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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Odd Jobs

To mark the imminent Labor Day holiday, Ancestry.com has released a list of interesting occupations found in the U.S. and U.K. Census Collections. Here are some highlights:

  • Some were more creative in answering census takers' questions. Rather than simply listing "laborer" as their occupation, their occupations were "Sandwich Man," "Soda Dispenser," "Inspector of Lunch," "Collector of Eggs" or "Prepares Fruit"
  • The 1880 Census reveals the lure of the "Wild West" during that time period. Almost 30,000 individuals reported their occupation as "Saloon Keeper." There was also a significant number of "Cattle Herders," "Cowboys," "Saddle and Harness Makers," "Horse Dealers," "Street Sweepers" (to clean up the after the horses on the big city streets) and even an "Outlaw" appeared on the census takers list
  • Some people showcased their seeming lack of occupation, listing jobs such as "Old Batchelor," "Good Talker," "Reading the Bible," "Bird Fancyier," "Buggy Riding" and "Gent at Large"

Dead Man Stalking 2

More details have emerged of Susan Sarandon's search for ancestors. She was spotted in a Wales pub recently scouting for cousins. And throwing back a few pints.

Landlord Terry Griffiths said: 'According to the researcher, John Charles Guyatt, who is buried here, was Susan's great-grandfather and she has some relatives still living in this area.
Mr Griffiths' wife Mandy said: 'When they arrived, the BBC people told Susan to stay in the car and they told us she didn't smoke or drink and wouldn't want photos taken.

'But the next thing we know, she's sat down with a fag and half a Guinness signing autographs and chatting to the regulars.' [Link]
This, of course, could not have happened in New York City, where it's illegal to sit down in a bar with a fag cigarette.

Cure for Old Age Discovered in 1951

Among the "20 Things You Didn't Know About... Death" in the current issue of Discover were these two things I didn't know about death.

3 No American has died of old age since 1951.

4 That was the year the government eliminated that classification on death certificates. [Link]
A more complete explanation may be found in Leonard Hayflick's 2002 essay titled, "Has Anyone Ever Died of Old Age?"
The cure resulted from a Public Health Conference on Records and Statistics in which all state and federal agencies were ordered to adopt a standard list of 130 contributing and underlying causes of death. In 1951, the list deleted a cause of death attributed to “old age.”

Thus, with a single stroke of a typewriter key, old age was cured as a cause of death in this country. [Link (pdf)]

No Longevity in My Genes

I have a grandmother who's 93, a great-grandmother who lived to 96, and a 5th-great-grandmother who was going strong at 103. Nevertheless, I could kick off at any moment.

Dr. James W. Vaupel has determined that genes have more to do with how tall you are than how long you'll live.

“How tall your parents are compared to the average height explains 80 to 90 percent of how tall you are compared to the average person,” Dr. Vaupel said. But “only 3 percent of how long you live compared to the average person can be explained by how long your parents lived.”

“You really learn very little about your own life span from your parents’ life spans,” Dr. Vaupel said. “That’s what the evidence shows. Even twins, identical twins, die at different times.” On average, he said, more than 10 years apart. [Link]
Dr. Vaupel obviously didn't include Chang and Eng Bunker in his study.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

No Shortage of Nutters in Britain

Britain's most embarrassing surnames have been announced. The same folks who brought us the Surname Profiler have analyzed census data to determine which names have dropped most in prevalence since 1881. "Cock" heads the list, followed by "Hickinbottom," "Handcock," and "Smellie."

Glasgow was the home of the most Smellies in 1881, while Nottingham was home to the Dafts, Jellys were based in Guildford and Piggs in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Blackburn is named as the original hometown of Nutters - but their numbers have held up. The number of Nutters has only fallen by 35 per cent in more than a century. [Link]
The linked article also lists the most and least "adventurous" surnames—a measure of how far a family name has spread from its 1881 range.

First Comes Death, Then Comes Marriage...

Can anyone tell me how to record posthumous marriages in Family Tree Maker? A traditional ritual in Korea gave bachelors and spinsters one last shot at tying the knot.

The tradition was conducted by a group of shamans, and it aimed to soothe the pain and agony of the dead and allow them to enter the next world in peace.

The ritual involved shamans summoning the sprits of unmarried men and women and infusing them into doll’s bodies symbolically, and shamans and people in a town held a wedding ceremony for them. [Link]

'Pregnant' Man Delivers Own Twin

Here's yet another story that confirms that siblings are parasites. Sanju Bhagat of Nagpur, India, always had a big belly, but by the age of 36 he had begun to look like he was nine months pregnant. When Dr. Ajay Mehta cut him open, he found Bhagat's twin inside. In a rare case of fetus in fetu, the twin had fed off his brother's blood supply, growing fingernails that were "quite long."

The case may have been a medical miracle to doctors, but to Bhagat his condition had been a source of shame and misery. All his life, people in the village where he lived had mercilessly teased him and told him he looked pregnant. Ironically, they were right in a way.

Today Bhagat is in good health and leads a normal life, but he still gets teased occasionally.

"They still ridicule him. What they say is, you went for an operation and you had the baby," Mehta said. [Link, via Neatorama]

The Hills Are Alive, But Maria Isn't

Genealogy can be tricky when your ancestors have been fictionalized. Four great-grandchildren of Captain Georg von Trapp of Sound of Music fame have a singing act, and will be appearing together in a movie next year. They have two family trees: a real one, and a second dreamt up on Broadway.

The four are the grandchildren of Werner von Trapp, the younger of the two boys -- and the fourth of seven children -- depicted in The Sound of Music as Kurt (the child Julie Andrews remembers to include in her bedtime prayers with the line, "God bless Kurt.")

The von Trapp youngsters also remain close to grandfather Werner's eldest sister, their great-aunt Agathe -- portrayed as Liesl ("I am 16 going on 17") in the musical.
Werner, Agathe and sister Maria (the real-life name of the movie's second-oldest daughter, Louisa) are the last surviving members of the original Trapp Family Singers, who fled Nazi-occupied Austria in the 1930s after their father, a widowed naval officer, married their governess.

Three children added to the singing family after Georg and Maria von Trapp were wed are also still alive. [Link]
Joe Beine blogged about the real-life Maria von Trapp earlier this month.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Woman Falls Short in Immortality Attempt

The world's oldest person has died, meaning there's one less person standing between me and the title. Maria Esther de Capovilla of Ecuador was 116, and "enjoyed drinking donkey milk in her youth." Her untimely death will undoubtedly cause authorities to take donkey milk off the market.

Her successor is presumed to be Elizabeth Bolden of Memphis, Tennessee, who has lived long enough to earn her own Wikipedia entry. Bolden resumes the title she held from August 30 to December 9, 2005, when Capovilla's age was confirmed. Despite having a clear motive, she is not a suspect in the Ecuadorian woman's death.

World's Oldest Person continues to be the most dangerous job on earth, with a fatality rate of 100%.

Didn't We Once Share a Womb?

Douglas and Holly Funk of Chicago adopted a little girl in 2004 who'd been abandoned in Yangzhou, China, and named her Mia.

Carlos and Diana Ramirez of Pembroke Pines, Florida, adopted a little girl in 2005 who'd been abandoned in Yangzhou. And named her Mia.

Last May, Mrs. Ramirez wrote about her daughter's upcoming birthday on a website for parents of kids adopted from the Yangzhou orphanage.

Mrs Funk saw the message and wrote back, 'Diana, I have a Mia as well and she is almost 3.'

The two mothers began e-mailing each other and exchanging photographs of their daughters.

The physical likeness of the two girls was too striking to ignore.

After comparing biographical details, they decided to swab the girls' mouths and send the samples for DNA testing.

The results showed that there was an 85 per cent probability that the girls were half-sisters at the very least.

Greater certainty would only be possible if one of the girls' biological parents could be tested as a comparison. But given their identical birth dates and backgrounds, it is most likely they are twins. [Link]

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sub-Terra Cell

Wayne Irby was mowing the grass at Philadelphia's Fort Mifflin when he felt the earth move under his feet.

Irby "turned the mower loose" just as the ground collapsed beneath him.

Curious, he shoveled aside a few feet of earth over the next couple of days and made a stunning discovery: a tunnel and a two-room jail cell recalling the sad tale of a decorated Civil War soldier, a murder, clemency pleas to President Lincoln, and the only execution at the fort.

The barred cell at casemate No. 11 once belonged to convicted killer William H. Howe before he was hanged Aug. 26, 1864.
A message written on a cell door reads, "Shun this place, oh man, whom soever thou art." But not everyone is heeding this advice.
William Mifflin, a descendant of the fort's 18th-century commandant Thomas Mifflin and member of the board of directors of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware, called the find remarkable, "another significant chapter in the fort's long history."

"It not only gives us one more educational and interpretive opportunity - but it's entertaining," he said before ducking down a small, muddy hole that opened into the tunnel. [Link]
Probably less entertaining for someone waiting to be hanged.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

She's Not Lost Annie Moore

By mustering the power of the Internet and dangling $1,000 in front of some talented genealogists, Megan Smolenyak2 has succeeded in discovering the fate of the first person to pass through Ellis Island.

The $1,000 will be split between two people -- Brian Andersson, who was the first to identify the correct Moore family, and a great-niece of Annie's who provided the critical last few clues. Credit is also due to ProGenealogists, which contributed vital research at the Family History Library and kept pace with my entirely unreasonable research requests (without complaint, no less!). And an honorable mention goes to Sharon Elliott, who did a terrific job of sleuthing and sharing her findings. [Link]
I guess I can end my page-by-page search of the 1900 census. I kind of wish I hadn't already spent that reward money on an "I Found Annie Moore" tattoo.

There's No Escaping Pat Sajak

If you need some votive effigies to burn for a late relative, Ho Chi Minh City is the best place to shop—especially if Grandma was a fan of Wheel of Fortune and high-end electronics.

HCM City’s Binh Tay Market is famous as a place producing votive subjects for export. There a man offered: “You can buy everything for the dead here. If you can’t find the thing you need, you can place an order”.

“Nowadays, no one sends ordinary TV sets to the dead, but LCDs. We have LCDs with screens showing all kinds of current game shows,” he added. [Link]

A Touch Too Much Dutch

Dutch footballer Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink isn't really of Hesselink. "Of" in Dutch means "or" in English, making his name more of a multiple-choice question than a geography quiz. And Jan isn't about to shorten it to suit television commentators.

"Other people don't shorten their names so why should I? I'm proud of the name. Shaun Wright-Phillips writes his whole name. He doesn't just put Wright, does he?"

Autograph hunters can pose a problem, however. "Sometimes if there are one or two standing alone, I'll give them my whole name but otherwise I just sign my initials. It only takes ten minutes or so to sign autographs but for the fans, they treasure them for years." [Link]

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fergie's Wild and Woolly Past

Yet another celebrity has offered sketchy details about her ancestry. This time it's a member of The Black Eyed Peas who once was the voice of Charlie Brown's sister.

Fergie, whose real name is Stacy Ferguson, discovered her relatives were sheep rustlers before they settled in the US.

She revealed: "I found out my ancestors are from Ireland. We stole sheep." [Link]
On the bright side, there are worse things her ancestors could have done with sheep.
[Photo source: Schaf by Patrick Gruban (license)]

Grab a Scalpel, It's My Lucky Day!

Many expectant women in China are opting to get C-sections so their kids will be born on "lucky days."

"Eight minutes past eight, Aug. 18, 2006, that's the lucky time my mother has chosen for my caesarean section," said Zhang, a mother-to-be, before her delivery. "I hope the doctor will let the baby be born at the exact time."

So-called lucky days are often related to the Chinese number "eight", whose pronunciation is close to a word meaning "getting rich", and to other lucky numbers. [Link]

Friday, August 25, 2006

Planet Ex

Sharon Elliott always has the best ideas for posts over at BackTrack. Today she finds Lowell Observatory astronomers enumerated in the 1930 census just a few weeks after they discovered the lately deplanetized Pluto. Her title has caused me to turn three shades of green with envy: "Panned Planethood."

BTW, be sure to check out Pluto's response to being kicked to the planetary curb.

You Must Be This Tall to Inter

The Samuel Oldham Burial Ground lies smack dab in the middle of the Kentucky State Fair midway. Sam's will provided that two acres be set aside for his family, but the yard has been whittled down to a mere quarter acre, its gate located just a few steps from the foot of a giant slide.

"It is the principle of the thing," said Dona O. Page of Deer Park, Texas, Samuel Oldham's great-great-great-granddaughter. "The man's will plainly stated…that that (land) was to be preserved for his family… 'forever.' Now to me, 'forever' means forever. It doesn't mean until somebody wants to park more RVs."

Page guessed that her ancestors would be perfectly comfortable in the middle of the state fair midway.

"They were always in the middle of everything," she said. [Link]

Dead Man Stalking

Actress Susan Sarandon is desperate to prove her ancestry—so desperate that she consented to part with some of her Oscar-winning DNA.

Yesterday, we are told, she was at Blenheim Palace with Bryan Sykes (of the ancestry research firm Oxford Ancestors) to get the results of a DNA test seeking to identify UK origins.

“She had brought a lot of her family,” says our mole behind a drinks tray. “There were about 12 of them. I gather it was for a TV show.” [Link]

Must See Roots TV

I'm intrigued by the announcement (received by way of Megan's Roots World) of a new channel devoted to genealogy—Roots Television. The website offers no info on the scheduled programs, but allow me to speculate.

  • 7 a.m. - 8 a.m. — An animated series for kids based on the Elizabeth Shown Mills book Evidence! Citation & Analysis For The Family Historian.
  • 8 a.m. - 9 a.m. — Barney the Purple Dinosaur reads selected obituaries from the nation's morning newspapers.
  • 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. — Census records scroll across the screen while Muzak plays in the background.
  • 4 p.m. - 5 p.m. — Psychic John Edward helps people get in touch with their departed ancestors, and in doing so liberates them from their common sense and spare change.
  • 6 p.m. - 7 p.m. — Dr. Phil helps people cope with the divorce of their great-great-great-great-grandparents.
  • 7 p.m. - 8 p.m. — The gang from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition visits the homes of genealogists and knocks down their brick walls.
  • 8 p.m. - 9 p.m. — A Fear Factor spin-off on which people are dared to consume traditional dishes from their ancestral homelands.
  • 9 p.m. - 11 p.m. — A nightly movie with a family-history theme—usually Back to the Future.
  • 11 p.m. - 7 a.m. — Ancestry.com infomercials, occasionally interrupted by MyFamily.com infomercials.

These Olympics Aren't All Fun and Games

St. Andrews, Scotland, has been playing host to The 27th International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences this week.

[Organizer Mark Dennis] said: "This event will be singular and quite unusually memorable event given its historic significance.

"It will be the first time since the Middle Ages that heralds of several countries have met together in State and will be a colourful affair with the university's traditional robes and maces intermingling with state dress, civic robes, tabards and armorial banners." [Link]
Called "the Olympics of genealogy and heraldry," the Congress began on a sour note after two participants tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and a lecturer on Myth and Propaganda in Roman Papal Heraldry pulled a hamstring.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

He Should Have Asked for Lottery Tickets

Missouri genealogist Scott Biondo has learned that it's not who you know, it's who you're related to.

When the power went out in much of St. Charles the first night of the reunion, the family scattered to find bags of ice. Biondo was told by a relative in a local QuikTrip store that ice was rationed because of the power outage.

"When I told the clerk that we were having a Biondo family reunion he told me his grandmother was a Biondo and to take all the ice we wanted," Biondo recalled. [Link]

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Forget about liquids on planes (or snakes, for that matter). A much greater threat to our nation's security has been identified: the genealogy blogger.

Craig Manson noticed that someone from the U.S. Department of Justice had spent 20 minutes visiting GeneaBlogie during work hours.

Now I don't mean to alienate any genealogy fan, but come on now: 20 minutes at work? At the Department of Justice? Either someone doesn't have enough work to do or I'm under investigation! Was my visitor Big Brother or kindly old Uncle Sam? [Link]

Monday, August 21, 2006

They'll Wear Blue and Gray on Alternate Days

Eight members of a Sons of Confederate Veterans camp in Luray, Virginia, have chartered a new Sons of Union Veterans camp in the same town. They haven't abandoned the South: they're just honoring ancestors who fought for the other side.

The formation of the Union camp by the members of the Confederate camp, said Gregory Kelly, 40, of Luray, will help promote understanding.

"Many people see us as rednecks because we are in SCV," Kelly said. "This shows we are not that way at all."

Kelly, manager of the Food Lion in Stanley, said the members will likely be ostracized by many people because of the creation of the Union camp.

"[But] if it will help in any kind of way to bring issues to rest," he said, "that is great." [Link]

Governor Lags Behind His Ancestors

The Salt Lake Tribune has turned up plenty of polygamists in Mitt Romney's family history, but the Massachusetts governor insists that marriage is between a man and a woman—not between a man and seventeen women.

Romney's great-great grandfather on his paternal grandmother's side is a famous Mormon from the settling of the western realm of Deseret (part of which later became Utah), where followers fled in the 1800s to escape anti-Mormon persecution fueled, in part, by opposition to polygamy.

Parley P. Pratt was one of the influential LDS Church leaders during the early years. He married 12 times, though his first wife died before he took a second. A former husband of one of his plural wives eventually killed Pratt. [Link]
... thus proving that polygamy can be fatal.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

And No Battlefield Amputations, Either

Participants in a Civil War re-enactment at the Iowa State Fair this weekend had to cope with a few modern realities. For instance, the price of gas.

"We are in artillery, so you have to have a pickup or something, and they don't get the gas mileage of a Ford Festiva," said organizer Roger Shannon of Woodward, uttering words not heard in the Civil War days. The gas prices have cut down on the number of road trips for the group.

In a day of insurance concerns and such, the brave soldiers were not allowed so much as a small fire to warm their coffee, for fear they would burn down nearby Pioneer Hall. Oh, and they couldn't fire blanks either. Not enough room to do it safely. [Link]

Domain Names Expire

Two of the three PETA activists who changed their names to website addresses have decided that even principled publicity stunts have expiration dates.

"I think maybe its time had come and gone," said Karin Robertson, formerly known as "Goveg.com" until last month.

Robertson led the way, changing her name in March 2003 to get people focused on animal rights and vegetarianism.
Her success inspired others. Last fall, [Christopher] Garnett and Brandi Valladolid went to the courthouse and, with the stroke of a judge's pen, became "Kentucky fried cruelty.com" and "Ringling beats animals.com." [Link]
Only Valladolid has kept her new name, probably because it sounds better at job interviews than "Brandi."

Two Easily Confused Christians

Christian James Tinory and Christian James Doskocil met while waiting in line for Boston Red Sox tickets on Friday morning. The 12-year-olds soon discovered that they had more in common than first and middle names.

“I went to play catch with him,” said Doskocil, who spied Tinory throwing a football. They quickly found out they shared more than a love for sports.

Doskocil’s older sister, Laura, couldn’t believe the similarities.

She joked it would be weird if the two shared a birthday and sure enough, they did - April 18, 1994.

“Then we found out he was born in the same two minutes,” Christian Doskocil said. “That was pretty crazy.” [Link]
And yet the two differ in one important way: Tinory loves the Red Sox, while Doskocil is a Yankees fan. Which means that, were they long-lost brothers, the latter would be the evil twin.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

They'd Never Seen a Wilder Tomb

A California couple found Gertrude M. Wilder hanging around in their backyard. They wouldn't mind her staying, but would just as soon reunite her with her husband.

DeeDee and Dan Armenta thought the odd-looking brick-and-stone structure in the backyard of the house they bought a year ago was a barbecue pit, or possibly a fountain. But when they started jackhammering through it while landscaping late last month, they found it was something they'd never expected: a tomb.
The couple found a headstone with the names of Gertrude M. Wilder, 1878-1941, and William R. Wilder, with a birth date of 1882 but no date of death. A decayed cardboard container, bearing a barely legible "Gertrude" and "Dec. 11, 1941" in typing, accompanied cremated remains in a disintegrating redwood box buried inside the 4-foot by 4-foot round brick structure. [Link]
Update (Sept. 30, 2006): A descendant of the Wilders has been found, and Gertrude is staying put.

The Bride Wore ... Nothing

I've just run into an instance of a "shift marriage" in the published vital records of Newbury, Mass. Stephen Mitchel married Mrs. Katherine Brown on Jan. 4, 1774. The record of intentions (2:66) indicates that "the said Stephen takes said Katherine naked and so will not be obliged to pay any of her former husband's debts."

Aside from giving the pastor a thrill, a shift marriage (or smock marriage) served as a do-it-yourself legal proceeding. The idea was that, if the bride came to the marriage with no possessions (she was sometimes allowed to wear a shift, or chemise), she wouldn't bring with her the debts of the deadbeat she'd previously wed. Sometimes the unclothed bride was allowed to participate by sticking her hand through a "widow's hole" in a door.

When Major Moses JOY married Widow Hannah WARD of Newfame, Vermont, in 1789, she was stark naked. She was in a closet, her hand extended through a hole cut in the door. Then she put on a fine set of clothes and emerged from her closet in style, to the general admiration of the assembled. [Link]
Other times, the ceremony was held on a public road for all to witness.
Thomas Calverwell was joyned in marriage to Abigail Calverwell his wife the 22 February, 1719. He took her in marriage after she had gone four times across the highway in only her shift and hairlace and no other clothing. [Link]
A notice from The Fredonian of May 15, 1810, demonstrates that the British were not above causing their brides public embarrassment.
In England, Mr. Joshua Cossack, to Miss Mary Lofts; to secure her swain against the gripe of her unfeeling creditors, the bride crossed the highway, in a state of perfect nudity previous to going into church.
Would this debt-forgiveness plan have stood up in court? John Buckman wasn't eager to test it, according to a 1659 deposition in Essex County, Mass.
Jno. Blany [...] deposed that about Michaelmas time he heard Joseph Armytage demand of John Buckman five pounds which Wm. Butler owed him; he said he would pay it, although he took his wife bare, without anything. [Link]
As someone who hates sitting through weddings, I think this is a custom that deserves to be revived—so long as the widows are under thirty and go to the gym once in a while.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Imagine What She Named Their Pets

One Florida 16-year-old has a name that commands respect. Yourhighness Morgan ("Hiney" to his friends) was "kind of named" for his mother's great uncle King Thomas Crews.

At a track meet last spring, one of South Sumter's coaches called him over:

"Yourhighness, come here," he said. A coach from another school overheard and asked the South Sumter coach, "Why'd you call that kid Yourhighness?" The South Sumter coach answered simply, "That's his name." [Link]
Yourhighness has a brother named Handsome, and cousins named Prince and Gorgeous. His mother had a hand in naming all of them, and admits that people "probably think I am crazy."

It Didn't Have the Ring of Truth

Edward McNair inherited a signet ring with a family legend attached. He recently placed the ring on eBay with a "buy it now" price of $75,000, mostly because of the tale he'd heard as a boy.

Andrew McNair was the official ringer of the Liberty Bell. He got hold of a piece of metal that broke off the inside seam of the bell, where the two halves of the mold it was cast from came together.

In the early 1800s, the metal was taken to a jeweler who cast two signet rings. One he kept for himself, as payment for his services. The other remains in the McNair family today.
Nice story, but the Liberty Bell's chief caretaker, Robert Giannini, says it can't be true: the bell was cast as a single piece, and never had an inside seam. On the bright side, he says rings were made from metal removed during an 1846 repair of the bell, and Edward McNair might have inherited one of those. Back in the '70s, Giannini was offered one for $50.
McNair took the experts' opinions of his family heirloom with good old American stoicism.

"I firmly believe that as a story goes along, it gets added to," he says.

"But the bottom line is, Andrew McNair was one of our ancestors and the signet ring is from a piece of the Liberty Bell - even if the story was added to or taken away from over the years." [Link]

Blogging From the Beyond

Lorelle VanFossen has provided some useful tutorials on starting up a genealogy blog with WordPress. Her most recent post explains how to enlist defunct relatives as blog contributors.

Genealogy blogs often feature contributions from the dead. The dead need no passwords to contribute, but they still are contributing. The dead, in this case, are authors of some of the stories and poems we want to publish and they need to get the credit and attribution they deserve.

Thus, I have some authors who just happen to be dead, but they still need a byline on my genealogy blog. [Link]

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Phishing for Phamily Trees

Stanley Sherman received a letter from "Graham Sherman," asking for information on his family history.

"It seemed genuine because I know there are plenty of people who try and trace their family tree," said Stanley, from Ilford.
He obliged, and then received a second letter from "Richard Sherman."
"I just thought it was a coincidence that the address of the guy in the second letter was in the same road as the cemetery where my brother is buried. But I didn't think there was a possibility we were related."
It was only when Stanley received a third letter last week—supposedly from an investment consultant in Singapore—that he smelled something fishy.
The consultant, Kye Hammer, wrote that Richard and his partner had died suddenly in a car accident and that Stanley could claim to be the next of kin.

"When I got this letter I thought 'there is something wrong here'," said Stanley. [Link]
If you think you've been targeted by this sort of scam, send your name, address, mother's maiden name, and credit-card numbers to Kye Hammer immediately.

Outliers or Out-and-Out Liars?

James dropped a post at GenForum pointing out that some people were issued Social Security cards long before the program was even a twinkle in FDR's eye.

If you go to the [RootsWeb SSDI] web site and put in the death year of 1900 you will get 89 hits.

If you put in any death year from 1900 to 1935 and on to 1940, 1945 and into 1950's you will get hits. [Link]
You can also find birth dates going back to 1800 (the SSA's computerized system seems to have blocked input of births earlier than this, and deaths prior to 1900). The oldest person to ever receive benefits was Ann Feinseth, who cashed her final check in 2004 at the remarkable age of 195—old enough to be Ida May Fuller's great-grandmother.

You might mention this to anyone who thinks the SSDI is infallible.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Making a Mesh of the Next Generation

Benjamin Zimmer argues in Slate that, despite a recent spate of articles, it is not yet a trend for brides and grooms to "mesh" their surnames upon marrying. At the same time he cites some early examples, and notes that parents have been meshing with their kids' names for years.

Couples who tried to do this sometimes ran afoul of antiquated statutes regulating the naming of children and had to plead their cases in court. In Hawaii in 1979, Alena Jech and Adolf Befurt successfully fought to give their son the surname Jebef. A few years later in Florida, Dean Skylar and Christine Ledbetter won the right to name their son Sydney Skybetter. (In 1987, New Jersey pre-empted yet another court challenge by revising its regulations when a Greenberg and a McBride wanted to name their child Greenbride.) [Link]

Top Ten Least Useful Ancestry.com Databases

10. MyFamily.com Unconsummated Office Romances, 1999-2005

9. Salvation Army Casualty Records

8. Lakeview Pet Cemetery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Hamster Burials

7. California Virgin Births, 1905-1995

6. Illegible Names in the 1841 U.K. Census

5. World War I Draft Registration Cards Left Blank, 1917-18

4. Anonymous Letter-to-the-Editor Collection

3. FAA Unruly Passenger Lists

2. Social Security Impending Death Index

1. Ancestry.com Database Titles, 1997-2006

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

She's Her Own Twin

Lydia Fairchild was pretty sure she had conceived and given birth to three children, but tests showed that they shared none of her DNA. The Washington woman ended up in court, forced to prove that she was the mother of her kids.

Fairchild called her obstetrician, Dr. Leonard Dreisbach. He was there for all the births and assured Fairchild he'd vouch for her in court.

"I would have told them that she certainly had these three kids, and that they were hers, and that I don't know what's wrong with the DNA testing, but I know that she had the kids," Dreisbach said.
The state went so far as to place a court officer in the delivery room when her next child was born, to witness an immediate DNA test.
"They took DNA from the baby and myself right then and there, after birth, and it came back that there is no way possible that baby is mine," Fairchild said.

Even though they'd witnessed the birth, officials believed she was acting as a surrogate, possibly bearing a child for money. [Link]
Nope, not a surrogate. Fairchild has a condition called "chimerism." She was conceived as a twin, but the DNA of her never-born sibling became fused with her own, and still is present in her body. Unlike Myrtle Corbin, she never suspected she was a medical marvel.

Fairchild's story will be told Wednesday night on ABC's Primetime.

More Reasons to Fear Water

Martha Taylor has compiled a record of untimely deaths in Henniker, New Hampshire, from 1761 to 1999. This includes eleven homicides (three of them justified), 76 suicides, and 220 accidental deaths.

Many of the older clippings offer unusual tales. One article claimed that Alonzo Phelps, 63, died in 1900 of "drinking too much cold water while heated, stopping perspiration." One reverend speculated at a funeral in 1827 that "more people drowned upon Sabbath than any other day." An entry in a day journal wrote of a woman who jumped in the river and drowned, then continued, "When taken out she tied a handkerchief around her neck which caused her to strangle."

"I think she tied it before she drowned," Taylor said. [Link]
As we've seen before, cold water consumption was once a leading cause of death in New England.

Pay to Be Prompted

FamilyHistoryBuilder.com provides a service ideal for people who enjoy being nagged. Pony up $45 a year and they'll prod you with weekly emails or telephone calls asking questions about your family history. Questions like "What hobbies did your mother or father have," "What did they do for fun," and "Did they ever make you watch?"

For the pathologically lazy, they should offer a service like that laid out by Stephen King in Quitter's Inc. Fail to respond to a question and your daughter gets an electric shock. Skimp on details and a guy comes to your house and chops off your wife's pinky. And don't even think about canceling your subscription.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ready! Aim! Fine, I'll Tell Her Daughter

Konstantin Pogorely is a genealogist and proprietor of Genealogia.ru. (If text on the site looks like gibberish, it's probably because you don't read Russian—try here.) Over the years, he's learned that discretion is the better part of genealogical valor. Ancestors believed by clients to have been Stalin-era political prisoners have proved to be petty criminals. And at least one war hero proved even worse.

Pogorely said he always tried to prepare clients for the unexpected. In one case, he decided not to tell an elderly woman that her father had earned his medals in World War I not on the battlefield, but as the commander of a firing squad. Pogorely shared his findings with the woman's daughter, who thanked him for his discretion. [Link]

There's Something About Mary's Scrubbing

Seiji Shiba of Lehi, Utah spent the weekend at a History Camp for Kids held at Camp Floyd/Stagecoach Inn State Park. The 10-year-old's family has a special connection to the place.

While serving at Camp Floyd, Seiji's great-great grandfather fell in love with a washer-woman named Mary Taylor, said RaFawn Rogers. When the soldiers were recalled in 1861, [Louis Strasburg's] military service was up and he stayed in Utah, eventually becoming the mayor of Tooele. Rogers said she wanted Seiji to come the history camp to learn more about his heritage and what life was like for his great-great-grandfather.

"What a wonderful way to teach kids history," she said. [Link]
In an unexpected twist, Seiji fell in love with a local washer-woman and refused to return to Lehi with his parents.

[N.B. Web sources, including the IGI, give Mary's surname as Armstrong.]

Probate This!

"The Best Wills in the World" are described in Monday's Daily Record, among them:

LIFELONG bachelor John Boullet was known for being a bit grumpy, and he only got worse as he got older. So the sparse attendance at his funeral wasn't helped when he stipulated that it was to take place at 6am. He also left an envelope to be opened immediately afterwards.

His family and friends failed to show up so the only people present were his housekeeper, the undertaker, the parson and two gravediggers.

Afterwards they opened the envelope. It said his £250,000 fortune was to be shared only among those "who cared enough to come to my funeral".
CANADIAN lawyer Charles Vance Millar died in 1926, leaving money in his will which was to be awarded to the woman who gave birth to the most children in the 10 years after his death.

A reporter dubbed this "The Great Stork Derby" and 10 years later, four women from Toronto won a share of the cash having each given birth to nine children. [Link]
Additional info on Millar's will may be found at Snopes.com, including the names of the prolific parents and runners-up.

Justin Timberlake Admits He's White

Former boy bander Justin Timberlake knows he's of English extraction, but is a little fuzzy on the details.

"I've had my genealogy studied and I want to say that I am of British descent.

"There was a British lad who was in a war, not sure which war, but he ran away from the war because he fell in love with an Indian girl, and that's where my family tree started." [Link]
He might be talking about Lieut. Henry Timberlake, who died in England in 1765 but by his own account was born in Virginia. The war in question was the French and Indian, and Henry did not run away from it. As for his love affair, it was evidently a case of under-the-table diplomacy.

In 1762, Timberlake escorted three Cherokee chiefs to London, including Ostenaco, with whom he had recently negotiated a peace treaty.
When Ostenaco and Timberlake arrived back in the Overhill towns of the Cherokee nation, they discovered that one of Ostenaco’s daughters had given birth to a son. Lo and behold, this was little Richard Timberlake, who had been fathered by Henry during his previous visit. [Link]
For what it's worth, the head of the Timberlake Family Association says he's been able to trace Justin's lineage no further back than 1867.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Daniel Boone Was a Man, Nothing More

The Boone Society now offers a DNA test to help you prove descent from Daniel, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. But it was the final graf in today's article that interested me most.

"The highly popular but historically inaccurate TV series 'Daniel Boone' (1964-70) gave new life to an old legend," [Kentucky State Parks historian Ron] Bryant said. "No, Daniel Boone never wore a coonskin cap, nor did he kill great numbers of Indians … he said maybe three that he knew of, but he hated the thought of shedding human blood. He was not the tall, muscular pioneer of fiction, but rather a slightly built man of about 5 feet 8 inches, who tended to put on weight in old age." [Link]
More disillusionment here.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Still and All, a Nice Tombstone

Virginia Hooks decided to honor her late husband by memorializing his part-time job.

So she put a picture of a whiskey still and a pair of moonshiners on Billy Joe Hooks' grave marker near Golden Pond, the tiny Trigg County community dubbed "Moonshine Capital of the World."

One of the moonshiners is Hooks, who died in 2004. He was 72.

"He made a little moonshine, but not enough to amount to anything," his widow said. "But he loved the history of it." [Link]

Feeling a Mite Pictish?

A geneticist at Ethnoancestry has developed a test for "Scottishness"—that is, "Pictishness."

Dr Jim Wilson, of Edinburgh University’s public health sciences department, claims his test can tell whether people are descended from the Picts, who inhabited Scotland until the 10th century.

The test, which is based on the DNA pattern of Scotland’s ancient inhabitants, is due to be launched this week and is expected to cost about £130. [Link]

Born to Rock

Rattle-N-Roll designs and sells birth announcements that look like retro concert posters. As a child of the Sixties, I can't help but wish my parents had been cool enough to send out something like this.

[via Drawn!]

Did He Marry His Reincarnated Wife?

The following item appeared in the Alexandria Gazette of June 3, 1818.

Curious Marriage.—An article from Brussels, of the 12th inst. says—"An inhabitant of Commines, M. Batin, died there on the 6th of this month, aged 84. This man was twice married, and what is very remarkable, his second wife was born on the very day that his first wife died, and he then declared that he would never have any other wife than this infant. In fact, he waited until she was twenty years old, when he married her. He was then sixty-four years of age; he had a daughter by her the first year of his marriage, and a second twenty years afterwards, in the month of January last; he leaves several children, the eldest of whom is sixty years of age, and the youngest scarcely two months. This man lived twenty years with his first wife, remained twenty years a widower, and his second marriage lasted also twenty years."

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Spam Obituaries

Ever get one of those spam e-mails with a really weird name in the reply-to field? William Ridenhour writes obits for these fictional folks.

Burbled H. Teeniest 1964 – 2006
The smallest man on earth until his timely death, Burbled H. Teeniest measured a mere 9 inches tall. His unusual first name came from having a mother with a terrible speech impediment. When entering his name into the Births Register, the registrar had such difficulty understanding her he gave up and made something up. And as she was burbling that’s exactly what came to mind. And it stuck, if for no other reason than his mother could say it. [Link, via Boing Boing]

Same-Named Siblings

Some Jamaicans over 50 are having trouble proving that they were born.

Large numbers of children were born without their births ever being registered. Some were registered, but with errors in the spelling of names that resulted in later problems. Others were registered, but without names.

In at least one ridiculous case, two sisters of different mothers but the same father, were given the same Christian and surnames and so registered. [Link]
Ridiculous? Perhaps, but not unprecedented. Mrs. John E. Barclay established in a 1968 TAG article that a cousin of mine, Jonathan Dunham of Edgartown, Mass., had two adult sons named Jonathan, each by a different wife. "It was not uncommon," she wrote, "where there were two wives for each to name a son after his father, even if the first was still living."

And be careful who you call "ridiculous." Heavyweight grillmaster George Foreman named all five of his sons "George Edward Foreman," and a daughter "Georgette."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Quiet Neighbors, But Lousy Resale Value

Residents of An Bang in Vietnam have been spending more on tombs for their relatives than on their own houses. Some of these elaborate structures take up more than 100 square meters of land, leading the local authority to limit their size to 9 square meters.

Thanh, a local man working as a construction worker, said that the trend began in 1991. A small tomb here costs at least US$7,000 while a big one normally costs around US$30,000.

If a family spends an amount VND150mil (US$9,375) on building tombs for their dead family members then other households feel they have to spend more than that.

The trend has forced many families to try even though they are in difficult economic situations. [Link]
To put this in perspective, per capita income in Vietnam last year was US$638.

Nic Nabs Costly Castle

Nicolas Cage has bought a Bavarian castle called Schloss Neidstein for genealogical reasons.

"Her ancestors are all from good old Bavaria," Cage, 42, tells the German magazine Bunte about his mother, dancer Joy Vogelsang.
The castle's previous owner, Alexander von Brand, 48, says the residence has been in his family since 1466 and he sold it reluctantly. "At the end, we only lived in the castle a few weeks each year," he tells Bunte. "Still, we tried to preserve our heritage and the center of our family."

He's pleased that Cage is the new owner: "While the one family loses its past, the other family attempts to regain its past – that's pure symmetry!" [Link]

Cheney's Ancestors No Longer in Undisclosed Location

The genealogical society in Gallia County, Ohio, snagged a prominent new member recently.

Vice President Dick Cheney was allowed to skip the usual formalities when he accepted honorary membership last month in the Ohio Genealogical Society's Gallia County chapter in southeast Ohio about 90 miles from Columbus. Society members Henny Evans and Mary James did the legwork and invited him to join, sending him photographs of his great-grandparents' tombstones and information about his great-aunt's homestead. [Link]
The Vice President's great-grandfather was a local legend in Gallia County for his hunting prowess, having once bagged three Texas lawyers on a single hunting trip.

Frankly, He Doesn't Give a Damn

One of the finalists in the World Series of Poker is Rhett Butler—an insurance agent from Rockville, Maryland.

Yes, his parents were big fans of the movie; there is even a family legend that Gable was a distant relative. Yes, he took plenty of ribbing growing up, but the name actually has paid off in adulthood.

"As I got older it has been great for business and other things. It would be great if I had an insurance agency in Atlanta, I would have made a fortune," he said. [Link]
Genealogy.com has a few generations of Clark Gable's ancestry.

Auntie Annie's Bicycle Trip

Peter Zheutlin is obsessed with his great-grandaunt Annie Kopchovsky, alias Annie Londonderry. In fact, he's written a book about the Boston woman's attempt to circle the globe on two wheels.

Kopchovsky, young working mother of three young children, set off in 1894 to settle an alleged wager - she reportedly bet $20,000 to $10,000 that a woman couldn’t travel around the world by bike. The terms further stipulated that she had to start with no money, complete the journey in 15 months or less, and earn $5,000 along the way.

"Her stories were completely incredible," Zheutlin said. "And I say ’incredible’ because often, they weren’t true."

Along the way, Kopchovsky, whose exact birthplace and date cannot be ascertained, gave interviews to different newspapers. Many of them were irreconcilable with the others. She may even have invented the bet itself, Zheutlin said, to draw attention to her endeavor. [Link]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I Wonder If She'd Date Me

AOL accidentally released search logs this week for 500,000 of its customers. The data is anonymized, but you can tell a lot about a person by the words and phrases she searches for. A lot, but not everything.

Take User 2708, for example. Is she a bitter ex-girlfriend, or a bitter ex-girlfriend who enjoys researching her New Hampshire ancestry? Here's a sampling of her search history:

  • revenge tactics
  • the woman's book of revenge
  • dirty tricks for chicks
  • how to humiliate someone
  • how to get revenge on an old lover
  • i hate my ex boyfriend
  • how to really make someone hurt for the pain they caused to someone else
  • the worst thing to send someone via email
  • what can i do to an old lover for revenge
  • mean revenge tactics
  • death records in hampstead new hampshire

Clansmen's Claims are 'Codswallop'

Ranald MacDonald of Edinburgh will be inaugurated next month as the first new Chief of the MacDonalds of Keppoch in 158 years. But some of his fellow clansmen believe that his claim to the title is, quite literally, illegitimate.

They maintain one of his ancestors, Alexander, was born in 1832 out of wedlock. And they are warning the new chief that there will be no welcome for him in their historic heartland.
At his home in Edinburgh's Lauriston Place, Mr MacDonald dismissed the illegitimacy claims as "codswallop". [Link]

Our Five Black Presidents

Dr. Leroy Vaughn has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Presidents Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Harding, and Coolidge had black ancestors. That is, so long as the doubt in question casts a very short shadow.

Everybody Loves the Irish

Americans who travel abroad should be prepared for anything. If confronted by an extremist who wishes you harm, take a deep breath, look him square in the eye, and say "Kiss me, I'm Irish!"

The US-based website Ancestry.com urges anyone eligible to apply for an Irish passport to do so and states that terrorists are far less likely to kidnap or attack an Irish citizen than an American.
[A] former soldier told The Times newspaper about the benefit garnered from carrying an Irish passport.

He said: “It’s not a political statement. It’s just that Irish documents carry very little baggage abroad. Ireland is a neutral country and it has never invaded anywhere else or even fought in a war.” [Link]
For Americans of recent Irish descent, getting an Irish passport may be easier than convincing Muqtada al-Sadr that you voted against George Dubya.

Say, Isn't That Charles de Gaulle?

Marilyn Johnson is the author of The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries—described in one review as an "uplifting, joyous, life-affirming read for people who ordinarily steer clear of uplifting, joyous, life-affirming reads."

Some of the qualities that show up in obits go beyond raising tomatoes. They can be rather charming, in a quirky kind of way. Johnson has collected some beauties.

"There's just so many," she said. "'He used his penis to do impressions of Charles de Gaulle' is a pretty good one. There's one [professional obituary writer] Larken Bradley did recently about some guy who was famous for swatting all the flies at the bar. They'd leave a fly swatter next to his stool at the bar." [Link]

Tour Guide Refuses to Wear Knickers

The owner of Walking Tours of Historic Boston descends from Paul Revere's son's wife's brother. Benjamin L. Edwards guides tours along the city's Freedom Trail, and has written an audio book for children—One April in Boston—that stars his nearly almost famous ancestor. As a former commercial printer, Edwards is confident that he "would've been completely comfortable back then."

Edwards might not have been so comfortable in his ancestors’ clothes, however. One of the most frequent questions he is asked on the Freedom Trail is how come he is not dressed in period costume like many other guides. (He does carry tricorner hats and Betsy Ross bonnets for the kids.)

The answer has less to do with a fear of knee socks and knickers and is more out of a desire to stand out from his competition.

“I want to be the guy who people ask, ‘Hey, why are you not dressed up?’ I want to be the tour guide who’s also the children’s book author,” he says. [Link]
[Photo source: Boston Tour by JB (license)]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What a $53 Difference a Day Makes

One North Carolina mother learned the hard way that even modern vital records can be incorrect.

Shaquanna Little is the proud mother of a six-month-old boy named Laron. He was born February 25. But that is not the date on Laron's birth certificate. The document shows his birth date as February 26.

Little said she didn't notice the mistake until days after she'd left Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville.
Little said the hospital's vital records department told her she'd have to pay $53 to have the birth certificate corrected or it would stay the same. [Link]
For an extra twenty bucks they'll change an "M" to an "F" and give you the daughter you've always wanted.

Soundex Sends Man to Prison

Soundex isn't just for genealogists. Cold-case investigators in Illinois have used it to track down the suspect in a pair of 1998 slayings.

According to Prospect Heights Detective Sgt. Al Steffen, Leobardo Barraza had been living in Colorado under an assumed name.

In the last several months, investigators used a computer program called Soundex that matches people to aliases.

"We picked up a possible alias in Colorado that led to an arrest record out there and found out [Barraza] was on probation," Steffen said. "We pulled [the mug shot], and it was him." [Link]
Note to self: after committing brutal crime, pick a fake surname that starts with a different letter.

Even Better Than Arquimedez Pozo

Sequoyah Stonecipher is destined to have the coolest name in the history of Major League Baseball. Right now, he's an All-American high-school player in San Diego.

His full name is Sequoyah Trueblood Stonecipher. He was named for his great grandfather on his mother’s side -- Sequoyah Evonne Trueblood, a Choctaw and Chickashee Indian from Oklahoma.
“Everyday people ask me about my name,” said Stonecipher, whose father’s German surname coincidentally has an Indian ring to it. “I think it’s a cool name.” [Link]
Sequoyah is bound to win The Arquimedez Pozo Award—named for a utility infielder whose only claim to fame was his unique moniker.

Art Imitates Family Historian

Humorist Art Buchwald rose from his disused deathbed to attend the Possible Dreams Auction on Martha's Vineyard Monday night. The dream he offered—to have him conduct an interview and write a family history—drew some of the highest bids of the evening.

Mr. Lee mercilessly coaxed audience members to raise their bids, cracking the gavel at $21,000. But 22 dreams later, Mr. Lee revealed that another family had come forward with an offer to match, and Mr. Buchwald agreed to write two family histories - bringing the total to $42,000.

"We're lifelong fans of Art Buchwald's," said Dan Burstein of Weston, Conn., the second bidder. "We think it will be very historic to have our family history told by Art." [Link]

Monday, August 07, 2006

Immigrant Ancestors on Both Sides of the Fence

Members of Congress are shaking their family trees, looking for immigrant ancestors. However long in the grave, such ancestors invariably rise up to support their descendants' views on illegal immigration.

"You can make any point with it," University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato noted of the myriad immigrant-ancestor stories emanating from Washington.

"Most of them came legally, so people who oppose (citizenship for illegal immigrants) can say, 'My people did it the right way.' Then, people who want the immigration bill say, `This is what America is based on, immigration,"' Sabato said. [Link]

Couple Asks Court to Make Son Younger

Dan and Sue Hostetler of Ohio adopted a boy from Liberia last year. The official records said he was 14, but the Hostetlers weren't so sure. Doctors subjected their son to a battery of tests, and concluded that he is probably two years younger than the records suggest.

On Aug. 8, the Hostetlers will take the medical evidence to Wayne County Probate Court and legally change Momodu's birth year from 1991 to 1993.

"Momodu will be upset if we change his birth date," Sue Hostetler said with a chuckle. "Now he'll be years away from driving." [Link]

A Pre-Wright Flight in Georgia?

Descendants of a Georgia mountain man are convinced that he mastered flight decades before the Wright brothers took off. "I would just put my life on it that it's a true story," says Roma Sue Turner Collins, whose grandmother swore she saw Micajah Clark Dyer's contraption aloft.

Dyer's flying machine looked more like a boat carried by a balloon and the 19th-century inventor reportedly built rails up the side of Rattlesnake Mountain then slid the craft down the mountain, gathering speed to take off into a cornfield across a nearby creek.

Family members are hoping someone eventually will build a full-scale version of his machine, listed as Patent No. [1]54,654 as his "Apparatus for Navigating the Air." [Link]
Micajah, a man ahead of his time, also has his own blog.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Get Born, Get a Free T-Shirt

The Australian government is advising citizens that everyone should be counted in the August 8th census—even the recently enwombed.

And to reiterate this to parents, every baby born from now until census night will get a free T-shirt, emblazoned with the reminder: “I just made the count.” [Link]

Instant KKKarma Gets Texas Reporter

Amarillo Globe-News reporter Joe Chapman requested some KKK membership documents from 1923-25, hoping to "out" some local families. Halfway down the first page, he found the name of his own great-grandfather—the man he'd been named for.

After telling a few co-workers of my surreal discovery, I got back to work and finished up the afternoon's task. The next day, I went to my parents' house and told my mom, Karen Chapman, what I had learned.

Her response was a casual, "Really?" She said, no, she hadn't ever known Grandpa Joe to have been in the Klan. With a bit of humor, she admitted if she had ever guessed, she would have thought her other granddad, who was more bigoted, might have been. [Link (reg. req.)]

Da Vinci Code Blue! This Theory's Still Alive!

Was Dan Brown right? One respected genealogist has evidence that the Priory of Sion so important to The Da Vinci Code wasn't dreamed up in the 1950s as critics allege, but quite a bit earlier.

I, Arlene Eakle, professional genealogist and PhD in English History, know that the Antiquaries believed Sion was established as early as 1099, and connected to the Knights Templars with the same grandmaster serving both. Then in 1188, the two were restructured with separate leadership and treasuries. These early genealogists, for that is what the Antiquaries were, also knew that Sion supported the Merovingian royal lineage, still working closely with and in some enterprises, still connected to the Knights Templars. I know because I researched and documented not only their vision but also their achievement.
One idea that intrigues me is the real possibility that Prince Michael Stewart of Albany could be a direct lineal, and living descendant from Mary Magdalene. [Link, via Genealogy Blog]
Prince Michael Stewart of Albany is Belgium-born Michael Lafosse, who claims descent from "Bonnie Prince Charlie." Is he also a descendant of Jesus? You be the judge.

The Afterlife of Afterbirth

A midwife in Memphis offers "placenta prints" to her clients who just can't let anything go to waste.

For those who want a print, it must be done within hours of the birth. When stamped on high quality art paper, the placenta's natural pattern resembles a tree, [Kim] Mosny said, and many of her clients have the print enhanced into a family tree and framed.

But she knows it's not for everyone. "You're definitely still on the folksy, granola, hippy, holistic thing to ever want a copy of your placenta," she said. [Link]

Take Stock of Your Family

Demetrius at Your Brother Kings has a great idea for an "extremely elaborate Christmas gift." He wants to resurrect an old family business and keep it from making money.

There was a company - a corporation - that our family owned well over one hundred years ago, that operated out of Detroit, Michigan. That company no longer exists in any form, as near as I have been able to tell. The State of Michigan has no records indicating it is still on the books. What I am thinking of doing is “reviving” that company for strictly nostalgic purposes. It would be a real company, registered with the state and all, and would issue real shares of stock and all that. But it would have no assets and no liabilities, and would be expressly barred from ever having such things by its Articles of Incorporation. [Link]
Here's hoping he succeeds in making family history a profitless pursuit.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Annie Moore Found Living in Iowa

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Annie Moore has been the object of a frantic search since genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak announced a $1,000 reward for information on her fate. Now comes news that Annie—the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island—is alive and well, a resident of the Cedar Rapids Home for the Aged.

Mrs. Annie (Moore) Donnelly is in remarkably good health for a 129-year-old woman, and is the reigning arm-wrestling champion at the home. She spoke to The Genealogue on Wednesday morning.

"Yes, I was the first at Ellis Island," she confirms. "I heard they were giving away a $10 gold coin to the first person off the ship, so I ran to grab it. Might've pushed down a couple of old folks. My brothers were fast runners, so I kicked 'em in the shins."

Mrs. Donnelly was surprised to learn that genealogists were looking for her, but not surprised that they could find no trace of her.

"Never trusted the government," she says. "Me and my husband never got a marriage license, never had any births certified. Census takers would come once in a while, but we'd beat 'em off the porch with a stick of wood."

Now that she has been found, Mrs. Donnelly is anxious to regain her anonymity.

"I don't care to have visitors. You tell that Smolenyak woman to send me my thousand dollars, and then leave me the hell alone!"
[Photo credit: Joan by Jon Eben Field (license)]

Home of the Mob Dons

Relatives of late mobster John Gotti can rest easy: He ain't going nowhere.

A construction company, Durante Brothers, sought permission to sell the assets of St. John's Cemetery in Queens to satisfy a $500,000 judgment. The company listed the main gate, two office buildings, the machine shop, garage and equipment -- but not tombstones and graves -- the New York Daily News reported. [Link]
The Find a Grave listing for St. John's shows it to be the final resting place of many famous mafiosi, like Vito Genovese and Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania. Lesser members of their "families" may be found interred in vacant lots throughout New Jersey.

Youngest Golf Champ Gets Older

Tom Morris holds the record for youngest major champion in the history of golf, having won his first British Open in 1868 at the age of 17. But he was not quite as young as once thought.

For years, it was thought Young Tom had been born in St. Andrews on May 10, 1851.

"Up until somebody went looking for it, everybody had only found his baptismal certificate, not his actual birth certificate," said Peter Lewis, who manages the British Golf Museum at St. Andrews.

A friend writing a book on the Morris family located Young Tom's birth certificate at the New Register House in Edinburgh, Scotland. The actual date of birth is April 20, 1851. [Link]

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Dream Job

The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has one of the best genealogy departments on the planet, so this job they posted on craigslist caught my eye and held it fast.

If you are interested in applying for the Genealogy shelver position, you must have completed the tenth grade and be able to shelve and retrieve materials stored in specific numerical or alphabetical order. Strong physical stamina is needed for standing, walking, stooping, and stretching more than 80% of the work time. [Link]
I can do this! I've been putting books on shelves for years, and nobody stoops better than me. Sure, it only pays $7.98 an hour, and the commute from Maine will be a drag, but the free access to Ancestry.com during my lunch break will make it all worthwhile. I just hope my first day doesn't end like this.

Census Stalkers

A certain Mr. M. is both Canadian and libertarian. So when his 2006 census form arrived, he was reluctant to oblige the government.

M. tore open the envelope, perused the 52 questions and concluded: “They want to know what language my parents speak. That’s none of their business. My parents don’t live here.”
The questionnaire found its way into the trash bin.

Foolish Mr. M. didn't realize how persistent Canadian census takers can be. They slipped postcards under his door, sent a particularly smelly representative to stake out his apartment, and finally ganged up on him.
A few days later, on Friday night, the bell to M.’s apartment rang. M. and his wife had invited two friends for a glass of wine.

When M.’s wife opened the door, she discovered four people waiting outside, two of whom were unexpected: the local enumerator had invited another local enumerator to pay M. a weekend visit.

M. was flabbergasted.

“Maybe they are sitting outside, watching if there’s activity inside the apartment,” he said. [Link]

All in a Day's Work for a Clerk

Monday's Stamford Advocate had a great article in which Connecticut city clerks shared their oddest experiences.

"We do get some strange people," said Andy Garfunkel, Norwalk's town clerk. "Maybe not so much strange requests, but strange people."

A person seeking a change in name and gender on vital records once offered to drop some clothing as evidence that she was no longer male, Garfunkel said. A man has visited several times in recent years to fill out a marriage license -- but the bride-to-be has yet to appear. One man changed his name to a number, but Garfunkel could not remember whether it was "6," "7" or "9."
In Greenwich, a woman once asked her fiance to leave the room when she had to record her age, said Barbara Lowden, assistant registrar of vital records. A woman stormed out of the Norwalk office once after realizing the man she was with brought her in to fill out a marriage license, not "some paperwork," Garfunkel said. [Link]

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