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.