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The Questions…

1. In 1892, English writer Rudyard Kipling married an American woman and settled in Vermont, where he introduced a new sport to America. What was it?

2. What is the unusual connection between Napoleon Bonaparte, who died in 1821, and the FBI, which was formed a century later?

3. What is a flexitarian?

4. What, exactly, is a Mexican jumping bean?

5. In 1910, Nathaniel Baldwin got tired of not being able to hear the sermons inside Salt Lake City’s Mormon Tabernacle, a cavernous place that seats 7,000. What did Baldwin do about it?

The Answers…

1. Snow golf, which was a popular winter pastime in Europe. Kipling, an avid golfer, reportedly came up with the idea of using red golf balls and red cups for better visibility in the snow.

2. Charles Bonaparte, Napoleon’s great-nephew, served as Attorney General under President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1909, Charles formed a unit of special agents within the Justice Department that evolved into the FBI.

3. A flexitarian is a “flexible vegetarian” who isn’t above eating meat on occasion.

4. A seed pod from a mountain shrub that is inhabited by a moth larva. When the bean is warmed (e.g., in the hand), the larva spasms, trying to avoid the heat, and the bean jumps. If the bean has a hole in it, the larva has gone forth into the world.

5. Baldwin, an electrical engineer, invented headphones. His device consisted of a compressed-air amplifier, two receivers (the earpieces), and a connecting headband.

snow golf

baldwin headphones

 

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“Useless Christmas Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The Puritans managed to get Christmas banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681.

The tradition of displaying a Christmas tree began in Germany, probably during the 1600s, but most of Europe considered it “pagan mockery.” In 1848, Queen Victoria helped everyone lighten up by displaying a tree at Windsor Castle. The fad caught on and soon spread to America.

The word Xmas, which many bible-thumpers claim is sacrilegious, actually is legit. The Greek word for Christ begins with the letter Chi (X), and “Xmas” has been an accepted abbreviation for centuries.

In 1881, a drawing by political cartoonist Thomas Nast defined how Americans see Santa Claus. That image is the prototype of the Santa we know and love. With a major boost from Coca-Cola.

Nast Santa

The Bing Crosby song White Christmas is the best-selling single in history.

Robert L. May wrote the story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1939. His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1949.

The Poinsettia, popular at Christmas for its red and green foliage, is native to Mexico. Its name derives from Joel Poinsett, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who brought it to the U.S. in 1825.

In 1999, the town of Bethel, Maine, set a new record for the world’s tallest snowman. His name was Angus, and he was 113 feet (10 stories) tall. Bethel topped its own record in 2008 with a SnowWoman, Olympia, who was 122 feet (11 stories) tall.

Olympia

The first song broadcast from space was Jingle Bells. Astronaut Wally Schirra played it on a harmonica on December 16, 1965, as Gemini VI was preparing to reenter the atmosphere.

In England, before roast turkey became the traditional meat for Christmas dinner, the most popular dish was roasted pig’s head, usually on a bed of greens, slathered with mustard.

Alabama was the first U.S. state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday.

Christmas is a popular secular holiday in Japan, and the traditional Christmas meal there is a takeout order of KFC fried chicken. The fad began in the 1970s when a KFC promotion somehow caught fire. During the Christmas season, consumption of KFC in Japan increases tenfold.

KFC

Merii Kurisumasu, y’all.

 

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He, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; and he, who dares not, is a slave.

— Sir William Drummond

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Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal

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They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

— Carl W. Buehner

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Patriotism is being proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.

— Sydney J. Harris

Drummond W

Drummond

Harris SJ

Harris

 

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Meet the Fam

My previous post was a report on how I got motivated last year and began tracing the Smith family lineage in a serious way. With the help of Ancestry.com and other online resources, I traced the family way back — to the King of Jutland, a Danish Viking born circa 760 A.D.

His name was Halfdan Haraldsson, and he lived 33 generations ago, in the Early Middle Ages. Back then, Charlemagne was King of the Franks, forcing Christianity on everyone, and the heathen Vikings were busy plundering the region.

When doing the research, I focused on my paternal lineage, and I was able to follow the Smith name back 400 years before I ran out of clues.

That was disappointing, but not fatal. It was an easy matter to switch from paternal to maternal lineage and keep going back. Eventually, I stopped with Halfdan.

To be clear, the line of ancestry I documented is just one thread in the greater tapestry. I followed the most promising clues, going in one direction when others were equally available. In the end, I identified one specific chain of relatives out of a veritable web of them.

With that preamble, here is a summary of what I learned about our forebears over the 1,200 years between Halfdan Haraldsson and the Smiths of today.

———

Denmark, Germany, and France

Halfdan Haraldsson (circa 760-810) was born on the Jutland Peninsula in northern Germany near the Danish border. He lived in Denmark as an adult, fighting various rivals and becoming King of Jutland. He was a Viking and certainly facilitated much of their signature raiding and plundering.

The son of Halfdan and his Norwegian wife Helga was Harald “Klak” Halfdansson (c. 800-854), who succeeded his father as king. Harald married Sigrid Helgesdatter (800-854) also Norwegian.

Fam-1

King Harald “Klak” Halfdansson.

Klak’s son, Godfrid “The Dane” Haraldsson (825-885), was in line to become king, but he was impatient. Godfrid moved south with a contingent of followers and seized land in Germany. Twice, he led raids back into Denmark, trying to overthrow his father. He failed.

Godfrid finally gave up and moved further south, establishing a fiefdom in Guines on the northern coast of France near Calais. Godfrid’s son Sigfrid (905-968) was the 1st Count of Guines.

Beginning with Sigfrid’s son Ardolph (965-996), the family name was gallicized to Le Blount.

Ardolph Le Blount was the 2nd Count of Guines. His son Rudolph (996-1036) was the 3rd Count. Rudolph’s son Robert (1036-1086) was the 4th Count. There was no fifth Count because events led the Le Blounts to leave France and become Englishmen.

To England in 1066

In 1066, William the Conqueror assembled an army from across France to invade England. That undertaking was, as you undoubtedly know, successful. Sir Robert Le Blount (the 4th and last Count of Guines) commanded William’s fleet of warships. He was known as “the Admiral.”

As the spoils of war, the Admiral was awarded a large chunk of the county of Suffolk, northeast of London. He became the 1st Baron of Ixworth, that being his town of residence in Suffolk.

Between 1066 and 1270, six Le Blounts held the title Baron of Ixworth.

Fam-2

The family coat of arms.

During the 1200s, the family name evolved to Le Heyre, Le Eyre, and Eyre. Historians haven’t confirmed the reasons.

English Nobility

For several centuries, the Eyres lived as proper English nobility with holdings in both Suffolk and the county of Derbyshire, north of London.

In 1424, Sir Robert Eyre (1392-1459) of Padley, Derbyshire, England, married Joan de Padley (1399-1463). My previous post describes Sir Robert’s service as an English knight and the burial place of Sir Robert and Lady Joan.

To America

By the mid-1500s, the names Smythe and Smyth had appeared in the lineage. Richard Smyth (1553-1593) of Herefordshire, England, who died in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is the first Smith in our family known to have come to America.

Richard’s son John Smyth (1592-1649) and John’s wife Margaret Blythe Smyth (1596-1645) were among the first 140 settlers of the Maryland colony, arriving in 1634 aboard the Ark and the Dove.

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The arrival of Lord Calvert, leader of the Maryland colony, on the Ark and the Dove.

Maryland and Georgia

In the Maryland colony, the spelling of the family name changed to Smith. Maryland was home to the next several generations of Smiths, most of whom lived in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore. I haven’t made inquiries, but many of our relatives undoubtedly still live there.

Around 1800, three Smith brothers from Maryland moved south to Georgia. They were Archibald Smith (1736-1799) and two of his three younger brothers. (Benjamin, George, and Elijah were the brothers, but I don’t know which two accompanied Archibald or where they settled.)

Archibald lived in Hancock County, midway between Atlanta and Savannah. His son moved further south to a rural area near Savannah.

In 1839, Archibald’s grandson George (1817-1867) married Jemima Ruth Sumner (1815-1896), and they settled in Bartow, Georgia, near Augusta. The second of their eight children was John Wesley Smith (1845-1918), my great-grandfather.

In 1875, John Wesley, a Confederate veteran, married Martha Roseanna Sherrod (1854-1939) in a double wedding ceremony with her sister Elizabeth.

Fam-4

The youngest son of Martha and John Wesley was Walter Anthony Smith (1881-1950), my grandfather.

Savannah

In 1892, John Wesley Smith and his family moved to Savannah, where he worked as a house painter and roofer. In 1918, at age 73, he died on the job in a fall.

In 1916, John Wesley’s son Walter married Stella Etta Ham (1894-1969) of nearby Pooler, Georgia. The oldest of their four children was my dad, Walter Anthony Smith, Jr. (1917-2002).

Walter Senior was a prominent Savannah businessman. At age 19, he took a one-year business course and became a clerk at the Railway Express Agency. Soon thereafter, he went into the cotton business.

Walter became a “cotton factor” at the Port of Savannah — an agent for inland cotton farmers. His job was to grade, sell, and arrange for the shipment of the cotton to world markets. He was in the cotton factoring business for 40 years.

My dad, Walter Junior, was a bomber pilot during World War II, and he flew jet fighters in Korea. After his Air Force career, Dad went into banking, which had been his major in college. I’ve written about him many times on this blog.

Fam-5

Dad, a dashing cadet at Army Air Corps Flight School. He included this photo with his Christmas cards in 1940.

Today

Names come and go. And soon, I regret to say, the Smith name will fade away in my family.

That’s because all of the children in the latest generation of Smiths are female. When they marry or pass on, our line of Smiths will come to an end. The literal end of an era.

I realize, of course, that a name is a superficial matter. As the foregoing family history illustrates, what counts is the bloodline and the people. I get that.

Still, the looming demise of the Smith name makes me sad.

 

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The Family Iceberg

Two years ago, I posted a story about finally biting the bullet and delving seriously into Smith family genealogy. As it turned out, we Georgia Smiths originally came from Maryland. I’m not sure what I expected, but Maryland wasn’t it.

Around 1800, for reasons unknown, three Smith brothers left Maryland, where their family had lived for several generations, and moved to Georgia. We, the Savannah Smiths, are descended from one of the brothers, Archibald.

At the time I wrote that post, we also thought we had identified the first American Smith in our lineage: James Smith, who arrived in Maryland from England in 1660.

We were wrong. That distinction, it now appears, belongs to Richard Smyth (1553-1593) of Herefordshire, England, who died (at a young age, you’ll note) in Massachusetts.

James wasn’t even the second American Smith. His parents, John and Margaret Smyth, were here before him. They were among the original settlers of the Maryland colony, arriving in 1634.

For us, those revelations were a big deal. Prior to 2016, we could trace the Smiths back only as far as Archibald. No one could figure out where he came from.

We guessed he was Scotch-Irish and came from North Carolina, because that’s a common background for Georgians. Now, suddenly, we had traced our lineage back 400 years to England.

Well, I’m here to tell ya, that was just the tip of the family iceberg.

Last year, feeling on a roll, I continued the research and traced our ancestry back a lot more. A WHOLE lot more.

I followed our lineage back through many generations in England; and before that, through many more in France; and before that, to Germany and Denmark.

At the moment, our earliest known ancestor is Halfdan Haraldsson (circa 760-810) a Danish Viking king.

I could have kept tracing Halfdan’s forebears, but I had to stop somewhere.

While doing all that digging, I learned some interesting lessons about genealogical research.

Lesson 1. To state the obvious, a family tree consists of numerous lines of ancestry, branching out (pun intended) in all directions. When you research your ancestors, you enter a labyrinth that is complex and mind-boggling.

You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, and 32 great-great-great-grandparents. That takes you back just six generations.

In addition, every generation consists of some mix of sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Not to mention divorces, re-marriages, stepchildren, and adoptions.

In light of all that, genealogical research means choosing which path to follow out of many before you.

Lesson 2. On the positive side, this complexity also means that when the clues run out and you hit a roadblock, you can back up a step and explore another path.

Lesson 3. In my experience, the hardest part of the research was of the generations immediately preceding me.

I suspect that’s common. Like most families, the Smiths were ordinary folks leading ordinary lives. They were farmers and merchants, not presidents and popes.

They were not lauded for grand accomplishments, their deeds recorded in history. Most made the newspapers only upon birth, marriage, and death.

If your family includes presidents or popes, doing the genealogy will be a snap. If it doesn’t, be prepared to work hard for every tidbit of information you unearth. Believe me, that goes double if you are a Smith.

Lesson 4. At some point, you may discover an ancestor who was famous to some degree. This will be an important breakthrough, because someone likely has done the genealogical work before you. The famous person’s lineage will be on the record, waiting for you to find it.

In other words, find your celebrity, and the rest is much easier.

In my case, I came across a celebrity of sorts in Sir Robert Eyre (1392-1459), an English nobleman and knight who fought in the Battle of Agincourt (France, 1415) during the Hundred Years’ War.

If the name Eyre is familiar, you’re probably thinking of Charlotte Brontë‘s novel Jane Eyre, which takes place in the same family in the 1700s.

Doing the research back to Sir Robert was difficult and slow, because most of his descendants, as far as I could determine, were not remotely famous; researching the generations before him was much easier, because in his lineage was a succession of barons, counts, and kings.

FYI, Sir Robert and his wife, Lady Joan Eyre, are buried at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Hathersage, England.

This brass plate is affixed to their tomb:

Eyre-1

Nearby, this plaque is on display:

Eyre-2

Sir Robert and Lady Joan had 14 children.

In my next post, I will present a summary of the Smith family lineage, from Halfdan Haraldsson to the present.

I decided to make that a separate post, in case you aren’t interested in someone else’s ancestors and have better things to do.

You’re welcome.

 

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The Questions…

1. A full-size replica of the Santa Maria, the flagship of Christopher Columbus, is located in what American city?

2. Who was the first U.S. president to be born in a hospital?

3. How did celebrity chef Paula Deen get her start in the food business?

4. In the early 1700s, King George I of England decreed that all pigeon droppings in the realm were the property of the Crown. Why?

5. In the 1966 TV series Batman, the role of the Penguin was first offered to Spencer Tracy. However, Tracy made a demand that the producers found unacceptable, and Burgess Meredith got the part. What did Tracy want that scuttled the deal?

The Answers…

1. In Columbus, Ohio, of course. The replica was built in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Columbus.

2. Jimmy Carter. He was born in 1924 at the Wise Sanitarium in Plains, Georgia, where his mother Lillian worked as a nurse.

3. In 1989, she started a catering business from her Savannah home called The Bag Lady. She prepared bagged lunches that her sons delivered to local businesses.

4. In those days, pigeon droppings and bat guano were the only known sources of potassium nitrate, a key ingredient of gunpowder. The poop was a highly prized commodity until the early 1800s, when natural deposits of potassium nitrate were discovered in Chili and Peru.

5. Tracy wanted the Penguin to kill Batman.

Santa Maria

Penguin2

 

 

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During the Civil War, Ohio native Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) fought for the Union with distinction at Shiloh, Chicamauga, Kennesaw Mountain, and elsewhere. After the war, he became a prominent journalist and author.

Bierce is known for both his Civil War writings and his tales of horror and the supernatural. Of the latter, someone said Bierce bridged the literary years between Poe and Lovecraft.

In the late 1890s, while a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, Bierce raised enough public ire to stop a bill being slipped through Congress that would have forgiven massive government loans to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. That’s my kind of journalism.

Bierce was something of a Hemingway type. In 1914, at age 71, he announced plans to go to Mexico to see the Mexican Revolution for himself. Perhaps travel with Pancho Villa as an observer. He promptly disappeared, fate unknown.

Like many ex-soldiers, Bierce declined to glorify war in his writings, as the following essay demonstrates.

———

Bivouac of the Dead

Published in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Volume 1, 1909

Away up in the heart of the Allegheny mountains, in Pocahontas county, West Virginia, is a beautiful little valley through which flows the east fork of the Greenbrier river. At a point where the valley road intersects the old Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike, a famous thoroughfare in its day, is a post office in a farm house.

The name of the place is Travelers’ Repose, for it was once a tavern. Crowning some low hills within a stone’s throw of the house are long lines of old Confederate fortifications, skilfully designed and so well “preserved” that an hour’s work by a brigade would put them into serviceable shape for the next civil war.

This place had its battle — what was called a battle in the “green and salad days” of the great rebellion. A brigade of Federal troops, the writer’s regiment among them, came over Cheat mountain, fifteen miles to the westward, and, stringing its lines across the little valley, felt the enemy all day; and the enemy did a little feeling, too.

There was a great cannonading, which killed about a dozen on each side; then, finding the place too strong for assault, the Federals called the affair a reconnaissance in force, and burying their dead withdrew to the more comfortable place whence they had come.

Those dead now lie in a beautiful national cemetery at Grafton, duly registered, so far as identified, and companioned by other Federal dead gathered from the several camps and battlefields of West Virginia. The fallen soldier (the word “hero” appears to be a later invention) has such humble honors as it is possible to give.

His part in all the pomp that fills
The circuit of the Summer hills
Is that his grave is green.

True, more than a half of the green graves in the Grafton cemetery are marked “Unknown,” and sometimes it occurs that one thinks of the contradiction involved in “honoring the memory” of him of whom no memory remains to honor; but the attempt seems to do no great harm to the living, even to the logical.

A few hundred yards to the rear of the old Confederate earthworks is a wooded hill. Years ago it was not wooded. Here, among the trees and in the undergrowth, are rows of shallow depressions, discoverable by removing the accumulated forest leaves.

From some of them may be taken (and reverently replaced) small thin slabs of the split stone of the country, with rude and reticent inscriptions by comrades. I found only one with a date, only one with full names of man and regiment. The entire number found was eight.

In these forgotten graves rest the Confederate dead — between eighty and one hundred, as nearly as can be made out. Some fell in the “battle;” the majority died of disease. Two, only two, have apparently been disinterred for reburial at their homes.

So neglected and obscure is this campo santo that only he upon whose farm it is — the aged postmaster of Travelers’ Repose — appears to know about it. Men living within a mile have never heard of it. Yet other men must be still living who assisted to lay these Southern soldiers where they are, and could identify some of the graves.

Is there a man, North or South, who would begrudge the expense of giving to these fallen brothers the tribute of green graves? One would rather not think so. True, there are several hundreds of such places still discoverable in the track of the great war. All the stronger is the dumb demand — the silent plea of these fallen brothers to what is “likest God within the soul.”

They were honest and courageous foemen, having little in common with the political madmen who persuaded them to their doom and the literary bearers of false witness in the aftertime.

They did not live through the period of honorable strife into the period of vilification — did not pass from the iron age to the brazen — from the era of the sword to that of the tongue and pen.

Among them is no member of the Southern Historical Society. Their valor was not the fury of the non-combatant; they have no voice in the thunder of the civilians and the shouting. Not by them are impaired the dignity and infinite pathos of the Lost Cause.

Give them, these blameless gentlemen, their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills.

———

Bierce’s position that the Confederate dead should have been buried in the National Cemeteries was a minority view. As you probably know, the National Cemeteries did not accept Confederate dead. According to policy, the cemeteries were for Federal casualties, not the enemy.

In 1901, the 482 Confederates who managed to get buried at Arlington anyway were re-interred in a Confederate section.

In 1906, Congress okayed headstones for Confederate soldiers who died in a Union hospital or prison and were buried at that location. Prior to that, the graves were marked by the families, if at all.

The Civil War ended 150 years ago. It amazes me how much genuine animosity still lingers on both sides.

Bierce-1

The green graves of Grafton National Cemetery, West Virginia.

Bierce-2

Bierce in 1896.

 

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