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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Top Ten Signs Your Family Coat of Arms is Bogus

10. Came free with your last car wash.

9. Inscribed motto is "Caveat Emptor."

8. Looks just like the one sold to the Vietnamese family next door.

7. Consists of German beer labels glued to an old pizza box.

6. Resembles a Mötley Crüe album cover.

5. Issued by The Royal Heraldry Society of Daytona Beach, Florida.

4. Ordered through an ad in High Times magazine.

3. When displayed on a T-shirt, provokes Scottish people to hurl haggis.

2. Dates back to February.

1. Features a rampant marmoset.

All Apologies

Here's one Englishman who takes the sins of his forebears very seriously.

Mr Andrew Hawkins from Plymouth, the United Kingdom, who claims to be a direct descendant of England’s first slave trader, Sir John Hawkins, will don yokes and chains at the forthcoming Roots International Festival in The Gambia to apologise for the actions of his famous ancestor.

He will be joining the lifeline expedition team, which has been journeying around with whites wearing yokes and chains while Africans and descendants of enslaved Africans accompany them. The Africans are also ready to apologise for selling their brothers and sisters to the European traders. This action is also a means of raising awareness of ongoing slavery and racism at the present time. [Link]

The Life of Ryan Just Got Better

71-year-old Russell Colquhoun Ryan, Jr., of Santa Rosa, California, may be the James Cullen Colquhoun descendant everyone is looking for. If sufficient proof of his descent is found, he could earn a nice chunk of change.

He is in line for the windfall after the owner of arguably the world’s finest collection of native American artefacts offered up to “tens of thousands of pounds” to anybody who could prove that they were directly descended from Mr Colquhoun, who travelled to British Columbia with his great-grandfather in the 1850s.
A retired public works labourer, Mr Ryan spent years digging up streets for the water department in Santa Rosa, 50 miles (80km) north of San Francisco. He said: “My wife and I are doing pretty well but we’re not rich. Anybody could always do with a little more money. [Link]

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

America's Two Favorite Pastimes

Members of The Society for American Baseball Research get free access to HeritageQuestOnline and the ProQuest Historical Newspaper Database. Ancestry.com members, on the other hand, have access to Professional Baseball Players, 1876-2004:

This database is an index to over 15,000 professional baseball players who played between 1876 (the year the National League was founded) and 2004. Information listed in the index for each individual includes their first and last names, birth first and last names, nickname, birth date, birthplace, death date, death place, college attended, height, weight, date of first game, date of final game, how bats, how throws, and date and round drafted. Additionally, many of the individuals who played between 1887 and 1938 have images associated with them, showing either a photograph or baseball card.
Unfortunately, the only baseball player mentioned in the database description is a man children in New England are born to despise.
Players are listed in the browse table by their popular names, not their birth names. For example, Bucky Dent is listed as "Bucky Dent", not as his given name "Russell Earl O'Dey." To browse the images first select a first letter of a last name in which you would like to search, followed by the last name, and finally the full name of the individual.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Accountant Descends from Genghis Khan

Tom Robinson, a University of Miami accounting professor, has become the first man outside of Asia to prove his descent from Genghis Khan. His Y chromosome is an exact match with the Mongol warlord's for eight of nine markers (one mutation is to be expected over 800 years).

He has little in common with his infamous ancestor. He is not a keen horseman. Though a Republican, his politics are moderate. And while Genghis Khan may have fathered thousands of children, Professor Robinson and his wife, Linda, have no offspring.

“I’m not sure we have too many similarities,” he said. “I obviously haven’t conquered any countries, and though I’ve headed up accounting groups, I’ve done nothing as big as Genghis Khan.

“I’m proud to have such an interesting ancestor. I’ve been reading a lot about him since I found out about the link, and it does seem that his reputation is a little unfair.

“He conquered a lot of countries, but he had a pretty good system of government.” [Link]
Update: Always wait for a second opinion.

Floral Redistribution

Claudette Jensen has fond memories of the Trinity Lutheran Danish Cemetery in Gayville, South Dakota.

Jensen's farmland was adjacent to the cemetery. She and her daughters would decorate the trees with red ribbons "until they got too big to reach."

"One year my husband Harvey remarked that he had never seen so many flowers on so many graves and we found out later our 4-year-old son Mark had 'redistributed' flowers from plots that had 'too many' to others that didn't have as much," Jensen said with a chuckle. [Link]

Veneration of the Greatest Generation

What better day to explore the World War II resources over at the National Archives?

They have casualty lists for Army and Army Air Forces Personnel and Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Personnel. These are arranged by state, and are not searchable. To search through enlistment records and POW records, see Access to Archival Databases.

They've also digitized nearly 1,000 registration cards from Ohio. These are from the same collection recently put online by Ancestry.com.

Topping things off are 2,829 World War II posters and 1,568 War Production Board posters—all digitized and available for download. Since this website is a product of the U.S. Government, you'll have to spend several minutes engaged in senseless clicking and scrolling before arriving at the posters. (The first collection is especially hard to find; it's easiest just to search for the ARC Identifier, "513498".) All the classic propaganda posters are here, from Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms to "Loose Lips Sink Ships." After browsing through them, I feel like planting a Victory Garden and signing up for a tour in the South Pacific.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Spinsters Banished from Britain

Just months after abolishing marriage, the British are now doing away with spinsters.

Spinster has been in use since the 14th century, but was not used to describe a single woman considered to be past the marrying age until the early 1600s. From December 21, it will no longer officially exist in Britain. It will no longer appear on the marriage certificate of anyone, whether heterosexual or gay, apparently "to make things consistent so civil marriages and civil partnerships are registered in the same way", according to the Registrar General's Office.

Webster's defines a spinster as "a woman of evil life and character", so it's perhaps not surprising that feminists are pleased at its abolition. [Link]

Jimmy Hoffa Turns Up in Courthouse Basement

Wood County, Ohio, Records Manager Brenda Ransom ran across a reference to the 1937 marriage of Teamster boss James Hoffa and Josephine Poszywak in a black binder "tucked away in the basement of the courthouse."

Ms. Ransom said she came across the tidbit of local trivia quite by accident. The binder, apparently kept by a probate clerk in the 1940s, was filled with neatly typed but odd facts about marriage license applicants in Wood County, including people who had famous names like George Washington, those who were remarrying a former spouse, and even "divorced couples married by ministers who object to divorce."

"It's by no means a record of the court. It's just something they did for fun, I assume," Ms. Ransom said. [Link]
A call to the Probate Court confirmed that the Hoffa's license was on file. The couple apparently came to Wood County because it was known as a "marriage mill town" where requirements were lax.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Making the World Safe for Onomatology

World War II had a lasting impact on the Philippines—or at least on Filipino names and nicknames.

After World War II, the American presence was well-established in Philippine names. In the late ’40s-’50s, there was a boom in Mary Lous (though it still stood for Maria Lourdes or Maria Luisa), Mary Anns, Mary Janes, Mary Roses, Mary Joans, Mary Beths.
Other stateside names that crept in were Elizabeth, Juliet, Nancy, Sheila, Emilie, Judy, Jeannie, Doris, Betty, Betsy, Katy, Leilani. A few Shirleys appear in every other generation. The same old ’50s male names persisted such as Lorenzo, Joaquin, Cesar, Emmanuel, Jaime, Felipe, Daniel. Popular nicknames were Louie, Mike, Andy, Tony, Benny, Steve, Teddy, Jimmy, Jess (ho-hum). [Link]

Actor Takes Role of 'Long-Lost Brother' in Family Reunion

I wrote last month about Ben Vereen's discovery of his birth mother. This weekend, his newfound family will have a reunion in New Haven, Connecticut.

A genealogist helped Vereen discover Essie Middleton was his mother. She died in 1982, but he did find his sister, Gloria Walker.

"At first I just couldn't believe it 'cause my cousin said guess who your brother is. And I said who. She said Ben Vereen. I said right Bert, OK," Walker said.

From Broadway's "Chicago" to the television mini-series "Roots," Ben Vereen is a household name. And he wanted to know if his mother was a fan.

"That's the first question I asked my Aunt Esther. I said did she like me? Did she know me? She said yeah. She said she knew who you were, but she didn't know you were her son," Vereen said. [Link]

Woman Hits 111 Despite Eating Stuffed Cabbage

Elizabeth Stefan of Norwalk, Connecticut, celebrated her 111th birthday this month, which places her among the top 50 oldest living people in the world. In the words of her 80-year-old daughter-in-law, "Holy cow, that's remarkable."

Tara Stefan, the wife of Stefan's grandson, said they cannot explain why Stefan has lived so long.

"Everyone says, 'Oh my God, What does she do? What does she eat?'" Stefan said. "I say, 'I don't know, stuffed cabbage, that's her favorite dish.' You can't say what she did or didn't do that made her like that." [Link]

Friday, May 26, 2006

World War II Draft Registration Cards Online

Just in time for Memorial Day, Ancestry.com has put online World War II Draft Registration Cards. These are from the "old man's registration" conducted Apr. 27, 1942, which covered those men born between Apr. 28, 1877, and Feb. 16, 1897, not already in the military. About one-third of the total registrants are included in this release.

Information available on the draft cards includes:
  • Name of registrant
  • Age
  • Birth date
  • Birthplace
  • Residence
  • Employer information
  • Name and address of person who would always know the registrants whereabouts
  • Physical description of registrant (race, height, weight, eye and hair colors, complexion)
Additional information such as mailing address (if different from residence address), serial number, order number, and board registration information may also be available.

This database currently contains draft cards for the following states:
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Thursday, May 25, 2006

No Merit Badge for Mummy-Slaying

A Cub Scout pack in Libertyville, Illinois, will be placing flags on the graves of veterans on Saturday. It won't be as scary as some had feared.

When the Memorial Day service project was first announced not all Cub Scouts were enthusiastic. To some, it sounded spooky because their only knowledge of cemeteries came from Halloween lore.

"A first-grade boy wasn't sure he wanted to be involved. He kept asking his mom 'when are we going to see mummies,'" [Judy] Zemeske recalled. "When we got to Lakeside he was greatly relieved and delighted there were no mummies. He had never been to a cemetery before." [Link]

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Family's Name Changed at Ellis Island

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Polish immigrants Aleksy and Brygida Charzewski were dismayed to find their name changed to "Chesley" at Ellis Island.

"I had heard of this sort of thing happening," says Aleksy, "but I never imagined it would happen to us."

The Charzewskis were visiting the Ellis Island National Monument on Monday with their daughter when the park ranger leading their tour began calling them by the wrong name. Residents of America for just two years, they felt too intimidated by the ranger's uniform to correct him.

"The man asked for our name at the beginning of the tour," Brygida explains. "My husband was ill from the ferry ride, so perhaps he did not pronounce it clearly enough."

Park Ranger Mark Collins insists that "Chesley" was the name told to him and that, besides, personnel at Ellis Island are not allowed to change anyone's name.

"Our job is just to move people through the place and weed out the troublemakers—that's it." Collins grudgingly accepts some of the blame. "It's my mistake I didn't send them back the minute they stepped off the boat. The father looked like he had typhus or something."

The Charzewskis—or "Chesleys," as they now feel compelled to call themselves—are just happy that the experience is over.

"I only wish that I had paid for better tickets," Aleksy says, scowling. "I don't know why the Ellis Island Ferry even has steerage compartments."

First Names Don't Always Last

A proposed revision of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act in India would allow a kid stuck with an intolerable name just one chance to change it.

The draft amendment, seeking replacement of section-14 of the existing Act, which deals with registration of name of child, says: "Where the birth of a person has been registered with a name, change of the name so entered in the register of birth will be allowed to be made only once in a person's lifetime in manner prescribed and on payment of prescribed late fee". [Link]
Such a law might have discouraged some misguided name-changers, like:
  • The Montana man who changed his name to "Jack Ass."
  • The PETA staffer who changed his name to "Kentucky Fried Cruelty.com."
  • The "fanatical British pop fan" who changed his name to include those of Level 42 band members and their album titles, viz. "Ant Level 42 The Pursuit of Accidents The Early Tapes Standing in the Light True Colors A Physical Presence World Machine Running In The Family Platinum Edition Staring At The Sun Level Best Guaranteed The Remixes Forever Now Influences Changes Mark King Mike Landup Phil Gould Boon Gould Wally Balarou Landup-Balarou."
  • Prince
Of course, some people have very good reasons for redubbing themselves. For instance, Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, born in Sweden in 1991, and named five years later. His name (not approved by Swedish authorities) was to be pronounced "Albin."

Courthouse to be Vandalized This Saturday

A ceremony this weekend will recognize how Vandals have left their mark on Fayetteville, West Virginia. Abraham Vandal donated land in 1834 where the Fayette County Courthouse now stands.

Vandal was a New York native, and around 1812 he settled in what was called Vandalia, a community named for him. This community later became Fayetteville. Historians believe his cabin was located on the present site of the Fayette County National Bank, located across the street from the courthouse.

In Saturday’s ceremony, officials will unveil a plaque dedicated to the Abraham Vandal family. (Although Abraham Vandal spelled his last name with one L, some of his descendants now spell the name with two L’s.) [Link]

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Nova Scotian Promotion

Last Friday, David Lambert caught a sneak peek of the soon-(but-not-soon-enough)-to-be-released Nova Scotia Vital Record Database.

The indexes and images will cover: Births 1864-1877; Marriages 1864-1930; and Deaths 1864-1877, and 1908-1955. The index was being demonstrated on the hard drive of the laptop from the archives. The 700,000 images were not yet available to see. But a sample image of a certificate was presented on the screen. All the images are scanned according to the staff, and should launch in Summer 2006. [Link]

Some Family Ties Have Strings Attached

R. Allen Stanford—founder and chairman of the Stanford Financial Group in Houston—recently donated $2.5 million dollars to restore the home of Leland Stanford, Sr., who founded Standford University with his wife Jane. Allen has claimed that Leland's father was "closely related" to his own great-great-great-grandfather.

The University is suspicious. Some suspect that Allen Stanford is trying to buy some good publicity for his offshore banking outfit.

“I am not aware of any genealogical relationship between Allen Stanford, founder of Stanford Financial and Leland Stanford,” [Susan] Weinstein — the official guardian of the usage of the University’s name — said. “Of course, this does not mean that there is not a distant relationship — but it does not show up in any of our records.” [Link]

Decompose Yourself

The Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve in Newfield, New York, was dedicated on Sunday. It's the state's first natural cemetery, and the fifth in the nation. If the trend toward "green burials" catches on, genealogists of the future will have to bring more than a pad and pencil when visiting their ancestors.

If Greensprings becomes a person's final resting place, their families will eventually find plots that have either small gravestones or none at all. Small metal markings are used to identify the plots and once nature takes over the land again, people will have to use metal detectors to find some plots, said [Sam] Hernandez, the caretaker.

“There will be no big stones,” Hernandez said. “The stones we will have will have to be flush with the ground. It won't look like a cemetery. In fact, we are hoping we get picnic tables.” [Link]
BTW, if you're interested in eternal environmentalism, but would rather not be buried in a cardboard box, check out this line of lovely wicker caskets.

An Easy Mistake

Errors in genealogy sometimes stem from the commonality of certain names among contemporaries—names like "John Smith, "Mary Brown," ... and "Sibongile Dlamini."

A woman of that name died in Swaziland last month. Actually, two women of that name died last month in the same hospital, in the same week, at the same age, and were taken to the same mortuary. You can guess what happened next.

The Tjapile family were the first to claim their relative. After satisfying themselves that the documents in their possession belonged to their relative, they took the corpse for burial, unaware that it was the wrong one. Maria Tjapile said they were convinced that the corpse was her daughter’s until four days after the burial.

“Police arrived to alert us that we had buried a wrong corpse,” she said. [Link]

Monday, May 22, 2006

Any Lowly Servants in the Family Tree?

If you can prove that you descend from James Cullen Colquhoun—a "lowly servant from Victorian Britain"—you might want to give Simon Carey a jingle. He's offering "tens of thousands of pounds" to descendants of Colquhoun, who came to British Columbia with Carey's great-grandfather in the 1850s, and died penniless in San Francisco.

Mr Carey, 77, great-grandson of the Rev Robert Dundas, is expected to make up to $10 million (£5.3 million) when the Dundas Collection is auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York in October. Boasting more than 80 artefacts, it was acquired by Dundas during his time as a clergyman in Canada.

It has been heralded as the world’s finest private collection of American Indian artefacts, with several items described by Sotheby’s as masterpieces.

But in an extraordinary gesture, Mr Carey said yesterday that he wanted to “honour” Colquhoun’s memory as a loyal family servant by giving money to his descendants. He said that Colquhoun was held in great fondness when he worked in the Dundas household in Edinburgh in the mid-19th century.

He told The Times: “It would be wonderful if we were able to find relatives of James Cullen Colquhoun. They were devoted family servants. I have been trying to find what happened to him. If there were any direct descendants I would love to give money to them.” [Link]

Introducing Maine Genealogy

I am very happy to announce that the Maine Genealogy website I've been working on for the past few years is now up and running on all cylinders.

The site has four main databases:

  • Maine Deaths, 1960-1996 — The same available through the Maine State Archives, but with the addition of Soundex and the ability to search by approximate date of birth.
  • Maine Marriages, 1892-1966, 1977-1996 — Also from the Archives, but with thousands of corrections and amendments. I've added Soundex, and parsed the name fields to allow searching by first and/or last name. This will permit users to search for, say, any women named "Amanda" who married men with the surname "Huggenkiss."
  • Maine Passenger Lists, 1820-1851 — My ongoing effort to transcribe Maine's earliest Customs Passenger Lists. Well over 5,000 entries so far.
  • Maine Divorces, 1892-1899 — Another transcription project of mine. Over 4,000 unhappy endings, with more on the way. Date of marriage is almost always included, and often the maiden (or former) name of the woman is given.
There are also transcriptions of the 444 wills published in William M. Sargent's Maine Wills, 1640-1760 (Portland, Me., 1887), and a page-by-page guide to the 1790-1850 censuses for Maine. And, of course, there's a blog, where I've started uploading abstracted VRs and articles of genealogical interest.

Feedback is welcome, so long as it doesn't threaten my fragile ego.

Never Legislate on an Empty Stomach

Carlisle County, Kentucky, exists only because a bunch of state reps skipped breakfast.

On April 3, 1886, Charles Offutt of Bourbon County, who was Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives at the time, purportedly promised not to adjourn the House for lunch until lawmakers voted on a measure to make Carlisle the state's 119th county.

There was opposition. One legislator in particular questioned the creation of yet another small county.

Meanwhile, mealtime came and went. Offutt started frying bacon on a portable stove.

"The aroma permeated the room. It made every man present hungry," wrote Ran Graves in his "History and Memories of Carlisle County."

The naysayer to the new county, "being used to eating his biggest meal at noon submitted gracefully," the author added.

The House voted Carlisle into the commonwealth. Offutt dismissed legislators for a late lunch. [Link]

Sunday, May 21, 2006

They Never Left Each Other's Side

Some descendants of Chang and Eng Bunker—the original "Siamese twins"—are profiled in the current issue of National Geographic. The brothers settled near Mount Airy, North Carolina, in 1839, married local sisters, and had 21 children between them ... so to speak. Their descendants now number around 1,500.

Open admiration for the twins was not always a given. The older generation preferred a tight-lipped approach. Jessie Bunker Bryant, the 70-year-old grande dame and the force behind the annual family reunion, tells of a Bunker bride who didn't know about her famous relatives until the night before her wedding. "Your fiancé may not want to go ahead with this," warned her mother after disclosing the family secret. Happily, the revelation charmed the groom-to-be. [p. 151]
The article explains that, after 14 contentious years of living under one roof, the brothers agreed to split their time between two homes—three days in one, then three days in the other.

I was curious about how this would be represented in census records. In 1860, Chang's family was listed immediately after Eng's, in the next dwelling (the occupation of each man given as "Siamese Twin"). In 1870, Eng was listed on page 313A of the Mount Airy census, his brother on page 324B. Since the enumerator was supposed to list "every person whose place of abode on the first day of June, 1870, was in this family," shouldn't one of the twins have been found living in his brother's home? Was there a special provision in the census-taking guidelines for conjoined twins living (again, so to speak) apart?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Roadside Births

Ruth Gembe has deep roots in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and in the community of Roadside. In her capacity as resident genealogist of the Franklin County Library System, she sometimes has to assure people that their relatives were not born in a ditch.

Some people actually are offended by a birth certificate that says “Roadside,” Gembe said. She explains that it does not mean the person was born along the road - it's an actual place. [Link]

Friday, May 19, 2006

Bard Beyond Belief?

A Canadian man thinks genealogy will help prove that a portrait he owns is an authentic sketch of William Shakespeare.

The Sanders Portrait, believed to have been sketched in 1603 by a friend of a then 39-year-old Shakespeare, is the property of Ottawa resident Lloyd Sullivan, 73, who says his heritage can be traced back to the portrait-painter John Sanders.

The retired engineer has put his portrait through tree-ring dating of the wood it was sketched on, radiographic testing of the canvas and radiocarbon testing of the paper label on the back of the painting. He also tracked his genealogy back to 1607, which he says makes it almost certain that his painting is authentic.

All that's left is to trace his heritage into the 1500s and to date the ink of the painting. But Sullivan was told to wait for the technology to improve so a smaller sample of the painting could be used.

"If the ink dates back to that time, it proves that my ancestor knew when Shakespeare was born, knew when he died," Sullivan said. [Link]
It's too bad his ancestor didn't use some of that ink to write down when Shakespeare was born, because no one else seems to know.

Top Ten Worst Canadian Census Questions

10. "How many elderly members of the household did you set adrift on ice floes in the previous year?"

9. "What was your net income in 2005 from selling fake Viagra to Americans?"

8. "How many Tim Hortons can you see from your kitchen window?"

7. "How many American draft-dodgers could your current dwelling accommodate?"

6. "Do you speak French well enough to pick up a prostitute in Montreal?"

5. "What is your occupation? For example: Professional Hockey Player, Mountie, Baby Seal Clubber."

4. "If born in the United States, have you learned to control your murderous impulses?"

3. "How many hours per week do you spend evading polar bears?"

2. "What ever happened to Gordon Lightfoot?"

1. "Do you not agree to keep none of this information from being made publicly unavailable in 92 years?"

Get Your Free Access While It Lasts

Just a reminder that access to ArchiveGrid is free through the end of May. It won't tell you why your granddaddy ran off with his brother's wife, but it might point you toward a resource relevant to your research locked up in some library or archive in the next state.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Galgenhumor

What is an obituary if not a change-of-address notice?

I have moved.

ROLAND JACOB

14.8.1950 - 5.1.2006

My new address is:
Cemetery Rehalp, Forchstrasse 348, 8008 Zürich
Urn 4276

I'm looking forward to visitors.

U.K. Archives Search Goes Global

The U.K. National Archives has introduced a new search engine to "easily access 11 catalogues and databases on the website through one easy search."

The National Archives Global Search allows users to easily search across the holdings of The National Archives, local and private archives. The new search engine has a number of useful features such as a "Quick Search" and a breakdown of results into subject categories. For more experienced users there is also an "Advanced Search", and the individual catalogues and databases continue to be searchable online.

The National Archives Global Search brings up results from The National Archives´ website pages, the Catalogue, DocumentsOnline and Access to Archives (A2A). It also searches the Moving Here and Family Records websites, the National Register of Archives (NRA), the ARCHON Directory and online research guides. [Link]

No Place For a Party

How would you feel if 1,000 strangers held a party on your ancestor's grave? Probably the same as Lakota Indian Wally Ripplinger, a resident of Chaska, Minesota, felt last night.

A "Taste of Chaska" community party was held Wednesday in the city's City Square Park, and people were walking all over the three ancient burial mounds located there. Ripplinger and other American Indians were present to usher people off the sacred site.

Ripplinger worries that without oversight, people will continue to desecrate the mounds.

"If we weren't here there'd be people walking up and down the mounds, there'd be people up there eating their evening meal," Ripplinger said. [Link]

Hugo's Despotic DNA

Venezuela's charismatic dictator president Hugo Chavez is building up his back-story by claiming to be a direct descendant of Montezuma, last ruler of the Aztec empire. He has a team of genealogists working out the details.

The research reportedly has gone back more than 20 generations so far, and the genealogical tree where Chavez hopes to nail down his blood parentage with Montezuma already totals at least 6,812 people (as of January 2006). Moreover, the governments of Spain and Mexico have already been consulted officially on the matter.
In summary, while Chavez’s quest to prove his blood lineage to Montezuma is laughably absurd, it is also somehow fitting that Venezuela’s erratic and mentally unstable president should seek to prove that he is Montezuma’s heir. After all, Montezuma was a failed Emperor who presided over a bloody and corrupt tyranny that enslaved and slaughtered weaker indigenous peoples, and who today is remembered popularly mainly by travel agencies and tourists that equate the name Montezuma with diarrhea, farts and gastric eruptions that leave the taste of vomit in one’s mouth. [Link]

WOW, That's a Good Insurance Company

This recent photo of a Woodmen of the World gravestone in South Carolina brought to mind the quest of Jim Davenport. Steve Johnson interviewed him for an article at Interment.net back in 2000.

About seven years ago, Jim was visiting a cemetery in Durango, Colorado, when he spotted a tombstone resembling a tall brown tree-stump with the inscription, "Here Rests a Woodman of the World". "I figured that they were some sort of logging association from the turn of the Century", says Jim. The death date on the marker was 1907. Jim visited the local library and learned that there was an insurance company called Woodmen of the World. "I went to the cemetery in Cortez, Colorado and found several Woodmen stones, but they were not the tree stump type, just ordinary tombstones but each had a circular design on them with a log, a dove, an axe, maul, and wedge, and the inscription, 'DUM TACET CLAMAT'".

On a whim, he mentioned to his wife that he would photograph all the Woodmen of the World markers in Colorado. Little did he know what this comment would turn into. Says Jim, "My wife is used to my crazy ideas, but figured this would be a better hobby than collecting farm implements or old lawn mowers, and it seemed like fun thing to do". [Link]
At the time this article was written, Davenport had tracked down more than 3,600 WOW markers in seven Western states. He contributed his records and some of his photographs of the distinctive stones to Interment.net.

The Woodmen of the World insurance company still exists, though they stopped outfitting members' graves with tree stumps long ago. Their website offers a history of the company, and of the once-popular "monument rider."

A Cause for Concern Indeed

A Texas genealogist searching for information about her family online was shocked to find information about her family online.

Delia Curlin was recently browsing the Internet for family land records and was shocked to find some of her family's personal information posted on a county web site.

"I came across one of my brother's information, date of birth, driver's license, social security number," said Curlin.

Alarmed, Curlin kept looking and found more of her relatives information.

Fearing the threat of identity theft she immediately called the Hidalgo County Clerk's office to have it removed. But to no avail.

"The gentleman that I spoke to told me that whoever prepared the document to go file it at the county, that that was the way it was written and they couldn't take any information off of it," she said. [Link]
This story neglects to mention that Texas has required since 2004 that a "Notice of Confidentiality Rights" be printed in "12-point boldfaced type or 12-point uppercase letters" on every recorded deed. For example, on this deed—which coincidentally bears the signature of one "Delia M. Curlin":

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Grandparents May Have Been 'Unlegally Documented'

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admitted yesterday on CNN's "The Situation Room" hosted by Wolf Blitzer that his grandparents may have been the sort of immigrants that some members of Congress are eager to deport.

BLITZER: Give us your -- tell our viewers who aren't familiar your personal story, how you got to where you are, your grandparents, your parents. They struggled, they came here. I don't know if they came here legally or illegally, but give us the story.

GONZALES: Well, three of my grandparents were born in Mexico. They came to Texas. My parents -- both of my parents were born in Texas, extremely poor. My mother...

BLITZER: But when they came to Texas, were they legally documented, were they unlegally documented?

GONZALES: You know, it's unclear. It's unclear. And I've looked at this issue, I've talked to my parents about it, and it's just not clear.

But in any event, my mother had a second grade education -- my father had a second grade education, my mother had a sixth grade education. And my father worked construction.

And so for me, my life represents the American dream. There are so many wonderful opportunities in this country. And that's why you have such a pull for people to come into this country who simply want a better life for themselves and for their children. [Link]

The Recipes of a Lifetime

When Debra Bruno wants to know what her grandmother was doing on a given day between 1946 and 1979, she checks her American Woman's Cook Book.

Even more than the glimpse of a world in which the midday meal called for china and table linens, what I cherish are her notations scribbled in the margins. There is a detailed record of her cooking triumphs: 18 markings of "excellent," 19 with "swell," four "delicious," one "good," and one "very very good," painstakingly written, along with month, day and year, from 1946 to 1979, first in fountain pen, later in pencil or ballpoint pen, and shakier as her hand tremors worsened. Edna Van Valkenburg, in her reliable Dutch way, kept track of things.

And so I glimpse fragments of family history -- a whipped cream cake baked on March 10, 1946, my mother's 15th birthday ("Excellent"); a sour cream cake on July 23, 1946, the day before her own birthday (another "excellent"); and crullers ("swell") almost exactly two weeks before my birth in 1957. [Link]

Old Money

Five Dollars: The Paper Currency of 1896 presents a gallery and historical account of the artistically-enhanced paper money introduced that year. If you've ever wondered what bills your great-greats carried around in their wallets (and who hasn't?), this site will show you in graphic detail.

Look for the near-wardrobe-malfunction of the winged female Electricity on the $5 note, and ponder why Martha Washington didn't show as much skin on the single. Then try to convince yourself that your ancestors would never have done this:

The $1 note was released to the public on July 14, 1896, the first of the series to be put into circulation. Because of the public's unfamiliarity with the new money, though, some people began illegally "raising" the values of the bills by changing the numbers in the corners and then passing the notes off as "the new $5s" or "the new $10s".

The memory of this may be why the present-day U.S. Treasury chose to release the highest denominations of our new currency first, and then slowly proceeded downwards as people grew accustomed to the new designs. (It would make little sense for a counterfeiter to take a new $100 bill and try to persuade people it was a new style of $1.) [Link, via Boing Boing]

Da Vinci Code Sequel Causes Uproar

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Dan Brown's much-anticipated follow-up to The Da Vinci Code will again feature Harvard professor Robert Langdon, this time trying to prove that 19th-century El Paso resident Jesus Delgado has descendants now living. This contradicts a Delgado family history published in 1956, which states that Jesus "died without issue."

Maria Delgado Montes, whose late father compiled the genealogy, is outraged that Brown would cast doubt on the book's veracity.

"If you'll pardon the expression, this is the 'Bible' of Delgado genealogy," she says, holding up a well-worn copy. "Everybody thinks so ... except that godless heathen at The American Genealogist who said it needed more footnotes. What gives Dan Brown the right to attack my father's book—especially the story of Jesus?"

Her outrage is shared throughout the El Paso area, where Jesus is something of a legend, remembered for his remarkable compassion. On one occasion, Jesus was climbing Mount Cristo Rey outside the city when he came upon a European immigrant giving birth. People still talk about his delivering the German on the Mount.

Brown alleges in his forthcoming book that Jesus secretly married a woman of doubtful reputation and produced a son whose descendants have controlled El Paso politics for generations. Shortly before his son's birth, Jesus was arrested for washing the feet of Jewish strangers against their will. He was executed soon after by a Texas governor eager to prove that he was tough on crime.

"He couldn't have married her," insists Maria—a great-great-grandniece of Jesus. "And if he did, it was only to redeem her reputation. And if he fathered a son, it was only to prove that she was worthy of carrying his child. Is there anything nobler?"

Despite this hypothesizing, Maria is confident that her father will be vindicated in the end.

"His research has been proven correct every time it's been challenged," she says. "Some say he was infallible, but that's going too far. After all, he did leave off a comma on page 327."

No Wonder Communism Failed

This website offering Russian and Ukranian document retrieval and translation services has a few translation problems of its own ("a translation ought to be produced and certified in the respected foreign country"), but its section on Russian names managed to teach me something new.

In addition to all the popular first and last names, the site has a list of names invented during the Soviet era. Like "Revolutsia" (Russian for "Revolution"), and "Ninel" ("Lenin" backwards).

And then there are the acronyms, like "Kim"—short for "Kommunistichesky International Molodezhy" (Communist Youth International). And who wouldn't want to name their child "Persostrat"—abbreviated from the Russian for "First Soviet Stratosphere Balloon"?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Six-Legged Marriage

When writing a family history, one should always provide something more than names and dates. Take, for example, this WorldConnect entry for Josephine Myrtle (Corbin) Bicknell. Her approximate date of birth is given, and her marriage date, but nowhere does it mention that she was born with four legs.

According to The Human Marvels, Myrtle was born in 1868 with her dipygus twin sister attached down below.

The tiny body of her twin was only fully developed from the waist down and even then it was malformed – tiny and possessing only three toes on each foot. Myrtle was able to control the limbs of her sister but was unable to use them for walking and she herself had a difficult time getting around as she was born with a clubbed foot. Technically, the ‘Four-Legged Woman’ only had one good, usable leg.
Despite this infirmity, Myrtle married and had children. Here's where it gets genealogically interesting.
It seems that her twin sister was also fully sexually formed – thus Myrtle possessed two vaginas. She had four daughters and a son and it has been rumored that three of her children were born from one set of organs and two from the other. Whether this is true or not; it is medically possible. [Link, via Neatorama]
Medically possible, but genealogically problematic. Should she be called the birth mother of all five children? If not, should she called the surrogate mother of some? And was her husband a bigamist, an adulterer, or just a generous brother-in-law?

(More images of Myrtle may be seen here. C'mon, you know you wanna look.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Call Me Anytime, But Don't Call Me That

It turns out that the residents of Norfolk Island are not the only ones identified by their nicknames in the local phone book. The 600 inhabitants of Cedillo, Spain, published their own colloquial directory at the urging of their mayor, Antonio "Booties" Gonzalez.

It means that Johnny the Potato can be found under P for Patata while Luciana is under C for Chinita.

From Pedro "the Whistle" to "Balls" Francisca, the Cedillo phone book is designed to give people the quickest and easiest way of finding their neighbors' phone numbers and addresses.
Not everybody in Cedillo is happy with the new phone book, however.

A man known as "Baldy" and another called "Peg-leg" asked to be registered under their proper surnames. [Link]

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Joe Beine ran across auction listings for the passports of Joe DiMaggio and one-time wife Marilyn Monroe. No one's passport photo should look this good.

The Pension Mounts

William Talbot Hammond was the great-great-great-grandfather of Evans Goodling, Jr., and served for 12 days in the War of 1812 as a substitute for his brother Mordecai. When Goodling went to the National Archives to find William's pension record, he found instead evidence of his failed attempts to swindle the federal government—in one case by adopting his brother's name.

The file recounted the attempts — at various times and under various names — of William Hammond to obtain a pension.

“It shows how he became tangled up in all the stories that he had made up in various communications with the pension office in order to justify his claim,” Goodling said.

One thing the file showed was the dry wit of the pension examiner assigned to the case.

Noting that there was evidence that both Mordecai Hammond and his widow Zilla were dead, the examiner wrote that the primary item to be determined was whether Mordecai “has revived expressly for the purpose of obtaining a pension.” [Link]

Tom Hanks is Naming America's Children

Of all the names on the just-released Popular Baby Names list for 2005, none has seen a more meteoric rise than "Madison." It has ranked in the top 1,000 names for girls only since 1985 (it was then 625), and yet has been in the top ten since 1997, and for two years (2001 and 2002) was ranked second behind perennial favorite "Emily."

Whence did this once-unusual given name derive its popularity? From Tom Hanks, of course.

Before he was dodging an albino monk to crack the Da Vinci Code, Hanks was courting a mermaid on the streets of New York in the 1984 film Splash. In need of a name that non-marine mammals could understand, Daryl Hannah's character spotted a sign that read "Madison Avenue" and chose the more feminine of the two words.

Thousands of movie-going parents decided to name their daughters for the mermaid who was named for a street, and thousands more have named their daughters for other people's daughters who were named for the mermaid who was named for a street.

Hanks seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to popularizing names. The name "Forrest" reached 217th in 1994 with the release of Forrest Gump—a rank it hadn't seen since 1929. The name gradually lost its cachet, though, and dropped out of the top 1,000 in 2004.

Hanks also appeared in 1989's Turner & Hooch, but his performance seems not to have inspired parents to choose either name for their newborns.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Eternal Tailgate Party

Fans of SV Hamburg (a.k.a. Hamburger SV), a German football (i.e. soccer) club (which is to say, team), will soon be able to pick out resting places within sight of the stadium where they wasted a good part of their lives.

Altona Cemetery, which already offers Catholics, Muslims and other groups zones of their own, proposes to arrange fan graves in a semi-circle that will recall their home curve at the city football stadium, with hedges cut in the shape of the SV Hamburg emblem.

Cemetery officials said Friday financing for the project had yet to be settled. Local politicians said it made a mockery of death.

The club welcomed the plan. Board member Christian Reichert told the Hamburger Morgenpost newspaper that SV Hamburg would publicize the opportunity among fans. He said the gravestones would be dignified, not eccentric. A monument with the names of great SV Hamburg players might be included. [Link]

You Can Go Home Again ... or Maybe You Can't

Ghana is planning to offer lifetime visas and even dual Ghanaian-U.S. citizenship to African-Americans who descend from slaves. Naima Mateen from Ohio moved there with her husband a few years back, and found that getting in touch with her "African-ness" was more difficult than she had expected.

Ghanaians, whom she had hoped would greet her as a lost sister, called her obruni, or "white foreigner," the term used for any foreigner with a lighter skin tone.
"Here I'm obruni, an American, a foreigner," she said. After years of touting her African roots, "now I think of the U.S. as home," she said. [Link]

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Top Ten Family Secrets I'll Never, Ever Reveal

10. Grandmother's occupation in 1930 census was "Embittered housewife."

9. Distant cousin was Donner Party's travel agent.

8. Great-uncle's ashes were accidentally placed in coffeemaker at his funeral.

7. Ancestors emigrated to America to escape persecution as WASPs.

6. Most coveted position on family reunion committee is "Keg Master."

5. Great-grandfather was stationed in his parents' root cellar for duration of World War I.

4. Mother descends from Mary Magdalene and her lesser-known second husband, Bill.

3. Only member of family to go to college came back the same day.

2. More records of relatives subjected to exorcism than to baptism.

1. Leading cause of death: acute impotence.

Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter

This selection from the Library of Congress's By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943 is not quite as politically incorrect as one might think.

Enumeration 101

Garry Gaudet offers an insider's view of the training received by Canadian census enumerators in his Tyee article, "I'm No Census Taker." Step One: Learn the stilted doorstep pitch.

Bonjour! Good (morning, afternoon, evening) -- I'm _____, the enumerator for this area. I am here to leave you your questionnaire. Instructions are included to help you complete the questionnaire. You can complete your questionnaire online. Follow the instructions on the front of the form. If you are unable to find an answer to a question, phone the Census Help Line at the number to be found on the questionnaire. Please complete your questionnaire as of Census Day, May 16.

Our [crew leader] remarked that the opening "Bonjour" greeting is mandatory, but the other stuff can be ad-libbed a bit. My usual opening quickly evolved into "Bonjour! I'm here to bring you to your census…"
Later on, the training devolves into a Skull-and-Bones-type ritual:
During training, the [enumerator] recites and signs an oath of secrecy, ensuring that no personal information gleaned from contact with citizens may ever be passed to anyone in the remainder of your lifetime -- even should you observe a household grow-op or a bound and gagged kidnap victim through the window of a basement suite. [Link]

Friday, May 12, 2006

The DNA's the Thing

I reported last month on DNA tests that proved Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket was not a white settler named Marmaduke van Swearingen. This must have come as a shock to a theater group in Xenia, Ohio, which has, since 1981, "proudly presented the story of Marmaduke Van Swearingen a young white settler who left the society he was born [into] to live his dream of becoming part of the Shawnee."

The producer of the outdoor drama "Blue Jacket" announced yesterday that the 2006 summer season might be canceled, "because of funding shortfalls." That's theater-speak for "major rewrite."

Trends in Highland Places

The new Google Trends tool shows the popularity of different search terms over the last couple of years, and the most-referenced news stories mentioning those terms. Even better, one can compare the popularity of up to five terms by plugging in a comma-separated list.

Since genealogy is (dubious sources say) the second-most-popular topic on the Internet, I typed in "genealogy,sex" to see how those terms stacked up against each other. Not surprisingly, "sex" mopped the floor with "genealogy." What did surprise me was this graph, which suggests that Aberdeen, Scotland, is the only city in the world whose residents seek genealogy more often than sex:


This can be explained in one of two ways: either Aberdonians have not been told there is sex on the Internet; or they get their sex the old fashioned way—through the mail.

Come to think of it, there is a third possible explanation: "genealogy" may be Scottish slang for "sex."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Back in the Dixie Pink

Once a landmark in Athens, Georgia, the T.R.R. Cobb House had fallen into disrepair over the years. It's now undergoing restoration, and has been painted a color befitting the mansion of a Confederate general: bubble-gum pink.

The reaction ranged from angry to amused. Some who had fought against the house liked it. "Just horrible," said others. Dixie diehards refused to believe it. A guy in a pickup drove up and threatened to paint over it. According to local heritage experts, one of Cobb's direct descendants, Marion Cannon, sniffed: "T.R.R. Cobb would never paint his house that color." [Link]
An 1859 painting confirms that Cobb did indeed paint his house that color.

It could have been worse. The man overseeing the project had said "he'd gladly paint it 'pink with purple polka dots' if that's what paint analysis revealed, even if it enraged his critics."

It Was a December-December Romance

The current record for Oldest Couple to Marry was set on Feb. 1, 2002, when "Francois Frenandez (b. 17 April 1906) and Madeleine Francineau (b. 15 July 1907) exchanged marriage vows at the rest home Le Foyer du Romarin at Clapiers, France, at the age of 96 and 94, respectively."

This wedding flew in the face of a suggestion printed in the Boston Gazette of Aug. 13-20, 1733, playfully aimed at preventing unhappy marriages:

When two old Creatures, that can hardly hear one another f--t, but hauk and cough Night and Day, and can propose not the least Comfort to themselves in the Thing, yet will marry together to be moor miserable, let them be deemed non compos, and sent to the Mad-House.

Stone Suffers From Plaque Buildup

When Esther Duncan sees a problem, she fixes it. Even if the problem is carved into the 19th-century gravestone of someone she's not related to.

Duncan, a rural Mellott [Indiana] resident and member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, gathered other area residents and officials Wednesday to call attention to the changes. Plaques on two sides of the grave marker have updated two historical details from the original etchings on the marker itself.

One of those is the removal of the middle initial "E" from the name of William Bratton, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from start to finish, 1804-1806.

"I've had descendants tell me he never used the 'E' and to take it off. It might have been used initially to differentiate him from all the other Brattons (in the cemetery)," Duncan said. [Link]
Duncan also updated the date of death of Bratton's wife, from "Nov. 19, 1875" to "Feb. 13, 1875." It was determined that "the marker couldn't take re-etching," so new plaques were added instead.

Duncan's next project will be to chisel historically authentic smallpox scars onto the face of George Washington at Mount Rushmore.

Ship-Jumping Into the Melting Pot

Tina Griego asks in today's Rocky Mountain News, "How do you know your ancestors came here legally?" Her answer—informed by a discussion with Immigration History Research Center director Donna Gabaccia—is, "Sometimes you can't."

She told me that almost all people who came here from the Russian empire may have entered legally, but they left illegally, violating their home country's laws. So did German and Italian men fleeing the draft. Fraud was rampant in the early 20th century. People came through Mexico. They jumped ship. An immigration attorney recently told me of meeting a lawyer whose early practice was almost entirely made up of Greek ship jumpers. [Link]

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Someday Your Prints Will Come

The National Archives has partnered with iPHOTOART to produce high-quality prints of selected images from America's past.

Through this non-exclusive agreement, prints of selected Civil War Maps, World War I and II posters, patent drawings, lighthouse drawings, and Ansel Adams photographs are now available for purchase on the iPhotoart web site www.archivesprints.com. These striking images have been painstakingly reproduced from digital files housed at the National Archives, and are embossed with the National Archives official seal. [Link]
All of the available images are great, but I especially like the vivid war posters. For those of you whose ancestors spent the World Wars sleeping off hangovers, check out the patent drawing of an 1808 alcohol still.

In Search of Lost Time Capsules: Boise Edition

Pioneer Ezra Meeker placed a time capsule inside the Oregon Trail Marker (now called the Pioneer Monument) in Boise, Idaho, on May 9, 1906. On Tuesday, hundreds of schoolchildren and adults gathered on the Statehouse grounds to witness the recovery and opening of the capsule.

One of those people was Stephen Anderson, Meeker's great, great, grand nephew who came all the way from Europe to find out what treasures his ancestor left behind in the Boise monument.

"I'm sure he left a letter but I don't know what else," said Anderson.

With the turn of a key and the start of the engine, the monument was lifted, exposing the granite block beneath, which radar technology showed contained something inside, but Tuesday, that science didn't prove exact.

"I thought they might find something, it kinda surprised me," said one spectator.

A student from St. Joseph's school said, "Nothing. They didn't find anything." [Link]
The Centennial Committee will next ask permission to excavate the base of the monument. They'll also be placing a new time capsule inside the marker, so people in 2106 will have something not to find.

How Did the Houle Get There? I Donat Know

Gerry Houle contributed a family photo to 24-7 Family History Circle depicting his French-Canadian grandfather, Donat Houle. According to an article in Wikipedia, someone with that name born today in St. Guillaume, Quebec, might be given the nickname "Timbit," though if he lived in Donat's adopted hometown of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, the moniker "Munchkin" would be more likely.

Immigrant Ancestors Are On Their Way

The Immigrant Ancestors Project at BYU now has searchable data online. Many of the current search results were extracted from "a register of 19th century British convict passengers who were transported to New South Wales (in Australia) during a time period from about 1820 to 1840." You will also find abstracted passport applications from the Provinces of Cantabria and Cádiz in Spain, and emigration and immigration records from Bavaria and Portugal.

Take a peek at the emigration record of Ignatz Pöser. There's a ton of information here—including his place of birth, marriage date, and "alternate cities of residence." His record is cross-linked with that of his wife. Notice that alternate spellings of her name are included ("Theresia/Theres/Theresa") to facilitate searching. Notice also the wealth of detail in the Notes field:

She was baptized 2 Mar 1787 in Mühlhausen. She got married in Vienna. First she wanted to immigrate there, but apparently instead of moving to Vienna, she wants to immigrate to Sünching, Bayern with her husband because of her inheritance confiscation issue. They have a child in 1816.
The source of each transcribed record is given, and for some record-types a "View sample documents" link is available. Click on "Request this record" and you'll be able to generate and print out a form letter requesting a copy of the original.

As if that weren't enough, the site also has an excellent bibliography, and some useful transcription resources in the Volunteer Center. If you've got a computer and some spare time (the fact that you're reading this suggests that you do), consider volunteering to transcribe some records. You have nothing to lose but your eyesight and track of the time.

Nothing Left To Do But Genealogize

John Tetaz learned at his father's deathbed that his ancestors were from Switzerland. While in Europe on business in 1970, he went looking for his relatives. He was told that a 92-year-old woman living near Zurich was a relation, so he knocked on her door, and was met by a "witchy-looking woman with no teeth."

The witch was not her, but she directed Tetaz to the room where his elderly cousin lay.

"I explained in English that I couldn't speak French and I said my ancestors came to Australia and I wondered if we might be related," Tetaz says.

"This old lady pointed to a typewriter that was on top of a cupboard, so I climbed up and got it and she started to type the history of her family."
Genealogy seems to have been the default activity in the Tetaz family. John once discovered a paper written by an uncle during World War I, that began: "My name is Charles August Tetaz. The Germans have taken over my dyestuffs plant and I've been expelled for the war. I have nothing to do, so I will study my family history."
Tetaz says: "I can tell you when I read this my hair stood on end, because he had the same background that I had." Tetaz was then a product manager at a dyestuffs company. [Link]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The President's Grave-Robbing Grandpa

Members of Skull and Bones—the secret society at Yale to which both President Bushes belonged—reportedly plundered the grave of Apache leader Geronimo about ten years after his death. A letter written by a Bonesman in 1918 recently came to light, in which he bragged that "[t]he skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club and Knight Haffuer is now safe inside the [Tomb] -- together with his well worn femurs, bit and saddle horn." The "Tomb" is the society's clubhouse on the New Haven campus.

Harlyn Geronimo, a former tribal leader who is Geronimo's great grandson, said he trusts the accounts and may pursue legal options to recover his ancestor's remains. He also expects an apology from U.S. President George W. Bush '68, whose grandfather has been implicated as one of the robbers, Geronimo said. [Link]

The Wandering Nettletons

Spring has sprung here in the northern latitudes, which means it's time to head out to the garden to harvest misplaced cemetery stones. Cheryl Bumstead of Orillia, Ontario, and her sons found two while turning soil—one inscribed "Dorothy Feb. 18, 1892 - March 18, 1902," and the other (probably a footstone) inscribed "Sister."

"I said to my neighbour, 'I just dug up two tombstones, so what's the chances of there being bodies?'" Bumstead recalled. "The kids just want to keep digging to see what else they can find." [Link]
It appears that Dorothy belonged to a Nettleton family whose cenotaph in nearby Penetanguishene reads, "In memory of Charles A. Nettleton 1860-1944 and his wife Constance A. Hooper 1862-1948 (both of whom are actually buried in California) and daughter Dorothy."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Greatly Exaggerated Reports of Death

Sometimes obituaries have happy endings—like those in Wikipedia's List of Premature Obituaries. Most seem to fall into one of four categories:

  • Jumping the Gun — As when the aging Bob Hope was reported dead on the Associated Press website in 1998, and then eulogized in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Mixed Up Names — As when actor James Earl Jones was confused with recently deceased assassin James Earl Ray.
  • Hoax — As when Britney Spears was reported dead by two Texas DJs.
  • Technical Mistake — As when the CNN website killed off Fidel Castro, Dick Cheney, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and Ronald Reagan all on the same day.
The best sport was probably the perennially ancient Abe Vigoda, whose death was reported in People magazine in 1982. Abe "posed for a photograph showing him sitting up in a coffin, holding the magazine in question."

Spice Girl Tickled by German Ancestors

Yet another pop idol with meager talent has been bitten by the genealogy bug. Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham was reportedly stunned to learn that she is descended from 19th-century German immigrants to England.

Dr Nick Barrett, who compiled the Germanic evidence about Victoria has said: "I think the story really tickled her.

"Within days of the story appearing [in] the Daily Star the Beckham's had got in touch. Victoria loved it so much she wanted to sit down with her mum and look at everything we've discovered to find out more for herself." [Link]

Big Ben in Cheese Heaven

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is in Switzerland searching for his long-lost cousins and maybe some good cheese. The Swiss Roots and Steelers.com websites will have updates on his travels.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Christians Reproduce on Remote Island

Norfolk Island in the South Pacific is a sort of genealogical anomaly. About a third of its 1,900 residents can trace their ancestry to 194 descendants of Fletcher Christian and his Bounty mutineers who outgrew Pitcairn Island and settled on Norfolk on June 8, 1856.

The handful of surnames brought by the Pitcairners are shared by so many islanders that the local telephone directory lists people by nickname, including Cane Toad, Onion, Dar Bizziebee, Kik Kik, Mutty, Lettuce Leaf and Carrots. [Link]
Pitcairn Island is now so sparsely populated that the residents can be listed on one small webpage.

So, What Did Your Grandfathers Do During the War?

DNA tests are underway to prove whether a 50-year-old electrician from Granada, Spain, descends from two notable Nazis.

In an interview in El Mundo, the man, referred to only as Guillermo, claims to remember hearing cryptic family conversations in German as a child. A photograph of the Granada man shows a striking resemblance to a juxtaposed image of Himmler, whom he believes is his maternal grandfather. Guillermo also claims his father is the son of Hitler, born in 1931 of a relationship between the Führer and his supposed Austrian lover, Geli Raubal. [Link]
As further proof, Guillermo submits that, ever since he was a young boy, he has had the overwhelming urge to invade Poland.

Plenty of Potato Salad and Protons

Descendants of 56 farm families were invited to a potluck picnic held Saturday at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. The lab was built on their ancestors' farmland in 1967.

Fermilab Site Historical Committee Chairman Adrienne Kolb said the picnic "is a special reunion that the farm families enjoy coming back to every year, and we are happy to welcome them back."

"In the past, we had a big public open house," Kolb added. "We wanted to have a smaller and more intimate open house just for the farm families who gave up their land and sold their land to the state so the laboratory could exist." [Link]
Heck, they even have folk and barn dancing at Fermilab, and a Pioneer Cemetery. Just be careful not to wander into the Tevatron looking for the site of your grandfather's still.

The World's Most Exclusive Hereditary Society

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
The Grand Dames of the American Colonies became the world's most exclusive hereditary society on Friday when its only two members, Lillian Walthrup and Gladys Drew, amended the organization's charter to exclude even themselves from membership.

"The amendment passed without objection," says Mrs. Drew, a retired librarian now living in Fort Myers, Florida. "As soon as we'd voted, we escorted each other from the room. Needless to say, tears were shed."

Expulsion from the Grand Dames was even more troubling for Mrs. Walthrup, a descendant of one of its original members, and chair of the refreshment committee.

The society was founded in 1856 in Philadelphia by the wives of Know-Nothing politicians. Frustrated that they could not campaign with their husbands to deport Catholics, the ladies began an organization that welcomed only the "right kind of people." The recent changes to the Grand Dames Charter were in keeping with the original philosophy of the group, says Mrs. Walthrup.

"We're not opposed to immigration, but illegal immigration is beyond the pale," she insists with an almost religious fervor. "To accept the descendants of undocumented immigrants into the society would be an insult to our ancestors. And it would reflect badly on the other members, of which there are now none."

The new rules required that members produce evidence that all of their American immigrant ancestors had come to this country legally. To their shame, neither Walthrup nor Drew could do so.

"Proving these things is very difficult," admits Mrs. Drew. "One of my great-great-grandfathers just showed up in New York out of the blue. Did he jump ship, or sneak across the border from Canada? Probably not, but I can't take the chance."

Mrs. Walthrup agrees. "We can't take the chance of sullying the society's reputation by admitting the descendants of criminals. If Gladys and I hadn't left quietly, I'm confident that we would have thrown us out. I'm just glad it didn't come to that."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

I Swear, Honey, This Is My Last One

This photograph—taken in an Urbana, Illinois, cemetery and uploaded to Flickr by greefus groinks—illustrates how difficult some habits are to kick. There's a reason they're called "coffin nails."

History Sold for Scrap

A quiet crime wave is sweeping America, taking with it our graveside decorations.

In the past few months, thieves have pried bronze plaques off war monuments in Lynn, Massachusetts, and ripped off flag holders from graveyards in Oceana County, Michigan, and Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. About 450 vases were stolen from a Colonie, New York, cemetery, and 73 more from a yard in York, South Carolina. 600 pounds of "flower pots" (actually brass vases from gravesites) turned up in an Omaha, Nebraska, scrap yard.

The thefts are attributed to the high prices fetched by scrap metal these days. A pound of bronze can bring $2 or $3—good money for individuals with minimum-wage jobs and no souls. As a consequence, items that remained untouched through a Great Depression and World War II scrap drives are now fair game.

This is additional reason to take careful notes when visiting an ancestor's grave. Write down the inscription, but also jot down a description of the stone's condition, and note any additional markers indicating military service or membership in an organization. Before leaving, snap a photo of the entire plot, and close-ups of the markers and (if present) vase. If anything turns up missing, contact the sexton, cemetery association, or police.

A grave and its accessories are the only property your ancestor can still be said to own. It's up to you and your family to protect it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Top Ten Signs Your Minister is a Genealogist

10. Only thing he ever prays for is his great-grandmother's maiden name.

9. Believes the Bible expresses the word of God, but wishes it were better sourced.

8. Accepts DNA swabs in the collection plate.

7. Was caught transcribing during your grandfather's graveside service.

6. Won't marry a couple unless they promise to raise their children according to the APG Code of Ethics.

5. Every hymnal has Ancestry.com ads.

4. When he says "forgive us our trespasses," he means sneaking into private graveyards.

3. Leading role in last year's Christmas pageant was the Roman census taker.

2. Says Sixth Commandment is "Thou shalt not reshelve your microfilm."

1. Posts his sermons on GenForum.

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