. [Link]

The Truth is So Boring

10News in San Diego reported yesterday on culprits stealing the identities of the recently departed.

Thieves cull private information from newspaper obituaries and from the Internet -- mainly genealogy sites that post the Social Security numbers of the deceased taken directly from the Social Security Administration's "master death index." [Link]
But don't worry—we won't be losing the SSDI anytime soon. In truth, the role of the index is exactly the opposite of what was reported: it prevents identity theft. Here's how an SSA commissioner explained it to Congress in 2002:
SSA receives reports of deaths from a number of sources, and from computer matches with death data from Federal and State agencies. This information is critical to the administration of our program and is made available to facilitate the prevention of identify theft of the SSN's of deceased persons. Many of the private sector companies purchasing this information are credit card companies and financial institutions. [Link]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My Non-Certified Opinion

That kindly clerk who helped you document great-uncle Louie's fourth divorce may well be a member of NAPHSIS—an organization bent on making vital records less accessible to genealogists.

Genealogists have asked that access policies distinguish certified from non-certified birth records, but the Executive Director of NAPHSIS dismisses this suggestion.

The logic behind this recommendation is that a certified copy of a birth record is needed to obtain an identification document, and genealogists do not need certified copies of vital records. The problem with this approach is that the information from a non-certified copy can be used to obtain a certified copy. [Link via EOGN]
Translation: NAPHSIS members will hand out certified copies of birth records to anyone with $15 and a pulse.

The Director is arguing that a certified copy of a birth record is not needed to obtain a certified copy of a birth record. Obviously not, but some sort of documentation should be required that can't be produced in ten minutes at Kinko's with information available from fifty different sources—none of whom pay dues to NAPHSIS. Abolishing non-certified copies is like closing the barn door after the horse has slipped out the back with your wallet and ATM code.

But then, what do I know—I'm just a genealogist.

GenHaven Loses One of Its Own

Genealogy needn't be a solitary pursuit—even if pursued over a broadband connection.

Members of the GenHaven genealogy group noticed last weekend that one of the regulars—Jortis Webb of St. Petersburg, Fla.—hadn't posted for a while. Two of them grew so concerned that they contacted the St. Petersburg Police Department and asked that someone check on him.

Shortly after midnight Sunday, a paramedic knocked on Webb's door. Getting no response, he peered into a window and saw a man slumped over at his desk. Jortis Webb had died online.

"There was no sign of foul play," St. Petersburg police public information officer George Kajtsa told me via phone. "His online friends said Mr. Webb was a diabetic, and they were worried since they hadn't heard from him. Mr. Webb's neighbors had not seen him in two days." [Link]
The GenHaven group has erected a virtual memorial to honor Webb's contributions and friendship.

If I Were a Rich Man (and Jewish) I Might Go

The 26th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will be held Aug. 13-18 in New York City. Early registration runs through May 15. If you have no Jewish ancestry, there may still be time to convert.

The list of speakers is like a Who's Who of people whose names you might almost recognize, but probably won't. Archivist of the United States Dr. Allen Weinstein will give the keynote address, unless surreptitiously poisoned by his second-in-command. Actor Bill Hayes ("Doug Williams" on Days of Our Lives since 1970) will be the featured speaker on a panel for teaching genealogy to children. Hayes has a PhD in family history, but his greatest accomplishment was recording "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" in 1954—a song I spent the better part of my childhood trying to purge from my brain.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the scheduled lectures is "Researching Jewish Criminals, Especially in New York." Unfortunately, this is not one of the seven workshops to be given by Steve Morse, who would have called it "Searching for Jewish Felons in One Step."

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ancestry Dot Blog

Ancestry Weekly Journal is the latest, bloggy incarnation of Ancestry Daily News and Weekly Digest. Try to drop a comment on one of the articles and you'll be taken to Juliana Smith's new blog, 24-7 Family History Circle, where she promises lots of pictures of family detritus.

Why do other people's heirlooms look so much better than mine?

What a Way to Go

The following causes of death turned up when Virginia's 1912-1939 vital records were transferred to "high-tech computer disks" in the early 1990s:

  • Sat on an upturned milk pail and got a splinter which became infected.
  • Found dead on a whorehouse floor.
  • "[S]hot to death by Petter [sic] Underwood in a drunken row over a still tub and a mean woman."
  • Fell from a tree, landed astride a lower limb, and developed gangrenous testicles.
  • Given "too many cold meals" by his wife.
[Source: The Virginian-Pilot, Jan 10, 1993]

Leave Your Balls At Home

Two documents important to the history of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, turned up in 2004—only one of which will cause descendants of Abner Doubleday to choke on their Cracker Jack.

One was a muster roll of 18 men who marched on the Lexington alarm of April 19, 1775, now on display at the Berkshire Historical Society. It's the sort of thing that would only interest those creeps you see lurking around the genealogy stacks at the library.

The other was a town bylaw from 1791 containing the earliest known reference to "baseball" in North America:

For the Preservation of the Windows in the New Meeting House . . . no Person or Inhabitant of said town, shall be permitted to play at any game called Wicket, Cricket, Baseball, Football, Cat, Fives, or any other game or games with balls, within the Distance of Eighty Yards from said Meeting House. [Link]
As eighty yards wouldn't even reach to the warning track in Fenway Park, this bylaw must have been passed during the dead-ball era. Speaking of which, visit The Dead Ball Era for info on ballplayers tagged out for the last time.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The World's Oldest Liar

The Gerontology Research Group is keeping an eye on the world's supercentenarians—those people who've neglected to check out by age 110. The group's website has a number of tables with data on current and past supercentenarians, but my favorite is the one listing False And Exaggerated Claims of Longevity.

Charlie Smith claimed to have been born in Liberia on July 4, 1842, and died Oct. 5, 1979, in Florida at the whopping age of 137. The July fourth birth date was chosen by Smith himself—"Out of loyalty to his country" reported Time in 1967. He may have chosen the year of his birth as well, if a Boston Globe article on Guinness World Records is correct:

A record search in Arcadia, Fla., showed a marriage record in which Smith claimed he was 35 years old in 1910. He apparently exaggerated his age by at least 33 years. ["Eat a Tree, but Never a Bicycle," Feb. 11, 1982]
His exaggeration was perhaps even worse. A partial marriage index for DeSoto County (county seat Arcadia) shows a marriage for Charlie Smith and Bell Van on Jan. 8, 1910. The couple was living in Lily, DeSoto County, in April of that year, at which time Charlie's age was 32. His place of birth was given as "Georgia."

If a liar, Smith was a very talented one. He said in interviews that he came to America in 1854, and lived in slavery until freed by Lincoln. No one seems to have doubted him. On its Emancipation Proclamation page, the National Archives links to an audio clip of Smith saying he was "21 years old when freedom was declared." A 1975 conversation with historian Elmer Sparks may be read or listened to at American Memory. At one point in the interview, Smith pushes the year of his birth back even further.
I'm a hundred and forty-four, last, last year, fourth of July. A hundred and forty-four years old now. My birthday, I gets a birthday card, I'm a hundred and forty-four last fourth day of July, last year. I'm a hundred and forty-four.
It's hard to consider Smith truthful when you read the other stories he told of his life. A few years ago, a screenplay titled 'Long Came Charlie was optioned by Dustin Hoffman's production company.
Described as "a black Little Big Man," 'Long Came Charlie is the incredible true tale of the world's oldest man, crusty codger Charlie Smith, who on his 134th birthday shares his poignant and often hilarious life story, which includes a disasterous [sic] cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail, a brush with death at Gettysburg, an encounter with Abraham Lincoln, Charlie's travels with the Jesse James Gang, his gunfight with Jesse himself and how he apprehended the man who shot President Garfield. [Link]
According to the Sparks interview, Smith's partner in apprehending Garfield's shooter was none other than Billy the Kid.

Throw in Mark Twain and Queen Victoria and that'll make a great movie.

A Doctor With Guts

Louisiana anesthesiologist William Price enjoys dressing up like a Civil War surgeon and giving lectures on period medical and surgical practices. But not all of his visual aids go over well with audiences.

“I used to do a demonstration that caused people to faint,” Price said. “I had fake gut wounds where I’d say, ‘He’s going to die, move him off the table.’ I don’t do that anymore.” [Link]

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Top Ten Signs Your Ancestor Was Feeble-Minded

10. Filled out his Social Security application with a blue crayon.

9. Named his children after the hired hands they most resembled.

8. When asked by the census taker for his "age at last birthday," responded, "You mean I don't get another one?"

7. Was kicked out of the Confederate Army for hugging his superior officers.

6. Sold his farm to a neighbor for "magic beans and other valuable considerations."

5. Asked to be buried in the same suit his father was buried in.

4. Was turned back at Ellis Island for failing the doorknob test.

3. Accused the minister's wife of witchcraft, having witnessed her tying her own shoelaces.

2. Attended the wrong family reunion for ten consecutive years.

1. Only member of the Donner Party to attempt a round trip.

More Than 'Just a Spoonful of Sugar' May Be Required

A "hand-written book of medicinal recipes" was passed down to Marc Simmons from an ancestor who doctored folks in Mississippi just prior to the Civil War. His remedy for malarial "fever and ague" makes bleeding by leeches seem like a treat:

Take a lump of cow excrement as large as a hen egg from a cowpie dropped in the month of May. Wrap it in a rag and put it in a pitcher with a little sage, horsemint and other sweating herbs. This will produce a half-gallon of strong tea, but not so strong as to make the patient sick. Drink plenty to cause sweating. [Link]
I'd be sweating as soon as I saw the doctor pull a cowpie out of his bag.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Thanks for the Memories ... That'll Be $40

A new Internet venture called MemoryArk is looking for 50 people to "Write About Funny, Important, Pivotal Life Moments."

MemoryArk is a company that captures your life story and the stories of those close to you. You can create posts, upload images, use our question bank, invite others and share stories. It's a great way to stay connected with family and friends. It's also a great way to document your life for future generations.

Currently, we are in the Alpha testing phase and will be launching our Beta product in May. We would like to find a group that will make a two month commitment, create 10 or more life stories and invite 5 friends and family to participate. Our goal is to have you capture your life story and share with friends and family.

In return for making this commitment, we will offer you a lifetime premium membership ($40 per year value). Our product is very exciting and will be treasured for many years to come. [Link]
Mathew Ingram took MemoryArk for a test run a few weeks ago, and came away utterly ambivalent.
[W]ill people pay the kind of money that MemoryArk wants them to? I’m not sure. The idea of an online repository for memories, a way of keeping track and sharing those family stories with others, definitely appeals to me (what can I say - I’m getting old), but I don’t know if it’s a business you can charge up front for. [Link]

Enumerating the Risks

It ain't easy being a Nigerian census taker. Once you've crossed the desert on a snorting camel and dodged the rebels seeking to attack you with acid and machetes, you still might not get the information you're after.

It's considered bad luck to ask a Yoruba how many children the family has. Asking a herdsman about his cows or camels likely will get you shown the door. And what is a male census worker to do when Muslim women are home alone? [Link]

AP Gets a Do-Over

In response to my withering criticism, the Associated Press has issued a retraction:

In a March 21 story about the Indianapolis Colts' signing of kicker Adam Vinatieri, The Associated Press erroneously reported that he is a descendant of Gen. George Custer. Vinatieri is a descendant of Custer's bandmaster. The corrected version of the story appears below. [Link]

Man Steals Ancestor's Identity

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Daniel Haines was arrested Wednesday at his home in Hallowell, Maine, and charged with stealing the identity of his ancestor, Benjamin F. Haines. The elder Haines was a veteran of the Civil War, and died in 1881 from acute chappedness of the lips.

District Attorney Janet Coulombe described the case as "the worst I've ever seen," and called for new restrictions on access to vital records in the state.

"This man was able to walk into the State Archives, look at some microfilm, and find out Benjamin Haines' date of birth, his marriage date—even his mother's maiden name! We have to do a better job of protecting the identities of our citizens."

According to Coulombe, Daniel Haines made no attempt to hide his crime, and even appeared at his son's elementary school dressed in the uniform of his victim. Haines asked to be called "Benjamin" during the school visit, never once revealing to the children his true identity as "Caleb's dad."

"We also have evidence of paramilitary activity," says Coulombe. "Haines and several dozen co-conspirators routinely disguised themselves and carried out weapons-training exercises at what they called 'encampments.' God only knows what they were planning."

Police have rounded up most of the identity-theft ring, but one member is still at large. The DA is asking for the public's help in apprehending the leader—a man they call "the Colonel."

"Please do not approach him, as he is known to carry a sidearm and sword," she warns. "Anyone spotting 'Joshua Chamberlain' should call the Maine State Police immediately. Don't be a hero."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Errant Spelling Finally Fixed

Pvt. Dennis Buckley came all the way from Lindsay, Ontario, to fight with the Union Army. You'd think that getting shot in the head after capturing a Confederate flag and winning a posthumous Medal of Honor would guarantee him a fitting monument. But a misspelling ("Burkley") on his headstone in Marietta National Cemetery kept his heroism from being noticed for 142 years.

Through the efforts of John DuBois of Caledonia, N.Y., the Department of Veterans Affairs has finally ordered Buckley a new stone, with his name spelled correctly, and an inscription noting his Medal of Honor.

But the government had to slip in some evidence to assure us of its continued incompetence.

[A] press release from the Department of Veterans Affairs announcing the headstone change incorrectly spelled Lindsay, Ontario, and had the wrong style for DuBois' name, using a lowercase 'b'. [Link]

The Massachusetts eBay Charter

The Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1629 is the most important document in Massachusetts history—the document upon which a Commonwealth was founded, and without which America would be a profoundly different place.

It's also worth a lot of cash.

The Salem Athenæum is considering auctioning off its copy of the charter—the only original copy this side of the Atlantic—to pay its operating expenses (read gambling debts).

The charter, essentially the founding document of Massachusetts, is the "most significant document" in state history, but it has broader importance, said Dane Morrison, a professor of early American history at Salem State College.

Morrison said the charter, which established an elected governor and legislature, declares a right to representative government more forcefully than other colonial documents, including the Virginia charters or Mayflower Compact. Then, government existed for the benefit of royalty, the aristocracy or the church, he said. [Link]
The Athenæum's willingness to sell the charter has sparked a feud with its crosstown rival, The Peabody Essex Museum. To keep the document in Massachusetts, the Peabody Essex is willing to do whatever it takes—short of ponying up $10 million to buy it.

All is not lost. At least one New England patriot is willing to take up arms against the Athenæum's board of red-coated trustees.
Former state Sen. Bill Saltonstall says he is "violently opposed" to any plan to sell the Massachusetts Bay Charter.

Salem Mayor Leverett Saltonstall left the historic document with the Salem Athenaeum nearly 200 years ago. But his descendant disputes the fact that his family "donated" it.

"We just put it there," said Bill Saltonstall, who questions the ownership and does not rule out legal action as a way to prevent any sale. [Link]

A Family History Fumbled

Here's a good illustration of how a family story can morph into a fairy tale. It's been established that NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri is a descendant of General George Custer's bandmaster, Felix Vinatieri, and a fourth cousin of professional daredevil Evel Knievel.

Here's how an AP story—appearing in about a bazillion papers—lays out his family tree:

A descendant of Gen. George Custer and a third cousin of Evel Knievel, Vinatieri once caught Herschel Walker from behind and tackled him. He hasn't had to hear about being "just a kicker" since then. [Link]
In future articles, expect Vinatieri to be described as the half-brother of Herschel Walker.

The Line of Archival Accession

President Bush has changed the order of succession for the National Archives and Records Administration's top job. Should the Archivist of the United States and his deputy both meet untimely ends—say, due to a freak accident involving the Vice President and a 28-gauge shotgun—the following people, in order, would succeed to the office:

  • Assistant Archivist for Administration
  • Assistant Archivist for Records Services, Washington, D.C.
  • Assistant Archivist for Regional Records Services
  • Assistant Archivist for Superfluous Bureaucracy
  • Commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association
  • The Bald Guy on Lost
  • Whoever Picks Up the Phone at Halliburton

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Archives Alive!

Anyone who thinks state-run repositories are boring obviously hasn't stopped by the Missouri State Archives lately. Students visiting from Gratz Brown Elementary in Moberly were treated recently to a "theatrical performance known as Archives Alive!" starring Jefferson City performers Jayne Dunkmann and Laura Morris.

Dunkmann and Morris, in the comedic guise of “Molly” and “Delores,” bring historical stories to life by telling them through the voices of early settlers and famous Missourians. [Link]
In related news, the National Archives announced today that they've hired Carol Channing and the cast of Rent to act out the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in a musical performance to be called "A Virus To Inspire Us."

Nixons Nixed

Richard Nixon's descendants have been kicked out of The Society of The Ark and The Dove—a heritage society celebrating the first two ships bringing settlers to Lord Baltimore's colony in Maryland. Recent research shows that Thomas Price, Nixon's qualifying ancestor, missed the boat in 1633, and came on a later voyage.

Donna Valley Russell, a verifying genealogist for the society, has gotten some flak from Price descendants.

"Some of them don't want to talk to me anymore," Russell said. "You can understand why. But genealogy is a growing field. It is important to be more scientific." [Link]
Watch for Russell's forthcoming book, All the President's Immigrant Ancestors.

The Family Tree of Love

Tim Appelo writes in today's Seattle Weekly about alleged singer Courtney Love's dysfunctional family tree—and includes an actual (sort of) family tree. Courtney, as it turns out, comes from a long line of women I wouldn't hire as babysitters.

At the head of the pack comes her great-grandmother, Elsie Fox, who "partied hard with her cousin, Douglas Fairbanks, and wrote screenplays so godawful that Graham Greene called one, Last Train From Madrid, 'the worst movie I ever saw.'"

"Humphrey Bogart once threw my grandmother in a lake," says [Courtney's mother] Linda. Why? "My grandmother was quite awful." Was she simply outspoken, ahead of her times? "No, she wasn't. She was really mean." [Link]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Talk Back to the Future

A new British website, Posterity.com, will let your descendants 1,000 years from now know what a fascinating individual you are. Or at least what a fascinating individual you think you are.

The site provides you virtual immortality by holding your hand through the process of writing a 16-chapter autobiography, and then hosting it online in perpetuity. For a £7.50 annual fee, you can continue updating as long as you wish. Fortunately, there's no annual fee for perpetual storage.

In addition to all this, there’s an online ‘Diary’ where you can write and store your thoughts on the day’s events, an area entitled ‘My Time Capsule’ in which you can lay down messages that are time-released for any date in the future, and a ‘Safety Deposit Box’ where you can store electronic files for the whole of eternity. [Link]
Let's hope that your descendants in 3006 can still import a GEDCOM file.

Dear Abby, Lie For Me

A woman implored Dear Abby today to tell her readers that "DNA tests should not be used on minor children, and that there are powerful reasons why not." The woman had a very good reason not to let her husband test their 17-year-old's DNA for genealogical purposes.

The horror I really have is that, 18 years ago, I made an awful mistake. I don’t know if my husband is the father of our son. I’m having panic attacks about his finding out how awful I was 18 years ago. [Link]
I wonder if he knows how awful she is now?

The Joy of X

There have been lots of Xaviers in the Nady family, but only one has ever hit a home run off a big-league pitcher. In fact, Xavier Nady of the Mets was the first person with the initial "X" to ever hit a homer in the majors—on April 2, 2003, off San Francisco's Damian Moss.

He's also the first of the Xaviers in his paternal line to change the pronunciation so he can have a cool nickname.

Xavier Clifford Nady, or Xavier VI, said he did not know much about his early ancestry, other than he pronounces his first name differently, putting a modern-day signature on a 16th-century name. Nady's father pronounces it ZAY-vee-yer — "That's the correct way," Nady said. But Nady, whose Mets teammates call him X or X-Man, prefers EX-ay-vee-yer to, ahem, exaggerate the X.

"Why not, right?" Nady said. "It's pretty cool." [Link]

Monday, March 20, 2006

South Dakota to Stop Recording Births

A Genealogue News Flash [What's That?]
In a move meant to protect the identities of future South Dakotans, and to curb the spread of terroristic activity in their state, officials announced Monday that they will stop issuing birth certificates.

The announcement was promptly condemned by South Dakota's genealogical societies, but was praised by privacy advocates.

"This is a bold step," gushed Melvin Ferrick of Americans for Absolute Anonymity. "Studies show that every person whose identity was stolen in the past 25 years had a birth certificate. It marks you for life."

Assistant State Registrar Barbara Werner agrees. "Identity theft is rampant in South Dakota. We had two cases just last year. This measure will cut off the supply of identities at the source—just like the War on Drugs has cut off the supply of illegal narcotics."

Critics point out that birth certificates serve legitimate purposes—whether for obtaining a passport or tracing one's ancestry. But for Werner, the dangers far outweigh these trivial benefits.

"If parents really do want to expose their children to identity theft and a life of unending terror, they should give birth in Nebraska."
[Photo by Giuseppe Crimeni]

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Our Job's Getting a Lot Easier

Dick Eastman has news about a humongous genealogy resource coming to the Web late this year. America's GenealogyBank will be a ramped-up version of NewsBank—in itself a great resource, but accessible only through a subscribing institution. The GenealogyBank—projected to come online in the last quarter of 2006—will be available to individuals: the perfect Christmas gift for the genealogist who has nothing but time on his hands.

And You Thought My Posts Were Nonsensical

Something tells me the following blog post is not legit—though I do like the idea of "punitive genealogy" with a dollop of hot wax.

Other posts by the same author: "vicarious cosmetic dentist" and "fretful heater tankless water."

Free Access to the Register

Okay, so access to the The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1847-1995 will be free March 20-22. But the search engine on the site is for names only, and you want to search by subject or place—or by surnames that appear in article titles.

If you have access to HeritageQuestOnline (and there's a good chance you do), you can use PERSI to search for Register articles that fit your criteria. Put "new england historical" in the keywords field to narrow down the results (this trick should also work for the PERSI database at Ancestry.com). Once you have a year and month of issue, go back to the Register search engine and punch in the year and an estimated page number. The easiest way to find the article you're looking for is to locate the table of contents for the issue, though even this can take some time.

If all else fails, check each page in the 149-year series one by one. That shouldn't take more than three days, right?

Clan of the Cave ... Where?

Descendants of Scottish hero Robert the Bruce are hoping to launch a heritage trail in his memory, with stops at his birthplace, sites of his famous battles, and "the cave where, while outlawed, he famously took inspiration from a spider to keep fighting for his country's freedom." Because—as everybody knows—if there's one thing tourists like more than caves, it's caves with spiders.

The owners of at least three Scottish caves - in Dumfriesshire, Arran and Perthshire - claim one of the most legendary episodes from Scottish history as their own. But the Bruce family favours a cave on Rathlin Island, off the north Antrim coast, which in the 14th century was owned by his Irish mother. The Earl of Elgin said: "We think his cave is on Rathlin Island. I have been over there and it is pretty fantastic." [Link]

Let's Put It To a Vote

When Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.—now running for the U.S. Senate—declared that his paternal grandmother Vera Ford was white, that came as a surprise to some other family members, who were quite certain she was black.

[N]o one was more surprised -- and shocked and angry -- than Barbara Ford Branch, one of Vera's daughters and Harold Ford Sr.'s older sister.

She vehemently insists that her mother was black and is absolutely baffled as to why her nephew, Harold Jr., would try to rewrite his family's history.

But former U.S. representative Harold Ford Sr. says he's talked with the rest of his siblings and they all agree: Vera was white.
[Link]

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Illicit Copying in Illinois?

The most watched political race of 2006 will undoubtedly be in Adams County, Illinois, where incumbent County Clerk Georgia Volm is fighting off challenger Eric Carper in the Democratic primary. In a public forum on Wednesday, tempers flared. Carper alleged that Volm had allowed two women convicted of misdemeanors and sentenced to community service to copy vital records.

Carper said he had letters from former employees in the clerk's office alleging that the women were copying birth and death certificates.

"These are not public records" being handled by convicted offenders, Carper said.

In a follow-up question on the incident, Carper said vital records should not be available for viewing by the general public. Volm said birth certificates that are more than 75 years old, death certificates more than 50 years old and marriage records more than 25 years old all are open for public inspection under federal and state law. [Link]
To which Carper responded, "Really? That is so cool! My bad."

Genealogy Expert Misses a Humdinger

Nick Barratt is Family Detective for London's Daily Telegraph, and resident genealogist on the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? program. But he somehow missed the fact that his own great-uncle, Ernest Holloway Oldham, was employed by the British Foreign Office, and stuck his head in a gas oven when caught spying for the Soviet Union in 1933. Oldham's widow threw herself into the Thames seventeen years later.

Mr Barratt, who is acknowledged as the foremost researcher in his field, said yesterday that he had paid relatively little attention to his father's side of the family.

"My ancestry is interesting enough on my mother's side and because my uncle had already traced my father's side back to the 18th century I had not studied it much." [Link]

Friday, March 17, 2006

Whence Botkinburg?

Nobody's quite sure how the town of Botkinburg, Arkansas, got its name. One theory has it that 19th-century German settlers named it for their hometown, but the only close matches in the old country are "Bad Driburg" and "Bad Iburg." Another theory states that it was named for a guy named Botkinburg.

He was a German doctor and teacher, some locals say, and back in the 1800s, parents would take their kids “to Botkinburg” for schooling. The name stuck.
Great theory, except that no one of that name seems ever to have lived in town. There was a William Boykin, but he was a farmer. And wasn't German.

Daniel Botkin is the only "Botkin" listed in Arkansas telephone directories, and thinks these theories sound plausible.
And one more thing about those theories, Botkin adds: Botkin isn’t a German name. It’s Russian and Anglo-Saxon, he says.

He’s right, according to houseofnames. com.

Botkin, the Web site says, “was a name given to a maker or seller of knives. The surname Botkin comes from the Old English word bodkin, which is also spelled bodekin, and refers to a short, pointed weapon or dagger.” [Link]

Cultural Revolution No Longer Popular

Chinese parents might be getting some help naming their children. More and more, they've been digging up rare given names to set their kids apart. But identity cards are now electronic, and these rare characters can no longer be accommodated.

Bao Suixian, a deputy director at the ministry, said: “We cannot handwrite rare characters on the cards like we did before.” About 60 million of China’s 1.3 billion people have at least one rare character in their name, making it difficult for them to open a bank account or to buy an aircraft ticket.

The fashion for unusual names is understandable in a society emerging from decades of revolutionary fervour when many children were called “Leap Forward”, “Cultural Revolution”, “Safeguard the Red” or — possibly the most popular — “Found the Nation”. [Link]

Children These Days are Easily Confused

Philadelphia columnist Elizabeth McGinley was recently confronted by one of her daughter's friends, who asked, "Why did you give Liz the same name as yours? Pretty confusing." (The friend was one of those unique individuals named for "a French province"—I suspect the one that starts with "B" and ends with "rittany.")

Feeling defensive, I explained that I had named Elizabeth after her grandmother, not me. I added that when I was a girl, many of the Irish-American families I knew named new babies after parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, or uncles.

My daughter sighed. "How confusing... and dull." [Link]

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Top Ten Signs You're Obsessed With Genealogy

10. You filed your taxes in GEDCOM format.

9. You'd like to go camping this summer, but can't decide on the cemetery.

8. You named your kids in alphabetical order, to make indexing easier.

7. The state archives put you on its softball team.

6. You've thought of converting to Mormonism, just to save a trip to church.

5. You spend more money on census subscriptions than Mississippi does on public education.

4. You sometimes ask your husband to pretend he's the stern census taker and you're the naughty resident of an enumerated household.

3. You did a 12-generation background check on the babysitter.

2. You're waiting for Brokeback Mountain to come out on microfilm.

1. Your husband caught you transcribing during sex.

A Great Way to Save on Cake

Lily Catherine Perron was born yesterday, March 15, at Maryland's Anne Arundel Medical Center. Her father Philip was also born March 15. Her grandfather was born . . . December 15, but his father, grandfather, and great-grandmother were all born on the fifteenth of March. That makes Lily the fifth in six generations of her family to be born on the Ides of March.

Niel Perron, 63, is the odd man out, having been born exactly three months too early - Dec. 15.

But he admitted that Philip being born on March 15 wasn't entirely an accident. The timing of the pregnancy wasn't planned, but when his wife was overdue and the doctor asked when they wanted to induce, they naturally picked the first date that came to mind.

"We did cheat a little bit," Niel Perron said. [Link]

What Are the Chances?

1,921 people with the last name "Gonzálezes"—all of them registered to vote in the western Venezuelan state of Zulia—celebrated birthdays on Wednesday. Every one of them was 32 years of age.

The case is "one for the Guinness Book of Records," said Roberto Ansuini, a former opposition representative on the National Electoral Council who stumbled on it while looking into the registry's reliability. He said the most Gonzálezes ever born on one day in one year in Venezuela is 89.
González is one of the most common surnames in Venezuela. In Maracaibo alone, they take up seven pages of the phone book with about 4,000 listings. The Miami Herald randomly called a dozen Gonzálezes, and two said they were indeed celebrating birthdays Wednesday. Neither was turning 32. [Link]

Rolling Stone's Ancestors Discovered Gathering Moss

A couple of amateur genealogists in Britain have been on the trail of Mick Jagger's ancestors.

And Sir Mick’s love of music is obviously genetic – one of his Whitehaven ancestors, Charles, was an organist, piano teacher and composer in the town and another relative went by the name of Johann Sebastian Jagger! [Link]
Organist Charles Jagger continued performing well beyond his prime, and ended up breaking a hip while crowd surfing at the Royal Albert Hall.

Bob's Not Your Uncle

My newest old friend Trish passes along some disturbing news from the world of science:

A group of scientists from the UK and Canada have disclosed that they have indisputably proved that Bob is not, in fact, your uncle, leading to widespread existential crises in the Commonwealth.

"We truly wish it were otherwise," said Niles Anderson, of the University of Toronto. "Because now the world seems a lot more difficult as a result. Bob made everything much easier, in principle at least." [Link]

Missed It By 3,000 Miles

Jews have been living in Ireland for more than 500 years, but their numbers swelled only in the last 135 years. One writer has a theory why so many Jewish émigrés fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe decided to stay in Ireland.

According to Larry Tye, author of the book "Home Lands: Portrait of the New Jewish Diaspora," Jews ended up living in Ireland quite by accident. "Ireland," Tye told the Forward, "sounded so much like heymland, the Yiddish word for destination or homeland, that many Yiddish-speaking Russians thought they had reached America when they stopped off in Dublin, while Cork sounded all too much like New York to those unfamiliar with English." [Link]

What a Beautiful Chest—I Mean Crest

Stephanie Ogilvie at the Roanoke Times has some skeletons in her closet: the kind of skeletons that make genealogy worthwhile.

Our ancestry is Scottish, and the Ogilvie clan crest is — and I'm not making this up — a naked, buxom woman chained to an iron cage.

Classy.

Then there's the transvestite tightrope walker.

Apparently my grandmother was the youngest child of an American-style Von Trapp family (a la "Sound of Music"), and they traveled the South during the Great Depression, singing and performing circus tricks. Her father just happened to dress as a woman during his daring act.

Well, this explains a lot. [Link]

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Opening the Vault

An LDS article cited by Dick Hillenbrand this evening has me positively giddy.

It seems the FamilySearch microfilm digitization project (code-named "ScanStone") is going better than expected. Much of the massive collection of genealogical records housed in a Granite Mountain vault will be easily available in "as little as 10 years."

[T]he vault where the digital images are stored is for the most part empty (One DVD can hold up to 4 digitized microfilms). A few short cabinets hold what's been converted so far, and the expansiveness of the room whispers of a future when it will be filled. When that day comes, most members will be able to access the digital images of the films anywhere they have Internet access—from their homes or local Family History Center—through the Church’s genealogical Web site, http://www.familysearch.org; and the staff at GMVR won't be bundling in their coats as often to retrieve fiche and film.

“Think how easy that will be,” says Paul Nauta, public relations manager for the Family and Church History Department. “In the future individuals anywhere in the world through the Internet will be able to search the majority of the GMRV’s film collection and the billions of names currently hidden in them—all from the convenience of their homes or family history center.” [Link]
You can get in on the next-to-ground floor of the project by signing up to index a batch of the digitized records.

Know Before You Go

John P. O'Connor, a family historian at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum Genealogy Library, encourages people to do a little research before jetting over to the homeland to meet the cousins.

Several years ago I received an urgent phone call from a gentleman seeking information about his Irish ancestor. I asked him how soon he needed this information. As soon as possible, he replied, since he was calling from the airport at Shannon, Ireland. [Link]

What Part of 'Vital Records' Don't You Understand?

In the interest of national security, South Dakota has taken the bold step of preventing people from knowing when their grandparents got married. They took this step to satisfy requirements of a federal law that hasn't yet gone into effect, and that makes no mention of marriage records.

"There will be nothing involved with marriages," Charlie Rothwell, director of the federal Division of Vital Statistics, said of federal law changes. "For the most part, this will be involved with birth certificates."
The state's new vital records law, passed last year, "makes no specific mention of indexes," which is why the state registar banned access to indexes. The law also makes no specific mention of bathrooms at the South Dakota State Archives, but it's unclear whether registrar Kathlene Mueller wants to ban access to those as well.

Health Department officials have decided to allow only card-carrying members of the state's newspaper association and the South Dakota Genealogical Society to get non-certified informational copies of vital records. But journalists are turning up their noses at the notion of backdoor access, for the reason set forth by Cindy Eikamp—editor of the Aberdeen American News and unrepentant genealogist.
Eikamp, an amateur genealogist and at one time a member of the state society, said she would not rejoin just to get records.

"We're part of the public," she said. "And if the general public does not have access to something, I don't think the press should work special deals to have access." [Link]

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More Points to Ponder

  • 34.5 million Americans can claim descent from an Irish ancestor.
  • Very few Americans can claim descent from the Irish Elvis.
  • 25,870 Americans speak Irish Gaelic at home.
  • 248 Americans think they're speaking Irish Gaelic when really they're just drunk.
  • 19 places in the U.S. are named "Dublin."
  • Only one place in Ireland is named "Dublin," so we win.
  • 93.3 million people planned to wear green last St. Patrick's Day.
  • 37 million people unintentionally wore green last St. Patrick's Day.
  • St. Patrick didn't really drive all the snakes out of Ireland.
  • He gave them carfare.

They'll Be Hungry an Hour Later

The powers that be in Shanghai have shrunk the allowed size of a burial plot from three to one square meter (double occupancy).

New rules have also been introduced for next month's Qing Ming Festival ("tomb sweeping day"), when 7 million people are expected to drop in on their ancestors.

To prevent chaos and fire, firecrackers are banned at all cemeteries this year. Instead people will be given free flowers and balloons.

In addition free doggy bags will be available to help keep cemeteries clean. According to tradition, people leave a cooked dish on the headstone for the dead to eat. The food usually spoils.

The bureau hopes visitors will make the food offering, but put it in the doggy bag when they leave. [Link]

The Grass is Always Greener in Ireland

A third of United Kingdom residents suffer from "plastic paddy syndrome," according to a recent survey. There is no known cure.

The survey, commissioned by Rankin Selection Irish Breads, found that nearly half of all English, Scottish, and Welsh people would prefer to be Irish.

Welsh emerged as the least popular with only 13% choosing it, while English was just in front with 14%. Scottish came second with a modest 29%.

A mutual love between the Irish and Scottish was also revealed with 58% of Scottish people choosing to be Irish and 72% of Irish people opting to be Scottish. [Link]

A Bundesbrief Abroad

As part of the Swiss Roots campaign to spark genealogical curiosity among Americans with Swiss ancestry, the government is sending the oldest version of Switzerland's Federal Charter to Philadelphia for an exhibition in June. That has the conservative People's Party up in arms. They're protesting the low SFr1 million ($760,000) insurance value placed on the document by offering to buy the Charter for that price, to ensure that it won't leave the country.

Swiss authorities note that they haven't lost a national treasure in transit yet.

Johannes Matyassy, chief executive of Presence Switzerland, said he was confident that the charter would return home safely.

"If we're capable of sending the Swiss president to the US and getting him back home safe and sound, I'm sure we'll manage to get the Federal Charter back safely as well," he told public television. [Link]

Genealogy: It's Not For the Living

It was the title of Henry H. Crapo's 1912 family history—Certain Comeoverers—that first caught my eye. "Comeoverers," as it turns out, was what Henry called his immigrant ancestors. The word hasn't yet caught on, for reasons that escape me.

What kept my interest was the prefatory note Henry wrote to his nephew, William W. Crapo, explaining why he had spent time cataloging dead people, and why William shouldn't become a genealogist himself. If only I had read this advice when I was a boy.

Here's how Henry begins (emphasis mine):

My dear William:

At the present lustrum of your life you are, and should be, supremely indifferent to your ancestors. They are dead and gone and that's an end on't. Your utmost powers of receptivity are properly absorbed by vital considerations. "Dead uns are nit"—as you would put it. In presenting you the following notes I ask not that you consciously attempt to change your present attitude. Inevitably there will come a time when these records of your forebears will have for you at least a passing interest. To you at that time I dedicate them. I hope, indeed, the time will never come when the pulse of glorious life will beat so slowly that you can afford to devote it to genealogical study. A lonely and a sterile life alone can find sufficient satisfaction in the dry-as-dust occupation of delving into dreary records to find a name, a mere name, the date when the name was born and died, the date when the name married another name, and the dates of all the other names that went before and came after.

Hoping to save you from so deplorable an expenditure of vitality, I, not inappropriately, present to you the names of many of the men and women who are responsible for your existence.

Piledriving in a Puffy Shirt

British professional wrestler Paul Burchill (or Birchall, depending on his mood) recently adopted a pirate persona because of his interest in genealogy.

Burchill broached the subject last month in a completely unchoreographed exchange with fellow wrestlers William Regal and Palmer Canon.

Burchill said his mother's second cousin's great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was the second lieutenant to Blackbeard the pirate, the fiercest pirate in the seven seas! Canon asked Burchill if he wants to bring this to Friday Night Smackdown, his network. Burchill said to picture this: Swashbuckling on Smackdown! Canon said this would be dynamite, huge, fabulous! Regal wished him all the best. Burchill left. Regal asked Canon if he could imagine if Burchill had come from a long line of proctologists. [Link]

Monday, March 13, 2006

The House Bandleader of the Rising Sun

Without John William Fenton, the Japanese would have nothing to sing before baseball games. The bandmaster was deployed with a British regiment in Japan in 1868, and wound up introducing his hosts to the two most important institutions yet devised by the West: the brass band and the national anthem.

The first Kimi Ga Yo anthem was performed before the Emperor in 1870. Fenton's melody proved so popular that it was discarded six years later, replaced by the Japanese-written tune still in use. It is among the shortest national anthems, lasting all of seven seconds, I believe.

Now the Japanese want to recognize Fenton for his contributions to Japanese culture, if only they can locate his final abode.

The Scotsman has discovered that after leaving Japan in 1877, the Irish-born bandmaster moved to Angus.

Documents at Scotland's Register Office show he was 50 in 1881 and lived at 18 George Street in Montrose.

He is described as a "bandmaster pensioner", married to Philadelphia-born Jessie Pilkington, then 47.

His family also included daughters Jessie Woods, 17, and ten-year-old Maria Corser born in Miaaouei Tabo, Japan.

His name is last recorded in 1883 when he appears to have left a teaching post with the army in Scotland.

However, no death certificate has been found so far and the Japanese are keen to locate his grave and track down any living relatives or descendants, whom they hope to invite to Japan. [Link]
So, if you happen to have John William Fenton lurking in your family tree, speak up. You might just score a free trip to Japan, accompanied by endless renditions of a 19th-century ode to Japanese imperialism. On the bright side, you'll be force-fed raw fish.
(Thanks, Fred!)
[tagged: , , ]

Calamitous Foreign Adventures Run in His Family

President Bush's proclamation of Irish-American Heritage Month probably won't help his poll numbers on the Emerald Isle. When his Irish ancestry was revealed last year, two of the most hated men in Ireland's history were found among his forebears.

The US president's now apparent ancestor, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke - known as Strongbow for his arrow skills - is remembered as a desperate, land-grabbing warlord whose calamitous foreign adventure led to the suffering of generations. Shunned by Henry II, he offered his services as a mercenary in the 12th-century invasion of Wexford in exchange for power and land. When he eventually died of a festering ulcer in his foot, his enemies said it was the revenge of Irish saints whose shrines he had violated.
It gets worse.
The genetic line can also be traced to Dermot MacMurrough, the Gaelic king of Leinster reviled in history books as the man who sold Ireland for personal gain.

Even before MacMurrough earned the title of Ireland's worst traitor by inviting Strongbow's invasion to save himself from a local feud, the Irish chieftain had a reputation for gore. One English chronicler told how MacMurrough, recognising the features of a personal enemy poking from a pile of severed heads after a battle, snatched up the rotting flesh and tore it with his teeth in a "hideous frenzy". [Link]

The Queen of Pop and the Consort of Last Resort

Madonna was reportedly "stunned" to learn of the findings of "infamous genealogist" William Addams Reitwiesner, who a few years ago linked the singer to Camilla Parker-Bowles and Celine Dion.

Reitwiesner explained: "Camilla and Madonna are both descended from Zacharie Cloutier, who lived from 1617 to 1708.

"And Camilla and Celine descend from Jean Guyon, who lived from 1619 to 1694.

"Both Jean and Zacharie died in Chateau-Richer, Quebec. Because of their unusual French-Canadian ancestry, they are all blood relations. Madonna is absolutely fascinated by this."
Upon learning this, I immediately went over to MyHeritage.com to see what other celebrities Madonna resembles. Not surprisingly, she's a 78% match to herself, and a near match to beauties like Marilyn Monroe, Uma Thurman, and Marlene Dietrich. Camilla, on the other hand, is a 76% match to herself, and a 67% match to Patrick Stewart. It seems that those genes which account for beauty are not the ones shared by Camilla and Madonna.

But love is blind—especially when the perceiver's tastes have been shaped by centuries of inbreeding:
"Madonna had lunch with Prince Charles at Highgrove a few years ago. He said she reminded him of Camilla because they’re both very particular about their home decor and clothes. So he spotted the link before them." [Link]
Update: Madonna would perhaps appreciate Reitwiesner's 1995 monograph, "The Lesbian ancestors of Prince Rainier of Monaco, Dr. Otto von Habsburg, Brooke Shields, and the Marquis de Sade."

Update: Turns out Celine looks kind of like Madonna, too.

Slow Enough FOIA?

Freedom of Information Act requests are the genealogist's not-so-secret weapon: a way to shake loose documents that otherwise would gather dust in government storehouses for eternity (think back to the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark). But with large increases in federal FOIA requests—and few incentives to expedite the process—the wait for documents has grown longer and longer. In the words of Charles Davis, head of the National FOI Coalition, "Federal FOIA is the water torture. It's just drip, drip, drip. You wait and you wait and you wait."

Many backlogs are lengthy. The most recent reports available from the 50 worst laggards show the median wait for a request to be handled ranges from about three months to more than four years, depending on the agency. The slowest federal agency is the National Archives, where officers explained most of their requests, pending for an average of 1,631 days, have to be reviewed by the originating agency for declassification before they can be released. [Link]
And if you're wondering how the Social Security Administration is doing processing your SS-5 request . . . keep wondering. The SSA was late turning in its FOIA report.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Walking GEDCOM File

British Columbian genealogist Ken Aitken thought tracing his lines back to the 1600s was pretty good. That is, until he met Tangaroa Alia.

At age 21, he visited the Cook Islands in the South Pacific and met a man named Tangaroa Alia.

Alia, a friend’s father, told Aitken the history of his family from memory. Aitken had a collection of genealogies with him and could follow along as Alia listed his ancestors.

“He paused for a break somewhere around 1100 and he caught his breath and tried to remember what was next,” recalled Aitken. “He took it back to about 890 or 900 to a man just called Tangaroa who was considered a great navigator in the Pacific. ... He had new information on the family that predated 875.” [Link]

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sprucing Up the Family Tree

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Nick Farber has "Father of Eugenealogy" printed on his business cards—and nobody is challenging him for the title.

"I came up with eugenealogy out of frustration," says Farber from his office in Hoboken, New Jersey. "Whenever I'd sit down to write about one my ancestors, I'd come across some piece of information that didn't quite fit. One guy deserted during the American Revolution. He dressed up like Martha Washington and hid in the general's tent. Another guy let the KKK use his barn for morning calisthenics. I was mortified."

Farber's solution was to "clean up" his family history by discarding embarrassing information, and replacing it with more palatable fictions. The deserting soldier became Washington's aide-de-camp; the KKK became the 1927 New York Yankees.

Eugenealogy was born.

"Anyone can do it with a little practice," says Farber. "Start with an illegitimate child or a humiliating divorce, and then move on to felonies and crimes against humanity."

Elliot Lyell of the Center for Genealogical Ethics is appalled by the concept of eugenealogy.

"Genealogists are historians," he insists. "And as historians, we must deal with the facts as given, and not twist them in some demented effort to 'purify' our genetic pasts. It's an abomination."

A lucrative abomination for Nick Farber and wife Ethel, who are now marketing a service they call "Eth-Nick Cleansing."

"Customers are lining up around the block," he boasts. "It seems everyone's got something they want to hide. When Eth-Nick Cleansing is done, our nation's past will look a lot brighter."

Answer: Professionals Get a Dental Plan

A recent post to the alt.genealogy Google Group asked a question that has never come up in my research:

Anyone have any data on the life expectancy of a professional prostitute in the 1910-1930 time period?
Of course, there's always one designated smart-ass in every newsgroup:
What's the difference then between a professional, and an amateur? [Link]

Friday, March 10, 2006

What Did You Call Me?

James Pylant chose an enticing title for his latest article: "Weaselhead, Devil and Drunkard: Surnames Originating As Insults." It investigates the origin and extinction of surnames you'd be embarrassed to say out loud at church. Now I don't feel so bad about having Bustards roost in my family tree.

[A] friend received an e-mail from a farmer in Gordola, Switzerland — the home of her Robasciotti ancestors — with a note on the meaning of the surname. "I don't know if I must tell you this . . . in our Italian dialect the word robasciot means 'stealing of cow or sheep dung.'" [Link]

Obiterature

Marilyn Johnson's new book, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, celebrates the "cult and culture" of obituary writing, as practiced by the masters of the craft.

Writing death notices is a lost art for many newspapers, in which the obits are no more lively than their subjects. Too many are fill-in-the-blank bios written by morticians and their grief-stricken clients, and only lightly edited by the papers prior to publication. It often takes a journalist to tease out the interesting details of a person's life, and to weave them into something that could pass for literature (let's call it "obiterature").

The profound pleasure Johnson takes in reading the morning obits is one familiar to genealogists:

The New York Times comes each morning and never fails to deliver news of the important dead. Every day is new; every day is fraught with significance. I arrange my cup of tea, prop up my slippers. Obituaries are history as it is happening. Whose time am I living in? Was he a success or a failure, lucky or doomed, older than I am or younger? Did she know how to live? I shake out the pages. Tell me the secret of a good life! Where else can you celebrate the life of the pharmacist who moonlighted as a spy, the genius behind Sea Monkeys, the school lunch lady who spent her evenings as a ballroom hostess? No wonder so many readers skip the news and the sports and go directly to the obituary page. [Link]

Shredding History

Antique-shop owner Dorothy "Jene" Bennett is trying her best to save historical documents from—of all things—the Utah State Archives and Records Service.

Bennett saved "several hundred pounds of historic papers" from the shredder when a storage shed at the Tooele County Courthouse was cleaned out last summer. But when the state got wind of her acquisition, they demanded that she turn the records over.

Bennett agreed, on one condition: the Archives had to pledge not to destroy any of the documents. She thought she had gotten such a pledge ("the State Records Committee has approved them for permanent retention"), but as it turns out . . . not so much. In the world of Archives director Patricia Smith-Mansfield, "permanent retention" can mean "chance of incineration."

"There might be items that might be destroyed. We haven't made that assessment yet ... Whenever we do an appraisal, we look at the record and what it contains and how it fits in with the historical picture," Smith-Mansfield said.
It's not clear whether the Archives can legally release or sell documents slated for destruction—Smith-Mansfield "declined to comment." But Dorothy Bennett isn't so reticent:
"They're destroying history, and it may not be important history to them or to Tooele County. But it's important history to families," she said.

Even the most mundane of documents might be valuable keepsakes to descendants of the document creator, Bennett urged.

"Say it's my grandfather, maybe I've never seen his hand writing or his signature. That would be a thrill ... [The documents that will be destroyed by the Archives] ought to be networked back into the community and to the families," Bennett said. "Show these things the respect they deserve for lasting this long." [Link]

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