Thursday, January 31, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #116

Drew Smith thought that an interesting challenge might come from this article. Justin Tuck and Adalius Thomas will be facing off this weekend in Super Bowl XLII. They both come from Coosa County, Alabama, went to the same high school, and are supposed to be related, though no one knows quite how.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jimmy Tuck and Eva Thomas sat in the house along Highway 9 where Adalius Thomas grew up. In the next room were the various totems of football success: trophies, framed jerseys and countless photographs. The Tucks, in their house down the road, have a similar shrine to their son.

They bandied family surnames, mentioning various grandparents and great-grandparents. It was as if they had never had this conversation. The relation, they thought, has to do with their grandmothers. It is hard to tell here because people have lived among the rolling hills for so long that their family trees are entwined like ivy.
Figuring out how Adalius and Justin are related might be too big a challenge with what few clues have been published (and I'm sure that the Tucks and Thomases of Coosa County will be too busy this weekend to stop in and give us a hand). So let's try something a bit easier:

Who is the earliest Tuck you can find in Justin's paternal line?

'Missed His Mistress' Myth Dismissed

A grave in Hornsey, England, is said to contain the remains of Harriet Long and her servant Jacob Walker.

A folk tale tells that after Harriet's death in 1841 "an old black servant she brought with her from Virginia was found dead on her grave a day or two after her funeral, so the grave was opened that he might be buried with his mistress".
But an English Heritage report dismisses the old myth about Jacob's romantic passing saying his death certificate records he died of smallpox after vaccination. [Link]

Researcher Follows Scripts

There was an interesting query (genealogically speaking) in Dr. Paul Donohue's column today:

Dear Dr. Donohue: Enclosed are copies of two prescriptions given to my father in the 1940s. I had little contact with him during his life, and now I'm trying to gather as much information about him as I can. All I know about his health is that he was in poor health most of his life and was a patient in veterans' hospitals in Ohio and California from 1940 to his death in 1956. My older brothers told me he had rheumatoid problems. I have not seen his death certificate.

I discovered that belladonna is a poison. I wonder if you could tell me what conditions are treated by the ingredients in these prescriptions. -- R.H. [Link]
It turns out that his dad "must have had epilepsy."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Don't Tell Mrs. Hoover

This item appeared Wednesday in a Florida newspaper:

Daisy Garlock, a direct descendant of President Herbert Hoover, was joined by relatives, friends and fellow Bay Village residents in a gala celebration of her 103rd birthday.

She was born Jan. 8, 1905, in Birmingham, Ala. into a family with four brothers and four sisters. In 1926 she graduated from Howard College (now Stanford University) with degrees in English and botany. [Link]
Hmm... According to every source I can find, Herbert Hoover had two sons (born 1903 and 1907) and no daughters. I don't think Daisy's even an indirect descendant of the guy.

And, by the way, Howard College is now Samford University—not Stanford, from which university (ironically) Herbert Hoover graduated in 1895.

Genealogy Hack: Sourcing Your Scans

Michael John Neill has written several times this week about recording the sources of documents that have been photocopied (or printed from microfilm) and subsequently scanned. He makes three good suggestions:

  1. Write the source on the original before scanning (in black, not green ink).
  2. Use photoediting software to type the source onto the scanned image.
  3. Include the source info in the image's file name.
Probably the best option is 1 or 2 and 3. File names are not always included with printouts, so that is a limitation of only using option three. Including the source in the file name (along with the name of the person on the scan), makes it easier to search the hard drive or media for specific words or phrases.
Me, I usually do both 1 and 3. You might also consider treating your scans like photographs and adding the source info as metadata. Metadata is embedded in the image file, and can be viewed using a variety of applications. For how-tos and caveats, see these articles:

Dimple Gets the Document

I just heard from Wayne Nabors, County Clerk of Putnam County, Tennessee, that the marriage license he found will be delivered to the couple's daughter, Dimple Fields—whom some of you helped find.

Thanks for all your help. I have just spoken to their daughter Dimple and grandson Earl Fields today and am going to get this marriage license to them. They are excited.

I'm Descended From a Blue-Eyed Mutant

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen say that all blue-eyed people—including me and every member of my immediate family—descend from a common ancestor, who lived six- to ten-thousand years ago.

“Originally, we all had brown eyes”, said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a 'switch', which literally 'turned off' the ability to produce brown eyes”.
Variation in the colour of the eyes from brown to green can all be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals only have a small degree of variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes. “From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor,” says Professor Eiberg. “They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA.” [Link]

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bringing the Dead Out of Hiding

Tim Gruber and his group People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access—"PaHR-Access" to their friends—are trying to expand access to Pennsylvania's death records.

Gruber says he is working with legislators to have a bill introduced that would address the No. 1 problem, from a researcher’s standpoint: That there is no type of index available to the public in which to search. As a “closed records state,” Pennsylvania’s law says that only certain people can even request a copy of the certificate.

One of the main ways that the Division of Vital Records enforces this provision is to require quite a bit of information on the application for a death certificate — including such items as the date of death … which, of course, is frequently what a genealogist is trying to find out from the death certificate! [Link]
PaHR-Access wants genealogists and others to write or call state officials, but what it really, desperately needs is a new name. Something like "Pennsylvanians for Open Records Now," which would make its new acronym... Wait, no, that won't work.

Sometimes a Pile of Rocks Is Just a Pile of Rocks

Children have long been told that a mound of stones in First Presbyterian Church cemetery in Concord, N. C., marks the resting place of a Native American chief. Truth is, the rocks were put there by university president William Macon Coleman in 1910.

On his visit to the cemetery of his Mahan ancestors, he found it full, abandoned (the old church had moved to the corner of Spring Street and West Depot Street, which is now Cabarrus Avenue) and rundown, seedy and jungle-like.

Coleman, [E. Ray] King wrote, decided to honor his Mahans, so he brought big rocks from across Cabarrus County, perhaps some even from old Mahan dwellings, and left them in the garden. (King didn't know how he planned to use them.)

Then, without explanation, Coleman left town, leaving no directions as to their use.

"Public memory is short," King wrote, and during a later cleaning of the graveyard, a worker dutifully tossed the stones into a pile.

Voila! Instant mound. [Link]

NYT Gets to the Problem of The Root

The Washington Post has just launched an online magazine called The Root that aims to be a "Slate for black readers." One section of the site is devoted to helping African Americans trace their ancestry. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is editor in chief, and (the New York Times snidely notes) has a financial interest in getting readers to give up their DNA.

[The site] will also urge people to have DNA testing, which can help them trace their backgrounds to specific ethnic groups and parts of the world. It will offer links to companies that do the testing.

One such company the site will direct people to,, is co-owned by Mr. Gates, a relationship that would be prohibited at some publications.

“I don’t see a conflict of interest,” he said, because The Root will fully disclose his roles and will link to every company that does the DNA testing. [Link]

Genealogue Challenge #115

Mary Fraser pointed me toward this obituary for actress Lois Nettleton.

What was her maternal grandmother's maiden name and when did she die?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Genealogy Hack: Dual Monitors

Ever wish that you could double the size of your monitor? This may be beyond your budget, but you can get a similar effect by using two monitors side by side.

As an example, on the left monitor, you could have your genealogy database open. On the right monitor, you could have the Internet open and view census images. If you find information in the right monitor, just copy and paste it into your application on the left.

If you have digital images on your computer, you could use the right monitor to view your digital image collection, while on the left you could preview one of the images at full screen.
This is also a great solution for transcription projects: View a document image on one screen while typing into a word processor on the other.
[Photo credit: Muchos Monitors by reway2007]

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #114

Actress Suzanne Pleshette died last week at age 70.

What were the full names of her four grandparents?

Friday, January 25, 2008

You Gotta Spit to Git It

The founders of 23andMe are in Davos, Switzerland, plugging the European launch of their DNA testing service.

A stand opposite the lift on the first floor of the Belvedere Hotel is an ideal platform from which to promote their service.

"We're stopping everyone that comes past," says [Anne] Wojcicki, armed with 1,000 free spit kits and some fetching grey beanie hats, emblazoned with the words 'I spat!'. [Link]

Alice Doesn't Live There Anymore

People in Stratford, Connecticut, are trying to figure out who sent Town Manager Harry B. Flood a postcard back in 1957. The card—which turned up at the town office only recently—was mailed from East Sumner, Maine, and read "Hi, Enjoying this rather fallish weather. It was 44 degrees yesterday. See you next week. Alice."

The mystery woman could be Alice McHugh, a 1938 U.S. and world champion duckpin bowler who died in 1986.

"A man claiming to be her relative showed us a handwriting sample on her will that to me appears very similar to that of the Alice who signed the postcard, and she is said to have traveled extensively on trains because her husband worked for the New Haven line," said Jerry Gillespie, head of adult services and reference at the Stratford Library.
Another contender is Alice (Standish) Staples, whose daughter was an assistant town clerk in 1957. Or perhaps it was Alice Flynn.
Several people have contacted the mayor's office and library to say a woman named Alice Flynn worked in the town clerk's office in 1957 — though no records of her have been found in area phone directories from that time.

But library researchers say she could be the most likely of the candidates so far, and are combing town employee records for her name. [Link]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Genealogy Hack: Firefox Smart Keywords

Firefox has a neat feature called Smart Keywords that allows you to quickly search databases from your address bar. Let's say I want quick access to RootsWeb Town Search. I right-click in the "Town Name" search field, and select Add a Keyword for this Search from the menu that appears.

I'll give the bookmark the name "Town Search," and use "town" as my keyword.
I can now type, say, town paducah in my address bar and immediately be taken to my search results at RootsWeb.

One drawback for genealogists is that Smart Keywords accepts only one search term. Most of our searches require two or more fields with distinct values (e.g. first and last name). But there are many sites I use regularly where this method does come in handy, including Google Book Search and News Archive Search.

The Last of Her People, So to Speak

Marie Smith-Jones was the last native speaker of the Eyak language. She died Monday at her home in Anchorage, Alaska.

Eyak is one of 20 languages spoken in Alaska, many of which are thought to be fading out of existence. Mrs Smith-Jones was determined that the Eyak language would not die with her, and devoted much of her later life to this cause.

Working with linguists at the Alaska Native Languages Centre she compiled an Eyak dictionary and grammar guide. Michael Krauss, professor emeritus at the centre, said: "She understood as only someone in her position could, what it meant to be the last of her kind. And she was very much alone as the last speaker of Eyak.
In an interview in 2005, Mrs Smith-Jones gave her Eyak name, Udach' Kuqax*a'a'ch, which she translated as "a sound that calls people from afar". [Link]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dinner With the Dunhams

Guest List
Lemuel Dunham — Chris' 3rd-great-grandfather.

Moses Dunham — Chris' 4th-great-grandfather, and father of Lemuel.

Samuel Dunham — Chris' 8th-great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather of Moses.

Deacon John Dunham — The immigrant ancestor, Chris' 9th-great-grandfather, and father of Samuel.

Chris: I'm glad you all could come tonight, what with the weather and all.

Lemuel: Not nearly as cold as 1816. Snow on the ground in June. Never been so cold.

Moses: Lord, what a pansy I raised! Why, when I served in the Continental Army—

Lemuel: There he goes with his "I'm a hero of the Revolution" bit. You know, you're not the only one who fought for his country.

Moses: That's right, I forgot about your days guzzling rum with the boys in the militia.

Lemuel: We saw some action!

Moses: Oh yes, you marched all the way to Portland in 1814 to thwart the British invasion. How did that turn out, Lem?

(Lemuel is silent.)

Moses: I'll tell you how it turned out. You spent two weeks marching and swilling liquor and never was a shot fired.

Lemuel (menacingly): Shut your mouth, old man.

Moses: You hear how he talks to me? If I hadn't been crippled in the war I'd have knocked some sense into you long ago. Why don't you tell them about your wife, Lem? Oh, she was a prize. Mother of a bastard and knocked up when you married her.

Lemuel: Don't you talk about my Molly that way! And you don't have to pretend you're crippled. There's no one here from the pension office.

Chris: Guys, please! You're making the other guests nervous!

Deacon John: Don't mind me, I've heard worse. You should have heard the rows we had back in Plymouth. Not a week went by that John and Priscilla Alden weren't throwing punches at each other. Chris, I must tell Abigail about this wonderful food. What do you call it?

Chris: Totino's Pizza Rolls.

Deacon John: Really, you must give her the recipe.

Chris: Sure ... Sam, are you feeling all right?

Samuel: Yes, yes, I must have the flu.

Deacon John: The flu? Are you sure it wasn't the eight beers you had on the ride over?

Samuel: It wasn't eight beers. Seven, maybe.

Deacon John: Yes, there's my pride and joy. All those years I spent as deacon of the Plymouth church, and he goes and gets himself excommunicated for being a drunkard. How do you think that makes me feel?

Samuel: I was never good enough for you!

Deacon John: Truer words were never spoken.

Samuel: Do you know how hard it was to measure up? You were a deacon, for God's sake! I don't know—maybe if you'd come on the Mayflower things would have been different.

Deacon John: I missed the boat! How many times do I have to explain that?

Samuel: Yeah, you missed the boat, all right. You could have been a "Mayflower Pilgrim." You could have been famous. I could have been famous!

Lemuel: Sam, be cool.

Samuel: Yeah, I'm OK.

Lemuel: Let's get out of here. There must be a bar open.

Samuel: Yeah, let's go.

(Samuel and Lemuel leave.)

Chris: Well, it looks like I'm out of pizza rolls.

Deacon John: Sorry.

Chris: No problem. I think I have some waffles in the freezer.

Deacon John (putting on his coat): Don't trouble yourself. I really have to be getting along.

Moses (also preparing to leave): Can I bum a ride?

Deacon John: You bet. So long, Chris!

Chris: Thanks for coming! Come back anyt—

(Door slams.)

Genealogy Hack: Obituaries in Google Blog Search

Lots of newspapers publish RSS feeds of their obituaries, and many of those feeds are indexed at Google Blog Search. As of today, there are more than 340,000 posts indexed from sites with "obituaries" in the title. You can add a surname to the search and find just those obits where the name appears.

Instead of a surname, you can add the name of your hometown, or even a phrase like "world war ii" to search for veterans of the war.

There are a few ways to monitor these search results and be alerted whenever an obituary is published that meets your criteria. Over in the left sidebar, click on Blogs Alerts to be notified by email. Or click on Atom or RSS to monitor this search with your favorite feed reader. If you use a personalized iGoogle homepage, you can also add a blog search gadget for your keywords by clicking the appropriate link at the bottom of any search results page.

Lou Dobbs: He Doesn't Know and He Doesn't Care

Genealogy Gems caught an interview with CNN anchor Lou Dobbs in which he proudly proclaimed that, when it comes to genealogy, he is both ignorant and incurious.

When Conan declared Dobbs the “face” of the immigration debate, and then reminded Dobbs that he has stated in his book that he is against days like St. Patrick’s Day, and Columbus Day, declaring that he is worried that they are damaging the country, Dobbs reply was succinct:

“I’m an all American mongrel,” he went on to say. “I have no idea who in the heck or where in the heck my grandparents or their grandparents came from. I don’t even care.”

A Special Stone for Annie

You might remember that Annie Moore Schayer—the first person to pass through Ellis Island—was buried in an unmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery, Queens. The Irish Echo reports that the money raised to mark her resting place is being well spent.

After a personal appeal by New York City's commissioner for public records, Brian Andersson, Cardinal [Edward] Egan waived the existing prohibition against the use of limestone headstones at Calvary.

Limestone imported from Ireland will now be used for Annie Moore's planned headstone, Andersson told the Echo. [Link]
Update: Megan has more here. You can contribute to the memorial fund here.

He Lost a Son, But He Gained a Rope

Jim Garner was hanged by the townsfolk of Corpus Christi, Texas, shortly after shooting down shopkeeper Emanuel Scheuer.

On May 15, 1866, Garner tried on a pair of boots at Scheuer's and was about to leave without paying for them when Scheuer said he couldn't give him credit.

Garner was drunk and took offense. He shot the storekeeper through the heart, killing him instantly, then left with his boots.
Eli Merriman, longtime editor of the Caller, later wrote about Garner's hanging. Merriman wrote that the morning after the hanging, old man Garner, the hanged man's father, came to take away the body. He didn't seem to be upset, saying that he had gotten a good long stake rope by the operation. [Link]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Genealogy Hack: Ellis Island Images

This is a new irregular feature here at The Genealogue. Let's define a "genealogy hack" as a tip or trick that solves a specific problem and increases one's productivity as a genealogist, whether online or out in the real world.

Ever try to bookmark a manifest page from the Ellis Island website using your right mouse button? If so, this will look familiar:

Here's an easy way to get around this limitation. Left-click on the manifest, and then use this keyboard shortcut: Shift + F10. When the menu pops up, select "Bookmark This Page" (in Firefox) or "Add to Favorites" (in IE).

Saving the manifest image in Firefox is simple using this technique. From the menu that pops up select View Page Info > Media. Then click on the entry that looks like this:
Click Save As, and give the image a name that ends in .gif.

Ms. Tran Finds Her Man

Tran Thi Kham went to Taiwan in search of her father.

Her only clues were a gold ring and a photograph of him as a young man.

He had given the mementoes to a Vietnamese woman he had fallen in love with in Hong Kong in 1967. She had returned to her home country to care for her mother and he later returned to Taiwan.
She took a job in Taipei helping a man named Tsai Han-chao care for his ailing wife. After the wife's death she left his employ, but accidentally left her father's mementos behind. She asked the local police to help recover them.
They contacted Mr Tsai and asked him to search for her things. Police described him as "stunned" to come across the keepsakes he had given his lover so long before.

He flew immediately to Kinmen, where his daughter was newly employed, for an emotional reunion. [Link]

Monday, January 21, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #113

Character actor Allan Melvin died Thursday in Los Angeles. In keeping with a recurring theme of these challenges, he made eight appearances on The Andy Griffith Show in eight different roles.

Where were his paternal grandparents married?

An Appreciable Appreciation

Nadra Kissman's great-great-grandfather, John Wilkinson, bought 2,500 acres on Lake Michigan in 1854. He later "fretted about how to pull a profit out of the sandy duneland."

He complained about the taxes, which amounted to $6 one year in the 1870s.

Kissman said: "He wrote in a journal: 'What to do with this worthless lakefront land. Won't grow good corn'."

If they could come back to life, pioneers like Wilkinson might be amazed to see that the sand has turned to gold.
One current property listing offers 200 feet of "one-of-a-kind perfect Lake Michigan frontage" in Chikaming Township for $5.45 million. That would be $27,250 a foot, or $2,271 an inch. [Link]

Sunday, January 20, 2008

MLK and His Grandfather Abe Lincoln

Martin Luther King, Jr., is a graphics designer and children's book author who lives in the suburbs of Atlanta. He goes by "Marty."

Marty King, 53, was named for his father, who was named for the German monk and theologian Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s.

It's not the only famous name in his family. Marty King's grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln.
The name connection has caused some hassles along the way. There was the time the U.S. Postal Service canceled his mail and marked it "deceased." [Link]

Genealogue Challenge #112

Putnam County, Tennessee, Clerk Wayne Nabors stumbled upon a marriage license from 1909.

This marriage license announces the union of Oscar Helms and Miss Nadie Carr on April 17, 1909, who were married by Justice of the Peace J.B. Lafever, but it doesn't say how old the two were or anything else about them.

"If there's a grandchild or great-grandchild who wants it, I'd be glad to give it to them," Nabors said.
How many of this couple's children can you identify?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Somebody Had to Watch Their Stuff

Newfoundland minister of tourism Clyde Jackman rejects the claim that Quebec—celebrating its 400th anniversary this year—was the first city in Canada where Europeans spent the winter.

Not true, said Mr. Jackman, who points out that fishermen were already frequenting the port of St. John's in the 1500s.

"Let's take this logically. If fishermen from the English country had equipment and so on, don't you think it's logical that they would have left people here year-round to keep an eye on that kind of stuff?" Mr. Jackman said.

"From the historical context, we're saying that yes, people were here, that they stayed here year-round, that they kept eye on all their fishing equipment. And that's our claim to it." [Link]

Friday, January 18, 2008

He's Never Slept Around

One might think that, after a century, Douglas Mathews would be sick of waking in the same bedroom every day.

But 100 years after he was delivered there by a doctor who arrived on horseback on Jan 5 1908, the centenarian farmer and great-grandfather insists there really is no place like home.

During his childhood and teens he slept in the room in the village of Staverton in South Devon, shared it with his wife Mabel until her death in 1996, and on Saturday woke in it to celebrate his 100th birthday.

The father-of-two said: "I still sleep in the same bedroom where I was delivered. [Link]

Genealogue Challenge #111

This is an open-ended challenge. I want you to find out as much genealogical info as you can on the mother of Bobby Fischer, the chess wizard who died on Thursday. Here are a few questions to get you started:

When did she arrive in the United States?

What was her mother's maiden name?

Where did she live in 1920?

Merv Signs Off

Merv Griffin's headstone has been placed, and is drawing crowds at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

As one of his final wishes, the late talk show king asked that his granite grave stone bear this tongue-in-cheek inscription: "I will not be right back after this message." [Link]

Proof of Life After Death

83-year-old Jefrems Ribakovs was surprised to learn that he's been dead for more than 60 years.

Rather than feeling insulted when a relative passed on the news that he died in 1944, the grandfather of three saw the funny side.

The discovery of Mr Ribakovs' death was made by his niece, Nina Mengele, who was piecing together the family tree.

She was stunned when she came across former welder Mr Ribakovs' name on the memorial in the Latvian cemetery.

Carved on the grey stone, was his date of birth – and chillingly, his death. [Link]

Mona Lisa Gherardini Men Have Named You

A year after researchers found the resting place of Lisa Gherardini and some of her living descendants, it has been confirmed that the wife of Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo was the model for da Vinci's most famous portrait.

[Library director Veit] Probst has now revealed that dated notes scribbled in the margins of a book at Heidelberg University library by its owner in October 1503, first found by Armin Schlechter, a manuscript expert, confirm once and for all that Lisa del Giocondo was indeed the model, and her husband most likely the man who commissioned the portrait. [Link]

Thursday, January 17, 2008

That's His Cross to Bare

Samuel Tippit's website features both his pedigree and a photograph of his lower back.

At one gets an opportunity to see the family tree of Samuel Tippit, an individual with Merovingian roots, (which refers to a prominent French royal family). The Merovingians are a historically-proven group of people who have been theorized to be the ‘lost’ descendants of Christ. The proof of their linkage to Christ is through complex historical associations and a special birthmark that is in the shape of a red cross. Samuel Tippit possesses such a birthmark.
Sam could use his birthmark to claim all the privileges of a Messiah, but chooses not to.
While he has a strong spiritual side, he is not interested in being the next ‘Christ.’ His focus is mainly presenting the facts, so people can have a chance to decide for themselves what is true. [Link]

A Genealogue Link Dump

Here are some links that have been gathering dust around the house.

  • Aaron Newton is trying to move his family's 200-year-old homestead in South Carolina before a highway is built through the parlor. But he needs to generate some "public outcry" to get permission for the move. You can sign the petition even if you've never heard of this place called "South Carolina."
  • Here's a great Flickr photo pool of United States county courthouses (and here's an index by state). I always like to case a joint before I visit.
  • Speaking of Flickr, the Library of Congress is posting some of its photos there and asking the public to tag them. I'm tagging this one "earwax."
  • Megan is getting ready to award her 100th Honoring Our Ancestors Genealogical Grant in February, and is looking for an especially worthy recipient. If you're reading this, Megan, I could really use a new iPod.
  • Mrs. Smolenyak Smolenyak also has a very cool video up at Roots Television explaining her duplicate surnames. I just thought I was seeing double.
  • Mark Story has taken some amazing photographs of people who have lived in three centuries. (Disclaimer: Not all of the people in the photo gallery have lived in three centuries. Some just spent too much time in the sun.)
  • The impatient John Newmark of Transylvanian Dutch found out that the Chicago VRs promised for January won't be available until maybe possibly July. Bureaucratically speaking, that means that we'll see them online around the time the Cubs win their next World Series.

A Twisted Twin Tale

Lord David Alton stated last month that a pair of twins separated at birth had met and married. His remarks made international news last week.

"They were never told that they were twins," he said during the Dec. 10 debate on a law covering human fertility and embryology. They had been adopted by separate families and "met later in life and felt an inevitable attraction, and the judge had to deal with the consequences of the marriage that they entered into and all the issues of their separation."

No further details about the couple have emerged, and it is not known when the marriage took place or how long they were together before they discovered the truth. [Link]
Jon Henley is skeptical.
Here's the thing: it all came from a single remark more than a month ago by the vehemently anti-abortion Roman Catholic peer and father of four, Lord Alton, in favour of all children having the right to know the identity of their biological parents.

He had heard about this particular case, he said, from the judge who handled the annulment. Or perhaps (he later admitted) a judge who was "familiar with the case". Britain's top family judge, Sir Mark Potter, has never heard of the story. And, as the excellent Heresy Corner blog notes, the whole thing is statistically improbable, procedurally implausible (for 40 years, adoption practice has been to keep twins together) and based on the equivalent of a friend in the pub saying, "Hey, I heard the most amazing story the other day." [Link]
[Thanks to Nancy for the initial tip!]

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Top Ten Worst Ways to Begin a Family History

10. "It was October, 1956. Don Larsen had just thrown the first perfect game in World Series history, President Eisenhower was campaigning for a second term, and somewhere in Manhattan my grandfather was impregnating his sister-in-law."

9. "Down in the constricted, fetid bowels of the steamship, Jacob Horowitz waited to be evacuated."

8. "'Call me Ishmael,' our ancestor Ishmael Johnson might have said if asked 'What should we call you?'"

7. "I have few memories of Sperm Donor 4879."

6. "Let me start by saying this book would have been a whole lot better if my goddamn relatives had answered my goddamn questions."

5. "I set out to find my great-great-grandfather armed only with a tattered obituary and a sturdy shovel."

4. "My father, Mr. Smith, was probably between eighteen and forty-eight years of age when he met his future wife, Mary [--?--]."

3. "The remainder of this book is for Plus Edition subscribers only."

2. "The story of our family begins in a tiny village in northern France—or possibly Ecuador."

1. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Several years later, my grandmother was born in Des Moines."

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