09 July 2009

Wizened Kid

Robert Strange McNamara died this week at age 93.

When tapped by JFK to be Secretary of Defense in 1960, McNamara was a registered Republican. Known as a liberal Republican – now an extinct species – McNamara explained later that "… when I had registered to vote in California at age twenty-one, I had registered Republican for no other reason than that my father was." (*)

I understand this to mean that he had registered as a Republican in 1937 because of family tradition and, either through laziness or inertia, had never changed it.

The Oakland Precinct No. 480 voter rolls for November 5, 1940 available on Ancestry.com, include the recent Harvard MBA graduate living at 1036 Annerly Road with his mother Claranel and sister Margaret, both Republicans. Robert S. McNamara, accountant, is listed as a Democrat. This means that sometime between 1940 and 1960 he had, one assumes knowingly, changed his registration to Republican.

His middle name, in case you are wondering, is his mother’s maiden name. The Strange family traces the name back through Missouri and Virginia to Scotland. His mother’s family tree is chock full of Southern Scots-Irish whose American roots go back to Colonial times. In contrast, McNamara’s father Robert J. McNamara, who died in 1938, was the son of Irish immigrants from County Cork. (†)

* In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. (Robert S. McNamarawith Brian Van De Mark.) New York: Times Books, 1995
The Living and the Dead (Paul Hendrickson) New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996

29 June 2009

Bernie Madoff’s great-grandfather made name for himself

Berl Miodownik was a middle-aged tailor when he boarded the SS Bulow in 1908 in search of the American dream. He made it all the way through Ellis Island with this name but within two years had changed it to Barnett Madoff.

As is the American way, he worked his way up from tailor to clothing designer. Within a couple decades he had obtained what is for many the ultimate symbol of success, a US patent number.

Barnett’s great-grandson, also an inventor, was sentenced today to 150 years in prison.

07 March 2009

Finding Famous Family

My relatives – the ones I celebrate holidays with, not the famous ones who do not even know I exist – often ask me how I find celebrities in the family tree. One way to do it is to put your family in OneWorldTree on Ancestry, then click on “Find famous relatives.”

If that doesn’t work, here are some suggestions:

  1. Expand your own family tree out as far as you can. Use
    proven genealogical techniques and do not rely on online trees.

  2. Learn the surnames of the people on your pedigree who
    were in the US or Canada before 1776. You don’t need to be able to recite
    then, but you should be able to recognize them.

  3. Connect your tree to one of these areas:
  • New France. Back in the 1600s, a limited number of people settled in French Canada. They bred like crazy and intermingled so much that if you find yourself related to one Quebecois, you’ll likely find yourself related to all of them. The genealogies of these people have been thoroughly tracked.
  • New Amsterdam. Though not as insular as New France or as well documented, these settlers in early New York were there about as early and serve as a bottleneck you can tap into.
  • New England. Connecting to someone in early Plymouth or other colonial New England town can open you up to the mother load of famous relatives.
  1. When you come across an article about Madonna being related to Jack Kerouac or a genealogy blogger bragging about being related to every president, check out the famous person’s tree. Review the names of their end people and see if any of them match any of the surnames on your tree. (I admit, I don’t check out the famous person’s tree for correctness. Linking to a famous person is done on a whim, while building my own tree accurately is an obligation.)

  2. If all your ancestors came through Ellis Island, your best bet is to try to get one of your cousins to try out for American Idol.

24 February 2009

40 Famous Relatives

All the rage lately on facebook are those lists like "25 random things about me" and "100 books we haven't read." I propose a list that has some relevance to genealogists.

I have put an X next to the famous people I am related to. Of course, we’re all related, but these are the ones I can show a link to. Which are you related to?

1. George Washington ( )
2. Barack Obama ( )
3. George Bush ( )
4. Franklin Roosevelt ( )
5. Teddy Roosevelt ( )
6. Jimmy Carter (x)
7. Hillary Clinton (x)
8. Sarah Palin ( )
9. Jefferson Davis ( )
10. The Duchess of Cornwall (x)
11. Robert Goulet (x)
12. Madonna (x)
13. Kevin Federline (x)
14. Clark Gable (x)
15. Clint Eastwood ( )
16. Humphrey Bogart ( )
17. Kim Basinger ( )
18. Brad Pitt ( )
19. Katharine Hepburn ( )
20. Johnny Depp ( )
21. Bruce Lee ( )
22. Paris Hilton ( )
23. Farrah Fawcett ( )
24. Christina Aguilera ( )
25. Elvis Presley ( )
26. Jon Stewart ( )
27. Phyllis Diller’s husband “Fang” ( )
28. Edgar Allen Poe ( )
29. Toni Morrison ( )
30. Jack Kerouac (x)
31. Frederick Douglass ( )
32. Bill Gates ( )
33. Amelia Earhart ( )
34. Thomas Edison ( )
35. Brigham Young ( )
36. Charlemagne ( )
37. Aaron, brother of Moses ( )
38. A woman pictured on US currency ( )
39. A child pictured on US currency ( )
40. A Cherokee princess ( )