Saturday, March 31, 2007

Appraising Bigotry

While demolishing a wall in a 200-year-old Northborough, Massachusetts, house, Betty Tetreault's son discovered a medallion bearing the initials of a despicable organization.

Tetreault brought the medallion, about the size of a silver dollar, to an appraiser at the Historical Society's Main Street building Friday night. In cut-out words it reads "in good standing," with the letters "KKK" in the middle.
"It's bizarre because this is a northern state," said Marie Nieber, who is also the chair woman of the town's Historical Commission. "Maybe someone tried to hide their past. Who knows? " [Link]

Census Bureau's Sins Enumerated

Margo Anderson and William Seltzer have found evidence that the U.S. Census Bureau handed over the names and addresses of Japanese-Americans living in and around Washington, D.C., to the Secret Service during World War II. The release occurred after Congress suspended the Bureau's legally mandated protection of confidentiality in 1942.

Anderson and Seltzer discovered in 2000 that the Census Bureau released block-by-block data during WW II that alerted officials to neighborhoods in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Arkansas where Japanese-Americans were living. "We had suggestive but not very conclusive evidence that they had also provided microdata for surveillance," Anderson says.
Anderson says that microdata would have been useful for what officials called the "mopping up" of potential Japanese-Americans who had eluded internment. [Link]

Friday, March 30, 2007

This Little Piggy Went to Court

Footballer Bastian Schweinsteiger successfully sued a Bavarian company for selling bratwurst under the name "Schweini." It means "piggy," and is the athlete's nickname.

Bastian's surname means "pig climber". How the 22-year-old's ancestors came by this moniker I am not sure. Perhaps scaling pigs is a job in Germany. Maybe it was once a popular hobby. Or perhaps it was just an isolated incident culminating in the punch line, "But you clamber on one pig . . . " [Link]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ellis Island's Very Busy Day

April 17th will be the 100th anniversary of the busiest day in Ellis Island's history—a day when 11,747 people passed through the immigration station.

A usual day saw some 5,000 immigrants processed. It was the highpoint of 1907 when 1,285,349 immigrants entered the United States, with Ellis Island processing nearly 80 percent of those new arrivals. The country would not welcome as many immigrants again until 1990. [Link]
By way of comparison, on a typical day in 2006 [pdf] U. S. Customs and Border Protection processed 1.1 million passengers and pedestrians—240,737 arriving by air, 71,151 by ship—and 327,042 incoming privately owned vehicles.

CC Your Ancestors

Here's the perfect way to carry your ancestors with you while you research their lives: Nadine Jarvis's Carbon Copies.

Pencils made from the carbon of human cremains. 240 pencils can be made from an average body of ash - a lifetime supply of pencils for those left behind.
[via Neatorama]

Ace Ventura: Family Historian

Jim Carrey is set to star in a film called "Me Time," which—despite the following synopsis—will be a comedy.

[The story] revolves around a writer penning a book about his great-great-grandmother, a frontier woman. When his pregnant wife has to go on bed rest, leaving him to care for the house and their other child, his confidence is shaken as he reads his ancestor's diary, in which she describes raising a family, plowing the fields and taming the wild environs. [Link]

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Where There's a Will, There's a Way to Keep It Secret

I've written before about Robert Brown's claim that he is the illegitimate child of the late Princess Margaret. Now Brown wants to take a peek at her will to see if it might prove his claim. Problem is, wills made by members of the Royal Family are not open to inspection by the public.

If individuals in general were allowed to claim the right to represent the public and seek judicial review, there would be "anarchy", counsel said. "This week Mr Brown; next week Mr White, Mr Pink, Mr Green."

This principle was established to avoid "busybodies, cranks and mischief-makers". Mr [Frank] Hinks said: "With all due respect, this applies to Mr Brown. He is suffering from a delusion." [Link]
Evidently very little respect is due Mr. Brown.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Leather Man

I have a special fondness for stories of hermits and other lonely souls. The Journal News has an interesting piece about The Leather Man—a mysterious fellow clad in leather who walked a regular 365-mile circuit through Connecticut and New York for decades until his death in 1889.

His journey started sometime before the Civil War and his timing rarely varied, allowing locals to set their calendars by his arrival.
Except for some grunts and other unintelligible sounds, according to newspaper accounts, his trekking was done in silence. Legend holds that a Connecticut man once spoke to him in French, which seemed to mark the extent of any conversation.
His headstone reads "Jules Bourglay," but that name came from a 1884 newspaper article later retracted.
"I think he was a troubled man for whatever reason," said Steve Grant, a Hartford Courant reporter who spent a month in 1993 walking the Leather Man's route. "I think that has to be a given."

"But, at the same time, he clearly was a harmless person. People recognized that. When you come right down to it, in the end, we're not sure who he is." [Link]

Where Gravestones Go to Die

Numerous headstones have been found dumped in a field in Porterville, California, but a cemetery district official says there's no need to fret.

“We get people who come in every month, sometimes even police, and they ask about the headstones,” District Assistant Manager Fred Ruiz said. “We tell them that there isn't a controversy, and there isn't an old graveyard.”

What it is, cemetery officials said, is the result of years of discarded headstones from Monument Works, the city's oldest monument business, and other monument companies.

Louis R. Stephen Jr., the owner of the company established in 1899, said the headstones were ones that had mistakes or did not meet the individual family's preference. [Link]
The best part of this story is the full name of the business to blame: Porterville Monument Works and Swimming Pool Supplies.

One Prolific Painter

Art historians are trying to spot the face of Mary Alford in the works of Victorian painter William Powell Frith. Photographs of Mary—Frith's longtime mistress—were made public only yesterday.

An upmarket version of the picture book game Where's Wally? is to be found in checking masterpieces such as Derby Day and The Railway Station, using two grainy images of Mary which make their public debut today. One shows the dimpled, round-faced Mary on an undercover picnic with Frith; the second is a family group after the death of his first wife, when he finally made Mary what the Victorians called "a respectable woman".

The pictures have been revealed by an anonymous descendant of one of seven children Frith fathered illegitimately with Mary, while maintaining his official family, including another 12 children, a mile up the road. [Link]

Born to the Big Top

A member of a famous circus family wants to strike out on his own, but a 1967 franchise deal may prevent him from using the family name.

John Ringling North II, grandnephew of circus promoter John Ringling, wants to bill the show he bought in Hugo, Okla., as “John Ringling North II presents the Kelly Miller Circus.”
North’s attorney, Lamar Matthews, said customers are unlikely to confuse “a one-ring circus in Hugo, Okla., and the greatest show on earth.” [Link]
As an aside, did you know that there's a mailing list for "anyone with a genealogical interest in circus folk"? There is also a list devoted to high-wire artists that is somewhat less popular.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Etherington in the Ether

Paul Etherington (who has never been seen in the same room as Thomas Hamburger, Jr.) was featured on Monday's BBC radio program Tracing Your Roots. Until it's archived, you can listen to the interview here (Paul's segment begins five minutes in).

Paul Etherington’s family history research took a sudden intercontinental leap when he came across an inscription in a Yorkshire graveyard describing an ancestor’s son as “now in Port Natal.” Following the trail to South Africa, Paul discovered a whole new branch on the family tree and an extended family stretching across the world.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Size Matters Even After Death

Accused in the media of seeking special treatment, former U.S. Rep. James Hansen has withdrawn his request to have a headstone taller than the 36 inches allowed by the city of Farmington, Utah.

"I do not consider myself in any way special over any other citizen, but some of the positions I have held apparently are considered special by many people," Hansen said in a Feb. 23 letter seeking 8 additional inches on the headstone.

A Hansen admirer said it should be 20 feet high. [Link]

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Woman's Face Proves She's No Place

Eunice Gray (aka Ermine McEntire) ran a "house of ill repute" in Fort Worth, Texas, in the early 1900s. Long after Gray's 1962 death, amateur genealogist Donna Donnell set out to investigate an intriguing rumor: Was Eunice the "Etta Place" who accompanied fugitives Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to South America?

With a few keystrokes she found a surprising document that caused her heart to quicken. On the screen appeared a copy of an alphabetized passenger list of the S.S. Turrialba, which sailed from Colon, Panama, on May 11, 1911.

The 11th name on the manifest, penned in a delicate cursive, was a Eunice Gray. Age 30. Destination: Fort Worth, Texas.
Her investigation led Donnell to Mrs. D.S. O'Leary, Eunice Gray's niece.
Donnell found her answer the moment she spotted a framed photo on a wall in O'Leary's home. In the picture, taken during the 1920s, a young Ermine McEntire - Eunice Gray - is sporting a wide-brimmed hat. Another photo, circa 1896, pictures Gray wearing her high school graduation dress.
"Eunice isn't Etta Place," Donnell said with certainty. O'Leary compared photos of her aunt with one of Place and agreed. [Link]

Lawmakers Debate Use of Pit Bulls in Cemeteries

A bill granting South Carolinians access to relatives' graves on private property moved forward on Tuesday, despite some disagreement on the issue of immunity from liability for property owners.

Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said the S.C. Association of Realtors believes the immunity is necessary to balance property owners' rights. People should not be able to sue if they come in and trip over a gravestone, he said.

But the owner should not be allowed to release a pack of pit bulls while people are visiting and be held immune from damages, [Rep. Jim] Harrison said. [Link]
[Photo credit: Cuchlain by Cara Fealy Choate]

A Nguyen-Nguyen Situation

Anh Do explains in The Orange County Register why so many Vietnamese are named Nguyen (commonly pronounced win in the U.S.).

Most Vietnamese have the surname of one of 16 royal families who ruled their homeland. In chronological order, they are Thuc, Trung, Trieu, Mai, Khuc, Ly, Phung, Kieu, Ngo, Dinh, Le, Tran, Ho, Mac, Trinh and Nguyen, as in Nguyen Bao Dai, the dynasty's last emperor, who abdicated in 1945 and who reigned before communist forces took control of North Vietnam in 1945.

During his rule, officials gave loyal subjects his name, while many criminals made the switch to avoid prosecution, according to Wikipedia. Through the centuries, a family might have adopted a new identity when new royals ascended to the throne, their rise achieved by force or political manipulation. And since Nguyen was the most recent, it's more plentiful. So plentiful, in fact, that some estimates place nearly 40 percent of Vietnamese with owning the moniker. [Link]

Empty Wallet Full of History

Russell Martin Harris has donated to the Mormon church a wallet carried by his great-great-grandfather.

It was that ancestor, Martin Harris, who mortgaged his farm to get the $3,000 needed to print the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon, the central text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Family folklore holds that the soft, caramel-brown wallet carried the cash to the printer, Russell Harris said.
Through the years, Russell Harris has shared that same story, showing off the wallet to small groups.

"Everybody wanted to open the billfold and see if the money was still there," Russell Harris said. "It was always empty." [Link]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Houdini Offed by Unhappy Mediums?

A relative of Harry Houdini wants the escape artist's body exhumed.

Houdini's great nephew George Hardeen believes the performer may have been killed by people who were angry because he debunked their claims that they could communicate with the dead.

If his bid to have Houdini's remains exhumed is successful, Hardeen plans to have a team of forensic investigators examine the body for evidence of foul play. [Link]
Find A Grave has photos of Harry's impressive gravesite in Queens.

There Was Jell-O in Her Genes

Elizabeth McNabb was 19 in 1974 when she began her search for her birth mother. Fourteen years and a court order later, she was given access to her original birth certificate in Salem, Ore. She soon after made contact with her birth mother, Barbara (Woodward) Piel, and learned that she was the product of an illicit affair.

McNabb's great-grandfather, she also learned, was Orator Francis Woodward, a Leroy, N.Y., entrepreneur who purchased a business making a flavored gelatin known as "Jell-O" from his neighbor for $450 in 1899.
Barbara Piel died in 2003, but it took until last week for McNabb to be granted her share of the multimillion-dollar Jell-O fortune.
On Friday, a unanimous New York Appellate Division, 4th Department, panel ruled that McNabb legally constitutes a "descendant" and "living child" of her mother, Barbara W. Piel, under trusts established by Piel's mother in 1926 and 1963.

McNabb -- an office manager who has with her husband cared for more than 160 emergency-care foster children -- now stands to split those two trusts with her two half-sisters. Her one-third share totals approximately $3.5 million. [Link]

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Tree That Owns Itself

I've abstracted tons of deeds, but never one like this. The Athens (Ga.) Weekly Banner of August 12, 1890, reported that one William Jackson had conveyed ownership of an oak tree to itself.

William Jackson was reportedly a professor at the University of Georgia; the nature of his military service and the source of the title colonel is unknown. Jackson cherished childhood memories of the tree and, desiring to protect it, he deeded to the tree ownership of itself and the surrounding land. By various accounts this transaction took place between 1820 and 1832. According to the newspaper article, the deed read:

I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak tree… of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides.
[Photo credit: the tree that owns itself by bpmuzik]

Child's Gravestone Gets Upgraded

While digging in a Stockton, California, vacant lot, Victor Rosasco turned up the headstone of a boy who died in 1857. He later had the job of repairing a nearby monument to California hero John Brown. Deciding that "the little guy deserves some recognition," he decided to incorporate the boy's stone into the monument.

The reaction of members of Stockton's Cultural Heritage Board - two wide eyes, one crinkled nose and one "Oh, my goodness!" - could have been predicted. They had come to a vacant lot in east downtown Saturday to honor Brown, known as California's Paul Revere, and to rededicate the monument, which fell apart in 2004 or 2005.

No mention of the "Son of Noah & Lucy Aun Burrows ... aged one year" existed, after all, when the marker was erected in 1969. [Link]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Still Trafficking in Human Misery

One family has found a way to continue benefiting from the slave trade. To mark the 200th anniversary of legislation ending the British Empire's involvement in the practice, unnamed individuals are putting up for auction a slave ship log book once owned by their ancestor, the ship's master. It could bring $6,000 or more.

It is unclear if the logbook owners, who [auction house] Bonhams say they believe are descendants of "master" Lewis, are aware of the criticism surrounding the slave ship log auction.

After the auction, one legal expert says, there theoretically could be legal ramifications for the owners.

"What comes to mind under common law approach is to bring an action that we refer to as unjust enrichment," says Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association. [Link]
I think we've finally found some people who are fully qualified to apologize for slavery.

Parents With Presidential Progeny

Bill Reagan thinks he's figured out a way to measure a president's success in office.

To accurately gauge the quality of an administration, we need a single standard that can be applied to any president, a means of measuring public respect outside of historical and partisan biases. I believe I have formed the mathematical equation that allows exactly that measurement:


Where Q is the quality, P is the president, and bn is the frequency of that president’s name appearing as a baby’s name.
This theory took root at a recent dinner outing where a mother at a nearby table issued a shrill, menacing demand: “Madison! RIGHT NOW!” While the woman behind the bellow was calling only one child, there is a particular tone in some parental admonishments that conveys its urgency across blood lines, and a moment later a small parade of Madisons filed past our table. Were these children each an homage to our fourth president, James Madison? [Link]
In a way, they were. The name appears to derive from a movie mermaid who was named for Madison Avenue, which was named for Madison Square, which was named for our fourth president.

I had a great-uncle dubbed "Theodore Roosevelt Dunham." I'm not sure if he was named for the president or for a mermaid of the same name.

Monday, March 19, 2007

One Last Check Before Leaving

Ralph Lung Kee Lee came to Canada when he was 12, and paid the $500 head tax all Chinese immigrants were then required to pay. Lee finally received an apology from the Canadian government and a $20,000 redress check on March 10—his 107th birthday, and five days before he died.

"It was almost like, 'I waited this long, here I am. I'm going to stay alive to get it,"' Lee's daughter Linda Ing said of her father, who received his apology and compensation 94 years after coming to Canada.
Lee had a fun and loving personality, Ing said, and he was quite tickled when he finally received his redress cheque.

"I said, 'You're going to be 107,"' Ing recalled telling her father the day before his birthday.

"He said, 'Me?' I said, 'You,"' Ing said in mock wide-eyed amazement. "'You're going to get your cheque.' And he just laughed." [Link]

Nova Scotia VRs Virtually Readable

Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics are now online. You'll find digitized birth (1864-1877), marriage (1864-1930), and death records (1864-1877 and 1908-1955). (Oddly enough, nobody died in Nova Scotia between 1878 and 1907.)

This is the best thing to come out of Nova Scotia since ... the last good thing to come out of Nova Scotia.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Vowel Movement

New York Mets pitcher John Maine's grandfather must never have visited my home state—a place noticeably lacking "pizzazz."

Maine [...] said his father's family surname used to be Main, but that his grandfather added the "E" for pizzazz and mystique. Tom Glavine, part Irish, said some members of his family have dropped "E" for reasons of proper pronunciation. "Actually," Glavine said, "I think my family gave the 'E' to the Maines." [Link]

Levity in Brevity

St. Patrick's Day passed by without notice here at The Genealogue, so allow me to offer belatedly this story of the death of an Irish gentleman named (not surprisingly) Paddy.

His wife went to the newspaper to place his obituary. The newsman said the cost was $1 a word.

"I only have $2," Mrs. Paddy said. "Just print 'Paddy died.'"

The newsman decided that old Paddy deserved more. He gave her three extra words at no charge.

"A kind man you are," said Mrs. Paddy. "Print me husband's obituary this way: 'Paddy died. Boat for sale.'" [Link]

Her Claim to Fame Is Her Name

Author Emma Darwin lives in the long shadow of her great-great-grandfather, and in the somewhat shorter shadow of his wife, for whom she was named.

When I checked in for the writing course the administrator ran his finger down the clipboard list. 'No relation to Charles Darwin, then?' I've had a lifetime's training in family manners, so I smiled modestly. 'Well, yes, actually. He's my grandfather's grandfather.'

His finger began to tremble. 'No! But I've actually shaken your hand,' he gasped. 'Charles Darwin's descendant! Oh my God!' He began to hyperventilate and had to sit down. I stood there, trying to keep smiling.
In the odd, blank year between the champagne corks popping to celebrate the deal and my book actually hitting the bookshelves, I Googled myself occasionally, as most new authors do. But I don't think most new authors are consistently upstaged in the Google rankings by their own great-great-grandmother. [Link]

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Radio

April 1, 1930, was an important day in the life of my grandfather Edgar Dunham's radio. That was the day that radios were first counted in the census. Here it is, enumerated with the rest of the family:

On that same day, my grandfather recorded in his diary that he "took Radio Battery over to Geo. Forbes." (I would guess that the radio used a "wet cell" battery that had to be taken to town for recharging periodically.) George was a young auto mechanic in the nearest village, and (the census shows) lived a few doors down from Edgar's first cousin once removed, Charles A. Dunham. Boarding with Charles on April 1, 1930, was Edgar's girlfriend, Mae Coolidge, who attended the same school where Edgar spent half the day splitting wood.

Edgar and Mae would marry and live happily ever after. Of his radio, no further record has been found, suggesting that—like many people in my genealogical experience—it ceased to exist on April 2, 1930.

Friday, March 16, 2007

44% of Canadians Distrustful or Ill-Informed

Genealogists in 2098 will find only 56% of their Canadian relatives in the 2006 census. That's the percentage of respondents that agreed to allow the release of their info after 92 years.

Nationally, 56 per cent of respondents said Yes, 32 per cent said No while the remaining 12 per cent did not respond at all. Prince Edward Island had the highest Yes response rate at 65 per cent while Nunavut registered the lowest at 51 per cent - 26 per cent of respondents there gave no reply at all.
[History professor Bill] Waiser said the "terrible" Yes response rate may be the result of the public's poor understanding of the issue.

"Not only did there need to be a better education effort, I also think that perhaps there needed to be more explanation on the census form itself, in terms of what was involved," he said. [Link]

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Categorically Different

I powered up my backup computer this evening and accidentally tried logging into the message boards using my old username (the one I used before the Fall 2006 update). This sent me into an alternative universe where all the messages posted in the last few months had vanished, the "Home" link pointed to (presumably the in-house domain used for development), and the main message board page included a few unexpected categories. Only after clearing my cookies and logging in again did I arrive at the we all know and love.

For those of you interested in this sort of thing, The Generations Network also owns the domains,, and

When Ancestors Attack

Is it too much to hope that When Ancestors Attack will become a regular segment on The Colbert Report? Maybe they can also have a segment called "Better Know a Census Enumeration District."

Sounds Like My Last Birthday Party

A few headstones were toppled in a Yonkers, N. Y., cemetery Tuesday night. It was the objects left behind by the vandals—including an animal heart—that made the crime as nonsensical as it was senseless.

The items left among the headstones included more than a dozen unlit black candles, black handkerchiefs and a photograph of an unidentified man wearing a suit and smiling. The animal heart had pins in it.

Nearby, police found a partially buried statue of a rooster, wrapped in a bandanna with a pair of underwear around its neck. [Link]
And I thought that leaving a rooster statue half buried in a cemetery wrapped in a bandanna with a pair of underwear around its neck was a tradition only in my family.

Update: It appears that this was a Palo Mayombe hex ceremony, and that the smiling man in the photograph was the target of a curse. He can rest easy, though: it only works if you use a live rooster.

Bad Students Get Born Again

Parents of 100 children in Vietnam asked for and received bogus death certificates for their kids, and then applied for new birth certificates to make them appear younger.

The fact of the matter is that most of these children are bad students who repeatedly fail to get promotion to the next higher grade. [Commune head Nguyen Duy] Bon said, to avoid classmates’ taunts and other problems, people had used to ask the authorities to lower their children’s ages but the paperwork was cumbersome. [Link]

Shawl Was Not Ripper-Proof

A shawl with a grisly history is going on the auction block. It was worn by Jack the Ripper's fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, the night of her death.

The owner is a descendant of Police Sergeant Amos Simpson, who was the first on the crime scene when Catherine was butchered in Mitre Square near Aldgate.
Forensic testing last year for a TV documentary were unable to prove conclusively that the shawl belonged to her. But it has already been on display at the Police Crime museum, before being put up for sale by the Lacy Scott and Knight Auction centre in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. [Link]

Their Irish Eyes Weren't Smiling

Sharon Shea Bossard has come to cherish her Irish ancestry and has even "acquired a slight brogue," despite the miserable St. Patrick's Days of her youth.

Her mother, Helen Shea, dutifully would fasten green satin ribbons to her four children’s school uniforms. That evening she would cook a traditional meal of potatoes and cabbage, pour herself a little whiskey and then play Irish melodies on the piano – alone.

Sharon’s father, Michael, headed straight for the local tavern from his job at a meat-packing plant and never showed up until late at night. He was distant and mysterious, his life locked behind pursed lips and vague references to the past.

“The only advice (my mother) ever gave me was: ‘Never marry an Irishman.’” [Link]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Old News Is Good News

The Library of Congress's Chronicling America project finally came online this afternoon. As I mentioned back in January, this phase offers digitized newspapers published between 1900 and 1910 in California, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Utah, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. They also have an excellent directory of American newspapers published since 1690, with info on repositories where copies may be found.

Cattleman Meets His Cousins of Color

Marion West is a cattle rancher in Missouri. Vy Higginsen runs a school for gospel singers in Harlem. DNA tests showed that the two were cousins, leading to a recent reunion in New York.

It was Mr. West’s first visit to New York City, and he stood out partly because of his rancher outfit: black cowboy hat, shiny boots, string tie and a jacket advertising a feed company. But he also stood out because he was a white man greeted by a roomful of black New Yorkers embracing him as a long-lost member of their family.

“Welcome to Harlem,” Ms. Higginsen told Mr. West and his wife, Mack, as the crowd cheered. “Meet your DNA cousins,” Ms. Higginsen yelled to her relatives. [Link]

What If You Held a Collection and Nobody Came?

People are staying away from the Everton Collection in Logan, Utah, in droves.

Between its Oct. 10, 2006, grand opening and the end of the calendar year, the $1.7 million, 82,000-piece genealogy library averaged just four patrons a day and fewer than 200 over the 48 days it was open, according to statistics provided by Library Director Ronald Jenkins.

However, Jenkins is optimistic the collection will buck that trend and become a popular addition to the library’s offerings.

“The numbers are not high, but the ones that are using (it) are pleased with the collection,” Jenkins said. “I think it takes a little time to have it develop and have people know about it.” [Link]

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

It's Their Third Bird

You have to admire the British government's commitment to both genealogy and ornithology. Their DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) project is progressing nicely, with 40 million of 70 million historical UK birth records now included in the EAGLE (Electronic Access to GRO Legacy Events) database.

Yet another bird's name has been chosen as the acronym for the third project - MAGPIE (Multi Access to GRO Published Index of Events). This will provide online indexes to the newly digitised records, and will be accessible via the internet, hopefully by April 2008. [Link, via Featherstone Genealogy]
Their fourth project will undoubtedly be dubbed "PELICAN" (Project to Encourage Licentious Implementation of Cute Avian Names).

Of Ancestors and Antonyms

Rob Kyff of the Hartford Courant notices an error often committed by his colleagues:

Can someone please tell me why so many writers are confusing the words "ancestor" and "descendant"?

A recent newspaper caption under a color photo of a mother and son read, "Karen Duplessis and her son, Patrick, are Patrick Henry's ancestors." Now if this stylish mom and curly haired kid in a red polo shirt are ancestors of Patrick Henry, I know a lot less about pre-1700 fashion and the history of photography than I thought I did. [Link]

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Family Fesses Up

Members of Linda Bedrikovs's family have been answering the same 24 questions for two centuries in a "confessions book."

The book became a source of amusement at family gatherings, being passed around for all to fill in after dinner and then read out for all to hear.

In the book a Victorian girl called Megan confesses that her worst fault is wanting to be 'unladylike' and her greatest pleasure is 'stealing half an hour in the garden with Tom' (presumably her boyfriend) when her papa is asleep.

Fifty years later, a 1900 girl confesses that the Prince of Wales is her hero and the greatest pleasure she has experienced was 'realising that I had become attractive'. [Link]

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Call Him 'Merisi da Milano'

Michelangelo Merisi was better known as "Caravaggio," the name of his hometown. Now the residents of that northern Italian town are dismayed to learn that the Late Renaissance painter was born in Milan, and baptized at the church of Santa Maria della Passarella.

Leafing through volumes of church records, Vittorio Pirami, a retired employee of Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest conglomerate, claimed a "special light" guided him to a page which records the baptism of Caravaggio.

"Today, the 30th, Michel Angelo, the son of Mr Fermo Merisi and Mrs Lucia Aratori, was baptised. Mr Francesco Sessa was present," read the Latin document.
Caravaggio's mayor says he can't understand why Milan would try to steal their most famous citizen.
"Perhaps they are lacking a famous 16th century artist to call their own," he said. "This is Italy, there is probably someone who has a birth certificate claiming Leonardo Da Vinci was also from Milan." [Link]

Jesse James: Bank Robber, Civil Rights Pioneer

James R. Ross, a former Superior Court judge and the great-grandson of Jesse James, died on Monday. He wrote a book about his outlaw ancestor called I, Jesse James.

Of all the cases he handled, his cousin said, Ross was most proud of one involving two men who were kicked out of Disneyland in 1980 for dancing together. In 1984, Ross ruled in favor of the couple.

"He felt that basically it was in the tradition of the James family to make sure civil rights are restored to citizens," Eric James said. [Link]

Tamale Suspected in Woman's Death

A 128-year-old woman was buried Friday in El Salvador.

Cruz Hernandez, who national birth records show was born on May 3, 1878, in central El Salvador, passed away in her sleep on Thursday, neighbour and close family friend Margarita Ascencio said by telephone. Hernandez died without being recognized by the Guinness Book of Records.

"She had been poorly for a few days, and yesterday, after eating a tamale and drinking some milk, she went to sleep and never woke up," Ascencio said.
Many who knew her attributed her longevity to her favourite drink of a beer with two raw eggs in it. [Link]
Her diet was strangely similar to that of this woman. I need to eat more eggs and drink more booze.

Some Things They Don't Teach at Cambridge

Centenarian Jessie Ridd of New Zealand recalls here the early days of her married life, she a Cambridge graduate fresh off the boat from England.

Her husband had removed the coalrange from his Woodville farmhouse, but because of war restrictions no replacement electric range was available. She had to cook outdoors on an open fire.

"I said to John 'What should I cook?' 'Stew,' he replied, and I asked 'How?'

"Put meat and vegies in the pot and boil it," he said.

To keep the fire going in the rain, Mr Ridd erected a corrugated iron roof over her temporary kitchen. "The carpenter was living with us, building a bathroom because I refused to marry John until I had a toilet inside." [Link]

What's Sicilian for 'Carpetbagger'?

Frank Cannonito, a retired math professor from California, is running for a city council seat in Sicily, even though he's never been there.

Cannonito's father, who was from Palermo, immigrated to the United States in 1910, and through that link his son holds dual U.S. and Italian citizenship. There's no residency requirement for him to run in Palermo, and he acknowledges the ticket is unlikely to win any seats. [Link]

Shivery Spines Run in the Family

The remains of a woman were found in an abandoned well in Saskatchewan last summer. Jo Ann Manton believes they are those of her great-grandmother, Harriet (Dyson) Calvert.

For many years, one of Manton's aunts has researched the family history and, in particular, Calvert's disappearance in the early 1900s. Manton was visiting her aunt in Calgary last summer when the discovery became national news.

"It just sent shivers up both of our spines," said Manton. "It was a very intuitive feeling. That's fairly strong in our family." [Link]

Their Marriage Is Legal in Every State

Simone Chiha and Jaime Garner met through in 2005, and married last November. Ever since their first date, they've been finding unexpected connections between their families. Simone's stepfather knew Jaime's mother as a teenager. Simone's godmother worked for Jaime's family as a nanny in Germany. Her grandmother and his great-grandmother are buried in the same cemetery.

"I was thinking, great, he's going to tell me we're long-lost cousins," Simone says.

Jaime called his mom, who had a wall of genealogy charts in her office, and he rattled off the names he'd been given.

"She starts looking on our tree and says, 'None of these names are on our family tree.' She's gone back at least five generations, and there's no relation." [Link]

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Somebody Make It Stop!

Anna T. Burr turns 107 on Monday, and remembers a time when telephones inspired panic.

"My mother and father went away, and left me and my brother, who was three years older than I, alone with the maid," she recalled. "The telephone started to ring and the maid panicked because she didn't know how to turn it off," she said. [Link]

The Truth Is Sometimes Ugly

A writer for Iceland Review Online found that she descends from a Viking named Bj√°lfi—which means "idiot" in modern Icelandic—through his colorful grandson Egill Skallagr√≠msson.

Most of the Vikings of the sagas were heroes - beautiful, generous, well-built men, who always did the right thing but got caught up in the web of fate and died in a tragic way.

My ancestor, Egill, was not like this. In Egils Saga, Egill is described as remarkably ugly and dangerously violent. At the age of seven he killed his playmate in a hockey game. Unlike most other Vikings in the sagas, Egill had trouble finding a girl to marry because of his looks. On top of it all, Egill had a big problem with alcohol. (Ironically, the biggest brewery in Iceland is named after him). [Link]

Buried Behind a Wall at the Mall

The Crowley family graveyard in Decatur, Georgia, used to lie on a hill in the middle of a cow pasture. Now it lies high above a mall parking lot, surrounded by a two-story granite wall.

The surrounding pasture was graded to create the mall parking lot, leaving an elevated patch that contained the graves. The developer built a granite wall to protect them, and shut it in behind a wrought-iron gate that leads to stairs.

The result is a 20-foot tall, walled cemetery that resembles a bunker.

It bemused shoppers at Columbia Mall, then Avondale Mall, who sometimes called it "the tomb of the unknown shopper." [Link]

Wife Swap

Australian genealogist Kate Wingrove has organized a reunion of the descendants of George Cribb: "convict, bigamist and general scoundrel."

Within six months of arriving in the colony as a convict in 1808 Cribb was advertising "fine fresh pork" to his neighbours in The Rocks. He was also living with another convict, Fanny Barnett, whom he married in 1811 - conveniently forgetting that he was already married to a woman in England called Mary.

Cribb was caught out when Mary wrote to say she was arriving in Sydney in June 1815. The butcher - by now prosperous - paid Fanny 300 pounds to leave for England on the same ship that deposited Mary. [Link]

An Obit Fit for Two

Stephen at obituary forum asks, "how would you like to have your obit combined with somebody else's just because you worked for the same lousy employer?"

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams probably suffered the same indignity in many newspapers.

Your Wednesday Wasn't as Good as Mine

Wednesday was one of the best days of my life—genealogically speaking. Her mother having passed away on Monday, my aunt felt empowered to delve into her drawers and closets to see what family treasures had been packed away and forgotten. When I went to the house at noon, I found a stack of photo albums and loose documents waiting on the living-room sofa. My eye was immediately drawn to a small cardboard box bearing the signature of Elton Dunham, my great-grandfather. Inside was an autograph album I never knew existed.

Twelve people signed the book, most offering a poem or aphorism in addition to their autograph. The first, dated Feb. 20, 1895, is from Elton's future father-in-law. His future bride signed next ("On this leaf in memory prest, May my name forever rest"), followed a few months later by her mother and grandmother. In all, the signatures of five of my ancestors appear in the book—the most remarkable of which is that of Drusilla Morgan, my great-great-great-grandmother (below). She was born Apr. 27, 1820, in the northern reaches of Oxford County, Maine, and died on Sept. 9, 1896—the day that Elton and her granddaughter were scheduled to marry.

Exciting as this find was, it wasn't nearly as exciting as the next. I picked up what looked like an old composition book and turned to the first page. It took me roughly half a second to recognize what I was holding. It was the account book of my great-great-great-grandfather Moses Fairfield Coolidge, a storekeeper in Upton, Maine. His outlays for the years 1877 through 1884 were given, together with a list of expenses for fixing up and operating the store.

Fairfield didn't run his store for long, leaving plenty of blank pages in his account book. It seems that his wife, Jane (Tebbetts) Coolidge, then took custody of the ledger, because on a later page there appears the record of "Johnathan Tebbetts and his family." "Johnathan" was born June 13, 1784, and "Died in Rochester [N. H.] May 5 1857." Three generations of Coolidge family records follow this, with several changes in handwriting. The last birth recorded was that of my grandmother:
Tucked between the pages of the book were smaller treasures. My favorites are the bills for my Dunham great-great-grandparents' funerals, and the original script for my father's grammar-school graduation speech.

So, if I'm lax in posting the next few days, it's only because I find it difficult to type while jumping for joy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It Was Due to Natural Causes

A Nova Scotia news channel should have consulted the man in charge before reporting vandalism at his cemetery. The report triggered a flood of visitors worried that their relatives' stones had been damaged.

"It’s like there’s a funeral going on 24 hours today," Gate of Heaven Cemetery supervisor Raymond Coolen said in an interview Monday afternoon.

ATV News reported that several headstones had been toppled by vandals last weekend. But rather than roaming hooligans, the damage was caused by Mother Nature.

"I’ve been watching these stones fall now for a couple of months," said Mr. Coolen, explaining that frost heave is to blame for the fallen headstones. [Link]

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Well-Worn Heirloom

When 3-month-old Alexis Penner had her first formal picture taken last week, she wore a hand-me-down dress.

The simple white gown was previously worn not only by Alexis's 22-month-old sister Zoe, but also 136 other descendants of Lieuzetta Schonlau, the matriarch of [Alexis's grandmother] Judy's side of the family, who created the dress in 1896.

"It has become a tradition that at the age of 3 months, the children have their picture taken in this dress," said Judy, who was descendant No. 24 to experience it.
The dress travels with books that contain family photos, a history of the garment, and a list of descendants who've worn it. Judy says not every eligible infant has donned the dress.
"We've had a couple of fathers who have said, 'I'm not putting my boy in a dress,'" she said. "There might be 20 out there who never had their picture taken." [Link]

My Grandmother and Popeye

When they asked me to write my grandmother's obituary this weekend, both my father and his sister insisted that I mention her time working in the "Popeye shop."

The chief industry in our hometown for the past 140 years has been wood turning—first spools, and later dowels and handles for kitchen utensils. But for a time in the 1920s and '30s, the mill produced as a sideline wooden dolls of characters like Popeye and Little Orphan Annie.

These toys are easy to spot today at flea markets and on eBay. Although the pieces were rarely stamped with any identifying mark, it's hard to miss the particular body which, when detached from its limbs and stripped of paint, looks exactly like a spool. The arms, legs, and heads, all made of turned wood, are attached to the hollow spool with an elastic, making the joints strong enough to stand on their own, but also flexible enough to fix in a variety of poses. [Link]
My grandmother had the job of threading elastic through and assembling the body parts. The finished dolls were packed in large sacks and carted over to the depot for shipping. She left her job when pregnant with my father in 1940, which was around the time the Popeye shop shut down.

Making novelty toys was indeed a novelty in our part of the world, and one of our town's few claims to fame (we can also claim L. L. Bean as a native son, but my grandmother was in no way involved in his creation). I'm proud to say that my Grammie played a part in the enterprise, and that possible examples of her handiwork now command such high prices on eBay that I can't afford to buy a single one.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Damn Those Figs!

Martin Scorsese grew up in Manhattan, but his grandparents lived on Staten Island. In his 1974 documentary Italianamerican, he interviewed his mother about her parents, Martin and Domenica Cappa.

"I remember one time we had a fig tree. (My father) used to love fig trees, but my mother couldn't stand them. In the winter time you had to cover them very, very well, otherwise they froze. One winter when he did climb up -- he was getting old -- my father fell off the ladder and he got hurt, and my mother was so angry. She says to him, 'I hope those fig trees die, I hope they never bloom again!' she said, and then, of course, my mother became ill. And the next winter she passed away and the trees never bloomed anymore. It was like she took them with her, and that was that." [Link]
A reporter from the Staten Island Advance went to the Cappa home to see if the curse still held. "I've tried three times to plant a fig tree here," the current owner said, "I've given up on that. It won't take."

A Civil War Scion

It's not often that the son of a Union veteran becomes a member of the Sons of Union Veterans.

George Williams, 95, is the son of a Union soldier from Kentucky who ran away from home to fight on some of the bloodiest landscapes during the Civil War. He will be installed Monday night as a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
To many, the Civil War is just a historic event in the distant past. To Williams, it's an epic struggle washed in blood. His father, Henry, told him the stories of what it was like to hear the can[n]ons blast, to see the Southern hills littered with dead bodies, and to feel the emotion of neighbor fighting neighbor. [Link]

One Family's Myth Communication

Representatives of the English and American branches of the Perrotin family reunited in California last week after a century apart. Each had heard a different explanation for the loss of contact.

From the stories her great-aunt told her, Linda Tully of San Jose always assumed that her English cousins died in the bombing "blitz" during World War II. Jenny Murray of Gloucestershire, England, had been told that her cousins in the new world perished during an earthquake in Mexico.
So how did those stories get started?
Well, there were earthquakes in Mexico: But Tully says she's unaware they killed any of the family. And the closest Jenny Murray's family came to the "blitz" was that her father extinguished incendiary bombs dropped near his home some 100 miles west of London. [Link]

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Genealogy to the Extreme

An AP story making the rounds today calls the use of the Internet and DNA testing "extreme genealogy."

Just as modern equipment has made it possible for any reasonably motivated person to climb Mount Everest or dive to the Andrea Doria, new technologies have made it possible to achieve incredible genealogical feats with relatively modest effort.

Now, it takes nothing more than casual curiosity and a few hours of research to discover that New York-based civil rights activist Al Sharpton is descended from slaves who were owned by ancestors of the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, a staunch opponent of desegregation. [Link]
I think the writer has shortchanged some truly extreme genealogists here. It's far easier to retrace the steps of a pioneering researcher than to make the discovery oneself. Knowing where to look and recognizing what one has found are skills that require more than a modest effort to develop, though the clues may seem obvious in retrospect. Genealogy becomes "extreme" when we're blazing new trails—not when we're following bread crumbs left by others.

So Unbelievable It Must Be True

A new book identifies Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon of Bhopal, India, as the first in line to the throne of France.

A distant cousin of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, he is alleged to be not only related to the current Bourbon king of Spain and the Bourbon descendants still in France, but to have more claim than any of them to the French crown.
The author, Prince Michael of Greece, offers a very persuasive argument.
"If I am right - and I don't have absolute proof, but I completely believe in my theory - then Balthazar Bourbon would be the eldest in the line," he told the Guardian.

"This is the cherry on the cake. Mr Bourbon is head of a decent, dignified, middle-class Indian family. They look so Indian and yet bear this name. When you look at them, it seems incredible. The more unbelievable it is, the more I believe in it." [Link]

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Genes Mean He Leans to the Left

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero has an inherited condition that makes him run in circles counterclockwise. Fortunately, he found a job that pays him for doing this.

"I have a family history where there is one leg proven that is longer than the other," Guerrero said, adding that it's the right one in his case. "So when I hobble, it's not my knee. My mom's side of the family, we have a leg longer than the other. So it looks like I'm hobbling, but I'm not. But my knee is fine." [Link]

Friday, March 02, 2007

Dodd Doomed in Iowa

D-Day has the scoop on the latest scandal to rock the 2008 presidential race: Chris Dodd's great-great-great-great-aunt hated corn.

"Mama never usually cooks it right," wrote Rose-a-Sharon Millicent Dodd in a diary entry dated March 16, 1835. "An' e'en if she did, it sticks between my teeth like President Jackson sticks to the Indian Removal Act!"

Staffers for Senator Dodd hastily assembled a closed-door meeting to discuss how best to deflect the damage this could do to his nascent campaign. Needless to say, the eating habits of a distant relative twice remove[d] would have a crushing effect in the farmlands of this midwestern state, home to the first caucus in the nation.

Candidate Accepts DNA Donations From Slave Owners

The genealogical muckraking continues. The Barack Obama pedigree I mentioned several weeks ago has caught the attention of The Baltimore Sun. They've used it to prove that some of Obama's ancestors owned slaves.

According to the research, one of Obama's great-great-great-great grandfathers, George Washington Overall, owned two slaves who were recorded in the 1850 Census in Nelson County, Ky. The same records show that one of Obama's great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers, Mary Duvall, also owned two slaves.
"The twist is very interesting," said Ronald Walters, a political scientist who is director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, College Park. "It deepens his connection with the experience of slavery, even if it deepens it on a different side of the equation." [Link]
Overall and Duvall's refusal to come forward and answer these charges only worsens the situation for Obama. If they want their descendant to become president, they need to learn how to handle the press.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fuzzy Photo Forensics

Not to be outdone by our American horse-sitting mystery, RootsChatters are trying to figure out where the hotel in this photograph stood. After sixteen pages of posts, they have established with near certainty that it is in fact a photograph.

A Humble Home in Maine

Yet again, I've missed the deadline for the Carnival of Genealogy. An idea for the current topic—"Shelter from the storm, stories of the home and hearth"—didn't come until a few minutes ago.

This morning my 94-year-old grandmother left her home in Locke Mills, Maine, perhaps (I've just learned) for the last time. Her late husband bought the house from his sister in August of 1936. My father was born in the back bedroom four years later. Every Saturday evening of my childhood was spent at the dinner table there over a plate of baked beans. (My mother tells me this was my first solid food as an infant.) Before dinner, while the grownups talked in the kitchen, I would play in the living room on a floor so uneven that all my marbles and Matchbox cars would roll to the northeast corner.

The house is one story with low ceilings, small but not cramped. It was built according to no particular style in about 1853, the year the house lot was first sold. The land was sold "reserving the building on the same," but whether the present house is referred to is difficult to tell. It was sold to a young widow in 1854, who, after remarrying, sold it to another young widow in 1865. It was probably after her tenure that a second, larger house was built immediately next to the first. That house was still standing in the 1970s, and was home to my great-grandparents after they moved off their farm in 1941. There was scarcely room for a driveway between the two buildings, and in many instances the two were conveyed by the same deed. The larger house was demolished in about 1977, and my aunt now owns both properties.

Even if my grandmother doesn't return, the house will stay in the family. My aunt still lives there and has no intention of leaving. If she ever did leave, I would find a way to buy it. And I wouldn't fix the floor.

Sometimes They Fight Back

I must be slipping. I don't know how I missed reporting this in January—the latest in a string of tombstone attacks where revenge was clearly the motive.

Police in Lilburn, Ga., were called to the cemetery adjacent to Luxomni Baptist Church at 2:40 a.m. one morning in January to investigate reports of a man screaming for about two hours. They found Ezekiel Dejesus-Rodriguez, 24, pinned under a gravestone (with a bloody, broken leg) and said he had apparently been knocking over headstones for fun until one fell on him. [Link (original story (Thanks, John!))]

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