Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dadgum It, That's a Good Question

Craig at GeneaBlogie poses an interesting question: Why do we so often slip into a hillbilly accent when pretending to talk like old folks—even if our folks grew up in Manhattan or Saskatchewan? The answer he provides cites Looney Tunes, so it must be correct.

Longest Liverpudlian Lineage Sought

Liverpool is celebrating its 800th birthday by seeking out the family with the deepest roots in the city.

Anyone living in Merseyside who can prove their family tree goes back further in Liverpool than anyone else will be invited, with three of their relatives, to take pride of place in a once-in-a-century procession through the city on 'Liverpool 800 Day' on August 28th.

Those who trace the earliest Liverpool-born ancestor will also earn the title of 'Liverpool's Oldest Family', as well as a fantastic heritage weekend in the city in October, which includes:
  • 2 nights for family of four at Hard Days Night Hotel. The world's first Beatle's concept hotel. (Opens October 2007)
  • VIP tour of the prestigious Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Liverpool. (October 19 - Jan 13 2008)
  • Free annual family membership - two adults and two children - to the National Trust.
  • VIP tour of National Trust-owned Beatles childhood homes and related attractions.
  • VIP tour of St George's Hall - which re-opens on April 23 2007 after a £23m restoration.
  • Free, special-edition copy of 'Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History', by University of Liverpool Press. [Link]
What happens if two or twenty or two-hundred people can trace their lineage back to the same Liverpool resident? Will there be room in Aunt Mimi's kitchen?

Company Offers Solution to High Copying Fees

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
The announcement that the National Archives intends to significantly raise its copying fees is bad news for genealogists, but great news for one Washington, D. C., entrepreneur.

Sandy Berger is best known as Bill Clinton's National Security Advisor, but he considers his new job just as vital. As founder and president of DocuDirect, Berger says he can deliver documents at half the price of other companies.

"At DocuDirect we cut out the middleman, saving you both time and money," he explains. "I know the Archives, and it knows me. In fact, some of the security guards even carry around my picture."

Familiarity with the Archives is just one part of the "DocuDirect advantage," Berger says. The former presidential advisor personally handles each request, wearing white gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints and clothing with extra-large pockets. Unlike other researchers who provide their clients with copies that are sometimes illegible, Berger delivers the original records.

"You'll receive your ancestor's actual Civil War pension record," he promises. "No matter how big the file is, you'll get every page—even if I have to stuff them in my socks."

Already fielding more requests than his small office can handle, Berger is planning to expand capacity once the fee hikes are implemented.

"I'm on the South Beach Diet," he confides. "I should be able to fit a half-dozen pension files in my pants come August."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Talkin' 'bout Their Generations

Neil Howe and William Strauss have made a cottage industry of identifying the distinguishable generations in English and American history. According to them, my Revolutionary War ancestor Moses Dunham was of the Republican Generation, while his son Lemuel was of the Compromise Generation: "Compliantly coming of age, [he] offered a new erudition, expertise, and romantic sensibility to [his] heroic elders' 'Age of Improvement.'" And I thought he was just a poor farmer!

The official website has their current list of generations, from the Arthurian to the Millennial. See Wikipedia for even more generational labels.

The World's Oldest Blogger

107-year-old Olive Riley is a great-great-grandmother and a blogger. Here's how her first post at The Life of Riley, dated Feb. 16, began:

Good Morning everyone. My name is Olive Riley. I live in Australia near Sydney. I was born in Broken Hill on Oct. 20th 1899. Broken Hill is a mining town, far away in the centre of Australia. My Friend, Mike, has arranged this blog for me. He is doing the typing and I am telling the stories. He thinks it’s a good idea to tell what’s going on. He already made a film about me a few years back and people liked that, so they might like this blog too, he says. We’ll see. [Link, via OhmyNews]

Perpetual Postage

The U. S. Postal Service is floating the idea of issuing "forever stamps"—first-class postage that can be purchased now and used at any time in the future.

"You say nothing lasts forever, but this stamp will," [Postal Service spokesman Mark] Saunders said of the forever concept, which some foreign postal administrations, including Britain's and France's, have embraced.

"When your great-great-great grandchildren go through your junk drawer at home, when they are excavating your house, they'll say, 'What are these?' -- and they'll still be able to use them." [Link]
I would hope that any great-great-great grandchildren I leave behind would be smart enough to sell those antique stamps on eBay instead of sticking them on envelopes.

Monday, February 26, 2007

She Didn't Stay for Lunch

Chicago Sun-Times business reporter Francine Knowles got some help tracing her roots from Megan—who apparently has given up sleep as a condition of her new position at Francine was helped also by the long memory of her father, who remembered the former slave enumerated with his family in 1930.

Mama Creasy was apparently psychic. According to my dad, she lived to be either 115 or 116 years old, and on her last day on this earth, she told everyone earlier in the day she was going to die at noon. My dad recalled, "When daddy came into the house after farming out in the field that morning, she said, 'I told you I was going to die at 12 o'clock.' She said, 'You all have been good to me, and I want to thank you.' She took her last breath as a bell outside tolled noon." [Link]

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Not the Best Man For the Job

Chris Adams thought he was marrying Gemma Mortell on Valentine's Day. But upon checking the marriage certificate after their honeymoon, he discovered that he had actually married his best man.

Gemma had mistakenly signed her name in the 'witness' space - and best man Paul Hickleston had put his signature where the bride's should have been.

Chef Chris said: "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw what we'd done. I've known my best man for over 20 years and he's a great guy - but I don't want him as my missus." [Link]

A Patriot on the Wrong Side of Town

William Dawes also took a midnight ride on April 18, 1775, but his name didn't rhyme with "Listen my children and you shall hear." Now it appears that the attention given the long-neglected patriot in recent years has been paid in the wrong ZIP code.

It looks like even the few dedicated tourists who've bothered to pay their respects to Dawes have been solemnly standing on the wrong side of town.

Though plaques and published guides place Dawes's remains alongside his relatives in the King's Chapel Burying Ground downtown, veteran tour guide Al Maze recently discovered evidence suggesting that Dawes's final resting place is in fact in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. [Link]

They Should Clean Their Yard More Often

Bao Wenguang's mother found a century-old document that helped establish his descent from Genghis Khan.

The document was found in 2002 when his mother was tidying up the courtyard in the family's ancestral home, but Bao is only now making the find publicly known.

The "Bao family tree", is 6 meters long, 1.45 meters wide and together with other documents [cover] a period of more than 200 years. [Link]

Genealogy Makes Strange Bedfellows

A couple of notable genealogists have discovered that the family histories of two presidential aspirants—Strom Thurmond and Al Sharpton—intersected in the antebellum South.

According to the Daily News, the genealogists found documents establishing that Sharpton's great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather. Coleman Sharpton was later freed.

The newspaper said the lead researcher was Megan Smolenyak, the chief family historian for and an author of several published books on genealogy. Another researcher on the project was Tony Burroughs, who teaches genealogy at Chicago State University. [Link]
When first told of the connection, a nephew of Senator Thurmond exclaimed, "That's a bunch of baloney," while a niece graciously allowed that "it is wonderful that [Sharpton] was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was."

Were he still alive, the Senator would undoubtedly be thrilled, given his close relations with the black community.

Director: Good Odds It's the Son of God

Those caskets found in Israel contained the bones of their occupants, and mitochondrial DNA was reportedly extracted from the boxes labeled "Yeshua" and "Mariamne" (better known as Jesus and Mary Magdalene). Critics argue that the names on the ossuaries were common among Jews of the era, to which Lost Tomb of Jesus director Simcha Jacobovici responds, Consider the odds.

"There are really only two possibilities," says director Jacobovici. "Either this cluster of names represents the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. Or some other family, with this very same constellation of names, existed at precisely the same time in history in Jerusalem."

To calculate the odds, Mr. Jacobovici took the data to University of Toronto mathematician Dr. Andrey Feuerverger. Factoring in the commonality of these names in first-Century Israel, Dr. Feuerverger puts the odds of this tomb not belonging to Jesus and his family at one in 600. [Link]

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Did Sitting Bull Jump the Border?

Now comes news that the bones of Sitting Bull his descendants want to move may actually be in Canada.

Jerome First, a 70-year-old Montana Sioux and the great-grandson of Sitting Bull's close friend, Chief Medicine Bear, claims the latest uproar over the bones is irrelevant because Sitting Bull was secretly buried in the Turtle Mountains of southern Manitoba.

The Turtle Mountains straddle the border between southwestern Manitoba and North Dakota.

"They faked his grave," First told CanWest News Service on Friday, "because Sitting Bull had visions that there would be a fight over his body." [Link]

There's No Shame in Showing Up Early

On an episode of the BBC Wales family history show Coming Home, Petula Clark learns that her birth was "premature."

Jenny Newman tells the performer her parents were married in May 1932, only six months before she was born.

"That is nice, I like the idea of that - I was their love child!" says the singer. [Link]

The Sins of the Great-Grandfather

Among the weighty issues being debated in the press are whether Barack Obama is black enough to be president, and whether Mitt Romney's great-grandfather is fit to be the great-grandfather of a president.

Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice.

Romney's great-grandmother, Hannah Hood Hill, was the daughter of polygamists. She wrote vividly in her autobiography about how she "used to walk the floor and shed tears of sorrow" over her own husband's multiple marriages. [Link]

Not Yet a Dead Letter

Viktor Chumakov's mission in life is to save the seventh letter of the Russian alphabet from extinction and, by doing so, preserve the traditional spellings of some 2,500 Russian surnames (including Khrushchyov and Gorbachyov).

The letter "ё" (pronounced "yo") first appeared in 1795, but fell on hard times when printers began dropping the dots to save a few kopeks. The letter was also hanging out in the wrong neighborhoods.

Part of the reason for the demise of the letter 'ё' could be because of its unsavory associations with Russian 'mat' -- the colorful language within a language that constitutes Russian swear words. Very few words begin with 'ё' in Russian, and most of the ones that do would make a sailor blush.

But Chumakov says he is not deterred by the letter's reputation -- he has written three books on the history of the 'ё' and a dictionary of words that contain the letter. To date, there are 12,500 ordinary words and 2,500 surnames. And he didn't include a single curse. [Link]
Those two little dots do make a difference. Without them, a Russian bride might be given a "solityor" (tapeworm) instead of a "soliter" (diamond).

Surrealist DNA

Salvador Dali left no descendants, but forensic scientist Michael Rieders found the artist's DNA on a pair of nasal feeding tubes used during a 1984 hospitalization. They had been preserved by "two of Dali's closest friends."

"I'm not 100% sure why [they kept them]," said Dr Rieders, a toxicologist and lab director at NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Philadelphia, "but I now had an artefact that I was reasonably sure would contain some of Dali's DNA."
And why would a scientist want Dali's DNA? To test it for signs of genius (and/or madness), and to authenticate works attributed to him.
"We now have the art world very interested in using this Dali DNA reference as a way of looking to see if some of the other objects and artwork out there could perhaps be Dali's."

One piece in particular, a small watercolour called The Snail and the Angel, has a brown stain on it that is supposedly Dali's semen. The authenticity of that painting is not in doubt, but Dr Rieders thinks it would be a good place to start to try out the DNA fingerprint. [Link]

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

A team of filmmakers that includes Titanic director James Cameron will present evidence on Monday that Jesus' burial site has been found.

The story starts in 1980 in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood, with the discovery of a 2,000 year old cave containing ten coffins. Six of the ten coffins were carved with inscriptions reading the names: Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Jofa (Joseph, identified as Jesus’ brother), Judah son of Jesua (Jesus’ son - the filmmakers claim).
Although the cave was discovered nearly 30 years ago and the casket inscriptions decoded ten years ago, the filmmakers are the first to establish that the cave was in fact the burial site of Jesus and his family. [Link]
A film about the discovery will be broadcast on the international Discovery Channel, Britain's Channel 4, Canada’s Vision and Israel's Channel 8. I hope the film is better than the website.

It's Not Easy Making Census

The U.S. Census Bureau has spent years figuring out how to phrase the six questions they'll ask everyone in 2010.

Question No. 3 asks gender, with the admonition to "Mark ONE box" -- male or female. Whether the Census Bureau included that instruction or left it out in the 2005 field test, the results were the same. Either way, 0.05% of those asked -- that would mean 150,000 in a population of 300 million -- still checked both. But the instruction made the question longer and more visible, and fewer people skipped it.

Question No. 4 asks age -- and for a computer double-check, date of birth -- because so many people seem to get it wrong. Adding instructions to "report babies as age 0" when they're less than a year old, offends some people, census research suggests. But in the 2005 trial it improved the response rate among people who otherwise couldn't decide how to answer for a six-month old. [Link (reg. req.)]

She Must Have Been a Handsome Woman

Lee Hardin Woody has discovered that she is a second cousin, nine times removed of George Washington. Her father isn't surprised.

He said, "Some people think the picture we have of my mother" -- Mary Gray Riley -- "kind of looks like Washington." [Link]

Is Nothing Sacred When Selling Soda?

A Dr Pepper promotion that involved finding a hidden coin worth $10,000 in Boston's 347-year-old Granary Burying Ground has been called off after city officials locked the gates to prevent contestants from entering.

Cadbury Schweppes PLC, which makes Dr Pepper, canceled the Boston portion of the 23-city coin hunt promotion yesterday after acknowledging it had stashed the coin, in a leather pouch, amid the remains of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and other historic figures. The coin is still missing.

"The coin is inside the park," Cadbury Schweppes spokesman Greg Artkop told the Globe. "We agree with the Park Department's decision to lock the gates. We wouldn't do anything to desecrate this cemetery." [Link]
... except hide a valuable prize inside and invite people to trample the graves of Boston's ancient dead—all to sell a few more cases of a beverage I wouldn't drink on a dare.

No Glaswegian Pocahontases

A story made the rounds in Scotland that some dim-witted couple named their baby "Pocahontas" after seeing the 1995 Disney movie. Joel Conn of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research has established that this is a myth.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, he confirmed that no-one named Pocahontas has been recorded by the General Register Office for Scotland since at least 1974. The Office for National Statistics also revealed no record of anyone with the Native American name in England or Wales since at least 1944.

Mr Conn, a 31-year-old Glasgow-based solicitor, said: "I am not ashamed to say that I believed it was possible at first. [Link]
Conn's next job: disproving the existence of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.

Genealogist Finds the Lord

Lula Joughin Dovi has written a lengthy piece for the St. Petersburg Times about the search for her half-sister Roberta—born in 1924, the child of her father's second wife. The mystery of Roberta's fate was cleared up a few years ago by an English cousin and fellow genealogist, Philip Allen.

"Hello, Lula, I just had to tell you about this," Philip wrote in his e-mail. "Did you know that your half-sister married the younger son of an English duke?"

In an idle moment at work he had been on the Internet looking for Joughins in California, when he came across the name. He saw that Lord Edward Eugene Fernando Montagu, second son of the ninth duke of Manchester, had married Roberta Herold Joughin (his fifth wife) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on Sept. 28, 1953.

Roberta had died in 1964 in Los Angeles. [Link]

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Alphabetize Your Tommies has begun adding World War I British Army service and pension records, starting with 100,000 records for A and B surnames. If your ancestor's name began with "zed," you might have to wait until 2008.

They reveal intriguing personal details, such as how Pte Thomas Beedham, a 34-year-old fitter from Leicester, was "admonished" and fined four days pay for absenting himself from a draft on Aug 28, 1916. The forms also show how Pte John William Ballinger, of 1bn Manchester Regiment, had a "distinctive" scar on his right leg and how one soldier was almost 64 when he fought. [Link]
To the question "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" the British Army evidently answered, "So long as you fit the uniform."

A Peculiar Example of a Peculiar Institution

Sherrod Bryant was a typical wealthy slave owner in Tennessee prior to the Civil War, but he differed from his slave-holding neighbors in one respect: he was black.

Today, the notion of a black man owning black slaves seems contradictory — Bryant himself was a free black — and perhaps even hypocritical. According to Bryant's descendants, however, their ancestor, who was never a slave, was simply following the normal pattern of life for a rich landowner in the Upper South.

"I think at some point some of the members (of the family) might not have looked upon it very favorably, but the more we discuss it, the more we suddenly realize that to gain wealth during that time, if you had a lot of property, you had to have slaves to help you cultivate it," said Carl Bryant, a fourth-generation descendant of Sherrod. [Link]

The Sitting Bull Memorial Snack Bar

Sitting Bull's descendants want his remains removed from South Dakota to the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana because they object to the "improvements" planned for his burial place.

The catalyst for the great-grandchildren's decision apparently was a proposal by the nonprofit Sitting Bull Monument Foundation, which recently purchased the grave site from a private owner. According to its Web site, the foundation's plans include preservation and protection of the grave site and development of an educational and cultural center and museum. It would also include riverfront recreational development, an amphitheater, snack bar, restaurant and gift shop. [Link]

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Surprise, You're a Girl!

A young man from South Africa named Surprise Ndlovu was surprised to learn that his birth certificate says he is female. This means that he can't get his national identification documents and proceed with his studies—at least not without undergoing several rounds of expensive surgery.

"My life is doomed," he said on Wednesday, holding back tears.

"I wanted to become a social worker, but now it seems I can't even become a truck driver.

"How can I get a driver's licence without an ID book?" [Link]

Her Work Is Sometimes in Tents

Textile expert Loreen Finkelstein has matched up a 2-foot-by-2 1/2-foot fabric panel found at Mount Vernon with a gaping hole in the tent George Washington used as his headquarters at Valley Forge. The missing fragment will eventually be sewed back in place.

The tent was taken down for conservation in October 2003 and brought to Finkelstein's laboratory in Williamsburg, Va. During that process, Finkelstein was also called upon to evaluate some of Washington's clothing at his Mount Vernon estate.

It was while doing that work that Finkelstein became aware of tent fragments at Mount Vernon. One remnant in particular looked like it could be the missing piece, Finkelstein said Wednesday.

She went back to Williamsburg and made a template of the hole, which she brought back to Mount Vernon in April 2005 for comparison. It matched almost perfectly, she said, noting that further confirmation came from analysis of the thread count and stitching technique. [Link]

Columbus Sailed a Spanish Jew in 1492?

Dr. Cecil Roth discusses in an interview evidence that Christopher Columbus was a Spaniard and a Jew:

There was an old gentleman in New York who noticed that on the right-hand side on the top of some of Columbus’s letters there was a little squiggle, and he remembered that his father used to write Baruch HaShem at the top, right-hand corner of all his letters. He tried to read these marks as B’ezras HaSham and thus to show that Columbus tried to reveal his Judaism by putting two Hebrew letters at the top of every letter he wrote. He wasted quite a considerable fortune on this rather pathetic and ludicrous attempt.
His interviewer, Rabbi William Berkowitz, adds this excellent bit of apocrypha:
Whenever the name of Columbus comes up, I recall the story of the Jewish immigrant who appeared before the examiner and was exceedingly nervous. After he gave his name and address the next question was about when he had arrived in America. Instead of saying 1941, he said 1491. The examiner turned to him and said, “Why didn’t you wait another year; you could have come with Columbus!” [Link]

A Curious Cure for Hiccups

Leon Hale was recently diagnosed with a sty, which put him in mind of the home remedies of his youth. His mother prescribed laxatives for every ailment, while her maid found cures in the broom closet.

When my son was a baby, we were visiting in the home of his grandmother, and he developed a long-lasting case of hiccups. Nothing we could do for him stopped those hiccups.

I had gone off to the drugstore to get something else to try. When I came back, he was asleep at last, and he had a broom straw in his hair. It was put there by Ida the maid, who worked in that home for decades.

Today you can look in almost any reference dealing with folk medicine and it'll show that a broom straw placed in the hair is a remedy for hiccups. [Link]

Harrison Tyler's Late-Born Lineage

Randy reported something cool tonight over at Genea-Musings: a grandson of President John Tyler (1790-1862) is still alive, and lives in his grandfather's Virginia home, Sherwood Forest Plantation.

Take a moment or two to absorb that. John Tyler, our tenth chief executive, was born in 1790, when George Washington still had nine years to live, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, 36 years each. The Tyler who now lives in the family home is neither President Tyler’s great-great grandson nor his great-grandson but his grandson. In the person of Harrison Tyler, in other words, we Americans are still only a couple of generations removed from the men who founded this Republic. [Link]
As Randy points out, Harrison is the result of two randy old men fathering children: President Tyler at age 63, and his son Lyon Gardiner Tyler at age 75. My paternal grandfather would be 96 were he alive today. Harrison's would be nearly 217.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

William B. Lapham, Petulant Historian

The foremost genealogist and historian in Oxford County, Maine, in the 19th century was William B. Lapham—born in my hometown of Greenwood (through no fault of his own) in 1828. This temperance advocate wrote histories of five Oxford County towns, but not of his native community, whose residents he believed were too fond of their rum.

Certain families were omitted in his histories, and one has the nagging suspicion they were omitted out of spite. In his Centennial History of Norway (1886) he managed to blame any errors and omissions in the genealogical register on those who had contributed data and those who had not.

It is frequently the case that those who have neglected to send in their records are the ones who find most fault with the compiler of the book, and it will probably be so in this case. Circulars were sent by the committee to every family in town and to many out of town, in which the kind of information desired was clearly set forth; not more than half these circulars were filled and returned. The compiler has also written hundreds of letters bearing upon the same subject, many of which still remain unanswered. Where an early family has no representative left in town, the compiler has made every effort to obtain the desired information from other sources, and generally with success, but families resident in the town, who had been furnished with the circular, knew what was going on and what was required, and who neglected to respond have not been further appealed to, and if they are left out, it is certainly their own fault. There is no doubt that errors in dates will be found. No genealogical work was ever published without more or less of them, and such errors are quite as often the fault of the person furnishing the material, as of the compiler. [pp. 453f]

A Hero and His Heirloom

James Van Iveren heard a woman's cries for help in the apartment upstairs, so he grabbed a 39-inch cavalry sword and rushed to her aid.

Sword in hand, he bounded up the stairs, kicked in the door and confronted a man who turned out to be alone - watching a pornographic movie.

"Now I feel stupid," Van Iveren said.

Worse yet, police seized his sword - a family heirloom - carted him to jail and referred the case to a prosecutor who charged Van Iveren with three criminal counts.

"This really is nothing," Van Iveren insisted, "nothing but a mistake." [Link]

Sister Bites Her Lip

Two sisters in Zimbabwe, Beauty Tunha and Siphelile Magaya, got into an argument over who should erect the stone on their brother's grave. A sibling offered to contribute a bag of cement if the sisters shared the cost of a second bag.

But this did not go down well with Tunha, who opposed the idea, saying Magaya was supposed to buy the cement this time around since she had bought the cement that was used to build their late mother's grave.

As the argument continued, Tunha suddenly rose from her chair and started assaulting her younger sister, biting off her lower lip. [Link]

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Be Easier to Spell

Dr. Leonard Garry, wife Linda, and their kids have reclaimed the family's original Italian surname: Giarraputo. Leonard's father had changed the name to avoid discrimination in the insurance business.

Three months of paperwork and a couple of trips to Motor Vehicles later, the Garrys officially became the Giarraputos in October. The doctor's patients were fine with the change, but, just in case, he still answers to Dr. Garry or just "Dr. G."

Giarraputo's daughter Brianna Rose, 9, was thrilled the name translated to "wild rose," while the youngest, 6-year-old Megan, still is grappling with the spelling. [Link]

Arsenic and Old Face

Robert Muscutt's great-great-grandmother Mary Ball was the last woman executed in Coventry. Whenever he wants to see her face, he has only to visit the Little Park Street Police Station's "Black Museum."

As he signed copies of his book, A Life for a Life: The Real Story of Mary Ball, in the Coventry police museum, he looked up at the death mask of his relative and said: "My feeling is that she should be more pitied that pilloried.
Mary's only crime was to buy a "penny-worth" of arsenic three months before her husband's death to "kill bugs."
Instead, she put the poison on a shelf at her home in Back Lane, Nuneaton.

When Thomas returned from a fishing trip complaining of feeling ill, Mary casually suggested he took the "salts" on the shelf as they would do him good. [Link]

Capital Improvements Are Needed

The Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D. C., is celebrating its bicentennial this year. The resting place of such notables as J. Edgar Hoover, Mathew Brady, and John Philip Sousa has been the victim of neglect for decades.

Several thousand tombstones need to be reset or have fallen down. A third of the 60 original crypts collapsed long ago and are gone. And of those remaining, about two-thirds "need serious work," [cemetery board vice-chairman Patrick] Crowley said in an interview. "We keep our fingers crossed they don't come down."
Despite its name, the cemetery was not established by the government, but was among the first private cemeteries in Washington, open to the celebrated as well as the common deceased. Lore is that it was dubbed the Congressional Cemetery in hopes of securing federal funding. [Link]
The cemetery's website hasn't been neglected. In fact, it's one of the best I've seen, with photos of stones and vaults, digitized death certificates and obituaries, interment records, and family histories.

Look for the Gretna Green

Arlene H. Eakle blogged last night about "Gretna Greens"—out-of-town spots that welcomed eloping couples.

Military posts on the frontier, like Crown Point NY, Southwest Point TN, could be gretnas. People from border states along international boundaries for Canada and Mexico often slipped over the boundary to marry. River Towns along the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Connecticut, the Hudson, the Missouri Rivers. Keokuk, Lee County, IA was a gretna green along the Mississippi; it was also a favored place of marriage for Irish ancestors coming both from the Eastern states and up the River. [Link]

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pencil Not Included

Even if you don't own a laptop, you can still bring your delete key to the archives.

[via Gizmodo]

Teacher Confesses to Having Presidential Progenitor

Scott Roosevelt, a history teacher in Fremont, California, came out of the closet recently. He admitted that he is the great-grandson of a great president.

Even when he finally confessed to students this month his relationship to FDR — rumors had been circulating throughout the school since fall — Roosevelt seemed hesitant to divulge the information, as if he feared people's perception of him would change, students said.

Students Arun Bhatia and Fahad Khan called it "crazy" that their teacher is related to a former president and described Roosevelt as a celebrity at American High, but most students said their opinion of the instructor has not changed.

"We just think he's a regular guy. He's a teacher," student Eleanor Field said. [Link]

For Better or For Hearse

More details have emerged about the cemetery wedding planned in Pacific, Missouri. Scott Amsler and his fiancée Miranda Patterson enjoy tooling around in a 1965 hearse named "Edgar."

She received Edgar as an engagement gift and had only one stipulation: The wedding had to be outside, in a gazebo.

Her worries were laid to rest while she and Amsler drove to her dad's house. While traveling on Interstate 44, Patterson spotted a gazebo on a hilltop, only to find it was in a graveyard. No worries.

"The view was just gorgeous," she said. "I said, `This is where I want to get married.'" [Link]

Hockey Player Did His Homework

If anyone doubts that Johnstown Chiefs defenseman John Adams is related to two presidents, they can just look at his parents' fridge.

“The second president’s father, (Deacon) John Adams, it was off one of his brothers’ lines,” said Adams, who sat out Johnstown’s 3-2 win over visiting Trenton because of an injury. “I’m John Adams XIII. I don’t put the Roman numeral in my name though.”
“My grandmother has all the lineage,” the Chiefs’ Adams said. “When I went to do a report on it in the second grade, she had all the background. It’s so distant. It’s just kind of neat to do a report on it and mention that off in the distance, you’re somewhat related.”

And how did that report turn out?

“That was an A-plus. You better believe it,” Adams said. “That was refrigerator material.” [Link]

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Somebody Wants Your Blurry Photos

ephemera has an interview with vernacular photograph collector Ron Radue. Vernacular photographs include those found in the typical family album—photographs not taken for the sake of art, but which, given the right context, may be viewed as art. Radue himself has a large collection of images of an unrelated family from Detroit, his hometown.

The collection acted as a virtual time machine; I was able to visit places that no longer exist. I was able to see what the contemporaries of my parents and grandparents looked like on an average day...not dressed up for a wedding or other special occasion. I could see what kind of cars they drove; bikes they rode; toys they played with; stores they visited; streets they walked; factories they worked in; schools they attended; and, much more! It is an amazing trip that I can now take whenever I want.
Other collectors choose themes less conventional.
Some people even collect blurred photographs; photographs where the photographer inadvertently placed a finger over the lens; or photographs where the shot was missed, such as the subject’s head got cut off, etc.
In this context, my father was a photographic genius.

The First Animated Genealogist?

Tonight's episode of King of the Hill features a genealogist—perhaps the first in animated television history.

An heirless Bill becomes despondent when alley talk turns to what the guys will pass down to their sons. After Bill meets with a genealogist to find his relatives, everyone with the Dauterive last name which the "genealogist" searched on the Internet is invited to his house for a party. But when his cousin Gilbert is the only one to show, Bill learns that they are the last of the Dauterive line. [Link]
The scare quotes around "genealogist" are appropriate. The guy has a sign outside his office that reads GENEOLOGIST.

They Weren't All Working on the Railroad

While poking holes in the quilt myth, history professor Martin Hershock notes that this is not the only far-fetched tale of the Underground Railroad.

"Any time you're dealing with the Underground Railroad, the myths are monumental," Hershock told me.

"Virtually any house that dates from the antebellum period is going to have a claim affixed to it that it was part of the Underground Railroad. If every house that had such a claim attached to it were actually a part of the Underground Railroad, there would have been a giant sucking sound as every single slave from Kentucky was instantaneously drawn out of the South." [Link]

Champlain Remains Hidden

It was Rene Levesque's decades-long quest to find the resting place in Quebec City of French explorer Samuel de Champlain. That quest ended last Sunday with Levesque's death at age 81.

[H]e began searching for Champlain's grave as a young Jesuit priest in the bone-lined basement of the old Basilica in 1950s, when the boom of his sledgehammer drew rebuke from senior priests because it disturbed confessions in the church above.
Levesque thought he was close to discovering the grave several times, but each time came up empty. On one occasion he convinced a French television network to record for posterity the opening of Champlain's tomb.
With cameras rolling, Levesque knocked a hole in the basement wall on rue Buade and reached into the black cavity - only to pull out a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables from the cold room in the Chinese restaurant next door.

"That seems appropriate," said Quebec City's chief archeologist, William Moss, who often dealt with Levesque's frequent demands for excavation permits. "Champlain was looking for a route to China." [Link]

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Eggstreme Longevity

Florrie Baldwin is the oldest woman in Britain. According to her six-year-old great-great grandson Harry, "She really, really is 110. None of my friends have a grandma as old as mine."

Apart from the odd niggle she is still fit and healthy for her age and attributes her long life to eating an egg sandwich for breakfast and a cooked meal for dinner.

She said: "I always eat an egg sandwich in the morning and have at least one hot meal each day. I think I've had an egg sandwich almost every day since I was married at 23. I also do like a glass of sherry now and again."

If she had eaten a fried egg sandwich every day since she was 23, it would mean she had polished off 31,755 in her lifetime. [Link]

She Left No Rabbi Unturned

From the Appleton (Wisc.) Post Crescent of June 27, 1931:

Washington—(AP)—Exhuming the body of an eighteenth century rabbi in a cemetery in Czechoslovakia will be the next step in the ancestor hunt in which Viola Root Cameron, international genealogist, is almost continually engaged.

Mrs. Cameron, blonde, small, quiet-mannered, hopes to find with the body a parchment which will supply some missing branches on the family tree of a wealthy New York client. She will go to Europe this summer personally to oversee the exhumation.

Such parchments, she says, were buried with the rabbis in the eighteenth century. The one she seeks was written between 1750 and 1800. If procured it will open a whole new field in tracing ancestry, she believes.

The Scribe of Death Retires

Winnie Walsh retired from Spartanburg County Library Headquarters on Friday. Her work indexing tens of thousands of death notices and obituaries earned her the title "Scribe of Death."

"One of my favorite obits said that some man died 'unexpectedly' at the age of 96, and I thought, how long do you think you can cheat death?" Walsh quipped.

The politics of death gave particular pause to Walsh, who noticed that during the civil rights movement, the obituaries of black people gradually went from looking like "tiny want ads" to including the names of relatives and identifying details considered standard in a white person's obituary. She also realized that in 1968 the Herald-Journal's obituary page became integrated a few days after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, without much fanfare. [Link]

Their Son Arrived in a Pink Cadillac

Shonda and Rick Durham's third child was born on the way to the hospital in the car his mother earned as a Mary Kay consultant.

As if being born in a Pink Cadillac wasn't unique enough, his birth certificate is also different than other newborns.

"It say[s] I-75 on it at mile marker 67," Rick said. [Link]

102 Years' Worth of Stories to Tell

102-year-old Florence Hastings has received Bethel, Maine's Boston Post Cane as oldest resident of the town. (My grandmother grew up not far from the Hastings farm, and was awarded her adopted town's cane a couple of years ago.) Florence—whose grandchildren I went to school with—got a great write-up in the local paper this week, complete with wonderful anecdotes.

The Hastings’ children arrived in the late 1920s and through the 1930s — Ginny, Mary Alice, Sonny and Ann, the youngest.

Florence recalls that when Ann arrived, Sonny gave the doctor a handful of play money in “payment.”

“A few weeks later Sonny reported to Dr. Twaddle that he wanted his money back because her head was wobbly,” said Florence. “The good doctor checked her over, patted her head a few times and told Sonny that in few weeks her head would be fine.” [Link]
Read also of the time Florence was a teacher and gave out cats as rewards to her students, and of how Sonny tried to help the war effort by putting diapers on fireflies.

Friday, February 16, 2007

If Chamber Pots Could Talk...

Sure, antiques dealer Joy Shivar is trying to turn a profit with her Just a Joy website, but she's also making an effort to return historical artifacts to relatives of the original owners.

Each item has a direct link to a specific surname and is guaranteed to be authentic.

This network creates a real possibility of returning "orphaned" family items back to their rightful owners. Items that may have been lost through estate sales, broken marriages or by other means may be recovered. [Link]
Of course, my real reason for plugging her website is to draw attention to this item.
This is one of the most interesting items we have ever had. Depending on your point of view it is either comical, classic or elegant. It is the actual chamber pot from the Lincoln bedroom of the White House. Although Lincoln, himself, did not use it, as it did not become a resident of the Lincoln Bedroom until around 1890-1910, it is still a remarkable item.

A Nasty Case of Genealogitis

Pat of A Journey into the Past spent some time in the hospital recently and, good family historian that she is, couldn't pass up the opportunity to poke around a little.

I was born here at Roxborough Hospital along with all my other siblings. My three uncles, Billy, Jack and Gene were also born here but Roxborough stopped delivering babies about 8 years ago and today the old labor/delivery/nursery/maternity ward are used for storage. Of course, we just had to walk through here and do a little research in the process. Hey, why waste a hospital admission when you can do a little research. [Link]

Most Impersonal Love Letter Ever

A postcard sent by World War I soldier Walter Butler to his fiancée Amy Hicks in Wiltshire was finally delivered this week—90 years late, and to their 86-year-old daughter Joyce. What interests me most is the narrow range of sentiments Walter was allowed to express.

Wartime security restrictions meant that soldiers were only allowed to send the most basic messages for fear of accidentally giving vital information to the enemy.
Soldiers were [...] provided with a list of printed options which they had to cross out or leave to be read as appropriate.

Walter left the line “I am quite well” undeleted, along with another saying that he had not received a letter from Amy “for a long time.” [Link]

Thursday, February 15, 2007

They Made a Big Production Out of It

ThinkFilm just picked up North American distribution rights to the 2005 indy feature The Last Confederate: The True Story of Robert Adams (formerly known as Strike the Tent). The Civil War-era film about a man from the South who falls for a gal from the North was written and produced by descendants of Robert and Eveline (McCord) Adams, and stars their great-great-grandson Julian Adams as Robert, and Julian's father Weston as "Grandfather Adams."

To ensure authenticity of their family’s story, Julian and Weston turned to the wealth of diaries, letters, and family documents surrounding Robert and Eveline. Records of Robert’s enlistment in the Confederate Army, his military service records, and his prison documents from Elmira, New York, also brought the elegant and horrible details of his story to light. [Link]

Royal Bastards on the Telly

A new documentary on ITV1 will find "Lost Royals" by probing the infidelity of British monarchs.

The experts hope to uncover details of the children of unfaithful monarchs such as Charles II (1630-1685), who publicly acknowledged 14 children by seven mistresses.

ITV controller of current affairs and documentaries Jeff Anderson told Broadcast magazine: “For generations, illegitimate royals have been spirited away with a few quid and told to keep quiet.

“Now we’re going to unmask their descendants and reveal how close they really are to Britain’s most privileged family.” [Link]

Have a Happy Heritage Day

Canadians don't have presidents they can pretend to honor honour, but they do have a holiday next Monday. You can help celebrate Heritage Day by grabbing three days of free access at Then wash it down with a six-pack of Molson while singing "O Canada" in a Mountie uniform.

They Want to Call It an Early Knight

Some in Westford, Massachusetts, believe that an expedition led by Scottish Prince Henry Sinclair visited their town in 1398. Their evidence? A stone on Depot Street that bears the image of a broken sword—supposed to signify that a knight in the party had died.

So is this the stuff of legend or of history? Some people in Westford are hoping science can help them find out. They've contacted a forensic geologist about testing to determine the age of the carvings.

"So we just hope they can date it and that will convince the non-believers that the knight actually did come here in 1400," said [Elizabeth] Lane. [Link]

Three's a Crowd

Members of the Mountain Genealogists Society in Colorado have put up a display at a local library called "Love Through the Ages." Dale Hoffman contributed an elaborately decorated document he had inherited.

Nothing says love like a marriage license, and in 1885 in Caldwell County, Mo., they knew how to say it right. Witness the grand document announcing the union of one William Bay to his sweetheart, Laura Rathbun.

It’s unnecessarily big, for starters, and busy with scrollwork and superfluous artistry in a vaguely Florentine style. And it features photographs of the happy couple, their unsmiling faces enshrined in elaborate, individual cartouches. Curiously, it also boasts the likeness of the presiding minister, who apparently felt that his role in the nuptials warranted that honor. [Link]
No word on whether he tagged along for the honeymoon.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kissing is Cultural

This quotation is from a brief article in Ancestry Magazine on the Kissing Post at Ellis Island—the spot where new arrivals were reunited with their families.

The Italian kisses his children but scarcely speaks to his wife, never embraces or kisses her in public. The Hungarian and Slavish people put their arms around one another and weep. The Jew of all countries kisses his wife and children as though he owned all the kisses in the world and intended to use them all up quick.

—Maud Mosher, 1910, matron at Ellis Island

Another President Who Didn't Inhale

Michael John Neill asks Which President Did Coke? Yes, it was a Republican, but not the one you think.

In the course of analyzing Lincoln's finances, [Harry E.] Pratt, a noted Lincoln scholar and former Illinois State Historian, lists credit purchases the Lincoln family made at Corneau and Diller's, a drugstore in downtown Springfield that was popular at the time. According to Pratt, an entry in the store's ledger for Oct. 12, 1860 says the Lincoln family purchased 50 cents worth of "cocaine," among other items. [Link]
Read to the end of the article before jumping to the conclusion that the Ford's Theater incident was a drug deal gone bad.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sometimes History Is What You Can't Disprove

There are two opposing camps in Milton, Delaware: one that thinks the town was named for its long history as a mill town, and another that thinks it was named for poet John Milton. At a recent gathering held to mark the bicentennial of the naming, one of the factions heard some good news.

Near the end of the evening, Milton resident and poet Jamie Brown, owner of the John Milton & Co. bookstore and the founder of the annual John Milton Memorial Celebration of Poets and Poetry, said he had more proof - a first reference to Milton in the letter of a man who had emigrated from Delaware to Iowa around 1840, talking about how the town named Milton in Iowa was named after the town he had left that had been named for the poet.
Delaware Public Archives Director Russ McCabe had some words of wisdom for those who remained unconvinced.
“For now, if you want to believe the town is named for the mills, you can. If you want to believe it was named for the poet you can. Sometimes history isn’t so much what you can prove – it’s what you can’t disprove,” McCabe said. [Link]

No One Knows Doug and Sandy

A burial service is planned this spring for four sets of remains dug up in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, ten years ago. Efforts to identify the people—possibly a family, one of them wearing a ring inscribed "GW 1813"—have failed.

Despite the discovery of a key personal effect and exhaustive searches of burial logs and city historical records, no one could ever put a name to the four. The closest the city came to naming the remains was former police Lt. Jim Backes' habit of calling the male and female "Doug and Sandy" after how the bones were retrieved and the type of material in which they were found. [Link]

He's Lost Without a Washtub

Authorities are investigating whether a rural South Carolina graveyard has been "tampered with." According to aerial maps, the cemetery has shrunk considerably in recent years, and a new hill has appeared. The above-ground vault of Harry Austin's mother has disappeared, and the distinctive markers that helped him find the graves of his father, uncle, aunt and grandfather are gone.

Austin said the trees above the graves were sometimes marked with the help of an ax or a saw. A washtub was hung in the tree and a cross placed in the ground to locate the burial site, he said.

"That's how I know where it was at," Austin said. [Link]

A Birthday Without a Birth

Presidents Day is ostensibly a birthday celebration, which is strange since no President could possibly have celebrated his birthday on the third Monday in February.

George Washington was born either on February 11, 1731 (according to the old-style Julian calendar, still in use at the time), or on February 22, 1732 (according to the Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1752 throughout the British Empire). Under no circumstances, therefore, can Washington’s birthday fall on Washington’s Birthday, a.k.a. Presidents Day, which, being the third Monday of the month, can occur only between the 15th and the 21st. Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th, doesn’t make it through the Presidents Day window, either. Nor do the natal days of our other two February Presidents, William Henry Harrison (born on the 6th) and Ronald Reagan (the 9th). A fine mess! [Link]

Monday, February 12, 2007

An Open Letter to Lee

Congratulations on deciding not to become "one of them." Because you are clearly not one of them; you are one of us. One of the millions of us—amateurs and professionals alike—who practice genealogy because we love genealogy, and who share our experience and research because we want others to share in our passion.

Don't let those professional genealogists who only "fight for the right to be included" define the profession. It's not hard to find others who fight for what is truly right: open and equal access for all. The impulse to exclude is found in every profession, and is always repugnant. It certainly should be stamped out in genealogy—a field in which every human being with ancestors ought to have an interest.

Unlike you, I've never considered becoming a professional genealogist. Those people on the APG list who would bicker over the placement of commas in citations would become apoplectic if they ever saw my footnotes. They would turn blue and die if they ever saw my filing cabinet. But I am proud to call myself an "unprofessional genealogist." (I'm thinking of having business cards printed up.) If anyone asks for my help, I give it without warranty, and it generally meets with their approval. I can see the advantages of becoming certified, but I've never had need of those advantages.

I understand your reluctance to be associated with anyone who seeks to deprive the average genealogist of needed resources. But don't deprive the genealogical community of your advice, experience, and good humor. Those are needed as well.

Buried Far From Home

An airship crashed into a windmill in Aurora, Wise County, Texas, the morning of April 17, 1897. An article in the Dallas Morning News reported that its place of origin was extraterrestrial.

The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one on board, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.
The article closed with, "The pilot's funeral will take place at noon to-morrow." I'd love to have been a fly on the wall at that funeral.

Some years later, the Texas Historical Commission placed a marker at the entrance to the town cemetery, which mentioned that "This site is also well-known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here." According to this page, the alien was buried beneath a round rock (since stolen) under the limb of an oak tree.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Slapstick Death

Benjamin Lott's 1910 death in New York City proves that there is a fine line between comedy and tragedy.

(Thanks, Teri!)

Genealogy On Trial

In 1943, a federal court jury was asked to decide whether the late Mrs. A. V. Lane of Dallas was descended from royalty.

It all started when Mrs. Lane and her husband hired the American Historical Company of New York to prepare a history of the Lane and Hughey families. The volume was delivered after the couple's deaths, and their heirs refused to pay the remaining balance of $8,355, charging that the royal lineage presented was suspect, and that the cost was excessive. But the only question put to the jury was whether the genealogy was true.

"I submit to you the question of whether the book is true," Judge Atwell told the jury. "One side says it is true. The other says it is untrue. Neither side knows, gentlemen, because they were not there when the questioned events did or did not take place. They rely on historical works."
That put the issue down to the question of whether a certain Sir Oliver Carminow, chamberlain to Richard II of England a few centuries ago, married a certain Elizabeth Holland. [Dallas Morning News, May 7, 1943]
Genealogists were put on the stand by both the plaintiff and the defense. The publishing company's genealogist noted that Mrs. Lane had been admitted a member of the Plantagenet Society and the Daughters of the Barons of Runnymede based on the same information found in the book. The jury deliberated for twenty minutes before finding in the company's favor.

Family History Is Mostly Ephemeral

Marty Weil has a cool blog devoted to ephemera—old stuff that shouldn't still exist, but has somehow survived. It will give you an idea of the range of material worth seeking out and preserving.

My New England Yankee forebears had mixed feelings about ephemera. On the one hand, they hated to throw out anything that might have value. On the other hand, a school hall pass from 1961 could be put to good use starting a fire in the cookstove. Practicality trumps sentimentality when the coffee pot is cold.

Some things did survive. An invitation to my great-grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary was returned to the family by a descendant of one of the attendees. When my mother's grandmother went into a nursing home, her wallet was preserved like a time capsule with all its contents intact. My mother has the hospital receipt from when I was born, and pulls it out to marvel at how cheap babies were back then.

Thanks to the Internet, one can "own" ephemera while avoiding the burden of preservation. An email correspondent sent me images of an 1891 letter from Edward Denham of New Bedford, Mass., to Augustus Dunham of Paris, Maine, requesting genealogical data for a family history Denham was compiling. My great-great-grandfather living in the town next door received an identical letter (he mentioned it in his newspaper column), but his copy probably ended up heating the coffee pot. He did, however, respond, and his contribution to Denham's work included details I've found nowhere else. I've often thought that, if I could get my hands on his response, I would be finding the Holy Grail of my genealogical ephemera collection.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Is It Honestly Abe?

Monday is the last day to bid on The Kaplan Daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln. The starting bid is $5 million, which "will seem trifling compared to its realizable value after confirmation by the Lincoln scholarship community."

Lincoln scholar the late Professor Elton Trueblood had no doubt the young man of the daguerreotype was Lincoln. On the other hand I am aware of several well known and influential Lincoln authorities who have declared the opposite view: Illinois State Historian Thomas F. Schwartz, and former President of the Lincoln Group of New York, Richard Sloan.

To my knowledge there has never been a more controversial subject amongst Lincoln scholars as this matter. Accordingly, it seems fitting and proper that all the known evidence (both pro and con) should be put up on the Internet for all to see. The analyses can be examined at
If you're hesitant to fork over such a large sum for a portrait lacking provenance and authentication, don't worry. The website offers both a made-up history of the picture, and a plastic surgeon's professional opinion that it is indeed Lincoln. The doctor notes that Abe "underwent a noticeable change in his physical appearance beginning in January 1841 as a result of a grave emotional crisis," which explains why the daguerreotype looks nothing like him.

(Thanks to Sharon Sergeant for sending this item my way.)

Her Ancestors Made War, Not Love

Australian xenophobe Pauline Hanson underwent DNA testing to prove that her ancestors came from England and Ireland. The results showed that she is 9 percent Middle Eastern, and that another 32 percent of her genetic blueprint was drawn in Italy, Greece, or Turkey.

When told of the results, the former fish and chip shop owner appeared flustered, making references to "rape and pillage" in ancient times, adding: "All I can think of is that probably down the track it eventuated from some war.

"But I'm not going to knock it. It has made me who I am." [Link]

2,000 Posts and (Still) Counting

It took me about 10½ months to reach my 1,000th post here at The Genealogue, but only 9¾ months to reach my 2,000th. At this rate, in the year 2087 I will be publishing 1,000 posts per day—a remarkable feat for a man of 118.

As before, I want to take this opportunity to thank my loyal readers, and to heap scorn on my disloyal readers. Special thanks to those fellow bloggers who conspire daily to make me feel inadequate. People like Megan, Craig, Dana, Randy, Sharon, Janice, Jasia, Schelly, Lee, Joe, and Steve. Thanks also to the dozens of other genealogy bloggers whose feeds I consume, and to the hundreds more rattling their keyboards in hopes of being heard.

Certified Public Awkward Moment

Illinois has passed a law requiring candidates who change their names in the three years prior to an election to include a "formerly known as" line on the ballot. This should stop office-seekers from changing their surnames to appeal to ethnic groups, or from doing something really moronic, like what Sen. Christopher Lauzen did when he ran for state comptroller in 1998.

When election officials wouldn't allow him to note that he was a certified public accountant on the ballot, Sen. Lauzen attempted to have his last name legally changed to "CPA," but a judge refused to allow the name change.

"I received bad advice -- it was a mistake. I was trying to use my point-of-sale marketing skills and let voters know I'm a CPA. I worked hard to become an accountant. I tried to use that to my advantage," a rather embarrassed Sen. Lauzen said this week. [Link]

Free Access (But Watch for Flaming Cows)

Renee was kind enough to mention that is offering free access until next Tuesday (see her post for the secret handshake). Thanks to her, I was able to find this item in a 1866 newspaper:

A six-year old chap in Bethel, Me., being unable to drive the cow out of the barn, set it on fire, and then, he says, "she run."
I have plenty of relatives from Bethel, but I haven't yet confirmed that this brilliant lad was a cousin.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Guy in Zero Was Penniless

Robert Rennick has written a couple dozen books on Kentucky place names and post offices, including the intriguingly titled From Red Hot to Monkey's Eyebrow. As it turns out, Kentuckians are good at coming up with weird place names, and even better at explaining their weird place names.

Some Kentucky towns are named for numerals, including Seventy Six, Zero and Eighty Eight.

Former House Speaker Bobby Richardson of Glasgow, the great-great-great-grandson of the original storekeeper in Eighty Eight, said his pop's handwriting was awful. So he got permission to name the first post office after a numeral.

"He counted the change that he had in his pocket and he had 88 cents, and it became Eighty Eight," Richardson said. [Link]

Give Your Bread a 160 Year Head Start

Send Carl Griffith's friends an SASE, and they'll send you some sourdough starter that's been active since Carl's great-great-grandfather was active.

All I know is that it started west in 1847 from Missouri. I would guess with the family of Dr. John Savage as one of his daughters (my great grandmother) was the cook. It came on west and settled near Salem Or. Doc. Savage’s daughter met and married my great grand father on the trail and they had 10 children. It was passed on to me though my parents when they passed away. I am 76 years old so that was some time ago. [Link, via Boing Boing]
Carl has since passed on, but his friends continue to distribute the starter for the price of postage.

Cemetery Ceremony Leads to Slippery Slope

A couple has received permission to marry in a Pacific, Missouri, cemetery in September. Though neither has ancestors buried there, they reportedly found the setting "charming" and "peaceful." If one Pacific alderman has his way, it will be the first and last marriage solemnized there.

"Once you let that horse out of the barn, people could ask to do anything out there," said Alderman William Hohman. "You've got various cults running around, and we don't want to get into that nonsense." [Link]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Land of the Dating Cousins

Everyone in Iceland is related. So says the website, home to a registry of nearly Icelander born since 1703. Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir was skeptical.

“I am not related to my boyfriend,” I stubbornly insisted the other day, having carefully made sure we weren't before we started dating. I was having a debate with my brother about his theory that all Icelanders were related to each other. He offered to prove it to me.

The next day there was an email from him waiting in my inbox. I opened it and discovered a list of names and dates of birth – a family tree. I recognized some of the names and soon realized that this was a list of my ancestors and my boyfriend’s ancestors, all the way back to the 18th century.

Apparently we share a great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, whose name was Gudrún Einarsdóttir. [Link]

Fishing for Men

Steven Rigden spotted a peculiar "fishing fleet" while browsing the UK outbound passenger lists at

Reading down the list of names, past Mrs Wright, Mrs Simpson, the infant and ayah (Indian nanny), you come to Miss Max, Miss Cowell, Miss Blyth, Miss Graham… a long sequence of unmarried women, down to Miss Sandys and Miss Good. This is the suspected “[fishing] fleet”: marriageable young women sailing out to India in search of eligible bachelors, preferably the so-called “heaven-born” serving in the Indian Civil Service or officers in the Army. The fleet sailed out from Britain in the autumn or early winter and spent the next few cooler Indian months socialising at the British clubs and angling for a groom.
Unsuccessful women - the “returned empties” - re-embarked for Britain in the spring. [Link]
By the way, passenger lists from 1890 through 1909 are now available.

Reversing Murphy's Curse

If your surname is Cohan, Chance, Steinfeldt, Tinker, Howard, Sheckard, Evers, Moran, Williams or Murphy, you can help the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. It all started in 1908, just after the Cubs won their last Series.

The night after the big win, Broadway legend George Cohan hosted a celebratory dinner at Rector's Restaurant for the victorious players. Conspicuously absent from the guest list was Cubs President Charles W. Murphy. Murphy was met with considerable criticism for his handling of World Series tickets and poor seat availability for the fans and subsequently was not invited to the dinner.
Harry Caray's Restaurant wants to go back in time and "reverse the curse" by recreating the guest list—and including a Murphy.
The restaurant believes it's time to forgive Mr. Murphy and invite him back to the table. On the night of the 9th Annual Worldwide Toast to Harry Caray, his namesake restaurant will hold a reenactment of the 1908 dinner, only this time Murphy will be there. [Link]

The First To Go 'Here Goes'

Letters from Robert Godlonton discovered in an English attic are of both historical and lexicographical interest.

They provide a vivid image of the settlers' arrival in southern Africa in 1820 and their struggle to establish a colony.

The find could even lead to an update of the Oxford English Dictionary as the correspondence contains the earliest recorded use of the phrase "here goes".

Mr Godlonton writes: "As I promised when at home to give you a full and particular account, here goes to begin. We arrived..." [Link]

It's an Honor Just to Be Overlooked

Family Tree Magazine has announced its five finalists for Best Family Web Site, and this blog was inexplicably omitted. Despite this oversight, the five listed are worth a visit. You can vote for your favorite through Feb. 13.

As for me, I'll be weeping quietly in a dark corner.

The Secret of Beautiful Skin

Mable Sims of Twin Lakes, Florida, lives in the house of her late great-grandmother, Precious O'Neal St. Clair, from whom Mable took advice and beauty tips.

"Girl, even if you're going to a dog fight, look good," she told Mable. Miss Mable never attended a dog fight, but she tries to look her best even now. She credits the Precious treatment for her "baby-butt skin."

Each morning Miss Mable bathes her coffee-colored skin, flawless except for that ax scar, with fresh urine.

"That surprises people, Lord have mercy," she says with a delighted laugh. "But it's how I was brought up. My great-aunt Isabella had the most beautiful skin you ever saw because of that urine treatment. She lived to be 107 years old!" [Link]

Groundhog Day Census

Winter residents of Block Island, Rhode Island, have taken a census every Groundhog Day for decades.

The unofficial census is an annual ritual that takes place over beers and laughter, and makes an entertaining diversion during the cold winter months. Dozens of volunteers fan out to count anyone who spends the night on the island. Calls are placed; houses are checked; and the boats are closely monitored throughout the day to see who’s coming and going. [Link]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Keeping the Family Close

Some Japanese who have moved to urban areas have found it hard to leave their rural pasts behind. So they're inviting their ancestors to join them.

Some of those interested in reburial note that they have no intention of returning to their countryside birthplaces after living in the city for more than 40 years.

Others comment that they want to take the burden off relatives who have had to care for their family graves. And then there is the expense; some pensioners simply cannot afford the cost of making an overnight trip to a countryside cemetery. [Link]

They Want Whoopi

Whoopi Goldberg took a DNA test that suggested she has ancestors from the Papel tribe of Guinea-Bissau. This led the country to send Whoopi an invitation.

It begins, with some uncertainty on the star's name: "Your Excellency Hoppy Goldberg, it is with great euphoria that the government of Guinea-Bissau ... learned of your ancestral origins .... The news has awoken in each and every one of us a deep sense of fraternity .... We simply cannot remain indifferent to the news of your Guinean heritage."

The two pages peppered with elaborate expressions of praise and respect end with a simple request: Please come visit our country.
Said Minister of Tourism Francisco Conduto de Pina, "She will come. She's Guinean. She's our daughter. She's ours." A woman from Goldberg's ancestral homeland was less enthusiastic.
"I have no idea who that is," said Tiro Ca, 50, carrying a baby on her back, who stopped to pore over a headshot of the actress brought to the village by the AP. [Link]
[Photo credit: Whoopi by Daniel Langer (license)]

The Great Many Pretenders

Here's a progress report on the search for an imaginary rightful heir to the English throne. Hundreds of hopefuls have submitted their bids, a quarter of them from the United States.

"As many of the claimants met the desired criteria, it's fair to suggest England could have suffered something of a power struggle," said a spokesman for English Heritage which is to put the claims on show at a new battlesite exhibition centre.

"We had a chap from Arizona who tracked himself back to St Margaret [a descendant of Alfred the Great]. A lady from California could trace herself back to Edgar and William the Conqueror and says she has a pair of handsome sons who would make perfect princes," the spokesman told Reuters. [Link] Gambles on Love is offering Vegas Betting Odds on whether you and your sweetheart will get married or divorced in Sin City. Someone at The Generations Network has grown a funny bone.

No psychics, counselors or members of your family were consulted in the creation of this site. Odds are based solely on Nevada marriage and divorce data from publicly available records in various Nevada county and state archives. Food for thought: If you’re unsure enough about a potential spouse to let a web site inform your decisions, we recommend you think twice. accepts no responsibility for the success or failure of your marriage in Las Vegas. But in the case that you do live happily ever after, we’ll be happy to take full credit.
Not coincidentally, you can search 4.5 million Nevada marriages and 475,000 Nevada divorces at for free through Feb. 28.

Ellis Island to Be Destroyed

An important part of the "Ellis Island experience" is only visible at low tide. The ferry that shuttled millions of immigrants from the island to Manhattan between 1904 to 1954—the Ellis Island—sank at its moorings in 1968.

For nearly 40 years, the remains of the ship have wasted away just a few hundred feet from where boatloads of tourists hop on and off newer ferries to visit the museum and trace the paths of their ancestors. At low tide, the corroded hull of the Ellis Island can still be spotted poking through the surface.

In June, the park service intends to have divers slice the ferry into pieces that can be hoisted onto barges, park service officials said. “There’s not much there at all,” said David L. Conlin, an underwater archaeologist for the park service. But he added that there were “a couple of pieces we’re very interested in,” including the engine and propellers. [Link]
Millions of Americans have a personal connection to this vessel, including me. I assume that my great-grandparents were among her passengers, as neither was a strong swimmer. Now that I know she stills exists, it's a shame to see her go.

You can read more about the Ellis Island here, here, and especially here.

He Died With Tongue in Cheek

It's a relief to learn that Mr. Fontenay penned his own obituary.

Charles L. Fontenay, most of whose half century-plus as a newspaperman was spent with The Tennessean, surprised himself and delighted many of his colleagues by dying yesterday. [Link, via Obituary Forum]

Top Ten Ways to Make Money From Genealogy

10. Hold the identity of your mom's biological father for ransom.

9. Raffle off your unneeded secondary sources.

8. Keep your ancestors' death dates handy when buying Powerball tickets.

7. Sell your DNA to people with less interesting family histories.

6. Write off your trip to the Salt Lake City Family History Massage Parlor as a business expense.

5. Agree to wear a Budweiser t-shirt when you speak at the NGS convention.

4. Volunteer at Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, then hold out for more money.

3. Publish your family history under the title Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

2. Make a videotape of you and Paris Hilton "cranking the microfilm," then sell it on the Internet.

1. Run a kissing booth at the family reunion.

Done In By His Kitmagar

From The Daily Advocate of Newark, Ohio, Nov. 12, 1893:

There is a tombstone in the north part of England which bears the following epitaph:
Sacred to the memory of
The Rev. ——— ———.
Who, after twenty years' unremitting labor as a missionary was accidentally
shot by his Kitmagar.
"Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Founding Father Found Fathering

James Madison was a protégé of fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson, and succeeded him as president. Could the two men have had something else in common?

[Bettye] Kearse, a practicing pediatrician who has a doctorate in biology, has traced her pedigree back to a slave named Mandy who bore a daughter, Coreen, with James Madison Sr. Coreen, also a slave, bore a son, Jim, with her half-brother, James Madison Jr. Since James and Dolley Madison never had children, Kearse could prove that Madison's only descendents are Black.

Kearse, of Dover, Mass., says the foundation of her claim is based on oral history. When Jim was sold, Coreen reportedly told him "always remember you're a Madison." [Link]

How Utterly Traditional

Maxim Vachon-Savary is a "hyphenated Quebecker" who carries around the surnames of both his mother and father. When he and his wife had twins last year, they had to make a tough decision.

He and his wife, Veronique Chayer, were legally allowed to choose from eight different name combinations for their twins. It could be Chayer-Vachon, Savary-Chayer, Vachon-Savary, Chayer -- and the list went on.

In the end, the Quebec City couple settled on a single choice. Their girls' last name would be Savary, the same as Mr. Vachon-Savary's father. [Link]

Thomas Jefferson Not Egyptian After All

Two men in Britain have been shown to belong to the same rare haplogroup as Thomas Jefferson.

This discovery of K2 in Britain scotches any suggestion that Jefferson - who was US president between 1801 and 1809 - must have had recent paternal ancestors from the Middle East.

Jefferson's Y chromosome was most similar to that of a man from Egypt. But genetic relationships between different K2s are poorly understood, and this may have little significance.

Instead, say the researchers, their study makes Jefferson's claim to be of Welsh extraction much more plausible. [Link]

Was Hoover Working Undercover?

Genealogist Millie McGhee-Morris says she's related to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Oh, and she's black.

She recounted how she came home from school at age 12 and mentioned to her grandfather that her history class had talked about Hoover.

Millie McGhee-Morris said census and other records she found support her family's history that shows a link to J. Edgar Hoover.

Her grandfather told her that Hoover was his cousin. He told her to keep the secret of his black ancestry to herself or the whole family could be killed, she said. [Link]

Don't Crawl on Shakespeare's Grave

The Washington Post has a nice piece today about a spot I'd like to visit one of these days: Shakespeare's resting place inside Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-Upon-Avon.

"I thought he was buried at Westminster Abbey," [Cath Blann] said, referring to the London landmark where Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and other giants of English literature lie. Maybe, she said, the British take some of their history for granted because they are "surrounded by it all the time."

As she spoke, her giggling son began to crawl under the brass railing, and she gently pulled him back. "Aidan, darling," she said, "don't crawl on Shakespeare's grave." [Link]
[Photo credit: Shakespeare's grave by Carleton Atwater]

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