Friday, August 29, 2008

A Bomb in the Bedroom

After 40 years, a man in England decided that it might not be safe to keep a live World War I shell in his bedroom.

Police evacuated his neighbours in Abbeydale, Gloucester, while experts retrieved the bomb.

The man told officers it was a family heirloom which he had played with as a child.

He said: "To be honest I'm a little embarrassed about the whole thing." [Link]

Grandma Broke the Law

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer tells of a poor Irish girl whose planned emigration to America was canceled after a man proposed marriage.

In her place, her 17-year-old sister, Hannah Friel, took over the passport and entered Ellis Island illegally.

"They looked at her passport, saw she had red hair and freckles, so they let her in," Schweitzer said.

Friel nearly starved after arriving in New York in 1909. An Irish family took her in. Then she heard about a free train ride to Montana, where she could acquire 320 acres of land to homestead. So she went on her own to the Big Sky. She settled, later married and raised five children.

"To the folks in Washington, D.C., who are anti-immigration and are telling Hispanics here illegally to go back home, I say, 'You would have sent the governor of Montana's grandmother back to County Cork, Ireland," Schweitzer said. [Link]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #137

Randy blogged about some World War II letters found in a trash can in California. A local newspaper is posting scans of the letters, and is asking for help in locating relatives.

What can you find out about Claude and Nadine (while respecting the privacy of any children they might have)?

Genealogy Hack: Feeding eBay

Jennifer at Rainy Day Genealogy Readings explains how to monitor eBay listings from your feed reader.

If you're particularly interested in a certain city, state or area, checking ebay on occasion is a good move, as interesting photos, postcards, letters, even newspapers, magazines and other historic items often appear up for sale on the site. Even if you're not interested in purchasing the items, just browsing can be a rewarding experience.

Since we're all about being automated and having our content come to us, let's subscribe to an RSS feed for our ebay search!
Good advice. I have eBay subscriptions set up for my primary surnames and place names, and have found several cool items. This 1949 pinup calendar advertises the radio shop of my paternal grandfather's cousin. My father remembers going to his shop as a kid with a broken Philco and being told that it was "inferior merchandise" and not worth fixing. If the picture on the calendar were a little racier, I'd consider buying it.

His Things To Do Didn't All Get Done

Dave Freeman, co-author of 100 Things to Do Before You Die, has died at 47 after a fall at his home.

"This life is a short journey," the book says. "How can you make sure you fill it with the most fun and that you visit all the coolest places on earth before you pack those bags for the very last time?"

Freeman's relatives said he visited about half the places on his list before he died, and either he or [co-author Neil] Teplica had been to nearly all of them. [Link, via kottke]

Finding Biden's Kith and Kin

I've been doing some digging into Joe Biden's ancestry, but of course Megan has beaten me to the punch (I only tracked the Finnegans back as far as Rochester).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

That Was the End of Zimmerman

In his autobiography, Bob Dylan refers just once to the name he was born with:

As far as Bobby Zimmerman goes, I'm going to give this to you straight and you can check out. One of the early presidents of the San Bernadino Angels was Bobby Zimmerman, and he was killed in 1964 on the Bass Lake run. The muffler fell off his bike, he made a U-turn to retrieve it in front of the pack and was instantly killed. That person is gone. That was the end of him.
So, I checked it out. Turns out, he was right about everything but the year. Robert Anthony Zimmerman, born 13 Jan. 1941 in San Bernardino County, California (the death index says 1940), died 3 Sept. 1961 after a motorcycle accident at Bass Lake. This was just a few weeks before the name "Bob Dylan" first appeared in the New York Times (pdf).

They Were Out for Blood

Spectators were hoping to see blood when an 1896 time capsule was opened Monday in Quincy, Mass.

A 1952 article in the Quincy Patriot Ledger told how dignitaries signed their names in ox blood, while 3,000 citizens and bigwigs dedicated the cairn to mark the spot where Abigail Adams and 7-year-old John Quincy Adams watched the Battle of Bunker Hill more than a century-and-three-quarters before.

“Here it is,” whispered Quincy Historian Thomas Galvin, as he and Edward Fitzgerald, the historical society’s executive director, withdrew it from the box and untied a red ribbon to unwrap it.

It turns out, the signatures were painted in some sort of indelible ink – a good thing, because ox blood might not have lasted, some said. [Link]

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #136

Music producer Jerry Wexler, who coined the term "rhythm and blues," died recently.

On what date did his parents marry?

Extra credit: On what date did his father arrive in America?

Posthumously Partisan

Carlock, Illinois, had one cemetery for Democrats, another for Republicans.

[I]f you look carefully enough in the Democratic cemetery, you'll find the grave of Abraham Carlock, the man who signed his checks "the Old Democrat."

He kept the title, even in death, as his monument reads: "Here sleeps the 'old Democrat.'" It's no surprise to learn that Carlock himself started the partisan cemetery trend after donating a parcel to the Christian Church in 1850.

His political rival, Phillip Benson, couldn't be outdone and donated land down the road. [Link]

Genealogue Challenge #135

Randy notes that Tim Pawlenty's ancestors have not been adequately vetted. Let's fill in some of the blanks.

What were the full names of Pawlenty's father's four grandparents?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Too Late to Share in the Estate

A court in Norway has ruled that a purported descendant of Norwegian king Haakon V Magnusson filed his request for an inheritance 679 years too late.

Jorn Lepsoey, 42, had written a letter to the court at the end of July demanding that a DNA sample be taken from the late king, whose embalmed remains lie beneath the Akershus fort in Oslo, to prove he was a descendant and had a right to his inheritance. The court documents gave no indication what he expected to inherit from the man who ruled over Norway from 1299 until his death in 1319. [Link]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I Wouldn't Stand For It

At his own request, Angel Pantoja Medina stood through his own three-day wake.

Dressed in a Yankees baseball cap and sunglasses, Pantoja was mourned by relatives while propped upright in his mother's living room.

His brother Carlos told the El Nuevo Dia newspaper the victim had long said he wanted to be upright for his own wake: "He wanted to be happy, standing." [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

That's "family," Not "Family"

Megan Gambino is an editorial assistant at Smithsonian magazine, and may or not be related to the infamous Mafia family.

Truth is, I don't entirely know. Some details lend themselves to speculation. My father was born in Ozone Park, Queens, which was the stamping ground of John J. Gotti, who seized control of the Gambino Family in the 1980s. And when my dad and the rest of the family (that's "family," not "Family") moved to Long Island in 1960, it was James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, the true-life Robert De Niro character in GoodFellas, who bought our house. Then too, my uncle goes by the name "Choppy" and is in the construction business. But despite the circumstantial evidence, this branch of the family tree is clean. (Choppy is "Choppy" because his sister couldn't pronounce Charles, his given name, when she was young.) If we're related to the crime family, it's distant. [Link]

Monday, August 18, 2008

Phony Photos

Modern technology allows us to remove unwanted people from our family photos, or to add someone the camera missed.

When [Chris Johnson] photographed a wedding for his girlfriend’s family in upstate New York a few years ago, he left a space at the end of a big group shot for one member who was unable to attend. They caught up with him months later, snapped a head shot, and Mr. Johnson used Photoshop to paste him into the wedding photo.

Now, he said, everyone knows it is phony, but “this faked photograph actually created the assumption — people kind of remember him as there.” [Link]
By the way, here's a photograph we found among my late grandmother's belongings. That's my great-grandfather Wallace Edgar Coolidge on the left, and his wife Mary Jane on the right holding my great-uncle Pete. Seated in the middle is Wallace's grandmother Jane, and right behind her is Teddy Roosevelt.

A Shoeless Coup Attempt

James Kimo Akahi claims descent from King Kamehameha I and calls himself "Majesty Akahi Nui, King of Hawaii." He and some of his followers broke into Honolulu's Iolani Palace on Friday. They planned to chain him to the throne.

But, Akahi said yesterday, the group couldn't find the throne room after breaking into the historic building.

Akahi, 67, of Haiku, Maui, said he had never been inside the palace until Friday -- Statehood Day -- when he and 22 others in a Hawaiian sovereignty group were arrested by state officers.

He said all members of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Nation, as they call themselves, removed their shoes and slipped on socks before entering the palace.

"We respect that place," he said yesterday in front of the palace. [Link]

Saturday, August 16, 2008

An Over-edited Obit

Al Turner discovered this example of why it's always best to find the original version of an obituary "copied" by other newspapers.

Well, here's the original text from a "home" paper.

"Mr. Larkin Turner, aged 110 years, died February 23, 1878. He, like the patriarch of old, waited for death 'having set his house in order'. When he felt the approach of death he settled himself firmly in his chair (refusing to lie down), and died sitting erect and without a struggle. He retained his senses to the last moment and died from no disease - nature exhausted. During his long life he had but one short attack of fever, having never taken a dose of medicine until that time, which was about the time he was at 100 years of age; - This he told us himself."

Now here's the other newspaper's edited version of the original obituary.

"Mr. Larkin Turner died in Meriwether county recently, aged one hundred and ten years. Until he was one hundred years old he had never taken a dose of medicine. This is probably the reason he died. People should always take medicine."

My Grandmother Had Atypical Genetics

The Genetic Map of Europe clearly shows that no one outside of Finland has ever willingly slept with a Finn.

The map ... identifies the existence of two genetic barriers within Europe. One is between the Finns (light blue, upper right) and other Europeans. It arose because the Finnish population was at one time very small and then expanded, bearing the atypical genetics of its few founders.

It's Only Trademark Infringement When the Other Guy Does It

Dean at Genlighten saw something familiar on's new Chinese-language site.

I was greeted by an attractive-looking tree logo (brown tree trunk with red leaves) with accompanying red type that looked faintly familiar — not from Ancestry’s existing sites — but from ours!
I hope that Millennia's legal team is paying attention.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves to 86 Wives

Mohammed Bello Abubaka of Nigeria has more than usual number of wives.

The former teacher and Muslim preacher, who lives in Niger State with his wives and at least 170 children, says he is able to cope only with the help of God.

"A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them," he told the BBC. [Link]
One of his brides explains that, "When you marry a man with 86 wives you know he knows how to look after them."

Monday, August 11, 2008

At the Right Weight at the Right Time

Hailey Jo Hauer was born with ten fingers, ten toes, and eight of everything else.

A Fergus Falls family is welcoming a baby girl born at 8:08 a.m. on the eighth day of August, weighing in at eight pounds, eight ounces. [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Their Family History Dates Back to the 1940s

Brothers Sid and Marty Krofft, who filled my childhood hours with such shows as "Land of the Lost" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters," have been living a lie.

Sid and Marty are supposedly fifth-generation puppeteers, dating to the opening of the Krofft Theater in the early 1700s in Athens, Greece. It is a truly amazing tale and cited in almost every article every written about them, and it’s the first line of their bio.

It is also not true. It was cooked up by a New York publicist in the 1940s. The brothers have carried it with them ever since, until Sid Krofft suddenly decided to clear his conscience in an interview for this story.

“It became a trap,” Sid explained, shaking his head. “I was telling Marty the other day how bad it is that some of his children even have heard it and believe it.” [Link]

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Give Me Slavery Or Give Me Death

In a petition found in the records of Madison County, Alabama, a free man of color named John Williams asked that he be made a "slave for life" of Thomas Douglass.

Such a petition suggests hopelessness about real freedom ever coming to Southern slaves or the possibility of cruel deception of an ignorant free black man. It may even have been a contrived publicity attempt to deceive the North about the preferences of Southern blacks. It perhaps simply addressed the horribly stark realities of life for some free blacks in the antebellum South. One motivation to become a slave for life was stipulated in the petition. Yet another can be inferred from the fact that Thomas Douglass had only four other slaves in 1860, and all of them were females, ages 22, 20, 18, and 13.

The main text of John Williams' petition was worded as follows: "having become satisfied that rights, liberties, and privileges exercised by free persons of color is (sic) mostly theoretical. Therefore, your petitioner, who is a free person of color and wedded to the South and being desirous to dwell and make the South his permanent place of residence has selected, under the act of the Legislature of the State of Alabama approved on February 25, 1860, Thomas Douglass as his owner and master. Wherefore your petitioner prays that his petition be accepted and filed, and that after due legal proceedings held in accordance with the act aforesaid, your petitioner be adjudged and decreed to be a slave for life of him, the said Thomas Douglass, and for such other relief as the case may require." [Link]
His request was denied.

Time to Pay His Tithes

David Glover discovered that Bill Gates has ancestral ties to the town of Halifax in Yorkshire.

His great grandfather 11 times removed is believed to have been Jonas Halstead, born in 1611, the son of a yeoman clothier from nearby Northowram.

The Halsteads were a Puritan family in the area and became increasingly disturbed about the direction the parish church in Halifax was taking.
So disturbed that Jonas ran off to the New World in 1635. Now the church is coming after his billionaire descendant.
Mr Glover, 52, a prominent member of the congregation, said: "I wrote to [Gates] at his home address telling him of my findings, and asking him, as a well-known and respected philanthropist, if he might like to make a donation to Halifax's ancient parish church." [Link]

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

From Pauper to Posh

Spice Girl Victoria "Posh" Beckham descends from a buddy of Karl Marx.

Beckham, born Victoria Adams, is the great-great-great-granddaughter of revolutionary and artist Carl Heinrich Pfaender, suggests Hans Mueller, a historian from the southwestern city of Heilbronn.
Pfaender took part in the failed communist revolution of 1848 and was forced to flee to London where he worked as a miniaturist and painter to make ends meet.

Mueller said: "He certainly didn't get rich doing it - his wife was buried in a pauper's grave." [Link]
He should have just joined a girl group and married a soccer player.

Genealogue Challenge #134

The Louvin Brothers were an influential singing duo who put out the awesomest album cover ever.

Who were the parents of their maternal grandfather?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Genealogy Makes Actress Binge and Not Bathe

Actress Patsy Kensit was upset to learn that her grandfather was a criminal.

"It hit me so hard, I stopped washing my hair and wearing make-up," she added.

"I was so depressed that I started binge-eating on burgers and pie and mash. I was so scared of how it was affecting me that I said, 'I can’t do this any more' and went home and locked myself away."
She later learned that another ancestor was a respected clergyman.
"When the vicar told me his work was so valuable that they were going to write a book about him, I felt a huge weight coming off my shoulders. It was an astonishing story," she said.

"That was the moment I stopped eating burgers and started washing my hair!" [Link]

Genealogue Challenge Update

Deb found some clues, but there's still no answer to the last Genealogue Challenge (which, I admit, was kind of tricky). The interview I linked to in the comments should point you in the right direction.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Family Hedge

Matthew D. Sallin wants to replace the family tree with the graphical radially-extending family hedge.

It's a combination between a social networking application (like Friendster) and a networking experiment using data visualization. It uses a "Hedge" metaphor rather then a tree metaphor: traditional family trees are vertically oriented, showing a direct line from your ancestors up to you in present day. Such trees are limited in scope because they only consider the direct bloodline that results in you, and siblings and their spouses and children are excluded from this view. Conversely, a family hedge is radially oriented, expanding in all directions. [Link]
The result looks like a fun project for the kids, using just a few old CDs and some wire.

Four Wives Is Plenty

A man in Saudi Arabia was arrested for having six wives. That's two over the limit.

The accused denies the women are all currently his wives and says he has divorced two of them.

Muslim men can keep up to four wives at a time under sharia, or Islamic law, which is applied in Saudi Arabia. [Link]

The Genealogical Menace

Jemima Lewis' grandmother believed that she was "as English as an Englishwoman could possibly be." But then a genealogist came to her door, pedigree in hand.

According to the family tree, her ancestors had come over on the boat with William the Conqueror.

"French!" gasped my scandalised grandmother. It was of no comfort to her that the stranger had also contrived, in the usual way, to link us to Prince Charles. The Windsors, being German, were even further beyond the pale.

The family tree was filed in the dustbin, and the hard-working stranger - thereafter only referred to as "That Menace" - was rewarded with a thunderous silence. At times, myths matter more than the facts. [Link]
Lewis concludes that genealogy, "with its insistence on proof and historical accuracy, is often antithetical to the oral traditions that bind us to the past." I would conclude that it is antithetical to bigotry and provincialism, and can be the source of fresh traditions that bind us to the past. But, to be honest, I do engage in genealogical research mostly just to scandalize old ladies.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Tampering With the Turkey

Genealogist Beverly J. Bartel remembers the four-legged turkeys of her youth:

We were four little kids younger than 6 years old, and all wanted a leg! Dad ingeniously and magically provided one each year — with four legs!

He would take the turkey's wings and sew them on behind the real legs and tell us, "see, you can each have a leg so don't fight." This worked until I went to school and saw a picture of a real turkey. [Link]

Friday, August 01, 2008

Their Third Will Be Barnaby

Jennifer Jones' kids are named Indiana and Dow.

The Port Deposit, Maryland, resident says Indiana got her name simply because her husband's family is from that state.

As for Dow Joseph Jones, there was serious talk of naming him Jack Ryan Jones, to keep the Harrison Ford theme. (Jack Ryan is the character Ford played in a series of action movies.) Instead, her husband named their son Dow on a dare while Jennifer was asleep in the hospital bed after giving birth. [Link]

Next Time, Ask First

Seen in my local paper:

Gerald R. "Jud" Wark, 70, died unexpectedly at his home without the family's permission of a heart attack on Wednesday, July 30. [Link]

A Larcenous Lineage

Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd descends from a sweet-toothed criminal and an underwear thief.

Researchers looking into Mr Rudd's family history discovered that his fourth great-grandfather, Thomas Rudd, was transported to Australia in 1801 to serve a seven-year sentence for "unlawfully acquiring a bag of sugar".

However, his crime is eclipsed by that of the prime minister's paternal fifth great-grandmother Mary Wade, a London street urchin who made a pittance by sweeping streets and begging.

In 1788, aged 12, she and an older girl coaxed an eight-year-old girl into a toilet where they relieved her of "her dress, petticoats, a linen tippet, and a cap and absconded". [Link]
The details of the dastardly deeds will be found here and here.

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