Friday, February 29, 2008

When Marriage Certificates Lie

Ed and Maryann Covert married on Feb. 29, 1992. But their descendants may have trouble proving it.

“You could get married and the ceremony could be officiated that day by Washington law,” Ed said.

However, “The State of Washington made them declare either the day before or March 1 as their marriage date on their marriage license, as February 29 is not legal to declare in this instance,” explained his mother-in-law, Barbara Newbould, in an e-mail. “They chose March 1.”

Indeed, the Coverts’ wedding invitations say the ceremony is on Feb. 29, but their marriage certificate is dated March 1, 1992.

“It’s easy for me because I only have to remember my anniversary every four years,” Ed joked. [Link]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Can a President Be Born Abroad?

Some are asking whether Senator John McCain—born in the Panama Canal Zone, the son of a Navy officer—meets the "natural-born citizen" requirement to be president.

Quickly recognizing confusion over the evolving nature of citizenship, the First Congress in 1790 passed a measure that did define children of citizens “born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States to be natural born.” But that law is still seen as potentially unconstitutional and was overtaken by subsequent legislation that omitted the “natural-born” phrase.

Mr. McCain’s citizenship was established by statutes covering the offspring of Americans abroad and laws specific to the Canal Zone as Congress realized that Americans would be living and working in the area for extended periods. But whether he qualifies as natural-born has been a topic of Internet buzz for months, with some declaring him ineligible while others assert that he meets all the basic constitutional qualifications — a natural-born citizen at least 35 years of age with 14 years of residence. [Link]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #119

The first known victim of the 1918 influenza pandemic was Army cook Albert Gitchell.

What can you find out about Albert, both before and after his illness?

Politician Caught in Family Fib

Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has claimed to be the grandson of radio and television pioneer David Sarnoff. Well, he's not.

On Monday, Sarnoff attempted to correct the record. David is his great-uncle, not his granddaddy. “I know very little about my family,” he said. “My understanding is that he is my great-uncle or something like that.”

David’s connection with the Sarnoff clan ended in 1969, when his father Joel divorced his mother, the commissioner added. “I don’t know my grandfather’s name,” Sarnoff replied when asked the identity of his paternal granddad. “I just remember he had big hands.” [Link]
David Sarnoff's niece says, "I haven’t a clue who this man is. He is certainly not David’s grandson, nephew, or otherwise. He is not related to us."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Blood Tests Reveal Sikhness

Routine tests run on blood donated by Bob Goddard suggest that the Englishman has some exotic ancestry.

The 64-year-old's rare combination of blood groups has revealed he could be related to the last Sikh royal family, who once owned the Koh-i-noor diamond.

Further research into Mr Goddard's family tree has shown that his great grandfather may have been Prince Freddy, second son of Maharajah Duleep Singh, known as the "last king of the Sikhs".
Mr Goddard said he discovered that his grandfather, Charlie Goddard, who was born in 1888, was the illegitimate son of an unmarried serving maid at Breckles Hall in Norfolk.

"She would never reveal the father's identity, but it was rumoured he was an Indian prince who stayed there," he added. [Link]

Grandma's Middle Finger

Jeri Mills' interest in family history was sparked by her grandmother's "funny-looking finger."

"One of my grandmother's middle fingers would never bend," Mills said, "and I was curious to learn why it wouldn't."

Mills questions about her grandmother's finger went unanswered for many years, she said.

"She was reluctant to talk about it, but when I got older I asked her again," Mills said.

That was when Mills learned that when her grandmother was a child, she was involved in a train wreck while fleeing the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1800s. [Link]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Name Remains the Same

Edward Krumreig XVIII of Cape Coral, Florida, died last week—two months before his great-grandson and namesake is due.

If Edward the 18th could have lived until mid-April, the family patriarch would have joined Edward the 19th, Edward the 20th and Edward the 21st.
It would have been the first time in the 525-year family history four men named Edward Ludwig Krumreig were alive. [Link]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Something Doesn't Add Up

It took me a few minutes to figure this out:

By the time you have found your x5 great grandparents (around 150 years ago) you will potentially have a list of 148 ancestors – and of course it doubles up with every further generation! [Link]
OK, barring incestuous liasons between cousins, each of us has 128 "x5 great grandparents." Adding in all the intervening generations gives us 254 ancestors. Subtract the 106 ancestors whose prison records and gambling debts make us ashamed and we arrive at ... 148!

Shrinkage Can Occur

The Nordic Battlegroup has chopped off the penis of the lion emblazoned on its coat of arms.

[H]eraldic artist Vladimir A Sagerlund was dismayed at what he viewed as an alarming lack of historical awareness. In former times, he said, coats of arms containing lions without genitalia were given to those who betrayed the Swedish Crown.

And as Sagerlund's colleague points out, the heraldry unit would have no qualms about making alterations to the original image if requested to do so by the military.

"We could make the dimensions a bit smaller, for example. Once we were commissioned to create a similar symbol for Swedish Customs. When they thought it was a bit much they sent it back to us and we just shrank the organ," said [Henrik] Klackenberg. [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #118

I don't usually post my own brick walls here, but this challenge concerns the ancestry of a young lady near and dear to my heart, so I'll make an exception. I've helped her trace one of her lines to Elias and Elizabeth Reber, who lived in Akron, Summit Co., Ohio, in 1850, and Sturgis, St. Joseph Co., Michigan in 1860.

It appears that Elias was the son of John A. and Lydia Ann Reber, who were also living in Akron in 1850 and Sturgis in 1860. It's probable that Daniel J. Reber, who lived near John and Lydia in 1860, was another son (in 1860 he was, like his supposed brother Elias, a "tinner"; he later lived in Kansas).

I need help pushing this line back a generation or two, and linking it to one of the known Reber families of Pennsylvania.

Can you find the parents of John A. Reber? While you're at it, what was Elizabeth's maiden name?

This Mystery's History

Many of us contributed, but Genealogue readers Doogles McQuig and Andy E. Wold have worked overtime on the Mario Cantasano mystery. Doogles just informed me that the story made the paper!

It was only until this week that Codemasters and its team of amateur detectives got some fresh leads, thanks to major assists from a genealogy blog, the Genealogue, and John Favereau, a trustee of the Yonkers Historical Society, who had access to Depression-era city directories and other materials at the Riverfront Library.

From their research, it appears that the man in question was not Mario Contasino as reported in 1931. It is now believed that his actual name was Joseph F. Cantasano and he was 26 years old at the time of the accident. [Link]
Well, actually it was Edward F. Cantasano, but let's not quibble over minor details.

Andy has dug up a number of probable living relatives, and has forwarded their names and addresses to the Codemasters crew. Nice work, fellers!

There Still Be Blood

Paul Dye is confident that the Civil War battle flag in his family's possession is stained with the blood of his ancestor, William D. Whitehead. Others aren't so sure.

"It's a great artifact, but there's no way it could have gone into all the battles they claim it went into," says Greg Biggs, a military historian in Tennessee who has researched Confederate flags for 18 years.

Another historian, Keith Bohannon of West Georgia University, told the auction house that he suspected the regiment had replaced the flag months before Whitehead fell at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862.

Word of the scholarly skepticism riles Dye. "If anyone has questions, I'll do a DNA test," he vows. "But I know that's my family's blood on that flag." [Link]

Apostrophes Lead to Catastrophes

Irish Voice editor Niall O'Dowd resorted to "giving up his national identity" to book a flight to Atlanta. As often happens, the computer just wouldn't accept an apostrophe.

"I dropped the apostrophe and ran my name as 'ODowd,"' he said.
The Irish apostrophe began with the British, who put it there because they believed the O looked odd without a link to the rest of the name. Many native Gaelic speakers in Ireland refuse to carry an apostrophe, considering it a vestige of colonial days.

"Maybe that's the solution," said O'Dowd, who just last week was rejected by an online alarm clock service. "Maybe we should just drop the apostrophe altogether, not just as a nationalist statement but because I'd like my alarm call to work in the morning." [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Genealogical or Geological?

Sandra Atherton says that the lines and grooves on boulders in her Georgia backyard are actually 200-year-old graffiti.

She's found the surnames of the families historians say first settled in the areas known as the Talase Colony and Fort Strong. Her ancestors, the Lavenders, along with the Strong and Easley families, all among the first families to settle in the area, have left their marks on the area, she said.

"You start scratching with a pencil on the paper," Atherton said. "And you're just hoping for that one clear one. Then, you can kind of see where the outline is. I do one line at a time until you can tell what it is."

What's created is a collection of characters and words that some of her relatives dismiss as doodles and others believe is history revealed. [Link]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Would Also Leap to That Conclusion

Florence Beatrice Stevens, born on February 29, 1904, has celebrated only 25 birthdays. Could she be the oldest living person born on a leap year day? Beverly (Mass.) Historical Society & Museum director Stephen P. Hall was put on the case.

I had to give this question some thought, because whenever you assign any “superlative” to a person you want to be on a strong footing. But the more I thought about it, to be an older “leap-year day” baby you would have to be at least 108 years old, (a very small percentage of the population) and also be born on the 29th of February 1900. The odds of someone still alive in 2008 and being born on leap year day 108 years ago are astronomical. [Link]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lift the Genealogical Embargo!

Lynn Turner reads headlines the same way I do. The first question to be asked is always, "How will this affect genealogy?"

Maybe, just maybe Castro's resignation will create opportunities for FamilySearch to begin digitally capturing Cuban genealogical records. I can see the day (hopefully sooner than later) when Catholic parish registers, immigration records, and many other important records become available.

What does everyone else think? I imagine nothing will happen for a while, but am I crazy to think that this is the beginning of Cuban genealogy becoming more widely available?

Population Control Freaks

I somehow missed the 2006 horror flick Population 436 at my local theater.

Jeremy Sisto and Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst star in this thrilling story about a U.S. census taker who is assigned to assess the population in a remote mountain community. The census taker becomes trapped in this prison-like town full of 'golden rules' (that no one ever breaks) that doesn't allow its population to drop below or exceed exactly 436 citizens, a number in accordance with 'God's Law.' He eventually learns that NO ONE is ever allowed to leave Rockwell Falls and that the town citizens will do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo. After fending off a lobotomy and pretending to go along with the program, the U.S. census taker eventually tries to escape. Will the population finally be altered, or will the story of Rockwell Falls live on?
I don't know why Hollywood hasn't produced more movies in which census takers fend off lobotomies. It sure would have made Driving Miss Daisy more exciting.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bonkers for Yonkers

This blog's first guest post is by inveterate and unrepentant Genealogue reader Doogles McQuig:

In response to my query about the subject of challenge #117, Mario "Contasino", a most courteous reference librarian at the Riverside Library in Yonkers sent the following important clue:
I looked up 300 Yonkers Avenue in the 1936 criss-cross directory. (1936 is one of the few years for which I have a criss-cross.) There I found listings for Nicholas V. Castasano, who is listed as employed in the junk business, and for Edward F. Castasano, who is listed as employed in “trucking.” Proceeding to the 1936 city directory proper, I found the same listings, but with some additional information; most significantly, that the wife of Nicholas is named Michelina.
The librarian (not knowing any other details) tentatively concluded the correct spelling was probably "Castasano," and thus a Mario Castasano was the person to be found. But a quick search on Castasano turns up almost nothing. On the other hand, a much more common usage was Cantasano, and look what juicy details that name turns up:
1910 census
Brooklyn Ward 31, Kings, New York

Nicholas V Cantasano 42, born Italy (immigrated 1887)
Madeline Cantasano 33, born NY
Angela R Cantasano 9, born NY
Helene A Cantasano 8, born NY
Edward M Cantasano 4 born, NY
Remember that Mario had two sisters in Brooklyn? Well, here's Edward M. (Mario anyone?) Cantasano with two sisters in Brooklyn. Right name, right place, right age, right family configuration. The middle initial is a bit of a misdirect because it's inconsistent with the Yonkers directory. However, continuing the search on "Edward F. Cantasano," the SSDI reveals a man of that name born on November 25, 1905, with the number issued before 1951 in New York. That works. Googling on "Edward Cantasano" leads to the Rootsweb Brooklyn archive, which tells us Edward graduated 8th grade in June of 1920 from Public School 17 at Driggs avenue and North Fifth street in Brooklyn. Still fits. Finally, and this is sweet, a search on Ancestry leads to a WWII service record for an unmarried Edward F. Cantasano who was born November 25, 1905 and enlisted from Westchester County, NY on 12 Mar 1942.

I wonder what inspired him to enlist?

Edward F. Cantasano died on January 17, 1989 and, according to the records at, was interred on 24 Mar 1989 at Calverton National Cemetery, 210 Princeton Boulevard Rt 25 Calverton, NY 11933, Section 8 Site 13092.

So, what about it Genealoguers? Is this our guy? How best to find a next of kin?

I'll post a few more details in the comments, including some passport data on Nicholas, and a presumed uncle of Edward's named Vito G. Cantasano. They were each born in Craco, which happens to be in the province of Potenza, in the south Italy.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Forbidden Love in the Cemetery

The first installment of a new Roots Television series, Down Under, tells the story of an unlikely love affair. A love affair even more unlikely than mine and Gwyneth's.

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Obit

The Swedes enjoy adding personalized drawing to their death notices.

[Christer Larsson] pulls out a booklet showing a selection of drawings and symbols suggested by funeral homes, categorized by religion, animals (pets are as popular in death as in life), flowers and plants, sports team logos, and miscellaneous, including a lute, candle, grand piano, treble clef, saxophone, heart or teddy bear.
Families' own drawings are rarely refused.

"Once," he recalls, "someone sent us a picture of a guy barbecuing and he was not wearing a shirt and barbecuing a hamburger. We couldn't accept that. It would have been shocking." [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

A Long-Lived Levantine Lady

Mariam Amash may be a dark horse candidate for world's oldest person.

Amash, who recently applied for a new Israeli identity card, said she was born 120 years ago — a claim, if confirmed, that would make her the oldest person in the world. The Guinness Book of Records currently lists 114-year-old Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Ind., as holding that title.

Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for Israel's Interior Ministry, confirmed that Amash, from the Israeli Arab village of Jisr a-Zarka, is listed in the population registry as having been born in 1888. "We're just not sure it's correct," Haddad said. [Link]
[Thanks to John Van Essen for tipping me off to this story.]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WorldConnect Is Not a Primary Source

A review of Alison Weir's forthcoming biography Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess raises doubts about the author's "discrimination in the use of evidence."

Weir tells us, for example, that Hugh of Swynford, Katherine’s first husband, was “a shrewd and terrifying fighter”, citing John of Gaunt’s Register as the source for this phrase. Readers might be justifiably perplexed to discover that the fourteenth-century Register of John of Gaunt includes not a single indexed reference to Hugh, and that the phrase “he was a shrewd and terrifying fighter” appears to be borrowed from an amateur genealogical blog (, posted June 2006), which itself cites merely unspecified “registers” as its source. [Link]

An 'ee' for an 'eye'

Pulaski County, Indiana, is named for Revolutionary War General Kazimierz Pułaski, but its name is pronounced differently: with an "eye" at the end instead of an "ee."

But La Porte's Casmir Pulaski, a descendant of General Pulaski, wants things to change. He says it all starts with the parents.

"It has to start with them teaching their children how to say it," said Pulaski. "And they will grow up saying Pulaski. It's going to take about a generation, maybe two, but eventually it will be pronounced correctly." [Link]

Average Age of Kiwis Goes Up

Eric King-Turner, 102, has moved from Britain to New Zealand—his wife's homeland—making him that country's oldest immigrant.

"It's a wonderful new adventure and I would say to anyone that if you want to do something you should do it straight away while you can. What's important is that when I'm 105 I don't want to be thinking 'I wish I had moved to the other side of the world when I was 102'."

Mrs King-Turner met her husband, both widowed, while researching her ancestry. Despite sharing the same last name they were not related but decided to meet anyway. [Link]
Sure, you let one of them in, and then another, and pretty soon the whole damn country is overrun by centenarians.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

No Room on Her Bookshelf for Hate

Melissa O'Brien's decision to dispose of an unwanted family heirloom led to a really touching piece in the St. Petersburg Times.

On my grandmother's bookshelf, wedged in between Katharine Hepburn's Me - Stories Of My Life and Ernest Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro was a copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. It is a 1939 German edition, and inside the front cover, neatly scrolled like a wedding invitation, are the names of my grandparents and the date of their nuptials. My grandparents told me that this book was issued to every newly married couple in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
When both my grandparents had passed on, my mother decided to sell some of their things. I specifically asked her not to sell Mein Kampf. I wanted to find a way, short of burning the book, to dispose of it properly. The place I finally found for it may come as a surprise. I donated it to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. [Link]

Friday, February 08, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #117

A video-game company is searching for descendants of Mario Contasino—a taxi driver who collided with Winston Churchill in 1931, and almost changed the course of history.

Codemasters, the UK’s leading independent videogame publisher, is turning detective in order to recognise a descendent of the man who inspired the events depicted in alternate World War II action game Turning Point.

The game supposes that the automobile accident in which a car hit a young Winston Churchill in New York on December 13th 1931 proved fatal – and that without his inspirational speeches to galvanise the Allies, the course of the Second World War took a very different route, with the Axis Powers even invading America. [Link]
They've set up a blog to document the search.

Can you turn up any new information on Mario?

Update: Doogles McQuig has made a discovery!

Bay State OKs Pilgrim Plates

A bill has passed the Massachusetts Legislature that would allow Dexter Olsson of Plymouth to use license plates that read "1620."

The 1620 plates were given to Olsson’s father, George Olsson, by then-Gov. John A. Volpe in the early 1960s.

The family traces its roots to the Pilgrims’ arrival on the Mayflower in 1620 and William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony. Volpe gave the "vanity," or "low-number" plates as a thank-you to the elder Olsson, who was a longtime Plymouth clerk of courts, chairman of Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., and a co-founder of Plimoth Plantation.

The license plate number remained with the family, becoming a symbol of the Olssons’ heritage and part of family lore, Dexter Olsson said. [Link]

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Third Cousins Are Made for Mating

Scientists have analyzed Icelandic family trees and found that third cousins have the greatest number of offspring.

For example, for women born between 1800 and 1824, those with a mate related at the level of a third cousin had an average of 4.04 children and 9.17 grandchildren, while those related to their mates as eighth cousins or more distantly had 3.34 children and 7.31 grandchildren. For women born in the period 1925-1949 with mates related at the degree of third cousins, the average number of children and grandchildren were 3.27 and 6.64, compared to 2.45 and 4.86 for those with mates who were eighth cousins or more distantly related.

The findings hold for every 25-year interval studied, beginning with those born in the year 1800 up to the present day. [Link]

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

No Cash, But Plenty of Clams to Shell Out is a website dedicated to the funny money that kept many communities afloat during the Great Depression.

Depression scrip was used during the depression era (1930's) as a substitute for government issued currency. Because of the banks closing temporarily and the lack of physical currency, someone had to come up with another form of currency to keep the economy going and a way for trade to continue. Therefore the old idea of local currency was reborn. Paper, cardboard, wood, metal tokens, leather, clam shells and even parchment made from fish skin was used. At one point, the U.S. Government considered issuing a nation wide scrip on a temporary basis.
[via Neatorama]

An Army of One

With the death on Monday of Harry Richard Landis, the last surviving American World War I veteran is Frank Buckles, 107, of West Virginia.

In addition, John Babcock of Spokane, Washington, 107, served in the Canadian army and is the last known Canadian veteran of the war.

Another World War I vet, Ohioan J. Russell Coffey, died in December at 109. The last known German World War I veteran, Erich Kaestner, died New Year's Day at 107. [Link]

Even Ruth Didn't Know the Truth

Katie Ruth is finally getting a gravestone, thanks to the efforts of Paul Harris and the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Little has been written about the Babe's mother, and some of what has been written is wrong.

Even Ruth swung and missed. He had two ghost-written autobiographies. The first, published in 1928, didn't specifically mention either parent. The second one, in 1948, did. But Ruth got the facts wrong. He said his mother's maiden name was Schanberg and she lived until he was 13. Actually, she was born Catherine Schamberger, and she died in 1912, when the Babe was 17. The mistakes are hardly surprising. It's not really clear what the slugger knew about his mom - in life or in death. [Link]

No Lineage Over Linguine

Three legislators in Mississippi want to ban restaurants from serving obese people. Robert St. John proposes some additional legislation:

The Delta Heritage Law: HB 282D would require all citizens of the Mississippi Delta to limit their ancestral discussions to a minimum of 45 minutes per dining period. During the allotted time period, said genealogy buff may only go back four generations without receiving a warning citation. If subject traces his or her lineage all the way back to the Civil War during one meal period, a $75 fine shall be levied (Revolutionary War descendant discussions will result in mandatory jail time). This law also applies to relations' choice of college, which sorority their grandmother joined, and which tract of land their family owned 150 years ago. [Link]

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ménage à Trois in a Test Tube

From the UK comes news that family trees of the future might need an extra branch.

Scientists believe they have made a potential breakthrough in the treatment of serious disease by creating a human embryo with three separate parents.
The embryos have been created using DNA from a man and two women in lab tests. [Link]

The Number of Names

When I was a kid, I was always skeptical of those "__ Million Served" signs at McDonald's (were they counting hamburgers or customers?). The Ancestry Insider says I should also be skeptical about the name count claims made by online genealogy outfits.

When claims "872,278,874 Names in 5,389 Databases," aren't we led to believe these are counts of people names? But claims 337,484 names in Lippincott's Gazetteer of the World, 1895. This is a gazetteer! Yeah, yeah; many places are named after people.

Found Photos

Get warmed up for Wednesday's premiere of African American Lives 2 by checking out this amazing collection of snapshots and home movies at Square America. Some of my favorites.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Is That a GEDCOM in Your Pocket?

What do I have in common with Dave, Paul, Steve, James, Mark, Robert, Andy, Dick and Dan? We all write about genealogy. And, um, something else...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Grandpa Returns Home By Way of Illinois

Susan Ihne ("We pronounce it Eenie — like in Eenie, Meanie, Miney, Moe") has learned that genealogical evidence can sometimes be planted.

Through my local Ihne relatives, I received a photo of my grandfather via the Ihnes they know in Illinois.

I definitely recognized him and the photo. How come they have that photo and I don’t?

OK, so we must definitely be related. I was excited.

But then I talked to my sister, who thinks she sent the photo to the Illinois Ihnes.

So it’s a vicious circle. Are we related or aren’t we? [Link]

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Man Killed by Own Obit

Warning: Reading your own obituary can be hazardous to your health.

After suffering a stroke in 1940, black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey became incapacitated. Rumors began to circulate that he had died, and before Garvey could quell them, he ran across a premature obituary for himself in the Chicago Defender which described him as a man who died “broke, alone and unpopular.” According to people close to Garvey, upon reading it he let out a loud moan and collapsed to the floor, where he suffered a second stroke. By the following morning, he was dead at fifty-three. [Link]

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