Summer News: Quick Hits


Oh sure, I gather information intending to share Deep Thoughts about it. But especially around this time of year, I look at my files and think, “Maybe it’s better to just get the links out there and hit the beach.”

So, um, here you go.

• In case you missed it: This is hands down the best obituary you will ever read. Here is a little more about the story behind the story.

• High school student carefully smacks down academic’s paper asserting that “No Irish Need Apply” signs were a myth, politely delivers more smackdowns in comments section of article about said smackdown.

• A genealogy project led to a sad discovery in the deep waters of a lake: A family finally has answers about a man missing for decades.

• Would you like to learn more about the “ghost villages” of Ireland? Sure you would!


“Genome Hacking”? Huh.

So that’s what they’re calling it these days.

I thought it was “clipping and pasting online trees.” But what do I know.

But I will take my snark hat off now and say you should read the Nature article if you haven’t already done so. It does contain serious discussion of whether one can combine DNA sequencing data with self-reported genealogical information to arrive at solid conclusions.

Seen: Cemeteries, Mysteries and Storms

I did promise I’d be back, so here I am. I have been working hard in the meantime.

Really! Vacation’s been over for something like a week-and-a-half. And the genealogy’s been humming. In addition to the Big Breakthrough I stumbled upon just before I left, there was a Big Brown Envelope awaiting me in the pile of while-you-were-away mail, courtesy of “New York State Department of Health — GENEALOGY.” And we all know what that means. Busy, busy, busy. Citations, citations, citations. More on that anon.

Also, for some reason the news has had stuff in it. That wacky news. For instance:

• A man abandoned as a baby in a New Jersey store in 1964 still doesn’t know who he is, but recent DNA testing results might help.

This slide show is a beautifully photographed, and extremely depressing, view of how neglect and overgrowth have completely overrun historic Woodland Cemetery in Newark, N.J. (By the way, if you think you have ancestors there and are seeking burial location information, two wonderful people named Mary Lish and John Sass might be able to help.)

• But here is some lovely news: Intense genealogical sleuthing makes possible a surprising reunion of extended family seven decades after the Holocaust.

Special Superstorm Sandy Edition: The Archaeologist has spent some quality time in recent weeks on the beautiful beaches of Belmar, N.J., where the boardwalk is back (although pavilions and other touches must await the summer of 2014). It’s been wonderful to float in the waves and contemplate the concept of human resilience. But as this story from Union Beach, N.J. indicates, the road back from Superstorm Sandy continues to be a long one. This event is remaking the face of the coastline, for better or worse.

So it’s good to see that people are chronicling this long and epic road. Check out the oral-history projects below; maybe you can share a Superstorm Sandy story of your own.

New Jersey:

Heroes of Superstorm Sandy, a project sponsored by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

New York City:

Stories of Super Storm Sandy, sponsored by the Brooklyn Historical Society and the New York City chapter of the Association of Personal Historians.

Long Island:

A Hofstra University professor, Mary Anne Trasciatti, is collecting stories from residents of Long Beach and surrounding communities, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

If you know of other Superstorm Sandy oral-history initiatives, please drop a note in the comments.

Seen Over The Weekend: Armchair Travels

This time of year, I dream of exotic travels. Then I look at my actual travel budget and remind myself that staying at home can also be broadening. Plus, the kids’ passports need to be updated. But here are some dreamy travel links anyway.

• Summer vacation season, unfortunately, is also pickpocketing season in tourist destinations. American-in-Paris David Lebovitz gives an interesting rundown of scams and behaviors to guard against if you’re visiting his adopted home. I think it’s pretty good advice for tourists anywhere, personally.

• 2013 is Ireland’s official Family History Year, as good a reason as any to schedule that long-awaited Emerald Isle roots-research trip. The Irish American News ran an item about two genealogy research package tours sponsored by the Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA).

• Or cruise to Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on a Genealogy Conference and Cruise hosted by Wholly Genes, Inc.

• The Chicago Tribune ran this quick rundown of typical roots research/vacation destinations in Germany.


History Reconsidered, Via Newsreel

Another modern methodology story:

It was 100 years ago this month that a suffragist named Emily Wilding Davison surged onto the track at Epsom at the Derby, throwing herself under the hooves of the King’s racehorse and sustaining fatal injuries in a suicidal bid to draw attention to the fight for women’s voting rights.

Or did she?

Many historians have argued that Davison was not suicidal — there was a return train ticket in her pocket, and she had made plans to go on holiday with her sister shortly after the Derby. In that case, what was she doing? Some have argued that Davison merely intended to dash across the track waving a suffragist banner, and she misjudged the timing. Others believed she intended to attach a flag to King George V’s horse, Anmer.

But that newfangled development, the newsreel, was very much in place at the 1913 Derby. As Guardian reporter Vanessa Thorpe writes, there were three newsreel cameras rolling. Today’s sophisticated imaging technology, plus fresh, cleaned-up images from the original nitrate stock, literally brought the event into clearer focus, strongly suggesting that Davison, while on a very risky mission, wasn’t intending to kill herself.

One of the wonderful things about new techniques like digital film analysis is the reminder that history can be a rather fluid thing. The new things we learn have the ability to firm up the outlines of established pictures, or shift them into new shapes.

Emily Davison (at left) and jockey Herbert Jones on the ground at the Derby in Epsom, 1913. Hulton Archive photo reproduced on

Emily Davison (at left) and jockey Herbert Jones on the ground at the Derby in Epsom, 1913. Hulton Archive photo reproduced on

Ancestral Secrets + DNA, Royal Edition

Princess-Of-Wales-princess-diana-32114836-220-254So DNA testing has unveiled a hidden ancestral mystery in the family chart of Diana, one-time Princess of Wales. It’s a very modern story, both in the technology it uses and the philosophical attitude with which the revelations are handled in the article.

Eliza Kewark, the distant maternal ancestor in question, was quite likely of half-Indian heritage, according to testing firm BritainsDNA. But in family accounts she was described as being of Armenian descent to obscure what was, in the early 19th century,  considered an unacceptable background for an Englishwoman seeking to make a respectable marriage.

It was nice to see how this story comes across as both interesting and somehow … well, typical. The combination of DNA technology and increased honesty in reporting out research is making these stories just another part of the genealogical landscape, as they’ve always been, or should have been.

Quick Asides: Jamestown and Name-Banning

• You all have seen the story about Jamestown, yes? If not, please wait until you’ve digested breakfast to read the latest findings about how terribly desperate the winter of 1609 was for the British attempting to establish a colony there. Am I the only one who was haunted by the reconstructed image of the long-gone 14-year-old girl? And is it wrong to wonder how possible it might be to establish an identity for her among those known to have been there? I just think she ought to be more than an … artifact.

• “Not another banned baby name story,” groaned Mr. Archaeologist as I clicked on the link anyway. This one is out of New Zealand. Mr. A. is correct in remonstrating that we USians tend to be far too astounded about how the rest of the world operates, viz., ensuring orderly naming practices. We can’t get enough of it. In 2010, CNN/Mental Floss even did a roundup featuring name-banning in  Sweden, Germany, China, Japan and Denmark! But it is so satisfying to know that somewhere in the world, it is not OK to name your twins Benson and Hedges.