Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lesbians Fighting Lesbians

Three residents of the Greek island of Lesbos want to reclaim the word "Lesbian" from a gay rights group.

One of the plaintiffs said Wednesday that the name of the association, Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece, "insults the identity" of the people of Lesbos, who are also known as Lesbians.

"My sister can't say she is a Lesbian," said Dimitris Lambrou. "Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos," he said.
Lesbos was home to the poet Sappho, whose works are popular with Lesbians lesbians.
Lambrou says Sappho was not gay. "But even if we assume she was, how can 250,000 people of Lesbian descent — including women — be considered homosexual?" [Link]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Crazy in Love

From the newspaper archives of Staunton, Virginia:

A.H. McGehee, a patient at Western State Hospital in 1910, fell in love with Alice Lillie, a beautiful female attendant, and she reciprocated. In December, McGehee and Lillie met in Staunton and obtained a marriage license from the city clerk.

"As the clerk does not know a lunatic from anybody else," noted the Staunton Daily Leader, "he issued the license. They hunted up Dr. O.F. Gregory, the obliging pastor of the Baptist Church, who is just as innocent when he sees a lunatic."

The pair were married, but their happiness short-lived. Officials at the hospital quickly found McGehee and hurried him back into custody, ending the romance, while Lillie was summarily discharged from her job. [Link]

Why You Should Mind Your Ps and Qs

Jose Iuerdo's years in prison allowed him to move up in the world—or at least in the phone book.

In leaving prison the last time, he lost his birth name. What happened — and he swears this is true — he was imprisoned so long, the Department of Motor Vehicles "expunged" his name.

And his birth certificate was somewhere in Colorado. When he applied for a new identification card, someone interpreted the typed "Q" as an "I" and that's why he's now Iuerdo and not Querdo.

That's OK with him. He's happier with the new Jose than the old Jose. [Link]

Monday, April 28, 2008

Maybe He Bought It with Beer

Was Breckenridge, Colorado, named for local settler Thomas Breckenridge or for Vice President John C. Breckinridge?

[Robin] Theobald’s contention ... is that the town was indeed named after Thomas Breckenridge, then changed to “Breckinridge” when it was decided that taking the name of the vice president would enhance the possibility of getting a post office, then renamed yet again when the residents decided they didn’t want their town to be named after a member of the Confederate party.

The only hole left by such a hypothesis is, why would the town originally be named after such an insignificant settler? Thomas Breckenridge wasn’t known to be important for any reason more than the next guy.

Theobald’s response was vintage history mystery.

“The guy coulda bought a round for the house, and they decided to name the town after him,” he said. “It doesn’t mean he had to be the leader of the pack to have it named after him. Maybe he saved someone’s life and they wanted to honor him. Who knows?” [Link]

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reuniters Reminisce, Regret Reservoir

Residents of the four towns drowned by the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts still get together to mourn their lost homes.

[F]or remaining natives of the four "lost towns," all now in their 70s or older, nostalgia blends with sorrow and occasional flashes of bitterness. They continue to gather at least once a month to reminisce, clinging tenaciously to the bonds their families forged in towns long since erased from the map.

Each native has a story: passing cemeteries as ancestors' bodies were moved, watching helplessly as grandparents cried in frustration, realizing the drinking water of strangers had been deemed more important than their families' roots.

"That was the only place we'd ever known," Bob Wilder, an Enfield native, said of the hardscrabble farming town his family left in 1938 when he was a boy. "I try not to get mad when I think about it anymore, but that was home. I can't really ever go home." [Link]

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Wrong Place at the Wrong Time with the Wrong Initials

John Wilkes Booth is supposed to have been shot and killed in a barn near Port Royal, Virginia. But Booth relative Joanne Hulme and her sister Virginia Kline believe that the assassin escaped justice.

"The first story my mother ever told me was that John Wilkes Booth was not killed in the barn," Hulme said.

The soldiers' victim was James William Boyd or John William Boyd, who bore a striking resemblance to the assassin and was sought for the murder of a Union captain by some accounts.

"He was shorter than Booth and had red hair" instead of the actor's black wavy locks, Hulme said. [Link]

Friday, April 25, 2008

Architecture Is the Best Revenge

Neatorama has a post on spite houses: houses "built or altered for the sole purpose of exacting revenge."

The Skinny House in Boston is pretty well-known, at least in the area. The story goes that in 1874, a couple of brothers had a fight over the land they had jointly inherited from their father. Instead of properly settling the fight, one brother built a large home on the land while the other brother was away in the military. When the traveling brother returned home, he decided to spite his greedy brother and build a small house on what was left of the land they both owned, blocking his brother’s nice view.
The house does, though, offer a lovely view of the Copp's Hill Burying Ground.

Priceless Obituary Cost $650

Terry sent me a link to an obituary that (according to folo) "kicks butt and takes names."

Ida married High School friend, Karl Hadaway. On January 31, 1953, a child was born named Mary Denise. The marriage decayed and the couple divorced in 1954. Ida's marriage to Karl was a three ring circus, engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering.

Ida met and married Albert Sills in 1960. Ida said "I never knew what real happiness was until I got remarried, then it was too late."
The obit earned an article of its own in a later edition of the newspaper:
It not only recalls his mother's one-liner jokes, but begins with the revelation that Ida Mae began life as Betty Jean Cherry, a child given up by a single mother for adoption and sold by infamous baby broker Georgia Tann through the Tennessee Children's Home Society in the 1930s.

That is one reason why some family members were not "thrilled" with the lengthy obituary, which ran Sunday in The Commercial Appeal. It cost $650, but, "I didn't care," says Lee. "It's important how people think of you after the fact."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So That's What Rebels Smelled Like

The Graffiti House in Brandy Station, Virginia, was occupied by both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. They left behind names, dates and drawings scribbled on the walls, discovered during a renovation in 1992. New graffiti came to light just last summer.

[Paint-removal specialist Kirsten] Travers ... uncovered a large piece of graffiti in the JEB Stuart room - where the Confederate Army General signed his name. The new image is a full-size figure of a man with a head resembling a pumpkin. On his torso is the phrase: “President J. Davis. Good on the boots.”

Neither Travers nor Edrington know what the phrase means but they suspect it is a sarcastic comment, perhaps about Davis’ efforts in providing adequate footwear to soldiers.
Besides the date and the pumpkin head, Travers found another image of a horse standing in front of a man who had been revealed previously.

Edrington said the volunteers thought the man was a standalone image but now he is seen behind the horse and above him are the words, “He smells a rebel.” [Link]

Ancestor Dead? Don't Mention It

For the Chumash people of California, family history could be a touchy subject.

The Chumash culture ... was very straightforward about bodily functions, so, unlike English, those descriptive terms weren’t used in a derogatory manner. Many words described family bonds, however, marking the importance of family ties. “The biggest insult was to name a deceased ancestor out loud in someone’s presence,” Johnson said. [Link]

Don't Call Him Mr. Moon

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been in office 16 months, and people still can't get his name right.

Recently, the U.N.'s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, sent a letter of "concern" to U.N. employees worldwide, a copy of which was obtained by Newsmax.

In the letter dated March 31, 2008, Nambiar writes, "Dear Colleague, I address you in a matter of some delicacy. Ever since taking office, the Secretary-General has had to cope with the question of ensuring clarity and accuracy in the recognition of his name . . .

"This is not an unusual problem, but it remains a matter of some frustration, that despite the passage of a year and some months, there still remains some confusion on this score. Many world leaders, some of who are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon." [Link]

Province Just Says No

New Brunswick won't allow Sharon (Weed) Thorne to put her maiden name on a license plate.

Sharon Thorne has even brought officials a copy of her birth certificate, but they still refuse to allow her to attach a tag that says "WEED" to her beloved 2001 Mustang convertible.

"I am not promoting drug use," she complained this week. "I do not smoke marijuana, have never inhaled it even once, don't sell it, am adamantly against it and have no criminal record.

"I have always been proud my name was unique, and thought people would see the plate and realize they went to school with me, or knew my parents or something. It was meant to be a fun thing, but has turned into something really annoying." [Link]

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Spy's Like Us

When Ben-Ami Kadish wasn't passing classified defense documents to Israel, he was working on his family tree. Who knows what family secrets are now in the hands of the Mossad.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Top Ten Ways a Family Historian Can Help the Environment

10. Recycle old family stories by changing the word "still" to "meth lab."

9. Call the funeral director to see if you can carpool to the cemetery.

8. Cancel your subscription and start checking the obituaries in your neighbor's newspaper.

7. Plant a tree in memory of your ancestor who clearcut the redwood forest.

6. Scold your great-grandmother for having had so many children.

5. Slap a bumper sticker on your late grandfather's 1947 Buick Roadmaster that reads "My other car is a Prius."

4. Conserve electricity by turning off the tape recorder whenever your aunt starts rambling on and on about her affair with J. D. Salinger.

3. Remove "Club baby seals" from your family reunion activities list.

2. Replace your coal-powered microfilm reader.

1. Compost Uncle Louie.

[Photo credit: Atlas, it's time for your bath by woodley wonderworks]

Mel Brooks Says Uncle

When Mel Brooks was presented with an Ellis Island Family Heritage Award last week, a video clip was played to commemorate his father's arrival in America.

It was a moving tribute, with old family photos shown while "That's Entertainment" played.

One problem.

"That photo was not of my father," Brooks said after taking the stage. "That was my great-uncle." He went on to say that while his uncle was a good-looking man who "wore a nice hat," as seen in the snapshot, his father, Max Kaminsky, was better looking. [Link]

Monday, April 21, 2008

Do I Have to Wear a Trench Coat?

Sharon Tate Moody compares the interviewing techniques of two TV detectives:

The first is Sgt. Joe Friday. The stone-faced lead character of the "Dragnet" series never veered from his approach. "All we want are the facts, ma'am," he would say, not cracking a grin or blinking an eye.

Then there was Columbo. He was a fumbler interested in the quirkiest of things about unsuspecting persons of interest, sidestepping his way to what he really was after. I also think he was a closet genealogist. He was forever talking about his cousins and revealing things about his family - things such as his father having been a tail gunner on a beer truck during Prohibition and his grandfather being 40 years old when he began wearing dentures.

Columbo's approach might work well for you when interviewing reluctant relatives. [Link]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

She Sure Knows How to Pick 'em

24-year-old Alison Smith wed for the fourth time on Friday.

It was the latest in a bizarre series of marriages for the young mum.

Alison's ex-husbands include a man who eloped with her own mum, a bigamist and a pal who stood in for her fiance when he jilted her the night before the wedding.
Alison was reportedly "delighted" when asked to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of her mother and ex-husband.
But Pat and George's wedding was called off after officials discovered the groom was marrying his mother-in-law, which is against the law.

Staff from Arbroath register office stepped in at the last minute, citing the Marriage Scotland Act 1977, which states that you cannot marry a former spouse's mother unless your former spouse is dead. [Link]

Christ Will Be There

J. Christ will be attending the Mass held by Pope Benedict at Yankee Stadium today.

A "regular Catholic," [John] Christ, a former sanitation director for the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, was born 62 years ago to an Italian mother and Greek father who Americanized his name from Christopoulos. He pronounces his surname "Chris."

Through school, his name was never an issue - until he enlisted in the Army in 1966. "They teased me," he recalled. "They asked me if I walked on water and made me do more pushups and run a little longer than the other guys." [Link]

Time for Grandma to Come Out of the Closet

Many of the Cape Verdean families of New England have a hidden Jewish past.

[Gershom] Barros didn't know his father had Jewish roots until after he died.

"My mother told me she used to call my grandmother a crazy lady for lighting candles in the closet," he said, suggesting that she practiced secret Jewish customs passed down for generations, as has been noted among other descendants of Portuguese and Spanish Jews who were forced to hide their identities. [Link]

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not Enough Characters at Your Reunion? (Warning: obnoxious music) lets kids combine their two favorite activities: learning about family history and supporting the Japanese toy-making industry.

It's time to start thinking about planning your summer family reunion and what better way to do it than by researching your family tree so you know who to invite! Celebrating the new Familitchi V5, the newest version of the highly popular Tamagotchi Connection toy, provides kids the chance to create family trees of everyone's favorite Tamagotchi characters as well as collect hidden family heirlooms. With help from partners Family Tree Magazine and, kids can create a personalized family tree online and learn fun tips on planning their very own family reunion party. But the fun doesn't end there! Finding 20 family heirlooms will give one lucky kid the chance to win an Ultimate Tamagotchi Family Reunion for 25 family members with a special appearance from the special and fun Tamagotchi characters. [Link]
If "special and fun Tamagotchi characters" show up at my family reunion, they better know how to perform a keg stand. Oh, and some of my older relatives might demand an apology for Pearl Harbor.

Friday, April 18, 2008

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Dead Husband

Language Log today has an interesting post on the language of the Carrier people of British Columbia. With the arrival of a Francophone priest in 1865, and the subsequent influence of English speakers, their names changed.

There are a few family names of Carrier origin. There are a great many people named “Ketlo”, which is the anglicization of /ketloh/ (English speakers can’t hear the final /h/), which is the contracted form of /ke dʌtloh/ “squishy shoes”. The progenitor of the family was called by this nickname because he was always getting his feet wet.

As I mentioned, the idea of having both a given name and a family name was an innovation of the late 19th century, and to Carrier people it wasn’t terribly clear which was which or how they were passed on. As a result, some children would take their father’s first name as their family name and some the second. The little village of K’uzche, for example, is populated mostly by people named either “William” or “Austin”. They are actually the same family: the patriarch was named “William Austin”.
Wikipedia offers this account of how the Dakelh came to be called "Carriers":
According to noted anthropologist Antonia Mills, the term "Carrier" was derived from the mortuary tradition of carrying the husband's ashes back to the main traditional village site, where a potlatch would be held acknowledging the passing of the individual and dealing with redistributing his property. Which would make sense when considering seasonal movements and the need to bring the ashes back to the village as proof.

An Extended Holiday

There are two theories how the Christmas Mountains in Texas got their name. One says that the peaks resembled a line of Christmas trees. The other rests upon a local legend that really should involve cannibalism.

Local folklore has it that an area ranch family decided to spend the Thanksgiving holidays camping in the mountains and got smacked by a freak blizzard that prevented the family from escaping until Christmas.
The property officially shows up as "Christmas Mountains" in the 1918 Corps of Engineers U.S. Army topographic map and also on the 1904 University of Texas Mineral Survey Map completed by Hill and Udden, according to General Land Office officials.

The land commissioner believes "the family story sounds more plausible than the Christmas trees from a distance story." Christmas trees weren't even introduced to Texas until the middle 1800s, and they didn't become common until the 1920s, he said. [Link]

Thursday, April 17, 2008

If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Police Station

Curt Garfield's grandfather Seneca Hall was the first police chief of Sudbury, Mass.

Standing in his yard on Boston Post Road, Hall would watch for speeders by seeing how quickly the car passed stripes painted on telephone poles, Garfield writes in "The Parson's Cat."

"Once he was sure that his victim was over the limit, he would sound a blast on his police whistle. The yahoo in question would generally screech to a stop as grandfather put on his hat, pulled his ticket book from the bib pocket of his overall and proceed to write out a speeding violation."
When asked what the police station looked like when he was a boy, Garfield had no problem recalling.

"It was our kitchen." [Link]

How Many Teaspoons in a Jelly Glass?

If your grandmother measures ingredients in pinches and smidgens, here's a way to record her recipes for posterity.

Get out the camcorders and film them making those recipes in person. Have them show you just how to do it, so even if they don't have measurements, you can zoom in and see that it's a "jelly glass full of water" added to the pot. Or you fold the dough in thirds, then flip it "like this."

At the very least, have a tape recorder with you so you can capture their voices telling about the food and when they first ate it, or relating that story that goes along with it. The more details you can get, the better. [Link]
And then buy some of these.

Blogger Exonerates SSDI

Kevin Poulsen at Threat Level reports on a case where someone used the SSDI to steal identities.

Tracy June Kirkland, 42, allegedly used to find the names, Social Security numbers and dates-of-birth of people who, shall we say, had no further need for their consumer credit lines. She then "would randomly call various credit card companies to determine if the deceased individual had an … account," according to the 15-count indictment (.pdf) filed in federal court in Los Angeles Tuesday.

She'd then persuade the issuer to change the mailing address for the dead victim to one of her many rented mail drops in Orange and Riverside counties, and in some cases she'd add her own name as an authorized user of the card, prosecutors say.

At least 100 of the dearly departed were allegedly used in the scheme, which prosecutors say began in October, 2005 and continued until last month.
Poulsen went to the trouble of actually asking folks at the SSA and Rootsweb how the SSDI works—unlike the MSM journalists I wrote about here, here, and here. He found that the fault in the Kirkland case lies not with the SSDI itself, but with the lenders who didn't use it correctly. In the words of Rootsweb spokesman Mike Ward, "The reason the Social Security Administration has it out there is to prevent fraud, and when it's used to perpetrate fraud it's because not all the checks and balances were in place on the financial institution's end."

Sheiky Lineages

If you're relying on an Arab sheik to fill in the blanks of your family history, make sure he cites his sources.

"They will tell you these enormously fanciful genealogical stories that trace everyone back to one guy who was the ancestor of them all," said retired Col. Patrick Lang, formerly the Defense Intelligence Agency's regional director for the Middle East. "Sometimes they just invent these things. Sometimes families get associated with a tribe and convince themselves that they, too, are descended from this original ancestor."

A tribe is formally defined as a "segmentary lineage," a kinship network organized by branching lines of descent from a common ancestor, with the most-direct male-line descendants holding the greatest prestige. But anthropologists are quick to note that such kinships are often hazy or even fictitious, projected onto the past to justify practical arrangements in the present. [Link]

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Well, He Did Write the History of the World

The 2008 Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards will be handed out tomorrow morning. Once again, I've been passed over. Apparently you have to have accomplished something worthwhile in your life to even be considered.

The 2008 Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards Honorees:

Mary Higgins Clark — The Bronx-born bestselling suspense writer has sold over 85 million books in the U.S. alone and credits her Irish heritage for her storytelling talent. Mrs. Higgins Clark’s newest novel is “Where Are You Now?”. Her father came from Ireland in 1906.

The Forbes Family — “Forbes,” the oldest of the nation’s major business magazines, was founded in 1917 by Scottish immigrant B.C. Forbes, who first arrived in America in 1904. B.C.’s descendants continue to manage Forbes Media Inc., a privately held company which publishes “Forbes” in eight foreign languages, reaching five million readers worldwide.

Donna E. Shalala — President, University of Miami, Dr. Shalala has more than 25 years of experience as an accomplished scholar, teacher and administrator. Under President Clinton, she served eight years as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, becoming the longest serving HHS Secretary in U.S. history. Her paternal grandfather came from Lebanon in 1900.

Mel Brooks — Director, producer, writer and actor, Mel Brooks has created many comedy film classics as well as the popular television show “Get Smart.” His latest project is “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein” currently playing on Broadway. His father emigrated from Austria as a child in 1896.

There's Only One Chicken in Alaska

Drawn from Donald Orth's 1967 Dictionary of Alaska Place Names:

Mishap Creek, aka Big Loss Creek, is Unimak Island stream named for a lighthouse keeper who stripped naked to cross the water, then tried to throw his clothes to the other side, only to watch helplessly as they landed downstream and disappeared.

There's Chicken, an old mining town established during the Klondike Gold Rush. A detailed history of the name is not in Orth's dictionary, but according to oft-told lore, miners wanted to call the community Ptarmigan after a bird common to the area, but no one knew how to spell it. So they settled on Chicken, since miners also called ptarmigans "tundra chickens."

Atlasta Creek was inspired by a remark uttered by the wife of the owner of a nearby roadhouse after the first building was completed: "At last a house."

Lost Temper Creek, an Arctic Slope stream, was named over a "camp incident." [Link]
[via Neatorama]


Check out these childhood photo recreations at Ze Frank's Color Wars 2008. My favorite childhood photo is of me getting my first bath in the kitchen sink. I'm off to buy a tripod and a bigger sink.

[via kottke]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Genealogist Has a Novel Idea

Karen Harrington's interest in genealogy led her to write Janeology—a novel that comes with its own pedigree chart.

Jane, a loving mother of two, has drowned her toddler son and is charged with his murder in this powerful examination of love, loss, and family legacy. When a prosecutor decides Jane's husband Tom is partially to blame for the death and charges him with "failure to protect," Tom's attorney proposes a radical defense. He plans to create reasonable doubt about his client's alleged guilt by showing that Jane's genealogy is the cause of her violence, and that she inherited her latent violence in the same way she might inherit a talent for music or a predisposition to disease. He argues that no one could predict or prevent the tragedy, and that Tom cannot be held responsible.

With the help of a woman gifted with the power of retrocognition—the ability to see past events through objects once owned by the deceased—the defense theory of dark biology takes form. An unforgettable journey through the troubled minds and souls of eight of Jane's ancestors (named below), spanning decades and continents, this debut novel deftly illustrates the ways nature and nurture weave the fabric of one woman's life, and renders a portrait of one man left in its tragic wake.

Challenge #125 Update

The last Challenge was a hard one, so let me give you another clue:

The question perhaps should have been phrased "What was Bob's family connection to the town?" Say, prior to 1977.

Fergie Not Full-Bred Enough to Represent

We already knew that pop star Fergie descended from sheep thieves. Now we learn from Latina magazine that she has Hispanic ancestry as well.

“Yes, I have Mexican in my ancestry,” said Fergie. “My Dad's grandmother was born in Guanajuato. I’m very proud of it; that’s probably where I get my fire! I’m mostly Scottish-Irish, though.”
So, why all the ambiguity around her latinidad before, you might ask? “I don’t go around claiming it big time,” the singer explained, “because there are many more full-bred Latinas that are out there to represent.” [Link]

Monday, April 14, 2008

145-Year-Old Book Finally Released

Joyce Yarde bought a copy of The Siege of Kenilworth that once belonged to Union soldier J.C. Sample.

When curiosity about the book’s plot led Yarde to turn a few pages into it, she found an inscription penned by Sample in 1863.

“Captured from the Blount House Little Washington North Carolina in June 1863,” the inscription reads. It is signed “J.C. Sample Corps G 168 P.V.I.”
That sent Yarde, a self-professed history buff, on a quest to return the “captured” property in her possession to its rightful owner, if one were living and if she could find him or her. She Googled “Little Washington, North Carolina” and came up with Blount Rumley, director of the N.C. Estuarium. A few weeks of e-mail correspondence ensued and, confident that she had at least found someone who could point her and the book in the right direction, she mailed the book to Rumley. [Link]

That's a Long Time to Be a Woman

Kathryn Larcher spotted this in the World Wide Words newsletter of March 8th:

On visiting the Daily Telegraph Web site Ian Harrison encountered this sentence in a report dated 5 March: "Historians have been kept guessing over claims Dr James Barry, Inspector General of Military Hospitals, was in fact a woman for more than 140 years." I can see the slogan already, "Transvestism: keeps you living longer".
Getting past the hard-to-parse lede, this is actually a pretty interesting article. Evidence suggests that James Barry was in fact Margaret Ann Bulkley.
Key evidence came from around two dozen letters, some written by Margaret as a teenager and others by Barry the student doctor.

Alison Reboul, a document analysis expert with the Forensic Science Service, has concluded they were written by the same person. Another newly-discovered letter was written by Barry to the family solicitor Daniel Reardon on "his" arrival in Edinburgh to study medicine in 1809.

Although the letter was signed 'James Barry', Reardon had written on the outside 'Miss Bulkley, 14th December’. "Reardon was a meticulous man," said du Preez.

"On the outside of all the letters he received he wrote the date and the name of the sender. You can't get much more conclusive than that."

A Dramatic Discovery

While researching her autobiography, Helen Mirren discovered that she was born to perform.

"I think it has to be genetic. One of my Russian ancestors started the first theatre in Russia, a serf theatre on his estate in the 18th century. It was one of the very first formal theatres.

"But my mother was a huge drama queen, so it could have come from her side of the family also." [Link]

A Vanished Village

Today's Washington Post has a fascinating story about a unique Polish town.

Trochenbrod, founded in the early 19th century as a way for Jews to avoid long mandatory service in the Russian army, was one of a kind. While there were large Jewish communities in many cities and tiny Jewish farming villages scattered across Eastern Europe, Trochenbrod was an all-Jewish town the likes of which had not existed since ancient times.
The town prospered until the Soviets invaded in 1939, followed two years later by the Germans.
A handful of skilled tradesmen were taken to other towns by the Germans and worked to death or executed. A Jewish historian writing in April 1945, shortly before Germany surrendered, said only 33 of the town's residents were still alive by the end of 1944. By then, the town had returned to Soviet control.

The survivors had nothing to return to. Germans and Ukrainians had burned some of the buildings in the village. Other houses had been looted, disassembled and destroyed by partisans and farmers in the area. After the war, the Soviets bulldozed what remained and turned the land into a collective farm.

Trochenbrod had ceased to exist. [Link]

The FBI Doesn't Like Wise Guys

Eberhard Fuhr was locked up for four years during World War II. His crime? Being German in America.

FBI agents arrested and handcuffed the high school senior six weeks before graduation in front of classmates and teachers. [His brother] Julius was picked up later that day.

"I never returned to school," Fuhr wrote in a 2006 online memoir. "I lost not only belongings in my school locker, but my dignity."
"What would you say to your German cousin if he came to you for sanctuary after coming up the Ohio River in his German U-boat?" he remembers being asked by one of his interrogators.

"I said a sub couldn't come up the Ohio River — it only drafts 4 feet," Fuhr recalls. "I guess I was being a smart guy. It went downhill from there." [Link]

They Abhorred Hoarding

Model Jodie Kidd's great-grandfather was a shipping tycoon and a baronet. He was also a convicted food hoarder.

In the final year of the Great War the Government introduced strict food rationing. Food cards were issued to everyone, including the King and the hoarding of food had become a serious offence carrying heavy penalties.

The Tyne and Wear Archives holds Gosforth Urban District Council records and specifically those of the Gosforth Local Food Control Committee 1917-1919, including the Profiteering Committee minutes, which details the conviction of one Rowland Frederick William Hodge for food hoarding in 1918.

Chief archivist Liz Rees explains: “We weren’t aware of the scandal. We knew his name and we knew that the shipyard had closed but we didn’t know the story behind it.” [Link]

Columnist's Crossing Confirmed

Cape Breton Post columnist Rannie Gillis recently wrote of a childhood trip to the U.S. One of his readers thought his story needed documentation.

It was only two weeks ago — Monday March 31 — when I received the following e-mail. “Hello Rannie, I was just reading your column “Columnist relives bus trip to Boston when he was a toddler” and thought you might like a souvenir of that trip. Here are the United States border crossing cards for you, your brother and your mother. I enjoy reading your column. Regards: Juanita MacDonald, Whycocomagh.”

Enclosed, as attachments, were scanned images of three United States Custom’s border crossing cards. The cards, dated August 3, 1946, appeared to be a little bit larger than a traditional recipe card and contained a wealth of personal information on myself, my brother and my mother.

As this was the same day that my column about travelling from Sydney to Boston on a bus appeared, you can well imagine my shock and surprise at receiving this very personal information and from an unknown woman in Whycocomagh, of all places. [Link]
Yes,'s Canada to U.S. Border Crossings database is available even in Whycocomagh.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #125

I just ordered tickets to see Bob Dylan next month, so here's a challenge in his honor.

Kennett Square Borough, Pennsylvania, is The Mushroom Capital of the World.

What's Bob's family connection to the town?

Update: Another clue.

Update: We have an answer.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Buster's Claim Doesn't Pass Muster

If 101-year-old runner Pierre "Buster" Martin reaches the finish line tomorrow in London, he would be the oldest person ever to complete a marathon. Assuming he really is 101.

Guinness officials said Friday that they did not consider Martin eligible for the record because he had never provided proof that he is 101.

A review by The Times of the documents Martin offered as proof of his age reveals that none were obtained with anything more than his own assertion that he was born Sept. 1, 1906, in France. The certificate of naturalization he provided was issued by the Home Office on Friday, based on an application made Thursday, when The Times first made inquiries.

"At the very least, there's no birth certificate. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors," said Robert Young, an independent senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records, though he was not speaking on behalf of the organization. Young said his sources had told him that Martin had two birth dates registered with the government: Sept. 1, 1906, and Sept. 1, 1913, which would make him 94. [Link]

Hey Lydia, Guess Who Likes You!

Each year (usually around Valentine's Day) elementary-school students in Haverhill, Mass., pass on a message from a former pupil.

Yesterday morning the students descended on the historic Walnut Cemetery and remembered schoolboy emotions that ran through the heart of Haverhill's favorite son, John Greenleaf Whittier, when he was around their age.

It has become a tradition in Haverhill with local students gathering around the gravestone of Lydia Ayer to recite a poem by Whittier recalling his childhood sweetheart and a moment following a school spelling bee when she confesses, "I'm sorry that I spelt the word: I hate to go above you, because — the brown eyes lower fell — because, you see, I love you!" [Link]

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Was Leonardo the Son of a Slave?

Leonardo da Vinci is known to have been the illegitimate son of Piero da Vinci and a woman named Caterina. Evidence has emerged that Caterina was not a run-of-the-mill peasant girl, as was previously thought.

Now, 30-year-old research conducted by the late director of the Leonardo Library, published by his son Francesco, suggests a completely different scenario.

"Archival research has shown that there isn't any Caterina in Vinci or nearby villages that can be linked to Ser Piero. The only Caterina in Piero's life seems to be a slave girl who lived in the house of his wealthy friend Vanni di Niccolo di Ser Vanni," Cianchi wrote.
The claim is supported by recent research suggesting the Italian genius was of Arabic descent, following analysis of his fingerprint.

"It was common in Renaissance Florence to own slaves from the Middle East and the Balkans. At the time of Leonardo's birth there were more than 550 slaves in Florence, meaning that all the wealthy families had slaves in their houses. The girls were baptized and renamed. The most popular names were Maria, Marta and Caterina," Agnese Sabato said. [Link]

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Using GPS to Find an Outhouse

Today's genealogy-related post allows me to recommend to you the excellent Twelve Mile Circle blog. Among other things, it offers advice on how to find a bathroom at Old World Wisconsin.

Duke Might Get Promoted

The last king of Scotland might not be Forest Whitaker after all. It might be the Duke of Bavaria, Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern.

The 74-year-old German aristocrat is the blood descendant of the 17th-century King Charles I.

And with talks of repealing the 1701 Act of Settlement, the ban on Catholics on the throne will be removed.

Ditching the Act, which many Catholics perceive as a historic injustice, would technically make the duke the rightful heir to the British Crown under the Stuart line.

And that, hypothetically, would open the way for him to become King of Scotland AND England. [Link]

A Wife by Any Other Name...

Shakespeare was married to both Ann Hathaway and Agnes Gardner of Shottery. At the same time!

The only evidence that Richard Hathaway alias Gardner of Shottery had a daughter called Ann is a reference in his will to a daughter called Agnes. Scholars have demonstrated convincingly that in this period Agnes and Ann were simply treated as versions of the same name, pointing out dozens of examples where Agnes, pronounced 'Annis', gradually becomes 'Ann'. Richard Hathaway left a sheep to a great-niece he calls Agnes, though according to the parish record she was actually christened Annys; in 1600 she was buried as Ann. Theatre manager Philip Henslowe called his wife Agnes in his will but she was buried as Ann. Ann's brother Bartholomew called a daughter Annys, but she was buried as Ann. The curate William Gilbert alias Higgs who wrote Hathaway's will married Agnes Lyncian, but she was buried as Ann Gilbert. This is not simply serendipitous. Agnes was the name of a fourth-century virgin martyr of the kind whose lurid and preposterous adventures are the stuff of The Golden Legend, justly ridiculed by protestant reformers. Ann (or Hannah) was the solid biblical name of the Redeemer's grandmother. It is only to be expected that as protestantism gained hearts and minds Agnes would be silently driven out by Ann. We may accept that the child born Agnes Hathaway grew up to be Ann Shakespeare. [Link]

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

How to Invent a Relative

Genealogical research can be really, really hard, but I've found a way to make it easy and fun. The trick is to create your relatives from scratch.

  1. Give him a name — To avoid suspicion, don't use silly made-up names like "Kiefer" or "Barack."
  2. Grab a picture of somebody else and make it look old — "Hey, my great-grandfather looked like Jack Nicholson!"
  3. Borrow some good anecdotes — "Remember the time he shared a hot tub with Kissinger?"
  4. Write fake news items about him — A couple of wedding announcements, an article on his DUI arrest and an obituary will put flesh on his artificial bones.
  5. Give him a proper burial — You don't want this guy showing up at reunions, so make sure he's good and dead!
Update: Terry Thornton has shown incredibly poor judgment by actually following my advice.

Everything He Knows About Hyman Victor

Everything I Know About Hyman Victor got a coveted kottke link today. The content isn't revolutionary, but the mode of presentation is great.

(Note: Hyman has shown up here before.)

Think Before You Name a Child 'Iona'

And the winner of the Worst Bad Name Contest is ... Iona Knipl.

The judges chose it because, in addition to being an embarrassing pun, it also set up an inevitable reply from people imagining they were being wittily original. I called up Miss Knipl and asked her how many times she had heard someone meet her and reply, “I own two.”

“I got sick of hearing it, but what can you do?” Miss Knipl said. “My mother never thought about that when she was naming me. It was her mother’s name. I came home from school a couple times crying and my mother said, ‘Oh, why did I do that?’ but it had never occurred to her how people would hear the name.”

Monday, April 07, 2008

One Skull Too Many

Anthropologists have exhumed three relatives of German playwright and poet Friedrich Schiller in hopes of positively identifying which of two skulls is his.

The mystery surrounding the skulls began in 1826, 21 years after Schiller died in Weimar, when the local mayor had 23 skulls retrieved from a mass grave in which the poet was buried. Many eminent people at that time were buried in mass graves.

The mayor identified the largest skull as Schiller's and it was brought to the home of his contemporary Goethe, who wrote a poem about it, according to German scholar Albrecht Schoene.

In 1911, another skull was disinterred from the mass grave which researchers claimed was the real one. [Link]

David Wilson? Meet David Wilson

Meeting David Wilson premieres April 11 on MSNBC.

David Wilson, a 28-year-old African-American journalist, journeys into his family’s past to find answers to America’s racial divide. Along the way he meets another David Wilson, the descendant of his family’s slave master. This discovery leads to a momentous encounter between these two men of the same name but whose ancestors were on the opposite sides of freedom. Through DNA testing, David determines his African roots and returns to his native land. [Link]

Genealogue Challenge #124

Neil Richler thought this might make a good challenge. I agree.

[A] man named Leigh Wilkinson Metcalf joined the Department of Highways in Grimsby, Ontario and became a bike cop. He sadly died on duty at the age of 26, when his cycle was involved in a head-on collision.

Now, more than 80 years later, the Ontario government is planning to honour the fallen officer, but officials have a major problem - after so many years, they can't find any survivors.
What can you find out about Leigh's family?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

She Saw Nothing Wrong With Tobacco Juice

Brian Tingley's entry in TierneyLab's Best Weird-Name Story Contest:

The Gazette was a bi-weekly publication of the Government of the Province of Saskatchewan in Canada. It contained the official notification of new legislation pending, laws passed, hearings scheduled, and so on. What made it most interesting was the list of proposed name changes. If you planned to change your name, the old and new names had to be published in the Gazette.

So there it was that I saw Thelma Jean Tobacco Juice had applied to change her name. The poor woman. How she must have been the subject of ridicule through her growing up years. But she seemed to have missed the point. Her new name… Mary Elizabeth Tobacco Juice.

What Ever Became of Evelyn?

Joe Manning (see this post) is now looking for info on Evelyn Casey, a mill worker photographed by Lewis Wickes Hine on June 17, 1916. The Fall River (Mass.) Historical Society thinks it's found the right family.

There were nine people in the Casey household, including parents Michael, 39, and Johanna, 38. Michael Casey was a janitor at the Coughlin School.

Siblings included Francis, Margaret, Edward, Angela, Joseph and Mary.
Evelyn Casey continued to be listed in city directories as a weaver living with her parents until 1922, when she may have married and taken her husband’s last name.

Are the Evelyn Casey in the photo and the Evelyn Casey in the records the same woman?

It’s a good bet, but there’s probably someone out there who knows for sure. If Evelyn Casey was born in 1902 and died at 70, then some daughter or grandson remembers her dying in 1972. [Link]

Can't Argue With That Logic

This remarkable news was reported in Successful Farming magazine:

AFTER digging to a depth of 10 yards last year, New York scientists found traces of copper wire 100 years old. This showed their ancestors already had a phone network more than a century ago.

NOT to be outdone by New Yorkers, California scientists dug down 20 yards in their state. A Los Angeles Times headline announced: ‘California archaeologists find 200-year-old copper wire — sign of an advanced high-tech network 100 years before New York.’

A WEEK later, the Ames Tribune in Iowa reported: ‘After digging 300 yards down in cornfields near here, self-taught archaeologist Ole Johnson reports finding nothing. Johnson concludes that 300 years ago, Iowa had already gone wireless. [Link]

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Junkyard Genealogy

After reading this post, Megan wrote to remind me of another wreck that led to a reunion.

Loretta Lucero of Albuquerque, New Mexico wrote to me about a photo her husband found. Because it was warped from moisture, she wasn’t able to scan it, but she provided a number of details that were written on the back:

Grandmother Mary Ellen Brown, born Aug 14, 1898, died Jan 30, 1987. Married to Septimus Brown. Children: Buena Anitia, James Edward, Dawthy Meril, Bobby Lee, N. Mae, Billy Jean.

I was mildly intrigued, but it was Loretta’s closing remark that really piqued my interest:

“My husband works in a junkyard in Albuquerque and found it in a car. We are very much addicted to genealogy and photos, and I know this picture must have meant something to the person who owned it. The car it was found in was a wrecked Legacy.”

She had me at “junkyard.”

I Hope His Application Wasn't Denied

Ryan Thomas Grace (now a patent attorney) proposed to his girlfriend in 2003 by way of patent application:

40. The method of claim 37 wherein at least one claim of the patent application recites:
“Ellie I've been in love with you for the last five years. I've known this since the day we met and the time we've spent together since that day has only made me realize this fact more. You have been by my side in every way a person could possibly hope and I would like nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you please marry me?”
41. The method of claim 37, wherein at least one claim of the patent application recites “Ellie if you will marry me, after reading the remainder of this patent application, open the other envelope and tell the limousine driver to take you to the airport.”

Friday, April 04, 2008

I Guess Gertrude Was Done With It

Part of Lilian Walters' headstone was found by her daughters to have been recycled.

The marble base had once been a gravestone to 'Gertrude' with the words, 'dearly loved wife of Albert Birkinshaw died Sep 2 1952 aged 41 years'. [Link]

Wreck Leads to Reunion

Myrt grabbed this one before I could find it.

Jason Pateman, aged 38, from Milton Road North, Kingsley, was using the toilet when a car crashed into his newly-built extension causing him much distress.

His wife, Darleen, called the police and when they came round the next day, Mr Pateman recognised one of the officers immediately.

He said: "I saw her face and I knew straight away it was my cousin Charlotte.

"The last time I saw her was at a family event in 1993." [Link]

I Suppose It's Better Than 'Butter'

Nancy Bovy spotted this little girl in the Missouri Death Certificates.

A little research turns up an Oleomargarine Fristoe, born in 1922, who married in Jackson County, Missouri, in 1965.

Why did Missourians around 1920 name kids after fake butter? Maybe because oleomargarine was for many years an illicit substance, but started to gain wide popular acceptance during and after World War I. Missouri seems to have been the first state to ban margarine, in 1881. A later statute prohibited the manufacture or sale of any substance "in imitation or semblance of natural butter," or which "resemble[d] yellow or any shade of genuine yellow butter." Other states went so far as to require that margarine be colored bright pink, so that consumers would not mistakenly think it was edible. My mother, born in 1944, remembers adding yellow coloring to white margarine when she was a girl. Only after Congress passed the Margarine Act of 1950 were companies allowed to sell the yellow sticks of oleo we know and love today.

But They Can Still Date

Preschoolers can no longer marry in Arkansas.

A law that mistakenly allowed anyone — even toddlers — to marry with parental permission was repealed by a measure signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mike Beebe, ending months of embarrassment for the state and confusion for county clerks.

Lawmakers didn't realize until after the end of last year's regular session that a law they approved, intended to establish 18 as the minimum age for marriage, instead removed the minimum age to marry entirely. An extraneous "not" in the bill allowed anyone who was not pregnant to marry at any age with permission. [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Where the Boys (and the Girls) Are

I wrote a year ago about a map showing the distribution of men and women in America in 1890. Compare that map (taken from the David Rumsey Collection) to Richard Florida's Singles Map of the United States, based on 2006 Census Bureau data. Overlaying one map with the other (as I've clumsily done below) shows that things haven't changed much in 116 years. Men still predominate in the West; women still outnumber men in the East. And I still can't get a date.

It's About Time Somebody Cleaned That Up

Archaeologists have found 14,300-year-old fossilized feces in a cave in Oregon.

DNA analysis of the dried excrement shows the people who lived in the caves were closely related to modern Native Americans. Their genetic roots reach across the Bering Strait to Siberia and eastern Asia.

"These are probably the ancestors of some of the Native Americans living in America now," said Eske Willerslev, director of the Centre for Ancient Genetics at the University of Copenhagen. [Link]
I'm not sure that I would want to know if my DNA matched dried excrement.

Clooney Gives Could-Be Cousin the Cold Shoulder

Dustin Madala had always heard he was related to Rosemary Clooney, and by implication to her nephew George. Dustin managed to talk his way onto the set of Clooney's new movie, Leatherheads, and had a word with the actor. Seven words, actually.

Madala introduced himself to Clooney and said, “Rumor has it I’m related to you.”

According to Madala, Clooney replied “Oh, really?” and that was the extent of their conversation. [Link]

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

He Was Clearly a Pampered Child

Maureen Taylor has taken up the challenge I posed here.

This kid's an optimist. His diaper is falling down and he's got to be uncomfortable, BUT he's happy. It's great to see a nineteenth century picture with someone with a full grin. Doesn't happen very often.
Maureen's figured out that the photo was taken "as early as the 1890s," but asks for help researching the photographer. Drop a comment on her blog if you can lend a hand.

Antarctic Ancestry, and More!

This issue of Family Tree Magazine is sure to be a collectors' edition.

SSINF (So Stupid It's Not Funny)

The Daily Mail reports that the popularity of text messaging is influencing the naming of children.

Anne has been changed to An, Connor to Conna and Laura to Lora.

There were reportedly six boys who were named Cam'ron instead of Cameron, and according to the online parenting club Bounty, one girl born last month was born Flicity.
John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that it was possible that new mothers and fathers had lost the ability to spell forenames.

He added: "Some of it is genuine misspelling; some is parents looking for a unique way to spell a name and some is just carelessness." [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Will Genealogy Ever Recover?

If your Lolcat allergies start acting up this week when you visit your favorite genealogy blogs, blame Janice.

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