29 December 2006

Relative Claus

A Christmas card addressed to Stephen Votruba in Winona, Minnesota was somehow mistakenly delivered to the home of Frederick Novotny on Long Island in New York. In the letter accompanying the forwarded card, Novotny told Votruba that his great aunt had been married to a man named Votruba. Noting that the New Yorker is a possible relative, the Minnesota resident calls it a "Christmas miracle." “For all I know, he could be a distant relative from Ellis Island.”

Bzzzzzttttt. Your Votruba ancestors, Mr. Votruba, have lived less than a mile from your Minnesota home since at least 1880, having arrived in the U.S. some 20 years before Ellis Island opened in 1892. Novotny's uncle's family arrived in New York around 1902.

So the two Votruba families were not separated at Ellis Island, but what are the odds that the two men are related? Since Votruba is a not-uncommon Bohemian name and Novotny doesn't even profess any Votruba ancestors, I'd say the odds are just a little higher than for any two men of Czech ancestry.

Christmas miracle? Humbug.

10 December 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick's Sooner Ancestry

Jeane Kirkpatrick died last Thursday. The former United Nations Ambassador left a rich political legacy. I guess those who help make history don't necessarily know history.

Kirkpatrick once said that one of her grandfathers was in the Oklahoma "Sooner run for land." The first and most famous land run in Oklahoma was in 1889. There were a few more in the next few years but they were over by 1895.

Kirkpatrick's maternal grandfather was Henry Kile. Born in Tennessee in 1871, he never made it to Oklahoma. He spent most of his adult years farming in Texas where he died in 1951.

Kirkpatrick's paternal grandfather was Lee Frank Jordan, also born in Tennessee in 1871. In 1900, the family was in Texas, but by the 1910 census they were in Oklahoma. Their children were all born in Texas, except the one-year-old who was born in Oklahoma. BLM land records indicate he took out homestead papers there in January of 1910.

Looks to me like Kirkpatrick's grandfather missed the Oklahoma land run by about 20 years, but he got there sooner or later.

03 December 2006

Silly Genealogist: "Greifeld" Is Italian, Not Irish

The London TimesOnline was not surprised when the genealogist hired by Nasdaq CEO Bob Greifeld was unable to find all that many Irish ancestors.

Maybe they think with a name like Greifeld, he can't be all that Irish. I wonder if they really understand the term "melting pot" or if they think that a person's ancestors all had the same last name.

Greifeld should have a goodly share of Irish ancestors. The parents of his paternal grandmother Celia were Patrick and Mary Gannon. Mary was born in Ireland as were Patrick's parents. That means that Greifeld is a quarter Irish.

But Greifeld's mother's maiden name is Cafasso and all her grandparents were born in Italy. Therefore, Greifeld has twice as many Italian ancestors as Irish ones.

Maybe Greifeld's genealogist would find more ancestors by looking near Palermo.

To round things out, Bob Greifeld is an eighth German -- from the Harz Mountains of Saxony -- and an eighth Swedish.

~ via Genealogue

18 November 2006

Out to See

Some of our favorite genealogy bloggers have been out to sea lately. We'll be glad when they get back. Meanwhile, take a look at this picture taken in my neck of the woods last week.

It looks a lot like Dick Eastman with some engineer types, apparently evaluating antique microfilm readers.

29 October 2006

Motivational Speaker

Sometimes we just need a bit of inspiration to get past those road blocks in our family tree. Something to wake us up and spur us into having a go at it one more time!!

CarlisleCockney provides just the thing and shows us that Roots Television is not the only one with stimulating genealogical videos.

24 September 2006

A Vacation That's Off the (Pedigree) Chart

We are off on a strange adventure. For the first time in a bazillion years we are taking a trip to a place where we have neither descendants nor ancestors. I have no idea what to do there.

All our vacations are to either visit kids or explore ancestral homelands. These extremeties of the family tree have taken us to such exotic locales as Queens, New York; Bluffton, Ohio; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Cambridge, England; and Seoul, Korea.

But on this vacation there's not even a slightly-out-of-the-way place to go when that overwhelming urge to do some genealogy strikes. Like last summer's "Here we are in Yellowstone, we might as well swing by Ft. Morgan, Colorado to see where your great-grandfather got hit by the train." Or like a few years ago with my sister in Southern France: "Let's just zip across Northern Italy to see if we can find the coal hut in Austria where Mom's grandpa was born."

Not this trip. We'll be stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. No ancestors. No kids. Just the two of us with nothing to do but sit in a hammock all day and sip Mai Tais.

See you when we get home in a week when I'll at least have broadband again. Meanwhile, Randy Seaver blogs about the kind of trip we usually take and suggests there will soon be more at Jasia's Creative Gene via Blog Carnival.

20 September 2006

Last Word on Annie Moore

Megan Smolenyak is probably exhausted from her whirlwind celebrity tour of New York, so while we wait to see more of what she and Brian have on Annie, I've updated my web site with what I came up with in my own research.

I have posted records that ID her brother Philip and her parents Matthew and Julia. I've also put up some records for Annie Schayer that I found after Megan identified her on Friday.

Now that Annie has been found, I can focus on important things. Like the latest celebrities to lie about their age or be confused about their ancestry. Easy pickin's compared to lost girls from the Lower East Side.

07 September 2006

Ellis Island on Ancestry.com

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg evaluated the upgraded tools at Ancestry.com for building a family tree. I found it interesting that, according to Walt:
The company says the Ellis Island data are coming within months.
A while back, Ellis Island disallowed downloading of manifests. Will Ancestry be making them available for downloading or storing? That would be much better than the tacked-together-screenshot method I am currently using.

Walt's columns on technology are always open about the pros and cons of a product and clearly detailed. He writes about the tools he reviews as if he were a novice. Indeed - he was impressed by the "Family Facts" that appeared while he was searching on Ancestry. He summed up his experience thusly:

Ancestry.com is a rich site that uses a sensible layout and encourages

Check out the tree-building tools yourself at Ancestry Ancestry.com

04 September 2006

Mod Jobs

Looking back at the 1880 census, Family History Circle (via Genealogue) lists the most popular jobs of the time, including many quaint occupations -- such as saloon keeper, corset maker, and blacksmith -- that harken back to olden days and remind us how far we've come.

But 1880 was a year just brimming with opportunity and invention and the people then were as eager as people are today to adopt the latest technology.

  • The telephone had been invented just a couple years earlier but already over 1700 telephone workers were on the job. A good number of them were operators, mostly male, and a dozen telephone repairers had found their calling.
  • The phonograph, slower to catch on than the phone though invented around the same time, was supported in 1880 by 83 "phonographers."
  • Thomas Edison had patented the incandescent light just a few months before the census was taken when there were 49 men working with electric light. A thousand electricians were already on the job.
  • The development of the dry-plate process in 1878 revolutionized photography and opened the doors for over 9000 photographers by 1880.
  • The first typewriter was introduced commercially in 1873. By 1880 there were over a hundred "typists" or "type writers" using the machines. Many of the 900 stenographers were probably also using the device.

You can see a glimmer of today's coolest pastimes in the 1880 census: There were over 50 baseball players, six genealogists, a handful of balloonists -- including one woman -- and, as a possible forerunner of new-age color therapy, one "pyschromatic healer."

In a few years, the people of the 1880 census became eager adopters of motion pictures, automobiles, aeroplanes, and pop-up toasters. No wonder: in 1880 there were 782 inventors working in America.

You can search the 1880 census by occupation at Ancestry Ancestry.com

02 September 2006

Days of Wine and Ruses

William Ingraham Koch, yachtsman and art collector, bought some wine a few years ago that was purported to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson. Turns out it probably wasn't.

Koch spent more on finding out that the story was bogus than he did on the wine itself but there's more millions where that came from and, not to worry, Koch can still go on with his collecting. Some of Koch's collection was on exhibit last year at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which said:

At the core of the collection is Koch’s ancestor, Captain James Lawrence, a naval hero of the War of 1812. Captain Lawrence’s bravado expressed in his dying words “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” later became the motto of the United States Navy. The Koch collection of marines includes several paintings devoted to Lawrence.

Maybe the person who sold Koch the wine is the same person who sold him the story about James Lawrence being his ancestor. James Lawrence was survived by one daughter, Mary, who was born about 1811. She married Lt. William Griffin in 1838.

Tracing Koch's ancestry back to the early 1800s lookng for Griffins or Lawrences turned up Koch's great-great-grandmother Marie, who was born in 1812 to Isaac Lawrence, and who married William Ingraham Kip.

Turns out Isaac Lawrence and Captain James Lawrence both had ancestors who came to Long Island from Hertfordshire, England in the 1630s. I would not be surprised if the two Lawrence guys from Hertforshire are related. But even if they were brothers, that would make William Koch something like 10th cousin, 4 times removed to Captain Lawrence. Hardly an ancestor.

I am more closely related to Madonna than Koch is related to Captain Lawrence and there is not a single portrait of her in my collection.

Nor any bogus wine.

25 August 2006

Panned Planethood

The inhabitants of Earth learned this week that there is one less planet, not the nine they thought they knew about, revolving around the Sun as the earth does.

According to Time.com, this was posted March 24, 1930.

The inhabitants of Earth learned last week that there is another planet, beside the eight they knew about, revolving around the Sun as the earth does.
Clyde W. Tombaugh, 24, an assistant at the observatory, saw a strange blotch of light on a new plate. He hastily took the photograph to Vesto Melvin Slipher, director of the observatory. Dr. Slipher joyfully notified his younger brother, Earl Carl Slipher, and the rest of the staff, including Carl Otto Lampland. They were quite excited.

Astronomy may not be static but history is. Those scientists can be found today just as the census enumerator recorded them 10 days after the article appeared in Time.

22 August 2006

From Ordinary Beginnings to the Greatest Generation

Ira Hayes was a member of the Pima tribe from Arizona, son of a grocery store clerk. Franklin Sousley's father was a truck farmer in Kentucky. As a 4-year-old, Michael Strank came with his mother from what is now Slovakia to join his father in the coal fields of Pennsylvania. Harlon Block's father, the son of German immigrants, had a farm in Texas, just north of the Mexican border. Rene Gagnon's parents were French-Canadian cotton mill workers in New Hampshire who separated when Rene was young. John Bradley, who lived most all his life in the Wisconsin dairy lands, was the son of a railroad brakeman.

On February 23, 1945, Joe Rosenthal, Washington D.C.-born son of a Jewish clothing merchant from Russia, took their picture on Iwo Jima. Joe died last Sunday.

21 August 2006

Annie's Family

As Megan announced, Brian Andersson was the first to locate Annie Moore's family. Congratulations, Brian!

I've started posting records I've found for Annie's family on my research notes site. Brain has even more compelling evidence, so stay tuned to Megan's Roots World for further updates.

Brian, by the way, has access to some wonderful records at the NYC Department of Records. All of us who do research in NY are delighted to have a genealogist heading up the department. One of us! And quite an accomplished researcher, too.

Maybe soon Brian or Randy or another researcher will find Annie. Meanwhile, I'm still enjoying the hunt!

17 August 2006

Lessons in Research from the Wall Street Journal

Today's issue of the WSJ has an article entitled, "Going Online to Mine the Growing Wealth of Genealogy Data." The search by Lan Nguyen, the Journal's Cranky Consumer, for her husband's ancestors offers the opportunity to discuss some basic tenets of genealogical research.

1) People born in New York did not have to travel through Ellis Island to get there. The columnist reports looking for her husband's grandfather, James Jewel, born in New York in 1910, on EllisIsland.org. I would recommend Steve Morse's Ellis Island portal for better results, still it's not where I'd start my search for a native New Yorker.

2) Danish people are not well represented in Jewish genealogical databases. The author says she searched for her husband's grandmother on Jewishgen.org. A great site, but not necessarily the best for looking up the ancestry of a Danish woman who married into a Jewish family in 1934.

3) Women are not born with the last names of their future husbands. The writer evidently did not know that records for events that took place before a woman's marriage will be under the woman's maiden name. All her searches for the grandmother were for "Evelyn Jewel."

4) Researching your family tree takes longer than 5 hours and can even take weeks. The columnist allotted five hours to do the research on her husband's ancestry. After running into so many problems, she contacted the help desk at Ancestry.com for some pointers and was able to find her husband's grandfather in a matter of weeks.

I admit, my own genealogical research has not been much quicker, even allowing for the time I have evidently wasted reading up on the process.

11 August 2006

More Castles for Nic

Nicholas Cage bought a castle in Etzelwang bei Amberg because the ancestors of his mother, Joy Vogelsang, "are all from good old Bavaria." In fact, Nic's great-great-great-grandfather Louis Vogelgesang is the only one I can identify who came from Bavaria.

Maybe Nic'll just buy a château in Alsace in memory of his great-great-great-grandmother Josephine and scoop up a Schloß or two in Prussia in memory of his mother's Muentnich and Daum ancestors. He's got a number of manors in the British Isles coming to him, too, what with his mom's Lewis, Caldwell, Ramsey, and Lockhart ancestors.

And that's just on his mom's paternal side.

I don't know anything about the background of Nic's maternal grandmother. She is 91 and living in Los Angeles so I could just ask her. Though she goes by Louise, Ancestry.com says her name is Della Murray, which, now that I think of it, does not sound particularly Bavarian.

Hat tip to The Genealogue.

27 July 2006

Annie to Attend Moore Family Reunion?

Annie Moore, that long-lost Irish gal who has the genealogy world in hyper-search mode, will probably not be attending the Moore Family Reunion in California next week. I'll be there -- Moore is my maiden name -- as will my parents, siblings, and four generations of assorted relatives.

I admit to being one of those caught up in the search for Annie that Megan fiendishly instigated. Being intimately acquainted with early 20th century New Yorkers -- I searched thousands of them for an urban history project -- I thought I would give it a go.

With my addled brain, I soon realized that I needed some kind of organization for the Annie project. Who said what and when? What's been searched? I am way too easily confused! You can check out my first attempts at organization here.

So far, Annie has eluded everyone's efforts. If she does show up at the Moore Family Reunion next week, I'll let you know.

11 July 2006

June Allyson Dies

June Allyson died Sunday. In 2001, she gave an interview on Larry King Live in which she said her name was originally Ella Van Geisman, a Dutch name. Others have decided, for no apparent reason, that she was Jewish.

The 1920 New York census lists her as Ella, daughter of Anna and Robert Geisman, a chemist. Her parents were married in 1914 at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in the Bronx by the pastor, William Junge. Her grandfather, Henry Geismann, was born in 1864 in Ahsen, then part of Prussia, and christened in the same Catholic church where his parents were married. So again, it appears that the Dutch are really Deutsch.

On her mother's side, Allyson's grandmother's ancestors were from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Her maternal grandfather was named James Provost. He may have been a descendant of the early settlers of New Amsterdam, which would make him -- and June Allyson -- Dutch.
You can view the census records and more genealogy for June Allyson at Ancestry Ancestry.com

09 July 2006

The Devil's in the Details

Meryl Streep reports that "Streep was a name taken by Jews in Holland in the fifteenth century." In a 1998 interview, she told us that the Streeps were originally Sephardic Jews from Spain.

That may well be true. The name Streep is Dutch. And Jews from Spain did go to Holland in the 15th century.

But when we check out the details -- by, of all things, starting with her father and working backwards -- we find that her branch wasn't even named Streep so we don't care about the origins of the Dutch Streeps.

Streep's father is Harry Streep, Jr. In the 1930 census he is with his parents Harry and Lena in Newark, NJ.

Harry Sr's WW I draft card says he was born February 5, 1884. In the 1900 census, Harry, born February 1884, is in Newark with his parents Frederick and Elizabeth who are both born in New Jersey. Their parents were from Germany and the surname is spelled Streeb. (Those of you familiar with German pronunciation are nodding right now.)

In the 1870 census, Frederick is in Elizabeth, NJ with Godfrey and Christian Streep who are both from "Whertenburg." Records from Madison Street German Presbyterian Church in New York City, where their first child was born, include the marriage of Christine Zeltmann to Gottfried Streebe in 1851.

The Wuerttemberg, Germany Emigration Index says Christine Zeltmann, who sailed in 1846, is from the town of Loffenau. Her husband may be the Gottfried Streeb reportedly born in Loffenau in 1815.

Maybe the Streeps living in Holland today descend from Spanish Jews. And maybe they think they are related to Meryl Streep. But they are not kin unless, long ago, some Dutch Streeps moved to Germany's Black Forest. Maybe the Streebs living in Loffenau today would know.

There once was a women in Prada,
Who sailed with the Spanish Armada.
She says she is Dutch.
I think - not so much.
So it turns out the devil wears nada.

You can view the draft card, emigration index, census records, and more records for Meryl Streep at Ancestry Ancestry.com

28 June 2006

Who's My Daddy?

Here's a picture of me taken soon after I was born with a man in an army uniform. A staff seargent with some kind of communications patch on his sleeve. Palm trees in the background so it could be California. My mother says the man is my father.

Could the soldier be Marlon Brando? Brando was known to hang out in Southern California sometimes, so that's a good possibility.

Maybe my father is Italian soccer player Alessandro del Piero -- currently playing in the World Cup -- though this seems less likely since Alessandro wasn't born until 1974 and the picture appears to be somewhat earlier.

Perhaps it's Yasser Arafat in a crafty disguise.

Other likely matches are Jon Stewart, Chuck Yeager, George Clooney, and Luciano Pavarotti.

Those are the possibilities listed at myHeritage which uses "sophisticated algorithms that facilitate the use of face recognition for genealogy."

I don't have any sophisticated algorithms. To me, he looks a lot like the guy my mom has always called Fred and I've always called Dad.

27 June 2006

Rare Welsh Bits

According to the National Web Site of Wales, the recent completion of U.S. census records on Ancestry [Ancestry.com] will result in boatloads of Americans beating the bushes in Wales searching for their ancestors.

"Americans are very intrigued about Wales and their Celtic ancestry. If they feel they have half a toe in the Celtic gene pond, they'll be beside themselves with excitement and hot-footing it over here to get more."

I don't doubt that a lot of folks have Welsh roots but they picked these famous people as examples:

Tom Cruise's Welsh ancestry was questioned here and also revised on ancestry.com.

The Welsh site says Tommy Lee Jones's father, Clyde Jones, was Welsh. Clyde was born in Texas in 1926. Both of Clyde's parents were born in the U.S. as were all four of his grandparents, all eight of his great-grandparents, and a good chunk of his family tree for several more generations. Because the origins of most of his ancestors are unidentified, we don't know how many of these lines actually led from Wales.

Dallas, Texas 1930

Kevin Spacey says his great-grandfather was a Welshman named Spacey. Actually, his grandfather Joseph emigrated from Bohemia as a toddler. He changed his name from Spacek to Spacey when he was in his 30's.

Mount Vernon, NY 1920

Hicksville, NY 1930

Half a toe, indeed. Some of those Welsh bits are quite rare.

19 June 2006

A Family Heritage That's Hard to Stomach

In 1930 [census], Golda Hitchcock Bradfield lived with her carpenter husband and five children in their rented home on a tree-lined street in downtown Emporia, Kansas. Three more children would be born in the next five years. In the coming decades, the family would learn that Golda had passed on a deadly inheritance.

Golda died of a rare stomach cancer at age 64. Of her eight children, seven would have the gene that makes the disease almost inevitable. Six of the kids died of it, most in their 40s or 50s.

The next generation -- Golda's grandchildren -- watched helplessly as the older generation died too young and wondered what the future held for them. With the advent of a genetic test for the disease -- and the death from stomach cancer of one of that generation -- the remaining cousins were tested. Eleven of them were found to be at risk. Each of them had to decide whether or not to accept the only available option -- to have their stomachs removed.

A drastic step but eventually they all took that option. "We're all going to die of something," Bill Bradford said, "but I know I won't die of stomach cancer."

16 June 2006

Political. Incorrect.

A recent reviewer of political commentator Ann Coulter's latest book threw down the genealogical gauntlet by suggesting that Coulter could be descended from Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.

That is patently absurd and was obviously written just to stir up trouble -- yet I did take up the challenge. I found that Coulter's ancestors, at least on her mother's side, are red-blooded Americans, having been in this country for hundreds of years, and have probably never set foot in Germany.

Coulter's mother is Nell Martin Coulter, born in Paducah, Kentucky in 1928. On the 1850 census, Nell's great-great-grandfather, Charles C. Martin, is a farmer in Muhlenberg Co., Kentucky.

He's also on the 1850 Slave Schedule for the same location, the owner of one 18-year-old mulatto male.

Note: Click the census images to enlarge. You can view additional Martin family census images with a subscription or free trial at Ancestry Ancestry.com

15 June 2006

Are Baby Boomers Ready to Face Growing Old?

In its new ad campaign, Genworth Financial is spotlighting the lives of 6 centenarians. According to the WSJ, this is a bold move. Conventional wisdom among marketing types is that Baby Boomers are turned off by reminders that they are getting old. I rather like it -- beats the alternative.

One good thing about old folks is that they have more history that can be checked out. Here's what the records show for the new advertising models.

Helen Green
One of ten children, Helen was born March 2, 1902 in King Co., Washington to Joseph Burcham, a farmer, and his wife Rosa Householder. Helen's twin sister Hazel died in 2001 at 99. Helen has been a widow for thirty years and is an avid genealogist. [1910 census]

Edward Rondthaler
Edward, who just celebrated his 101st birthday a few days ago, is the son of Howard Rondthaler, a Moravian bishop and president of Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and his wife Katherine Boring, the daughter of a Philadelphia pharmacist. Edward married Dorothy Reid in 1930; she died in 2002. [1910 census]

Leonard Ross
Around the time "Rosie" was 11 or 12, his family moved from Wakita, Oklahoma -- where he was born in 1905 -- to Barber Co., Kansas where his father continued to farm. By 1930, his parents had moved to Colorado and bought a hotel though Leonard no longer lived at home. By the time he enlisted in the army during WW II, Leonard was living in Arizona, where he still resides. [1910 census]

Clayton Scott
"Scotty," who will turn 101 next month, was born in Potter Co., Pennsylvania to an English stone mason. In 1920, his father was a jewelry store clerk still in Potter Co., but by 1930, he was working as a grocer in Portland, Oregon. This account differs slightly from the story told on the Boeing Frontiers Web site which says that Clayton moved with his family from Pennsylvania to Portland in 1911. In any case, Clayton was listed as an airplane pilot in Seattle, Boeing's home, in the 1930 census. [1920 census]

Frank Shearer
A retired doctor, Frank's wife, Bernice Deer Shearer, died in 1996 on her 92nd birthday. He was born in 1905, most likely in Saskatchewan, Canada. The first Canadian census he'll appear on is 1911, which will be released to the public in 2011 at which time Frank will be 106.

Roberta Smith
Is Roberta the Rovertia/Roverta Stoker who is 1 year, 1 month old in April, 1910 and living just outside Henderson, Texas? If so, her date of marriage is incorrect in this article; Roverta is still living at home in 1930. But the article has her husband's year of death wrong. Social Security records indicate he died in 1984, not 1980. More differences: The article states that 6 family members died in 1921. But Roverta's immediate family appears pretty healthy and intact in 1930. One last bit of confusion: Public record databases, not totally reliable, indicate that Roberta Smith of Indio, California was born March 13, 1909. If so, she would not be a centenarian for another couple of years. Check out the ad when it airs and see for yourself if she doesn't look a day over 97. [1930 census]

Note: Census images are available only if you have a subscription or free trial at Ancestry Ancestry.com

07 June 2006

Senator Finds Cousin's Skeleton in Closet

When The Genealogue generously shared with us that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) claimed there'd never been a divorce in the recorded history of his family, you know I had to check it out.

This is from the October 20, 1949 edition of the Council Bluffs Nonpareil (Council Bluffs, Iowa). Lorence Inhofe is the senator's first cousin.

02 June 2006

George Raft's Fabled Italian Ancestry

Did George Raft make up his Italian ancestry or was it his devotees who did it as Italian American Actors suggests? Fan-written Wikipedia says that George Raft had an Italian mother and the FBI says he is Italian, but the American National Bibliography says Raft's parents are Conrad Ranft and Eva Glockner. With this conflicting information, I could not help but want to check it out. I was surprised by what I found.

In 1910, George is with his parents Conrad and Eva Ranft in New York City. His father says he was born in Massachussets and his mother says she is from Germany. The parents give the same birthplaces in 1900. So that confirms it: George Raft had no Italian ancestry.

But what's surprising is that he is only 8 years old in 1910 and does not appear at all in 1900. Practically every source has his birthdate as 26 Sep 1895. Even his gravestone and California death record say 1895.

So now we have evidence that George lied about his age and everybody fell for it. All we have to do is verify it.
  • The social security death index has his birthdate as 26 Sep 1901. The dates on the California death record and the tombstone were provided by someone else, but George himself provided the date to the Social Security Administration, probably along with proof of age.
  • The index to New York City Births records a George Rauft born 26 Sep 1901. Remember, George's real name was Ranft. If, like me, you spend all your spare time looking at census records, you know that an N and a U look the same.

Someone who wants to write a biography of George might want to examine the actual birth record, but that's enough evidence for me.

Billy Bob Thornton's Fanciful Italian Ancestry

Billy Bob Thornton, who claims to be one-quarter Italian from his mother's side, will probably be having a wild celebration tonight for the 60th anniversary of the Foundation of the Italian Republic.

In 1930, his mother's parents, Maud and Claud (C.D.) Faulkner, were living in Arkansas next to Maud's parents and grandfather. No sign of any Italians anywhere in the county and certainly not in this household. So where does Billy Bob's Italian ancestry come from?

Some sites identify Billy Bob's great-grandfather, James R. Duce as the Italian in his tree. Perhaps they've found a link between the Duce family of Arkansas and Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator known as Il Duce.

Christina Ricci's Forgotten Italian Heritage

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Italian Republic. Don't look for Christina Ricci to be celebrating.

Christina's father Ralph was in New Jersey in 1930 with his parents (Christina's grandparents) Charlotte and Victor Ricci. Both of Victor's parents were born in Italy. That makes Christina's ancestry one-quarter Italian...

"But the Italian blood has been bred out of me. There's an Italian four or five generations back who married an Irish woman and they all had sons. So they married more Irish women, there were more sons, and more Irish women. Now I'm basically Scots-Irish." [Link]

23 May 2006

My Advice: Don't Lie About Your Age

According to an article in yesterday's WSJ, Marie Manning is considered the first American newspaper advice columnists. Writing for the New York Evening Journal as "Beatrice Fairfax," her column debuted in 1898. Manning later recalled, "If I had been 10 years older, I might have hesitated over the Frankensteinian monster I was invoking. But 20 is a fearless age."

Here is Marie in 1880 with her father and several maternal relatives; she is 10 years old. In 1870, she is with her parents and some of the same relatives; she is 1 year old.

Known as witty and astringent, Manning must have been enjoyed supressing a laugh when she said, "If I had been 10 years older...."

15 May 2006

Nothing Under the Sun Is New

Someone forwarded an e-mail to me yesterday that started out with the news that this week in 1850, California became a state. California was admitted to the Union in September and this is May, so things are off to a bad start.

Then it says that back then, the state had no electricity, no money, almost everybody in the state spoke Spanish, and there were gunfights in the streets. The e-mail continues by telling us that things are pretty much the same today as they were then but then points out that one real difference between now and then is that back then the men didn't hold hands.

I don't know if this e-mail is saying that California would be out of the 19th century were it not for deregulation, Prop. 13, and the National Rifle Association or if California should be given back to Mexico or what. Though I can't tell what the point of the e-mail is, I can check out some of the facts -- and you know I will.

The population of California in the 1850 census was 93,171. Of those, 6,440 were born in Mexico. For comparison, 10,301 were born in New York, over 5,000 in Ohio, and 4,300 in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 were born in Germany and a bit more were from England. Though the census did not ask what languages people spoke, I wouldn't be surprised if more people knew German than Spanish.

Of the total population, less than 4,000 were women -- so who were all those men holding hands with?

03 May 2006

Tom Cruise's Baby's Questionable Ancestry

Born Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, Tom Cruise single-handedly tracked his family tree back to his great-grandfather, Thomas Cruise Mapother I. Great sleuthing, Tom!

A couple years ago he was reportedly "staggered" when handed a pedigree chart on national TV which had his immigrant ancestor, Welshman Dylan Henry Mapother, arriving in 1850. If he had been able to do any research on his own further than his namesake ancestor, his being staggered would have been justified: records from Castle Garden show his immigrant ancestor was born in Ireland, not Wales.

Census records of 1860 and 1870 corroborate the Irish ancestry.

Although news to Tom, his Irish ancestry is not news to those who keep track of these kind of things:

27 April 2006

If Goldie Hawn had married Walter Matthau would she be Goldie Studlendgehawn-Matuschanskayasky?

The story of how Walter Matthau came to be identified as Walter Matuschanskayasky is pretty well documented. He made it up himself. After arriving in the U.S. from Poland, his father had changed his name from Matuschansky to Matthow, which was Matthau's surname when he was born in 1920. Making fun of the original foreign-sounding name, Matthau would jokingly say it was Matuschanskayasky and some took him seriously.

This info is from his biography, Matthau, a Life, and I cannot shed any more light on these names. I cannot find the family in the census in any year with any name. His mother died with the name Matthow and there are possible sightings of his father in Ellis Island and draft records but nothing that gives a positive ID.

Goldie's story is quite different. I have no idea who made up the tale that her birth name was Studlendgehawn or what it is based on.

Here's her dad in 1920. He's listed as Rutledge, son of O.D. and Claire Hawn. Here he is again in 1910, this time listed as Edward R., son of Otto D. and Clara. All the way back through the census records for generations -- from Otto to Aaron to Alfred to Sampson to Christian to John -- all the way back to the first U.S. census -- the name is Hawn or Hahn or Haun.

The name is never anything at all like Studlendgehawn. As a matter of fact, I can't find a single person who ever existed with that name, can you?

24 April 2006

Death Records Prove Popularity of Woolworth's Wallets

The California Death Index for 1940 through 1997 shows 36 people with something unusual in common: Minnie Sly, Gene Goldsborough, Albert Bockhacker, James Pappas, Denis O'Callahan, Archie Smith, Lorin Rutledge, Williard Friend, and a couple dozen more. Thirty-one of them were men; only five were women. All of the people died in the 1940s and 1950s except two who died in the 1980s. They came to California from all over the U.S. -- nine were foreign-born -- and none of them knew each other. Their places of death were spread out over the state, from San Diego County in the south to Tehama County in the north.

What they had in common was that they had each gotten a wallet from Woolworth's. The wallet came with a fake Social Security card with a preprinted Social Security number on it, empty spaces where the name and birthdate would go, and the word SPECIMEN stamped across it. When these people died, their next of kin opened the wallet and pulled out the card. They gave the social security number on the card to the person who filled out their loved one's death certificate.

Old news, yes, but I just got around to checking it out. If you have a subscription to Ancestry.com, you can see the death index for yourself. The 36 people are all listed with the same social security number.

15 April 2006

Eleven-Year-Old Foreigner Wanders U.S. Alone for Two Years

Maybe I should have a blog just for immigration myths.

There's a story about Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo that says his 11-year-old grandfather Joseph came to Ellis Island from Italy unaccompanied with a note pinned to his shirt directing that he be sent to Iowa, but he overshot Iowa and ended up in Denver 2 years later.

The story ignores the fact that an 11-year-old wandering off alone at Ellis Island in 1900 is as likely as one wandering through customs in 2006. There were hundreds of workers and immigrant aid society members at Ellis Island to assist and accommodate the recent immigrants. And how did poor Joseph eat on his trek and where did he sleep? Did no one help the child? Somehow the people of sepia-colored America are seen as quite different from people today.

Then there's the passenger list that shows 11-year-old Giuseppe with other Tancredo family members (sisters?) from Potenza on the ship Sicilian Prince landing at Ellis Island in 1903. As required, they each give the name and address of the person they are joining in the U.S. The women name their husbands; Giuseppe names his brother-in-law, Gerardo Marsico. The relatives all live in Denver at the same address.

When Grandpa Joe told the story of his arrival to his grandson Tom, did he forget he had family who traveled with him from Italy and who he lived among on Osage Street?

Tom Tancredo is proud that his grandparents wanted, above all, to leave Italy behind and to be American. He is one of the congressmen who wants to build a fence across the Mexican border because, he says, immigrants of today are different from those of a hundred years ago.

06 April 2006

Free Government Graves and Tombstones

The Washington Post's headline was intriguing: Great-Grandson's Questions Laid to Rest.
After Years of Research, Man Identifies His Confederate Ancestor's Grave.

Rather misleading title. No grave digging or DNA analysis was involved. The guy already knew where his ancestor was buried from a childhood memory, he just did not know his name. The article leaves out all the juicy details, such as how he figured out which of his four great-grandfathers was the one buried there (here's the one he ID'd: Charles Jones) and how we can check it out.

As for the "notarized affidavit," to have something notarized means that the signing of the affidavit is witnessed by a notary public. A notary asks for identification to ensure the person is who they say they are. Notaries are not responsible for the accuracy of anything. That means any of us can show up with a notarized pedigree chart to claim an unmarked grave. And the government will even thrown in a free tombstone.

17 March 2006

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Madonna was fascinated to find that she is related to both Celine Dion and the former Camilla Parker-Bowles. She was so delighted that she gave the Duchess a call to let her in on the secret. Madonna's genealogist believes that Madonna, Celine, and Camilla are related because of their "unusual French-Canadian ancestry."

Madonna is, in fact, related to a bazillion people, including Robert Goulet, Jack Kerouac, all five of the Dionne Quintuplets, and -- me!

Let's look at the numbers. Zacharie Cloutier and Jean Guyon, through whom Madonna claims relationship to Camilla and Celine, are two of her 9th great-grandfathers. By 1800, Zacharie Cloutier had 10,850 married descendants; Jean Guyon had 9,674.

Play those numbers out over another 200 years and that means Madonna has a ton of relatives -- just from those two ancestors! Now add into the equation the fact that half of Madonna's lineage is French-Canadian. She would have had 512 French or French-Canadian 9th great-grandfathers! Even accounting for pedigree collapse, that would make her related to virtually everyone with early French-Canadian ancestry.

As another cousin, Dick Eastman, says, "I have never met a French-Canadian that I wasn't related to!"

Jean-François Loiseau has great trees showing dozens of the French ancestors of Madonna, Celine, and Camilla.

(Thanks to genealogyblog for tip.)

14 March 2006

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Maureen Stapleton died yesterday at age 80. In the 1930 census (line 27) she was a 4-year-old living in Troy, NY. Her father was a merchant in a candy store -- every child's dream, no doubt. But look where her mother worked. Who wouldn't want samples from there!!

11 March 2006

Wall Street Journal Not Your Best Source for Genealogy

Today's edition of the Wall Street Journal had an article on Wrigley gum and how the founder of the company ran away from home at age 11 to live on the streets of New York and pull himself up by his own bootstraps. Not true, of course. Here is William Wrigley, Jr. living at home at age 18 and working as a salesman. According to the company, Wrigley is selling his father's soap.

I wonder if the WSJ fails to check out its other stories. Maybe just not those of people who (seemingly) overcome great odds to fulfill the American dream.

Last year there was a great multi-part series in the Journal on upward mobility in the U.S. and the lack thereof in recent times. It gave the example of a James Roberts who went from being the son of a day laborer in western New York in 1850 to being a bookkeeper in New York City 30 years later. Never letting an opportunity to check it out go by, I found that the bookkeeper was in fact the son of a wealthy landowner in Westchester County, NY. (To be fair, the professor who supplied the example has compiled excellent data on 19th century mobility. Yes, Dr. Ferrie, I checked out your data.)

06 March 2006

Prosper and Live Long

They say that Oscar winners live longer than losers. Doesn't seem like winning an Oscar would give much of an evolutionary edge, especially considering the bazillions of actors who don't even get nominated. But that's what the numbers say.

Is this longevity edge evident in other fields as well? I had to check it out, of course.

Here is what the numbers say for winning a Nobel Prize:

There were 235 Americans nominated for the Nobel prize in medicine between 1901 and 1949. Twenty-five won. The average age at death for the winners was 81. Average age at death for the losers was 77.

Now I know what you're thinking. These were old geezers when they got nominated and they probably didn't live long enough to get an award. After all, the average time between being nominated and being awarded a prize was 11 years. So I took off the loser list those who died within 11 years of being nominated. The average age for the losers then came to 79.

For the Nobel Peace Prize, there were 68 American nominees from 1901 to 1951. A dozen won. Those winners died at an average age of 80. The losers died at 76. Removing those who died within 5 years of being nominated (mean interval for peace prize) the average age at death for the losers was 62.

What do these results mean? Is this a statistically valid study? Is this true across all disciplines? I have no idea: I am a genealogist, not a statistician. But for my next project, I will examine the longevity of prize-winning quilters at the Ohio State Fair.

22 February 2006

Missing Sandra Day O'Connor

Texas birth records show that Sandra Day was born March 26, 1930 in El Paso County. Three weeks later, the census enumerator found her parents on the Lazy-B Ranch in Greenlee Co., AZ. No sign of little Sandra. Maybe she was out back roping a steer when the census taker came by.

19 February 2006

Inexplicable Epidemic of Death Hits 115-Year-Olds

In the past couple days, two-thirds of all Americans aged 115 have died. That leaves only one.

Bettie Rutherford Wilson was born September 13, 1890, in Benton Co., Mississippi. She died on February 16, 2006.

Susie Potts Wilson was born October 31, 1890, in Alcorn Co., Mississippi. She died February, 18, 2006, two days after Bettie Wilson.

Lizzie Jones Bolden was born August 15, 1890 in Fayette Co., Tennesee. She currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

18 February 2006

World-Famous First Winter Olympic Gold Medal Winner

The winner of the first event of the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix was Charles Jewtraw. A speed skater who took part in events across the U.S. and Europe in the early 1920s, Jewtraw won the 500 meter event at the first Winter Olympics. Born in Clinton County, NY in 1900, Charlie grew up near Lake Placid, the 4th son in a poor family. His parents separated when he was in his teens and he went to live with a businessman who financed Charlie's training.

You'd think the name of the winner of the first gold medal in Winter Olympic history would be world famous. Or, since he was an American, at least famous in the U.S. Although remembered in the speed-skating community, Charlie's name is not as recognizable to the rest of us as, say, fellow speed-skater Eric Heiden or another 1924 Winter Olympian, Sonja Henie, who as an 11-year-old figure skater, finished last.

After the Olympics, Jewtraw attended Harvard for a while and took part in a few more skating meets and exhibitions following the Olympics. He became a spokesperson for Spalding and married a woman named Natalie. He died in 1996 in Palm Beach, Florida.

In case you are wondering, the Jewtraws came to New York from Canada, though I don't know the actual origin of the name. To bolster my theory that census takers never ever asked how to spell a name, between 1840 and 1880, the name is recorded as Jewstraw, Dutrow, Jutraw, Dutrand, Jertraw, and Dutraw.

Here is Jewtraw in 1900, just a month old. By 1910 the family was living near Lake Placid. In 1920, Charlie was living with his sponsor, James Mabbett.

06 February 2006

Coretta Scott King Laid to Rest

As everyone knows, Coretta Scott King was born in Perry County, Alabama on April 27, 1927. Two years and 11 months later, the 1930 census records her age (line 88) as one and 11 months.

Does that mean she lied about her age? Probably not. If you've done even a minimum amount of research in the census records, you will have found that people's birthyears varied quite a bit. When they are this young, however, the parents are less likely to make a mistake. Note that in the case of little Cora, her grandparents were likely the one giving her age, so an error like this is understandable.

24 January 2006

How the Government Stole Their Identity

A century ago, Rosa Schneckelwicz bought tickets for passage to America for herself and her two children. The clerk filling out the passenger list spoke the same language she did and wrote her name as Schnecklewisz. Since spelling was a matter of fashion and changed over time, nobody much cared. The clerk wrote down the name and address of the person she was joining in the U.S., her husband, Itzig.

Rosa lands with her children at Ellis Island. She is asked by the official, who speaks only English, what her name is. Rosa thinks he is asking her what she had for lunch. The official hands her a piece of paper that gives her her new name: Weiner.

Rosa's husband comes to meet his family at the immigration station. She is so happy to see her dear Itzig after their long separation. "Don't call me Itzig," he says. "They did not like the name at Ellis Island so they changed it to Isaac." Rosa blinks and shows him the piece of paper with her new name. He is shocked. He had been given the name Shneck when he arrived last year because the official thought Schneckelwicz was too long. They go back to where the husband had been staying with his brother and discuss it with him. (When the brother had arrived three years ago, he had picked up the wrong piece of luggage at Ellis Island and been given the name O'Reilly when the official read the tags.)

But nothing can be done. There is that piece of paper that was given out at Ellis Island with their new names and it cannot be ignored. The husband lives out his life with the name Shneck and the children all grow up with the name Weiner. (The brother's children all go by O'Reilly.)

20 January 2006

The Roots of Poverty

Did you see Country Boys on Frontline a couple weeks ago? Since I saw it I find myself thinking about Chris and Cody and reading more on Appalachia. The PBS web site has some good articles and I've dug up others that show the history of poverty in the region and why it continues.

As the miniseries did, the records of the Johnson family make the general history personal. We can see the Appalachian themes of illiteracy, ecological exploitation, and internecine fighting played out within the Johnson family.

Randall's father was Noah Johnson. He was born in 1932, two years after the 1930 census. He bacame a mechanic and died at age 68. Here are his parents Eli and Eveline Johnson in 1930. Eli works in a sawmill and they rent their house for $5 a month. Eveline cannot read or write.

Going back to 1910 we find Eli as a son in the household of Daniel R. and Sarah Johnson. Daniel is a farmer and the couple are the parents of 13 children.

In 1932, Daniel Johnson shot and killed his daughter Tiny two days before she was to be brought to the penitentiary for killing her husband. Daniel's sons Eli and Charles testified for the prosecution but were said to have been drunk at the time of the shooting.

Abbott and Costello Part 2

I seem to have ruffled some feathers with my blog on Bud Abbott. Instead of relying on gossip and oft-repeated stories, I looked at the evidence. Some people have a hard time with that because it challenges their long-held beliefs.

As far as Bud goes, the evidence points to his not being Jewish. Notice I did not say proves. More evidence could tilt the matter another way.

While we wait for that, let's move on to some sleuthing for Costello.

Lou's ancestry is usually given as mostly Italian with some mixture of Irish and French for the rest. They say his name was originally Cristillo and one story is that he changed it to Costello to match the surname of Dolores Costello.

Let's look at the census to see what it says. Remember, census info is evidence and not fact. We need to remember that because we get different info from each census!

In 1930, Lou's last name is Cristillo, his father is from Italy and his mother's parents are born in New Jersey.

In 1920, the last name is Cristillo, father from Italy and mother's parents born in New Jersey and England.

Here's a surprise in 1910: the last name is Costello! Where did that come from? Dad is Italian and mom has the same ancestry as 1920. Mom's dad (Louis Rege) is in the same household, born in New Jersey, half Italian and half French. It appears that his children had two different mothers, one born in England and one in France.

So far we're pretty sure that Lou's dad is 100% Italian but his mom's ancestry is rather murky. So far we have France, England, and New Jersey as possible origins.

In 1900, Lou's mother (Ellen Rege, line 54) is 17 and living with her parents who have been married for 18 years, so the hypothesis of a stepmother appears to be wrong. Her father has the same ancestry as in 1910 but her mother is from Pennsylvania with Irish ancestry. This is completely different from what is in other census records but it matches what it says in Lou's biography written by his daughter and also what we find in 1880 (Mary Tuohy, line 17).

We still don't know for sure where the name Costello came from (why did it pop up in 1910?) but we do have a good idea of Lou's ancestry. Doing the math, I come up with 62.5% Italian, 25% Irish, and 12.5% French. A long trip to find the facts, but worth the ride.

14 January 2006

Shelly Winters Dies: Short Schrift

Shelly Winters was the one who said, "I'm not overweight. I'm just nine inches too short." Here she is, last one on the page in the 1930 Queens NY census, the daughter of Jonas and Rose Schrift.

10 January 2006

Happy Anniversary, Abbott and Costello

Well, I made that up. I have no idea when they met or first appeared together.

But making things up seems to be the norm for stuff about celebrities (or often one's own ancestors). Take a look at this forum posting about Bud Abbott's 1900 census entry. Now take a look at the actual census. Notice how the poster made stuff up, particularly "Religion Jewish." Religion has never appeared on a U.S. census.

Others on the same forum commented on how the grandmother had a "Jewish name." This is in reference to "Rivka" which is what the earlier poster made up as the grandmother's name in the 1900 census. The census actually says "Reyka," a misspelling by the census taker of Ricka, a common nickname for Fredericka.

Here is Bud's mother Rachel, grandmother Fredericka, and grandfather Alexander Fisher (after whom Bud Abbott was named) in the 1860 census. This was long before Northern and Eastern European Jews started coming to the U.S.

So was Bud Abbott Jewish? It does not look like it based on the census info. But here is more grist for the rumor mill: In 1950 Bud and his wife renewed their wedding vows in a Jewish ceremony. Why they did this is not clear. Not do I understand why nobody in the ceremony is wearing a yarmulka.

02 January 2006

Who Are Those Aging Baby Boomers?

A few weeks ago, Newsweek's cover had a lot of famous people born in 1946. But what about the not-so-famous? What happened to all those babies that are now turning 60?

I did a bit of research on a random few of the 442 Californians born January 1, 1946 to see how they turned out. Though they will probably never appear on the cover of a magazine, I'll bet they are more typical of the rest of us baby boomers.

  • Carol D. was widowed when her husband, a stained-glass craftsman and 13 years her senior, died last year. She has 5 children and 9 grandchildren and lives in Indiana.
  • James H. was married and divorced twice with two children by his first wife and one by his second. A Vietnam veteran, he got a college degree and worked in aerospace. He died in 2004.
  • Robert B. is a biologist for the National Park Service. Does not appear to have married.
  • Judith A. married when she was 18 and a couple months pregnant. Divorced then married again at 28 and had two more kids. The family moved three times since 1993, each time further out of town. The 1500-sq-ft house they live in now has doubled in value since they bought it in 2002.
  • Albert A. still lives in Watts not far from where he was born.
  • William E. is a descendant of early Fullerton pioneers and a professor of economics in Nevada. Married in 1968; two children.
  • Susan I. joined the convent and became a nun in 1964. Left the convent then married in 1975. Has three grown daughters, is a 3rd-grade teacher, and remains active in the Church.
  • Eric V. was married at one time but no evidence that he had children or that he is still married. Software engineer in Arizona.
  • Rand T. married in 1968 and had a handful of children. Served in Vietnam. Went to law school and practices law in upstate New York. Runs marathons and skis.
  • Victoria M. married in 1971. They have 3 sons and live in a newer subdivision of compact homes on the outskirts of a small town in an agricultural area of California.
  • Melvin A. moved as a child with his family to Pennsylvania. A math whiz in school; enlisted in the army right after high school, later got a science degree from Pitt. Owned an art gallery in Pennsylvania and was a management consultant in Palm Beach, Fla. Never married. Died in 1979.
  • David S. married in 1968 and has two daughters, one of whom was selected Miss Anaheim while she was attending college. He has lived in the same middle-class Hispanic neighborhood for over 30 years.
  • Lyndell G. earned a Ph.D. in education and has had two apparently short-lived marriages. One when she was 21 and the second, to a high school teacher, when she was 39. She has lived in Washington, D.C. where she was a college professor, in Eastern Europe where she headed a foundation to support rural development, and currently in central California where she runs a ranch.
  • James S. married in 1967 and has two sons. Earned a law degree from Notre Dame; admitted to the state bar in 1975; suspended in 2000; resigned in 2001. Gave $100 to Bush-Cheney in 2004.
  • William H. was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967.
  • Mary G., of Greek heritage, married in 1967 a man she met while attending UC Santa Barbara, a native Californian of Japanese heritage. She is a licensed psytherapist working on her Ph. D. in psychology and the chairman of the board of an outreach ministry. She and her husband give their time and money to causes such as wildlife protection and religious education.
  • Twelve of the babies born in California on January 1, 1946, died before they were 3 months old.

While most boomers would not be considered remarkable, the fact that one can find out so much about them on the Internet certainly is.