Friday, October 31, 2014

Harry Houdini, 1874-1926

I was thrilled when I saw the History Channel come out with its recent miniseries Houdini, which, despite its historical inaccuracy in some regards, was terrific.

Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, to Rabbi Mayer Shmuel Weisz and his wife Cecilia (nee Steiner). The family immigrated to the U.S. when Erik was four years old, and they settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. The family adopted the German spelling of their names-- e.g., Erik Weisz became Ehrich Weiss. Houdini's family did not speak Yiddish, but German.

"Ehrie", as his mother affectionately called him, developed an interest in magic at a young age, and when he became a magician himself, would take the name Harry Houdini; Harry was a variation of his nickname Ehrie, and "Houdini" was in honor of a French magician named Houdin.

After his father lost his job as rabbi of their synagogue, the Weiss family relocated to New York City. For awhile Ehrich took a job as a cutter in a necktie factory, one of the few professions open to Jews, before he and his brother Theodore ("Dash") partnered in a magic act.

When Harry was 19, he met a vaudeville singer named Bess Rahner; they were married just weeks after they met, and she replaced Dash in his act.

For years, Harry built his reputation, career, and fortune on being able to escape from virtually anything: handcuffs, chains, straight jackets, jail cells, and even water tanks; the only thing he was better at than escapes was promoting himself. He dabbled in aviation, flying across Australia in an airplane, as well as moving picture shows.

Harry was absolutely devoted to his mother, and when she passed away in 1913, he was devastated. He reportedly never really got over her loss.

His mother's death almost certainly played a large role in his next mission. At a low point early in Houdini's career, he and Bess had held false seances purporting to contact deceased loved ones, and he now felt guilty. It was one thing to fool people's eyes, but capitalizing on their grief and pain was something else.

So Houdini began a crusade against false spiritualists. He publicly challenged and exposed them, offering large sums of money to any so-called mediums whose tricks he could not uncover. Among those he antagonized were former friends Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle.

Houdini with his mother Cecilia and wife Bess;
the text reads "My two sweethearts, Houdini, 1907"

And still he performed his death-defying acts. Harry had always been athletic and fit, but by 1926, he was 52 years old-- well into middle age-- and had taken a lot of physical punishment over the years. In October of that year,  he fractured his ankle while being lowered into the Chinese Water Torture cell.

A few days later, on October 22, he was in his dressing room  being visited by some university students, who wanted to sketch a portrait of him, before a show. One of them, J. Gordon Whitehead, asked him if it was true that he could withstand the hardest punch to the stomach. Houdini replied that he could, and Whitehead asked if he could try himself. Houdini agreed, and started to rise from his couch-- with some difficulty, due to his recent ankle injury. Whitehead punched before Houdini had a chance to get into position and tighten his stomach muscles-- and kept punching. Houdini had to tell him he'd had enough.

Houdini insisted he was fine, and went on stage, but he was visibly pale and unwell; he developed a high fever and couldn't sleep. By the time he finally got medical attention days later, he was found to be suffering from severe appendicitis, and the infection was too fargone for anything to be done for the Great Houdini except keep him as comfortable as possible. Whether the punches to the gut ruptured his appendix or whether Harry had already been suffering from appendicitis is not known.

Houdini passed away on 31 October 1926.

For the next ten years his widow Bess held a seance each Halloween (the anniversary of his death) in an attempt to contact his spirit. She never felt that she succeeded and finally gave up, wryly declaring that ten years was a long enough to wait for any man. She lived until 1943, surviving her husband by 17 years.

Apparently even today, spiritualists conduct seances each All Hallow's Eve to try to communicate with the legendary magician. I figure, though, that if he wouldn't or couldn't even talk to his beloved Bess, he's not talking to anyone.

Because of his death date of his and link to spiritualism, Harry Houdini is forever associated with Halloween.

Today let us also honor his life and legacy.

Friday, October 24, 2014

George and Mary Palmer autographs

Sometimes I google the names of recent ancestors to see what comes up. A couple of weeks ago, I did this, and came across something very cool on a wonderful blog called Heirlooms Reunited.

Pam Beveridge, the blog owner, posts items of historical interest, and one such item was an autograph book from the early 1880's. At this time such books, which you would have loved ones and friends sign, were all the rage. 

The book featured in this particular blog post was owned by a Samuel Thomas Woodman, and two of the autographs were those of my great-great grandparents George Bailey Palmer and Mary Olivia Purinton Palmer.

My great-great grandmother Mary signed herself as "Mae"; until I found this, I didn't know she had gone by that name.

The 1880 U.S. Federal Census shows that he was a neighbor to the Palmers: 

I also notice that, while Mary signed the book on 23 May 1883, George didn't sign the book until 9 September. A married couple would presumably be present together at most social situations, so I find it rather strange that they wouldn't have both signed at the same time.

A big thank-you to Pam for sharing the first four above images, and for allowing me to repost them here. Be sure to check out her original post, as well as other items on her blog!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why I made my tree private

Ever since I've had my family tree uploaded on, I've kept it public. My rationale was that there was no point in having your tree on a website if you didn't want it to be accessible, and regarded people who had their trees marked private as jerks who were jealously keeping their information to themselves.

But I've rethought this of late.

I noticed that someone (who turned out to be a the wife of a second cousin) was saving many documents and photos relating to my paternal grandmother and her line from my family tree to hers. I recognized her last name as being the married name of my great-aunt, so I contacted her, and she emailed me. I emailed her back, twice, and have not heard anything back. I noticed that she's been recently logged into her account, so it isn't that she hasn't had an opportunity. I can only conclude that she's simply not interested in sharing information with me, although she accessed and saved all of the information I had.

This has prompted me to make my tree private. Not because I'm a jerk who doesn't want to share genealogical information-- most genealogists are thrilled to share what they have-- but I want people to share back. And having one's tree public means that people can access your information without having to communicate/reciprocate.

So from now on, yes, I'll be very happy to share my information with you, but you'll have to contact me first.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Public service announcement: beware of phishing scams!

This post has nothing to do with genealogy, other than making the observation that our ancestors didn't have to deal with this particular annoyance and potential security threat.

In the past week, I have gotten two emails purporting to be from businesses. The first claimed to be from a bank, alerting me that my account has been compromised. The thing is, I have no account at all with this bank.

The second was a bit more slick, supposedly sent by Amazon alerting me that I had just won a 90% off coupon. The email went on that they had sent this to one million customers to celebrate their 20th anniversary. There was a link to a survey that you would have to take to "download" the coupon, so this made me even more suspicious. The link just didn't look "right" to me, and when I caught a couple of typographical/grammar errors, I knew for sure it wasn't legit. I reported this to Amazon. 

Some things to alert you to "phishing" (scams in which scammers send emails and set up false websites that present to be those of legitimate businesses, especially banks, for the purpose of getting you to give them information to access your accounts):

- The url address is just not right-- e.g., the business name in the url is misspelled by one letter.

- The favicon (the little image in your web browser particular to a website) to a suspected phishing site is different than the legitimate site.

- When placing an order or doing a financial transaction online, a legit business will have a url starting with "https://". The "s" at the end means "secure." If there is no "s", do not enter any sensitive information.

- The biggest telltale signs are spelling, grammatical, or typographical errors. 

Now, just because the url is correct or there is an "s" in it and there are no typos does not necessarily mean the site is legit-- phishing scammers are getting more sophisticated. 

Bottom line: businesses and banks will not ask you for personally identifying information online, especially not passwords, pin numbers, et cetera. Never give these out over the net. Ever.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

One Lovely Blog Award

Thanks to fellow geneablogger and multiple-line cousin Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy for the nomination!

Okay, so the rules are:

1. Thank the person(s) who nominated you and link to their blog; I would hope that people would do this anyway, but...

2. Share seven things about yourself.

3. Nominate 15 bloggers you admire (or as many as you can think of).

4. Let the bloggers know that you've tagged them for the One Lovely Blog Award.

So here are the seven things I'm sharing about myself:

1. I'm the youngest of five children, born in Dorchester, Massachusetts; my mother wasn't supposed to be able carry another pregnancy to term after my brother, so I was something of a miracle baby.

2. I have New England Puritan, Irish, and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, which keeps genealogy research interesting.

3. I'm fascinated by anything to do with the paranormal, and love shows and movies about ghosts.

4. I love to sing. I've performed in school and church choirs, and even sang with a local country band.

5. I got a Master's degree in education only to realize afterward that I didn't want to teach.

6. I have cousin connections to a serial killer.

7. I've been actively researching my family tree since 2006.

And here are the bloggers I want to recognize... actually, I don't think I KNOW 15 bloggers, so I'm just going to do 5. And some of these nominations are honestly going to be for people who have already been nominated. But I figure that they deserve twice the recognition!

1. Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy.

2. Elizabeth Handler of From Maine To Kentucky and A Jewish Genealogical Journey

3. Devon Lee of A Patient Genealogist

4. Janice Brown of Cow Hampshire

5. Bill West of West in New England

Saturday, September 27, 2014

LEMMON of Charlestown and Marblehead, Massachusetts

My first LEMMON ancestor in America was Joseph LEMMON I, born November of 1662 in Dorchester, Dorset, England. He married Mary BRADLEY on 12 June 1690, in Charlestown, MA, and died in June of 1709.

Their son Joseph LEMMON II was born in Charlestown on 26 June 1692, and he married Elizabeth PHILLIPS on 3 September 1713.

Their son Joseph LEMMON III was born 5 February 1715 in Charlestown. He would graduate from Harvard University in 1735, and become a prominent physician. He married Hannah SWETT in Marblehead on 29 July 1742, and died on 15 September 1772.

I actually discovered a portrait of him online last night on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website:

Dr. Joseph Lemmon, 1715-1772

This pastel was painted in 1770, two years before Dr. Lemmon's death; the work is attributed to Benjamin Blyth (1746-1786) of Salem. According to the site, this is not currently on view.

How cool it is to find a portrait of a fairly close ancestor (7th great). Feeling very posh now, and want to get a copy of this to frame and hang over a fireplace mantel.

Ancestry line:

Joseph LEMMON I (1662-1709) m. Mary BRADLEY
Joseph LEMMON II (b. 1692) m. Elizabeth PHILLIPS
Joseph LEMMON III (1715-1772) m. Hannah SWETT
Elizabeth LEMMON (b. 1743) m. Thomas LEWIS
Mary "Polly" LEWIS (b. 1777) m. Samuel THURBER
Margaret THURBER (abt 1809-1846) m. Anthony Christopher SPECHT
Hannah Melissa SPECHT (1843-1924) m. George Albert BAKER
Jessie May BAKER (1873-1927) m. Thomas Parker SIMMONDS
Estelle May SIMMONDS (1893-1930) m. Horace William HOWES
Henry Richard HOWES (1913-1987) m. Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father
Me (b. 1974)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A new brick wall: John Purinton, son of Moses of Berwick, ME

Awhile back I wrote an entry about how the single most common error in genealogy is confusing two people with the same name... well, I found another instance of that in my own research.

A 4th great-grandfather of mine was John PURINTON, who married Dorothy "Dolley" COLBY in Amesbury, Massachusetts on 11 June 1811. 

Initially I had John's father as Hezekiah PURINTON, as there was a John Purinton born in 1780 in Amesbury, and I had thought that this was him. 

But recently I came across a record from the Encyclopedia of Connecticut Biography Vol 6 (basically a "who's who" of Connecticut, circa 1914) relating to a businessman named Roger Fitts James Purinton; he was the son of my 2nd great-grandmother's brother, so would be my first cousin three times removed. This blurb gives Roger as being the grandson of Isaiah PURINTON (my 3x great-grandfather), who was the son of John Purinton and Dorothy Colby. But then the article gives John as being the son of Moses Purinton of Berwick, Maine; unfortunately, John's mother's name isn't given.

So I've been trying to re-trace John Purinton's lineage, but can't come up with anything concrete regarding Moses Purinton. Here's what I do have:

1. There was a Moses Purinton of Berwick, ME, originally born in Amesbury in 1727, and he died about 1799. His first wife was Peace MORRILL, who died in 1786. Moses and Peace had a son named John, but he was born in 1757 and died about 1783. So this John can't possibly be my ancestor.

Moses remarried a Sarah Lamos (nee ROGERS) in 1789. I have been unable to find any children born to them. The only children named in Moses' will are his sons Benajah, Pelatiah, and James, from his first marriage. 

In colonial America, it wasn't unusual to give a baby the same name as that of a previous deceased child; if a couple had a baby named Joseph, and the child died, a subsequent son might also be named Joseph. So just because Moses had a son named John doesn't mean that he couldn't have had another son and given him the same name as his now-deceased son. 

It also wasn't unusual at this time of high infant mortality to refrain from naming babies and young children in wills. In other words, just because a child isn't named in a will doesn't mean he or she didn't exist.

2. There was a grandson of Moses, the son of Moses' son Benajah, born in 1788. He removed to Ohio, where he married a Sophronia ELLSWORTH in 1836 and had a family. Could the article have gotten the lineage wrong, and incorrectly given Moses as being John's father instead of his grandfather? Although this John relocated and married (remarried?) in 1836, it is possible that he was the same John who married Dorothy Colby in 1811 and fathered Isaiah (born 1818). 

3. I came across one other Moses Purinton, born in Salisbury, MA in 1749 to John and Abigail (nee BROWN), but I can't find any other records or information about this Moses. He would have been the right age to have a son born in the 1780's, about when my 4x great-grandfather John would have been born. 

I can't find any actual records or information about the John Purinton who married Dorothy Colby, other than a marriage record. So all I have are the three possibilities above.

Ancestry line:

John PURINTON (?-?) m. Dorothy "Dolley" COLBY
Isaiah F. PURINTON (1818-1890) m. Sophia Haskell FITTS
Mary Olivia PURINTON (1851-1898) m. George Bailey PALMER
Frank Bailey PALMER (1888-1958) m. Bessie Maud WINSLOW
Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father
Me (b. 1974)