Monday, June 29, 2009

To 'e' or Not to 'e'?

Greene Street in North Smithfield, R.I., was named after General Nathanael Greene. Or perhaps it's actually "Green" Street, named after a local Green family—or maybe after the village green, or the color green.

The debate over the spelling of this street seems to draw equally strong opinions on both sides. It is perhaps most illustratively displayed in the green painted lettering above the door on the old grange, where the last "e" in Greene appears to have been painted over in white.

"Green Street was named after the village green," says North Smithfield's unofficial town historian Irene Nebiker, who, though sure of the inspiration, was not sure the source or original timing of the name.
Denise Davis, a longtime resident who serves as secretary in the town's Planning Department, said that despite those who would say otherwise, "Green" is the wrong spelling.

"Legally it's supposed to be with an 'e,' she said. "On the 9-1-1 list, it's with an 'e.'"

And the sign outside the Planning Department's window that shows a "Green" spelling?

"The street sign is wrong," said Davis. [Link]

Friday, June 26, 2009

They Play on Grass, Park on Graves

St. Mary's Church in Wimbledon Village is allowing tennis fans to park on top of graves in its churchyard for £20 a day.

One resident, Tim Brown, 38, said it was completely 'out of order'.

'The expression to feel like someone's walked over your grave - well imagine a 4x4 parked over your grave.'
Reverend Mary Bide said that although the cars look 'odd', they were only parked in the oldest part of the graveyard and funds raised would make a 'valuable contribution to the Church and the Diocese'. [Link]

While You're At It, You're Not Really an Island

There is a movement afoot in Rhode Island to change its official name from "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" to just "State of Rhode Island." Why? Because the word "plantation" conjures up "images of slavery."

In 1663, English King Charles II granted a royal charter joining all the settlements into a single colony called "The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." The name stuck. Rhode Island used that royal charter as its governing document until 1843.

Opponents of the name charge argue that "plantations" was used at the time to describe any farming settlements, regardless of slavery. [Link]
"Plantation" has been used for centuries in Maine to denote a limited form of government—something more than a township and less than a town. I never knew when I was a kid visiting my grandparents' camp in Lincoln Plantation that I was condoning the enslavement of African Americans.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Mystery of Ms.

Ben Zimmer has antedated the title "Ms." to 1901.

On page 4 of the Springfield (Mass.) Sunday Republican of November 10, 1901, under the heading "Men, Women and Affairs," is the following item, in which the writer suggests that "a void in the English language" may be filled by Ms., pronounced as "Mizz," as an alternative to Miss or Mrs.
He also cites a far earlier example of Ms. used an an abbreviation.
Some have theorized that Ms. has roots long before the 20th century. One piece of evidence that has been put forth is the tombstone of Sarah Spooner, who died in 1767 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As you can see from this image, what appears on the headstone is M with a superscript s. As Dennis Baron writes in his excellent book Grammar and Gender (1987), "it is certainly an abbreviation of Miss or Mistress, and not an example of colonial language reform or a slip of the chisel, as some have suggested." [Link]

Heeeeeeeeeere's a Dubious Family Story!

Ed McMahon related this story in his 1998 book, For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times:

It was my father who told me about my great-great-great-grandfather, Patrick Maurice Mac-Mahon, the president of France. General Patrick Mac-Mahon was an Irishman, but according to my father, Napoleon III loved him and was instrumental in his becoming the president of France in 1873. And according to my father, in his honor his favorite sauce was named Macmahonaise, which was eventually shortened to mayonnaise. People have sent me cookbooks that seem to confirm this derivation of mayonnaise. It's possible we really were related to the Irish president of France. But like many of my father's stories, it doesn't matter if every part is true. It's a story that belongs in the most prominent position on the top shelf.
Does it matter if any part is true? According to Wikipedia, "mayonnaise made its English language debut in a cookbook of 1841." And the ancestors of Ed's supposed great-great-great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland to France in the mid 1700s, while the parents of Ed's paternal grandfather, Joseph F. McMahon, emigrated from Ireland to Massachusetts more than a century later. It's pretty clear that Ed McMahon did not descend from the president of France—nor even from the amiable sidekick who laughed at all of the president's jokes.
[Photo credit: "Ed McMahon" by Alan Light]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reaction Brings No Retraction

Some readers of a Reuters' article about British supercentenarian Henry Allingham thought they had caught the news service in an error.

This story states “Allingham’s life has spanned three centuries and six monarchs” which I believe would actually make him 300 years old not 113. Just a little catch.


One century is 100 years. Three centuries is 300 years. If he is 113 years old, he has lived for one century and thirteen years.


A surprising number of readers made similar comments about this reference. This is a fairly common way of saying someone lived DURING three centuries - the 19th, 20th and 21st. We’re aware that he isn’t 300 years old: GBU EDITOR [Link]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Barroom Baby Boomer

DNA testing helped Richard Hill figure out who his biological father was—and even the probable circumstances of his conception.

His closest match, the test showed, was a man in Florida with the last name of Richards. He e-mailed the man and asked if he had relatives in Michigan. The answer was, "No."

Hill turned back to his growing pile of records. He pulled out a copy of his mother's Social Security work record he had ordered 16 years earlier. It showed she had worked at a bar called Dann's Tavern in Livonia in 1945. The bar owner's name was Douglas S. Richards.

"Bingo," he said.
Since then, Hill has concluded he likely was conceived around Aug. 14, 1945, V-J Day, a time of celebration and drinking marking the Japanese surrender and the end of World War II. [Link]

Bigot Tree

If Nick Griffin—leader of the racist British National Party—had his way, his own ancestor would have been locked up, or maybe even kicked out of Britain.

The hate-mongering right-wing boss, 50, has branded travellers “anti-social and criminal”.

So it will be a shock to his followers to discover his great-grandfather George Griffin was a hawker who went from town to town selling cheap goods.

A 1871 census report shows he lived the gypsy way of life, never settling or being fully accepted into the community. He roamed in a horse and cart with his wife Esther and their family, flogging crockery and living in a caravan. [Link]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Darwin Descendant's Voice Plants' First Choice

A study by the Royal Horticultural Society shows that plants grow more when talked to by women than by men—and grow best when talked to by a descendant of Charles Darwin.

Each plant “listened” to a different recording through the headphones of an MP3 player attached to its pot at root level.

The plants were kept in the same greenhouse and measured before, during and after the experiment. Control plants were not exposed to the sound of a human voice.

The plant that grew the most had been listening to Sarah Darwin, great-great-granddaughter of Charles, reading his revolutionary work. Her plant grew 1.6cm (almost two thirds of an inch) higher than the most successful of the two control plants. [Link]

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bureaucratic Sex Changes

The Wall Street Journal reports that the marital status of same-sex couples might be accurately counted in the 2010 census after all. Better than being divorced by the Census Bureau or forced to undergo gender reassignment.

The original plan for handling these marriages in the 2010 Census was controversial among some statisticians and gay activists. Following procedures employed in 2000, the bureau had planned to use a computer program that recategorized spouses in same-sex marriages as unmarried partners. For the 1990 count, the bureau simply altered the gender designation of one partner. [Link]

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Presidential Progeny Performs Parodies

Jennie Eisenhower sings like Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, and Liza Minnelli, and looks like a couple of dead presidents.

[T]he high cheekbones, the almond-shaped eyes, and that smile provide evidence of her direct connection to an American political dynasty.

The daughter of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower, granddaughter of one president, Richard M. Nixon, and great-granddaughter of another, Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, says that’s not often noticed.

“People rarely pick up on it, unless they’re told. Every now and then someone says, ‘You look a lot like Julie Nixon. Are you related?’” [Link]

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Would His Countless Confucian Cousins Concur?

93-year-old Confucius descendant Kong Demao approves of actor Chow Yun-fat's portrayal of the ancient philosopher.

The wheelchair-bound Kong, a 77th-generation descendant of the great man, recently visited the set of Confucius and greeted Chow thus: "Here comes Confucius!" A flattered Chow replied immediately: "I am only Chow Yun-fat." [Link]
The roughly five gazillion other living descendants of Confucius could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Oh Shea, Can You See Our Initials?

"RNL" (son of "JPL" and "CTL") is hoping to save a piece of Shea Stadium, and with it a piece of his family's history.

My father was an Iron Worker. He was a Union man. He was a hard working man. And he worked on a number of projects including Shea Stadium in New York City. When he worked on Shea, he emblazoned a column of the structure (as he did on all the projects he built) with the initials of our little family; his initials, the initials of my mother, and mine. Shea Stadium is scheduled to be torn down at the end of the baseball season and, unlike so many other large structures that have outlived their usefulness, it will be disassembled instead of being imploded. My quest is to preserve this little bit of family history and I especially would like to have that piece of steel. I no longer live in the New York area and my hope is to enlist the help of someone in New York (maybe you?) to locate and photograph this unique piece of steel before the demolition and that I could convince the demolition contractor to cut the piece out and save it for me.

It's Not Unusual To Have Only One Welsh Grandparent

The music world was rocked today by news that singer Tom Jones is not completely Welsh.

Returns of the 1911 census, released for the first time today, confirm that just one of the singer’s grandparents was of Welsh blood. The other three had parents from the West Country, with no Welsh connections.

The disclosure has shocked some of Sir Tom’s most loyal fans, who have promised to stand by him nonetheless.
The disclosure surprised Margaret Owen, 54, a local historian and a lifelong fan. She said: “I can’t believe it. Tom is the symbol of Welsh manliness around the world and has been for decades.

“It is quite a shock to discover he has more English blood in his veins than Welsh, but we still love him.” [Link]

His One-Night Stand Involved Clowns

David Bludworth's relative had a very good reason for leaving his bride at the altar.

"Family lore has it that a relative, Columbus Bludworth, was a no show for his wedding ceremony in the late 1920s. When asked on Monday why he was a Saturday nuptial date no show in Eucheanna (then county seat of Walton) he stated the newspaper reported the Barnum and Bailey Circus was in Pensacola for a one-night stand, so he hopped a train Saturday morning for the big tent. His reasoning was that you could get married any day but the circus would be there only one day a year. He never married." [Link]

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Posthumous Sex Change

Another epitaph from Futility Closet I wish I'd found first:

Here lies the body of Thomas Woodhen,
The most loving of husbands and amiable of men.

N.B.—His name was Woodcock, but it wouldn't rhyme.

Erected by his loving widow.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Navel Fluff Analysis Inconclusive

An intact "witch bottle" from the 17th century has been dug up in England.

An Old Bailey court record from 1682 documents that a husband, believing his wife to be afflicted by witchcraft, was advised by a Spitalfields apothecary to "take a quart of your Wive's urine, the paring of her Nails, some of her Hair, and such like, and boyl them well in a Pipkin."

The excavated bottle appears to have been made according to those, or similar, instructions.

CT scans and chemical analysis, along with gas chromatography conducted by Richard Cole of the Leicester Royal Infirmary, reveal the contents of the bottle to include human urine, brimstone, 12 iron nails, eight brass pins, hair, possible navel fluff, a piece of heart-shaped leather pierced by a bent nail, and 10 fingernail clippings. [Link, via Neatorama]

Thursday, June 04, 2009


Today's Genealogy Tip of the Day comes from presidential family historian and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy.

LIDDY: Well, here’s the thing. The document you speak of is a “certificate of live birth,” which is not a birth certificate. You can’t get a passport with that, you can’t even register your kids…

WOLFFE: Yes you can. That’s what I do. That’s what everyone does. The certificate of live birth is exactly what you get a passport with.

LIDDY: No, it’s a birth certificate.

WOLFFE: That’s — the copy of the birth certificate, everyone has copies of birth certificates. They use them all the time. Nobody hands out the one original document.

LIDDY: No, I wouldn’t expect them to. [Link]
I don't remember Gordon getting this hot and bothered by the circumstances of Chester A. Arthur's birth. Perhaps because Chester A. Arthur was a Republican. And died in 1886.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sometimes Marriage Is Not Easy to Recognize

Michele Forsten reminds us that "S" on an official document can stand for "single" or "something else."

When I located my maternal grandfather in the 1920 federal census, I was puzzled by the "S" that clearly appeared in the box for his marital status; I had his marriage certificate to prove that he had been married to my grandma for about eight years by then.
Was the "S" simply a mistake? Or was there another reason it had been checked?

Questions with nobody left to answer them, but that "S" still lingers on as a historical record; its significance all too apparent in my own life. I've had to check off "single" on all kinds of official documents, even though I haven't been single for decades. [Link]
Forsten was married last summer to a person of the (gasp!) same sex, but her marriage is not recognized by the federal government. That means her marital status will not be recorded in the 2010 census.

Only the Neighbors Had Cold Feet

Sheryl and Kurt Jesswein got married in a Brookfield, Wisconsin, cemetery in 1990.

The idea "kind of creeped out" her [previous] fiance, she said.

The two later split up and called off the wedding they had planned two years in advance. But Jesswein didn’t cancel the chapel booking, at the urging of her mother.

Sheryl then dated Kurt, who learned about the reserved date after asking her to marry him.

He thought the setting was "perfectly normal and pretty neat," she said, because like Sheryl, he has a long list of close family who are or will be buried there.

Jesswein said, "Other than being in a funeral site, our wedding was just like any other wedding." [Link]

« Newer Posts       Older Posts »
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...