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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gerry Did More Than Mander

Elbridge Gerry is remembered most for inspiring the invention of the word "gerrymandering" by creatively redrawing the electoral map of Massachusetts to his party's advantage. One of his descendants wishes his other accomplishments were as well remembered.

Elbridge T. "Elbert" Gerry Jr., the great-great-great grandson of the former governor, took exception to the historical pigeonholing of his ancestor as an electoral usurper, pointing out that the late Gerry had signed the Declaration of Independence, was a Bay State delegate to the original Constitutional Convention, and represented the new nation in the XYZ Affair, a diplomatic spat with France that led to the two-year "Quasi-War."
Asked if he has been troubled by the mispronunciation of the family name - pronounced with the hard "g" sound, while "gerrymander" is typically pronounced with a soft "g" - Gerry replied, "Been trying to correct it for years." [Link]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Graveyard Voyeurism

Google Maps now offers street-level photos of New York, Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Denver. The shot at right is of Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

If they ever improve the resolution so we can read the inscriptions, it'll save us a lot of legwork.

Keep Grandma on the Porch

Someone has finally figured out how to combine wind chimes with cremation urns.

LifeSong Urns also plans to offer in the near future, twin vaulted urns as memorials for husbands and wives and other life relationships. These twin vaulted urns may also be used for individuals with the second vault used as a time capsule to hold small keepsakes. Another innovation from LifeSong Urns is the optional "biography or genealogy" plaque. This plaque tells the story of your loved ones life on earth and further personalizes your LifeSong Wind Chime Urn. [Link]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Too Sick to Sink

Dee Peters' great-grandmother Matilda Tovey probably made the right decision back in April of 1912.

Her young son, Jack, had suddenly come down with an illness just before the family was to leave for Canada.

Given the sick lad's condition, the prospect of a weeklong sea journey across the Atlantic in third-class was enough for the Toveys to postpone their trip and take the next ship out.

A few days later, they learned that Jack's illness had saved their lives.

"They were all ready to get on the Titanic," says Peters. [Link]

Warren's Ancestors Didn't Come From Margaritaville

The new genetic genealogy company everyone's talking about is 23andMe—mostly because one of its founders, Anne Wojcicki, is married to Google founder Sergey Brin. The company's first order of business was to set up a website and get Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett to spit in cups.

About two months ago Warren and Jimmy submitted DNA to 23andMe. (Warren "just kept spitting into a little receptacle, and then we FedExed it. Not very elegant," says his assistant. Jimmy did the same.)
When the results came back a month later, Wojcicki - a 33-year-old Yale grad and former health-care industry analyst - and her associate Joanna Mountain called Warren from 23andMe's offices, just half a mile from Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus, and broke the news that he need not include Jimmy in his will. In fact, "I'm as closely related to you as Jimmy is," said Mountain, the head of 23andMe's ancestry product line and a former professor of anthropological genetics at Stanford. [Link]
I wonder if company executives will personally deliver the news to everyone who sends in a DNA sample.

Monday, May 28, 2007

And Then There Were Three

Frank Buckles, 106, is one of only three living U.S. veterans of World War I, and will serve as a marshal in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington today.

The other living World War I veterans are Harry Landis, a 107-year-old in Sun City Center, Fla., and Russell Coffey, a 108-year-old in North Baltimore, Ohio.

After the last Navy veteran and the last American woman to serve in World War I died days apart in March, the Department of Veterans Affairs made a public appeal to identify additional veterans of the war besides Buckles, Landis and Coffey. There were no responses. [Link]

One Coffin, Slightly Used

Elaine Underwood has in her basement a coffin once owned by Col. McLane Tilton—a U.S. Marine who lived in the house and died in 1914.

Tilton used to store his clothes in the box and occasionally would entertain guests by getting in. According to a certificate written by Dennis Claude, the antiques dealer who held the coffin for so long, Tilton had "contracted with an old black man to bring his wagon, place him in it and bury him in St. Anne's Cemetery when he died.

"His children would have no part of this," the certificate says. [Link]

A Great Day to Hang in the Park

On Saturday, descendants of Alse Young, historians and onlookers gathered in a Hartford, Connecticut, park to mark the 360th anniversary of Young's hanging for witchcraft, and to remember Colonial Connecticut's ten other executed witches.

As each of the names of the nine women and two men was read, a bell was rung, and a white rose laid at the base of a tree, over which a hangman's noose dangled. A 12th rose was laid to remember the children of the executed.

"When's the hanging, yo?" asked one passer-by, a man astride a bicycle, prompting several of the assembled to walk over and explain why they were in the park. [Link]

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Will There Be Pillaging?

"Are You A Viking?" is a new exhibition at Jorvik Viking Centre in Coppergate, York—a place that boasts of its "trademark 10th century stench."

This interactive display helps visitors to trace their ancestry by studying archaeological evidence, migration and trading routes, and the development of language and dialects.

You can compare your diet, habits and lifestyle to those of the Vikings, trace the origin of your name and study food, bones and artefacts.
You are met by a Viking trader, wall displays, barrels to test your senses of Viking touch and smell and a computer game to see whether your hair colour, clothes, and favourite foods suggest a link to the Vikings. [Link]

Europe's Exit Door

A new museum is opening July 5th in Germany called Port of Dreams - BallinStadt Emigrant World Hamburg. It's the mirror image of Ellis Island.

BallinStadt re-creates the world of the emigrants. Who the people were who left their homes in eastern and middle Europe, and why. How they got to Hamburg. What life was like in this last stop before their trans-Atlantic adventure. What happened to them at Ellis Island. Where they went next and how they fared in the New World. Some historians estimate that 20 million Americans may be descended from these Hamburg emigrants. [Link]

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Monumental First Step

Joshua Jones was dismantling his porch step when he found a granite slab underneath.

"I could see the tip of it sticking up, and I said, 'God, I have a headstone in my backyard,'" Jones recalled. "Please don't let me find a grave."
Fearing what he might find, Jones took a hose to the dirt-encrusted chunk -- and let out his breath.

The water revealed a marker chiseled with "United States Military Academy" and "Stewart Field, West Point, N.Y.," and the names of a general and two colonels.

His porch step, it appeared, had historical significance. [Link]
[Thanks, William!]

Hands on Headstones

Here's a weird hobby. The proprietor of this website is collecting data on hands found on headstones.

Hands are nineteenth and early twentieth century icons. They particularly interest me because they allow an immediately date range for a headstone. If only because no one else has found them peculiar enough to study, I decided to do an anthropological analysis.
[Photo credit: Meet in here by Michelle Souliere]

There Was a Flaw in Her Plan

A Civil War letter valued at $1,000 was stolen from the car of Susan V. Hughes on Monday.

The letter was described as being written during the Battle of Bowling Green. Hughes, who declined comment to the Journal, told police the letter was a family heirloom, and she had been planning to take it to a safe-deposit box.

[Deputy Police Chief Mike] Marshall said the car was not locked. [Link]

Friday, May 25, 2007

Doughboy Diaries In Demand

The superb Veterans History Project has launched a new effort to collect firsthand accounts of the First World War. Learn more at Experiencing War (World War I, the Great War).

World War I is among the least documented wars of those covered by the Veterans History Project, and the number of collections relating its experiences are not likely to grow dramatically. Because all but a handful of WWI vets are no longer alive, oral history interviews are out of the question, so we must rely on the generosity of relatives and friends of deceased veterans to donate written accounts in letters, diaries, and memoirs, as well as precious collections of photographs.

Like Your Ancestors, Except Sexier

Golden Door—an award-winning film about sexy immigrants heading to Ellis Island—is now showing in selected cities.

On a perilous steamship journey from his Sicilian village, the widower Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) encounters a ravishing, mystery-shrouded Englishwoman, Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Science of Sleep) — as the Old World literally collides into the New with seductive results.

Amid a harrowing crossing, an unexpected love story unfolds all the way to the halls of Ellis Island, where both Salvatore and Lucy will stop at nothing to make it through the GOLDEN DOOR to the America of their imaginations.
According to IMDb, there is "brief graphic nudity," so I may have to see it twice.

How Little We've Grown in 1,000 Years

Despite what you may have heard, your medieval ancestors were not dwarves. After examining 3,000 old skeletons, scientists have concluded that people have not grown substantially in the past millennium.

From the 10th century through to the 19th, the average height of adult men was 5ft 7in or 170cm - just 2in below today's average.

Women were an average of 5ft 2in or 158cm - just over an inch shorter than today.
But what about all those low doorframes in medieval buildings, and the tiny suits of armor cluttering museums? Sebastian Payne, chief scientist for English Heritage, explains:
"The reason why you get small pieces of armour is they are the ones made for rich small kids which didn't get heavily used and so survived.

"Small doorways are more to do with heating efficiency than anything else." [Link]

The Hasbins Have Been Hasbeens

In the course of collecting material for a book on the Dunbar community in Georgetown County, South Carolina, Joyce Cox-Holmes learned from John Hasbin the origin of his unusual surname.

He told Holmes that his family came from a plantation near Greenfield owned by a man named Hazard or Hazzard. The slave people rented from Hazzard. When they were freed, they changed from Hazard to Hasbeen. That’s now become Hasbin. The name developed because these people “has been a slave no longer.” Holmes said, “It’s a change, a make-up name.” [Link]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Her Second Car Parturition

Stephanie Green needs to move closer to a hospital.

For the second time in 17 months, Green had a baby Tuesday while en route to a hospital. Doctors planned to induce labor Thursday, but baby Zaria had other plans.

"I thought I was gonna make it this time, but she changed all that very quickly," Green said. [Link]
[Thanks again, Nancy!]

They Believed in Witches, But Not in Jinxes

Have an ancestor named for a dead sibling? There's a word for such a recycled name: necronym. They were especially popular in colonial America.

Necronyms—names of the dead—were given 80 percent of the time when a child of the same sex was later born. Ephraim and Elizabeth Hartwell of Concord, Massachusetts, lost their five children, Ephraim, Samuel, John, Elizabeth, and Isaac, to "throat Distemper" in a single month in 1740. The parents survived and had nine more children, named Elizabeth, Samuel, Abigail, Ephraim, John, Mary, Sarah, Isaac, and Jonas. [Link]

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Saving Private Ryan a Few Bucks

Ancestry.com has added a ton of new content to its U.S Military Collection: stuff like Civil War POW records, U.S. Marine Corps muster rolls (1893-1958), World War II Army enlistment records, and old copies of Stars and Stripes. Best of all, the Collection is free through D-Day (June 6th).

A DNA Dilemma

Nancy Bovy has sent me another great item. Either Raymon Miller or his twin brother Richard Miller is the father of a 3-year-old girl. But there is no scientific way of knowing which one planted the seed.

The identical Missouri twins say they were unknowingly having sex with the same woman. And according to the woman's testimony, she had sex with each man on the same day. Within hours of each other.

When the woman in question, Holly Marie Adams, got pregnant, she named Raymon the father, but he contested and demanded a paternity test, bringing his own brother Richard to court. [Link]
Since identical twins are genetically indistinguishable, a DNA test can't rule out either brother. Whichever brother is saddled with child support can argue that he isn't the father. (This is also a good way to beat a murder rap on Law & Order.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vintage Propaganda at Ancestry.com

I've just noticed that Ancestry.com has a new collection of WWII 'United News'™ Newsreels, 1942-1946. The 267 newsreels—averaging about 10 minutes in length—were produced by the U.S. Office of War Information, and include shots of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, MacArthur returning to the Philippines, and Colonel Klink unwittingly letting a prisoner escape in the trunk of his car.

OK, not the last one.

Happy Birthday to Few

According to mental_floss (citing a 2001 study), today is the least popular day to be born.

According to the inquiry, an average of 12,576 people are born each year on the 5th of October. It also suggests that some 968,000 Americans celebrate this day annually.
Which birth date is the least common? May 22nd with an average of 10,259 persons born each year.

Meat Shop Merits a Mention

I was tipped off today about this must-read post at The Ancestry Insider. I wonder if Ye Ol' Geezer Meat Shop sponsored the obit.

If You Can't Grow Older, You Might As Well Molder

I first blogged about Swedes freeze-drying corpses back in 2005, but Nancy Bovy has alerted me that it's back in the news.

Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh and her company Promessa have specialised in the freeze-drying method, and the company has applied for patents in 35 countries.
Promessa has promoted the idea of using the human remains, like compost, to feed plants and shrubs. [Link]
Wiigh's patent applications in the U.S. are titled "Method at mouldering" and "Method for treating organic matter to promote mouldering." The first includes this disconcerting passage:
[T]here is a belief that we shall return to earth, which is reflected in the expression "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" of the burial ceremony, which provides the basis for all our life philosophy. Facts show, however, that we do not return to earth but flow away in liquid state.

The Civil War in Four Minutes

If you found the Ken Burns Civil War series too long to watch, you might like this exhibit from the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

"The Civil War in Four Minutes," also known as The Electronic Map, is a map of the war with battle lines that continuously move, showing the changing progress of the war. Here, each week of the war has been condensed to one second. In the corner of the map, a casualty counter tracks the mounting butcher's bill - an odometer of death. [Link]
[Hat tip: Neatorama]

He Was at the End of His Rope

The Toronto Star has an interesting profile of John Radclive—Canada's first professional hangman.

Quite apart from his profession, Radclive was a hard man to warm to. In 1892 he started a brawl in Hull after he announced in a bar that he had "come to hang a Frenchman, and hoped it would not be the last." He was badly beaten and had to be rescued by a wagonload of police.

A few years later in Vancouver, the Star reported, he proposed to cut off the queue (pigtail) of a condemned Chinese man "and divide it up as souvenirs of the occasion, and altogether expressed himself in ways that show him to be a person of coarse temperament."

He was also notorious for selling rope to the curious after hangings – that might or might not have actually been used.

Interviewed in the 1930s, [Arthur] English said a British Columbia sheriff once actually caught Radclive in a hardware store buying lengths of rope to sell. [Link]

Spider-Mensch

It was debated in an episode of Seinfeld Friends whether "Spiderman" is a Jewish name. Now comes confirmation.

“Peter Parker’s a nerd who grew up in Forest Hills, his middle name is Benjamin and he’s motivated by guilt…I see a connection,” jokes Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, author of “Up, Up, And Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero."
Weinstein’s suspicions about Spider-Man were confirmed when he came across golden age comic book illustrator Patti Cochran, who told him that the Marvel Comics editorial staff always worked off the belief that Peter Parker was Jewish. [Link]

Monday, May 21, 2007

He Finally Kicked the KFC Bucket

Emma Carroll says she's lived to be 112 through "Good clean living and hard work." Fellow Iowan Edward Harlam, who died in 1997 at 117, had a different approach.

Harlam said he came to the United States in 1911 and was kicked off a boxcar at Columbus Junction in 1916. Harlam claimed that he stole cars for legendary mobster Al Capone, fathered a son at 84, and fought in World War I. He celebrated his birthday with a non-filtered Camel and some Kentucky Fried Chicken. [Link]

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How Bad Could Their Spelling Bee?

All the patients buried at North Dakota's state mental hospital since 1885 can be identified, despite some creative spelling on their stones.

"Many of the early markers were made at the hospital," [George] Barron said. Most of the names on the grave markers are misspelled, or "were shortened to fit on the stones," made either from concrete or granite, he said. Some of the older markers are 6 feet tall, he said.

"They're all marked but almost all except in recent times have goofy spellings," Barron said. "They didn't know how to spell - but they're close enough to figure out who they are." [Link]

The First Lady's Pin Money

Listed in the annual financial disclosure forms filed by President and Mrs. Bush is a curious item: "Henry G. Freeman Jr. Trust — $12,000."

The payment was to Mrs. Bush from an annuity created by Freeman, a prominent Philadelphia landowner, when he wrote his will in 1912.

Freeman, who died in 1917, directed that after the last named beneficiary of his estate died, $12,000 a year would be paid "to the lady termed the first lady in the land; that is, the President of the United States [sic] wife, or anyone representing the president as such, should he not be married or should she die during his administration." He specified that the money be for the first lady's "own and absolute use" and the payments "shall continue in force as long as this glorious government exists." [Link]
Freeman's "last named beneficiary" died in 1989, and first ladies have receiving funds from "The Henry G. Freeman Jr. Pin Money Fund" ever since.

Not Enough Memories For a Memoir

The lead singer of the Rolling Stones has lived an interesting life—or so he's been told.

In the early 1980s, Mick Jagger snagged a $1.6 million advance from Bantam for his life story, but returned it several years later.

"We were told he said he couldn't remember enough to do a book," said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House Inc., which also owns Bantam. [Link, via The Daily Dish]

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Reckless Rescuer of Records

Christine Zywocki has spent twenty years archiving monument transaction and burial records stored in a building in West Toledo, Ohio.

The records, some written in a loopy cursive and others by typewriter, give more than just a name and date of birth and death. Many include biographical information, handwritten correspondence from the deceased’s family members, and details and whereabouts of headstones the family bought.
The now-abandoned Lloyd Bros. Walker Co. building was looted by thieves last winter, and may be demolished with some 20,000 records still inside.
Mrs. Zywocki succeeded in rescuing a few thousand records from the building’s basement in early March and deposited them for safekeeping in a Toledo-Lucas County Public Library warehouse.

Her efforts to remove more were thwarted by city code enforcement officials, who quickly boarded up the building’s entrances and threatened her with arrest for trespassing.

“We can’t just let anybody walk in there and take whatever they want,” said City Law Director John Madigan. [Link]
Yes, better that these records be destroyed than to have them fall into the hands of a genealogical vigilante.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Abe Lincoln's Shower Curtain

A blood-stained flag that decorated Abraham Lincoln's box the night of his assassination was passed down in the family of two Ford's Theater actors. It's now in the possession of the Pike County (Pa.) Historical Society, which hasn't always treated it as a priceless artifact.

The flag remained a Struthers’ family heirloom until 1954 and, upon going to the society, apparently spent some years in relative obscurity. Dick Daddis, president of the society, has heard stories of the flag having been draped over an outdoor porch rail.

Former Society President Barbara Buchanan said she was horrified to find it displayed on a shower rod in the society’s former shared quarters in Community House, the current Pike County Library building. [Link]

She Would Become a Wilder Woman

Ancestry.com is offering free access to two Minnesota databases: Minnesota Divorce Index, 1970-1995, and Minnesota Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905.

Here's Laura Ingalls in 1875. Look farther down the page and you'll find Nellie Owens and her brother William—inspirations for Nellie and Willie Oleson of Little House fame.

They Sent for Somebody, They Got Some Body

A mysterious "Doctor Windship" who turned up in Exeter, N. H., in 1802 has been identified as Dr. Amos Windship—a Boston-area surgeon during the Revolutionary War.

Respected by the Americans, he was also admired by the British when, in 1791, he arranged to have the remains of one Major John Pitcairn returned to England for internment in the family plot. Pitcairn had fallen during the Battle of Breed's Hill and died shortly thereafter. His grateful family believed that Windship had done them a gracious favor.

But there are a number of gaping holes in the story of this respectable war veteran. In Boston's Old North Church lies [the] crypt of Major John Pitcairn — it seems that Amos Windship had failed to send the correct body and Bostonians still believe Pitcairn resides in the basement. [Link]

Degrees of Difficulty

At most college commencement ceremonies, someone is given the task of reading the name of each graduating senior. With all the unfamiliar foreign names and unique domestic pronunciations, it's not a job for the faint of heart.

Edgar Rasch announced the names of graduates at Maryville University for 22 years until he retired last year. About 10 years ago, he set up a voice mail system for all graduating seniors to call and pronounce their name.

Among 650 graduates, about 450 or 500 would do it, he recalled, including the John Smiths of the class.

"But invariably, the person I needed the most help with didn't call me," he said. [Link]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Corpses on Campus

More and more people are planning a posthumous return to college. But getting buried at one's alma mater is nothing new.

In the early 1800s, before embalming became widespread, it was often impractical to ship home the body of a student or professor.

Iowa State University's 131-year-old dead zone holds about 800 corpses, mostly faculty but also two students, a night watchman and his dog.

Notre Dame's sprawling burial ground debuted in 1843, one year after the school was founded, along with a mortuary that helped subsidize tuition costs. [Link]

Her Kinfolks Were All Thumbs

Novelist Lisa Alther suspects that her family concealed its Melungeon heritage back when multiracial ancestry was frowned upon. While researching her memoir, Kinfolks: Falling off the Family Tree, she was able to confirm some facts about the bogeymen of her youth.

While growing up, she heard from a baby-sitter that Melungeons sported six fingers on each hand, all the better to "grab mean little children and carry them off to their caves in the cliffs outside of town."

This mythology was not entirely outlandish. As an adult, Alther's search led to Brent Kennedy, a respected Melungeon scholar and newfound cousin, in that they share the same grandmother's grandmother. He showed her the scars where his extra thumb on each hand had been removed. [Link]

When Spelling Counts, Check Your Stomach

A man applying for a marriage license in Alabama needed help spelling his mother's name.

Morgan County Probate Judge Greg Cain told Chris Paschenko that the man spelled her name incorrectly on the application, and clerk Denise Iovino needed the correct spelling.

Denise said the man then lifted his shirt, which revealed stomach tattoos that spelled his mother's and father's names. [Link]
Let's hope he didn't get inked by this guy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

While I Was On the Roof...

I've been busy since last weekend putting a new roof on my great-aunt's garage, but I'm pretty sure I haven't missed any big genealogy news. Except that THE WHOLE FREAKING GENEALOGICAL WORLD HAS CHANGED!

Here's a rundown of the week's biggest announcements:

  • FamilySearch announced a Records Access program that will speed up indexing of digitized records and help archives and heritage societies bring their collections online.
  • More than 4,500 FamilySearch Family History Centers will get free access to WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com, and also to Kindred Konnections and the Godfrey Memorial Library website. Selected centers will soon have access to HeritageQuest Online as well.
  • Footnote.com is publishing full Revolutionary War pension files online, and offering free access at Family History Centers.
  • The final obstacles to cracking open the Holocaust archive at Bad Arolsen have been overcome. There is a lengthy article about the archive in this week's U.S. News & World Report that warns researchers to pack a lunch:
    So far, two thirds of the archive has been scanned. Yet genealogists and historians hoping for quick answers may be in for a letdown. Though the Nazis were enthusiastic recordkeepers, their crimes took place in more than a dozen countries, and victims spoke every language on the continent. The ITS has 849 different spellings of the name "Abramovich" alone. Even birthdates are unreliable. "People lied about their birthdays to seem older so they could survive selections at Auschwitz," notes Gabriele Wilke, an ITS archivist.
    Schelly at Tracing the Tribe has blogged about further limitations on access to be imposed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Museum responded to criticisms on Wednesday.

There Must Be a Perfectly Logical Explanation

Bea Melville of Prior Lake, Minnesota, was one of fifteen children, and joked when she was a child that she would beat her mother by having even more kids.

“It didn’t turn out to be a joke,” she said, laughing.
Melville has 10 daughters and six sons. All of her daughter’s names begin with the letter “P.” All of her son’s names begin with the letter “L.”

After the Melvilles moved to Prior Lake, neighbors and friends would say they named their children after the town, she said. “But we had 12 of them before we moved here, so we didn’t name them after Prior Lake,” Melville said. [Link]

Otke Notive, Otke Notive, It's a Helluva Town

How much easier our genealogical lives would be if this proposal to rename America's cities and towns had caught on. Each place would have a unique name derived from its longitude and latitude, with letters replacing numerals.

Stedman Whitwell, 19th-century social reformer and architect of Robert Owen’s failed Utopian city at New Harmony, was deeply troubled by the will-nilly way that cities and towns were named in America, and proposed a more “rational” system of geographical nomenclature, which would have renamed Washington as Feili Neivul, Philadelphia as Outeon Eveldo, and Pittsburgh as Otfu Veitoup.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Family History, After a Fashion

Designer Ralph Lauren's parents were natives of Belarus in the former Soviet Union. They came to this country with nothing more than the ever-so-fashionable clothes on their backs.

He knew the "Russia, mixed with Jewishness" of his parents only through the meld of Russian, Polish and Yiddish they spoke when they didn't want their children to understand them. And through their artefacts: the European furnishings that impregnated his taste and the sepia photographs of his 16-year-old parents' wedding. ("I remember especially my father's suit," Lauren says.)

Then there was his mother's Persian lamb hat that inspired a Russian-themed show - Cossack tunics, greatcoats and Bolshevik tweeds - back in 1993. [Link]

A Long-Lasting Libel

A gravestone in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania, tells the story of a man's unhappy end.

The text is brief and small in comparison to the illustration. It reads, "AQUILA A. HENNING, BORN JUNE 7, 1892, SHOT NOV. 24 1932. AN INNOCENT SOUL SENT TO ETERNITY." [Link]
It was established in court that Aquila had shot at one-armed school teacher Harry Wilkinson, and then was gunned down by his intended victim's brother. The "not guilty" verdict didn't sit well with Aquila's widow, which might explain why his stone depicts an ambush.
The stone shows a man, Aquila, walking through the woods with his hunting rifle. In the background there are trees and bushes, and standing in those bushes is a man holding a pistol. The man has only one arm. Also seen in the bushes behind Aquila are six or seven faces peering out at him.
Harry Wilkinson didn't care for the illustration. He filed a $50,000 lawsuit against the monument company for portraying him as a villain.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A G-Man's Journal

Here's another place you might not want to find your grandparents' names: the diaries of FBI special agent Max H. Roder, now for sale on eBay.

The diaries from 1931 to 1937 are his narcotics work in Philadelphia Pa. Diaries from 1938 to 1959 are New York City work except for a brief period Sept 46 to Sept 47 when he went back to Philadelphia Pa. It appears the New York City cases were mainly targeted again Italian Americans in Little Italy. You'll be amazed how many people smoked opium in NYC. [Link, via Boing Boing]

The Sinister Midwife of Jamestown

By applying a fresh pair of eyes to old, well-worn sources, Martha McCartney dug up some juicy details for her Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607-1635: A Biographical Dictionary.

"I literally went through them all page by page, looking for every reference I could find," McCartney says. "So I picked up a lot of things that were considered too miniscule to worry about before."

Among her finds is this provocative tidbit about the first Virginian to be publicly accused of witchcraft: Joane Wright - who came to Virginia in 1609 - may have aroused suspicion because she was a left-handed midwife. [Link]

No Iron in His Blood

A descendant of Otto von Bismarck is being called "Germany's laziest politician."

Booing and laughter broke out at a regional party meeting roll call on Sunday in Mölln, Germany, when the great-great grandson of Germany's legendary "Iron Chancellor" came up absent -- again.

Count Carl-Eduard von Bismarck, 46, isn't living up to his disciplined family name. The national politician frequently avoids local party obligations and colleagues, isn't present in his electoral district and doesn't answer voters' questions. [Link]

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Name Today?

Family legend has it that Lyndon K. Boozer—born July 19, 1963, in Washington, D. C.—got his name because his mother wanted more time off from work.

Her boss, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, stopped by to visit the new mother and her husband, a Treasury official.

She told the vice president that her son would be named Kyle Lyndon Boozer in his honor. If you switch his first and middle names, I'll extend your maternity leave, Johnson reportedly told her. The baby's parents took the deal. [Link]

Not the Scabs She Would Have Picked

Back in March 2003, a New Mexico librarian discovered something special between the pages of an old book.

Librarian Susanne Caro was leafing through an 1888 book on Civil War medicine when she spied a small, yellowed envelope tucked between the pages. Freeing it, she read the inscription "scabs from vaccination of W.B. Yarrington's children" in the corner, with the signature "Dr. W.D. Kelly," the book's author.

After some research, the 23-year-old Santa Fe, N.M., woman decided not to open the envelope. "The only thing I could find connected with it," she said, "was smallpox." [Link]

Washington Has Its Limits

Abstracting several metric tons of deeds has given me an appreciation of the science of surveying, so I was fascinated by this website about the Boundary Stones of the District of Columbia.

They created the boundary lines of the capital by clearing 20 feet of land on each side of the boundary and setting a uniquely marked stone at each mile interval. On each stone, the side facing the District of Columbia displayed the inscription "Jurisdiction of the United States" and a mile number. The opposite side said either "Virginia" or "Maryland," as appropriate. The third and fourth sides displayed the year in which the stone was placed (1791 for the 14 Virginia stones and 1792 for the 26 Maryland stones) and the magnetic compass variance at that place.
The boundary stones are the oldest federal monuments. Although several have been moved or replaced, 38 boundary stones remain in or near their original locations, including all 14 in the land that was returned to Virginia in July 1846. A 39th is in storage and the 40th is marked by a plaque.
[via Neatorama]

Colorado Hides Vital Records

Colorado's searchable database of marriage and divorce records has been taken down as part of the state's war on hypothetical identity theft.

"Given the increasing threat from identity theft, we decided we should take that information to a more confidential level," Ronald Hyman, the state registrar of vital stastics [sic] told the Daily Camera.
According to the Camera, Hyman said his department hasn't gotten any reports of stolen identities, but since the database browsers allowed people to find information such as a mother's maiden name, the Web site was taken down. [Link]
While I applaud this effort to crack down on a nonexistent crime, it does nothing to help those poor Colorado kids whose mothers kept their maiden names or chose to hyphenate. They don't stand a chance.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The 'V' Stands for 'Very, Very Stupid'

An intoxicated man somehow found himself trapped under a half-ton gravestone in Merrillville, Indiana, last weekend.

Both his legs were broken during the incident, and he was scheduled to undergo surgery on one of his legs, Merrillville patrol Officer Ray Smith said.

Smith said it took five officers to remove the heavy headstone from Schreiber's body, and the family name at the top of the headstone left its mark on the suspect, he said.

"The letter V (in the family name) left an imprint on Schreiber's thigh," Smith said. [Link]

A Terrific Gene

I didn't think I'd be writing about the White Stripes again so soon, but then I read this news out of Canada:

When Jack White, the driving force behind rock's Grammy-winning band the White Stripes, said recently that he thought he was related to Cape Breton's famous fiddlers Buddy MacMaster, Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac, not a few media types suggested that the claim be taken with a grain of salt.
Confirmation of Jack White's blood connection to MacIsaac et al. was provided yesterday by Antigonish lawyer Daniel J. MacIsaac, 56, who's a cousin to Ashley and (yes!) a first cousin once removed to Mr. White Stripe himself. "I think Jack White would like to be able to defend that he is related to Ashley [MacIsaac] and Natalie [MacMaster], but he's not quite sure of it," Daniel MacIsaac said. Now he is -- "and that's a terrific gene, isn't it?" [Link]

He Didn't Know When to Fold 'em

If her great-great-grandfather had been a better card player, Sophie Parkin might be living in Craig-y-Nos Castle in Wales.

Today the estate is worth around £2.5m but Sophie, 45, will never see a penny of it, nor will she ever live within the castle’s grey, stone walls.

Because, according to Sophie’s grandmother, the wealthy landowner was also a bit of a gambler and it was only a matter of time before the castle slipped out of his hands.

The winner of that fateful game took pity on the poor family and allowed them to stay on in the crofter’s cottage, but private schooling had to be swapped for hard work as their life of privilege disappeared before their eyes. [Link]
[Photo credit: Craig Y Nos by The Welsh Knight]

The Lindsay Lohan of 1907

The Library of Congress blog reports today that the news business hasn't changed all that much in 100 years.

I had been expecting some weighty discourse on, I don’t know, maybe industrialism or American’s nascent role as a world power.

Instead what I got was this: William Howard Taft, the secretary of war who would go on to win the presidency the following year, is “not so large as rumored.”
For more curious news from a century ago, subscribe to 100 Years Ago Today.

Get Your Descendants Off the Couch

Time in a Capsule is a website devoted to geocapsuling—a neat spin on geocaching. Instead of stashing treasures for fellow geocachers to find, you stash treasures for your descendants to find months, years, or decades from now.

Founders Alan and Nancy Bixby have thought of every contingency, like, what if your children have no interest in retrieving your cached items?

If your dead-beat progeny are jailed, or lazy, or ex-patriots or whatever, then a “fail-safe relative” will make a decision to give the information to someone else in the family who will likely relish this challenge. We’re just offering an opportunity for our descendants to enrich their lives. We’d even be happy to return to our drop site locations with them. They might ask other more adventurous friends or relatives to reclaim their containers if they are practicing sloths. Honestly though, they'd have to have the brain of a speed bump to ignore this curious opportunity. Someone at least will gain from the experience…as we have. [Link]

Did She Mention Chicken George?

Dr. Tony Martin wrote a biography of Amy Ashwood Garvey, the first wife of Back-to-Africa proponent Marcus Garvey, in which he revealed her interest in genealogy.

"In 1946, she was able to trace her ancestry back to Asante in Ghana, similar to Alex Haley in Roots. The similarities to Haley are so great that if she had done it after Haley, I would have thought she plagiarised him," Martin said. [Link]
Hmm, I wonder if there could be a more logical explanation for the similarities...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Still Life

I guarantee that all of you family historians out there will appreciate Josh Flowers' video Still Life. If you don't, find a new hobby.

[via Neatorama]

The Gravity of the Situation

Derek Bourner moved from Britain to New Zealand a few years ago to live near his daughter. Now immigration authorities are kicking him out because his family's "centre of gravity" is in the wrong place.

Immigration officials say because he has two daughters in Britain and only one in New Zealand, the family's "centre of gravity" is considered to be Britain.
The immigration policy states that parents of New Zealand residents will be given residence only if they have "an equal or greater number of adult children living lawfully and permanently in New Zealand than any other single country". [Link]
This is a useful concept. Giving each family member equal weight, one can figure out the center of gravity of a clan, and then hold a family reunion at that location. Most of my immediate family lives in Maine, but I have a brother who lives in Florida, which would shift our reunion spot to the south.

The folks in New Zealand have made the mistake of allowing only two possible residences for Derek. If they really wanted to teach him a lesson, they would deport him to the true "centre of gravity" of his family—a place half as far from Britain as from New Zealand. Pakistan, I think.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

'Well, it was murder, wasn't it?'

There's a long and fascinating article in today's Scotland on Sunday concerning Vanessa Goldie-Scot's efforts to find out how her great-grandmother came to drown in her bath and be laid to rest in a pauper's grave.

Goldie-Scot tracked down distant relatives she had never met, and a cousin, Melanie Richardson, was to confirm her worst fears. "I arranged to visit her, this grand old lady in her 70s whom I'd never met. She was a generation closer to those events than me, and I resolved to tread warily. I asked if she had any idea why my great-grandmother might have been buried in a common grave. Quick as a flash she said, 'Well, it was murder, wasn't it? Best way to make sure the body was never dug up.' I was stunned at the simplicity and certainty of her answer." [Link]

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Major League Puzzle

Luis Castro had a brief stint with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902, and has been recognized as the first player from Latin America to play big-league baseball in the modern era. Problem is, he might have been born in the United States.

According to e-mails exchanged between the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and a member of the SABR biographical committee in 2001, these were the facts uncovered for a baseball player named Louis Castro during that period: He was born on Nov. 25, 1876 in the United States, he worked in a saloon, married a woman named Margaret and lived in Flushing for most of his life. His father, Nestor Castro, and mother, Agnes Wasquees, were both born in South America and he died at the age of 64 on Sept. 24, 1941 at Manhattan State Hospital on Wards Island.
So that's it. Castro's not only American, he's a New Yorker, right? Maybe.

Castro's death record says he was born in the United States, but the 1910 Georgia Census gives his birthplace as Medellin, Colombia. [Link]
The reputed 1910 census entry for Castro is found on page 132A of roll 192 (Atlanta, Ward 6). His occupation appears to be "undertaker," which must have conflicted with the "long minor-league career after 1902" attributed to him on this forum.

Castro played ball at Manhattan College in the late 1890s. Was he the Louis Castro, born Aug. 1877 in New York, boarding at 2329 8th Avenue in 1900, not far from where the campus was then located? His parents were natives of Australia, which Wikipedia tells me is not the same place as South America.

Anyone with an Ancestry.com subscription and time to kill want to look for Luis/Louis in their indexes?

Hitler's Favorite Jewish Filmmaker

In his new biography of Leni Riefenstahl, Steven Bach claims that "Hitler's filmmaker" was even more Jewish than her patron.

[She] had her mother’s birth records falsified. There could be only one reason for that, theorized Bach: Leni Riefenstahl had Jewish ancestors.

“Intimate friends who knew her mother swore that she was Jewish,” said the author. “It shows the depths of her ambition, if true, that nothing, not even her own genetic heritage, could stand in the way of that ambition. She was not a deeply emotional anti-Semite, but she was most definitely an opportunistic anti-Semite: One of those people who goes along wholeheartedly once it became the temper of the times.” [Link]

She Didn't Look a Day Over 1.5 Million

According to her death certificate, a woman in Malaysia was 1,996,964 years old when she died in 1998.

An entry for the Guinness Book? Not quite.

The Ipoh woman was actually 39 at the time of her death, but a 'technical error' resulted in the entry on her certificate, reported Malaysian daily China Press. [Link]

Canadian Man Ready to Rumble

Mark Cripps is tired of being asked if he's a member of a Los Angeles gang.

My Cripps gang arrived in Canada in the early 1800s, settling in the rough and tough towns of Barrie and Hillsdale. Since then, we have spread out across Ontario, setting up chapters in various towns including Hamilton, Kitchener, Collingwood and Toronto. Some of our members have gone beyond the south-central Ontario area to set up shop in Alberta and British Columbia.

And to be honest, we're all tired of this LA gang and its associates who are stealing our identity.

We were here first. Get a new name. [Link]

Friday, May 04, 2007

Way, Way Off the Reservation

Two women in England, Doreen Isherwood and Anne Hall, have learned that their mitochondrial DNA is Native American.

Indigenous Americans were brought over to the UK as early as the 1500s.

Many were brought over as curiosities; but others travelled here in delegations during the 18th Century to petition the British imperial government over trade or protection from other tribes.

Experts say it is probable that some stayed in Britain and married into local communities. [Link]

She'd Know That Skull Anywhere

Genealogist Joyce Saunders had the chance to meet her great-grandfather, Civil War soldier Roland Gillispie, when his remains were moved to make way for a highway in West Virginia.

She noticed Gillispie’s skull was relatively small compared to that of an average man. She knew it was his based on prior research into his medical record.

“He had the head of maybe a 12- or 14-year-old boy,” Saunders said. “He was only 5’5”, had a fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair.” [Link]

Brushy Bill May Rise Again

The City Council in Hamilton, Texas, is considering a request to dig up the remains of "Brushy Bill" Roberts to obtain DNA samples.

Steve Sederwall, a former mayor of Capitan, N.M., told the council that he hopes to compare the DNA samples from Brushy Bill with remains of Billy the Kid’s mother. He said he already has samples from John Miller, another would-be Billy from New Mexico, along with a blood-stained bench where the Kid supposedly died after Sheriff Pat Garrett shot him. [Link]

How I'll Spend My Summer Vacation

I'll be taking one of my nieces to a White Stripes concert this summer in an effort to convince her I'm not really as old as she thinks I am. For those of you who really are old, the band's two members—Jack White and Meg White—claimed to be brother and sister when they first became famous five or six years ago. The sexual tension onstage was just plain disturbing until their marriage license and divorce record came to light.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Better to Have Loved and Lost a Goat...

The guy in Sudan who was forced to marry a goat is now a widower.

Rose, black and white, is believed to have died after choking on a plastic bag she swallowed as she was eating scraps on the streets of Juba. [Link]

Owner of ID Bracelet IDed

A bracelet given to Maureen Torreiter's father by her mother during World War II has turned up in Reichswald Forest in the Netherlands.

"I just figure it's a sign from my mom and dad that they're together and they're OK," said Torreiter, 60, whose parents are both dead.

Last December, Ben Pijls of Roggel, Netherlands, was combing through the woods of the old battlefield with a metal detector when he found a silver ID bracelet. The oval plaque hanging from the chain carried the crest of the Toronto Scottish Regiment, the name A.O. Edwards, a service number and the inscription, "Allan from Florence, Xmas 1942." [Link]

Drop Your Pants and Be a Part of History

Visitors to Åsens By in southeastern Sweden can use a toilet just like the ones used by their 18th-century ancestors.

In previous centuries most Swedes used similar facilities said Patricia Blaker, who led the project to restore the venerable dunny.

"We get lots of school classes who come here and most haven't used an ordinary outside toilet," she told The Local.

"Now they can get the chance to use it like people used to." [Link]
My parents have an authentic 19th-century outhouse attached to the back of their barn. After reading this, I'm thinking of charging admission.

Killer Carried 'Unusual' DNA

British police investigating the killing of a 13-year-old girl in 1964 have identified an "unusual feature" in DNA recovered at the scene of the crime.

The team had identified a number of families in the South Yorkshire area who bore this unusual feature in their DNA. Since that time they have been painstakingly working through these families obtaining details of their family trees and researching relevant individuals from the 60s.

Said Det Insp Sue Hickman: "We are still working through this list and we're grateful to members of the public for their assistance in this line of enquiry. We have been greatly helped by people undertaking their own research into their extended family to try and make things easier for us." [Link]

Campaign Rocked by Immigration Scandal

The records of U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings recently put online by Ancestry.com reveal something shocking about a certain presidential candidate whose father was born in Mexico.

Ancestry.com couldn't locate records showing when Mitt Romney's parents and grandparents returned to the United States to live.... [Link]
Before you get alarmed, let me assure you that I have already notified the Department of Homeland Security about this situation, and that proceedings are underway to deport Mr. Romney and his fence-jumping family back to Chihuahua.

President Bush has weighed in on the issue, saying that if Congress would promptly institute his guest-worker program, the Romneys could stay in this country and do the jobs that Americans don't want to do—like picking lettuce and talking to Bill O'Reilly.

Was the Queen Mum Born in Transit?

I don't remember hearing this when the Queen Mother died in 2002, but apparently there was some question where she was born.

Not a little mystery surrounded her birth. A plaque in the 12th-century church of St Paul's Walden proclaims that she saw the first light of day on her parent's Hertfordshire estate, but that has proved not to be the case. Later in life she was told that she was born at their London home in Grosvenor Square. There was even a family story that she may have been born in a horse-drawn ambulance - or even in the back of a taxi. When told that it was entirely possible, the Queen Mother is supposed to have put on her best Lady Bracknell voice - like her grandson, the Prince of Wales, she was a good mimic - and exclaimed: "In a taxi? How quaint!" [Link]

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Obama's Old Irish Home

Church of Ireland rector Stephen Neill says he has found Barack Obama's ancestral village in Ireland. It's a place called Moneygall in Co. Offaly.

"I would be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that this is categorical evidence of Mr Obama's link to this part of the world," said the rector.

It was initially believed the would-be president's third great grandfather Fulmuth Kearney was the only one of his family to have sailed from Ireland to New York aged 19 in 1850. But the newly-uncovered records show other family members had in fact emigrated to America since the 1790s. [Link]
Update: Megan has more details on the search for Obama's roots. The records found by Canon Neill were the final piece of the puzzle she and her Ancestry.com cohorts had been working on since the Senator's Irish heritage was first revealed in March.

They're Still Looking for His Pants

Val Gregoire of Maine was hit over the head in Boston in 1951, and woke to find his wallet and pants missing. Last month—on the 56th anniversary of the incident—the wallet was discovered by a demolition worker at the Paramount Theatre in Boston.

"I was stunned," said Jeannette Gregoire, 75, of Lewiston, after receiving a call from the worker's wife, Kathy Bagen. "How could this have survived?"

More than a dozen photos, a copy of Val's Augusta birth certificate and a pair of identification cards seemed preserved inside the Boston landmark.
One of the cards was an Armed Forces Liberty Pass dated April 11, 1951—the day it was stolen.
Why did they take his pants, too?

"He was wearing those sailor bell-bottoms," Jeannette said. "Maybe they liked the buttons." [Link]

A Blot on Their Record

Two newlyweds in Illinois are complaining that the marriage licenses they received from the Peoria County Clerk's office are not worth the $27 they paid.

Courtesy of a thick black marker, the official license bore three lines (and not very neat ones) obliterating the name of the former clerk. Next to those blots is the stamped signature of current clerk Steve Sonnemaker.

The keepsake license, featuring script lettering inside a wide heart, is fouled by a black line obscuring the former clerk's name. Staci, like many brides, had planned to display the fancy document at home.

"I'm not going to put it out," she now says, scrunching up her face. [Link]

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Did He Join the Wrong Army?

One of the contenders at this weekend's Kentucky Derby is a horse named for Charlie Curlin, a slave who fought with the United States Colored Troops in the Civil War.

But it was after his honorable discharge from the army that Curlin's story took its most intriguing turn. Charlie Curlin, Union Army veteran, came home from war thinking he was a Confederate, on the side of the people he had fought.

"Charlie Curlin was truly confused about who he was fighting for. That's very clear from stories he told when he got back home," said lawyer Shirley Cunningham Jr. of Georgetown, the man who named Curlin, the horse. [Link]

Descendants Are Always the Last to Know

Chris at The G Files has learned that his 3rd-great-grandfather played a key role in one of the darkest chapters of American history.

After realizing that the evidence against Ira was irrefutable, I then asked my mother, who knows all the family stories, if she knew. She hadn’t. In fact, I’ve talked to several other family members and no one has heard of Ira’s crime. It would appear that the authors and researchers of all the books and histories have effectively kept this a secret for 150 years, until now.

A Veep Dark Secret

It took genealogist Brenda Gene Gordon many years to discover that she is descended from a U.S. Vice President

How on earth could Brenda Gordon not have known that her great-great-great-grandfather was Vice President Richard M. Johnson? Wasn’t this fact passed proudly from generation to generation inside her family?

No, it was not.

Why not? Because the woman who bore Johnson’s two children – a woman named Julia Chinn – was, by law, a Negro. [Link]
Johnson was clearly a man ahead of his time, who made no effort to hide his relationship with the woman he had "inherited" from his father.
For example, nearly twenty years after Johnson's retirement, it was brought up during the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Douglas insinuated that Lincoln approved of interracial marriage. Lincoln deflected this charge by saying that the only distinguished person he knew of who felt that way was "Judge Douglas's old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson." [Link]

Love, Colonial Style

Folks in East Hartford, Connecticut, want to re-enact the 1661 wedding of William Pitkin and Hannah Goodwin—"East Hartford's most famous colonial couple."

The town's Historical Society and Friends [of Center Cemetery] say they would be most pleased to have a couple who are planning a real life, present-time wedding, to join their festivities. A wedding service will be donated by a Justice of the Peace who is a direct descendant of William Pitkin and Hannah Goodwin and who will be performing the service in the costume of a time long ago. [Link]

Ashes to Asphalt

This is not the way you want your relatives to end up. An undertaking outfit in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, has been accused of mishandling the cremated remains of its clients.

Undertakers have been accused of using human ashes to grit the path outside their funeral home.
It is also claimed staff disposed of ashes which were later to be claimed by a bereaved family by accident.

One worker said that, when the family arrived, their urn was filled with ashes which had lain unclaimed in the office for 50 years. [Link]

My Educational Roots

I've blogged before about my great-great-grandfather Lemuel Dunham, but not about his education. In late 1856 or early 1857—after a year spent working the cod fisheries of the Newfoundland Banks—Lemuel enrolled at Hebron Academy in the English Department. Back then, a 26-year-old man could show up for class at a co-ed prep school without the police being alerted.

In the spring of 1857, Lemuel hatched a plan to plant elm trees in the school's yard. When Lemuel's elm was planted and a speech was called for, he declined to speak. He wrote later that he was “somewhat diffident, and not much of a Franklin for that sort of business." James Libby spoke in his stead, saying "Here's a fine tree planted by the hand of Dunham. May it extend its roots beneath, its branches overhead and thus grow and flourish forever." The time came for a Mr. Marshall to plant his tree, which was accomplished with the following words: "Here's a fine tree, plucked from the meadow, and planted by me. May it grow, wave its branches and flourish a thousand years longer than Dunham's!"

Lemuel was a student at the Academy as late as April of 1858, when one of his teachers composed a poem about a late-season snowstorm. The summer following was an especially eventful one. Years later, after spending a night in the house where he was born and raised, he recalled the fondest wish of his boyhood.

From the window the White Mountains loomed up in full view; there I resolved, if my life was spared, to stand on the top of Mount Washington some day, and as good luck would have it that wish was gratified on the 7th day of July, 1858.
The road up Mount Washington wasn't completed until 1861, so Lemuel must have reached New England's highest point on foot.

The second notable event of Lemuel's summer was the most disturbing of his life. On the morning of Aug. 27, he went to the town of Auburn to witness two hangings.

Peter Williams and Abraham Cox had been convicted of murdering the captain, mates, and one other man aboard the brig Albion Cooper. Six to seven thousand people ("of whom it is estimated that one quarter were women" said a newspaper account) gathered in the Auburn prison yard to witness the spectacle. Lemuel was among them. "I saw those poor wretches launched into eternity," he would write, "and it was a sight that I do not wish to witness again.”

Lemuel had certainly ended his educational career by Jan. 1, 1859, the day he married a young widow named Lydia Ann Clifford. They would settle eventually in my hometown of Greenwood, where Lemuel was a newspaper correspondent and a poor farmer in both senses of the word "poor." He fancied himself a poet (judge for yourself), dabbled in art, was a careful student of nature, and took great interest in science. When a hydroelectric generator was installed in a nearby town, he made a trip to see the device. About 1889, he asked neighbor John Small if he could watch him set off some dynamite. When Small installed an aqueduct to supply his kitchen and barn with running water, Lemuel inspected the improvements and reported on their performance.

The Dunhams didn't have running water, but Lemuel claimed in 1885 that he had “owned a good microscope for more than thirty years.” While his neighbors were about the business of running their farms, he was examining a snow flea with the instrument and relating his findings to his readers. He satisfied his urge to educate through those columns, and as a Sunday-school teacher. As a member of the town school committee he was known to sit in on classes. I suspect this had as much to do with his fondness for children and the classroom as with the requirements of his office.

Lemuel showed boundless curiosity when confronted with different cultures. He frequently visited the Catholic inhabitants of Greenwood's "Irish Neighborhood," and was fascinated by the tattoos and dialect of a French-Canadian woodcutter who settled near his home. He was a man who sought out stimulating conversation, and would leave his farm for weeks at a time to walk the countryside and visit old acquaintances. An undated article in his scrapbook states that he had stopped by the newspaper office on a "vacation trip."
Notwithstanding the fact that he is quite a number of years past the meridian of life, Mr. Dunham is not afraid of walking, which he says is becoming a lost art, and when on a trip, if it is more convenient to walk than to ride, does not mind making fifteen to twenty miles a day on foot.
His travels in 1904 took him to the week-long centennial celebration at his alma mater, Hebron Academy.
Sitting in the shade of the elm trees I assisted in planting nearly 50 years ago, one man spoke in this manner: Yes, one hundred years ago the first academy was built on these grounds, and we are celebrating its one hundredth anniversary. In one hundred years from now, or in the year 2004, who, and what then? One thing is certain, said a man at his side, you and I will not be here and nobody will care whether we were here to-day or not.
Well, it's been nearly 103 years, and I do care that Lemuel was there on that day, for it demonstrates the value he placed upon education. His children and grandchildren didn't receive high-school diplomas, but his later descendants have collected armloads of diplomas and degrees. His elm hasn't survived, but his love of learning has.

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