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Friday, October 31, 2008

Hey Little Girl, Wanna See My Tomb?

A Brazilian man named Freud de Melo suffers from taphephobia, the fear of being buried alive, so he built himself a special crypt.

Fresh outdoor air flows in through four vents from the chapel roof. Within reach of the coffin are two makeshift megaphones -- plastic cones attached to tubes running out through the wall.
Not everyone is impressed.
On a recent Saturday, Mr. de Melo came upon a couple with their young daughter who were looking at the nativity scene. "Look, the wise men have gifts for baby Jesus!" the mother said to the girl. Mr. de Melo pounced on the family. "How would you like to tour my famous tomb?" he asked. "It's impossible to be buried alive there."

The little girl's face suddenly wrinkled up like a prune. Her mother led her away. [Link]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama's Auntie Found in Beantown

Barack Obama wrote of his aunt Zeituni Onyango in his autobiography Dreams from My Father.

In the book he describes how, on his visit to Kenya, Zeituni revealed the mysteries of their complex family tree, introduced him to other relatives and fed him a herbal remedy for a stomach upset.

Zeituni had been working at Kenya Breweries when Mr Obama visited the country in 1988, but inquiries as to her whereabouts today elicited a similarly blank response from the family. [Link]
She has been found living in Massachusetts.
Aunt Zeituni is now ... living in Boston, and recently made a $260 campaign contribution to her nephew's presidential bid from a work address in the city.

Speaking outside her home in Flaherty Way, South Boston, on Tuesday, Ms Onyango, 56, confirmed she was the “Auntie Zeituni” in Mr Obama’s memoir. She declined to answer most other questions about her relationship with the presidential contender until after the November 4 election. “I can’t talk about it, I just pray for him, that’s all,” she said, adding: “After the 4th, I can talk to anyone.” [Link]

Monstrous Lineage

Sara Karloff, Bela Lugosi Jr., and Ron Chaney descend from horror-film royalty.

"We're all good friends," says Chaney, who lives near Karloff in the Palm Springs, Calif., area. "Sometimes we'll go out for dinner, and when people see the names Chaney, Karloff and Lugosi, it kind of blows their minds."
In many cases, the fans seemed to know more about their relatives than the "kids" did. To them, the actors were mainly Dad or Grandpa; they were rarely on the set or in on backstage intrigues.

"The fans are far more knowledgeable about my father's career than I could ever be," says Karloff, who didn't see Frankenstein until 1957 on TV — when she was 19.

"I was born after Dracula," says Lugosi, whose Hungarian-born father became a star in the 1931 film.

And "it's BAY-la, not BELL-a," he reminds.

He acknowledges that he did change his name to Bill in high school. "As a kid, I didn't like all the attention." [Link]

Halloween in the Time of Cholera

Only two more installments left in Steven Martin's Flickr set of vintage Halloween costumes. In the olden days, naughty boys and girls had to dress up as oil derricks.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

They Bathed Before Pillaging

Cambridge University is mounting a PR campaign on behalf of Vikings.

The university's department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic has published a guide revealing how much of the Vikings' history has been misrepresented.

They did not, in fact, wear horned or winged helmets. And they appear to have been a vain race who were concerned about their appearance.

"It seems that the Vikings may not have been as hairy and dirty as is commonly imagined," the guide says.

"A medieval chronicler, John of Wallingford, talking about the eleventh century, complained that the Danes were too clean - they combed their hair every day, washed every Saturday, and changed their clothes regularly." [Link]

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thank God It's Gregorio?

An Italian couple has been told that they cannot name their son "Friday," after Robinson Crusoe's manservant.

The judges also ordered the boy to be renamed Gregorio, named after the saint's day on which he was born.

The boy's parents, known only as Mara O and Roberto G, had said they should be free to name him as they pleased, and said they would continue to call the boy Friday, describing it as "nice".

They even threatened to call their next child Mercoledi (Wednesday). [Link]

Friday, October 24, 2008

World's Oldest Organ

Imagine being able to look your long-dead great-great-grandfather in the eye. Bernt Aune's second-hand cornea is 123 years old.

He had a cornea transplanted into his right eye in 1958 from the body of an elderly man who was born in June 1885. The operation was carried out at Namsos Hospital, mid-Norway.

"I wouldn't be surprised if this is the oldest living organ in the world," eye doctor Hasan Hasanain at Namsos hospital told the Norwegian daily Verdens Gang. [Link]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

10/23 x 4 = 187

Betty Baker Poynter and her relatives blew out 187 birthday candles today.

Poynter, who turns 85 today, shares birthdays with her 66-year-old daughter, 34-year-old grandson and 2-year-old great-granddaughter -- four generations in the same family, all born Oct. 23.
The odds of four people, at random, sharing the same birthday are approximately 1 in 49 million, said Mark E. Johnson, professor of statistics and actuarial sciences at the University of Central Florida. But in the case of Poynter's family with multiple members, the odds are better -- possibly 1 in 5 million, depending on the number of family members, he said. [Link]

Paved Paradise

Wesley Treat has found six cemeteries located in parking lots, only one of which has appeared on The Genealogue.

While I was researching the "Cemetery Safari" chapter for my upcoming book Weird Oklahoma, I came across an unusual burial site west of Tulsa that was entirely enclosed within a strip-mall parking lot. Once sacred ground, it's now a conspicuous patch of grass in a sea of asphalt, a quirky spectacle to the shoppers forced to drive around it on their way to Radio Shack.

The handful of graves had become an absurd sight gag that punctuated the often indiscriminate momentum of American progress. And it got me thinking: were there others like it? Surely this wasn't the only time the deceased had stubbornly spoiled the aesthetics of a well-drafted parking lot. I mean, the good spots had already started going to the handicapped; it was only a matter of time before the dead horned in on the action, too.

And you know what? I was right. In fact, I found even more than I expected ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

She Was Outgoing, But Not Incoming

I see that Ancestry.com has added UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960. No sign of my great-grandmother yet, though I know she sailed to Boston from Liverpool in 1910. If I can can find no evidence that she arrived in England before leaving England, I will have to conclude that she was English, and that her Finnish accent was actually Liverpudlian.

Update: Darn, it's only for passengers "from foreign ports outside of Europe and the Mediterranean." There are some entries, though, for passengers who—like my great-grandmother—embarked from Hanko, Finland.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hairless But Not Heirless

Not only can ItsOurTree.com help you avoid family visits, it can keep you from going bald.

Building the family tree and uploading the relatives' photos on social family website itsourtree.com can help men determine their probability of losing their hair. The free site offers a clear overview of male ancestors from both the female and the male line of the family in combination with the exact familial relationship. Early prediction and therapy may lead to better results and stronger hair. [Link]

Friday, October 17, 2008

The McCains of Mississippi

John McCain's relatives maintain contact with the descendants of slaves owned by their ancestors in Mississippi.

The black and white McCain families have long acknowledged their shared history at Teoc, a name that applies to both the plantation and the now-sparse community around it. A cousin of the senator still owns 1,500 acres of the original 2,000. Sen. McCain's younger brother, Joe, and other white McCains have attended family reunions organized by the African-American McCains. [Link]
A 2000 Salon article described Sen. McCain as "surprised" to learn that his ancestors owned slaves.
In 1876 ... a Mary J. McCain married Isham Hurt. The two had a son, blues guitarist "Mississippi" John Hurt, in 1892 on Teoc, the plantation community where the McCains owned 2,000 acres.

"Is that right?" McCain asked, after considering his possible connection to the famous bluesman, who died in 1966. "That's fascinating," he said. [Link]

My Me Meme

I'm not much for memes, but here goes:

Ten Years Ago, I Was:
1. Ten years younger than I am now.
2. Ten years older than I was twenty years ago.
3. Thinking that no president could ever be less honorable then Bill Clinton.
4. Waiting two hours for a webpage to load.
5. Giving away all of my earthly possessions in anticipation of Y2K.

Five Places I Have Lived:
1. Earth.
2. North America.
3. The United States.
4. Maine.
5. My house.

Five Jobs I Have Had:
1. Returnable-bottle collector.
2. Disgruntled goldbricker.
3. Door-to-door genealogist.
4. Hobo.
5. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Five Snacks I Enjoy:
1. Organic raw sunflower seeds.
2. Wheat germ smoothies.
3. Roasted soy nuts.
4. Parsnip jerky.
5. Deep-fried Twinkies dipped in milk chocolate.

Five Things on Today's To-Do List:
1. Rake leaves onto neighbor's lawn.
2. Drum up votes for Obama at local cemeteries.
3. Get fitted for Sarah Palin Halloween costume.
4. Pray for Red Sox.
5. Avoid tagging anyone else for this meme.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #138

The topic burning up the political blogs today is whether "Joe the Plumber" mentioned so often in last night's debate is related to Robert M. Wurzelbacher, Jr.—son-in-law of S&L crook Charles H. Keating, Jr.

Well, is he?

[Thanks to Suzie Henderson for suggesting this Challenge!]

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Living in Sin Is In

Every couple that got hitched in Dacorum, Hertfordshire, England, last year was already cohabitating.

All 588 marriages registered in 2007 in the borough show the same address for both bride and bridegroom on the marriage certificate.

Registration manager at The Bury in Hemel Hempstead, Hilary Sheppard, said: "Virtually every couple getting married now is living together.

"This is true of those getting married in the Anglican church, the Roman Catholic church, in the register office or in an outside venue like a hotel." [Link]

Let's Call It a Cautionary Tale

Neil Richler sent this in, noting that it's "not a funny story." Not even ironic, except maybe to Alanis Morrissette. No poetic justice, as in this story. But, as a collector of bizarre causes of death, I have to post it.

A 77-year-old man is dead after a tombstone presumably fell on him while he worked on his parents' grave in Gatineau, Que.
He had been digging when the stone fell from the cement foundation at some point during the day, police added. [Link]

Annie Moore: Ellis Island Pioneer, Led Zep Fan

Megan has a recap of the recent Annie Moore ceremony on her blog, with links to videos. The website of the Annie Moore Memorial Project has images of the headstone, which features this symbol:

This proves my theory that Annie was a fan of Led Zeppelin.

Sadly, They Really Were the Best Dressed

Ancestry.com's U.S. School Yearbooks collection is free through October 30th. If nothing else, let it serve as a reminder of just how far high school fashion has evolved since the 1970s.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

They're Grumpy, But Not Alcoholics

A French court has rejected an attempt by a group of people with the surname, Bougon, which means "grumpy", to change the title of a new TV comedy series.

The 60 claimants were upset at the way their name was being associated with a family of scroungers, fraudsters and alcoholics in the series, Les Bougon. [Link]

Baby Barracuda

A man in Tennessee secretly named his infant daughter "Sarah McCain Palin."

While that’s the name father Mark Ciptak of Elizabethton put on documents for his baby girl’s birth certificate, it isn’t the name he and his wife originally agreed on. And it isn’t the name his wife, Layla, thought the baby was given.

“We actually came up with the name Ava Grace, and I secretively went and got another set of forms to send to (Social Security officials and the Tennessee Department of Health), and as of this time, she (Layla) still doesn’t realize what I’ve done. I haven’t broken the news to her yet,” Ciptak said. [Link]
Little Sarah refuses to hold a press conference, but has consented to be interviewed by Sean Hannity.

Monday, October 13, 2008

He Didn't Die in the Outhouse

Lee Jackson Cruse's headstone, which sat on the side of Southwest First Street in High Springs, Florida, for fifty years, has been removed by the city.

Mr. Cruse is actually buried in the New Oak Grove Cemetery but shortly after he passed away in 1958, his wife decided she didn’t like his gravestone. So she got him a new one, and the old one was brought to her home.
Mr. Cruse’s family had fun with the whole situation, making up stories about why Mr. Cruse was “buried” there.

Mr. Cruse’s wife, Sula Mae, told people that her husband was sitting in his outhouse in the 1950s when a storm came through town and picked up the outhouse, then threw it down to the ground, killing Mr. Cruse. [Link]

Friday, October 10, 2008

Birthday Kisses Can Be Fatal

Filmmaker Pes found an unusual epitaph in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

LOST LIFE BY STAB IN FALLING ON
INK ERASER, EVADING SIX YOUNG
WOMEN TRYING TO GIVE HIM
BIRTHDAY KISSES IN OFFICE
METROPOLITAN LIFE BUILDING
According to the New York Times of Feb. 16, 1909, George Millet was indeed accidentally stabbed by an ink eraser the day after his 15th birthday.
At once the girls began to tease him. They told him that on such an occasion he deserved a kiss, and every one of them vowed that as soon as office hours were over she would kiss him once for every year that he had lived. He laughingly declared that not a girl should get near him, and was teased about it all day.

As 4:30 o'clock came, and the boy's work was over, the girls made a rush for him. They tried to hem him in, and he tried to break their line. Suddenly he reeled and feel, crying as he did so.

"I'm stabbed!"

At once the joking stopped.
[via kottke]

Who Needs DNA When You Have Voyeurism?

Steven Schein believes that a photograph he bought on eBay depicts blues guitarist Robert Johnson. A Vanity Fair article about the discovery includes an account of the unusual method Johnson's heir used to establish his claim to the estate.

[T]he Chancery Court ruled on October 15, 1998, that a truckdriver named Claud Johnson, who, according to his lawyer, had long heard that the blues legend was his father, was “the biological son and sole heir” of Robert Johnson; he was thus entitled to an initial inheritance of more than $1.3 million with future revenues. The court’s decision, which is irreversible because it was appealed and reaffirmed, was based not on DNA evidence but on an unusual bit of sworn testimony by the elderly Eula Mae Williams, a childhood friend of Claud Johnson’s mother, Virgie Jane Smith Cain. In what sounds more like a scene from Boston Legal than an actual court case, Williams testified that she had watched Cain and Robert Johnson having sex in a wooded area in the spring of 1931, which, nine months later, led to the birth of Claud.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Currently King of America

Who would now be king had the United States been founded as a monarchy?

Since George Washington had an older half brother and a younger full brother, ultimately there were four possible succession paths. Two of the four paths, with male-only heirs, converge into one heir—Paul Emery Washington, 82, of San Antonio, Texas—making him the strongest candidate for king today. Paul Emery Washington also has a son, Bill, who he affectionately calls "Prince William."
Paul Emery Washington was a regional manager at Certain-Teed Corp., a manufacturer and distributor of wholesale building materials for 40 years. The company was headquartered in Valley Forge, Pa., where coincidentally General Washington and his army camped during the difficult winter of 1778-79. [Link]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Disclosure Statement

As I was accused in a comment recently of turning this into a "political blog," I should probably disclose that I am related to one of the candidates.

Like Sarah Palin, I am descended from Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. Sarah Palin is descended from Pilgrim John Howland; I am descended from his brother Henry.

I promise you, my readers, that I will not allow this family connection to influence my editorial decisions here at The Genealogue. I pledge to never write on this blog that my cousin Sarah is the best qualified VP candidate in our nation's history. In fact, to avoid even the appearance of bias, I promise to not vote for Sarah Palin on November 4th. I hope that these measures will be seen as proof of my impartiality.

A Web 2.0 Way to Avoid Family Visits

ItsOurTree.com promises two wonderful things: lower fuel bills and less time spent with your relatives.

Energy costs are constantly rising while the budget for family visits is shrinking. There is less money left in the wallet for the trip to the grandparents. Online family network itsourtree.com sets itself the target to bring the family closer together by means of the platform’s communication features. [Link]

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mavericks Can Be Democrats

An interesting article this weekend in the New York Times about the original mavericks:

In the 1800s, Samuel Augustus Maverick went to Texas and became known for not branding his cattle. He was more interested in keeping track of the land he owned than the livestock on it, Ms. Maverick said; unbranded cattle, then, were called “Maverick’s.” The name came to mean anyone who didn’t bear another’s brand.

Sam Maverick’s grandson, Fontaine Maury Maverick, was a two-term congressman and a mayor of San Antonio who lost his mayoral re-election bid when conservatives labeled him a Communist. He served in the Roosevelt administration on the Smaller War Plants Corporation and is best known for another coinage. He came up with the term “gobbledygook” in frustration at the convoluted language of bureaucrats. [Link]

The Eternal Card Trick

In Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, four stones over from Stan Laurel's grave, is a cenotaph placed there just before the publication of Penn & Teller's book How to Play in Traffic.

Teller scammed, and used lawyers, and a huge amount of money, and a lot of disingenuous speech and he got us a plot at Forest Lawn Cemetery, the most famous cemetery in the country, where a lot of movie stars are buried. He got us a plot and a headstone, and we're not dead. And then in the book we teach you how to do a card force -- which just means to get someone to think they had a free choice of a card where they really picked the three of clubs. Then you have them put the card in an envelope that they think they've freely selected and then you say, "I'm going to divine what that card is, the four of diamonds." Then they say, "No, you're a loser." Then you say, "Well, keep the card in your pocket, I want to go to Forest Lawn and show you around. There are some great graves there." And you go around and there's Stan Laurel and all sorts of cool ones and then you walk over and say, "Huh, I didn't know Penn and Teller were dead!" And you point down and there on the gravestone it says, "Is this your card? 3 of Clubs." And there it is in brass and marble. It's beautiful. It cost us most of our advance for the book. [Link, via mental_floss]

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Really Early Telly Sought

The grandson of the television inventor John Logie Baird has launched a search for Scotland's oldest working television.

The oldest box will receive a free digital makeover to prove that viewers don't need a plasma television to receive the new high-quality images and increased choice of programmes.
John Logie Baird did not restrict his inventive talent to television. In his twenties, he tried to create diamonds by heating graphite and shorted out Glasgow's electricity supply. Not long afterwards Baird perfected a glass razor which was rust-resistant but it shattered. [Link]

Cindy Brady Descended From Rampant Hag

Kathleen Kent has written a novelThe Heretic's Daughter—about her ancestor Martha Carrier, a victim of the Salem witch trials. Another descendant, Cindy Brady actress Susan Olsen, blogged about it in August.

One aspect of the story was particularly intriguing for me but I was never able to confirm it. At a family reunion four years ago, my Aunt Connie told me that Martha's children had testified against her because they had been told that they were going to be in a play. Cotton Mathers who accused Martha of being a "Rampant Hag" who the devil himself had promised to make the "Queen of Heb", rehearsed her younger children, particularlry little Sarah. The thought of being accused of such lies and facing the gallows and watching your children testify in court that you did indeed dance in the moonlight and change into a cat from time to time was a scene that haunted me. I thought it would be great in a film.

Could McCain Lose the McCain Vote?

McCains for Obama share the surname, but not the political views, of the Republican nominee.

Sure, old Mac’s got a fantastic last name. True, he’s acknowledged that global warming exists and torture is mean. And yes, he can take six men to the ground using only a shoe horn and length of dental tape. But as much as we’d love to share a surname with the most powerful man in the World, these things hardly qualify John McCain to pull this country out of our eight-year catastrophest and into a brighter, healthier, more peaceful tomorrow.

So unite, McCains of the world! Because while we clearly have the superior last name, Obama’s no doubt the man for the job.
In contrast, Barack has locked up the Obama vote—with the exception, perhaps, of Hillary C. Obama of Cleveland.

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