Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Trust DNA, Not Dentists

Megan consulted with her collaborator Ann Turner about the misidentification of Titanic victim Sidney Leslie Goodwin. Turner says this was not a failure of genetic science but of dentistry. Dentists who examined the teeth of the unknown child ("body number 4") underestimated their age by a few months, thus ruling out their rightful owner. These passages are from the 2004 Journal of the Canadian Dental Association article she cites:

Because of the stage of development of their crowns, their lack of root development and lack of wear, the teeth were tentatively estimated as coming from a child of 9 to 15 months of age
When the mtDNA results came in from the direct maternal descendants of the Goodwin and the Panula children, both had the same mtDNA. As it turned out, their mtDNA is found in over 15% of indigenous Caucasians of northern Europe, indicating that somewhere in the past 2,000 years, the 2 families had a common maternal antecedent. Because of the early stage of dental development of body number 4, however, the Finnish child (13-month-old Eino Viljam Panula) was finally identified as the ‘Unknown Child’. [Link (pdf)]

Family = Favoritism

Megan tipped me off to a New Republic article about "The Genealogy Craze in America" (free registration required). It covers familiar ground (no pun intended), but raises one point too seldom acknowledged: the age-old notion that the family is a subversive institution, which dates back at least to Plato.

Contrary to a shibboleth of the American right, family values do not uphold religion and country; they subvert them. An extended family is a rival coalition to any other group, held together not by an ideology or social contract or common purpose but by brute genetic relatedness. And it is a coalition with an unfair advantage: relatives care for one another more than comrades do.
In large part, the institutions of modernity depend on a dissolution of family ties. It is hard to run an effective organization if you cannot fire the knucklehead brother-in-law forced on you by your wife's family, nor can civil society function if the instruments of government are treated as the spoils of the most powerful local clan.

Baby Daddies Face the Music

As reported here, two lawyers have been granted a patent for genetic music—music "generated by decoding and transcribing genetic information within a DNA sequence." One of the suggested uses would have made the outcome of the Anna Nicole Smith paternity case so much more exciting.

An identity analyzer can be configured to provide an audible signal for a specific comparative result, for example, if the sample and the control differ, e.g., signaling an alarm in a security setting, or when they are the same, e.g., adding excitement to live television coverage of paternity determinations.
[Thanks again, Sally!]

A Titanic Error

A Titanic victim identified five years ago as 13-month-old Eino Panula has been reidentified as 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin.

"We were under pressure at the time by the U.S. television team doing the History Channel documentary to identify the child, and based on the evidence we had at the time, we did so," [researcher Alan] Ruffman said.

What the scientists didn't fully appreciate at the time is that there are two mitochondrial DNA molecules - HVS1 and HVS2. In 2002, they thought they needed to test only one of them, the HVS1.
Subsequent tests on HVS2 showed a match with a descendant of Sidney's maternal line, but not with Eino's relatives.
Additional evidence for the new identification also resurfaced: a pair of shoes taken from the body of the unknown child in 1912 by a souvenir hunter and kept by his family for almost 90 years were found to be too big for a 13-month-old like Panula. [Link]
Update: Megan Smolenyak calls this mistake An Avoidable DNA Error.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Unwitting Witness to History

Descendants of Wilmer McLean gathered on Monday for their first tour of his house in Appomattox, Virginia—the same house where Grant accepted Lee's surrender at the close of the Civil War.

The oft-repeated irony is that McLean, who lived in Manassas, had moved to Appomattox after the first Battle of Bull Run to escape the war.

“He used to say that the war started in his front yard and ended in his parlor,” said Patrick Schroeder, a historian with the Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park.
According to Charlotte Lageman, McLean’s great-granddaughter, “a family story is that a cannonball came through the chimney and fell into a pot of soup he was cooking in Manassas. That’s when he said, ‘This war is getting too close.’” [Link]
[Photo credit: McLean House by Mike McBride]

Traces of Dorothy

The New Hampshire Historical Society's "book doctor" has been repairing the damage done by overeager genealogists for many years.

In 16 years, Dorothy Emery has patched up The Manning Family and taped together The History of Dunbarton. She's ripped apart and rebuilt The Paine Ancestry and glued Concord's vital records.

"You can see traces of Dorothy all over here," Emery said one morning last week, running her hand over the stacks of books in the hushed New Hampshire Historical Society Library. She paused on a tattered copy of the 1874 Concord city directory. "Does this one need a trace of Dorothy?" [Link]

Woman Returns Husband to Wal-Mart

Julia Foster bought a photo album at a Texas Wal-Mart, and found inside a photograph of a young man. Three clues to his identity were written on the back: "Robert," "19" and "1945." An article about the discovery in The Brenham Banner-Press turned up 81-year-old Robert Wellmann.

Wellmann’s wife, Selma (Loesch), was the initial purchaser, but returned it “as not quite what she wanted,” according to an amazingly young-looking Wellmann, who retrieved his photo at The Banner early today.

At the time his wife returned the album, neither she or her husband realized a photograph of Robert — single and age 19 at the time of the 1945 black-and-white portrait — had been left inside one of its pages. [Link]

What Kind of Bait Did He Use?

A man fishing in Indiana's White River caught more than his limit of gravestones.

An Indianapolis man stumbled upon the grave markers when he untangled a snagged fishing line and lifted a 145-year-old gravestone into his bass boat.

"All these headstones, I don't think they have any business of being where I found them," said Jim Hodges, 62. [Link]

Once Upon a Time There Were Three Brothers...

I was once a student of comparative mythology, so the notion that some family legends might spring from the unconscious mind appeals to me.

The legend of three brothers emigrating together to America and then splitting up to settle in different parts of the country is a common myth. Some ascribe the myth to genealogical laziness, but it may have roots in the "three brothers" theme found in medieval folk tales, "in which an aged king sends his sons on a quest for some magic, rejuvenating water in a distant land." Professor E. Washburn Hopkins traced the story back to "Fountain of Youth" stories told in ancient Persia, Ireland, and elsewhere.

The Persian version substitutes for three brothers two brothers and a sister; the Keltic version turns all three into girls. Elsewhere the three are brothers, the trio still preserved, perhaps, in the numerous American families (of eight or nine generations) who independently trace their origin to "three brothers who came to America in the seventeenth century to seek their fortune." How widespread this myth is, may easily be learned from casual inquiry. I once sat at table with half a dozen unrelated people, four of whom stated that this was their "family legend." Of the four, three admitted that it was a legend without historical foundation, "a myth"; one insisted that it was certain. [Link]

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Naked Quaker

Diane Rapaport's second book, The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, is due out in October. Based on her examination of court records, she has concluded that my ancestors probably did have sex.

“I think most of these stories could end up surprising to readers who imagine Puritan New England was some drab, dull place where people sat around in church and never had fun ... or sex,” she said. “I think people will be surprised by how feisty the early Colonists were.”

The book’s title story involves a 17th century Quaker woman from Hampton, Lydia Wardell, one of New England’s early Quakers, who showed her contempt for Puritan authorities by taking her clothes off during church services. [Link]
Rapaport's first book, by the way, was the indispensable New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians. Anyone whose New England ancestor left a will or dropped her drawers at church should own it.

Just a Stick and a Brick

Dan Aldrich's family in Michigan has been playing a backyard game for generations, but no one's sure how to spell its name.

Is it C-a-d-d-y? C-a-d-d-i-e? Or is some other variation correct?

"I've never written it down," the Lyndon Township resident says. "If you ask 10 Aldriches how to spell it, you might get 10 different spellings."
The game is played with a sawed-off broomstick and a brick.
People young and old can enjoy the game, Aldrich says.

"Everyone sits around in the grass and there's excessive heckling," he adds. "About how you swing, how silly you look with the stick." [Link]

Ambushed at the Reception

A divorced dad attended the wedding of a cousin's daughter, and almost ended up in an arranged marriage.

An aunt approached, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked me to join the family in a side room. When I entered, the men patted me on the shoulders and the women proceeded to tell me that the lady I had been seated next to had decided that I would be an acceptable husband for her! I was then told they would make all the wedding arrangements as quickly as possible.
Here's part of the response from Thursday's Dear Abby column:
At first, I thought you and your family came from some other culture. Then I called you, just to make sure, and learned that you are third-generation American. It served to remind me that people need to be careful how hard they shake the family tree because it can cause the nuts to fall out. [Link]

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Genealogist Needs Answers

Fiona Wilson is conducting an Old Family Photos Survey as part of her dissertation research. If you own photos of the requisite age, why not take a few minutes and help her out?

I am interested in researching my own family history and particularly intrigued by the Victorian photo albums in our family. This has motivated me to find out more about the information needs and behaviours of family historians with special regard to old family photos (c.1840-c.1901).

This questionnaire explores various aspects of the importance of old family photos to your family history research, questions about identifying and labelling old photos, and about storing both original and digital versions of these photos. The questionnaire is likely to take about 30-40 minutes to complete (dependent on answers) with a mixture of multiple choice and open-ended questions.

It's Time for Him to Shove Off

Eric King-Turner and his wife are moving to New Zealand next January. At 102, he may be Britain's oldest emigrant.

Says Eric: "We not only had to produce a marriage certificate but we had to produce evidence that we were in a long and stable relationship!"

Eric says he was not asked about his age but had to show that he could support himself financially in New Zealand. [Link]

Godzilla Genealogy Bop

Ever wonder how Ernest Borgnine is related to Godzilla? The stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 explain:


Friday, July 27, 2007

I Ain't Afraid of No Trespassing Citations

JoAnn Kolbus' picnic in an Oregon cemetery was interrupted by a scene from Ghostbusters.

A few minutes after arriving, an extremely belligerent, verbally abusive little man stormed the hill and shouted, “The gate’s closed! I called the police and they’re coming to arrest you!” Let’s call him the (self-appointed) Gatekeeper.

Being a family descendant, I had always had permission to visit at any time. I attempted to explain my connection and associated permission to the Gatekeeper, who called me a “filthy liar and a vandal.”

We waited for the deputy (let’s call him the Key Master), since we didn’t think we should leave the scene of the “picnic crime.” The (deputy) Key Master finally showed up and cited us for trespassing in the second degree. We felt totally slimed! [Link]

A Powder Monkey With Sticky Fingers?

An Australian auction house is taking bids on Admiral Lord Nelson's telescope and a brass-bound elm bucket supposed to have seen action in the Battle of Trafalgar.

The items came to Joel's via the descendants of a 10-year-old cabin boy and powder monkey, William Thomas Cook, who served on the Victory and later was transported to New South Wales.

According to various family documents, Cook walked off the vessel with the telescope in the bucket after it was gifted to him, by whom it is not clear. Supposedly he managed to keep the relics and still had them when he arrived in Botany Bay in 1820 as a convict aboard the vessel Mangles. [Link]

First Name Unknown

Unknown Hinson, "The King of Country Western Troubadours," is really a guy named Stuart Daniel Baker, but he has a good story to back up his stage name.

"I'm the product of a one-stand, you see," Hinson said.

"When I was born the birth certificate said: 'Mother: Miss Hinson. Father: Unknown.' So, she named me after my daddy. She coulda called me Jack or Theodore, but she didn't. All she was trying to do was be honest, and I thank her for that. She also gave me my gift for music and my good looks. And I thank her for that, too." [Link]

Top Ten Signs Your Genealogical Society Is in Trouble

10. Average age of members decreases when Abe Vigoda joins.

9. Speaker fees paid with change found under sofa cushions.

8. Motion to replace microfiche readers with Dance Dance Revolution machines passes without objection.

7. Half the books in research library written by Danielle Steel, the rest by Tom Clancy.

6. Board of Directors outsources task of ignoring member complaints to Bangladesh.

5. Fundraising campaign cut short when it's learned cockfighting is illegal.

4. Newsletter published whenever editor earns "computer time" at rehab.

3. President's effort to recruit members online leads to embarrassing episode of To Catch a Predator.

2. Meetings last only as long as the tequila.

1. The other member quits.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mysterious Memorials Contest

The National Archive of Memorial Inscriptions and BBC History Magazine have launched a Mysterious Memorials contest to find the "most surprising, enigmatic or bizarre historical gravestone epitaph in Britain."

Contenders so far include one from Eshness in the Shetlands that reads: "Donald Robertson, born 14th January 1785. Died 14th June aged 63. He was a peaceable, quiet man, and to all appearances a sincere Christian. His death was much regretted which was caused by the stupidity of Laurence Tulloch of Clothister (Sullom) who sold him nitre instead of Epsom Salts by which he was killed in the space of five hours after taking a dose of it."

Another from All Saints Church, Darfield, Barnsley, states simply: "The mortal remains of Robert Millthorp who died September 13th 1826 aged 19 years. He lost his life by inadvertently throwing this stone upon himself whilst in the service of James Raywood or Ardsley, who erected it in his memory". [Link]

Sikh and Ye Shall Find Two Surnames

A Sikh group in Canada is upset over a policy that requires immigrants with the surname Singh or Kaur to change their names.

Karen Shadd-Evelyn, a spokeswoman with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said the reason for the policy is that it helps officials with the paperwork and allows them to identify people's files quickly, efficiently and accurately.

"You can imagine you wouldn't want your file to be confused with someone else's," she said.

Singh and Kaur are common names in the Sikh community. In a tradition that began more than 300 years ago, the name Singh is given to every baptized male and Kaur to every baptized female Sikh. There are millions of Singhs and Kaurs around the world. [Link]
During the Sikh naming ceremony, the holy book—Guru Granth Sahib—is opened to a random page. The given name of the child is left to the parents, but must start with the first letter of the first word on that page.
In older days parents were not very fussy about choosing the name. We often hear such names [as] Vir Singh, Jodh Singh, Lal Singh, Kala Singh, Teja Singh and Ganda Singh. Literally translated some of these would mean red, black, sharp and onion. [Link]

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lampoons Are Not to Be Carried

Mitch Traphagen's ancestor was caught carrying a lampoon in 1664.

Willem [Traphagen] was in a world of hurt. He let his emotions get the best of him and uttered a few words that were— well, less than decent. And then, to make matters worse, he was caught carrying a note disparaging a judge. As he spent his time tied to a stake in the center of the town that he had helped to create, he probably wondered if things could get worse. They could — he was also ordered banished from that town.
Believe it or not, my ancestor was convicted as a Lampoon Carrier. Yes, that was the charge for which he was tied to a stake. He also had a note pinned to his shirt describing him as such. [Link]
A History of the City of Brooklyn reveals that the lampoon writer received the same punishment.

Created From the Cremated

I've blogged before about pencils made from cremains. A company in Canada has taken it one step further.

Each sketch has a little something of the subject in it -- namely a tablespoon-sized portion of their cremated ashes.

Honor Industries takes the ashes to create a pencil, which an artist then uses to draw a lifelike portrait of the deceased based on a selected photograph.

The portrait is encased in glass and framed. Customers can choose to have the pencil itself included in the display. [Link]

Steal a Fish, Go to Australia

Ancestry.com has released the Australian Convict Index, 1788-1868, with data on 165,000 criminals transported to Australia from the British Isles and British colonies. They were the worst of the worst.

Some of the crimes they were punished for included stealing from a pond or river and setting fire to undergrowth.

One convict of note was the father of Ned Kelly, Australia's famous bush ranger. His Irish father, Red, was sentenced to seven years for stealing two pigs and sent to Tasmania.

The first female convict to set foot in Australia was Elizabeth Thackery, sentenced to seven years for the theft of five handkerchiefs. [Link]
The landing page for this database includes the statement "Web sites concerning convicts can be accessed at http://www.familytreeresearch.net," linking to a domain formerly operated by the late Janet Reakes, but now full of advertisements and empty of useful content. The correct address is here.

Graven Imagery

Someone calling himself Nick Beef (not his real name) is sticking up DieKus—haikus made from images of headstones—around New York City.

[Photo credit: piro mania by Joe Holmes]
[via MetaFilter]

Berated PGs

The Wandering Author has posted a scathing critique of the APG on his blog. I don't have a dog in this fight, but some of the issues he raises (access to records, Lee's shabby treatment) are of interest even to non-PGs like me.

I expect this will prompt some hackle-raising on the APG list.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rose Rent in Arrears

Franklin County, Pennsylvania, owes the Chambers family a big bouquet.

Three Chambersburg churches make a big production of paying their annual rent of one rose to the descendants of town founder Benjamin Chambers each year, but Franklin County may owe a rose rent too -- and if so it's more than 200 roses behind.

For years, the late John F. George talked about a deed he ran across in the county's register of wills and recorder of deeds office when the county was putting all its old deed books on microfilm.

That deed, which transferred two lots to the newly formed Franklin County for use for a county courthouse and jail, also contains a rose rent stipulation.
The rose rent stipulation calls for an annual rent of one rose to be paid on June 28. [Link]
This curious custom inspired a mystery novel a few years ago.
[Thanks, Nancy!]

The Village That Never Was

Many residents of Danville, New Hampshire, believe that a village called Tuckertown was founded there in 1760 only to be wiped out by a smallpox epidemic about a decade later. Curt Springer and Betsy Sanders think it never existed.

"I think it was a fairy tale," Springer said. "People needed a good story, and somehow that got embellished into being Tuckertown."

Springer and Sanders, who help oversee the Tuckertown Road area because it is part of the town forest, have done a great deal of research, trying to find out if Tuckertown ever really existed.

They note that it was never mentioned in any public records and that there are no cellar holes in the area that indicate any sort of village.

"There is no evidence," Springer said. "How do you prove something is real if it doesn't exist?" [Link]

Save the Story, Fudge the Facts

J.K. Thompson and Robert Beasley agree how Elroy, North Carolina, got its name, though they disagree on the details.

"My mama used to say Jimmy Long took the first two letters of his wife's name (Ellen), and he had a son named Roy," Thompson said. "(He) put them together and called it Elroy."

Ellen was actually Long's second wife, Beasley said. And while his research has not turned up a son named Elroy, Leroy or even Roy, he shrugged it off with the explanation that his great-grandfather "probably called one of them Roy." [Link]
Perhaps he called one of his sons "Roy" so he could name the town after him.

Could It Be Annie Moore Dramatic?

Megan Smolenyak had the (as she describes it) "surreal" experience of watching a play in which she was a character.

There I was in the front row watching intense, borderline neurotic "Megan" (yeah, that was definitely accurate!) and her quest for Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island. And there were the right and wrong Annies, Annie's brother Anthony, Megan's assistant Melinda (sort of a combination of my husband Brian, my virtual assistant Alyssa, and others who are forced to deal with me on a consistent basis), two of Annie's kids, and Weber of Ellis Island.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Very Understanding Husband

Ann Stolper's daughter was unable to have children after treatment for cervical cancer, so 59-year-old Ann stepped in and became a surrogate mother to her own twin grandchildren last December.

Ira Stolper enjoyed teasing neighbors who marveled at his pregnant wife. Jaws that had dropped at the news she was pregnant dropped farther when Ira told them that she was expecting twins.

And then he'd drop the real bombshell: "'I'm not the father. My son-in-law knocked her up.' Then I would say, `Let me explain.'" [Link]

George Bush Wrote a Book (No, Really!)

Professor George Bush was the first cousin of the president's great-great-great-grandfather, and the author of a book critical of Islam’s founder.

The Life of Mohammed” went out of print a century ago, and there it was expected to remain, in perpetuity. But in the early 21st century, it was reissued by a tiny publisher simply because of the historical rhyme that a man with the same name occupied the White House. The first George Bush never witnessed the Second Coming, but now his book was enjoying an unexpected afterlife.

Predictably, it enraged some readers in the Middle East, where rage is an abundant commodity. In 2004, Egyptian censors at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy denounced the book by President Bush’s “grandfather” as a slander on the prophet, and the State Department was forced to issue a document clarifying the family relationship. [Link]

I'm Not Ready to Go Steady

I'm in the middle of a year-long transcription project for my Maine Genealogy website that requires that I take hundreds of digital photos of typewritten records on microfilm. My method is as follows:

  1. Hold camera against edge of microfilm reader while focusing on image.
  2. Squeeze shutter release without moving camera.
  3. Take second photo of same image because I probably moved camera.
Nine times out of ten, one of the two photos is usable. Unfortunately, I can only take about 100 photographs (of 50 pages of records) before my hands get shaky and the photos get fuzzy.

Too bad the GSC Associates Microfilm Camera Mount won't work on either model of microfilm reader I use. For just $30.95, it seems like an affordable alternative to per-page printer fees. As for me, I'll stick to my method, and maybe drink fewer cans of Red Bull before visiting the archives.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Founding Father of Surfin' USA

George Freeth, whose mother was native Hawaiian, brought the sport of surfing from Hawaii to Southern California 100 years ago this Sunday.

Freeth came to Venice on July 22nd, 1907 at age 24 and by the end of the month, it was reported in the news that a Hawaiian was riding the waves on a board on the north end of Venice.

As if it weren't enough to bring what later would become the cultural phenomenon of surfing to Southern California's shores, Freeth is also revered as a pioneering lifeguard. [Link]
A statue at Redondo Beach Pier also gives Freeth credit for inventing the "torpedo shaped rescue buoy that is now used world wide." If not for George Freeth, a lot more people would have drowned on Baywatch.

Our Grandpas Are All at the Mall

If you need a photograph of a male ancestor, be sure to visit the Time & Again Antique Mall in Chetek, Wisconsin. David P. Sorenson was strolling there with his wife when he overheard an employee discussing a previous customer's experience.

The woman, Barb Moore of Kenai, Alaska, had walked into the antique mall and found a photograph hanging in a shop of an individual she recognized as her grandfather. After doing some more research, she later confirmed that the man was indeed her grandfather.
Sorenson then looked at some photographs in the mall, and spotted a familiar face.
Crazy as it may seem, the man in the picture was Gustav Sorenson, Sorenson's great-grandfather, who had apparently posed for a photograph while he was in the Norwegian army in 1891. Gustav had later come to Rice Lake and homesteaded, and met his wife Dortea, who was from the Dallas area.

"I was dumbfounded," said Sorenson. "What are the chances of that happening? That picture was over 125 years old." [Link]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

To Err Is Human, To Capitalize Devine

William Devine has found a way to profit from his skills as a genealogist. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently declared him the rightful owner of a piece of land near Nantucket Memorial Airport that the town had improperly seized in 1968.

When the town took the property by eminent domain, it was listed as "owners unknown" on local tax rolls, even though there was an identifiable record owner, Lewis Popham Carmer.
Devine, a genealogist who specializes in finding flaws in land titles and then splitting profits with heirs who make successful claims on the properties, did not do that with the land near the airport. Instead, he bought the property outright from Carmer for $7,500 in 1985. [Link]

The Pebbles Pile Up

An article about the grave of Oskar Schindler in Jerusalem mentions that the custom depicted at the end of Schindler's List continues.

It is a traditional Jewish practice to place small stones on gravestones - and the piles of stones on Schindler's grave attest to a large number of visitors.
The piles of stones and wreaths of dried flowers that have been placed on Oskar Schindler's simple gravestone conceal part of the inscription. It mentions that he is a Righteous Gentile who rescued 1,200 Jews. On top of the pile of stones this week was a small shard on which someone had written in ink: "Toda, Gracias, Danke, the Jews remember and do not forget," signed: Mark Holtz, Baltimore, U.S.A. [Link]
I love this tradition of leaving behind a "calling card," though excavation may sometimes be required to read epitaphs.
[Photo credit: Untitled by DDanzig]

Two by Two by Two

Cherise Brown of Philadelphia has ten kids. They tend to come in pairs.

Meet 7-day old Tymir and Tyrese. The boys are the most recent additions to this family of 10.

They're also the third set of twins to be born to the family in as many years.

Cherise says "it just came natural, back to back 2005, '06 and '07."

Here are their older brother and sister one-year-old twins Tariq and Tamara and the oldest set of twins two-year-old Tykerah and Tanerah. [Link]

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Princess Di's Decapitated Kin

NEHGS is now taking pre-orders for Richard K. Evans' new book, The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales for Twelve Generations, due out in August. I'm impressed by the number of headless ancestors mentioned in the press release alone:

  • A significant twelfth-generation ancestor was Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, whose excessive ambition displeased his sovereign and ultimately led him to the chopping block.
  • Another Scots forebear was Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, general of the forces that invaded Scotland in support of Monmouth’s rebellion in 1685. As a result, Argyll lost his head at the same place where his father, the 1st Marquess of Argyll, was decapitated for changing sides one time too many during the English Civil War.
It took three strokes of the ax to detach Robert Devereux's head—probably two more than he had hoped.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

From Iberia to Siberia

During Spain's 1936-1939 civil war, about 3,000 children were evacuated to the Soviet Union. Some of them are still there.

The government of the USSR helped those children retain their language and culture, and provided them with education and professional training, but - in contrast to their fellow exiles in other countries - Moscow did not allow them to return to Spain after the Civil War was over.
According to the Centro EspaƱol in Moscow, living currently in Russia are some 315 "war children," who - along with their own children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren - form a community of 1,200 to 1,300 people. [Link]

We're More Dead Than Alive

Nancy Bovy sent a link to a cool SciAm article that debunks the myth that 75 percent of all people ever born are currently alive.

To calculate how many people have ever lived, [Carl] Haub followed a minimalist approach, beginning with two people in 50000 B.C.—his Adam and Eve. Then, using his historical growth rates and population benchmarks, he estimated that slightly over 106 billion people had ever been born. Of those, people alive today comprise only 6 percent, nowhere near 75 percent. "[It is] almost surely true people alive today are some small fraction of [all] people," says Joel Cohen, a professor of populations at the Rockefeller and Columbia Universities in New York City. [Link]
I wonder how many of those 106 billion people left enough evidence of their existence that they may be genealogically (and not just genetically) linked to persons alive today, and how many are ancestors we will never find.

A Prince's Poor In-laws

Prince Charles' wife Camilla is descended from (gasp!) poor people.

Camilla's granny was obviously so embarrassed about her father's occupation that when she remarried a professional golfer she described herself as the daughter of a shipping merchant. "In fact he'd been working on a factory assembly line - on his death certificate it states his job as 'rubber tyre maker,'" [genealogist Robert] Barrett says.

"My research also shows his father - Camilla's great, great grandfather - was a butler in Paddington who was born in Essex. So she really has good working-class roots." [Link]

The Pre-Order of the Day

Family Tree Maker 2008 is available for pre-order right now for the low, low price of $29.95 (this offer expires at the end of the month). You can watch a tutorial hosted by our old friend Megan Smolenyak2 by clicking links on the product page, or download a beta version of the software if you want to try it before you buy it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

'Dat turn the world upside down'

Danette Holmes Burnette discovered that her great-great-grandfather, a slave named Cornelius Holmes, was owned by U.S. Congressman Preston Brooks.

The same Preston Brooks who beat a senator unconscious on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856 after that senator denounced slavery.

The incident sparked a national furor, prompting Brooks' resignation and return to office, shortly before the Civil War.
Burnette even found an interview with Cornelius among the Slave Narratives on the Library of Congress website.
"Dat turn the world upside down," is what Cornelius Holmes told the interviewer of what Preston Brooks did. [Link]

Female Finn Twins Just Can't Win

Virpi Lummaa's interest in Finland's copious church records is purely statistical.

The 33-year-old Finnish biologist, aided by genealogists, has pored through centuries-old tomes (and microfiche) for birth, marriage and death records, which ended up providing glimpses of evolution at work in humanity's recent ancestors. Among them: that male twins disrupt the mating potential of their female siblings by prenatally rendering them more masculine; mothers of sons die sooner than those of daughters, because rearing the former takes a greater toll; and grandmothers are important to the survival of grandchildren. [Link]

A Rude But Patriotic Awakening

Some residents of Lehi, Utah, are not happy with the city's early-morning Independence Day tradition.

Since the early 1900s, the city's firefighters have greeted every Fourth of July at 6 a.m. by setting off a series of 12 to 15 loud explosions, called salutes, throughout the city. The event is believed to honor a tradition that may have begun by city pioneers in 1876, the country's centennial.
In 1876, the town of approximately 1,200 observed Independence Day by firing 100 guns in honor of the number of years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

For a climactic finish, an anvil was fired by lighting a charge of black powder under it, causing a "clap like thunder." [Link]

They'll Be Sequestered for the Duration of the Honeymoon

They met last year during a murder trial in New York, and now Traci Nagy (alternate juror No. 3) and Jonathan Cinkay (juror No. 6) are getting married.

They picked up their marriage license last week, and Queens Supreme Court Justice Daniel Lewis, who presided over the case, is to marry them next month.
"Some juries are serious, some are somber, but this jury seemed like it was full of beaming, happy people," the justice said. "I didn't imagine they were all playing matchmaker." [Link]
The defendant was convicted and will not be attending the ceremony.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

One Dunham Danced

Tim Agazio has the coolest name origin (even if it is just speculative). By way of comparison, my surname is an old English place name meaning "homestead by the hill," "estate on a hill," or "settlement on a hill." Tim's ancestors were named for holy warriors, mine for prime real estate.

The spelling is usually "Dunham," though the "Donham" spelling was sometimes used in the 18th century when my forebears lived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and adjacent towns. When my ancestor, Moses Dunham, moved to Hartford, Maine, he took with him the "Dunham" spelling. When his brothers Thomas and James Thomas migrated to the nearby town of Hebron, they were denominated "Donham." It's hard to tell whether this was a deliberate choice (doubtful stories abound of men who changed the spelling of their surnames to distinguish themselves from siblings). Bill West of West in New England descends from a son of James Thomas Donham who readopted the "Dunham" spelling.

The Dunham name is neither rare nor common in the U.S. It became more common when a shady character named Jonathan Singletary began using it as an alias. Before absconding to New Jersey, he raised some hell in Plymouth.

Wheras Jonathan Dunham, alias Shingleterry, hath long absented himselfe from his wife and family, tho advised and warned by authoritie to repaire to them, and for some considerable time hath bine wandering about from place to place as a vagabond in this collonie, alsoe deseminating his corrupt principles, and drawing away another mans wife, following him vp and down against her husbands consent; and att last hee meeting with and accompanying a younge woman called Mary Rosse, led by inthewiasticall power, hee said hee must doo whatt shee bad him, and according did, both of them, on her motion, att the house of John Irish, att Little Compton, kill his dogg, against the declared will of the said Irish; and although hee put them out of his house, yett they would goe in againe; and according to theire antick trickes and foolish powers, made a fier in the said house, and threw the dogg vpon it, and shott of a gun seuerall times, and burnt some other thinges in the house, to the hazard of burning of his house and younge children, keeping the dores and not opening them to the said John Irish when he come with some of his naighbors to rescue the same; to the disturbance of his maties peace commaunded, and against the laws. [Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England (1856), 6:113f]
He was sentenced to be "publickly whipt att the post" and was booted from the colony. Among his descendants was Ann Dunham, the mother of Barack Obama.

The most famous person to bear my surname was a remarkable woman named Katherine Dunham. A pioneer of modern dance, she was the daughter of Albert M. Dunham, a dry-cleaner in Joliet, Illinois, and the granddaughter of John Dunham, a former slave who settled in Memphis after emancipation. If our paternal lines intersected, it was probably in some millennium long past. Katherine died last year, but her legacy lives on at the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities.

I should also mention Dunham Bootmakers, a company founded by three brothers from North Paris, Maine—just a stone's throw from my hometown of Greenwood. They were distant cousins of mine, but neglected to mention me in their wills.

A Hand-Me-Down Hand

A painter working in an old house in Waldoboro, Maine, discovered a severed hand that had been passed down in a family for decades.

Police concluded that the hand had been ripped off 50 to 80 years ago. They also seized the hand because it's illegal to possess such a body part.

The previous owner claimed she had gotten the hand from a man down the road, who is now in his 80s and remembers his father having the hand.

"She had heard it was from a farming accident," [contractor Bo] Jespersen said. [Link]
I'm proud to say that this took place about 35 miles from where I'm now sitting.

They Wanted to Pray, Not to Stay

A reunion being held at Monticello this weekend includes descendants of Thomas Jefferson and of his plantation's laborers, artisans, guests and overseers. Some members of the Monticello Association—a group of white Jefferson descendants that owns the graveyard where the president is buried—are still fuming over the Sally Hemings controversy.

A plan to hold a sunrise service today at the Monticello graveyard was turned down by the Monticello Association in May, said [Virginia "Prinny"] Anderson, who made the request and is a member of the association.
Denying access to even hold a service inside the cemetery is "silly," said David Works, who helped organize the reunion. "They still seem to think blacks want to be buried in the cemetery. But they don't. It's all kind of silly. But it doesn't ruin our weekend." [Link]

A Politician on the Wrong Side of Town

A monument on Loudon Road in Concord, New Hampshire, marks the location where Isaac Hill—a former governor and U.S. senator—lived.

But Hill never lived there. He lived on Main Street, where he ran the New Hampshire Patriot newspaper and courted politicians. For years, the mistake has irked local historians.

"A lot of the evidence of the man is gone," said former city planner Randall Raymond. "What remains is a monument that's worn and in the wrong place. And this was an important man."
The marker sits in front of a Goodwill store, but belongs in front of a CVS pharmacy across the river.
"How a granite monument crossed the Merrimack, I don't know," Raymond said. "I don't think it floats." [Link]

I Before E, Except After F

An article on "artist and raconteur" Willy Feilding provides an explanation of his last name:

For Feilding, whose unusual surname is due to the fact, he says, that his parents misspelt it on his birth certificate, is not merely a painter and bon viveur.

The bohemian 66-year-old, a cousin of the Earl of Denbigh, has been a friend and companion to some of the world's most colourful celebrities, from the moustachioed madness that was Salvador Dali to that peerless beauty Princess Grace of Monaco. [Link]
The name "Feilding" isn't that unusual. Willy's relatives, the Earls of Denbigh, have used that spelling since the title was created in 1622.

Standish Home Damaged by Yobs

The ancestral home of one of the Pilgrims is in dire need of a makeover.

The 17th century lodge at Duxbury Park, off Bolton Road, has been neglected for years, and yobs have smashed windows, scrawled graffiti on the walls and started fires.
The lodge, a former coach house and an ancient barn are all that remain of the ancestral home of the Standish family.

Their most famous son Myles Standish, born 1587, became the military captain of the Pilgrims and was one of the first settlers to land in America. [Link]

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Oh So Scottish

A marketing firm has come up with the most Scottish names possible by giving "Scottishness" points to forenames and surnames.

For men, it is Murdo MacRitchie and for women, Angusina MacEachen.

A real Murdo MacRitchie, a 71-year-old retired sailor who lives on the Isle of Lewis, said: "It's just my name and I've got to live with it."

There are no Angusina MacEachens on the electoral roll. [Link]

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Good Brother

Albert Goering despised everything his brother stood for, but was able to put the family name to good use by simply writing it on official documents.

In this way he saved countless Jews from certain death in his role as a deliberately inept director at the Skoda armaments factory. The Gestapo were on to him, but he managed to slip through their clutches.

The tragedy of Albert Goering was that the surname that allowed him to make a stand during the Third Reich’s rise was the surname that condemned him following the Reich’s collapse. After he surrendered to the Americans, the interrogators refused to believe his protestations. He faced years in prison until his claims were finally verified. Following his release, his marriage collapsed and he eked out a miserable living as a translator. Nobody wanted to honour his name. He died, in obscurity, in 1966. [Link]

Where Is Butch Buried?

Bill Betenson's great-grandmother was the sister of outlaw Butch Cassidy, and it was from her that he learned that Cassidy didn't die in Bolivia in a hail of bullets.

"She (Lula Parker Betenson) was adamant that he came back," he said. "I support her."

Lula Parker Betenson never divulged where her brother was buried. She wanted to keep the curious away, but took heat for keeping the secret.

Betenson has some ideas about where Cassidy is buried. But he's not talking. [Link]

Pulling an All-Nighter in Iowa

The Iowa Genealogical Society is holding its annual slumber party this weekend.

"Well, you know everybody's dream is to be locked in a library overnight - at least anyone that likes books or research," [Debi Chase] said. "We've been doing it for quite a few years. It gives people a chance to research to their hearts' content."

Although it's called a slumber party, the event is closer to a night-before-finals cram session. Participants spend 13 hours scanning microfilm, flipping through reams of census data, digging into vital records and even examining old Bibles, all in an effort to fill in the missing links in their family trees. [Link]

Mary's Immaculate Record of Conceptions

Onorato Vacketta came to America as a boy, but returned to Italy to marry and start a family.

He came back to the U.S. in 1891, leaving his wife and two children and arriving in New Orleans, trying to earn a living in the sugar cane fields.

He became ill and returned to Italy in 1895, and returned to the U.S. in 1897 – moving from New Orleans to Chicago and several other Illinois cities working in the coal mines and, eventually, coming to Westville.

In 1901, he wrote his wife, who now had four children, that he was thinking of coming home.

"It wasn't talked about back then, but it seems that there were more children each time Onorato came back to Italy," said descendant Tom Jenkins of Danville. "Mary said to send her the tickets and she and the children would come to him." [Link]
No, Mr. Jenkins is not alleging that Mary conceived children in her husband's absence, but rather that the couple made up for lost time during his visits. Just to make sure, I checked the 1910 census, which shows that the Vackettas had children aged 18, 14, and 13, all born in Italy, and four more children born in Illinois. Another son, Giorgio "Vacchetto," aged 20, passed through Ellis Island in June of 1910. Those ages are consistent with the dates of Onorato's trips to Italy.

Fiddle Notes

A violin acquired by an Ontario museum tells the story of its maker, Dennis O'Meara.

Inside a violin that he finished carving in 1877 in Lambton County, O'Meara penciled in numerous notes that offer clues to his life and hint about local living conditions at the time.

He wrote that "wild (passenger) pigeons were passing over in billions" as he carried the wood for the violin from the Col. Faithorn estate in present day Bright's Grove.

He cryptically mentions a revolution in 1930, which is also the year he died.

And, intriguingly, he invites "whoever takes this fiddle apart (to) see if you can find me." [Link]

A Family of Showmen

An article in The Albuquerque Tribune tells of pioneer balloonist Park Van Tassel.

Van Tassel at some point married Jenny, a balloonist and parachute jumper. A planned leap in Los Angeles almost didn't take off when the police chief had a major snit, fearing she would die and make his fair city the home of a female suicide. The mayor intervened, and Jenny's jump went off without another hitch.

Van Tassel's aerial show traveled extensively. He was thought eaten by sharks in Hawaii when trouble ensued with the craft. It was only his brother, Joseph Lawrence, who succumbed to Jaws, while Van Tassel sailed on down the line.

Jenny Van Tassel's final flight, in Bangladesh for the entertainment of the Nawab (monarch), went awfully awry, and Jenny fell to her death in front of her husband and her mother. [Link]
Showmanship must run in the family. George Washington Van Tassel, of another branch, had enough sons to field a baseball team.
He assembled his 10 boys into a VT [Van Tassel] baseball team that took to the road - traveling to different towns in northeastern Ohio, northwestern Pa, and western New York in the late 19th and early 20th century. George was the coach of the team and oftentimes the umpire. A story passed down from son Jefferson is that if George was the umpire, the VT team never had a call go their way. [Link]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

That Brochure Sure Looks Familiar

While in Europe, brothers Frank and Bill Randa stopped by the tiny Italian village where their grandparents had lived before immigrating in 1890. No one they spoke to the first day had heard of the Randas. The cheaper hotels had no rooms, so they ended up in the most expensive establishment in Tiriolo.

It turned out this was the only hotel in town that gave its guests a color brochure about the history of the village, featuring a photo of a woman and two girls dressed in a special costume made by the women of Tiriolo.

That sure looked like their grandmother Giovanna and two of their aunts in the picture, Frank and Bill thought. But how could that be?

The girls had been born in America and had never set foot in Tiriolo.
They found a cousin, Carmen DeAngelis, the next day, who confirmed that Giovanna and her daughters did appear on the brochure.
"But that picture had to be taken in America," Bill said. "How did it get here?"

Carmen smiled and invited the Randa brothers to sit down while she got something out of her bedroom closet. She walked back into the room carrying a handful of pictures, including one of a 2-year-old boy.

"Frank," Bill said. "Isn't that you?" [Link]

Society Heads Want to Chop Off Members

Leland Meitzler and Dick Eastman are keeping on top of the effort by the NYG&B Board of Directors to do away with all those pesky members who refuse to give them unanimous support. Read also Dick Hillenbrand's views on the proposed power grab.

I haven't been a member for a couple of years, so I can only look on in disbelief. And offer this passage from Animal Farm:

Afterwards Squealer was sent round the farm to explain the new arrangement to the others.

"Comrades," he said, "I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Gay

Rowena Gay wasn't able to register at Facebook.com because hers was not a "proper name."

It is not the first time the name Gay has caused consternation for Internet users.

Nelson woman Gay Hamilton was reprimanded by Telecom when she tried to send its helpdesk an e-mail.

Telecom replied that her e-mail contained language - her name - that was "not appropriate for business-like communication". [Link]
Fortunately, there are places where Gays can share their problems and ask for help.

Making Do With Too Few Jews

Poland boasted a Jewish population of 3.5 million before the Holocaust, but only about 10,000 Jews live there now. Nevertheless, Poland is experiencing a Jewish revival.

"Jewish-style" restaurants are serving up platters of pirogies, klezmer bands are playing plaintive oriental melodies, derelict synagogues are gradually being restored. Every June, a festival of Jewish culture here draws thousands of people to sing Jewish songs and dance Jewish dances. The only thing missing, really, is Jews.

"It's a way to pay homage to the people who lived here, who contributed so much to Polish culture," said Janusz Makuch, founder and director of the annual festival and himself the son of a Roman Catholic family. [Link]

From Rags to Reading

How did our medieval ancestors become literate? By wearing underwear, of course.

“The development of literacy was certainly helped by the introduction of paper, which was made from rags,” says Dr Marco Mostert, a historian at the Centre for Medieval Studies, Utrecht University and one of the organisers of this year’s International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds.

“These rags came from discarded clothes, which cost much less than the very expensive parchment which was previously used for books. In the 13th century, so it is thought, as more people moved into urban centres, the use of underwear increased – which caused an increase in the number of rags available for paper-making.” [Link]

Don't Drive While Loaded

Higgins at mental_floss shares five things he learned at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center:

2. Emigrants didn’t know how to handle their guns. According to several exhibits, accidental gunfire was a leading cause of death on the Oregon Trail (and I seem to remember this from the Oregon Trail video game). The issue was that emigrants brought muzzle-loading rifles which required a laborious loading procedure — involving a piece of wetted cotton, a lead ball, a ramrod, a firing cap, and a few minutes of fiddling — which was deemed too time-consuming if the weapon was needed in a hurry. As a result, wagons were trundling along the plains with loaded rifles in them. Of course, when a wagon hit a big enough bump, the weapon would discharge, often with tragic results. (Later invention of the breech-loading rifle largely eliminated this problem.)
Whenever I played the Oregon Trail video game I died from malnutrition before I got the chance to shoot myself.

Old Notables and the Notably Old

Generians is a website that lists notable people aged 90 and up (once you gain supercentenarian status you're notable just for breathing). It's not quite as fun as Dead or Alive? or Who's Alive and Who's Dead, but it does offer some neat info. For instance, did you know that the United States' oldest man and Great Britain's oldest man were born on the very same day (June 6, 1896)? Hurry and impress your friends with that bit of trivia while it's still true.

[via Neatorama]

Nebraska's Nisei War Hero

Edward Weir tells how Ben Kuroki—a second-generation Japanese-American, or Nisei, from Hershey, Nebraska—came to be a member of his B-24 Liberator crew during World War II:

"He had been trying for months to get on a crew, and nobody else would take him because of the prejudice at that time," said Mr. Weir, now 86 and living in Denton. "He knew we needed a replacement. He came to our pilot begging for a chance."

The pilot, Jake Epting of Tupelo, Miss., wanted the blessing of his crew, so he called for a vote, Mr. Weir said.

"He asked the other crew members, 'Do you want him?'" Mr. Weir said, recalling that day in 1942. "And we held up our hands and said yes." [Link]
Kuroki went on to fly 58 combat missions in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific, was featured in Time magazine in 1944, and received three Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Air Medal. In 2005, he was awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal based on Weir's eyewitness testimony. A documentary about Kuroki, Most Honorable Son, airs on PBS in September.

Skinning Dogs and Farming Gunge

Emily Cockayne's new book, Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600-1770, is now sullying bookstore shelves.

It was a muddy, desperate world of licentious fustilugs, determined dog-skinners, essential gunge-farmers, and rootling "piggs," of dissolute rakehells, and the drabs who serviced them, a world of urban dunghills and city "hog-styes," a world inhabited by people marked by tetters, morphew, "psorophtalmy" (eyebrow dandruff, since you ask), and pocky itch, and clothed in grogram tailored by botchers. If you suspect that one of the many pleasures of "Hubbub" is the exuberant vocabulary that so enriches the texts cited by its author, you'd be right. [Link]

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I Still See a Duck

The Generations Network's logo may not be a nervous green duck after all. So says the trademark application:

The Generations NetworkDescription of Mark: The mark consists of a stylized lowercase letter "g", with the upper circular section of the "g" in a shape similar to one-half of a pair of reading glasses, and the lower circular part of the "g" in the shape of a leaf, adjacent to the words "THE generations network" in stylized fonts.
Subscribe to The Ancestry Insider to keep abreast of the latest duck-related genealogy news.

The Stooges Take the Census

In 1940, the Three Stooges were recruited as census takers. Hilarity ensued.

Take FTM 2008 for a Test Drive

You can check out the beta version of Family Tree Maker 2008 if you're running Windows XP or Vista and have "a considerable amount of time" to download the 170 MB file. The program will expire or self-destruct or something on August 24 (two weeks after the release version of FTM 2008 hits shelves), so proceed with caution.

When Numbers Had Names

Remember back when telephone numbers started with words like "Evergreen" and "Klondike"? Neither do I, but the Telephone EXchange Name Project is building a database of exchange names like the ones our parents and grandparents used.

How do exchange names work?
Everybody used to know this 30 years ago, but many young whippersnappers have probably never heard of this:

An exchange name is a word that is used to represent the first two letters of a 7 digit telephone number (exchange names have nothing to do with area codes or country codes). The first two letters of the exchange name are the first two digits of the phone number, when they are spelled out on a telephone dial or keypad. So for example, the exchange name "SYcamore" means that the first two numbers of the telephone number are "79", and SYcamore-4-3317 would be 794-3317, (my friend's old phone number 30 years ago).
[Hat tip: Orange Crate Art]

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hell Is Their Heritage

A little boy named Max Hell was refused admission to a Catholic school in Melbourne, Australia, because of his Austrian surname.

Alex Hell said his eldest son, Max, 5, was refused entry to St Peter Apostle Primary School in Hoppers Crossing last month after he reneged on a deal with the principal to change Max's surname to Wembridge, his mother's maiden name.
[W]hen it came to ditching the family name, Mr Hell had a change of heart. "I couldn't do it because that's our name, our heritage, it's who we are." [Link]

The Black Sheep's Brothers

Katrin Himmler's great-uncle was an infamous war criminal, and her in-laws were among his victims. But that didn't stop her from delving into her family's history and relating the uncomfortable truths in a new book, The Himmler Brothers.

As family history always had it - along with history in general - it was only Heinrich who was ever a committed Nazi member. He was portrayed as a black sheep; a kind of monstrous aberration, while both his parents, Gebhard and Anna, and his two brothers, Gebhard and Ernst, were seen as average sorts of Germans. Yet Katrin's father - Ernst's son - began to question this portrayal and so, in 1997, he asked his daughter for a favour: would she go through the federal archives to discover more on Ernst? Katrin didn't turn him down, despite her delicate position as the wife of an Israeli Jew. [Link]

Genealogy? Never Heard of It

The State of Indiana is planning to move a small cemetery in Castleton to make way for a highway expansion. Some local Whitesells are wondering if they're related to the Whitesells moldering there.

According to Curt Whitesell, the family wants proof that the people buried there, are indeed, part of the family. "We'd like to know. Can we do tests? DNA tests? How can we be a part of it to know yay or nay?"

And while it's uncertain that the living Whitesells are related to the buried Whitesells, the possibility thrills a family in search of their roots. [Link]
If only there was a way to figure out if these people are related—maybe by studying old records or something. But I'm sure no one has ever bothered to research the Whitesells of Marion County, Indiana.

Grandma Missed the Boat

An unused ticket for the Titanic first put on public display in 2003 was thought to be the only one in existence, but now an American woman claims to possess one of her own.

Margaret Hallem from Illinois said her Irish grandmother had been due to sail on the White Star liner, but missed the trip due to bad weather.

She was checking up on her Irish roots at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC when she revealed that her family still had the ticket. [Link]

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Not a Matrilineal Custom, I Hope

Joynath Victor Denow, a steward for Indian Airlines, was told in 1998 to shave off his handlebar mustache. He refused, and began a decade-long court battle to save his whiskers and his job.

De filed a writ petition in Calcutta High Court, pleading that the moustache was part of family custom. He told the court that his ancestors had sported handlebar moustache as well. The court, however, set the emotional plea aside and asked De to comply with the manual rules. [Link]

Perhaps They Met in Passing

Royal Canadian Air Force Sgt. R.G. Smith is buried far from home, but his grave is tended by Nita Knapp of Grantham, England.

"I feel a very close connection with Smith, although I never knew him in real life," Knapp said in a telephone interview. "Perhaps it's because he died on the day I was born - Aug. 2, 1941."

Knapp said she regularly places flowers at Smith's gravesite, located near her home. [Link]
Pat Welsh Chandler, a friend of Knapp's from Indiana, is trying to track down relatives of the young pilot—a search hampered by the common surname.

Through the Time Tunnel

David Gepp has been researching graffiti scrawled on the walls of the disused "Time Tunnel" of Llangollen, Wales.

David said: "When the tunnel was built, about 1864, it was lined with a type of tile that took pencil readily and local people took to writing their names or messages to loved ones.

"It soon became apparent that a great number [were] written by young men of the area heading off to the First World War, and it became a real obsession trying to discover who they were, and what fate befell them in the trenches."
The fading signatures scrawled on the tiled brick were a poignant reminder of the Great War, the first kindlings of romance and the unrefined humour of youth.

One message says "Berlin last stop", another is signed "Balls from Belgium", and a third the schoolboyish "Hoof Hearted". [Link]

Friday, July 06, 2007

Under the Outhouse

I've poked around in trash dumps at a couple of family homesteads, but never have I probed beneath an outhouse. This MetaFilter post has some good links about amateur privy archaeologists and the treasures they find. Remember to wash up when you're done.

Those who prefer to stay aboveground may want to visit The Outhouse Museum's website, which features a collection of vintage postcards.

[Photo credit: Salem's Corners outhouse by Oliver Hammond]

Two Sisters' Sausage Sneakiness

For no particular reason, Flora Zimbelman slipped an uncooked hot dog into her sister Rose's suitcase 54 years ago. Rose mailed it back, starting a game that lasted until her death earlier this year.

In the years that followed, Flora would find a way to sneak the hot dog back into Rose's life. And Rose would find another way to sneak it back to Flora.

"I found it under my pillow once, I found it in between the drapes and once I found it in the kitchen drawer," said Flora.

Flora still has that hot dog. It looks just about as disgusting as you might expect. [Link, via Neatorama]

A Sensible Policy

Steve Danko visited the New York State Archives and reports that, in that state, you can get death records only for people who are dead.

[T]o obtain marriage and death records for genealogy purposes, the record must be 50 years old and the persons named must be deceased.
So if you need the death record of someone who's still breathing, you're out of luck. I'm all for open access to vital records, but this seems like a sensible policy.

A Marriage Service for Dumb Lovers

John Cordy Jeaffreson's 1873 book Brides and Bridals tells of a chatty woman and the husband who would never interrupt her.

On the fifteenth day of February, in the eighteenth year of Queen Elizabeth's reign, a singular wedding took place at Leicester between Thomas Filsby, a deaf and dumb man, and Ursula Bridget, a hearing and talkative spinster. The Prayer-book requiring that the promises of marriage should be exchanged in spoken words, the clerical and civil authorities of Leicester were unable to say how the speechless person could be married to his spouse in a satisfactory manner. In their perplexity they applied for instructions to Thomas, Bishop of London, and Commissary John Chippendale, D.D., who disposed of the difficulty by devising a marriage-service for dumb lovers. By their directions the matrimonial rite was performed, and Ursula Bridget made the bride's promises in the usual manner; but the speechless groom declared his desire and purpose by the following signs. Having first embraced Ursula with his arms, he took her by the hand, and put the nuptial ring on her finger. He then laid his right hand significantly upon his heart, and afterwards, putting their palms together, extended both his hands to heaven. Having thus sued for the Divine blessing, he declared his purpose to dwell with Ursula till death should separate them, by closing his eyelids with his fingers, digging the earth with his feet, as though he wished to make a hole in the ground, and then moving his arms and body, as if he were tolling a funereal bell.
It was kind of touching until that last bit.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Grafting the Family Tree

The Shirakis of Japan chose an unusual way to save the family name from extinction several centuries ago.

This particular family had no children, yet it was still very important to them to carry on the name of Shiraki.

So they did something somewhat unorthodox, at the time. Since they had no children, they arranged for a marriage between a second family with only a daughter and a third family with a second-born son.

In return for arranging this marriage, the families of the young couple agreed to take on and perpetuate the priests' family name of Shiraki. [Link]

Built Like a Brick S***house, But When?

The Adam Thoroughgood House in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was once thought to be the oldest English brick house in America.

The city used to claim it was, for decades. Just think: Jamestown was founded in 1607; the Adam Thoroughgood House was supposedly built only 29 years later. The city even gave the house an address to match its alleged birth date, 1636 Parish Road.
Experts in the 1980s determined it was probably built about 50 years later, around 1680. Other experts last year dated the house to about 1720.

These expert opinions matter little to 81-year-old W. Paul Treanor.
He has no special background in historical research and only a high school diploma. But he is a 10th-generation descendant of Adam Thoroughgood, and he has spent 15 years pulling together every scrap of paper he can find on his ancestor.
Treanor is the last true believer in the oldest-English-brick-house theory.

He loves to proselytize, but he expects to die before he convinces the experts they are wrong.
Treanor knows he ticks off the experts in Williamsburg. He smiles at the thought. "I frankly don't give a damn," he said. [Link]

Jack the Crackpot Genealogist

The late Jack Manahan has been called the "king of … Charlottesville eccentrics." Not surprisingly, he was a genealogist.

Most famous for marrying Anna "Anastasia" Anderson, Manahan allegedly tracked down the origins of Peter Francisco—a boy abandoned on a Virginia waterfront who grew up to be a Revolutionary War hero known as "the Virginia giant" for his immense size, strength and bravery.

"Many years later," [Overton] McGehee wrote, "the old war hero was honored with the post of Sergeant of Arms at the Virginia General Assembly. Still no one knew from whence he came, not even Francisco himself. That knowledge had to wait until Jack Manahan came along.

"[Jack] went to an island in the Azores where many people are unusually large. Sure enough, there was a record of Pietro Francisco, who had vanished at the age of four. Today, buttressed by Jack's research, Portuguese-American communities celebrate Peter Francisco Day, in honor of the first Portuguese-American hero." [Link]
I can't vouch for Manahan's conclusions, especially after reading that he invited Emperor Hirohito and the Pope to his imaginary wedding in 1986.

He Was Looking For a Fight

At 106, Frank Buckles is the youngest of three surviving American World War I veterans. He tried to sign up with the Marines when he was 16, telling them he was 18. They told him he was too young, so he tried again a week later.

"I went back to the recruiting sergeant, and this time I was 21," he said with a grin. "I passed the inspection ... but he told me I just wasn't heavy enough."

Then he tried the Navy, whose recruiter told Buckles he was flat-footed.

Still, Buckles would not quit. In Oklahoma City, an Army captain demanded a birth certificate.

"I told him birth certificates were not made in Missouri when I was born, that the record was in a family Bible. I said, 'You don't want me to bring the family Bible down, do you?"' Buckles said with a laugh. "He said, 'OK, we'll take you."' [Link]
He was too old to serve in the military in World War II, but managed to get captured by the Japanese while on a business trip to the Philippines, and spent 3 1/2 years as a civilian POW.

A November-December Romance

This item appeared in Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly in 1888, written by someone who never knew the love of an 80-year-old woman.

The Rev. Brooks Lambert, the Vicar of Greenwich, has disinterred and sent to the London Times a very curious entry in the marriage registers of St. Alphage, Greenwich, under the date November 18th, 1685 :— "John Cooper, of this parish, almsman in Queen Elizabeth's College, aged one hundred and eight years, and Margaret Thomas, of Charlton, in Kent, aged eighty years, by license of ye Lord Bishop of Rochester and leave of ye Governors of ye Draipers' Company."

This marriage must, we should think, have been got up by others than the parties themselves, as a vulgar sort of joke. Even if the ages be a little exaggerated, no sane people of that age would have entered into a tie of this kind on the very brink of the grave. Since the age of Methuselah, there can scarcely have been any such marriage.

The Great Father Was Not Decapitated

Anne Heyward remembers visiting the grave of her ancestor Thomas Heyward, Jr.—a signer of the Declaration of Independence—when she was a young girl.

Her first memory of visiting Heyward's graveside was in 1941. "My sister and I were very impressed," said Anne, 71. "We decided to call him 'The Great Father.' That night after we got home, our parents realized we thought the (bust) was his real head and they had buried the rest of him -- all except his real head. We had never seen a statue before." [Link]

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

President Criticized for Commuting Sentence

A Genealogue News Flash [What's That?]
Upon learning Wednesday that he is distantly related to Benedict Arnold, President George W. Bush immediately commuted the sentence of the Revolutionary War traitor.

Among the president's ancestors are William and Christian (Peake) Arnold of Rhode Island—the great-great-great-grandparents of General Arnold. This makes the men fourth cousins, eight times removed.

"I have given this matter a great deal of thought in the past ten minutes," said the president, "and I have decided that eternal damnation is too harsh a penalty for a man who devoted his life to public service right up until the time he stabbed his countrymen in the back."

A little-known provision of the Patriot Act gives the president the authority to overrule the judgments of God, though not of Dick Cheney. Arnold—who was condemned to Hell soon after his death in 1801—was being processed for release, and could not be reached for comment.

Democrats expressed outrage that a man who so famously betrayed the American cause would be granted a commutation, and accused the president of giving preferential treatment to a relative.

"I have to do what I think is right," countered President Bush, "even if it means letting one of my cousins off the hook. It may not be politically popular, but then neither am I."

Veterans' Stones Get Stickered

The VFW post in Forrest City, Arkansas, has been having a hard time keeping track of veterans' graves, which members are required to mark with flags each Memorial Day.

[Ed] Chauvin said the local post has come up with a way to help deal with that problem. “That is, to put some kind of color sticker on the side of the headstones, a square blue sticker.”
He said he realizes some people may not want the stickers on the graves of their loved ones.

“If there is anyone who does not wish to have these stickers on the gravestones of their relatives, let us know, and we’ll not put one there,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll have many people who will disagree. It’s not going to be large.” [Link]

Deep Down, We're All Just Hamburger

Here's another story about Marion West and Vy Higginsen—the cousins of different races I blogged about in March. West, a Missouri cattle farmer, explains why the color of a cousin's skin doesn't matter:

"I've butchered a lot of cattle, all different kinds. When you cut the hides off, underneath, they're all the same," said West. [Link]
I'm pretty sure he stole that from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Genealogical Bewilderment

Melanie Boivin's seven-year-old daughter has a condition that will probably leave her infertile, so Melanie has put some of her own eggs on ice to ensure that little Flavie can someday bear a child.

Melanie said she discussed the decision with her partner and Flavie's father, Martin Cote, also 35 and a financial analyst.

"We were concerned about the ethical questions - would I look at the child as my grandchild or as my own? We were also concerned about the financial impact, the physical impact on me and the emotional impact on the family."
Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics has another concern.
"Such a baby would be a sibling of the birth mother at the same time as the direct genetic offspring of the grandmother donor.

"In psychiatry we are hearing more and more of children suffering from identity problems, and specifically a condition called 'genealogical bewilderment'. Could it possibly get more bewildering than this?" [Link]

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Genealogy Blogger to Appear on PBS

Genealogy blogger George Geder is featured in an article in today's Santa Fe New Mexican, and will appear on next week's episode of History Detectives.

George Geder said the story began when a total stranger, Angelo Scarloto of Etters, Pa., bought a vintage photograph at an antique shop.

It depicts 26 men in their 50s or older, wearing medals from the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal association of Union soldiers. Two men are black; the other 24 are white.

Civil War buff Scarloto “was curious about that because, given the tenor of the times, he thought it unusual for these two African Americans to be in this photograph,” Geder said. [Link]
If I ever appear on PBS, I hope it's on This Old House. I'm going to name my first child Norm, even if it's a girl.

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