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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Monumental Ego

Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich's pick to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat, is a trail blazer, a man of many major accomplishments. I know, because I've seen his grave.

Keep Your Friends Close

Artist Robert Lenkiewicz carried out the final wishes of his friend Edwin McKenzie (alias Diogenes) when he died in 1984, and embalmed him as a "work of art."

The search for Diogenes’ body became a long-running farce as Lenkiewicz refused to tell officials from Plymouth City Council where it was kept. Yesterday Nigel Meadows, the Plymouth Coroner, revealed that Lenkiewicz had been as good as his word.

The body was found in a concealed drawer in a cupboard at Lenkiewicz’s Barbican studio ten days after the artist’s death. [Link]
The coroner afterwards allowed Lenkiewicz's heirs custody of the body.
Mr Meadows said the executor of the Lenkiewicz estate could have the body cremated or transferred to the Lenkiewicz Foundation, the charity responsible for the artist's paintings and books.

He said it would be up to the foundation to decide what to do with the body.

But he continued: "Provided they comply with health and safety regulations and don't outrage public decency it is possible that they could retain the body on some sort of public display." [Link]
Diogenes has yet to make a public appearance.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Eartha's Birth

The lately departed Eartha Kitt had to go to college to learn when she was born.

Well, I thought I was born in North, South Carolina, because that is what I was told. I didn’t have a birth certificate, no proof of where or how old I was until a few years ago. I was living under the understanding that I was born January 26, 1926.

I was doing a benefit for Benedict College in South Carolina and I jokingly, but meaningfully, said, "Well, I am coming down there to do a benefit for you kids. Why don’t you do some research on Eartha Kitt since I was born in that area to find a birth certificate?" I didn’t think that they would do it seriously, but they did it. They found a birth certificate. So it’s Eartha Keith, which was pronounced "Kitt." And it’s January 17, 1927, so I am a Capricorn. [Link]
[Photo credit: Jyh-Lurn (Lewis) Chang]

Grandma's Days in the Crease

Stewart Bell spotted an old college photograph of his grandmother in The Hockey News.

"The first hockey netminder interested in saving face looks to have been Elizabeth Graham," the article reads. "It would appear the father of the goalie mask was in fact a woman."
Hockey players didn't even wear helmets back then, but on Feb. 7, 1927, she stepped onto the ice wearing a metal mask. The Kingston Whig-Standard noted how she "gave the fans a surprise" but conceded her good sense. "It was safety first with her," the newspaper wrote, "and even at that she can't be blamed for her precautionary methods."

It was actually a fencing mask and she wore it to protect her teeth. Her father had already spent so much to send her to university that she didn't want to add to his burden by racking up dental bills. [Link]

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Definitely a Dead Zone

John Jacobs was buried three years ago with a fully charged cell phone.

His $55 Verizon bill gets paid every month and his cell number is even etched into his gravestone under the words "Rest in Peace."

The first call to Jacobs in the great beyond occurred at his funeral, when son Simon, 19, phoned while startled mourners gawked at the ringing coffin at Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus, NJ.

"The poor grave diggers," recalls [widow Marian] Seltzer, laughing. "I thought they'd have a heart attack." [Link]

Mother's Drinking Can Lead to Premature Birthdays

Elsie Aslett thought she would receive her congratulatory 100th birthday telegram from the Queen on December 14th.

But pensions staff sent out to check the request uncovered her original birth certificate, which recorded the date as Dec 18 1908 - four days later than she had been told.

Relatives believe that her mother Elizabeth White, whom they described as "rather fond of her drink", may have confused dates between her eight children. She did not register Elsie's birth at Kennington Registry office in London until January 25 1909.
"It was all a bit of a surprise. You never doubt your date of birth. But it meant I could milk my celebrations for longer and draw them out for four days," she said. [Link]

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Card They'll Never Discard

One family has been exchanging the same Christmas postcard since 1933.

The card has small tabs meant to be signed by the sender and torn off by the recipient before it's mailed out again. The late Fran Tozer, who originally bought the card, never expected to get it back from her brother, Ed League, her children said. But League sent it back. And Tozer sent it out again. And before long the card was becoming filled with the names of the relatives who had received it.

Last week it was mailed again, this time from Travis County, continuing a 75-year family tradition that has seen the little card crisscross America.

Family names have filled the back of the card and the paper tabs. When those filled up, they stapled new slips of paper to the card. [Link]

Getting Fuggers Into Heaven

Rita Wunderle and her neighbors can live in a certain Bavarian enclave very cheaply, so long as they pray daily for the souls of the Fuggers.

Mrs. Wunderle lives in the Fuggerei, a Roman Catholic housing settlement for the poor that Jakob Fugger "The Rich" built in this southern German city nearly 500 years ago. Praying for Mr. Fugger and his descendants to enter the Pearly Gates is a condition for living here, at an annual rent of 1 Rhein guilder, the same as in 1520. In today's money, that's 88 euro cents, or about $1.23.
They promise to say three prayers -- the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary and the Apostles' Creed -- each day to boost the celestial ambitions of the Fuggers. [Link]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pining for the Fjords?

A television production company wants to send some Norwegian-Americans to their ancestral homeland.

Producers of Norway's version of "American Idol" and other shows say they're looking for outgoing Americans with Norwegian ancestry to go to Norway and compete for a $50,000 prize in "The Great Norway Adventure." Participants must be 18 to 60 years old and can't have traveled to Norway before, apparently so the producers can film their initial reactions to all things Norwegian. [Link]
Let's hope their initial reactions aren't yawns.

Jesus in Japan

Junichiro Sawaguchi claims to be a descendant of Jesus. Yes, that Jesus.

"I'm not really planning anything at all for the 25th as it doesn't really matter to us," said 52-year-old Mr Sawaguchi. "I know I am descended from Jesus but as a Buddhist it's just not all that important."

Married with a son and daughter, Mr Sawaguchi may display the same degree of religious flexibility that is common in Japan, but his beliefs are firm. Jesus is buried in the neighbouring field, along with his brother Isukiri, and nearby are the scattered remains of [a] pyramid that was larger than those in Egypt but toppled in an earthquake in 1857. [Link]
As evidence of his holy ancestry, Mr. Sawaguchi asserts that his grandfather was tall and thin and had blue eyes. Because, as we all know, Jesus had blue eyes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where We Came From

FlowingData ran a contest for better ways to visualize historical U.S. immigration data. This was the flashiest entry (each dot represents 100 people):


But this, deservedly, was the winner (pdf):

If immigration quotas hadn't been implemented between the World Wars, Europe would now be empty.

Piecing Together the Past

Ted Howard wrote 98 love letters to his late wife Molly.

When she found someone reading them in 1953 she tore them up.

Mr Howard, of Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, began putting the pieces back together in 1993 and has just completed the notes, three years after his wife died.

He wrote the love letters on hotel writing paper as he travelled the UK, Ireland, France and Holland in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But his wife tore each one into more than 20 pieces creating more than 2,000 fragments, some smaller than a thumbnail. [Link]

A Heavily Trafficked Cemetery

John Van Essen pointed me toward this cemeteryRichview Memorial Cemetery (aka Union Chapel Cemetery), located at the junction of Highways 401 and 427 in Toronto.

Everyday, thousands travel these roads. And standing silent as the hectic 20th-century flies by in a haze of cars, minivans and 18-wheelers, are the tombstones of the Richview Memorial Cemetery, lodged at the intersection of Highways 427 and 401.
In 1853, local landowner William Knaggs donated a small plot of land for a non-denominational church and graveyard. A small wooden church was built on the cemetery plot and then torn down when a brick church was built beside the graves in 1888. It was demolished in 1959 when it became impossible to hold services with the encircling traffic. [Link]

Adolf Gets a Blank Cake

Heath and Deborah Campbell are raising their children right. Far right.

A supermarket is defending itself for refusing to a write out 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell's name on his birthday cake.
Heath Campbell said he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because "no one else in the world would have that name."

The Campbells' two other children are named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, who turns 2 in a few months, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, who will be 1 in April. [Link]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Me, I Want a Hula Hoop

Okay, I'll take up the challenge and join the blog caroling. Here's "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," sung at the correct speed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Curious Convergence

Via Obituary Forum:

It has been nearly 40 years since the rocker Jim Morrison died. But this week — the day after Morrison would have turned 65 — he appeared in The Times in two obituaries: his father’s and that of the owner of the Los Angeles club, Whisky A Go Go, where Morrison’s band, the Doors, got its big break.

George S. Morrison died at 89 on Nov. 17; Elmer Valentine died at 85 on Dec. 3. Jim Morrison, known to these men in such different ways, died at 27 on July 3, 1971. [Link]

Butch In His Own Backyard

UK researcher Mike Bell discovered Butch Cassidy's roots close to home.

After travelling the Americas on the trail of the leader of the Hole In The Wall Gang, he was astonished to learn that Cassidy’s mother was born in Brandling Village, Jesmond, Newcastle.

Mike said: “When I found out that Butch Cassidy’s mum was a Geordie, I was gobsmacked.

“I have travelled from Utah to Argentina, looking for information about him.

“All the time the house where his mother once lived was around the corner.” [Link]

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ol' Dirty Bastard's Family Tree

The Onion has the scoop:

In what many are calling the most comprehensive study of its kind, Staten Island historians Robert Wilburn and Charles Tinsley have successfully traced the lines of the infamous Wu-Tang Clan all the way back to 1993 A.D.

The monumental undertaking, which is being hailed as a major breakthrough in the field of hip-hop genealogy, used a series of historical records—including Wu-Tang Forever, Iron Flag, and 8 Diagrams—to piece together the group's vast and intricate ancestry. [Link]

Hey, That's My Car!

Google Maps Street View has finally come to my hometown in Maine. If you squint and use your imagination, you can almost see the gravestones of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents in this picture.

In this one you can see my first school, which I wrote about here. Here's my maternal grandparents' house, my my maternal grandmother's parents' house, and my favorite fishing hole when I was a kid.

Here's where it gets weird. I was just showing my dad how Street View works, and I plugged in my brother's street in Florida. As we neared his address, my father shouted, "Hey, that's my car!"

Google had driven past and snapped a picture while my parents were visiting for a few weeks last January.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Marital Property

Betsy Greer's husband was also her slave.

Greer composed her will in 1851. Less than a year later she died and her husband passed through probate to her heirs.

"In the name of God, Amen, I, Betsy Greer, a free Negro woman of Greenville District, do make and publish this my last will and testament," the preamble reads. "In the first place, I give and bequeath my husband Abram whom I bought from Col. J.W. Duckett of Newberry District to our son George for and during his life and after his death to such of his sons as the said Abram may choose..."

"I wish him my slave as he is but at the same time the natural and proper head of the family to have the management and control" of the property, Greer's will states, "as long as he may live." [Link]
Such arrangements could lead to awkward situations.
Dilsey Pope of Columbus, Georgia, a free woman of color, owned her husband. After they quarreled, she sold him to a white slaveowner; he refused to sell him back once the couple had reconciled. [Link]

Longevity Odds

Steven Austad believes that a human will live to be 150 years old. But he's betting it won't be him.

Austad, a professor of cellular and structural biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is so confident that someone will be 150 by the time the year 2150 rolls around, he has a running wager with a good friend and fellow academic. The descendants of whoever wins will collect the pot, which started out in 2000 with $300 and has been invested with compounded interest.

"Of course I think that will happen," Austad said last week with a sly grin. "I wouldn't have made that bet if I didn't think so." [Link]

My Comedic Cousin

As a belated birthday present, I took my father to see Jeff Dunham perform last night. My brother is also named Jeff Dunham, but I still had to pay $52 a ticket (including a $5.50 "Comedian Convenience Fee").

His Wikipedia bio is thin on details, and in some cases incorrect (he was born in 1968 and graduated from Baylor in 1986?), but back in September I was able to satisfy my brother's curiosity and establish that the "other" Jeff Dunham is our eighth cousin. I'll fix his Wiki entry as soon as he pays my Genealogist Convenience Fee.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Who's Blogging Where Update

I've finished geotagging blogs for the Who's Blogging Where map. Here's a map showing every tagged blog, and here's one showing just North America. Every state is represented except Alaska (Wyoming bloggers are also scarce, save Isaac Horner of "Southern Wyoming and Northern Utah"), and every Canadian province except Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

The distribution of markers within the U.S. matches up pretty well with population density. The distribution is skewed because of imprecise locations given by many bloggers. Eleven blogs are located in "California" and share one marker on the map, while another seven share a marker in "Southern California." Across the pond, twenty-five "United Kingdom" blogs share a single marker.

Thanks to all who have sent in their locations, or submitted new websites. I'll be adding ten new blogs to the database later today, and more next week.

Update: Okay, I lied. I added forty new blogs this evening.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Who's Blogging Where

I've finally picked up on Taneya's suggestion and added a mapping feature to the Genealogy Blog Finder.

Who's Blogging Where shows the locations of bloggers who have recently updated their sites. Just click on a marker for info. Zoom in, zoom out—whatever makes you happy. I've only geotagged about a quarter of the 1,147 blogs now in the database, and will be working in the next few days on the rest. The project should be regarded as "in beta," which is computer-speak for "I doubt it will work for long."

A few thoughts and caveats:

  • Locations are taken from blogs and profiles, and not from any other source. I won't be snooping around for your address (though I am very good at snooping around). If you want to be excluded (or included) just let me know through this form or by email.
  • If a blogger was found to live in one place and write about another, I listed them under their place of residence. With some exceptions. Hey, it's my website, so I can screw it up however I like.
  • If two or more bloggers live in the same location, only one will show up on the map because their markers are occupying the same spot. If you have more than one blog (Yes, Randy, I'm talking to you), only one blog at a time will appear. Again, just let me know if you want to tweak your location to distinguish yourself from a near neighbor.
  • Like the Recently Updated Blogs page, the map is dynamically generated, and will change throughout the day. If you live in the U.S., you can expect to see European bloggers show up on the map with red markers late in the evening. If you live in Europe, you're probably asleep right now.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Shocking Discovery Not That Shocking

Monday's Chicago Tribune had a nicely fleshed-out article on Michelle Obama's ancestry. After reading which, UPI chose this as their headline:

Census records show the woman who will soon become first lady of the United States is the great-great granddaughter of an illiterate South Carolina slave. [Link]
I would guess that every first lady in the history of the United States has had an illiterate ancestor (if not an illiterate husband). At least Michelle's great-great-grandfather had a good excuse.

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