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Monday, July 31, 2006

He's Been Waiting to Use the Toilet Since Birth

The National Registration Department in Kuala Lumpur has compiled "a list of unusual names to prevent embarrassing situations." It's too late for some, like Datuk See Ah Kow, whose name can mean "dog" in Cantonese.

Then, there is Selangor executive councillor Datuk Tang See Hang, whose name may sound like "waiting to use the toilet" in Cantonese.

The affable 54-year-old is quick to brush the unpleasant translation aside, saying "see" or "sze" in Mandarin meant a poet.

He said "hang" meant hero.

"So you see, my name is actually very meaningful and I have not encountered difficulties with it," he said. [Link]

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Too Big For Their Britches

Studies show that the average man in the Civil War era stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed 147 pounds. Since then, the average man has grown 2½ inches and packed on an extra 44 pounds. For anyone trying to walk a mile in his ancestor's shoes, that means a tight fit.

Don Hotchkiss, a civil engineer in Las Vegas and a descendant of Civil War veterans, is an avid Civil War re-enactor. Early on, he and his brother tried to sleep in an exact replica of one of the old tents.

It was too small, Mr. Hotchkiss said. He is six feet tall and stocky. His brother, a police officer in Phoenix, is thinner, but 6-foot-2. The tents were made for men who were average size then. “In the past 145 years, we’ve ballooned up,” Mr. Hotchkiss said.

At a recent meeting of a Las Vegas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, eight burly men crowded into a library meeting room. All had experienced the equivalent of the Civil War tent problem.

“At the re-enactments, all the directors, all the costume directors say the re-enactors are just too darn big,” said George McClendon, a hefty 67-year-old retired airline pilot. [Link]

A Genealogical Life Well Lived

The "Local Life" featured in today's Washington Post is that of the recently departed Edna Somers. Not only was she a member of genealogy's embattled old guard ("Never a convert to computers, she wrote everything longhand"), she also was a friend to overturned turtles.

Years ago while driving on the Dulles Access Road, she saw a turtle on its back in the middle of the road. She found the first turnaround for emergency vehicles and went back to rescue the reptile. "She later said that if she had been stopped by a police officer, she would simply explain that for the turtle it was an emergency -- a matter of life and death," [her daughter Janine] Gates said. [Link]

Making a Mesh of Things

Yet another strange American trend threatens to boggle the minds of future family historians: "meshing" the surnames of bride and groom.

Gary Ruderman, 43, a playwright and architect, married Jodi Wilgoren, a writer for The New York Times, last year. The couple now go by the name of Rudoren. Mr Ruderman's wife-to-be had said she would love to share his name but on an egalitarian basis.

"I have a lot of respect for Jodi, so I considered it," he said. "Very few people I talked to said, 'Oh, that's stupid'. My mother has taken to introducing me as her son Gary Rudoren." [Link]

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Salem Statue Slanderer Sues

Richard Sorell is suing the police department in Salem, Massachusetts, for violating his civil rights. He was arrested last year while protesting the unveiling of the less-than-historically-significant statue honoring the lead character of Bewitched.

Sorell, a local tour guide, was upset that a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery perched on a broom was erected so close to where innocent people were condemned to death during the Salem Witch Trials.

Sorell brought a homemade sign to the statue's unveiling in June 2005 that read "Elizabeth Who? Is she from Salem?" When he realized his sign couldn't be seen by television cameras, Sorell tried to move closer to the front of the crowd and was arrested after police said he nearly knocked over a 71-year-old woman. [Link]
I'm descended from two of the Salem "witches," and my research shows that neither of them wore sleeveless dresses.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Fears of Our Forebears

An article today at UFODIGEST.com explores the possibility that our ancestors' experiences are written into our DNA.

Let’s say you have always had a significant fear of bears since you were a child. Even Smokey the Bear and other friendly Hollywood bears could not convince you to regard bears with anything but anxiety and fearful feelings.

Maybe it is possible that deep, deep within your DNA memory banks, your great-great-great-great-grandmother or great-great-great-great-grandfather had a very bad experience with a bear two hundred years ago. Maybe they saw someone be killed by a bear. Maybe they had to climb a tree to save themselves from being eaten by a bear.

Would a life-changing experience like this, resulting in knowledge very useful for survival, possibly be encoded in the DNA and passed on to future generations and you? [Link]
No explanation is offered how getting chased by a bear might alter one's genetic makeup. I can confirm the theory, though: One of my ancestors was attacked by his wife, and I was born with an intense fear of commitment.

Crackpot Genealogist Kept Off British Throne

In 1931, an ex-policeman challenged King George V for the throne of England. Needless to say, he lost.

Anthony Hall argued that he was the 23rd descendent of Henry VIII and tried to convince mass crowds at a series of public meetings in the Birmingham Bull Ring that he was rightful heir to the throne. He started raising eyebrows in Whitehall and Buckingham Palace after making “scurrilous” attacks on the King, including a threat to shoot him.
Hall traced his ancestry to Thomas Hall, the bastard son of Henry VIII, who died in 1534. He also claimed that James I of England was a changeling and could not have been the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, because he was “goggle-eyed”, his head was too large for his body, his tongue too large for his mouth and his legs were so rickety that he could not ride. [Link]
"King Anthony" was rounded up and subjected to psychiatric tests, but passed with flying colors. He was later convicted of disturbing the peace and fined £10.

A novel published last year, Heir Unapparent, took up Anthony's cause, but the last time I checked the Windsors still hadn't vacated the premises.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Any Last Bequests?

Here are a few selections from Virgil M. Harris's 1911 classic Ancient, Curious, and Famous Willsmentioned a couple of weeks ago on Randy Seaver's blog.

A Woman Hater
Altogether unique was the whim of a rich old bachelor, who, having endured much from "attempts made by my family to put me under the yoke of matrimony," conceived and nursed such an antipathy to the fair sex as to impose upon his executors the duty of carrying out what is probably the most ungallant provision ever contained in a will. The words are as follows: "I beg that my executors will see that I am buried where there is no woman interred, either to the right or to the left of me. Should this not be practicable in the ordinary course of things, I direct that they purchase three graves, and bury me in the middle one of the three, leaving the two others unoccupied." [p. 131]
Will of an English Farmer
A Hertfordshire farmer inserted in his will his written wish that "as he was about to take a thirty years' nap, his coffin might be suspended from a beam in his barn, and by no means nailed down." He, however, permitted it to be locked, provided a hole were made in the side through which the key might be pushed, so that he might let himself out when he awoke. However, as his death took place in 1720, and in 1750 he showed no signs of waking, his nephew, who inherited his property, after allowing one year's grace, caused a hole to be dug and had the coffin put into it. [p. 143]
Must Marry "Anton" or "Antonie"
An eccentric Frenchman left his estate to his six nephews and six nieces on the condition that "every one of my nephews marries a woman named Antonie and that every one of my nieces marries a man named Anton." They were further required to give the Christian name Antonie or Anton to every first-born child according to the sex. The marriage of each nephew was to be celebrated on one of the St. Anthony's Days, either January 17th, May 10th, or June 13th, and if, in any instance, this last provision was not complied with before July, 1896, one-half of the legacy was in that case to be forfeited. [p. 178]
A Premium on Pigmanship
A wealthy tradesman, M. Thomas Heviant, died at the village of Crône-sur-Marne in 1878. In his will he made a number of singular bequests, among which is the following, which is carried out at the annual fête of the village. He ordered that among the amusements should be a race with pigs, the animals to be ridden either by men or boys. The sum of 2000 francs was set apart as the prize to the lucky rider of the winning pig. The prize was not to be handed over, however, except on the condition that the winner wore deep mourning for the deceased during two years after the competition. The municipality accepted the eccentric bequest, and these singular races have been held agreeably to the terms of the will. [p. 102]
No Underclothes in Winter
A crabbed old German professor, who died at Berlin in 1900, entertaining a great dislike for his sole surviving relative, left his property to him, but on the absolute condition that he should always wear white linen clothes at all seasons of the year, and should not supplement them in winter by extra undergarments. [p. 159]
Must Pay for her Drinks
Mr. Davis of Clapham, England, left the sum of 5s. "to Mary Davis, daughter of Peter Delaport, which is sufficient to enable her to get drunk for the last time at my expense." [p. 160]

Vacations for Genealogists Getting Cheaper

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Family Routes, a travel agency catering to family historians, is offering deep discounts on some vacation packages this summer.

"There's no better time to go to the Old Country," says proprietor Lance Cutler. "Depending on where your ancestors hailed from, you might be able to save as much as 40% on your hotel and meals—but if only you act soon."

The best deals Cutler offers are on Middle Eastern tours, like the "Lebanese Lineage" package.

"I wish I had ancestors from Lebanon so I could take advantage of this deal," he says. "We can set you up in the finest hotel in Tyre for under a hundred bucks a night. They're just begging for people to come. Really, I just saw them begging on CNN."

Family Routes still offers its popular "Back to Baghdad" package, which features a late-night flight into the city, armed escorts to sites of genealogical interest, and at least two hours of electrical service each day.

Cutler assures potential clients that travel to the Middle East is perfectly safe, and warns them not to believe what they read in the newspapers.

"You only ever hear about the bombs that went off—never about the bombs that didn't go off. And, despite what you might have heard, President Bush did not call for these countries to wage war on tourists."
[Photo credit: Takeoff by Joshua Davis (license)]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Student Pilot Long Overdue

If you get tired of tracking down Megan's Annie Moore, you might want to take on the Maurice Herzog challenge. There's no reward for solving it—except for a sense of satisfaction with little cash value.

Cadet Herzog was on a training flight in Arizona on Nov. 3, 1943, but somehow wound up in Sonora, Mexico. His aircraft was recovered eleven days later, undamaged but out of fuel. Herzog was nowhere to be found.

Chris Baird and Tony Mireles have been searching for Herzog for four years, but have come up empty. They don't even have a date of birth for him.

National Archives (NARA) searched records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Missing Aircrew Report (MACR) Name Index and located a card for Maurice Herzog. The service number on the card matched his number. The only information on the card was the notation "No MACR" (presumably because it was non-combat?). NARA referred us back to Maxwell for the Accident Report (which we already had).

Finally, a letter to National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis produced the most perplexing reply. They stated that Maurice Herzog's search resulted in an Army personnel record that they could not locate. Their letter states "the file was removed from its location in October 1988 and has not been returned. The file location did not indicate where the record was sent."

Also, no death certificate records exist for Herzog with Arizona's Vital Statistics Department . . . [Link]
So, if you ran into Maurice on your last junket to Puerto Vallarta, or you have info on his origins, drop Baird and Mireles a line. And if you are Maurice Herzog, you should really call home more often.

It's More Than I Can Bare

It's always interesting to look through a website's statistics to see how people came to find your site. While doing this, I discovered that The Genealogue ranks very well in Google for the words nude genealogist. In fact, at the moment this is the number one destination on the Web for nude genealogy enthusiasts.

What disturbs me most about this is that there are people in the world who are searching for nude genealogists. These sickos are in desperate need of a more sensible fetish—perhaps something involving bondage and butterscotch pudding.

Genealogy in the buff is certainly not something that I condone. Delicate body parts can easily get caught in spinning microfilm reels; and most cemetery associations frown on the nude rubbing of tombstones.

Luckily, those with prurient interests will find the second Google search result more to their liking: a 2002 Eastman article on a shocking picture found among the microfilmed deeds of Smith County, Tennessee. And if you really can't do without a nude genealogist, I suspect this is one.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gender Confucian

Females descendants of Confucius will be included in the genealogy now being compiled.

The current project to trace Confucius' genealogy began in 1996 and is the fifth of its kind. But this time, female descendants will be included, and their names will be written in the same size as their male counterparts. The names of the female descendants' husbands will be printed next to them and marked in smaller characters. If the children of female descendants carry the surname Kong, they will also be included in the genealogy.
Pang Pu, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), says it is obvious that Confucius was prejudiced towards women. Confucius said that it is "the women and the small that are difficult to deal with". [Link]
He must have been dumped by a small woman at some point in his life.

It's What's Under the Kilt That Counts

Axl Rose may have Scottish ancestry, but The Daily Record's Brian Mciver is reluctant to call him a true Scot.

[T]he controversial Guns 'N' Roses singer declared himself Scottish at his concert in Glasgow last week, having met the American genealogical qualification of having red hair and wearing a kilt in music videos.

Born William Bruce Rose, Axl does have a distant lineage claim. But as far as most fans know, his Scots links only ever extended as far as his on-stage kiltedness. Even then, his white cycling shorts underneath proved he wasn't that genuine. [Link]

Monday, July 24, 2006

Top Ten Reasons to Attend the FGS/NEHGS Conference in Boston

10. Attendee with the longest proven pedigree gets to pitch an inning for the Red Sox.

9. Pilgrim-Puritan debate to be settled once and for all by the Rock, Paper, Scissors method.

8. Great Molasses Flood of 1919—Boston's tastiest tragedy—to be re-enacted, with members of New Kids on the Block playing the role of victims.

7. Cliff Clavin to conduct workshop on tracking down elusive postal employees in your family tree, followed by four hours of home movies from his trip to Florida.

6. Sam Adams on tap as the official conference beverage.

5. Boston native Leonard Nimoy to share his expertise in Vulcan paleography.

4. Ancestry.com members offered a discounted registration fee, which will be auto-renewed each month until they cancel or the sun explodes.

3. Ted Williams' thawed head to deliver the keynote address.

2. Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1629 to be given away as a door prize.

1. Hookers along The Freedom Trail required to wear Colonial dress.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

'The Covenant' Discloses Colonial Cover-Up

As someone with plenty of roots sunk in Essex County, Massachusetts, I'm intrigued by this synopsis of The Covenant—a film to be released by Sony Pictures on Sept. 8th.

In 1692, in the Ipswich Colony of Massachusetts, five families with untold power formed a covenant of silence. One family, lusting for more, was banished - their bloodline disappearing without a trace. Until now.

Directed by Renny Harlin and written by J.S. Cardone, The Covenant tells the story of the Sons of Ipswich, four young students at the elite Spenser Academy who are bound by their sacred ancestry. As descendants of the original families who settled in Ipswich Colony in the 1600's, the boys have all been born with special powers. When the body of a dead student is discovered after a party, secrets begin to unravel which threaten to break the covenant of silence that has protected their families for hundreds of years. [Link]
I just hate those bloodlines that disappear without a trace. I've run into pesky "covenants of silence" many times in my research, but usually they have more to do with illegitimate children or drunk-and-disorderly convictions than with "special powers."

A Different Breed of Genealogist

Henry Peden is considered one of the best genealogists in Harford County—indeed, in all of Maryland. But his latest project—the Harford County Stud Book—is bound to disappoint researchers looking for info on their irresistibly macho ancestors.

"I thought that horse lovers and historians might like the book because the horses played an important role in the county's early history," said Peden, 59, a Bel Air resident.

So he began compiling a book on horse breeding in Harford from 1822 through 1900. [Link]

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Of Emus and Enumerators

Collecting census data can be a dangerous job—especially in Australia.

A 1986 inquiry found 9 per cent of collectors were the victims of dog attacks, or had their clothing damaged by a pooch.

That same report found one collector bitten by a horse, another stopped by a large bull, and others chased by geese, emus and a large pig. [Link]

What If He's Listed First?

David Gatchell is running for governor of Tennessee and the U.S. Senate, and if he manages to get his middle name on the ballot he might just win both races. You see, last August Gatchell changed his middle name from "LeRoy" to "None of the Above."

Gatchell argues that a number of state gubernatorial candidates are already allowed to include their nicknames and that his middle name has been widely reported by news media and is known across the Internet. [Link]

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Genealogical Geography Lesson

eXpertGenealogy.com has an interesting map of professional genealogists. It appears that one enterprising researcher has set up shop halfway across the Atlantic—hoping, no doubt, to capture both the American and European markets.

Upon further investigation, the researcher in question is based in Australia, which—if I remember my elementary-school geography correctly—is a bit closer to Hawaii than to Rhode Island.

Size Does Matter

The town of West Union, West Virginia, turns 125 today, and on Saturday will celebrate by compiling the "largest genealogy chart ever attempted."

Several family trees have been compiled by local genealogical societies. We are in an area that has not been easily accessed in the past (part of Appalachia) and most of these family trees intersect at several points. We intend to generate an entry for each person in these trees, and place it in place on a wall of plywood. As fairgoers pass the tree, they will be encouraged to fill out their own card and it will be pinned in place on the tree.

We feel we can increase the database of individuals on these lines by 35%. The record may be based on the size of the chart as well as the number of individuals listed. Most genealogists do not do large charts (while they may have a large database of individuals, large charts are not printable or copyable and must be hand done.) We have enough with current information to fill three pieces of plywood at present time and expect that another four will be filled by the end of the festival. [Link]

Scottish Ancestor Loved to Go Clubbing

Shona Hill is a librarian in Denny, Scotland, and tells of assisting an American genealogist in her research.

The American had contacted Denny Library asking for any information about her 'famous' ancestor – someone she insisted was instrumental in setting up dog clubs in Scotland.

But Shona's research found out that was only partially true – the ancestor was in fact a dog-clubber, someone who used to rid Falkirk's streets of stray dogs. [Link]

Writer Shows Off Her Holy Genes

Kathleen McGowan is convinced that she's a descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene—so convinced that she's written an "autobiographical religious thriller" to prove it. Her publisher believes her, but isn't disclosing the results of her Jesus DNA Test.

"It's an interesting back story, but we're marketing this fabulous novel," says Trish Todd, editor in chief at Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster.

Todd says she has no problem believing McGowan's claim that she descends from a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. "Yes, I believe her. Her passion and her mission are so strong, how can she not be?" [Link]
The Expected One is due out July 25. No word on when the rest of us get our book deals.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Location, Location, Location

Korean general Yoon Gwan picked a nice place to spend eternity, on a hillside north of Seoul. More than five centuries later, prime minister Shim Ji Won was buried a short distance away. Then, in the mid-18th century, the general's resting place was rediscovered, sparking a family feud that's still burning 300 years later.

A king tried and failed to mediate. The Yoons and Shims, who respectively number one million and 250,000 in this country of 48 million people, once banned and still discourage marriage between their children.

"Not even over my dead body!" says 77-year-old Yoon Bu Hyun, a leader of the Yoon clan. "You tell me," he says. "Would you marry your son to the daughter of your sworn enemy?"
According to the experts, poongsu (the Korean equivalent of feng shui) requires that one of the patriarchs be evicted. Though considered an embarrassing superstition by many, poongsu has well-educated adherents.
"I know a politician, a graduate of Harvard University, who has moved his parents' graves eight times, almost once a year, hoping that will bring him election or a cabinet post," said Jee Jong Hag, who runs a poongsu Web site. "He moved those tombs so often that the rest of his family lost track of them. The last time I heard of him, he was still waiting for a cabinet post." [Link]

It's Hard Keeping Up With the Joneses

A Welsh television channel is organizing the largest single-surname gathering in history. They're inviting anyone with the surname Jones to come to Wales and help break the world record.

The channel is hoping to fill the 1,600-seat Wales Millennium Centre with an audience of Joneses, which would smash the previous record set in Sweden, where 583 Norbergs gathered to set the current target.

And the channel is making sure there is plenty of incentive for members of the huge Jones family to make the trip.

A variety show starring a host of famous Joneses - called Jones Jones Jones - will keep crowds amused on November 3 while official Guinness staff carry out what is hoped to be a huge count. [Link]
Another incentive: Rules state that "Maiden or hyphenated names do not count," so there's no chance you'll run into Star Jones Reynolds.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Can't Find Her Annie Moore

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak is offering a $1,000 reward for information on Annie Moore, the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island in 1892. If your research leads you to an Annie (Moore) O'Connell who caught a train in 1923 the hard way, you're on the wrong trail.

The problem is that the Annie Moore whose story is told time and time again – and whose photo is even displayed in the American National Tree (and companion book) at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center – is the wrong one.

How do I know? I researched her for a documentary. Guess what? This Annie Moore was born in Illinois, not Ireland. [Link]

What's Hers is His

In an effort to confound genealogists, some men have adopted their bride's surname after marriage.

Bobbie Jeanne, whose last name is linked to a Sicilian castle, and who is one of a few dozen people with her last name left in the United States, didn't want to trade in her unusual last name for the most usual – Smith.

So Dayton, of Huntington Beach, checked with his father, who was raised in an orphanage, about whether it was OK for him to become a La Grua. His father, unsure at the time if Smith was his given last name, didn't mind.
Joe Hickman Cothman made the switch to "harmonize the new family and wipe the slate clean with the old."
Throughout high school, people always called Joe by his last name. So when he ran into an old buddy at a wedding recently, he had to correct his friend.

"He said, 'Hey, Cothman.' And I said, 'Actually, it's Hickman now.'

"He was like, 'Shut up.'" [Link]

Colorado Springs Invaded by Zombies

The folks at KOAA-TV maybe should upgrade their spell-checker.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Too Many Captain Clarks

Churchill Clark and Peyton "Bud" Clark are both descendants of Captain William of Lewis and Clark fame. The pair crossed paths in Livingston, Montana, yesterday, exactly 200 years after their ancestor crossed the Yellowstone River there.

Both men, who are very distant relatives, have spent most of the past three years retracing the steps of their ancestor. They started out traveling together, but split up after a falling out. [Link]
Each man is part of a larger group commemorating the bicentennial of the expedition—Bud with Discovery Expedition, Churchill with Lewis and Clark Then and Now. An article last November at Willamette Week Online sought to explain the schism.
It seems somewhere in North Dakota, the modern-day Meriwether Lewis ditched the modern-day William Clark and took off in his own canoe with three men and a dog, assuming the name "Lewis and Clark Then and Now." [Link]
One of the men Lewis (a.k.a. Scott Mandrell) took off with was Churchill Clark, who had previously been relegated to the role of a lowly private. The promotion to captain must have come as a surprise to Churchill, given that his job prior to the expedition was "Karaoke operator."

The Long-Lived Lipkes

104-year-old Lula (Lipke) Henne and her 100-year-old sister Lona Hutler reside in Pardeeville, Wisconsin. A third sister, Lillian, passed away this week at 97, and a fourth, Laura, died in 2002 ten days short of her 104th birthday. Lula's daughter Irene Zastrow is the historian of this close-knit but competitive family.

"On my mother's birthday this year she asked how old Laura was when she died. She had a grin on her face and said she was going to beat that," Zastrow said. [Link]

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Politician's Smirky Past

Peter Costello, Australia's treasurer since 1996, is the great-great-grandson of Patrick Costello, a 19th-century politician from Melbourne convicted of rigging an election. Though Peter is hesitant to talk about it, they share at least two things in common: a surname and a smirk.

"That's gorgeous!" says Professor Agnes Bankier, head of Genetic Health Services Victoria, when asked about the persistence of the smirk. Yet she can't conclusively say that it is purely a genetic quirk.
Peter's brother Tim has admitted that he too inherited the self-satisfied expression.
Speaking on the telephone from Los Angeles, he revealed that his father did not smirk. Adding to the enigma of the expression, Tim said he had it when he was young, while Peter developed it over time.

"In fact, when I was a young man, I did look like that, so I think it was a genetic trait," he said. "When I was about 20, there are pictures of me with that smirk. The smirk came out in the early days with me and later days with Peter, so DNA is cruel." [Link]

Jane Austen's the Real Threat

The U. S. government is worried about James Fenimore Cooper. Not so much the dead novelist, but the Los Angeles banking executive who shares his name. Cooper is on the airline security "selectee list," which requires him to undergo additional screening every time he boards an airplane.

The government, citing security concerns, won't divulge how the list is compiled. So passengers who end up on it can only guess why they have been selected — unless one of the criteria is sharing the name of a 19th century American author.

Cooper, who has not researched his family history far enough back to know whether he is related to the author of "The Last of the Mohicans," has largely learned how to deal with the inconveniences of being on the selectee list. [Link]
Perhaps the feds came to their decision after reading Mark Twain's essay detailing "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."

Brits Greet Indians Without Reservation

A group of 55 Virginia Indians visited the resting place of Pocahontas in Gravesend, England, on Friday as part of the 18-month-long Jamestown 2007 celebration.

The Indians presented local representatives with gifts from their home state -- including a traditional Pamunkey clay pot and a large bundle of dried tobacco leaves, the cash crop of Virginia that came to attract English investors.

"It is tradition that when you go to visit an elder or a dignitary, you respect them by bringing tobacco one of the four sacred herbs," said Kevin Smith, a member of the Nansemond tribe. [Link]
Upon sampling the tobacco, their British hosts immediately entered into negotiations with the natives to purchase the land they call "Virginia." Colonization will commence early next year.

Using 'Aristotle' is Only Logical

Middle names are important to genealogists, but often more important to the individuals who wear them. Just ask John Aristotle Phillips, who runs an identity- and age-verification service.

"Why do I use my full name?" he repeats after I obligingly ask the obvious question. "Do you know how many John Phillipses exist in the US? I do. There are 3,621. There are 853 born between 1950 and 1960 and 282 born in August. There's only one John Phillips born on August 23, 1955. There's only one John Aristotle Phillips." [Link]

Friday, July 14, 2006

Genealogist Forgets Wife's Birthday

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Gary Hurlburt shocked the genealogical community of Palo Alto, California, on Thursday by forgetting the birthday of his wife of 29 years.

Hurlburt is renowned in local family-history circles for his skill at remembering dates. Without a moment's preparation he can tell you when his great-grandfather Waldo Jepson was born, married, quit drinking, and died. Or which days of the week his ancestor Drusilla Withey's 23 children and their 38 spouses were born. But somehow his wife Linda's date of birth slipped his mind.

"It's embarrassing," he admits sheepishly. "I mean, she was born on the same day that Uncle Harley had his wisdom teeth pulled in 1956. How could I forget that?"

As for Linda, she's not quite ready to forgive the oversight.

"I know that family history is important to Gary, but this time he's gone too far," she says, her voice trembling with anger. "Forgetting to buy me a present was bad enough. But asking me to bake a cake for the anniversary of his uncle's tooth-pulling was just insulting."
[Photo source: Cake! by Phil Moore (license)]

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

NYC Mayor Hates Really Old People

Brian G. Andersson, the Commissioner of New York City's Department of Records, is a genealogist, so he can't be happy about the current policy of the city on allowing access to birth records.

In most cities, birth certificates become accessible to the public after 75 years. But in New York, the last certificates turned over to the Municipal Archives by the Department of Health are now 97 years old, and that transfer took place more than a decade ago.

Birth certificates created since 1909 can be ordered from the Department of Health only by direct descendants of their subjects, and then only for a $15 fee. For some city residents eager to unearth details about their ancestors, the situation seems perverse. "I think it's absurd that there's this arbitrary cutoff point," said Jordan Ausländer, a New York genealogist. "It costs me work." [Link]
Says the Mayor's spokesman Jordan Barowitz (interesting fact: 4 out of 5 men in New York are named "Jordan"), "We are attempting to strike a balance between genealogical research and individuals' privacy and security."

Does this mean that Mayor Bloomberg cares nothing for the privacy and security of native New Yorkers older than 97? Surely their birth certificates too should be locked away before some identity thief with too much time on his hands makes a search request at the Department of Records website, then waits four to six weeks for the birth record of some decrepit granny to arrive in his mailbox. The more brazen thief could visit the Municipal Archives in person (presenting a photo ID at the door), crank through the microfilm to find the correct record ("Is that the one? No, the initial is wrong... What was her maiden name again?"), then ask a clerk to print the certificate out. I watch enough Law & Order to know that criminals love looking at microfilm.

I urge the centenarians of New York to take to the streets and demand that Bloomberg and his ageist cronies protect all New Yorkers from reasonable unreasonable invasions of their privacy and nonexistent imminent threats to their financial security.

Don't Look For the Truth in Church

Most family historians would be thrilled to have an ancestor figure prominently in a bestseller like Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. But not Judith Church Tydings, whose letter to the editor of the Washington Post appears in today's paper.

As a descendant of militia captain Benjamin Church, one of the two main historical figures in the book, I wish to stress the unreliability of my ancestor's account of King Philip's War, upon which Mr. Philbrick relied heavily. [Link]
Tydings points to Harvard historian Jill Lepore's critical review of the book in the New Yorker of April 24th, in which Lepore faults Philbrick for giving too much credence to Church's memories of the war, written down by his doting son forty years later. "This as-told-to, after-the-fact memoir is the single most unreliable account of one of the most well-documented wars of the Colonial period," she says, and it casts the elder Church in a light usually reserved for comic-book heroes.
“Entertaining Passages” paints Church not only as the hero of every battle he fought but as the Puritans’ voice of reason and restraint, as the man of conscience who attempts, in vain, to halt every atrocity: when his Mohegan allies want to torment a captured Nipmuck with fire and knives, Church “interceded and prevailed for his escaping torture”; in the Great Swamp Fight, Church, badly injured, valiantly hobbles to his commanding officer and begs him to stop the attack, only to be rebuffed. [Link]
I should note that, at the time of these events, my own ancestor, Samuel Dunham, was at home working on the drinking habit that in 1681 would get him excommunicated from the First Church of Plymouth. I have not read Philbrick's book, but assume that Samuel's name is not in the index.

The Lying Lepps

Bil Lepp is a five-time winner of West Virginia's Liars Contest, but only because of his unfair advantage: he carries the prevarication gene.

Spinning yarns was a family affair in the Lepp household. Lepp descended from a Russian immigrant grandfather who spoke five languages and entertained family around the dinner table with yarns that tended to become a little more exaggerated with each telling.

“None of them were true, is what it came down to,” Lepp recalled. “I was 14 years old and I thought my grandfather had ridden with Lawrence of Arabia.” [Link]
Good story, but ... should we believe him?

Gussie and Addie's Excellent Adventure

From July 4, 1916, to Sept. 8, 1916, sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren traveled 5,500 miles from New York to San Diego on motorcycles. Ninety years later, their great-nephew Robert Van Buren and his wife Rhonda are recreating that historic trip—taken to prove that women were fit to serve as motorcycle dispatchers in World War I.

"They figured if they could make a trip across the country, through the mud, the dirt and weather, then the military would see that women could do the job and free men up for duty on the front lines," [Robert] said.

So, Gussie and Addie headed out on a trip where, for the most part, there were no roads and no maps for the country west of the Mississippi River.
The Van Buren sisters were the first women to ride the new auto road to the summit of Pike's Peak. They were also arrested somewhere in the Midwest for wearing pants.

"Women didn't wear pants back then," Robert said.

Rhonda said, "They weren't just pants, they were red leather." [Link]
Robert and Rhonda's journey is also a fundraiser for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. You can learn how to support this worthy cause, and find out more about the Van Buren Sisters, at vanburensisters.com.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I'd Give My Right Arm to See That

Dan Donnelly of Oakdale, California, says he's descended from an Irish bare-knuckle fighter of the same name. The latter Dan Donnelly went down for his final count in 1820, after which his mighty right arm was removed and put on display.

Preserved using red lead and now mummified, Donnelly's arm has been displayed at a medical college, as a circus exhibit and as an attraction at The Hideout Pub in Kilcullen, Ireland.

Last week, however, it arrived in New York, where it will be on display as part of an Irish Arts Center exhibit titled "Fighting Irishmen: A Celebration of the Celtic Warrior." The exhibit will run from Aug. 28 through Nov. 30. [Link]
You didn't think I'd neglect showing you a picture of the arm, did you?

She's Taking Names

"Name collector" is an epithet thrown at those family historians more interested in the quantity than the quality of their research results. But one woman in India wears the label with pride.

As uncommon and strange as it might sound, Sujata Pandey, a resident of Jejuri, has a penchant for jotting down people’s surnames.
“She takes note of a lot of surnames appearing in Marathi newspapers,” says Pandey’s husband, Virendra. Be it festive occasions or society gatherings, there are several avenues for Pandey to register people’s surnames. “Whenever I meet people, I ask them to spell their surnames for me and record them. I’ve always followed this practice even while travelling to places like Wai and Mahabaleshwar,” enthuses Pandey. [Link]

Mini-Inscription Rings a Bell

Ted Klein—owner of a popular model-train store in Baltimore—was showing a reporter around the business recently when he was struck by an HO-scale coincidence.

Turning a tight corner, he stopped at a rack with a bag of tombstones, just the right size to go with trains that range from 1:48 to 1:87 of reality. The gravestones were artificially aged and even had weathered names of the "deceased" on them.

"Jeez," he said, reading one of the names, "I had a dentist by that name, Bernard Smith, and I think he did pass away." [Link]
For just $4.39 you can buy a bag of twenty tiny tombstones from MB Klein—perfect for decorating your four-year-old's birthday cake. For party favors, try the milk chocolate caskets Megan Smolenyak2 dug up yesterday.

Shouldn't All Obits Have Punch Lines?

Randy Seaver passes along the obituary of Fred Clark—a man who enjoyed life to the end, and lived just long enough to tell us so.

He loved to hear and tell jokes, especially short ones due to his limited attention span. He had a life long love affair with bacon, butter, cigars and bourbon. You always knew what Fred was thinking much to the dismay of his friend and family. His sons said of Fred, "he was often wrong, but never in doubt". When his family was asked what they remembered about Fred, they fondly recalled how Fred never peed in the shower - on purpose. [Link]

Unusually Buoyant Woman Granted Pardon

Grace Sherwood, Virginia's only convicted witch, was pardoned by the governor on Monday—the 300th anniversary of her trial by "ducking."

On July 10, 1706, Sherwood's thumbs were tied to her toes and she was dropped into a river. She floated, proof that she was guilty because the pure water cast out her evil spirit, according to the belief system of the time. [Link]

Monday, July 10, 2006

Amelia Earhart Lands in Denver

The new traffic reporter at KOA 850-AM in Denver has the perfect name for someone who'll spend her working hours in a helicopter: Amelia Earhart.

For years, family lore told her she was a third cousin to the "other" Amelia. "With my family, it's always been oral history that we were related. I was the first person to do online research. From my recent findings, I want to stop perpetuating this. Amelia and my family share common ancestry in the 1700s." That's it.

"At first, it was shocking to find out that the relationship wasn't there. I'm happier knowing. When I hear 'Amelia Earhart,' I hear my name, not hers. I don't want to be known only by my name. I know I'm a good reporter." [Link]

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Meryl Streep's Black Forest Roots Are Showing

Sharon Elliott at BackTrack today offered Meryl Streep a lesson in genealogy. Sharon must know that I love fine poetry almost as much as I love family history.

There once was a women in Prada,
Who sailed with the Spanish Armada...

Girl Knows Nose-Picker

Sixteen-year-old Charlotte Robertson was looking for a birthday card for a family friend. One particular image caught her eye, of a little boy picking his nose. The boy looked very familiar.

Then the teenager realised she was staring at a picture on a card of her own father, Edward - taken more than 40 years ago when he was just three. [Link, via Neatorama]

Stiff Stacking Studied

There are plans afoot to permit "double-decker burials" in some 19th-century English graveyards.

Lack of space and people wanting burial not cremation has prompted the idea for earlier remains to be re-buried deeper, allowing a "second sitting" above them in the same grave.

The headstone is then altered to include the new arrival. [Link]

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Will There Be an Antichristening?

Many couples were worried about giving birth on 6/6/06, but not Mike and Suzanne Cooper. Their son was three days overdue, and they already had a name picked out.

[Mike] had to persuade his wife, a 36-year-old special needs teacher, to agree to the name.

'The Omen is one of our favourite films and that's why I was keeping my legs crossed for a birth on the sixth,' she said. 'It does seem a bit weird I suppose – but he's perfect.' Damien was born at Southmead Hospital in Bristol. [Link, via Neatorama]

Friday, July 07, 2006

Grasping for Heir

Some of those people you rub elbows with at the archives don't belong to the noble race of family historians. They're tracking down the missing heirs to estates worth thousands. Julia at Wie Immer has the skinny on these folks, having recently joined their ranks as a researcher.

I have a new job. I am a detective. I work as a researcher and solve mysteries by digging through really nice civil records centers. I will spend many many days flipping through huge gigantically enormous tomes of endless lists of names, alongside other older people who also spend countless hours looking through huge tomes of names. We even have a dance: pull, flop, sift, scan, slam, reshelve. If you showed up there with some Offenbach turned up full blast on your iPod, it would look like we're doing a synchronized dance: pull ... flop ... sift ... scan ... slam ... reshelve. Again. Pull ... flop ... sift ... scan ... slam ... reshelve. Pull ... flop ... sift ... scan ... slam ... reshelve. Again. [Link]

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pedaling After a Headless Queen

16-year-old Jack Bullen of Suffolk, England, is setting out on a 300-mile bike ride this weekend to raise money for disadvantaged orphans. With luck, he won't meet the same fate as a famous relative.

The journey is based on a rough route of the life of the former Queen of England who was married to Henry VIII prior to being beheaded - and is also a distant relative of the Bildeston youngster.

Jack, a pupil at Framlingham College, is descended from one of Anne's uncles making him a collateral descendant. Over time the name Boleyn has become Bullen.
Jack will start his bike ride from Blickling Hall in Norfolk, the supposed birthplace of Anne Boleyn, and finish at the Tower of London where she was executed in 1536. [Link]

Top Ten Signs of Genealogical Insanity

10. Building a bomb shelter to house your clipped obituaries.

9. Giving each of your ancestors a cool nickname and a superhero power.

8. Refusing to inspect your kids' report cards without first donning white gloves.

7. Getting kicked out of the Family History Center for tasting the microfilm.

6. Getting married in your great-grandmother's wedding dress instead of the customary tuxedo.

5. Taking DNA samples from your garden gnomes for genetic testing.

4. Starting every family-history interview with the question, "Mind if I get undressed?"

3. Organizing a family reunion for everyone who shares your first name.

2. Accusing Cyndi of sending you secret messages through her list.

1. Believing that all your ancestors were out to beget you.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

WorldVitalRecords.com - Now With More than One Page!

The 77 million (actually more like 78 million, I think) records promised by WorldVitalRecords.com on Monday have this afternoon been made available, albeit intermittently (if you don't see the search box, try dev.worldvitalrecords.com). Included data is from the SSDI, Maine Death Index, and Louisiana Slave Index. These records are available elsewhere, but nowhere with a spiffier name than "WorldVitalRecords.com." The site's "big international launch" will come in October.

Digital Remains

Finding a late relative's correspondence, snapshots, or diary tucked away in a drawer can make a genealogist giddy. But what will our descendants find in our drawers when we're gone? Probably very little, since most of our corresponding these days is done electronically, and much of our productive lives is spent online.

Michele Gauler—a student at the Royal College of Art—sees a day when friends and family will head to the Web to trace their dearly departed's digital footprints. In her project "Digital Remains," she imagines that those close to the deceased will hold the key to unlocking these virtual archives.

Personal access keys are used to remotely log on to the digital remains of a person and receive their data on our own digital devices. Based on data tags and meta data, search algorithms dig through a deceased person's data, presenting us with content that is most likely relevant to us. For instance, a photograph from a holiday we spent with the person 10 years ago, or the person's favourite piece of music which they typically listened to while writing e-mails.

Access keys, when placed next to a mobile phone, MP3 player or computer, establish a bluetooth connection with the device and trigger a remote log-on to the digital remains of the deceased person they are linked to, allowing a person to access the dead person's data. [Link]
I would make one suggestion: the family genealogist should be allowed an "all-access" key, capable of opening every door and exposing every secret. Just remind me to erase my own footprints before I shove off.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

POTUS Guilty of Nepotism?

Finally we have an explanation why President Bush chose Cheney as his running mate. It's all because of family history.

[Mike Ward of Ancestry.com] added that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are connected through an early New England settler by the name of William Fletcher.

Fletcher, incidentally, was also involved in politics. He served as Commissioner of Chelmsford, Mass., in 1673. [Link]

One of My Revolting Ancestors

Today I pay homage to my 4th-great-grandfather Moses Dunham—buried in Hartford, Maine, beneath a slate marker inscribed "A Revolutioner."

Moses was born Jan. 23, 1757, in Plymouth, Mass., and grew up there and in nearby Plympton. In September of 1777, he was mustered into Capt. Edward Sparrow's company, which would shore up the defenses in Rhode Island.

Moses was a shoemaker, and according to family legend was company cobbler at Valley Forge under General Washington. This would have been a neat trick, since he was recorded in Providence three days after Washington's troops arrived in Valley Forge, and was mustered out of Sparrow's company ten days later. I'm rather thankful that he wasn't a cobbler at Valley Forge, given the notoriously bad condition of footwear there. Sort of like being caterer for the Donner Party.

Moses re-enlisted at Plymouth in April of 1778 and was stationed at Dorchester Heights near Boston. In March of 1781, he enlisted in the Continental Army, took a trip to Virginia in the fall to watch Cornwallis surrender, and then spent a year and a half at West Point with the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment. It was more than a year after his formal discharge late in 1783 that he got around to marrying and manufacturing descendants.

His grandson described Moses in glowing terms:

When in the prime of life he must have stood six feet in height and weighed 200 pounds; complexion light, eyes blue and expressive. But he was not "cast in nature's finest mould," like Washington, being long favored, with a nose to match; his whole face pitted from the effects of small pox while in the army.
This handsome fellow somehow convinced his wife Margaret Morton to produce a passel of children, whom they piled into an ox-cart in 1805 and transported to Oxford County, Maine. There they were living in 1820, when it came time for Moses to apply for his pension. His estate schedule exhibits a talent for stretching the truth still evident in his male descendants—a talent we've come to call "BSing."
Farmer, not able—I have not been well since the taking of Cornwallis at which I was present. Margaret, wife, 62, a very weakly women, not able to do housework; Esther, 27, a cripple, had fever sores settle in her limbs; Eunice, 25, able to do housework; Betsey, 23, able to work, has been sick; Abigail, 20, a healthy girl; Priscilla, 16, never been able to do anything. [NEHGR 142:391]
He neglected to mention his two sons—both in their early thirties and still living at home. I'm still waiting for the federal government to ask for that pension money back.

Moses lived to the age of 88 years, dying Sept. 15, 1845. I like to think that I carry after him in every respect—except the military service, wife and children, shoemaking ability, and smallpox scars.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Predictable Birthday Gift

Something weird's going on in Clara Nicole D'Amico's family. She was born June 21st, on the 29th birthday of her mother, who was born on the 29th birthday of her mother, who was born on the 29th birthday of her mother-in-law. When she turned 28 last year, mom Marybeth D'Amico tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain wishing for this, but she wonders if her delivery date was due to intervention more divine.

“Obviously, having a baby is just a miracle,” said D’Amico. “The fact she was born June 21 makes you wonder if someone else was involved, whether it was God or one of my relatives up in heaven.”
I too suspect that "someone else was involved," though the baby's father is not mentioned in the story.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Celebrate Freedom With Free Databases

The Origins Network is offering free access on July 4th to celebrate Independence Day in America. This will "begin at 00.00GMT and will run until 08.00GMT on the 5th July 2006," which—if my calculations are correct—means that it will only be available to residents of Greenwich, England.

I consider this compensation for that whole "taxation without representation" thing.

Datasets that can be searched on British Origins (www.britishorigins.com) include:
  • Boyd’s Marriage Index covering the whole of England (1538-1840)
  • Marriage Licence Allegations (1694-1850)
  • Wills (1700 – 1845)
  • Probate records (1267- 1500 and 1383- 1883)
  • London Apprentice records (1442-1850)
  • Apprentice records covering the whole of Great Britain (1710-1774)
  • Court Records ( 1574- 1714)
  • Militia Attestations (1886-1910)
  • Boyd’s London Burials Index (1538-1853)
  • Boyd’s London Inhabitants
  • Trinity House Petitions (1787- 1854)
  • Teachers’ Registrations (1870-1947)
  • 1841 and 1871 England and Wales Censuses. It is worth noting that not all counties have yet been uploaded for the Censuses but these are being added on a monthly basis, starting with 1841

Irish Origins (www.irishorigins.com) Collections include:
  • Griffith’s Valuation plus maps & plans (1847-1864) – often said by many genealogists to be the "census substitute" for mid-19th century Ireland
  • Dublin City Census (1851)
  • Dublin City Census (1901): Rotunda Ward
  • Census of Elphin 1749
  • William Smith O’Brien Petition 1848-9
  • Irish ‘strays’ in England & Wales Census (1841 and 1871)
  • Index of Irish Wills 1484-1858
  • Militia Attestations Index 1872-1915
  • Irish ports to USA 1890
  • Dublin City 1847 Ordnance Survey Town Plans

Cousins Come in Many Colors

Reiss descendants gathered in Sheboygan this weekend for a reunion. Family members are so devoted to genealogy that they have a numbering system even for their t-shirts. I'm not sure if they'll be required to wear these all the time or just at reunions.

Like the other attendees, [Patrick] McComis and [Eddie] Krawitt wore coded shirts, with colors to identify which of Clemens Reiss' eight child-bearing children they descended from and a numerical code to trace their lineage in shorthand. McComis wore a "10-4-3" on his left sleeve, making him the third child of the fourth child of Clemens and Anna Reiss' 10th child.

But while the carefully-planned shirts were genealogy to some, they were teams to others.

"I like soccer," said William McComis, 5, also known as 10.4.2.1a (the letter distinguishes him from his twin sister). "I played against all kinds of colors." [Link]

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Red, White, and Blue Bloods

As a proud American who abhors exclusivity and snobbery, I welcome the news that almost all of us are descended from royalty. The only thing better than shuttering an exclusive club is opening up membership to all.

Even without a documented connection to a notable forebear, experts say the odds are virtually 100 percent that every person on Earth is descended from one royal personage or another.

"Millions of people have provable descents from medieval monarchs," said Mark Humphrys, a genealogy enthusiast and professor of computer science at Dublin City University in Ireland. "The number of people with unprovable descents must be massive." [Link]
Judging from the thousands of unprovable descents proven by the WorldConnect Project alone, the number must indeed be massive. These people will not be satisfied with a mere statistical likelihood of royal roots, and will continue to grasp at genealogical straws. As for me, a royal connection would be nice (those folks are so well documented!), but I'd just as soon descend from sturdy yeomen with interesting criminal records.

As we Americans celebrate the 230th anniversary of our independence, let's also celebrate our independence from the notion that some genes are "better" than others. After all, if not for primogeniture laws and a couple of beheadings, I could be the one married to Camilla Parker Bowles. And I'm not better than anybody (except maybe this guy).

Massachusetts Prepares for Invaders

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Massachusetts is bracing for an invasion late this summer. The "undesirables" are expected to arrive the last week of August, but Flatland Security chief Arnold Nesbit says there is no need for residents to panic.

"Not yet, at least."

As soon as the FGS/NEHGS conference in Boston was announced, the Commonwealth began devising measures to protect its history from the prying eyes of genealogists.

"Every cemetery in Massachusetts will be locked down," says Nesbit, gesturing toward a color-coded map of burial grounds. "We've set up hotlines in every town, city, and county office, and have authorized the use of deadly force. Anyone asking to see a marriage certificate better have the proper ID."

At the forefront of the Commonwealth's plan is a bill now before the legislature that would seal off vital records from public view for decades. A related bill would ban the celebration of birthdays in public places.

"Think about it," Nesbit urges. "A kid has a party at Chuck E. Cheese. Now, everybody in the place knows when her birthday is and how old she is. We can't risk having a genealogist stumble onto that kind of information."

As the government ramps up security, Nesbit cautions citizens not to overreact.

"We've had reports of vigilante activity. An innocent title searcher was mistaken for a genealogist and manhandled at the Springfield Registry of Deeds. And some guy was caught trying to chisel the date '1620' off of Plymouth Rock. We want to make two things clear: If you think you've sighted a genealogist, report it to the proper authorities. And remember, we don't want to destroy our history—we just want to hide it where no one can find it."

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