Friday, August 31, 2007

Genealogue Challenge #12

Who was Barnett Kulp's most famous granddaughter?

Bringing Down a Website in One Step

The Ancestry Insider explains this morning how even a well-intentioned effort to make genealogical data more accessible can step on the toes of other webmasters. (I would add that Mr. Morse offers a tutorial on how to subvert his own well-intentioned efforts.)

Law and ethics have a hard time keeping pace with technology. Some of you old-timers might recall the Genealogy Message Searcher. That was a tool at GenCircles that cached and searched messages from the and GenForum boards simultaneously, but was shut down in 2002 over concerns that it violated's new terms of service. With the help of Google, I just created The New Genealogy Message Searcher in about two minutes. Granted, it's not nearly as functional or comprehensive as the original, and doesn't provide links to cached copies, but... Wait, are those lawyers from Utah I hear outside my door?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Free Baby With Every Fill-Up?

Judy Quiban and Douglas Whittaker's baby was born at a Chevron station in Elk Grove, California.

Quiban and Whittaker were on their way to the hospital. Judy was having contractions. But the couple realized their car did not have much gasoline.

Whittaker pulled into the gas station and started pumping gas as Quiban was yelling at him to call 911.
Holden's birth certificate actually shows the gas station as the place of birth with the father in attendance.
"Chevy!" Quiban's daughter said, suggesting a nickname for the baby. [Link]

Genealogue Challenge #11

Big Nose Kate lived with a man for two decades, and upon his death was executrix his will.

What were the full names (first, middle and last) of this man and of his estranged wife?

No Better Name for Idiots

Mary Penner writes today of the Defective, Dependent and Delinquent census schedules of 1880.

The 3-D forms had seven different categories: insane, idiots, deaf-mutes, blind, homeless children, paupers and prisoners.

Even back in the 19th century, the sting of political correctness vexed the special agent in charge of the 3-D schedules. Defending the labels attached to the various 3-D classes, he noted in his final report that he would have gladly used less offensive and more judicious classifications, but he couldn't think of any better terms and no one had suggested any better ones. [Link]

It's Henry!

Jane Walsh of the archives committee in Gloucester, Mass., did a search of the Web in 2004 to figure out why a 19th-century painter changed his name from Nathaniel Rogers Lane to Fitz Hugh Lane.

Up popped Lane’s request to change his name to Fitz Henry Lane. Walsh and her committee comrades figured “Henry” must be a mistake, a typo maybe. Still, it was an error they came across with some frequency in Lane records. And so they visited the state archives in Boston to look at Lane’s actual petition.

“And sure enough, there it was: Nathaniel Rogers Lane writing in to ask if he could have his name changed to Fitz Henry Lane,” says co-chair Sarah Dunlap. They realized that Lane had always been Fitz Henry. Fitz Hugh was the error. [Link]
An article from last year gave a more vivid account of the discovery.
In Lane's own handwriting was a request to change his name to Fitz Henry Lane.

"It's Henry!" Dunlap recalls shouting in the archives room. [Link]
When news of the discovery spread, museums across the country had to relabel their Lane paintings. Some labels were not so easily changed.

Caching Trashed

I have little to add to what John, Jasia, Janice and Becky have written about's decision to pull its controversial Internet Biographical Collection.

Whatever the legality of the practice, The Generations Network should have known that caching other people's websites and calling it a "collection" would raise some hackles. Genealogists are a pretty generous bunch—which explains why there is so much genealogical content on the Web to be cached. We have added tons of content to the TGN empire—whether by posting to message boards, submitting family trees, or contributing data to RootsWeb. By reaching for content beyond the borders of its empire, TGN assumed our generosity without the courtesy of a request. In doing so, it confirmed the suspicion of many that operates outside the community of genealogists. And if this two-day tempest proves anything, it's that this is a community to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Genealogue Challenge #10

Ogden Driggs had a very eventful trip to Europe when he was a boy.

Why did his family have to leave Continental Europe in a hurry, and what famous person came home to America on the same ship?

A Smoking Centenarian

Winnie Langley celebrated her 100th birthday by leaning over her birthday cake and lighting up her (estimated) 170,000th cigarette.

The former launderette worker said she started the habit in 1914 - just weeks after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28 - which sparked the First World War.
Despite the numerous health warnings, Mrs Langley insists she's never suffered because of the habit as she "has never inhaled". [Link, via Neatorama]

Genealogue Challenge #9

You might not know character actor Charles Lane's name, but you'll probably recognize his face. He had roles in hundreds of films and television shows, including a turn as Mr. Potter's rent collector in It's a Wonderful Life. He died last month at age 102.

Where was his maternal grandmother buried?

They Were Their Own Grandpas

James Pylant has compiled a history of the "I'm My Own Grandpa" meme, tracing it back to 1848. I spotted the same story in an 1822 newspaper, and it may be even older. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw it somewhere in the Bible.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Key to a Tragedy

An officer who was supposed to serve on the Titanic's maiden voyage was taken off at the last minute, and took with him the key to a locker in the crow's nest that stored binoculars.

In his haste, second officer David Blair forgot to hand the key over to his replacement and took it with him. As a result, none of the lookouts on board could use the binoculars, despite asking other officers for them.

Fred Fleet, a lookout who survived the disaster, later told the official inquiry that if the crew had had binoculars they would have seen the iceberg the ship struck sooner. When asked by a US senator chairing the inquiry how much sooner, Mr Fleet replied: "Enough to get out of the way."

The 95-year mystery has resurfaced after the key was made available for sale at auction. The key is being sold by Mr Blair's descendants, along with a postcard he wrote to his sister about his disappointment on missing out on the trip. [Link]

The Names in Spain Are Anything but Plain

A town in Spain with a population of just 900 wants to be recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the place with the largest number of inhabitants with uncommon first names—names such as Fredesvinda, Clodoaldo and Baraquisio.

A glance at the census or newspaper obituary pages of Huerta de Rey, located in the central Spanish autonomous community of Castile and Leon, is sufficient to find individuals with the aforementioned names as well as others such as Orencia, Sincletica, Tenebrina, Rudesindo, Onesiforo and Floripes. [Link]
The First International Gathering of Odd Names will be held in Huerta de Rey next year.

Caching for Cash

Last October I mentioned that was scanning the Web for biographical information. Kimberly Powell reports that the company is caching the content it finds behind its subscription firewall. is serving up copies of copyrighted work and, to make matters worse, selling this as one of their subscription databases. Because the pages are cached, they are also depriving the Web site and/or content owner of traffic and potential income.
In addition to the concerns Kimberly voices, I wonder if allows webmasters to forbid caching, as Google does. Permitting website owners to easily opt out is both legally and morally advisable.

From reading my feeds I've learned that Janice at Cow Hampshire and Amy at Untangled Family Roots have both had their content scraped by Randy has also weighed in.

Update: "Based on community response," has decided to make the Internet Biographical Collection free to registered users.

Genealogue Challenge #8

Widow Mary Turnbull let out rooms in her home in 1880. One of her boarders would write in his will that he wanted to be buried "without any monkey business."

What was this boarder's name, and what was written on his tombstone?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mary and Howard

Late genealogist Mary Smith Fay almost didn't take the biggest case of her life. She recalled in a 1985 interview getting a telephone call from attorney Ted Dinkins.

He was asking for help. He had been appointed to represent the unknown heirs of Howard Hughes Jr., the eccentric multimillionaire who had died without a will, and he needed the assistance of a crackerjack genealogist.

Fay was certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists in Washington, D.C. She also was an amateur sleuth with an inquisitive mind, a dry sense of humor and energy that belied her 60-odd years. She had been likened to Miss Marple, the matronly investigator starring in some of Agatha Christie's murder mysteries, and it was an apt comparison.

Dinkins pressed on. Was she interested in the job - possibly the case of a lifetime?

In retelling the story today, Fay blushes. "I said no; I was busy."
[Houston Chronicle, July 8, 1985]
Fay found enough time in her busy schedule to work on the case from 1977 to 1981. She helped establish the claims of twenty-two cousins and step-cousins, who were able to share in Hughes' estimated $2.5 billion estate.

Genealogue Challenge #7

When outlaw Frank James died in 1915, someone from his hometown served as undertaker.

What was his name, and what kind of business did he operate when not undertaking outlaws?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Premature Purchase

A couple in Serbia took advantage of a funeral parlor's going-out-of-business sale by buying their headstones early—and having the dates of their deaths carved in advance.

Dragoslav Mikic, 78, of the northern village of Dubnica, said: 'After looking at the length of time my relatives lived, and taking into account I eat well and am healthy, I am sure I will die in 2020.'
He predicted his wife Dragica would die in 2021. [Link]

Genealogue Challenge #6

Where was labor leader César Chávez born?

Extra credit: What unusual symbols adorn the location of his birth?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Unstable Bacon Should Not Be Trusted

There's an old joke that the plays of William Shakespeare were not written by him, but by someone else of the same name. The notion that Shakespeare was not the author of the works attributed to him originated in a log cabin in Tallmadge, Ohio.

The story begins, a little unexpectedly, with an odd and frankly unlikely American woman named Delia Bacon. Bacon was born in 1811 in the frontier country of Ohio, into a large family and a small log cabin.

Delia was bright and apparently very pretty but not terribly stable.
Gradually, for reasons that are not clear, she became convinced that Francis Bacon, her distinguished namesake, was the true author of the works of William Shakespeare. Though she had no known genealogical connection to Francis Bacon, the correspondence of names was almost certainly more than coincidental.

In 1852 she travelled to England and embarked on a long and fixated quest to prove William Shakespeare a fraud. [Link]

Genealogue Challenge #5

Mr. Green Jeans (who was not Frank Zappa's father) was Captain Kangaroo's wingman for thirty years.

What was his father's middle name?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Einstein's Theory of Relativity Clarified

A recent interview with aviation exec Kristen Einstein calls her "the great-grandniece of Albert Einstein (yes, the Albert Einstein)."

So how are you related to Albert Einstein?

He's my grandfather's father's brother. We had a family tree done and all that. My brother is the last male, and I'm the last female right now.

Really? In the whole family?

What kind of a reaction do you get when they find out you're actually related?

People will say, "No way!" I wouldn't make up someone who I'm related to!
A clarification from her father, Dennis Einstein, was published the next day.
He ... said that while he is a descendant of Albert Einstein, the connection is more distant than what his daughter stated. Kristen Einstein said she had repeated what another family member had told her about the connection. [Link, via Regret the Error]

Time for Family Feud to Be Cancelled

Gracia Jones—a great-great-granddaughter of LDS church founder Joseph Smith—is among those trying to heal a long-standing rift between his descendants and those of Brigham Young. It all started with Smith's death in 1844.

While Young led the LDS migration to the Salt Lake Valley, Emma Smith remained behind and eventually re-married. One of her sons led a splinter group known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Consequently, none of Smith's descendants were affiliated with the original body of Latter-day Saints until Jones discovered her ancestry and joined 51 years ago.
Ill will has persisted among some descendants of the families for more than a century and a half, Jones said. When planning a reunion of their family members, Smith descendants "talked about the difficulty that children of the family had with Brigham Young and the harsh feelings that had filtered down and left a scar on the family because of the bitterness the children held against him," Jones said. [Link]

Sons' Sub Search Successful

Here's an update of a story I blogged about last year. The sons of a World War II submarine commander have likely found their father's resting place on the floor of the Bering Sea.

The discovery of the USS Grunion on Wednesday night culminates a five-year search led by the sons of its commander, Mannert Abele, and may finally shine a light on the mysterious last moments of the doomed vessel.

"Obviously, this is a very big thing," the oldest son, Bruce Abele, said Thursday from his home in Newton, Mass. "I told my wife about it when she was still in bed and she practically went up to the ceiling."
As news of the search spread, several relatives of the Grunion's crew banded together to locate others with ties to the lost men. To date, the relatives of 69 men are following the progress of the search, said Mary Bentz of Bethesda, Md., whose uncle died on the Grunion. [Link]
Relatives of every crew member save one—Byron Allen Traviss of Detroit—have been located.
Bentz knows little about Traviss beyond his birthplace, Detroit, the name of his father, Russell A. Traviss, and his 1942 address, 4344 Tireman St.

The address is now a vacant lot. Neighbors said they never heard of Traviss.

Detroit directories from the 1930s listed the name of his wife as Ann and his jobs as electrician and autoworker. [Link]
You can contact the search team through their website if you have information on Traviss' family.

Update: A day later, and a relative of Traviss has been found.

Genealogue Challenge #4

This one is trickier than it appears:

Under what name is Casey Stengel's father listed in the 1880 census?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

You Can't Judge a Book While It's Covered in That

About 2,300 leather-bound ledgers were found in a barn in McHenry County, llinois, that may contain historical tax records and property assessments. But nobody wants to open them to find out.

That’s because the books came into contact with raccoons, pigeons and other critters that left their marks.

While the animals didn’t shred or otherwise physically destroy the books, they did defecate on them, [county Records Manager Bill] Draths said. [Link]

You Have More Grandmas Than Grandpas

Transylvanian Dutch links to a New York Times blog post claiming that more of our ancestors are women than men.

While it’s true that about half of all the people who ever lived were men, the typical male was much more likely than the typical woman to die without reproducing. Citing recent DNA research, Dr. [Roy F.] Baumeister explained that today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. Maybe 80 percent of women reproduced, whereas only 40 percent of men did. [Link]
An update to the post gives a good explanation of how this is possible. In short, the difference in reproduction rates combined with pedigree collapse makes it more likely that men will appear multiple times in your family tree with different mates than will women.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

From Cork to New York

I found time this evening to watch From Cork to New York—a dramatization of Annie Moore's journey to America written, produced, directed, and acted by 11-year-olds from Scoil Oilibhéir in Cork, Ireland. (You can watch the trailer here.)

My school projects at that age involved gluing macaroni to poster board. These kids commandeered a train and reenacted a transatlantic sea voyage on film, then got people on another continent to watch it. I guess they don't have macaroni in Ireland.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Careful Where You Have a Hare

The Derbyshire County Council's Record Office has compiled a list of 19th-century inmates (pdf) and the crimes they committed.

The document features the records of all prisoners held at the County Gaol in Derby from 1800 to 1819.

Reasons for imprisonment included "feloniously milking a cow", being an "incorrigible rogue", "vagabond", or "lewd woman" and suffering from "indolence". [Link]
Other offenses included "Having a hare," "Taking swan's eggs," and "Pretending to have skill."

Drowned Towns

MetaFilter has a neat post about four towns in Massachusetts—Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott—swallowed up by the Quabbin Reservoir in 1938.

It's a longstanding piece of Massachusetts lore: When the Quabbin Reservoir is low, they say a church steeple rises from the water, a ghostly reminder of the towns submerged by the flooding of the Swift River Valley in 1939.
No offense, says Dale Monette, program coordinator at the Quabbin Visitors Center in Belchertown, but, "I guarantee he's never seen it." No structures of the four "lost" towns of the valley, all vacated and disincorporated in March 1938, were left standing, he confirmed on the day I visited. [Link]
One town up here in Maine—Flagstaff—met a similar fate. Here's a list of other drowned towns in the U.S.

Monday, August 20, 2007

It Came Naturally To Her

A British woman gave birth to a son at age 59 without the benefit of in vitro fertilization. That may make her the world's oldest "natural" mother.

Dawn Brooke had a healthy boy without any fertility treatment only 12 months before she became eligible for her old age pension, her family said.

Her husband, former company director Raymond Brooke, said the couple had kept the 1997 birth private for a decade to let their son grow up in peace. [Link]

Former Princess Not a Pauper

Fellow blogger Demetrius Clark of Your Brother Kings noticed an error in an article about his relatives published in the Port Huron, Michigan, Times Herald. His correction appeared in Sunday's edition.

Eber Brock Ward's daughter, Clara, became something of a celebrity after her 1890 marriage to a Belgian prince. In my article, I repeated the often-told story that Clara died penniless after squandering her father's immense fortune.

Not so, Clark assures me.

"This was initially reported after her death, but turned out to merely be the end some people thought she had coming, given the life she led," he wrote. "According to a New York Times article from Dec. 23, 1916, she left an estate of well over a million dollars. It was, perhaps, only a portion of what she started out with, but she was far from poor, especially in those times." [Link]
And what a life she led.

Genealogue Challenge #3

Here's another challenge to start off your week:

Chef Boyardee's landlady in 1920 was a widow. What was her late husband's name?

For extra credit: When did her husband die?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

No, Really, Grandpa Was a Bastard

A very interesting piece in today's Washington Post about Frederick I. Douglas—a man who has been portraying abolitionist Frederick Douglass for two decades. When he's not delivering speeches in period costume, he's selling Frederick I. Douglass Wass Dis-Here Barbecue Sauce.

Douglas, of Baltimore, says he is a great-great-grandson of the great abolitionist, although some historians and documented Douglass descendants dispute his claim.
Douglas insists that he was born with the name Frederick I. Douglass IV. Explaining why he has not always used IV, Douglas says there was "not a need to use it. People use different things over the years. . . . I just did not use it. I didn't use it at that point in time."
He has also added an extra "s" to his surname since graduating from college.

In a 2001 letter, he claimed descent from Douglass' grandson Charles. Having learned that that Charles Douglass died at the age of 16 without issue, he now says that his grandfather was a different Charles—the illegitimate elder brother of the Charles who died.
Historians who specialize in Frederick Douglass say they have never heard of an illegitimate grandson. Douglas has provided no proof. [Link]

A Challenge Update

No answers yet to my second challenge. I'll admit, it's kind of a tricky problem, so here are a few more clues:

  • All you need is Google (this might also help).
  • Search for John Alfred Ross first, and find an interesting fact about him.
  • By "interesting" I mean it can't possibly be true.
  • Keeping that interesting fact (and the type of page where you found it) in mind, search for Jeremiah J. Pearson.
  • While you're Googling, remember that first names aren't always first, and middle initials can be a nuisance.
  • In John's case, the "interesting fact" may be the result of an error in 2002. In Jeremiah's case, the error occurred in 1842 or thereabouts.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

He Proved His Mettle, So Where's His Medal?

Korean War veteran Nyles Reed was wounded on June 22, 1952, while serving in the Marine Corps. Last week, he received an envelope with news that his Purple Heart had been approved.

But there was no medal. Just a certificate and a form stating that the medal was "out of stock."

"I can imagine, of course, with what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's a big shortage," Reed said. "At least, I would imagine so."

The form letter from the Navy Personnel Command told Reed he could wait 90 days and resubmit an application, or buy his own medal. [Link]

Robbing the Cradle OK in Arkansas

A bill passed this year in Arkansas allows preschoolers to marry, but only if they bring a note signed by mommy or daddy.

The legislation was intended to establish 18 as the minimum age to marry but also allow pregnant teenagers to marry with parental consent, bill sponsor Rep. Will Bond said. An extraneous "not" in the bill, however, allows anyone who is not pregnant to marry at any age if the parents allow it.

"It's clearly not the intent to allow 10-year-olds or 11-year-olds to get married," Bond said. "The legislation was screwed up."

The bill reads: "In order for a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age and who is not pregnant to obtain a marriage license, the person must provide the county clerk with evidence of parental consent to the marriage." [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

They Didn't Roam Far From Home

Dutch archaeologists who recovered some well-preserved DNA from a 1,000-year-old corpse have matched its Y-chromosome to a man living nearby.

Ahead of planned building work, an excavation in 2002 found a graveyard dating from around 1000 - 1050 AD. Mr. Eduard Zuiderent, a retired dentist said his ancestors remains were found in one of the graves.
Only people who could prove generations of their family had descended from Vlaardingen were accepted into the lengthy process of identifying relatives.
Unwrapping his ancestor's skull out of a cardboard box, Zuiderent said: "We happen to be relatives. Some maybe 35 generations ago, I don't know. It's maybe an uncle, maybe not a direct father, but a brother or an uncle or a nephew, but we have identical same DNA," he said adding it was an incredible feeling to hold his ancestors skull. [Link]
It was ten years ago that a history teacher in England was found to be related to 9,000-year-old Cheddar Man, discovered in a cave only 15 miles from his home.

What’s the Oldest Thing You Own?

Chris Higgins at mental_floss stole this question, so he probably won't mind me pilfering it as well: What's the oldest thing you own? To be more precise, what's the oldest artifact you own? (I was given a piece of petrified wood when I was a kid that is considerably older than any man-made item in the house.)

I think the oldest item in my possession is the 1805 deed conveying land in Hartford, Maine, to my ancestor, Moses Dunham. The leather wallet that formerly held the deed—thought by my great-great-grandfather to have dated from the Revolutionary War—was misplaced some years ago. I don't really consider myself the owner of the deed—just the current custodian.

So, what's the oldest thing you own?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Genealogue Challenge #2

The first Genealogue Challenge was so well received, I'm thinking of making it a regular feature.

Here's one that will test your search engine savvy:

Jeremiah J. Pearson and John Alfred Ross have something in common. What is it?

Update: It's something more interesting than "Both were men."

Update: More clues here.

Pardon My Norfuk

The language spoken by the descendants of Bounty mutineers on Norfolk Island has been recognized by UNESCO as both unique and endangered. The language derives from "Pitkern," itself based on the 18th-century English spoken by Bounty crewmen and the Tahitian spoken by their island brides.

To outsiders the creole, known as Norfuk, is almost incomprehensible, although pronouncing words slowly helps untangle their meaning. "Daad'wieh" means "that's the way" and "daaset" is "that's it".

Other words are from archaic English: "food" translates as "wattles", derived from "victuals". The word "children" has morphed into "sillen".
Alice Buffett, a seventh generation islander who has written a Norfuk text book and dictionary, said the pupils were enjoying learning phrases such as "Whataway yorle?" ("How are you?") and "El duu f'mada" ("They'll do for dumplings"). [Link]
If you don't like the dumplings, say "Car do far dorg et." Check out this site to hear the language spoken.

Poe Toaster a Hoax?

Each year on Edgar Allan Poe's birthday, a mysterious figure dressed in black lays roses and booze on his grave in Baltimore. Sam Porpora, 92, a former ad executive, is claiming that he created the legend.

Mr. Porpora's story begins in the late 1960s. He'd just been made historian of the church, built in 1852 at Fayette and Greene Streets. There were fewer than 60 congregants and Mr. Porpora, in his 60s, was one of the youngest. The overgrown cemetery was a favourite of drunken derelicts.

The site needed money and publicity, Mr. Porpora recalled. That, he said, is when the idea of the Poe toaster came to him. The story, as Mr. Porpora told it to a local reporter then, was that the tribute had been laid at the grave on Poe's Jan. 19 birthday every year since 1949. Three roses - one for Poe, one for his wife and one for his mother-in-law - and a bottle of cognac were placed there, because Poe loved the stuff even though he couldn't afford to drink it unless someone else was buying. [Link]
Critics say that Porpora may have popularized the legend, but that the mysterious stranger was showing up long before he became involved.

A Genealogue Challenge

Someone posted at WFMU's Beware of the Blog the audio from a cassette tape found at a Goodwill store in Toledo, Ohio. It's a recording of a college student's 1978 interview with a 100-year-old woman. The second half of the interview gives a little more genealogical info, but see if you can figure out her identity with only these early clues:

  • Though not explicitly stated, it's apparent that she never married.
  • Her family came from New York and settled in Newton, Kansas, where she still lived in 1978.
  • Her father emigrated from Germany as a young man.
Based on these clues, I was able to figure out who she was using one free online resource and HeritageQuest Online census records. I didn't hear her last name mentioned on the tape, but her first name and the first names of her mother and siblings are given on the flip side, and they confirmed my hunch.

The first person to post the correct answer as a comment wins my undying admiration.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Prefer 'Ampersand'

A couple in China applied to use the symbol "@" as their child's given name.

Li Yuming, of the state language commission, said the couple argued that "the whole world uses '@' to write emails" and that translated it sounded like "love him" in Mandarin. [Link]

They Only Came to Pillage

The government of Denmark has apologized for the unseemly behavior of its Viking forebears in Ireland.

The apologetic gesture came as a replica Norse warrior ship arrived in Dublin after a voyage across the North Sea.

Danish Culture Minister Brian Mikkelson said his country was proud of the ship, Havhingsten (The Sea Stallion).

"But we are not proud of the damages to the people of Ireland that followed in the footsteps of the Vikings," he said. [Link]
Those "damages to the people of Ireland" did not involve the wholesale transfer of DNA. A genetic study by Trinity College scientists of a "cohort of Irish men bearing surnames of putative Norse origin" found "little trace of Scandinavian ancestry."

Like a Community Barn-Raising, Only Different

The Mad Trapper of Rat River has been exhumed in Canada's Northwest Territories. A production company hopes to use DNA to finally identify Albert Johnson, "a gun-toting trapper who led the RCMP on the mother-of-all police chases across the Arctic during the depths of the Great Depression."

A film crew exhuming the body of the legendary outlaw in an effort to finally identify him had to dig two holes to find him — and wound up relying on the memory of a 92-year-old woman to successfully get DNA samples.

"We thought he was going to evade us one last time," Carrie Gour of Myth Merchant Films said Wednesday of the Alberta-based film company’s attempt to find an answer to one of the North’s great enduring mysteries.
Far from a macabre, horror-movie ambience, Gour described the exhumation as "magical."

"It was like a community barn-raising — only different." [Link]

Salford's Sioux

Excavations for a new BBC building in Salford, England, may turn up the burial site of a Sioux warrior.

The 120-year-old mystery of the whereabouts of the final resting place of the 6ft 7ins brave known as `Surrounded by the Enemy' may lie under Salford Quays. The horseman, a member of the Oglala Lakota Warriors of South Dakota, died during a visit to Salford with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in 1887/8.
Local councillor Steve Coen says there may be living proof of Native American presence in Salford.
"It is very possible that there may be descendants as they were here for a long time and they were certainly very friendly with the local population."

One Sioux baby was born in Salford and was baptised in St Clement's Church before slipping out of the history books. [Link]

Your Ancestors Were Delicious

Descendants of Papua New Guinea cannibals who dined on missionaries in 1878 have apologized to the people of Fiji.

The ceremony marked 132 years since Methodist ministers and teachers from Fiji arrived in the New Guinea islands region in 1875 headed by Englishman George Brown.

In April 1878, a Fijian minister and three teachers were killed and eaten by Tolai tribespeople on the Gazelle Peninsula. [Link]

It Followed Her to School One Day

The birthplace of nursery-rhyme heroine Mary Sawyer in Sterling, Massachusetts, burned to the ground on Sunday morning. According to "descendant" Diane T. Melone, Mary really did have a little lamb.

The lamb became attached to Mary, crying when she left it. One day her younger brother, Nathaniel, urged Mary to take the lamb to school with them. Once there, the lamb lay under Mary’s desk and she covered it with a cloak. But when the teacher called Mary to the front of the room, the lamb followed — and the children laughed.

A boy, John Roulstone Jr., ... was visiting Mary’s school when the lamb incident happened.

John wrote a poem about three verses long about Mary and the lamb and gave it to Mary. [Link]
Sarah Hale gets the writing credit by some accounts. The school where the events were supposed to have occurred now stands on the grounds of the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Mass., moved there by Henry Ford in 1925.

By the way, Mary Elizabeth Sawyer and her husband, Columbus Tyler, seem not to have had descendants. They married in 1835 and settled in Somerville, Mass., where Columbus was for many years steward and Mary matron at the McLean Asylum for the Insane. The census records give no indication of children. She died in 1889, and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Buccaneer Bloodline Not Required

If you can prove you descend from any of six notorious pirates (Sir Henry Morgan, William Kidd, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, John "Calico Jack" Rackham, Anne Bonny, or Mary Read), you can get free admission to English Heritage's Pirates of Land and Sea events. And by "descend from" I mean "happen to share the same last name as."

To be eligible for free entry, adult visitors must present their passport, drivers licence or birth certificate to prove that their surname is one of the following names:


Up to three children will be admitted free of charge with any eligible adult pirate descendent. Only the above surnames will be eligible for free admission, no other pirate surnames will be accepted.

Given Leave to Conceive

The region of Ulyanovsk in Russia promotes procreation by giving couples time off from work on Sept. 12 (the "Day of Conception") to try making babies.

The hope is for a brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia's national day. Couples who "give birth to a patriot" during the June 12 festivities win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.
Everyone who has a baby in an Ulyanovsk hospital on Russia Day gets some kind of prize. But the grand prize winners are couples judged to be the fittest parents by a committee that deliberates for two weeks over the selection. [Link, via Boing Boing]

DNA: Could It Happen to You?

Last night's Colbert Report was all about DNA. We learned that "DNA was invented back in the 1950s, and it's responsible for cool stuff like hair color and arms." Who knew? Here's Stephen's interview with Dr. Spencer Wells of the Genographic Project:


Posthumously Posted

Dropping someone's cremains in a mailbox is bad enough, but forgetting to address the package is unforgivable.

The letter carrier found the package wrapped haphazardly in a plastic bag, with no mailing address or return address, and notified police. A police dog did not detect any explosives, so officers opened it and found a box with a metal plate with the deceased person's name on it and the years "1957-2000." [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

The Secret City

Like Arthurdale, West Virginia, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was created by the federal government. Unlike Arthurdale, its creation was a closely guarded secret.

Home to some 75,000 workers and site of the largest building in the world, Oak Ridge didn't appear on maps during World War II, and was separated from the outside world by barbed wire and security fences until 1949. Many of the workers didn't learn what they were working on until the bombing of Hiroshima. Jay Searcy described the moment in his 1992 article, "My Nuclear Childhood."

On Aug. 6, a Monday, we were just sitting down for lunch when my father heard President Truman come on the radio. We huddled around the set. A B-29, he announced, had dropped a new kind of bomb on Hiroshima, a bomb more powerful than 20,000 tons of conventional explosives - and the main component had come from Oak Ridge, Tenn.

"It's a bomb!" my father shouted. "We've been making an atom bomb!" My sister, Mary Glenn, began to cry, partly out of fear and partly because she had been told by my father that they were making paper dolls at the plants.
The natural uranium that went into the plants by the boxcar-load was code-named "tuballoy"; the enriched uranium that came out by the ounce was called "oralloy." Keeping the purpose of the plants under wraps required absolute secrecy.
Phones were tapped. Mail was inspected. Some top scientists used aliases, and names of other key project personnel weren't allowed to appear in newspapers (only first names were used in reporting the high school's first football games). Death certificates of employees accidentally killed on the project were classified and weren't delivered to next of kin until after the war.
Due to security precautions, the football team never played home games.

Curiously, a Tennessee mystic named John Hendrix predicted the creation of a city at Oak Ridge forty years before construction began.
One day, after weeks of absence, Hendrix reappeared at a crossroads store and told a group of neighbors he'd seen a startling vision.

"In the woods, as I lay on the ground and looked up into the sky, there came to me a voice as loud and as sharp as thunder," Hendrix reported. "The voice told me to sleep with my head on the ground for 40 nights and I would be shown visions of what the future holds for this land.... And I tell you, Bear Creek Valley someday will be filled with great buildings and factories, and they will help toward winning the greatest war that ever will be. And there will be a city on Black Oak Ridge.... Big engines will dig big ditches, and thousands of people will be running to and fro. They will be building things, and there will be great noise and confusion and the earth will shake."

"I've seen it," he concluded. "It's coming." [Link]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mickey and Minnie Not Cohabiting in Canada

An investigation has turned up no evidence that a Canadian census taker was instructed to make up names if she found no one at home.

The controversy began in February when enumerator Sharon Newton of Chilliwack, B.C., told a broadcast outlet she was asked to make up names in order to get the head count done.

"At the end, they just said, 'We really don't care. As long as you can find out if there (are) three people that live in that house, put down Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck on it," Newton said at the time. "We don't care about a name." [Link]

The King Is Gone, but He's Not Forgotten

John at Transylvanian Dutch had help deciphering an old family joke from the tombstone of his great-grandmother's father.

Whenever you invoked his Hebrew name, Moshe Leyb, you were always supposed to follow it with, "the King". She never explained why.
We left it as a quirky inside joke we would probably never understand completely.

And then I found his tombstone, and discovered the answer was written on it.

A Page Right Out of Astronomical History

Astronomer Monty Robson visited Rutland, Vermont, to find out where William Page lived on Dec. 14, 1807—not for genealogical reasons, but because on that day Page witnessed a meteorite explode in the sky over Connecticut.

Page, after watching the explosion early in the morning of Dec. 14, 1807, recorded his observations with the help of neighbor and noted meteorologist the Rev. Samuel Williams.
"I never had any idea William Page had been involved in anything like this," said Jim Davidson of the Rutland Historical Society.
"The house had been moved three times, but he didn't need to know where the house was now," Davidson said. "He needed to know the GPS coordinates of William Page's yard in 1807. It was a different sort of request from what we're used to. Usually people are researching their family tree." [Link]

Happy to Be Half Naked

I would love to read the Photo Detective's analysis of this little guy's picture. My own analysis has concluded that he needs a haircut and a trip to the gym to work on his abs.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Importance of Background Research

Michael Dick was looking for his daughter, Lisa, so he sought the help of a British newspaper. A story about his search appeared in the paper, along with a photograph of Dick.

Lisa, a mother of three, discovered her father, 58, was trying to find her when friends mentioned the story.

And when she looked at the photograph, she realised she and her mother were just a few metres behind them and got in touch.
Lisa said: 'I was completely shocked. Me and my mum had been standing in that exact place where the picture was taken about a minute earlier, and you can see us in the picture walking away. It is incredible.' [Link]
[Thanks to Rob Manderson for spotting this item and passing it on.]

Update: And thanks to John Van Essen for sending in a link to a Suffolk Free Press follow-up article with the annotated photograph.

Colonial Women Not Combustible

J. L. Bell at Boston 1775 says that colonial women didn't catch on fire as easily as one might think.

I have a pet theory that the danger of open cooking fires was played up in the 19th century by people with a financial incentive to do so: stove manufacturers. But like so many pet theories, I don’t have any evidence to back it up.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Little Lots of Land

For just under £30, you can own one square foot of land in the Scottish Highlands and become a Laird, Lord, or Lady.

It's true that these titles have been dismissed as 'meaningless' by the Court of Lord Lyon, the office which deals with heraldic matters and coats-of-arms in Scotland. And it was decided eight years ago that the sales of such miniature plots would not be recorded in the national register of Scotland. But for many of the buyers, it is quite sufficient that 'laird' means 'landowner' in Scots, and they receive a certificate which purports to prove their ownership of a plot of land on a Highland estate. [Link]
These are generous parcels compared to those given away in the Quaker Harvest Oats "Klondike Big Inch" advertising campaign in the 1950s. Deeds for one-square-inch plots of land in the Yukon were given away in cereal boxes. Filmmaker David McDonald was one of the lucky recipients, and made a documentary about his quest to find other small landowners, and to claim his own tiny tract.
Many had high hopes for their tiny plots of land. One Michigan man wanted to establish the world's smallest national park while a group of friends wanted to pool their plots and declare an independent republic.

Eventually, McDonald headed north to locate his land.

He discovered that the company Quaker Oats set up to manage the land never paid property taxes, so the Yukon government reclaimed it all.

"They never told us that perhaps we should have registered the deed." [Link]

You Must Be Wrecked to Join

Unique among American veterans organizations is La Société des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux—The Forty & Eight. The name dates to World War I, when American servicemen were transported to French battlefields in cramped and often odorous boxcars.

Each French boxcar was stenciled with a “40/8”, denoting its capacity to hold either forty men or eight horses. This ignominious and uncomfortable mode of transportation was familiar to all who traveled from the coast to the trenches; a common small misery among American soldiers who thereafter found “40/8” a lighthearted symbol of the deeper service, sacrifice and unspoken horrors of war that truly bind those who have borne the battle.
Candidates for membership are called Prisonniers de Guerre (Prisoners of War). Once "wrecked" (initiated), they become Voyageurs Militaire (military travelers). The head of the organization is the Chef de Chemin de Fer (President of the Railroad).

Friday, August 10, 2007

That's the Name of the Game

It seems appropriate that Tennys Sandgren is one of America's top young tennis players.

But his name has nothing to do with the sport and everything to do with his great-grandfather, who was born in Manistee, Mich., in 1896.

Tennys Sandgren, the original, was the first child of Swedish immigrants who settled in Michigan.

"There hadn't been another Tennys Sandgren in the family until my Tennys was born in 1991," said Lia Sandgren, the mother, coach and home-school teacher of the current Tennys. "I'm a sucker for family names." [Link]

He's Small, but He Has No Decency!

One of the most beloved landmarks in Brussels is the Manneken Pis—a 24-inch-tall bronze statue of a naked boy peeing. Whom the statue depicts depends on which story you believe.

The most common explanation (and one that is found on a wall plaque near the Pis) is a slightly twisted family story. A man lost his little son in the big city. The man searched high and low, but for two days, his son wasn’t to be found. Then, finally, he found his son — right as the boy was relieving himself on a street corner. So grateful was the man that he commissioned a statue of the boy just as he found him. [Link]
Another possible explanation identifies the boy as two-year-old Duke Godfrey II of Leuven, who was placed in a basket and hung from a tree during a battle in 1142, but managed to repel the enemy forces by tinkling on them.

Yet another version goes like this:
In the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held their ground for quite some time. The attackers had thought of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Juliaanske from Brussels happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. [Link]
Check out his official website, or this panoramic view of the Manneken, but "Be careful! He's small … but he has no decency!"

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hands Off the Heirloom, Kid!

John Keenan has learned that he's descended from one of the most famous of the Salem "witches."

Keenan says it wasn’t till his grandmother passed away and genealogical papers were found in her house, that he discovered his familial ties to Rebecca Nurse.

More evidence was discovered last summer when Keenan’s father sold his home and the basement, which contained some of his grandmother's belongings, was being cleaned out. In the backyard Keenan discovered his 7-year-old son playing with something that appeared to be a silver basket.

“It turned out to be a fiftieth anniversary gift engraved with the names Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Nurse, marked 1840-1890,” Keenan said. “He was putting dirt inside it.” [Link]

Cemetery Scavengers Not Welcome

Should you visit Graceland Cemetery in Mayville, Wisconsin, try to ignore the vultures and periodic explosions.

Ralph Smith, president of the Graceland Cemetery Association and head caretaker, said he has occasionally seen two or three pairs of turkey vultures nesting in the graveyard that dates back to the 1850s, but there are now about 60 of the birds on the ground, on headstones and in the trees.
Police are warning residents that an officer will fire bird bangers and screamer sirens twice a day to scare away turkey vultures that are roosting there. [Link]
[Yet again, thanks to Nancy!]

Superman's Secret Identity

Pat and Sheena Wheaton's bid to name their son "4Real" was shot down by New Zealand authorities.

Undeterred, the Wheatons now plan to call their newborn son Superman, but have said they will refer to him as 4Real.

The baby's family argues that if people can be known as John Williams III, for example, then why can a number not be used at the beginning of a name? [Link]
When they babyproof their home, I hope they put the kryptonite out of reach.
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Town Poorly Planned for the Poor

Arthurdale, West Virginia, has a peculiar history. It was America's first New Deal Homestead—a community designed by the federal government under the watchful eye of Eleanor Roosevelt. Like so many other projects planned in Washington, it quickly went over budget.

The pre-fabricated houses, even when it was known that they were unsuitable for West Virginia winter and wouldn't fit their foundations, were still built but then torn to pieces and remodeled. An article in the August 1934 Saturday Evening Post speaks of how chimneys were built eight feet away from their houses' sides, after which the houses were reconstructed to meet the chimneys.
165 homes would eventually be erected (160 of which still stand), to be inhabited by poor folks willing to have their daily lives micromanaged by politicians.
The "colonists" — or "homesteaders" as the press and politicians often referred to them — were the lucky few selected from among the indigent coal miners by the screening process. If they thought they were getting "relief" they would have been correct, but they were getting a bit more in the bargain, too. They were to be resettled, fed, clothed, and housed by order of the politicians, and in addition they were to live on a stage set. Knowingly or not, they were a propaganda piece.
The location of Arthurdale—far from transportation and markets and therefore unattractive to industry—doomed the project. The social experiment ended in 1948, and the properties were sold off to the homesteaders for as low as $750.
Today the town has a wonderful museum that keeps the memory of her beginnings alive, and every year the residents, many descendants of the original settlers, play host to the New Deal festival.
I wonder if it was Eleanor who came up with the imaginative names for Arthurdale's roads.
[Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-001050-C DLC]

Paris Is One of Us!

Paris Hilton reportedly will attend the Flat Lake Festival later this month in Ireland, where she will research her family tree and find out if she's related to British pop star Lily Allen. Kevin Allen—Lily's uncle and one of the festival's organizers—says, "We believe Paris wants to come to the festival which is at my in-laws' place at Hilton Park, to check out her Irish ancestry. They may be related."

A tongue-in-cheek notice on the Festival website provides other, even more dubious details:

We've ... been informed today of a glamorous visitor to the Festival. After receiving nationwide press interest in the Damien Hirst Art charity auction, We've extended an invitation to Paris Hilton. Sources close to the American star say that Hirst is her favourite conceptual artist and that she may bid for the Hirst painting entered into the auction.

Due to us banning telephone bids though, Miss Hilton will have to personally make the trip to Hilton where she could also confirm an ancestral link to Hilton Park country. Rumour has it that her great grandfather, oil tycoon, Waylon Hilton, is a descendent of the Hilton dynasty. By accessing the family archives she could well return to the US with clear evidence of her illustrious family lineage.
More plausible rumors have it that Paris's great-grandfather was some German-Norwegian innkeeper named Conrad Hilton. She does, though, have Irish ancestry.
[Photo credit: Peter Schäfermeier]

Good Graveyards and No Nukes

Joe and Virginia Sprott celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary next month. Their decision to relocate to Marble, Arkansas, back in 1959 was influenced by something Joe heard while working at a California Marine base.

When he learned that officials at the base had determined that Arkansas was the place least likely to have an atomic bomb dropped on it, he knew immediately where he would move his wife and five children.
They were struck by the land's beauty, said Virginia, and by its churches (a good church was a must for her) and its doctors.

"And the cemeteries," Joe quickly added. "If you go to a community and its cemeteries are clean and orderly, you can afford to stay. If not, move on." [Link]

How the English Evolved

While researching his new book, A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark wondered if the descendants of English people who survived disasters like the Black Death gained, through natural selection, a greater resistance to disease. This greater immunity, he supposed, might help explain how the Industrial Revolution came about.

In support of the disease-resistance idea, cities like London were so filthy and disease ridden that a third of their populations died off every generation, and the losses were restored by immigrants from the countryside. That suggested to Dr. Clark that the surviving population of England might be the descendants of peasants.

A way to test the idea, he realized, was through analysis of ancient wills, which might reveal a connection between wealth and the number of progeny. The wills did that, but in quite the opposite direction to what he had expected.

Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. “The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages,” he concluded. [Link]
As the wealthy dropped in social status, says Clark, they passed down (culturally, or perhaps genetically) their capitalist values to the workforce that drove the Industrial Revolution.

Most of my ancestors sat out the Industrial Revolution, and, in light of my life of abject poverty, I'm guessing I lack the capitalism gene. I'm well suited for serfdom.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Born to Write Fiction

Novelist Natalie Danford comes from "a family of great mythologizers."

My paternal grandfather created this whole story that he had come over here when he was 12 and that he didn’t speak any English and pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Many years ago, after the Ellis Island records went online, my father idly punched in his own father's name and it turns out that my grandfather came here when he was three with his entire family.
On my mother's side, we always thought that my great-grandfather left Russia because he didn't want to be conscripted into the Czar's army, obviously a pretty bad deal if you were Jewish. One of my mother's cousins did genealogical research in the late 1970s; it turned out that he actually killed somebody and hopped a boat. [Link]

Four-Fingered Forebears

The Simpsons have the most extensive fictional family tree I've ever seen. Published in The Simpsons Uncensored Family Album, it reveals that Homer's 3rd-great-grandfather's sister married the brother of Mr. Burns' 2nd-great-grandmother, and that Lisa Simpson really does have Native American ancestors (though perhaps not of the Hitachi tribe). (Marge's ever-so-French ancestry—summarized here—also appears in the book.)

Another Turtle Alert

It seems like all the news out of New York these days concerns turtles.

Anita Lewis of Elmira is desperately seeking the woman who bought a ceramic turtle from her on Saturday. Lewis was unaware that the large, brown turtle contained the ashes of her husband’s previous wife. [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Underage Politicians

When Henry Clay first became a United States Senator in 1806, he was not yet old enough to meet the constitutional requirements of the office.

Henry Clay first entered the Senate when he was some months under the constitutional age of thirty years, having been appointed by the governor of Kentucky to fill a vacancy in that body. The reason why this was allowed and was not made a subject of protest is found in the fact that Clay was universally believed to be more than thirty. He had had an elder brother, also named Henry Clay, who died while quite young. The record of his birth was supposed to be the record of the birth of the great Henry Clay, who was therefore thought to be constitutionally eligible in respect to age. When the facts finally came out, Clay was past thirty, and so there was nothing to do about it. The case, however, is unique in the annals of American history. [Link]
Well, not exactly unique. Armistead Thomson Mason of Virginia was a few months younger than Clay when he was sworn in in 1816, and John Henry Eaton of Tennessee took his oath of office in 1818 at the tender age of 28.
Apparently no one asked John Eaton how old he was. In those days of large families and poorly kept birth records, he may not have been able to answer that question. Perhaps it was only later that he determined the birth date which now appears on his tombstone, confirming his less-than-constitutional age. [Link]
Two other Senators were elected at age 29, but waited until after their birthdays to be sworn in: Rush Dew Holt of West Virginia in 1935, and Joseph Biden of Delaware in 1973.

Monday, August 06, 2007

This Little Piggy Is Genealogically Significant

Someone inquired at GenForum a few years ago about his grandmother's toes.

It has to be a feature she received through one of her parents George Washington Hockley or Sadie Mae Clemens. The feature is that the 2nd toe (beside her big toe) on both feet was smaller than both the big toe and the 3rd toe. I know that this is an odd thing to write about in a genealogy forum, but it has caused several in my family to become curious. We are trying to determine if it is a Hockley Trait or a Clemens trait. [Link]
Not an odd question at all. Inherited physical traits offered a peek into the genes back before DNA testing was possible, and can still offer clues to ancestry. Too bad relative toe lengths aren't noted on birth, marriage or death certificates.

BTW, if your second toe is longer than your big toe, you have something in common with the Statue of Liberty (pdf).

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Pretty Normal American Family

Stanford University history professor Richard White knows that not every illegal immigrant speaks Spanish.

White found that his grandfather tried to immigrate from Ireland through Canada in 1936 because he could not get a visa under the quota laws.

"He tried to come through Detroit. It was hard to get caught at Detroit, but he managed to get caught," White said. Back in Canada, his grandfather called his brother, a Chicago police officer, who crossed the border and met him there. The two then walked to Detroit, his brother flashing his Chicago policeman's badge to U.S. customs officers who waved the pair through.

"I wouldn't be here, my brothers wouldn't be here if illegal aliens had been rounded up and dragged out," said White, a 1992 Pulitzer Prize finalist. [Link]
As White argued in a 2006 article, our public discourse on immigration should focus less on abstract principles and more on the concrete, complicated practices that shaped family histories like his own.
My other grandfather nearly got deported back to Russia, where he was born, for crimes of "moral turpitude," until he became, as my father liked to say, the only Democrat ever pardoned by Herbert Hoover. My wife's father spent his last demented year in Arizona trying to persuade his wife to rent a jackhammer to cut into their slab foundation and hide the money from the Mexicans, whom he thought were about cross the border en masse. My brother-in-law was born in Mexico, and became a citizen in the last amnesty.

I consider myself part of a pretty normal American family.

Left in the Loo

Mark Gilliam, 41, is searching for his birth parents with the slimmest of clues.

The only clues are his birth certificate, which states under place of birth 'Found on The Pavement, Clapham', and fading newspaper cuttings that report he was abandoned in a public toilet.
Attempts to trace Elizabeth Coulbeck, the lavatory attendant who found him, have so far failed. When she discovered Mark he was well-fed and dressed in white bootees and a romper suit embroidered in orange, green and white. 'We're not sure if there is an Irish link,' Mark said. He was found the day after St Patrick's Day, so he is called Mark Patricks on his birth certificate. [Link]

Her Nice Neighbor Was a Niece

Madam Zhang Qunyou, 68, was given up for adoption three days after her birth in Malaysia. She tried for twenty years to find her birth family, without success. She moved to Singapore last year to live with her daughter, and in June met a neighbor who lived one floor below—Madam Hon Sek Yin.

She began relating her life story to Madam Hon, 48.

As Madam Hon listened, she felt a keen sense of deja vu.

The vegetable wholesaler said: 'I had heard that story before - but it was from my maternal grandmother.'

Madam Zhang also reminded Madam Hon strongly of her grandmother and her mother.

Said Madam Hon, who has a pair of 26-year-old twin daughters: 'I could not help wondering if Madam Zhang was my mother's long-lost sister.' [Link]
Madam Zhang was indeed the woman's aunt. A few days later, she was introduced to her 90-year-old birth mother.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

He Read the Writing on the Wall

As recently reported, the Sikh tradition of giving every baptized male the name Singh has led to confusion. It also led to Farrukh Dhondy meeting a young lady by the name of Kulvinder Bill-Stickers.

I waited till I was just sufficiently acquainted with her to ask how she came by such a radical name. She said her father had come with a lot of Punjabi immigrants on a ship from Bombay to Southampton some years before and on the voyage he had become sick and tired of being confused with all the other Singhs that were on the ship. He took a private and stubborn vow, as one sometimes irrationally does, to change his name to the first word that he saw when he set eyes on England. The ship docked and from the railings Mr Singh saw the epithet 'BILL-STICKERS WILL BE PROSECUTED' stencilled in paint on a wall. [Link]
[Photo credit: bill stickers sign by noisehead]

Turtle Causes Panic in NYC

The weird vessel that caused a security scare in New York on Friday was a homemade replica of a Revolutionary War submarine.

Police held the artist, Philip "Duke" Riley, and two other Rhode Island men, Jesse Bushnell, 35, and Michael Cushing, 23, for questioning. But there was no indication the trio meant any harm with the replica of the 1776 "Turtle submarine."

One of the Rhode Island men claimed he was descendant of David Bushnell, the inventor of the original one-man vessel that inspired the replica, police said. [Link]

Minor Infractions

A century ago, Lewis Hine documented with his camera violations of child labor laws at textile mills in Gastonia, North Carolina. Robert Allen is trying to find descendants of the kids depicted in Hine's photographs in hopes of organizing a reunion in November 2008.

J.M. Merrill of Goldsboro had never seen the photo of his father, Rush Merrill, before.

Merrill said his father talked about working in the mill when he was so young he stood on a box to reach the machine.

"It's unreal that picture is in the Library of Congress," he said. "An old cotton mill man who only went to the third grade." [Link]

Serial Centenarians

Megan's very cool article about Serial Centenarians is up on the Ancestry Magazine website.

I received an e-mail with a conundrum I simply couldn’t resist. It focuses on an objective, rather than an object, but is otherwise much like the many other genealogical puzzles I wrestle. Plus, how could I not be intrigued by a query like this?

We would like to find out if there is anyone still alive in America who met a relative that was born in the 18th century. We figure this would take someone who is at least 100 years old and who had an ancestor who lived to be over 100. Hypothetically, it could be someone who was born in 1901 and who, in that same year, met a great-grandparent who was born in 1799.
You can watch the footage she mentions of the 1905 funeral of Hiram Cronk here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Duggars Did It Again

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of Arkansas had their 17th child on Thursday—a daughter named Jennifer.

"We'd love to have more," Michelle said, referring to baby girls. "We love the ruffles and lace."
Jennifer joins siblings: Joshua, 19; John David, 17; Janna, 17; Jill, 16; Jessa, 14; Jinger, 13; Joseph, 12; Josiah, 11; Joy-Anna, 9; Jedidiah, 8; Jeremiah, 8; Jason 7; James 6; Justin, 4; Jackson, 3; Johannah, almost 2. [Link]
The Duggars were featured in a series of Discovery Health programs called "14 Children and Pregnant Again!," "Raising 16 Children," and "On The Road With 16 Children." I haven't seen any of these, but I promise to start watching if the kids learn to build motorcycles or swim with sharks.
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Atlanta, Before and After

Greg Germani has been recreating old Atlanta-area photographs since 2003. He's even duplicated aerial photos! From a 2005 article:

He stands exactly where the original photographers once stood, and trains his 3.2 megapixel Nikon digital point-and-shoot in precisely the same direction. Today, he has taken more than 400 pictures that way. Pairing each photo with its antecedent, he posts them on his website,

The pictures comprise a remarkable look at how much Atlanta has changed in the past half-century. The Atlanta Crackers' old outfield is now a Borders parking lot. An old gentleman's club is now a MARTA station. And downtown, which was once the entertainment and social center of the city, is now a ghost town on nights and weekends. [Link]
[Via Neatorama]

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Antarctic Ancestors

Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew came within 97 miles of the South Pole on a 1908-09 expedition. Now six relatives of the team members are setting out to finish the trip, hauling their own supplies and carrying Shackleton's own compass.

Besides [Shackleton great-great-nephew Will] Gow, the group includes Shackleton's great-grandson, Patrick Bergel, 36, who works in advertising; Henry Adams, 33, a shipping lawyer and great-grandson of Jameson Adams; Tim Fright, 24, an MA student and great-great-nephew of Frank Wild; David Cornell, 38, a fund manager and another great-grandson of Adams; and ground leader Lt Col Henry Worsley, 46, a soldier in The Rifles, who is hoping to confirm family links to Frank Worsley, Shackleton's navigator on the Endurance. [Link]
The team should stop at Shackleton's Hut if they need provisions.

[Photo credit: The Lordprice Collection]

A Clarification From Keith

Keith Richards has corrected that crazy story that he snorted his father's ashes "with a little bit of blow."

"The cocaine bit was rubbish. I said I chopped him up like cocaine, not with.

"What I found out is that ingesting your ancestors is a very respectable way of, you know, he went down a treat." [Link]
Glad he cleared that up.

The 'Ghost Writer' Speaks

The man who's been leaving notes with genealogical info on Nova Scotian graves appeared on a Canadian television show today.

"I often drive by and all you see is stones," said the man, who appeared in silhouette on Canada AM to remain anonymous. "You don't know nothing about them or who they are and I just thought I would give some information about some of the people that's in there."

The mystery man has been leaving notes on random graves that are at least 50 years old. Some of them are dated as far back as the 1800s. The information on the letters detail the person's occupation, marital status and information about their family members and is available on the public record. [Link]

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

So Funny She Forgot to Laugh

A new television program in Germany invites celebrities to trace their family histories. The first episode demonstrated why some Germans are reluctant to delve into their pasts.

The actress Mariele Millowitsch, 51, was the first guest on Auf der Spur meiner Ahnen (On the Trail of My Ancestors). Cameras filmed her as, for the first time, she watched footage of her actor father Willy performing comic routines for an audience of Nazi officers.

Miss Millowitsch appeared uncomfortable, protesting that her father must have been doing his best to earn a living, rather than performing out of any ideological conviction. [Link]

Justice Was Not Always Swift

The good folks at NEHGS sent along some additions to the list of Princess Di's Decapitated Kin:

The following were also executed, presumably by decapitation:

Charles I
William, Lord Russell
Mary Queen of Scots
1st Baron Capell
1st Earl of Holland
1st Duke of Hamilton
2nd Marquess of Huntly
7th Earl of Derby: Lord Derby's last words were “I die for God, the King, and the Laws, and this makes me not be ashamed of my life, nor afraid of my death.”
Lord Russell was dispatched by Jack Ketch—the notoriously inept executioner who later botched the beheading of James, Duke of Monmouth.
On climbing the scaffold, Monmouth picked up the axe and ran his fingers along the blade, asking Ketch if he thought it was sharp enough for the job. He handed Ketch six guineas, promising him six more if he did a clean job: "Pray do not serve me as you did my Lord Russell. I have heard you struck him four or five times; If you strike me twice, I cannot promise you not to stir."

Ketch had an attack of nerves and his first blow only grazed the back of the duke's head. Monmouth, who had refused the blindfold, turned his head around and gazed directly at Ketch, further unnerving him. When two more blows failed to sever the head, Ketch threw the axe down and offered 40 guineas to anyone in the crowd who could do better. At this the Sheriff of Middlesex, who was in charge of the execution, threatened to have him killed if he did not finish his job. When two more blows failed, Ketch had to use his knife, butchering the Duke like a pig. [Link]
Order a copy of The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales for Twelve Generations to learn more about her hapless, headless relatives. I haven't read it yet, but it has already inspired me to add more decapitation stories to my own family history.

Adopted Aunt Finds Nephews Nearby

Maine State Senator Paula Benoit, herself an adoptee, co-sponsored a bill that would allow adopted children access to their original birth certificates. Not long after the bill was signed into law in June, she learned that her birth parents were Lillian Turner Bryant and Derriel Bryant.

She sent an e-mail to Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, and asked if he recognized the names of her parents.

She had spoken with Bryant before and had even joked with him about the possibility that they were related, since Benoit had always known that her birth name was Laurel Bryant.

"But even as I was e-mailing Sen. Bryant, I didn't put two and two together," Benoit said. "It was almost too far-fetched to even think about."

Bryant e-mailed her back saying that Lillian and Derriel Bryant were his grandparents. [Link]
Benoit has a second biological nephew serving in the Legislature as well: Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, the brother of Bruce Bryant.

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