Saturday, June 30, 2007

Don't Get Cold Feet in Virginia

Six months after a young man in Virginia called off his wedding, the cops showed up at his mother's door.

"What's he done?" asked the bewildered mother.

"He got a marriage license and didn't return it," the deputy replied. "Do you know where it is?"

The mother supposed that her cold-footed son, just wanting to forget the whole marriage thing, had just thrown the license in the trash after the wedding was called off.

"I guess we just threw it away," the mother said. Then she hastened to add, "But it was never used."

"That's a legal document," the deputy said. "He can go to jail for not returning it to the court." [Link]

Friday, June 29, 2007

Teen Unsheaths His Sword in Public

To mark the 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce's momentous journey from Rathlin Island off Northern Ireland to the Isle of Arran in Scotland, Lord Bruce of Kinloss and his three sons retraced their relative's steps carrying his original sword.

Lord Bruce’s eldest son, 16-year-old James, who has the title Master of Bruce was carrying the sword which was nearly as big as him and he took it out of the sheath to show the crowd on Lamlash pier.

‘It is not as heavy as you would think,’ said Lord Bruce. ‘The strength is in the tempering of the blade.’ [Link]
Planning a trip to Scotland? Then you'll need your very own Robert the Bruce sword. Good luck getting it through airport security.

Girl's Blood Tests Negative for Acting

At summer camp, Haley Wilcox, 9, snagged the role of a reporter covering the trial of the Big Bad Wolf. She says that she's genetically disposed to tread the boards.

"I have acting in my blood because my ancestors are Lillian and Dorothy Gish," Wilcox said.

Wilcox, the daughter of Kelly and Curt Wilcox of Galesburg, said she's done plays in school before but this is her first "real performance." [Link]
Sisters Lillian and Dorothy both died childless and—unless the father who abandoned them planted his seed elsewhere—had no siblings aside from each other. Since she's only 9, I won't relentlessly mock Haley for her dubious claim, and will concede that she could be a far-removed cousin of the two actresses.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Were Your Relatives in the Movies?

"Willowbob" is using YouTube to identify relatives who appeared in his grandparents' home movies (Parts 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7).

If you had any relatives in the USA in the 50s or 60s named BOOKE LEVY HANIFORD ROSENBLATT ROSENGARD MILLER GOLDBERG HEIN ALTMAN COPPACK, they MAY just be related to the people in this cinefilm that my British grandparents visited in California, Vegas and New York (Buffalo) over 50 years ago.

It may be a longshot, but it would be AMAZING if I could contact anybody from the family tree I have containing over 200 names. It's never too late for a reunion! Who knows? You may just be watching your grandparents right now!
On a less genealogical note, he asks if anyone can identify the TV show or movie being filmed in this clip.

Immigration Expert Running for Senate

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning is challenging Senator Chuck Hagel in the next Republican primary. He says that Hagel is all wrong on immigration.

I've got a picture here on my desk of my great great grandfather and my great great grandmother who came to Ellis Island in 1861 and ended up in Nebraska, in the little town of Bruning, by the way. They came in the right way… [Link]
The immigration station at Ellis Island didn't open until 1892, which suggests that Bruning's ancestors bypassed the station at Castle Garden to slip into the country undetected. If Mr. Bruning thinks that that is the "right way" to enter this great land of ours, I have to wonder how many fugitive Taliban leaders he's harboring in his basement.

(As it happens, Bruning's ancestors actually did pass through Castle Garden in 1861, before settling in Thayer County, Nebraska.)

Sibling Census Needed

Pop singer Lily Allen is quite sure that actor and comedian Keith Allen is her father, but has no clue how many siblings she has.

"I don't know. I honestly don't. My dad lies about it. He's like, 'Okay, it's eight.' And I'm like, 'We know it's twelve.' There are a few years before he met my mom that are unaccounted for, but law of averages would say he had five [kids then]." [Link]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What's to Blame for Baby Names

The Wall Street Journal had a piece last week on the booming baby-name business.

Some parents are checking Social Security data to make sure their choices aren't too trendy, while others are fussing over every consonant like corporate branding experts. They're also pulling ideas from books, Web sites and software programs, and in some cases, hiring professional baby-name consultants who use mathematical formulas.
Name choices have long been agonizing for some parents. In Colonial times, it was not uncommon for parents to open the Bible and select a word at random -- a practice that created such gems as Notwithstanding Griswold and Maybe Barnes. [Link, via mental_floss]
For parents who wait till the last minute, the circumstances of birth can provide a name. William Shepard Walsh's 1892 Handy-book of Literary Curiosities offers an example:
The register of St. Helen's, Bishopgate, for the year 1611 tells the short tale of "Job-raked-out-of-the-ashes," a child born on the last day of August, "in the lane going to Sir John Spencer's back gate," "and there laid on a heap of sea-coal ashes. Baptized the next day and buried on the day following." [Link]
[Photo credit: yawn by Stephen Rainer]

What's the Bear Hiding Down There?

A controversy has erupted in Madrid over the sex of "El Oso"—the bear which has long been the symbol of the Spanish capital. The Madrid Women's Council insists that El Oso is "una osa." The city's coat of arms depicts the bear looking up a tree, but the relevant parts of its anatomy are not shown.

The Director of the Matirtense Heraldic and Geneology Royal Academy, Faustino Menéndez Pidal de Navascués, told El Mundo that they are not veterinarians, and therefore cannot decide the sex of the bear. [Link]

Get Your Heirlooms Smashed on TV

On the Chinese version of Antiques Roadshow, sentimental value counts for nothing.

Losers go away not just disappointed that their "family heirloom" has turned out to be a dud. At the end, if a panel of experts decree it to be a forgery, the host wields a golden hammer and smashes it to smithereens.
Before the experts pass verdict, the audience gets to vote - a red, smiling face for genuine, a blue, sad one for those they would consign to the hammer. [Link]
Contestants on "Collector's World" can opt out before receiving the final judgment, but have to sign a contract allowing the destruction of their item if they want to receive an appraisal.

A Caper on the Cape

Volunteers in Sandwich, Massachusetts, waded into a pond last Saturday with "thumping" poles, in search of gravestones supposed missing from the adjacent Old Town Cemetery. George Burbank's 1946 book Highlights of Sandwich History says that ne'er-do-wells tossed the stones into the pond back in the 1880s.

In December, town workers pulled a headstone of Hannah Thacher, who died in 1785, from the water. Town workers found the headstone and other broken pieces of stone in shallow water when they were clearing bramble and brush between the pond and the cemetery.

Some believe Burbank's tale of graveyard shenanigans is accurate because while the burial ground was established in 1663, according to historical records, the oldest stone in the cemetery is marked 1685.

That's a 20-year gap with no explanation. [Link]
There are other possible explanations for the gap. In his study of colonial gravestones on Cape Cod, Stephen P. Broker was able to locate just 37 stones bearing dates prior to 1709.
Possible explanations for the slow start in gravestones being placed in Cape cemeteries include a hesitancy of the early settlers to mark the graves of their growing numbers of deceased for fear of encouraging attack by the Native Americans, the initial absence of a gravestone carving tradition in the New World, the need to import gravestones from Boston and Plymouth carving centers, the use of uninscribed fieldstones to mark early burials, the use of wooden markers that have not survived, and the use of inscribed stones that have disappeared with the ensuing time. [Link]
[Photo credit: Zad Crol by Chris Seufert]

She's Sure to Be a Knockout

A baby in Britain has been named Autumn Sullivan Corbett Fitzsimmons Jeffries Hart Burns Johnson Willard Dempsey Tunney Schmeling Sharkey Carnera Baer Braddock Louis Charles Walcott Marciano Patterson Johansson Liston Clay Frazier Foreman Brown. It's a tradition in her mother's family to name kids after lots of boxers.

The tradition started with Autumn’s boxing-clever grandparents Brian and Sue – who gave their three children no less than 103 names between them.
Autumn's aunt Becky has 34 names, and says it could have been worse.
“We’re all named after different boxers – my brother is bare-knuckle boxers, Maria is named after Heavyweight and all my names are after British Heavyweight boxers.

“I was a bit worried when Maria first had Autumn because she said she was going to name her after all our names combined.

“Thankfully she toned it down." [Link]

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Family Chariot

Forty-two relatives of Isidoro Vannozzi gathered Monday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit a former family treasure—a 2,600-year-old Etruscan chariot Isidoro discovered in 1898 while digging a cellar in Monteleone, Italy. He stored it in his barn, where his grandson—Lou Giovannetti's father—used to play on it when he was a boy.

"Dad would be amazed. I'm sure he would. I don't think he realized that much about it when he was a young kid playing on it."

Neither, apparently, did Isidoro, who -- according to lore -- sold the chariot for two cows and 30 terra-cotta tiles before it was shipped off to America. Other accounts say Isidoro made a tidy profit on the sale.

"We keep talking about Isidoro -- he was a farmer; he gave the chariot away. But the money he got was a lot. He wasn't stupid," Bill Giovannetti said. [Link]
[Photo Credit: Bronze chariot inlaid with ivory... by Mary Harrsch]

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Viking-Inca Link?

The Vikings were great seafarers, but could they have traveled all the way to Peru and brought back an Inca? Archaeologists pulled up some rose bushes at the old St. Nicolas church in Sarpsborg, Norway, and came upon an unusual skull.

"A particular bone at the back of the head was not fused. This is an inherited trait found almost exclusively among the Incas of Peru," [Mona Beate] Buckholm added. To this day, no other example of this trait has been found in Norway. "While it is tempting to speculate, seeing as St. Nicolas is the patron saint of sailors, it's hard to imagine a Peruvian making his way here at the time. This is quite puzzling." [Link]

They Didn't Have a Ticket to Ride

Tom Kemp at Genealogy Library News has gathered some stories of people born on trains. Here are some famous, and almost famous, people who came aboard between stations:

  • Rudolf Nureyev was born somewhere on the Siberian Railway, as was fellow dancer Tamara Toumanova.
  • Professional bowler June Courington came into the world on a train carrying her father's baseball team on a barnstorming tour through the South.
  • Marlon Brando's second wife, Maria "Movita" Castaneda, was born aboard a train in Arizona.
  • Maria von Trapp of Sound of Music fame was born on a train en route to Vienna.
  • Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew was born on a train in the Panama Canal Zone. He was named for Dr. Rodney Cline, a passenger in the whites-only section who assisted in the delivery.
[Hat tip: Genealogy Blog]

Car Contest, Sans Saturation

Not long after blogging about the guy who won the time-capsule car, I received an email from Debra Osborne Spindle about a second contest in 1957 involving a second Plymouth Belvedere. But this prize wasn't immersed in water for fifty years. Read more at All My Ancestors.

Mitt's Mexican Cousin

Today's Boston Globe has a story about the side of the Romney family that remained in Mexico after Mitt's ancestors returned to America.

Mike Romney, a school administrator in this small town in the Mexican desert, and Mitt Romney, a candidate for president of the United States, have never met.

But the two distant cousins are just a year apart in age, and both are descendants of the same great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, who fled the United States and, at the direction of church leaders, helped create this colony 122 years ago as a refuge for polygamous Mormons. [Link]

Celebrating a Celibate Ancestor

The Shakers were celibate while living as Shakers, but that did not preclude their having children before joining the community or after leaving. A reunion of the descendants of Elder Freeman Benjamin White was held at the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire over the weekend.

The dozens of relatives who attended the reunion this weekend are descendants of only two of Freeman White's children - Forrest White and Everett White. Freeman White brought the boys, along with their two sisters, Jennie Lind and Lillie Grace, to the Shaker Village in 1879 after their mother left the family.

It was not an unusual circumstance at the Shaker Village, historian and Shaker trustee Sue Maynard said.

"There were a number of children who were brought to the village to be cared for because of a divorce," Maynard said. "This was a safe, pious, good place. There were not as many men; this is one of the reasons that Freeman stands out from other people who came to the village as a refuge." [Link]
The only place to find honest-to-goodness real live Shakers is at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, not far from where I live.

Lucky Guess Wins Dead Guy a Car

The winner of the rusty 1957 Plymouth Belvedere recently dug up in Tulsa is Raymond Eugene Humbertson, late of Cumberland, Maryland. He and his wife died childless, but he has two sisters living, and a number of nephews and nieces, including Sue (Humbertson) Gerhart.

Sue said her husband, Paul, broke the news to her early Saturday morning, when he said, "You're not going to believe what was in today's paper." Sue added, "I wasn't even awake yet . . . I thought he said, 'Raymond buried a car and they just dug it up.'

"I said, 'My God, is there a body in it?'"
Family members are wondering how Raymond happened to be in Tulsa, and how he managed to predict the city's 2007 population (his guess was 384,743; he was off by just 0.6%). They think he might have been returning from San Diego, where he was visiting his ill father.
They speculate that Raymond stayed overnight in Tulsa, and perhaps had a bite to eat at a local diner -- where he may have filled out the form for the time capsule contest. As far as why he chose the numbers he did -- no one knows. In fact, they said Raymond was not a great math or science whiz.

"For all we know, he could have picked those numbers because (the cost of his meals were) $3.84 and $7.43, or something like that," Ace [Humbertson] added. [Link]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

This Needs to Be Addressed

Someone spent some time posting the same message to all 50 state boards at GenForum yesterday:

Having Trouble Finding Information or Just Dont Have The Time???

I am here to help if you are having trouble finding out the information your looking for or you just dont have the time. Check out my webpage and let me get started for you today!!
The poster didn't leave the address of the webpage, so people having trouble finding information may have trouble finding it.

His Parents Told Him He Was Through

Visit GeneaBlogie to learn the full name of a man named Through.

Here's another one in the same vein: The full name of a certain English economist was Nicholas Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-
Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barbon. He went by Nicholas.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Genealogy is Bunk

After reading Richard Conniff's article, "The Family Tree, Pruned," in the July issue of Smithsonian, I have decided to give up genealogy. After all, "genealogy is bunk," and genealogists are nothing more than celebrity chasers.

The temptation is to pay attention only to the good news, and look on the family lineage as a golden thread leading down from some glorious ancestor straight down to the lucky modern-day descendants.
Boy, he really knows what motivates genealogists. I don't add anyone to my GEDCOM without checking first to see if he's glorious.

Conniff argues that sharing DNA is less important than we think ("In theory, you may possess no genetic connection whatsoever to your own great-great-grandfather"), and that not sharing DNA is more important than we think ("Go back ten generations in virtually any family, and the odds are that someone has climbed unacknowledged up the family tree"). In other words, I might not have a genetic connection to my great-great-grandfather, but that's irrelevant because odds are his wife was a tramp.

Not only is genealogy bunk, it's pointless. We all have common ancestors a few millennia back, so "Our genealogy is, in a word, identical." Analogously, my brother and I share a common set of parents, so I must also be husband to his wife and father to his child. Unless our mother was a tramp.

Yes, I'm giving up genealogy. If our genealogies truly are identical, I'll just wait until you've finished yours. And then copy it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bruce's Landlocked Lineage

I hope Bruce Willis is better at genealogy than geography.

The actor revealed that his ancestors come from Ecton, a village and civil parish in Northamptonshire, England, reports the Mirror.

However, he got a bit confused as to the location of the place, for though he describes it as "a small fishing village in the north of London", it happens to be landlocked. [Link]
His ancestors must have emigrated because the fishing was so poor.

Be Prepared For an 'Oops'

Any genealogist who's put off DNA testing because he's confident where his Y chromosome came from might want to reconsider.

Genetics students, reports Steve Olsen, are commonly taught that 5% to 15% of the men on birth certificates aren't the biological parents of their children.
As more people opt to have DNA tests to check for genetic diseases or to explore family history, the more geneticists are discovering false paternity assumptions.

"Any project that has more than 20 or 30 people in it is likely to have an 'oops' in it," says Bennett Greenspan, whose company, Family Tree DNA, traces ancestral links. [Link]

Acting Like a Witch No Longer a Capital Offense

Genealogist David Nelson says that actor Tom Felton—best known for his portrayal of Harry Potter nemesis Draco Malfoy—is related to some of those executed at Salem as witches.

“He is a distant relative of John Proctor — who was hanged on August 19, 1692. I have informed Tom’s manager about witches in his family tree.” Mr Nelson, of Salt Lake City, US, has been probing the Salem witches’ history for four years.

He found the teen star is also related to seven others involved in the most infamous witch hunt in history — which was the subject of Arthur Miller’s celebrated play The Crucible. [Link]

The Battle of Niihau

I'm a bit of a World War II buff, so I enjoyed reading this evening about The Niihau Zero—a Japanese plane that crash-landed on the westernmost of Hawaii's main islands while returning from the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Having terrorized the islanders who refused to return his papers, the pilot was dispatched by Bene Kanahele and his wife Ella, making the "Battle of Niihau" the first American victory of the war.

A sidebar to the Air & Space print article explains why the pilot couldn't successfully land his plane on the island. It was all because of the pre-war prediction that, if captured by the Japanese, Niihau would make a perfect base for attacks on the other Hawaiian Islands.

To preclude that, Alymer Robinson, Keith's uncle, began plowing up Niihau. "They started with mules," Keith Robinson says. After the Japanese sinking of the USS Panay in China's Yangtze River in 1937, the Robinsons added the tractor power. In all, over 50 of the island's 70 square miles were rendered unusable, all at the family's personal expense.
From a helicopter today, you can still see traces of Niihau's furrows, especially along the island's drier barrens. It was these that denied Shigenori Nishikaichi a safe landing, sending his Zero crashing into brush and boulders that December 7 morning. While Pearl's mighty defenses fell, Niihau's held.
Fellow buffs might want to read more about The Niihau Incident at

That Baby Can't Be 4real

Parents in New Zealand have been denied permission to name their baby "4real" because it starts with a numeral.

Pat and Sheena Wheaton said they decided to name their new baby "4real" shortly after having an ultrasound and being struck by the reality of his impending arrival.
If no compromise has been reached by July 9, the baby will be registered as "real," officials say. [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Fact About Founder Found Faulty

General Mariano Vallejo was the founder of Sonoma, California, but his tombstone at Mountain Cemetery in Sonoma gives the wrong date of birth—July 7, 1808.

There's even documentation to back it up. A letter written by a genealogist at the Monterey Diocese says Vallejo was born on July 4th, 1807, the day before his baptism. But trying to correct history hasn't been easy. The cemetery is maintained by the city of Sonoma.

The people here at city hall say they'd be happy to change the tombstone, but it's not up to them. They say only family members can make that call. [Link]

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Oh Baby, That's a Strange Name

If you thought this was bad, welcome to the world little Urhines Kendall Icy Eight Special K. First name pronounced "Your highness," of course.

[via Neatorama]

Images First, Index Next

I think the most exciting revelation from Tuesday's announcement of FamilySearch's Record Search Pilot is their apparent openness to letting users "Find and view images that have not yet been indexed."

Indexed images are great, but it will take years (decades?) for volunteers to fully index all the digitized records piling up in the Vault. Genealogists raised on microfilm are used to scanning page after page for a single relevant record; there's no reason to hold back digitized records until every name is cataloged. Providing the images online with simple finding aids should suffice for researchers eager to ferret out family facts.

Besides, isn't it more satisfying to stumble upon your ancestor's name after hours of mind-numbing work than after a five-second search? And what clues are missed by the family historian who looks only at those pages where his last name appears?

A Munstrous Crime

Are we giving identity thieves too much credit for cleverness? Someone from overseas tried recently to sell Herman Munster's identity.

The thieves apparently didn't realize Munster was a fictional TV character and dutifully offered to sell Munster's personal details - accurately listing his home address from the television series as 1313 Mocking Bird Lane - and what appeared to be his MasterCard number. Munster's birth date was listed as Aug. 15, 1964, suspiciously close to the TV series' original air date in September 1964.

CardCops Inc., the Malibu, Calif., Internet security company that quietly recorded details of the illicit but wayward transaction, surmised that a Munsters fan knowledgeable about the show deliberately provided the bogus data. [Link]
Maybe they intended to sell this guy's identity.

Chamber of Secrets

The town of Upton, Massachusetts, has taken possession of a mysterious man-made cave called the "Upton Chamber."

Barbara Burke, chairwoman of the Historical Commission, says the chamber is perhaps three centuries old. She bases that on an 1893 newspaper article, which states that elderly residents at the time said their ancestors had talked of the cave and and did not know who built it.

Some say Colonial settlers might have used the chamber to store ice or vegetables. Others think it may have been a Native American ceremonial site. [Link]
Still others think it was built "under the influence of Irish monks in the 8th century."

Why Windish?

Sometime prior to 1920, the Slovenian population of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, stopped being Slovenian. Stephen C. Antalics explains why:

A review of the archives of Ellis Island ship manifests for these first immigrants reflects only Slovenian ethnicity. The 1920 federal census for these same immigrants in Bethlehem reflected them as 100 percent Windish. So, were they Windish or Slovenian? And why is Bethlehem the only place in the world where the term "Windish" is used today?
The Hapsburg Empire had two Slovenian communities, one in Austria, the other in Hungary. This gave rise to severe dialect differences. Dialogue was very difficult. The Hungarian government dispatched clergy to America to encourage its Slovene immigrants to preserve Hungarian sympathies over their Slavic ethnicity by becoming "Wends." This plot failed in every U.S. community -- except Bethlehem. [Link]

Tomb Raiders Waiters

Some of the patrons at an Ahmedabad, India, restaurant are lousy tippers.

Serving Indian cuisine to over 300 customers daily, the "Lucky Hotel" in Ahmedabad has 22 tombs nestled between wooden tables and chairs.

Visitors eat sitting by an ancient Muslim burial place and waiters jump over the tombs to serve food.

"It is a bit eerie to sit beside a grave for a meal but I have got used to it," said 45-year-old Usman Vora, who has been visiting the restaurant since the age of ten. [Link]

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Woman Gives Birth to Lame Duck

We can expect the first words of little Georgebush Neeway to be, "What were you thinking?"

[via Neatorama]

The Battle of Iwo To?

Here's more proof that everything I know about history is wrong. After sixty-something years of letting it be called "Iwo Jima," the Japanese are finally changing the famous island's name back to Iwo To.

The new name in Japanese looks and means the same as Iwo Jima - or Sulfur Island - but sounds different, the Japanese Geographical Survey Institute said.
Before the war, however, the volcanic island was known as Iwo To by the 1,000 or so civilians who lived there.

They were evacuated in 1944 as U.S. forces advanced across the Pacific. Some Japanese navy officers who moved in to fortify the island mistakenly called it Iwo Jima, and the name stuck. [Link]

Take Me to the Pilot

Visit the FamilySearch Lab blog for info on their newest tool to test—the Record Search Pilot.

We are publishing historic records and images on the Internet to help people find evidence of their ancestors. The site is being tested now with limited records and participants. You can sign up to be notified when additional capacity is available.
After the thrilling experience of registering, you can enjoy a short video on how to log in and search. It's almost as fun as logging in and searching.

Yakov Isn't Trying Hard Enough

Russia has been suffering from a declining birth rate, but nobody told Aleksei Shapoval's kids.

The retired steelworker celebrated the arrival of his 101st grandchild this week, a girl named Tatiana, in the village where he lives with most of his huge family.

Mr Shapoval now has 50 granddaughters and 51 grandsons from his 11 sons and two daughters in what is believed to be a record for Russia. They range in age from 26 years to three days.
Asked if any of his children had failed to produce offspring, he replied swiftly: “Yes, Yakov. He has only two.” [Link]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

In Pursuit of Pariahs

The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece on disreputable ancestors and the descendants who love them (including fellow bloggers Megan Smolenyak and Leland Meitzler).

[T]he pariah status of the black sheep is undergoing an image makeover. Last month, when an Alberta film crew announced plans to determine the identity of the notorious Mad Trapper of Rat River, a half-dozen families came forward claiming the legendary cop killer as kin after 75 years of silence. [Link]

Monday, June 18, 2007

Dad Delivers Own Father's Day Gift

Kaine Gilman of Maine was on the receiving end Sunday when his partner gave birth to their daughter on the bathroom floor.

"Having the baby on the bathroom floor is amazing," the proud father told the Bangor Daily News. "But to have her on Father's Day is just unbelievable. How many fathers got a gift like this today?"
"Boy, everyone has been calling me Dr. Gilman all day," he said. Proud of his role in the delivery, Gilman drove Sunday afternoon to BB's Tattoo in Newport to get his daughter's name and birth date inked on his shoulder. [Link]
If he ever does become an obstetrician, he should probably skip the step where he gets a tattoo after each delivery.

History Swept Under the Rug

Something surprising was found recently under the carpeting of 700-year-old St. Helen's Church in Pinxton, Derbyshire, England.

Churchwarden Stuart Thornley said that the headstones came to light when the carpeting was being replaced.

"It was something of a shock to see them. The carpet had been down for many years and we had no idea that they were there," he said.

"They had obviously been taken from the churchyard and used when the floor was relaid. But we have no idea when the work was done." [Link]
One of the stones mentioned—that of Mary Kelsal—has been there since at least 1891.

Genealogy Company Hopes to Be Second to One

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
When World Vital Records launched in 2006, the founders had a modest goal: to become "the number two player in the genealogy industry." A year later, they are well on their way to meeting that goal.

"We're committed to being the number two genealogy company on the web," says Deputy Corporate Communications Director Britney Hanson. "That means that our customer service has to be absolutely second rate."

WVR guarantees that level of service by routing customer calls through India, Malaysia, Botswana, then back to India, where they're answered by homeless people loitering near pay phones.

The WVR philosophy extends to web development as well.

"Our webmaster was second in his class at the second-best IT school in Haiti," Hanson boasts. "His only prior experience was creating a MySpace page, but we think he's designed a great website for us—remarkable, really, given that he's completely color blind and types with his elbows."

In the online genealogy world, content is king. That's why WVR has searched the globe for the second-best content it can find.

"Right now we're digitizing the Godfrey Library's Discarded Family Group Sheet Collection. After that, we'll be scanning and indexing old 'Dear Abby' columns, grocery lists, report cards—anything we find stuck to our refrigerators at home."

And bigger things are yet to come.

"Yes, the rumors are true," Hanson reveals. "We are working with the National Archives to digitize the records of their employee softball league. The negotiations were tense, but being Number Two requires us to stay one step ahead of everyone else. Except"

The 'First Come, First Served' Theory of Democracy

Bob Cuddy reports that the situation is the same in San Luis Obispo County, California, as it is up here in Maine: if you're a newcomer, be wary of speaking at local public meetings.

“I don’t know that that makes you a native,” Supervisor Jerry Lenthall tut-tutted a speaker who, at a recent meeting, proudly said she had lived here for 40 years and felt like a native.

Lenthall did allow that 40 years is a long time.

But Lenthall, who has lived here four decades himself, can be forgiven. Week after week, he has to listen to people preface their remarks with “I am a fourth-generation resident” or “my ancestors came here at the beginning of the last century.” [Link]
In my hometown, anyone whose ancestors didn't sign the petition for incorporation in 1815 is said to be "from away."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Albert's On the Market

For a mere $2.5 million you can own the town of Albert, Texas.

A weathered wood sign is nailed to the trunk of a towering live oak that dates to the early 1500s, when Spanish conquistadors were searching for gold in what is now known as Texas Hill Country. "Albert, Texas Population 4," the sign says, but Bobby Cave smiles sheepishly and confesses that it's an exaggeration.

"I made that up," the owner of Albert says of his census-taking.
Albert is named for Albert Luckenbach, whose wife, according to the Handbook of Texas, gave the original homestead her husband's family name. She was a postmaster, and when a new post office was opened on Williams Creek, she and her husband moved there in 1892 and renamed the unincorporated town then known as Martinsburg. [Link]

Genealogy With Puppets and Yo-Yos

A guy in New Jersey has filed a trademark application for the phrase "JEANIE O'LOGY & ANNE CESTRY FAMILY ADVENTURE." These are the genealogical accessories he'll be selling:


Dads Say the Darndest Things

Visiting PostSecret is part of my Sunday ritual. In keeping with today's theme, some readers have sent in tall tales their fathers told them. A couple of examples:

-----Email Message-----
Sent: Sunday, June 17, 2007 5:12 AM

My dad used to say that inside of the car's air-bags was uncooked popcorn. When you wrecked the popcorn would pop and you would have a snack until help came.
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Sent: Sunday, June 17, 2007 6:55 AM

My dad told me the worst swear word you could possibly say was "Bostonian". It meant "someone who has no private parts." My brother and I used the word until we were teenagers and my father giggled every time we said it, right before he sent us to our rooms.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I Have No Confidence in His Spelling

Cecilio Morales explains that, in addition to suffering from memory lapses, embattled AG Alberto Gonzales is also spelling his last name wrong. First off, it should end in "ez."

Surnames ending in az, ez, oz or iz are all patronymics. That’s a word from the Greek meaning “father’s name.”
Second, he's missing a critical diacritic.
Gonzalez, the real name, carries a diacritical or accent mark over the a. That’s for the well-known rule that words stressed in the penultimate syllable are accented if they do not end in a vowel or the consonants n or s.

So what do we do with the name-mangling attorney general? Purists insist that since the name ought to be Gonzalez, Gonzales should have an accent. [Link]

The Turks of Tuscany

A just-released DNA study appears to prove that Greek historian Herodotus was right about the origins of the ancient Etruscans of Northern Italy: they really did come from Turkey.

The Tuscan samples were taken from individuals who had lived in the area for at least three generations, and were selected on the basis of their surnames, which were required to have a geographical distribution not extending beyond the linguistic area of sampling. The samples were compared with data from modern Turkish, South Italian, European and Middle-Eastern populations.
"We think that our research provides convincing proof that Herodotus was right", says Professor [Alberto] Piazza, "and that the Etruscans did indeed arrive from ancient Lydia. However, to be 100% certain we intend to sample other villages in Tuscany, and also to test whether there is a genetic continuity between the ancient Etruscans and modern-day Tuscans. This will have to be done by extracting DNA from fossils; this has been tried before but the technique for doing so has proved to be very difficult." [Link]

His Persistence Paid Off

Here's a family that'll cause your genealogy software to pitch a conniption fit.

After confessing to him that she was still in love, an elderly Mexican woman aged 91 years said "Yes" to her 98-year-old boyfriend - with whom she has lived for 70 years and has 42 great-great-grandchildren - and the pair finally wed last June 2 in Guanajuato in the center of Mexico. [Link]

Top Ten Worst Items to Bury in a Time Capsule

10. 1957 Plymouth Belvedere

9. Baby panda

8. Key to handcuffs

7. Stool sample

6. IED

5. Ransom note

4. Paris Hilton

3. Foolproof plan for peace in the Middle East

2. Life-size replica of time capsule

1. Directions for finding time capsule

Friday, June 15, 2007

Switched for 60 Years

Two baby boys were switched at birth in a New Zealand hospital on Christmas Eve, 1946.

A lively, dark-skinned boy who should have been raised a Lebanese Catholic instead grew up in a middle-class Presbyterian home, and a reserved fair-haired Anglo-Saxon lad took his place.

It was almost 60 years before Jim Churchman and Fred George discovered the truth through DNA tests.
The only surviving parent, Helen Churchman, had always wondered about her baby's dark complexion.
But Helen's mother had a darkish complexion, as did some of the cousins. It was also thought that Jim's looks could come from Welsh ancestors.

Fred stood out even more, although his mother, Ngaire, came from Caucasian stock and married into the Lebanese community.

Perhaps Fred's looks came from a Scandinavian ancestor, it was suggested. [Link]

Our Leashes Have Gotten Shorter

An article on children's "right to roam" maps the meanderings of four generations of eight-year-olds in one English family.

The oldest member, George, was allowed to roam for six miles from home unaccompanied when he was eight.

His home was tiny and crowded and he spent most of his time outside, playing games and making dens.
His son-in-law, Jack Hattersley, 63, was also given freedom to roam.

He was aged eight in 1950, and was allowed to walk for about one mile on his own to the local woods. Again, he walked to school and never travelled by car. [Link, via Boing Boing]
I turned eight in 1977, and was too busy watching Roots and compiling my family history to walk anywhere but cemeteries.

A Revolting Tax Revolt

A monument was deeded to New Mexico's Palace of the Governors on Thursday commemorating Gov. Albino Pérez. Pérez imposed the first tax on New Mexicans in 1837, which provoked one group of villagers to mount a protest.

The “infuriated mob” killed Pérez, beheaded him and reportedly played soccer with his severed head near Rosario Cemetery and then stuck it on a pole.
[John Aurelio] Garau, a retired real-estate businessman from Laguna Beach, Calif., said he has tried to find out more about his ancestor without success. Historical accounts say Pérez’s headless body eventually was buried near Santa Fe, but there is no record of the burial site, Garau said. [Link]

Granny's Gator's Gone

Someone broke into Glen Day's New Zealand home and made off with a treasured family heirloom: the alligator his great-grandmother shot 80 years ago.

"We have some old photos of my great-grandmother out on hunting trips, riding on the back of an elephant through the jungle," he said. "They would hunt for tigers and alligators. Of course, it is not the sort of thing we would do today but the alligator has sentimental value and is part of our family history." [Link]

Angelina Awaits

There's a new Web 2.0 genealogy site called Famillion whose founder hopes to have "the world's Jewish population mapped out by the end of the year, and the entire Western world mapped out in two years." I'm more interested in mapping out a path to Brad Pitt's girlfriend.

Famillion is the only genealogical system that allows you to find unknown pathways to any other person in the world. You might discover family members you never knew you had or find connections to the world's Albert Einsteins, Madonnas and Bill Gates. You may find yourself chatting with Angelina Jolie. As the Famillion family grows, your possibilities become limitless.

The Cream of Wheat Man Has a Name

Frank L. White—thought to have been the model for the "Cream of Wheat man"—finally has a proper marker on his grave in Leslie, Michigan.

On Wednesday, a granite gravestone was placed at his burial site. It bears his name and an etching taken from the man depicted on the Cream of Wheat box.
Researcher Jesse Lasorda started the campaign to secure a marker. He discovered that White was a naturalized citizen, born in Barbados in about 1867.
The chef was photographed about 1900 while working in a Chicago restaurant. His name was not recorded. White was a chef, traveled a lot, was about the right age and told neighbors that he was the Cream of Wheat model, the Jackson Citizen Patriot said. [Link]

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Celebrity Sells

An survey shows that 20% of adults in Britain are researching the histories of their houses.

The report said a number of urban myths are fuelling the interest, such as a suggestion that John Lennon lived in a yet-to-be identified house in Blackpool and a rumour that Bob Dylan once had a house in Crouch End, north London. [Link]
The head of an estate agency adds that having a celebrity among its past owners can increase a home's value by up to 10%. If the celebrity was a serial killer, subtract 10%.

Lousy Place to Park a Car

Bad news from Tulsa about the Plymouth Belvedere buried next to the courthouse in 1957, and due to be exhumed on Friday.

Workers lifted the vault's lid Wednesday morning to find about two feet of standing water and indications the vault may have been filled to the rim sometime during the past half-century.

The car itself remained encased in several layers of purportedly water-tight material, its precise condition a mystery. The outline of the Belvedere's trademark tailfins was clearly visible under the coverings, but hopes for recovering the car in something like pristine condition faded. [Link]
For what it's worth, you can watch Friday's unveiling live on the Intertubes via links at the Tulsarama! website. You can see lots of pics of the soggy mess here and here.

Curiously, the car was buried with a "bottle of tranquilizer pills in the glove compartment."
The tranquilizer pills got into the act when the committee decided to make the auto typical by stocking the glove compartment with the contents of a woman's handbag.

The pills showed up along with 14 bobby pins, a compact, cigarettes and matches, two combs, an unpaid parking ticket, a tube of lipstick, a package of gum, a plastic rain hat, pocket facial tissues and $2.73 in bills and coins. [Link]

Did Polar Explorer Plant His Flag?

Anne-Christine Amundsen Jacobsen, a great-niece of polar explorer Roald Amundsen, wonders if he might have fathered some children while living in the Arctic community of Gjoa Haven in the early 1900s.

"You know, I don't think there are many Europeans having Inuit cousins so I would be very proud if I find some," she said.

At least one Inuk in Gjoa Haven claims to be related, Amundsen Jacobsen said, and she plans to meet with him after she arrives in the community Wednesday, accompanied by her husband and two children. [Link]

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Get Grandpa's FBI File

We nosy genealogists have long known the magic of FOIA requests, but a website called Get Grandpa's FBI File is bringing the method to the nongenealogical masses. Fill in the fields and they'll produce form letters for you to send off to the G-men in Washington and at field offices. Of course, RootsWeb SSDI does the same sort of thing for SS-5 requests.

Just understand that it might take time.

A D-Day Discovery

A D-Day "time capsule" was recently found hidden in the roof lining of a French car being restored at the Llangollen Motor Museum.

An Allied banknote issued on the eve of the landings and a packet of Navy Cut cigarettes were discovered in the yellow 1926 Citroen B12 Bolangerie.
Allied troops taking part in the D-Day landing were typically issued with a number of social survival items, including the five-franc note - known as occupation money - and cigarettes.

Often, a condom would also be included in the pack, but there was no sign of one in the Citroen, which has been in the museum for nine years. [Link]

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

They'd Pave Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot

This unusual notice appeared Tuesday in a UK newspaper:

RELATIVES are being invited to collect their headstones from a graveyard which will be turned into a car park.

Bolton Council Planning Committee gave the go-ahead for Lee Lane United Reformed Church in Horwich to be turned into 11 two-bedroom apartments with parking spaces. [Link]
The decision was not without its critics.

Recovering the Clan

King James VI decreed that the Clan Gregor be "altogidder abolished" in 1603.

The gentry were encouraged to hunt down Gregors who refused to change their surnames and a price of 1,000 merks - a fortune - was put on the heads of clan leaders, with 100 merks for other clan members.
Now, DNA technology is allowing the clan to bring its lost members out of hiding.
The DNA profile of a known descendent of the chief's line - the MacGregors of Glencarnoch - is being used as the benchmark for the vital tests. He is known simply by the codename Kit 2124.

And the council of the Clan Gregor Society has announced that it will admit to full membership of the society anyone who can prove they share 31 out of the 37 DNA markers in common with the main MacGregor bloodline profiler - irrespective of their surname. [Link]

Every Bullet Hole Has a Story

David and Helen Sandfort of St. Charles, Missouri, have a bullet hole in the frame of their front door. They didn't know how it got there until David's brother did some digging at the Missouri State Archives.

On the night of June 10, 1862, two members of the State Militia Cavalry were returning home to St. Charles accompanied by four armed soldiers. After drinking at a tavern for a couple of hours, they passed by the house in question—then owned by Daniel Griffith.

As they approached the Griffith home, riding on the spot near where the north service road exists today, two of the Griffiths' dogs ran towards the soldiers, barking. Several shots rang out — it's still not certain who fired — but at least one bullet went through the right side of the front door frame, whizzed through the hallway, tore through the back door, hit a back porch post, glanced off a brick wall and fell to the ground.
The homeowner was not pleased, and—bullet in hand—filed a grievance with the battalion commander. The men were arrested and their statements taken.
The stories varied: Some denied firing their guns, one said he thought he heard two guns firing, another said he had fired his gun but so did the others.

"I was not drunk," Pvt. Hermann Koehne wrote. "I was drunk," Pvt. Franz Steinmann wrote. "I never was drunk when a soldier and this was the first time." [Link]

One Man's Treasure

Some essential source material for John Bridges's latest book—The Commercial Life of a Suffolk Town: Framlingham Around 1900—was found in seven dusty trash bags stored in a farmer's shed.

Inside were thousands of invoices and receipts - many a bit grubby - that chronicled the fortunes of a rural family business as it moved from the Victorian era to the limbo years between the end of rationing and the dawning of the swinging sixties.
They covered the period from 1882 to 1957, with more than 4,200 bills covering 165 different businesses in the Framlingham area alone. [Link]

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lost Colony Might Be Found in Their Genes

DNA tests may help solve the 420-year-old mystery of what happened to the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island.

As director of DNA research for the Lost Colony Center for Science and Research, [Roberta] Estes will manage a multidisciplinary approach to tracking roots from a "most-wanted list" of people who might have connections to the Roanoke colonists or to the 16th century American Indians - or to both.
Testing of American Indian remains or known descendants of the colonists in England might be part of future research, Estes said. [Link]

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Half Were Hangers-On

A DNA study of 100 men named Robson in Northern England proved that only half could claim descent from a common ancestor.

The study revealed 50 volunteers who gave DNA samples could be tracked back to a single male 2000 years ago.

But others could be descended from hangers-on who latched themselves to the powerful Border Reiver family and changed their names as a form of subservience. [Link]

Roots a Risky Venture

I remember Roots as an amazing television event. But Fred Silverman and other ABC executives had serious reservations about broadcasting the miniseries back in 1977.

Convinced that "Roots" would be a ratings disaster at best and, at worst, might inflame blacks and start riots across the country, the ABC chieftain decided to run off the entire program over one week ... to get it out of the way before sweeps began.

"We were terrified when we put it on the air," says Brandon Stoddard, then the ABC executive most directly involved in the miniseries. Stoddard says some Southern states would not even show the program for fear of inciting riots. [Link]

Lucky in Love (They Hope)

Last year, no one wanted to have a baby on 6/6/06. This year, everyone wants to get married on 7/7/07.

[W]edding planners and venues have reported a startling rise in the number of couples who have booked weddings — especially in Las Vegas — on July 7, 2007, many of them having done so in the belief that 7-7-07 is a date with luck written all over it. [Link]

A Surname Torn Asunder

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Friday that he and his wife are separating. Which leads me to wonder, who will get custody of their last name?

When Antonio Villar married Corina Raigosa in 1987, the couple fused their names together, resulting in the surname Villaraigosa. [Link]

Tourists Getting Swabbed in Scotland

Dr. John Gow wants to ensure that everyone vacationing in the UK gets the chance to leave some DNA behind.

Gow hopes that eventually self-testing kits would be as common a sight for tourists as a guidebook or map - and not just in Scotland. "It is our intention to have DNA swabbing kits in all the tourist information offices and hotel lobbies across the UK, so people can go and pick up a kit for a few pounds then post it off to us and we will do the DNA tests for them. [Link]

Saturday, June 09, 2007

It's Written on His Shirt, For Crying Out Loud!

When Gregory E. Favre's cousin Brett was drafted into the NFL, he hoped that, finally, people would learn to pronounce their last name correctly. It didn't work out as he had hoped: the name is almost invariably pronounced "Farve" on television.

I knew Brett's grandfather, and his mom attended high school with my younger sister. But I left home long before he was born, and I've never met him. Nevertheless, I have been a great admirer of his talent and the fact that he always answers the opening whistle. He inspires others, as a great leader should. And he has never forgotten where he came from or the friends he grew up with.

I just wish he would tell everyone it's the "v" before the "r." [Link]

Friday, June 08, 2007

Crouching Mother, Hidden Face

Swapatorium has another example of a mother hiding behind her infant in an old photograph. My mother wishes she had thought of this when her kids were young. The fashions of the late '60s and early '70s were not flattering.

[Hat tip: The Practical Archivist]

An Incorruptible Commie's Witchy Past

According to Gunter Kruse, I have something in common with Vladimir Lenin: we both have convicted witches perched in our family trees.

"I went as far back as the middle ages and discovered one of Lenin's ancestor who lived in the 13th century", Kruse reported after spending several years in archives, drawing up the Western European branch of Lenin's family tree.

According to Kruse, the witch who was burnt at the stake by the Inquisition is the most intriguing member of the Ulyanovs family, though almost no information about her has survived. [Link]
Only witchcraft could explain why Lenin's body is so nicely intact 83 years after his death.

They Didn't Forget to Remember

A saying was passed down in Bettye Kearse's family: "Remember your name is Madison." A reunion of slave descendants this weekend at James Madison's Virginia plantation might bring her a step closer to proving the truth of the saying.

Kearse said her family traces its roots back to a slave named Corean, who was reportedly owned by Madison and gave birth to a son named Jim. When Jim was sold to a plantation owner in Tennessee, she told him not to forget he was a Madison in case they should ever reconnect. Since then, the saying's meaning has evolved.

"Initially it was a tool, then it became valuable after the slaves were free because my family really did well. They owned property, participated in government, learned to read and then they passed this legacy on," Kearse said. [Link]

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Beast of Omaha Weeps

If your relative fell on Omaha Beach on D-Day, there's a good chance that machine-gunner Hein Severloh was responsible. Anywhere from half to three-quarters of the American casualties that day fell before his gun.

One image still brings tears to his eyes. A young American had run from his landing craft and sought cover behind a concrete block. Severloh, then a young lance-corporal in the German army in Normandy, aimed his rifle at the GI. He fired and hit the enemy square in the forehead. The American’s helmet flew away and rolled into the sea, his chin sank to his chest and he collapsed dead on the beach.

Tormented by the memory, Severloh now weeps at the thought of the unknown soldier’s death. [Link, via MetaFilter]

No Limitation on Statues

This is what happens when you give the memorial company a blank check.

Davis was friends with a local tombstone salesman named Horace England, and together the two men designed a memorial consisting of life-size marble statues of John and Sarah as they looked on their 50th wedding anniversary. The statues would stand at the foot of the graves and face the headstones; the cemetery plot would also be protected from the elements by a 50-ton marble canopy supported by six massive columns.
Completed in 1931, the Davis memorial was easily the most impressive in Hiawatha, probably in the entire state. And yet when Davis got a look at it he felt something was missing. The giant stone canopy dwarfed the pair of statues beneath it. The solution? More statues.
[Photo credit: Davis Memorial by Frank Thompson]

The Oldest Person Ever?

Neatorama has an English translation of a YouTubed interview with Sarhat Rashidova—a woman who died in January at the reported age of 131 years.

The proof for this is her passport, which shows the date of birth of 1875. Locals found this fact out during a passport exchange [...], but they believed it only after their own investigation.
Update: Nope, this guy in India is the oldest person ever.
According to Habib Miyan's relatives, he was born on May 20, 1871, at Rajgarh in Alwar district of Rajasthan. But there is no official record to establish his age.

Please Don't Take My Pony

The Imperial War Museum North is looking for relatives of a little girl who sent Lord Kitchener a letter pleading for the life of her pony.

Young Freda Hewlett wrote to the Secretary of State for War begging him not to call up her 17-year-old pony Betty for active duty at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.

She appeals to Kitchener's softer side, pointing out that the pony is in foal, reminding him that her family have already given two horses to the Army while three family members have responded to his famous "Your Country Needs You" poster and joined the Navy as the Great War got under way. [Link]

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It's Nervous, It's Green, and It's a Duck

The Ancestry Insider has revealed the secret of the Nervous Green Duck. Exposing the truth may require Internet Explorer.

Hint: The answer you seek is right below.

All the Other Parks Will Be Envious

A Chinese amusement park has erected a 30-foot structure that, the director of the China Folk Culture Association says, "symbolizes our ancestors' pursuit of happiness and prosperity." (Send the kids out of the room, lock the door, and then click here.)

This makes me wonder what kind of happiness their ancestors were pursuing. I'm confident that my ancestors were never that happy.

Boneyard Bunk Beds

An impending shortage of burial space in England and Wales may lead to grave-sharing.

In a technique called "lift and deepen" old graves will be deepened with room for up to six new coffins to be placed on top of the older remains.

Families could refuse permission for their ancestors' graves to be re-used for "at least another generation".

But once the deeper graves have been used once there will be no time constraints on when subsequent bodies are buried in them. [Link]

Don't Spend It All in One Place

It pays to have aboriginal ancestry in Manitoba. But only $5 a year.

“It doesn’t go a long way, five dollars, it’s not much,” said Lorena Hayden, a resident of Winnipeg who grew up in Roseau River in southeastern Manitoba.

The yearly $5 payment is part of seven numbered treaties signed on behalf of aboriginal communities across the province in the 1800s and early 1900s.
When the treaty was signed in August, 1871, the annuity was $3, but it increased to $5 in 1876 when the treaty was amended. [Link]

A Brief History of Nose-Thumbing

Walking the Berkshires has a neat analysis of a WWI photograph that purportedly shows a Canadian soldier thumbing his nose as "a gesture expressing his contempt for the Germans."

I wonder if this is an accurate description of what the camera actually captured. Is that soldier thumbing his nose or grimacing at the point of impact? Is anyone holding that rifle, or did he just drop it? And was "cocking a snoot" a standard gesture of contempt utilized by Canadians in 1917 as the American Heritage editors suggest?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Without His Watch Since World War I

A wristwatch lost in a World War I poker game by a soldier in France will be returned to his family today. The watch—inscribed "W.B. Gill, Sioux City, IA, U.S.A."—wound up in the possession of Carl Grothaus of Bemis, South Dakota.

How he acquired it was one of the few war stories he shared with his inquisitive boys.

"It was part of the pot in a poker game," son Dewey Grothaus said, laughing that he had never seen his father gamble or even play cards. "That part he would talk about. I don't know if he knew Gill or if he served with him."

"He did try to look the guy up" after returning from the war, Grothaus said. During a trip to sell cattle at the Sioux City Stockyards, Carl Grothaus asked around about W.B. Gill, but found nothing. The watch returned to his dresser, where it sat until he died in 1991. [Link]

A Treat for Your Feed Reader

One of my favorite genealogy writers, James Pylant, has a new blog. Two posts and I'm already hooked!

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Place No Pigs Would Die

As a longtime vegetarian, I'm familiar with my people's long struggle to thrive in meat-loving America. The Vegetarian Settlement Company tried back in 1856 to found an enclave for non-carnivores on the Neosho River in Kansas.

It was hoped to bring together vegetarians of common interests and aims; otherwise they, "solitary and alone in their vegetarian practice, might sink into flesh-eating habits."
By establishing a permanent home for vegetarians, it was believed that a program of concerted action could be followed, with a system of direct healing, as well as permitting the practice of the vegetarian principle. Members were required to be of good moral character, not slaveholders, and applications had to be approved by the board of directors.
The settlement was to have octagonal villages, with sixteen farms along the eight sides and a central octagon to be used for a common pasture or park. The four corners of the outer octagon were to be used for woodland or grassland.

Sadly, the experiment was short-lived.
One writer blames the promoters for "gross mismanagement," if not something worse. The location of the colony was beset by mosquitoes, and chills and fever attacked the settlers. The "inexhaustible" springs dried up, and the crops that were planted were raided by neighboring Indians. Bitter disappointment and much suffering resulted. As winter neared, all who could leave did so. [Link, via MetaFilter]
Mrs. Miriam Davis Colt's "Thrilling Account" of the "Ill-fated Expedition" includes a list of those who made the trip to Kansas to watch their dreams of a vegetarian utopia vanish.

He Won't Be a Bad Guy Until 2034

Jeff Scalf's grandmother was the half-sister of John Dillinger, which gives him the right to require anyone who uses the Dillinger name to pay up and portray the murderous gangster law-abiding citizen in a positive light.

"They all have to sign a clause stating that they won't present him as a murderer, cop killer or vicious or mean-spirited," he says. "It's fair to say that he was accused of one killing but was never convicted."

Under a 1994 Indiana law, Scalf and other family members control rights to Dillinger's name and portrayal for 100 years after his death, says Jonathan Polak, an Indianapolis lawyer representing Scalf. Just because Dillinger — and Marilyn Monroe and Rosa Parks, whom he also has represented — are dead, Polak says, "doesn't mean they are suddenly thrown into the public domain. … You're stealing a piece of property." [Link]

Horse Thief Almost Lost in Translation

The recently departed Alice Claire Lehmann Nelson was a devoted genealogist who took classes in German and French so she could translate historical documents.

Still, when she came across a copy of a newspaper article on her great-great-great grandfather, there was a glitch in the translation.

"She thought there was a distant relative who was killed by being run over by a horse," Don Nelson said. "Then she realized he was really a horse thief. He escaped from jail several times.

"Once she got the correct translation of it, it took her two years to tell my grandmother there was a horse thief in the family." [Link]

A Few Last Requests

I learned yesterday that President Andrew Johnson was buried with his head resting on a copy of the Constitution. (I had to assure one of my nieces that, no, the president wasn't decapitated.) Here are some other unusual items people have carried to their graves.

  • Just last April, a man in India was buried in the car he had owned since 1958.
  • Reuben Smith was buried in 1899 sitting in his recliner with a checkerboard on his lap.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh was buried with his favorite pipe and a tin of tobacco
  • Bela Lugosi was buried in a black Dracula cape.
  • Humphrey Bogart was buried with a small whistle inscribed, "If you need anything, just whistle."
  • Bob Marley was buried with "his guitar, a soccer ball, a marijuana bud, a ring given to him by the Prince Asfa Wossen of Ethiopia and a Bible."
  • Canadian Mountie Peter Schiemann was buried with a flashlight and bag of potato chips. ("He always said, 'If I was to die, bury me with a bag of chips and a flashlight because it's dark and I'll get hungry,'" said his sister, Julia Schiemann.)
  • The guy in this commercial was buried with his lawn mower.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Not a Life Well Lived

Genealogists Julie Coley and Lynn Wright read a story about a toddler rescued from a deep well in 1918, and knew they had to find out what became of him. It took them a couple of weeks to find the answer.

They began peeling back the layers of time, looking for a young boy named Jack Kee or Jack Key.

Wright pored over old census records while Coley searched through newspaper clippings, birth certificates and death certificates. They both made phone calls to surprised strangers.
The boy, it turned out, was Andrew Fleming Key, who lived a "life of drinking and petty crime," and "always kept a loaded pistol in the front seat and a good supply of whiskey nearby" while driving.
Once during the hunt for the boy in the well, Wright had a clue that the boy might have grown up to be a prisoner of war. Wrong Jack Key.

"That would have been a story," he said. [Link]

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hope for the Heirless

An eccentric aristocrat I've blogged about before thinks he's found someone to inherit his $15 million home.

"He is my new best friend," Sir Benjamin Slade said of Isaac Slade, frontman for the rock group The Fray who could be in line to take over his 13th century mansion.
"He seems to be a very focused young man and wants to have lots of children. We will get the genealogists working on it to see how closely related we are. I would love to hand it over." [Link]

A Typical Case of Teenage Angst

An Alabama teenager spent four years after the Civil War searching for Jeff Darter—the man who shot his father.

[Geraldine Locke] said Joseph Moor heard Darter tell people he was going west to escape the Moor family and justice.

"Joseph spent years chasing Jeff Darter until they bedded down at the same campsite," Locke said.
In the middle of the night, Moor cut Darter's throat, got on his horse and rode back to Alabama.

Moor never told family members where he had been or about his actions until he was on his deathbed in January 1937. [Link]

Friday, June 01, 2007

Be Sure to Clean Up Afterwards

Lou Charlton of DNAPrint Genomics explains that, genetically speaking, sex can be messy.

Charlton's company can analyze not only DNA from maternal or paternal lineages, which aren't mixed in offspring, but also the rest of a person's DNA, which is combined randomly from the mother and father every generation.

Charlton compares the process to trying to re-order the peas and carrots in a bowl of vegetable soup that's been tossed onto the kitchen floor. "It's not easy," she says. "Each generation, when the man and the woman mate, the bowl gets dumped on the floor again." [Link]

Two Days to Change the Gauge

In 1871, railroad tracks in the United States had 23 different gauges, ranging from three to six feet. Railroads in the South used a standard gauge of five feet—three inches wider than the standard adopted by a convention in 1886. So, on May 31st and June 1st of 1886, 11,000 miles of tracks were nudged a little closer together.

A few days before May 31, all roads began clearing cars from their lines and reducing the gauge of all areas of track that could be freed of cars and engines.

Finally, in the early morning hours of May 31, the concentrated work began. Men worked in crews of various sizes charged with various goa[l]s—some given specific mileages to cover, others under instructions to begin at a specified point and work in a specified direction until they met another crew working toward them.
In less than three days, standard-gauge trains were serving the South. "The work was done economically," an article in the Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies pointed out, "and so quietly that the public hardly realized it was in progress. To the casual observer it was an every-day transaction." [Link, via MetaFilter]
This reminds me of another great moment in standardization, also prompted by the railroads: November 18, 1883, The Day of Two Noons.

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