Monday, February 22, 2010

Simpsons Genetically Predisposed to Seek Out Blue Beehives?

On last night's Simpsons episode, one of Lisa's paternal ancestors looked remarkably like Lisa's mother, who is related only by marriage to the Simpsons.

Back to the Future III had a similar problem. Writer/producer Bob Gale and writer/director Robert Zemeckis were once asked to explain how the same actress ended up in two branches of Marty's family tree:
Q: Lea Thompson plays Maggie McFly, Marty's great-great-grandmother, as well as Lorraine, Marty's mom. But Lorraine's family name is "Baines". Why did Lea play Marty's paternal great-great-grandmother, when she's really not part of that family? Is there something kinky going on in the history of the McFly family?

A: Lea plays Maggie because we didn't want to make a Back to the Future Part III without having Lea in it, especially in a "Mom is that you" scene! Of course, we thought about whether it made any sense -- obviously, Maggie McFly and Lorraine Baines cannot be blood relatives. But we did come up with a satisfactory answer: It's a well known adage that "men are attracted to women who remind them of their mothers." Clearly then, when Seamus married Maggie, that insured that the McFly men would have a genetic trait that attracted them to women who bear a resemblance to Maggie or Lea Thompson (even Jennifer is the same physical type!) [Link]

Don't Blame Stupidity On Your Genes

Who's stupider—Time columnist Joel Stein or his great-grandmother?

I found out through the 1930 Census that my father's father's parents paid $45 a month for a one-room New York City apartment for six people and they were the only ones on the block without a radio. My great-grandmother, when asked what country she grew up in, wrote "Poland," crossed it out and then wrote "Austria." These are countries that don't even border each other. I come from stupid people. You know how I know that? Because I had to look up whether those countries border each other [Link]
Um, is Stein aware that Poland was not an independent country when his great-grandmother was growing up? And that Austria then ruled part of Poland, and therefore she could have been born in both Austria and Poland without disrupting the space-time continuum? And does he really think that that was his great-grandmother's handwriting in the 1930 census? If so, can he explain why she had the same handwriting as all of her neighbors?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Fecund Thumb in the Eye of the Nazis

Yitta Schwartz, who died last month in New York at age 93, left behind some 2,000 living descendants.

Mrs. Schwartz was a member of the Satmar Hasidic sect, whose couples have nine children on average and whose ranks of descendants can multiply exponentially. But even among Satmars, the size of Mrs. Schwartz’s family is astonishing. A round-faced woman with a high-voltage smile, she may have generated one of the largest clans of any survivor of the Holocaust — a thumb in the eye of the Nazis. [Link]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Paperwork Than a DAR Application

The Hawaii Health Department has to deal daily with birthers eager to see President Obama's "real" birth certificate, says spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

When Okubo told one writer they did not have a right to Obama's birth certificate because they were not related to the president, the person wrote back saying they, indeed, had a common ancestor.

"They said they have a tangible right to his birth certificate because they're descended from Adam," Okubo said, referring to the biblical figure. "We told them they need to provide some type of legal documentation." [Link, via]

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Real Timothy McSweeney

An odd and touching story by Dave Eggers, founder of Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency. His website, literary journal and publishing house bear the name of a mysterious man who shared his mother's maiden name.

She grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, one of five children, the daughter of an obstetrician, Daniel McSweeney, and his wife Adelaide Mary McSweeney.
When Eggers was a kid, his family started getting "strange mail" addressed to him and his mother.
These were usually notes written on pamphlets and other sorts of mail that required no postage. The messages were confusing, but generally seemed to be written by a man named Timothy McSweeney, who thought he was related to my mother, and who was hoping to visit soon. Sometimes Timothy would include train schedules and other plans. Sometimes they included drawings and diagrams. Usually the letters had a sense of urgency, as if after many years of searching for his relatives, he had found my mother and I, and wanted to reconnect as soon as possible.
Eggers, having appropriated the man's name for his publishing concern, learned a few years later of Timothy McSweeney's identity.
One day in Boston in 1943, my grandfather Daniel McSweeney delivered a baby. This baby was put up for adoption, and was adopted by another McSweeney family.
Timothy McSweeney grew up to become an artist, fell mentally ill, and was eventually institutionalized.
It was from this institution that he began to send letters. According to his brother David, he would search through city and state records, find names, and write to the people he found.

Presumably, he saw my grandfather's name on his birth certificate and came to think Daniel McSweeney might have been his father, not simply the delivering obstetrician. And thus he sought out the children of Daniel McSweeney. [Link]
The real Timothy McSweeney died last month at age 67.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Gravestones Under Glass

Someday we might all be carrying bottles of liquid glass to the graveyard.

Spray-on liquid glass is transparent, non-toxic, and can protect virtually any surface against almost any damage from hazards such as water, UV radiation, dirt, heat, and bacterial infections. The coating is also flexible and breathable, which makes it suitable for use on an enormous array of products.
The war graves association in the UK is investigating using the spray to treat stone monuments and grave stones, since trials have shown the coating protects against weathering and graffiti. Trials in Turkey are testing the product on monuments such as the Ataturk Mausoleum in Ankara. [Link]

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Annie Information Would Be Appreciated

The latest chapter in the Annie Moore saga involves the discovery of a photograph that may or may not show Annie and her brothers at Ellis Island in 1892.

Megan asks for help in proving the authenticity of the photo. My advice: check the back to see if their names are written there. Other than that ... I've got nothing.

Rome Was Far From Home

There might be a genetic reason that Uncle Mario prefers eating at the Szechuan Palace.

Some people of Italian ancestry, like me, might have a surprise in the family tree—a man of east Asian descent, who was living and working 2,000 years ago in the boondocks near the heel of the Italian boot. The discovery is the first good evidence of an Asian living in Italy during Roman times. [Link]

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