Sunday, May 31, 2009

Titanic Sinking Saved Woman From Being American

Millvina Dean—the last survivor of the sinking of the Titanic—died today at a care home in Hampshire, England.

Despite having no memories of the disaster, she always said it had shaped her life, because she should have grown up in the US instead of returning to the UK.

She was fond of saying: "If it hadn't been for the ship going down, I'd be an American."

In 1985 the site of the wreck was discovered and, in her 70s, she found herself unexpectedly in demand on both sides of the Atlantic.

"I think sometimes they look on me as if I am the Titanic!" she said after a visit to a Titanic convention in America. "Honestly, some of them are quite weird about it." [Link]

The Bagel Baker's Baby

Harry Lender—the man who "brought the bagel to America"—once added a special ingredient to his dough.

At one point, there were rumors that the marauding Poles were kidnapping Jewish children. Harry Lender, a young Jewish baker in Lublin, had an infant son and was terribly concerned. When the mob came to Harry’s bakery, Harry hid his son Hymie “in the bench where they mixed the dough. They put him in a wad of dough,” Hymie’s younger brother Sam recalled the family legend, “and when the Poles left, they took him out and he was ready to go in the oven.” [Link]

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Genealogue Challenge #142

It's been a while since I posted a challenge, and I thought I'd try something different this time. I've translated the opening lines of a famous song into Soundex code, and then substituted for each word a surname having the same code.

What is the song?

Trask Aho Lloyd Weeks Sawyer
Aiello Tweed Gildersleeve Igo Gillette
Annoot Swayze Banks Aho Souter Toohey Hobein.

Devilish Fibs

Strange memorial plaques have been showing up on benches in the UK, supposedly dedicated to relatives of Croy Devenish-Phibbs.

One, dedicated to Bonnie Devenish-Phibbs in Mold, north Wales, reads: 'If you're reading this you're less dead than me.'

Another, in memory of an Autumn Devenish-Phibbs in the town of Stone, Staffordshire, says: 'She would have hated this plaque.'

The living link to these dedications appears to be Croy Devenish-Phibbs, who claims he is a 103-year-old silver surfer, taking a weekly internet class with other pensioners.
More than 70 people have e-mailed him pictures of Devenish-Phibbs plaques, helping him piece together his 'family tree'. One woman who sent a photo got pearls as a reward. [Link]
Another plaque reads: "Barbara Devenish-Phibbs' dying wish was that we got her a bench inscribed with her final words. These, unfortunately, were '*****ing shut ***** pig ****ing, or I'll **** a ***-**** *** It'll **** **** you ***** ****ers off.'"

Friday, May 29, 2009

Intolerance Comes Natural to Him

Mark Krikorian (pronounced, I believe, crack-WHORE-ian) argues that the proper pronunciation of Sonia Sotomayor's surname is "unnatural."

Deferring to people's own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference)..., and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to.
I'm sure that his next target will be those old names from Great Britain whose pronunciations make no sense—like "Menzies."
1. How is your name pronounced?

Well that depends. In the area were the Clan originated it is definitely pronounced “Mingus”. However the Clan Society recognises that those of the name Menzies have spread far beyond the limits of Strathtay where not everyone is familiar with local pronunciation and is perfectly happy to accept those who prefer to pronounce their name in a more phonetic style. Though, David Menzies of Menzies (the Clan Chief) when refered to as “Men-zies of Men-zies” is reputed to have responded that there is no such person.

2. Why is it spelt one way but pronounced another?

The reasons are best describe as unclear. The most popular theory is that at one point there was confusion between the way that Gaels wrote their lowercase “g”s and “z”s both of which looked like the numeral 3. Thus, Mengus or Mingus evolved into Menzus or Minzus, which later evolved into Menzies. The thing to remember here is that neither literacy nor standard spellings were as prevalent as they are now. There are plenty of other names that are not pronounced as they are spelled. For example, Dalziel (usually pronounced DL) Mainwaring (usually pronounced Mannering) and Gloucester (usually pronounced Glos-ter).

He Never Forgot Her Birthday

Mental_floss included Kent Kraft and Diana Schroder in its list of "8 Intriguing Pairs (and Trios) Who Died on the Same Day."

Both born on September 2, 1941 (in different parts of South Dakota), they married in Sioux Falls in 1964. Diana had been suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease for some time when she passed away in 2008. Kent, who had been briefly ill, died the same day, right next to her – ensuring that, when they died, they were the same age to the day.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bananas for Miss Baker

The first American to return from space was female, and is buried in Huntsville, Alabama.

The gravestone reads: "Miss Baker, squirrel monkey, first U.S. animal to fly in space and return alive. May 28, 1959."
More than 300 people attended Baker's funeral service when she died of kidney failure in 1984, Buckbee says.

And, he says, often at her grave at the entrance to the rocket center, "you'll see a banana or two laying there. You know, some youngster brought it or somebody heard the story and wanted to leave something in memory, kind of like leaving flowers over a person's grave." [Link]

Top Ten Worst Lines From Obituaries

10. "Harold died after a long, hard-fought battle with self-loathing."

9. "Barbara Harris went to meet her Lord and Savior this morning, assuming that her last-minute prayers worked."

8. "Our mother was born in Georgia, which Wikipedia tells us is either in Asia or near Florida."

7. "He was a confirmed bachelor, but totally not gay."

6. "She is survived by her husband Richard, who is now looking for companionship and casual sex. Please, no fatties."

5. "Daniel Connors, 23, died unexpectedly at his home on Thursday afternoon. (Surprisingly, it wasn't suicide.)"

4. "Funeral services will be held Saturday morning at 10:30, at which time the homes of the people listed above will be unoccupied and vulnerable to burglary."

3. "Frank enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but couldn't stand his great-great-grandchildren."

2. "In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the obituaries editor of this newspaper. In cash."

1. "She was a loving mother, a devoted wife, and an unrepentant murderer."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

OK, Now Ask Her to Light Up a Spliff

An Englishwoman has learned that she is the not-so-distant cousin of reggae legend Bob Marley. But that doesn't mean that she likes his music.

Carole Tovey, 66, who was born Carole Marley, said she prefers more middle of the road songs.

"I've never heard his music before today. I used to like people like Neil Sedaka and the Everly Brothers. No reggae. No heavy metal," she told the Times newspaper.

Listening to a song by Marley -- who brought reggae on to the world stage with hits like "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Get Up, Stand Up" before dying of cancer in 1981 -- she appeared less than impressed.

"It's all right," she said. "I wouldn't leave the room for it." [Link]

Maritime Disaster Leads to Marital Bliss

A Wisconsin woman won an all-expenses-paid wedding ceremony and reception because her ancestor was better at swimming in cold water than Leonardo diCaprio.

The great-granddaughter of a young Armenian immigrant who survived the sinking of the Titanic is to be married in a Titanic exhibit in Milwaukee.

Melissa Vartanian won a contest by sending in David Vartanian's harrowing story, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The 22-year-old swam to a lifeboat and hung on to the side, resisting passengers who tried to shake him off, until he was rescued. [Link]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sotomayor v. Cardozo

Would Sonia Sotomayor be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice? Or was it Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, whose ancestors evidently were Sephardic Jews from Portugal who emigrated to America in the 1700s?

I have had many long conversations with a variety of newspaper people about whether Cardozo was the first whatever-name-you-want-to-use. It’s all in the context. Many Spanish would deny that Portuguese are Hispanic. Many Jews do not regard themselves as ethnically part of the European country they came from. Many Sephardic Jews probably do regard themselves as ethnically Spanish and Portuguese and Cardozo’s synagogue was and still is known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Many Spanish and Portuguese probably did not regard Jews as part of their culture, and I can understand that many Americans of Mexican heritage would not so regard Cardozo. [Link]

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Devil Is in the Details of the Pardon Application

Richelle Hawks thinks she has solved the mystery of Lilly E. Gray's Salt Lake City gravestone—which states that she was the "Victim of the Beast 666." She attributes the inscription to Lilly's husband, Elmer L. Gray, whose 1947 pardon application suggests that he was an "eccentric" man who blamed the government for his troubles.

In the document, he has typed a line that has an affinity with and shares a spirit with the one on Lilly's stone. On the line that asks for "Address of parents," Mr. Gray has written, "Booth dead. Died of grief when kidnapers murdered my Wife." Later, he refers to his arresting officers and prison officials as "Democrat officials," and "kidnapers."
With all the conspiracy, anti-government, sentiments of victimization within, it is difficult and perhaps foolish not to come to one conclusion-that Elmer L. Gray was responsible for placing the outrageous phrase, "Victim of the Beast 666" on his second wife Lilly's gravestone, and that it refers simply to the government, law enforcement and officials, with whom he likely tangled with his entire adult life, and the dynamics and beliefs based on his experiences. [Link]

Not a Well-Formulated Query

Whenever someone asks for advice on getting started in genealogy, I always tell them this: Try free resources like Google before spending money on an expensive billboard campaign.

Donations are being accepted to defray the costs of a national billboard campaign with the simple message: �Where�s [sic] the birth certificate?
Obviously, the author did not consult Kimberly Powell's "How To Write a Successful Genealogy Query."

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Just Call Him 'Dick'

According to his wife, we've all been pronouncing Dick Cheney's surname wrong. But his daughter disagrees.

Time to Spruce Up the Boneyard

This cemetery in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, makes my local graveyards seem downright drab. Need to get me some spray paint.

[Photo credit: Stacy Cashman]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Neighbors Become Friends, Then Siblings

Candace Eloph discovered that the guy living across the street was her long-lost brother.

She had moved into a Shreveport neighborhood, across the street from a couple who had a 32-year-old son. Eight months ago, that 32-year-old son, Jamie Wheat, moved back in with his parents.

He and Eloph became friends -- and one day started talking about family.

"We were sitting one day and talking and she said, 'I had a brother born Jan. 27, 1977, that was adopted,'" Wheat recalled. "I was like -- I was adopted. My mom was 16 when she gave me up for adoption." [Link, via Megan's tweet]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Translation: You're a Tramp, and So Was Your Grandma

At a reception for Prince Charles' future wife in 1999, ancient socialite Brooke Astor paid Camilla Parker Bowles a backhanded compliment.

Gregorian said when it came time to toast Parker Bowles, Astor said, "I drink a toast to Mrs. Keppel," an apparent reference to Alice Frederica Edmonstone Keppel, Parker Bowles' ancestor and the reputed mistress of King Edward VII. Astor then said to Parker Bowles, "Your grandmother would be proud of you."

Gregorian said Astor was suggesting that because of Parker Bowles' relationship with Prince Charles — whose first wife, Princess Diana, had died in 1997 — she was following in the tradition of her grandmother. He said Parker Bowles "received Brooke's comments graciously." [Link]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

NGS Not Greatly Stylish

The Raleigh Convention Center has been hosting two very different events this week: Raleigh Fashion Week upstairs, and the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference downstairs.

"I did see a lot of young people walking around that didn't look like they belonged to our group," said Dorothy Stanton, 78, who came for the genealogy conference from Danville, Calif. Stanton wore jeans and a gingham top embroidered with cherries.
The genealogists are not blind to style, either.

"Sometimes you get into fashion when you're trying to identify people in photographs," Stanton said, such as using Civil War uniforms to figure out a soldier's unit.

Of the devotees sharing the convention center this week, [Fashion Week organizer Brian] Williams said, "I'd venture to say ours is the better-looking group." [Link]
To be fair, he didn't say that all genealogists dress hideously—just the ones who attended the conference.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Best-Laid Schemes of Eminem Gang Aft Agley

Eminem returns to his roots in a song from his soon-to-be-released album Relapse—and promptly trips over them.

The hip-hop hellraiser's track, Bagpipes From Baghdad, has been leaked on to the internet ahead of its scheduled release. It features the rapper delivering an expletive-flecked tirade in what appears to be the least convincing attempt at a Scottish accent since Mel Gibson cracked open a tub of blue face paint.
Eminem was born in Missouri in 1974, but his maternal great-grandmother, Ailsa McAllister, came from Edinburgh.

In 2003, his grandmother, Betty Kresin, said: "I took great pains to let him know of his ancestry and how he should be proud to be Scottish." [Link]

It Even Knows the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Sparrow

The new "computational knowledge engine" called Wolfram|Alpha is pretty neat (when it actually works). It does a good job figuring out relationships:

Not so good at practical tasks:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Snap-Happy Pappy

Munish Bansal has taken pictures of his kids Suman and Jay every day for 13 years—8,572 photographs so far.

Accountant Munish, 36, from Gillingham, Kent, said: 'It started when I took a picture of Suman on the day she was born.

'I did the same the following day, and the day after, and the day after that. Before I knew it, she had turned one and I had 365 images.

'It seemed a shame to stop, so I kept going - and did the same when Jay came along. Now I've got thousands and thousands of pictures of my two beautiful kids in each and every stage of their lives.' [Link, via Neatorama]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Be Careful Raiding the Fridge

Katherine Aull has built a "fully functional genetic engineering research lab" in her Cambridge closet.

Aull is scouring her own genes in pursuit of a potentially lethal mutation that she may have inherited from her parents - and she has transformed her bedroom closet into a makeshift scientific laboratory to conduct the hunt.

The 23-year-old MIT graduate uses tools that fit neatly next to her shoe rack. There is a vintage thermal cycler she uses to alternately heat and cool snippets of DNA, a high-voltage power supply scored on eBay, and chemicals stored in the freezer in a box that had once held vegan "bacon" strips. [Link]

Monday, May 11, 2009

Brawl in the Family

Beatrice Valdez has nearly 200 descendants, and nephews she's never even heard of.

[Beatrice's daughter] Teve remembers when her brother, Ernest, fought another third-grader in elementary school. Notes were sent home, and the parents of both boys showed up to assess the damage.

Beatrice and Fred arrived at the school. And so did Uncle Victor, Fred’s brother: Ernest had beat up his own cousin.

“We didn’t even know this kid existed,” Teve said. [Link]

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Once, Twice, Three Times the First Ladies

South Africa's new president Jacob Zuma will be inaugurated today, but it is unclear who his first lady will be.

Zuma, a 67-year-old Zulu traditionalist, is about to become South Africa's first polygamist president. Confronted with the first lady question, spokesmen for his party, the African National Congress, have typically declined to respond or noted that the constitution does not touch on the issue, thus allowing Zuma to choose or alternate. The party, in fact, had stayed mum on just how many wives and children Zuma has -- figures that even his biographer could not nail down.

New clues emerged this week, however. At the bottom of an ANC statement that extolled Zuma's liberation-movement credentials and ballroom-dancing skills, the party casually noted that he is a father of 19 and a husband to three: Khumalo, Ntuli and Mabhija. [Link]
[Photo credit: Oom Kosie (license)]

Friday, May 08, 2009

Marry Without Meeting

From a mental_floss post about Weird Wedding Laws Still on the Books:

In Montana, a couple can marry even if neither of them is present. This miracle marriage is done by way of a “double proxy” ceremony. Particularly popular with soldiers deployed overseas who wish to get married without coming home on leave, this type of marriage is arranged through a lawyer, who then hires two proxies (anyone with a free afternoon and a desire for some extra cash) to come sit before the judge, recite the vows and sign the marriage license on behalf of the absent bride and groom.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Those People All Look Alike

Identical twins Yang Kang and Yang Jian married identical twins Zhang Lanxiang and Jiang Juxiang.

At their joint wedding, the brothers sported different haircuts while the sisters wore different coloured dresses so people could tell them apart.

"We really can't distinguish who's who, so we ask them to name themselves before speaking," said Zhang Shengzhong, the father of the twin sisters.

And the grandmother of the twin brothers admitted: "If I can't tell the difference, I just answer them with a smile without speaking." [Link]
[Thanks, Nancy!]

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

One Hyphen Per Couple

Germany's highest court has upheld a ban on using more than two surnames.

Frieda Rosemarie Thalheim, a Munich dentist, wanted to take the last name of her husband, Hans Peter Kunz-Hallstein, to become Frieda Rosemarie Thalheim-Kunz-Hallstein. The case brought Germany’s minister of justice before the court in Karlsruhe for oral arguments in February to defend the ban on what the Germans call “chain names.”

By a vote of five to three, the court refused to budge, ruling that ballooning names “would quickly lose the effectiveness of their identifying purpose,” and declined to overturn the law on the grounds that it infringed on personal expression. [Link]

Rites Wrong

Baptism and temple rites were performed for Barack Obama's mother last June.

Records on, the LDS Church's genealogical site, clearly show that Stanley Ann Dunham received proxy rites in the Provo temple on June 4 and June 8 of 2008. The birth and death dates of the person for whom the rites were performed match those of Obama's mother.

Dunham's name has been submitted multiple times by at least three people in three states.

“The offering of baptism to our deceased ancestors is a sacred practice to us and it is counter to Church policy for a Church member to submit names for baptism for persons to whom they are not related," Scott Trotter, spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement. [Link]

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Great-Great-Granddad

John Grant Griffiths is a descendant of General Ulysses S. Grant. He's also a Civil War re-enactor.

More often than not, Griffiths dons the gray uniform of a Confederate private.

What would his great-great-grandfather, victorious Union commander and 18th president of the United States, think of that?

Griffiths has answered that question before.

"All I can say is, he's not here." [Link]

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