Entries in Blast from the Past (8)


Stranger than Fiction Redux

I posted the following a few years back, but I think it bears repeating:
While cleaning up my genealogy files last night, I was struck by a number of...interesting names on my family tree. When I write, naming my characters takes a lot of time and thought. I want the names to be distinctive, so that the reader can keep everyone clear in his/her head, but I don't want them to be so distracting that they pull the reader out of the story.
But I'd have to be writing something in the John Irving/Richard Brautigan vein in order to pull off anything close to the names of some of my august forbears. I've put some of the weirdest into loose categories below for your enjoyment.


From the British Isles (yes, they certainly do sound like spammers' pseudonyms):
Gotham Howe
Gillachomhghaill O'Toole
Onesiphorus Tileston
Mabilia Talesmache
Benedicta Shelving
Gwair ap Pill
Rollo Bigod
Theopharcia Baliol
John MacHell


Scandinavia (Tolkien didn't work in a vacuum):
Frosti Karasson
Eyfuru Svaflamasdatter
Gandalf Alfgeirsson
Frodi Frodasson


The American Frontier:
Catherine Vandeventer-Turnipseed
Josnorum Scoenonti Running Deer
Polly Pickle
Thomasine Lumpkin


Elsewhere in Europe:
Burkhard von Schweinfurt
Gundreda Monasteriis
Aubrey de Mello
Adam Moomaw
Hienrich von Krickenbeck


Finally, Those Wacky Puritans:
Constantia Coffin
Thankful Sprout
Deliverance Nutting
Wealthy Blood
Including my personal favorite:
Preserved Fish
Poor Preserved. I presume that his name was shorthand for "Preserved by the hand of the Lord." Maybe Mrs. Fish almost died in childbed, or something like that. Her maiden name was Grizzel Strange, by the way, so you'd think that she'd be sensitive on the naming issue. Or perhaps her name and that of her son's didn't sound odd at all to 17th-century ears.


Oh, well; I guess when it comes right down to it, it's a heck of a lot easier researching folks like Preserved than yet another John Carter or Mary White. And it certainly keeps me smiling.


The Princess and the Diplomat


A long time ago, someone asked me if I'd ever Googled myself. I hadn't, but immediately tried it. Imagine my surprise to encounter another Luisa Perkins among the results.

Well, her name wasn't exactly the same as mine; it was Maria Luisa Perkins y de Pablo, and she was listed on a site that records the genealogies of European royalty. I had to know more. 

I followed Maria Luisa's family tree back a couple of generations, and discovered that her grandfather was Charles Allen Perkins (a distant cousin of my husband's), born in Salisbury, Connecticut in 1840 to Jehiel Perkins and Alethia Northrop--and that Maria Luisa's grandmother was Maria Francisca Isabel Gurowska y de Bourbon.

How had a boy from Litchfield County ended up marrying the granddaughter of King Charles IV of Spain

It turns out that Charles grew up in privileged circumstances. He went to school in Paris and later worked in a Parisian bank. After coming back to the States, he worked for a time for the New York Stock Exchange. After that, he was appointed to consulates in Sweden and in Spain, and was finally promoted to the position of private secretary to Colonel Charles Hance Lewis, the U.S. Minister to Portugal.

The Spanish government was in upheaval at the time, so the Spanish royal family lived in exile all over Europe. Though she had been born in Paris, Isabel and her family lived for most of her life with royal relatives in Portugal. It was in Lisbon that Charles met Isabel, and they fell in love. They had to get special dispensation from the Pope to get married, and did so in 1870 in the French Roman Catholic Church of St. Louis. (Curiously, they were also married aboard the American ship Franklin by the ship's captain, Oliver Glisson. I'm not sure of the reason for the double ceremony.)

(Isabel's parents, Count Ignace Gurowski of Poland and Isabel de Bourbon, were apparently sympathetic to the marriage, since they had themselves eloped. And good for them. There was way too much inbreeding going on otherwise. First cousins and half-uncles marrying one another for generations...it was probably time to get some fresh stock in the gene pool.)

Charles and Isabel had two children, Alfonso and Carlos, both born in Paris in the 1870s. All seemed to be going well--until Charles backed the wrong pretender, Don Carlos, to the Spanish throne. Don Carlos's rival, Alfonso, was crowned king in 1874, and after that, disgrace seemed to follow Charles Perkins. 

Somehow, Charles and Isabel's marriage broke up, and Isabel remarried in 1886. Charles returned to America and settled in Syracuse, New York. He made his living as a Professor of Languages at Syracuse University and maintained a lifelong correspondence with his aunt-in-law, ex-Queen Isabella. Charles died in 1890; Isabel died in 1935. For a long time, Charles was the only American to have married into a European royal family. (Of course, Grace Kelly followed suit 80 years later.)

Charles and Isabel's saga is such a fascinating story--at least, it is to me. But I want more details! I haven't been able to find a photograph of either Charles or Isabel, and I had to piece all this together from various historical documents. It's romantic and tragic and mysterious, and I've been wondering for a while whether I should be the one to write a book about them. I can already see it as a movie, can't you?


Turn Your Heart

Edna and Jesse Weybright, married Christmas Day 1911

On Saturday, I gave several presentations on genealogy as part of a seminar celebrating the re-opening of the Family History Library at our church building in Ossining, NY.  One of my topics was "How to Use the Internet to Research Your Roots."  I'm a bit obsessive about genealogy; I've mentioned that here a time or two before.  In case you've ever wondered where your family comes from and would like to dip a toe in the delightfully addictive genealogy pool, here are some links with commentary from my lecture notes.

Helpful resources for getting started:

For the more advanced user:

  • Ancestry.com (subscription fee, but worth every penny if you are homebound; many libraries and Family History Centers have limited access subscriptions that are free for patrons to use)
  • The National Archives (online indexes; indvidual records can be ordered for a fee)
  • Stevemorse.org (Ellis Island and other immigration point searches)
  • One-name.org (fantastic and little-known surname resource)
  • Vital records, including adoption and probate records
  • Newspaper archives
  • Land grant records
  • Military records
  • Cemetery transcriptions

Specialized resources such as

Finally: here's a website that has save me headaches time after time.  Often tombstones will list a death date, then list the exact age of the deceased: 53 years, 8 months, and 6 days, for example.  This handy tool converts that information into a birthdate: awesome.

On Saturday, I discussed all of these resources for a half hour (and probably could have gone on quite a bit longer).  I won't go into that level of detail here, but read the posts I linked to in the first paragraph of this post and email me if you have any questions.  For me, genealogy ranks right up there with family life and writing in terms of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. Give it a try and see whether you agree.


Wordless Wednesday: Mom, Dad, and Me, 1968


Assorted Geekery

Yup, that's me--it's pretty much how I think of myself still, even though this picture was taken about 37 years ago. My dad is a phenomenal photographer; one of my earliest memories is of going to a friend's house for a playdate and asking, "Well, where's your darkroom?"

There's a lot of pretty nerdy stuff going on with me at the moment; allow me to share some details.

1) I'm trying out some new software designed specifically for writers of longer works (e.g. novels, research papers). It's called Scrivener, and so far, it seems to overcome a lot of MS Word's shortcomings. Plus, its name is all cool and Melvillian; I love it.

I have two novels I'm marketing at the moment: ZF-360 and The Holly Place. Both are long--around 95,000 words--and with Word I haven't had a good solution for maneuvering around in these mammoth pieces of writing. With ZF, I broke the manuscript up by chapters, but that makes things like a global search and replace completely tedious. THP, on the other hand, is one big document, which makes scrolling to a particular chapter or page quite painful. Scan, overshoot; scan the other way, overshoot again; resist the temptation to commit seppuku--perhaps you know what I mean.

Scrivener was created by a writer, and it has a lot of cool features that are fabulously intuitive and easy to use. Finding all the parts of a manuscript written in one point of view, for example, to check for continuity: easy-peasy. Moving chunks (big or small) around: lead-pipe cinch. Saving a version before making some experimental, wholesale changes, then switching back if that doesn't work: no problem. I don't want to be hasty, but so far? Scrivener = Awesome. If you are a Mac-using writer, go check out the 30-day free trial.

2) I think I'm finally going to move all of my genealogy stuff from my desktop to my Mac. This means I need to buy Reunion, since PAF only works for Windows. But it will be great to have my massive pedigree chart and family group sheet collection fully mobile; I think it will be worth the work.

As always, I am not being compensated for my endorsements in any way whatsoever.

3) I do love me a good anagram, so imagine my delight when my pal Herb forwarded a link to this site to me. Scroll all the way down to near the bottom of the page (under the "Try GMP" section), then input any text you like to find a list of one-, two-, or three-word anagrams.

My favorite of my full name is 'limelike sulpharsenic.' It makes me want to run right out and buy that as a domain name. Here are some others for the rest of the family:

Patrick: skerret triarchy pipkin
Christian: kindliness polyarthic
James: sheepskin present jam
Hope: nurselike pieshop
Tess: diespark insensate
Daniel: jinn purselike dead
New Baby: spinnaker webby

Oh, you have no idea what a timesucker this particular little site could become for me if I let it....
That's all for now, my friends! Stay tuned for more "fablious" (as Tess would say) geekery coming your way soon.