We Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up…Or, Did We?

FaceBook Post on Origins of Terms and Phrases

This morning my daughter shared a September 3, 2014, Facebook post created by Dan Steele (Dan Balam) of Norfolk, Virginia.  His post was an easy and fun read that got me to questioning whether the origins of the terms and phrases actually had been proven true or were myths that had been passed on over the years.

It turns out that in 1999, an anonymous essay titled “Life in the 1500s” appeared on the Internet and was widely circulated by e-mail. “Life in the 1500s” gave explanations for “chew the fat” and many other common phrases, such as “bring home the bacon” and “saved by the bell.” It credited these phrases to rural life in the 16th century.

Out of just plain curiosity, I first visited Dan’s Facebook page to learn more about him and to see what other kinds of posts he had written.  I also wanted to know about how old the writer was.  My best guess is that Dan is perhaps a 20’s or early 30’s something person. And, that many of Dan’s other Facebook posts are actually thought-provoking, well-written, and deserving of at least one blog post.  My findings follow:

Searching Credible Websites for Etymologies

Next I searched for credible sites that have the etymologies of words and phrases. Obviously, there was many more than one site, but I chose to go with the following:

All of these sites helped me confirm whether we made this stuff up, or not.  And, as you read the facts, please take the poll and answer true or false for each question. (I am using the honor system here, so please do not read ahead to the ANSWER first. )

An Adapted List of 15 “Facts about the 1500’s” from Dan Steele’s Facebook post–the question to ask yourself is “Did the origin of each of these words, terms, idioms, or phrases truly date back to the 1500’s and is the story true?”:

IDIOM:  Tanners used urine to tan animal skins, so poor families pWords Idioms and Phraseseed in a pot and once daily sold its contents to their local tannery…….If you had to do this to survive you were known “Piss Poor.” Also, this idiom “so poor he didn’t have a pot to piss in,” or sometimes in the fuller form …or a window to throw it out of.  True or False?

  • ANSWER:  The idiom appears first in Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, published in 1936, so the 1500’s list does predate this origin. In fact, the literal sense of extreme poverty for piss-poor didn’t come along until a couple of decades later, which also provides another reason, if one were needed, that the story quoted is nonsense.  FALSE.

IDIOM:   People used a big tub filled with hot water to bathe their whole family in. The man of the house bathed first, followed by other men and boys, then the womDont throw out the babyen, and finally the children. Babies were last in line to be bathed. By then the water in the tub was so dirty that you might actually lose one in it.–Hence the saying, “Don’t throw out the baby with the Bath water!”  True or False?

  •  ANSWER: This proverb did in fact originate in the 1500s. ‘Throw the baby out with the bath water’ is a German proverb and the earliest printed reference to it, in Thomas Murner’s satirical work “Narrenbeschwörung (Appeal to Fools),” dates from 1512.  It’s true meaning:  In getting rid of waste, don’t also discard what is worth keeping.  TRUE.

Bath TubIDIOM:  Most people bathed only yearly, in May.  Hence, most couples married in June while they still smelled pretty good.–However, because they were already starting to smell, Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide their body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.  True or False?

  • ANSWER:   According to the Huffington Post, during the 15th century, people took their yearly baths in May and would generally get married in June. Just to be safe, brides carried bouquets to mask the smell of body odor.  You will find this reason repeatedly if you research the tradition behind the bride carrying a bouquet. Another old and popular custom for carrying a bouquet, was to ward of evil spirits. However, from About.com: …there were many opportunities for medieval people to cleanse their bodies. Thus, the prospect of going a full month without washing, and then appearing at her wedding with a bouquet of flowers to hide her stench, is not something a medieval bride was likely to consider any more than a modern bride would. And, from history-magazine.com:  There is no evidence that June was a popular month to get married until the last 100 years. FALSE.

IDIOM:  “It’s raining cats and dogs.”  A 1500’s origin?  True or False?Cats and Dogs

  • ANSWER:  Houses had thatched roofs (thick straw, piled high), with no wooden ceilings. Animals (dogs, cats, mice, bugs) climbed to the roofs to help keep warm.  When it rained the roofs became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off –Hence the saying.  TRUE.

IDIOM:  Canopy beds with big posts and sheets hanging over their tops were invented to protect occupants.  True or False?dirt floor thatched roof

  • ANSWER:  With only thatched roofs, nothing stopped things from falling into the house. In the bedrooms, bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed.  And, from history-magazine.com:  Canopy beds may have originated as a means of keeping out flying insects but if you think about it, people rich enough to afford a canopy bed — a huge investment in the 1500s — would also be living in homes with proper ceilings CTRUE.

IDIOM: Only the wealthy had something other than dirt floors. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.”  True or False?dirt floor cottage

  • ANSWER:  Most peasant cottages did indeed have dirt floors. Some peasants lived in homes that sheltered animals as well as themselves. When livestock was enclosed in a peasant home, it was usually partitioned off in a separate room, sometimes at right angles to the family’s living space. Yet animals could still occasionally find their way into the house proper. For this reason, an earthen floor was a practical choice.However, there is no evidence that the term “dirt poor” was used in any context before the 20th century. One theory suggests that its origins lie in the Dust Bowl of 1930s Oklahoma, where drought and poverty combined to create some of the most horrific living conditions in American history; but direct evidence is lacking. And from history-magazine.com:  Probably correct — except that the expression is American — and from centuries later.In castles, the ground floor might be beaten earth, stone or plaster, but upper stories almost invariably had wooden floors, and the same pattern likely held true in town dwellings. Straw was not needed to keep people from slipping on wet slate, but it was used as a floor covering on all surfaces to provide a modicum of warmth and cushioning. Reeds or rushes were sometimes supplemented with aromatic herbs like lavender, and the entire floor would usually be swept clean and strewn with fresh straw and herbs on a regular basis. Old straw was not simply left down when fresh straw was added.  FALSE.

IDIOM:    The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, the thresh would start slipping outside. So, people placed a piece of wood across the entranceway. Hence: a “thresh hold.”  True or False?

  • ANSWER:   It might be logical to think of the little raised strip in a doorway as an item intended to “hold” in “thresh,” except for one significant detail.  However, There’s no such thing as “thresh.”The word “thresh” is a verb which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “to separate seed” or “to strike repeatedly.” It is not, and has never been, a noun used to designate floor rushes. The word “threshold,” like “thresh,” is Old English (OE) in origin and dates to before the twelfth century. Both OE words appear to relate to the movement of one’s feet; thresh (OE threscan) meaning to stamp or trample3 and threshold (OE therscwold) being a place to step.  FALSE.

Hanging kettle over fireIDIOM:    In those old days, women cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.  Every day they lit the fire and added more food to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day beginning with the leftovers that remained in the pot from the previous day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old” originated straight out of 16th century kitchens. True or False?

  • ANSWER:  Peasant cottages had no kitchens in which to cook. The poorest families had only one room where they cooked, ate, worked and slept. It is also possible that most of these extremely poor families owned only one kettle. Poor town-dwellers usually didn’t even have that, and obtained most of their meals ready-made from shops and street vendors in the Medieval version of “fast-food.”1Those who lived on the edge of starvation had to make use of every edible item they could find, and just about everything could go into the pot (often a footed kettle that rested in the fire rather than over it) for the evening meal.The resulting stew was called “pottage,” and it was the basic element of the peasant diet. And yes, sometimes the remains of one day’s cooking would be used in the next day’s fare. (This is true in some modern “peasant stew” recipes.) But it was not common for food to remain there for nine days — or for more than two or three days, for that matter. People living on the edge of starvation were not likely to leave food on their plates or in the pot. Contaminating the carefully-gathered ingredients of a night’s supper with rotting nine-day-old remains, thus risking illness, is even more unlikely.What is likely is that leftovers from the evening meal were incorporated into a breakfast that would sustain the hard-working peasant family for much of the day. According to history-magazine.com:  According to the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, this chant was not used before 1762.  FALSE.

IDIOM: When families could get pork, they felt quite special. So, when visitorsHanging bacon cameover, they hung up their bacon to show it off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.”   True or False?


From Wisegeek.com:  One of the more common claimed origins for the expression dates back to the early years of the 12th century, and has to do with the gift of a side of bacon to a young couple who impressed a prominent local clergyperson with their deep devotion to one another. There is likely some truth to this legend, especially since this type of tradition is still alive and well in the area of Great Dunmow, Essex in the United Kingdom.

The use of the specific phrase “bring home the bacon” is somewhat more complicated, with the phrase appearing more commonly in 20th century publications, beginning with newspaper accounts connected with professional boxing matches. For this reason, there is some merit in seeing this particular idiomatic expression as being a product of the United States in the early years of that century, although there may be an underlying basis for older references to bacon that relate to money and livelihood. Within the context of the prevailing culture during the first half of the 20th century, the term was often used as one means of delineating the responsibilities of each partner in a marriage. Men were expected to be the breadwinners and bring home the bacon, while women had the duty of taking care of home and hearth, making prudent use of the income generated by the husband to create a comfortable and pleasant home for that husband.

As gender roles and the structure of households became more varied during the second half of the 20th century, it became more common for more than one individual in the household to generate income and bring home the bacon. For this reason, the task of financially funding a household is rarely seen as the responsibility of any one individual, but the combined effort of two or more residents of the home. This has also led to shifts in understanding who is chiefly responsible for tasks such as the upkeep of the home and how each parent is involved in the act of raising children.  TRUE.

IDIOM:  And, they would cut off a little bacon to share with their guests and they would all sit around and “chew the fat.”  True or False?chew the fat

ANSWER:  “Chew the fat” is an English expression meaning to indulge in casual conversation or gossip. It is related to the antiquated phrase “chew the rag.” Both phrases date to the 19th century and originally meant to gripe or complain. The origin of these terms is uncertain. Most sources agree, however, that they probably describe the mouth movements that are common to both chewing and talking.

The Oxford English Dictionary, a widely used reference for English words and phrases, records the earliest published appearance of such terms. It dates the phrase “chew the fat” to 1885, crediting it to a book about British soldiers stationed in India. Most colloquialisms, however, are used in conversation for years or even decades before they appear in print. “Chew the rag” appears in American sources as early as 1875. Although no definitive coining has been documented, both phrases seem to have originated no earlier than the middle of the 19th century.

The nature of the “fat” in “chew the fat” is equally uncertain. Some sources suggest it refers to salt pork, a staple of shipboard life in early naval history. Before the advent of refrigeration, food was often preserved by curing it with salt. This long-lasting source of protein was kept on ships for long voyages when other food supplies ran short. Salt pork could be tough and fatty, requiring thorough chewing before it was digestible.

“Chew the rag” is likewise accounted to sailors or soldiers who would be forced to chew on rags when chewing tobacco was not available. It is suggested that they complained about their deprivation, giving the phrase its original meaning; “chew the fat” has been given a similar explanation. There is no documentation to support these stories, however, and “chew the rag” may as likely derive from the phrase “to rag,” meaning to scold or complain. In any case, “chew the fat” took on the meanings “o make idle conversation or to gossip by the early 20th century. It retains these meanings in the present day, with its older meanings and variations usually forgotten.   From history-magazine.com:  We couldn’t find a convincing explanation for chew the fat. One was that it was of US Civil War origin, another that it was from Cockney Rhyming Slang meaning “have a chat” — and rhyming slang was not known until after WWI.  FALSE.

 IDIOM: The wealthy had dishes made of Pewter. Foods with high acid con

pewter dishestent caused some of the lead to leach into the food, causing death from lead poisoning. Most often it was the acid from tomatoes that caused the lead to leach into the foods, so for the next 400 or so years, tomatoes were considered poisonous.  True or False?

  •  ANSWER:  From the Smithsonian Magazine:In the late 1700s, a large percentage of Europeans feared the tomato.  A nickname for the fruit was the “poison apple” because it was thought that aristocrats got sick and died after eating them, but the truth of the matter was that wealthy Europeans used pewter plates, which were high in lead content. Because tomatoes are so high in acidity, when placed on this particular tableware, the fruit would leach lead from the plate, resulting in many deaths from lead poisoning. No one made this connection between plate and poison at the time; the tomato was picked as the culprit. …  From history-magazine.com:  It is true that tomatoes were thought to be poisonous until about 1830 — however tomatoes were extremely rare in Europe in the 1500s and in any case are not acidic enough to affect pewter.

IDIOM:  Ale and whisky were drank from lead cups. This combination sometimes knocked out imbibers for a couple of days. People walking along the road mistakenly would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. Deceased people were laid out on kitchen tables for viewing for a couple of days.  Families would gather around, eat and drink and wait to see if they might wake up. Hence the custom of–“Holding a Wake!” True or False?

  • ANSWER:  From ehow.com:  The idea of holding a vigil over a deceased body stems from ancient times and is linked to the practice of waiting near the dead person in case he/she returned to life. Although few people in the 21st century are going to believe this could happen, the tradition of friends and family accompanying the body before it’s buried survives intact. Wakes as vigils are more prominent among Roman Catholic communities in countries such as the United States and Ireland.A wake refers to what the visitors do, not what you expect the corpse to do! In this context a wake means a watch or a vigil. It originated from an all-night watch kept in church before certain holy days. It later became associated with fairs and revelries held at such times. Some towns in the north of England still observe local holidays called wakes. (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable).

IDIOM:  People divided up loaves of bread according to your status within the family. Workers got the burnt bottoms of the loaves, the family got the middle, and colonial breadguests got the top, or the “upper crust.”  True or False?

  • ANSWER:  From Snopes.com Although an admonition to “Kutt the upper crust [of a loaf of bread] for your soverayne” can be found in a 1460 work, the term ‘upper crust’ didn’t come to be used figuratively to refer to persons of the higher classes until the 19th century. Many have speculated that, but there is no documentary evidence supporting this as the phrase’s actual origin.  FALSE.

IDIOM:    England is so old and small that local folk started running out of places to bury people. So they dug up coffins and would take the old bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave.


The Charnel House, which was built in the 13th century stores bones previously buried. It was completed in 1427, and was one of the largest parish churches in England. Mary Tudor, Queen of France and sister of Henry VIII, is buried within.

When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized their loved ones had been buried alive… So they would tie a string on the wrist of a corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. People would sit out in the graveyard all night to listen for the bell–Hence, the “graveyard shift.” Thus, a person could be “saved by the bell,” or considered a “dead ringer.”And that’s the truth….but are they?  True or False?

  • ANSWER:  From www.phrases.org/uk on its site debunked all three terms; i.e., “dead ringer,” “saved by the bell,” and “graveyard shift/watch.”The Graveyard Shift, or Graveyard Watch, was the name coined for the work shift of the early morning, typically midnight until 8am. The name originated in the USA at the latter end of the 1800s. There’s no evidence at all that it had anything directly to do with watching over graveyards, merely that the shifts took place in the middle of the night, when the ambience was quiet and lonely.The earliest example of the phrase in print that I have found is in the US newspaper The Salt Lake Tribune,June 1897:

The police changed shifts for the month yesterday. This month Sergeant Ware takes the morning relief. Sergeant Matt Rhodes the middle and Sergeant John Burbidge the graveyard shift.

The ‘graveyard watch’ version of the phrase was normally used by sailors on watch – hardly a group in a position to supervise buried coffins. The graveyard link was made explicit in this definition, offered by the American mariner Gershom Bradford, in A Glossary of Sea Terms, 1927:

“Graveyard watch, the middle watch or 12 to 4 a.m., because of the number of disasters that occur at this time.”

Well we’re at the end and debunked many of the original interesting declarations from the “Life in the 1500’s” 1999 email.  How’d you do on the quiz?  I sincerely hope you found this history-sharing exercise fun and informational.  Please let me know.

Genetically Speaking, Could We Be Cousins?

Genetic RelationshipsHard to believe, but we just might be near or distant cousins, or cousins once or more removed.  When I started my genealogy research about 35 years ago we may never have been able to answer my question about being cousins with any certainty in a single lifetime.

However, 11 years after (on August 6, 1991), my initial genealogical research, the launch of the internet, known as the world-wide-web, changed information management and information mining dramatically as never before when historical documents and information were first digitized, published, and made available to the public for free.

What is Genetic Genealogy?

DNA assignmentIn the past, genealogy for me has been simply the study of my ancestry via a family tree. To date, I have documented my paternal and maternal sides of my family, and traced documentation back to the first century even.  However, genetic genealogy uses DNA testing to determine the genetic relationship between individuals.  So now, I am starting a new approach to my genealogy by moving forward from this expansive family tree compilation (about 10,000 people), to explore my ancestry through genetic research. Genetic genealogy begins with first understanding deoxyribonucleic acid, aka DNA, and then using resources available to map it and learn even more about my family history.

You might ask yourself, why would I want to use DNA for my genealogy research?

Here’s a few of my reasons:

  • To learn more about my ancestry
  • To prove that my family tree reflects my actual ancestry
  • To prove or disprove relationships between two people
  • To prove or disprove theories about where people came from
  • To break down a brick wall in my genealogy research
  • To find relatives for those who were adopted or gave up a child for adoption
  • To learn from which ancestor(s) I inherited certain traits

DNA chromosonesTherefore, in future posts I plan to share with you some stories about my exploration and discoveries through my DNA testing and genetic research.  To launch this project I first purchased a set of 50 presentations on video made at the 2014 International Genetic Genealogical Research Conference that was held August 15-17, 2014, in Washington, DC.

To get us started, I included below Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D.’s 10 DNA Testing Myth Busters:

10 DNA Testing Myths Busted
Posted by Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D.
(c) 25 October 2007

1. Genetic genealogy is only for hardcore genealogists. Wrong! If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of your DNA, or about your direct paternal or maternal ancestral line, then genetic genealogy might be an interesting way to learn more. Although DNA testing of a single line, such as through an mtDNA test, will only examine one ancestor out of 1024 potential ancestors at 10 generations ago, this is a 100% improvement over 0 ancestors out of 1024. If you add your father’s Y-DNA, this is a 200% improvement. Now add your mother’s mtDNA, and so on. However, with this in mind, please note the next myth:

2. I’m going to send in my DNA sample and get back my entire family tree. Sorry. DNA alone cannot tell a person who their great-grandmother was, or what Italian village their great-great grandfather came from. Genetic genealogy can be an informative and exciting addition to traditional research, and can sometimes be used to answer specific genealogical mysteries.

3. I would like to try genetic genealogy, but I’m terrified of needles. Good news! Genetic genealogy firms don’t use blood samples to collect cells for DNA testing. Instead, these companies send swabs or other means to gently obtain cells from the cheek and saliva.

4. I would like to test my ancestor’s DNA, but they died years ago. You don’t always need your ancestor’s DNA to get useful information from a genetic genealogy test. If you are male, you contain the Y-chromosome (Y-DNA) that was given to you by your father, who received it from his father, and so on. Both males and females have mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which was passed on to them by their mother, who received it from her mother, and so on. Everyone of us contains DNA (Y-DNA and/or mtDNA) from our ancestors that can be studied by genetic genealogy.

5. I want to test my mother’s father’s Y-DNA, but since he didn’t pass on his Y-chromosome to my mother, I’m out of luck. Wrong! There is a very good chance that there is another source of that same Y-DNA. For instance, does your mother have a brother (your uncle) who inherited the Y-DNA from his father? Or does your mother’s father have a brother (your great-uncle) who would be willing to submit DNA for the test? Sometimes there might not be an obvious source of “lost” Y-DNA, or no one in the family is willing to take a DNA test. The secret to solving this problem is to do what every good genealogist does – use traditional genealogical research (paper records, census information, etc) to “trace the DNA”. Follow the line back while tracing descendants in order to find someone who is interested in learning more about their Y-DNA. This applies to finding a source of mtDNA as well.

6. Only men can submit DNA for genetic genealogy tests, since women do not have the Y-chromosome. Wrong! Most genetic genealogy testing companies also offer mtDNA testing. Both men and women have mtDNA in their cells and can submit that DNA for testing. In addition, women can test their father’s, brother’s, or some other male relative’s Y-DNA to learn more about their paternal ancestral line, even though they did not inherit the Y-chromosome.

7. My genetic genealogy test will also reveal my propensity for diseases associated with the Y-chromosome and mtDNA. Wrong, thank goodness. Most of the information obtained by genetic genealogy tests has no known medical relevancy, and these firms are not actively looking for medical information. It is important to note, however, that some medical information (such as infertility detected by DYS464 testing or other diseases detectable by a full mtDNA sequence) might inadvertently be revealed by a genetic genealogy test.

8. I don’t like the thought of a company having my DNA on file or my losing control over my DNA sample. This is, of course, an understandable concern. However, most testing firms give a client two options: the DNA is either immediately destroyed once the tests are run, or it is securely stored for future testing. If the DNA is stored, the firm will typically destroy the DNA upon request. If the long-term storage of DNA is a concern, be sure to research the company’s policy before sending in a sample.

9. If my test reveals Native American ancestry, I plan to join a particular Native American affiliation group. Although genetic genealogy can potentially reveal Native American ancestry (for instance, my mtDNA belongs to the Native American haplogroup A2), it is incredibly unlikely that this information will be sufficient to positively identify the specific source of the lineage (such as a tribe) or allow membership in a particular Native American affiliation.

10. My DNA is so boring that genetic genealogy would be a waste of time and money.Very wrong! A person’s DNA is a very special possession – although everyone has DNA, everyone’s DNA is different (okay, except identical twins – if your identical twin has been tested, you should think twice about buying the same test!). As humans settled the world, Y-DNA and mtDNA spread and mixed randomly. As a result, it is impossible to guess with 100% assurance that a person’s Y-DNA or mtDNA belongs to a particular haplogroup (a related family of DNA sequences) without DNA testing.

BONUS MYTH: My genetic genealogy test says that my mtDNA belongs to Haplogroup A2.Juanita the Ice Maiden, a frozen mummy discovered in the Andes Mountains in Peru also has Haplogroup A2 mtDNA. Therefore, she must be my ancestor!

Unfortunately, although genetic genealogy can reveal that a person is RELATED to an ancient DNA source, it cannot prove that a person is a DESCENDANT of an ancient DNA source. For instance, perhaps you are descended from Juanita’s sister, or her 5th cousin. Thus, although Juanita might be your great-great-great-great…great-grandmother, she might instead be your great-great-great-great…great-aunt. And since Juanita died when she was just 12 to 14, it is unlikely she has any descendants.

If you understand the risks associated with genetic genealogy (such as the detection ofnon-paternal events and other risks) and are ready and willing to embrace the results to learn more about your genetic ancestry, then genetic genealogy might be for you. I recommend that you read archived posts here at The Genetic Genealogist, and do some online research through one of the many companies that offer genetic genealogy testing.

French soldier’s room unchanged 96 years after his death in first world war

The story below touched my heart so much that I felt compelled to share it with my readers.  I can only imagine with great trepidation enduring the loss of a son and honoring him beyond my time on this planet…


First world war 100 years on

Parents kept room as it was the day he left, and stipulated when they moved that it should not be changed for 500 years

By:   in Paris
The Guardian, Tuesday 14 October 2014 08.15 EDT

Soldier's room

Hubert Rochereau’s room in a house in Bélâbre, France. Photograph: Bruno Mascle/Photoshot

The name of dragoons officer Hubert Rochereau is commemorated on a war memorial in Bélâbre, his native village in central France, along with those of other young men who lost their lives in the first world war.

But Rochereau also has a much more poignant and exceptional memorial: his room in a large family house in the village has been preserved with his belongings for almost 100 years since his death in Belgium.

A lace bedspread is still on the bed, adorned with photographs and Rochereau’s feathered helmet. His moth-eaten military jacket hangs limply on a hanger. His chair, tucked under his desk, faces the window in the room where he was born on 10 October 1896.

He died in an English field ambulance on 26 April 1918, a day after being wounded during fighting for control of the village of Loker, in Belgium. The village was in allied hands for much of the war but changed hands several times between 25 and 30 April, and was finally recaptured by French forces four days after Rochereau’s death.

The parents of the young officer kept his room exactly as it was the day he left for the battlefront. When they decided to move in 1935, they stipulated in the sale that Rochereau’s room should not be changed for 500 years.

“This clause had no legal basis,” said the current owner, retired local official Daniel Fabre, who showed the room to the Nouvelle République newspaper. But nevertheless he and his wife, who inherited the house from her grandparents, have respected the wishes of Rochereau’s parents and will continue to do so.

Soldier's room
The soldier’s desk. Photograph: Bruno Mascle/Photoshot

The room contains the spurs of the cavalry officer, his sword and a fencing helmet, and a collection of pistols. A flag is propped up beside the wall. His pipes are on his desk and the stale smell of English tobacco comes from a cigarette packet.

Rochereau, a second lieutenant with the 15th Dragoons Regiment based in Libourne, outside Bordeaux, received a posthumous croix de guerre, the French equivalent of being mentioned in dispatches, and the Legion of Honour for his extreme bravery on the battlefield.

As well as being commemorated at the local war memorial, his name is also on the monument to the fallen in Libourne. The regiment’s history recounts how Rochereau’s commander was killed by a bullet to the head after giving the “heroic” order to counterattack in Loker.

On Rochereau’s desk is a vial on which, in keeping with tradition, a label records that it contains “the soil of Flanders on which our dear child fell and which has kept his remains for four years”.

The battlefields of Flanders, which stretched from north-east France into Belgium, saw some of the fiercest fighting of the 1914-18 war. To commemorate the 580,000 soldiers who died on that part of the western front, a memorial by the architect Philippe Prost is due to be inaugurated by the French president, François Hollande, on 11 November.

The soldiers who died there came not only from the UK, France, Belgium and Germany but also from as far afield as Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and India. The memorial at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, France’s biggest national war cemetery, where the remains of 40,000 French soldiers are interred, is a giant ring of gilded metal bearing the names of the dead. Prost says he intended the Ring of Memory to symbolise unity and eternity.

The History and Demise of Cursive Writing

Joanne Dickinson:

Massachusetts is one of several states that wants to keep penmanship lessons in the curriculum. Do you think we should keep cursive writing alive?

Originally posted on Our Heritage: 12th Century & Beyond:

Cursive, the Secret Language of Adults 

Cursive letter

Cursive Handwriting – A Centuries-Old Art1

“For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is a mystery. The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.”

Sandy Schefkind, a pediatric occupational therapist in Bethesda, Md., and pediatric coordinator for the American Occupational Therapy Association, said that learning cursive helped students hone their fine motor skills.

“It’s the dexterity, the fluidity, the right amount of pressure to put with pen and pencil on paper,” Ms. Schefkind said, adding that for some students cursive is easier to learn than printing.”


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Native Americans, White People, and Scottish-Irish Emigrate to North Carolina

Joanne Dickinson:

From Reuters News: Scots independence polls close, UK’s future in the balance

EDINBURGH – Scotland has voted on whether to stay within the United Kingdom or declare independence to break the 307-year-old union in a finely balanced referendum with global consequences. | Video

Originally posted on Our Heritage: 12th Century & Beyond:

Native Americans

A recent blog post focused on my maternal great-grandmother Mary Susan MORRIS‘s family–our native american heritage through the Morris branch–and the freshly fallen bricks of a wall I had been up against for years.

White People

Not abandoning this wall, but continuing on, I returned to my maternal great grandfather–Grandmother Susan’s husband, John Carpenter Ford’s (1864-1961) family. Similarly, I found myself at yet another brick wall at his paternal grandfather, Henry Ford (1790-1830)–not the infamous innovator of the automobile industry.

Henry Ford’s birth and death have been recorded as North Carolina in many public family trees.  These trees also show that he and Peggy Rigsby had a son, Robert Jackson Ford, father of my great grandfather, John Carpenter Ford. Henry’s marriage to Peggy is documented in the North Carolina Marriage Index (1741-2004) as 5 Aug 1816 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina.  Without any evidence to the contrary, we suffice that this Henry is my third great grandfather, who…

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157 Years Later: CSA Sgt. Gideon W. Morris–Our “Battle of Antietam” Survivor

Joanne Dickinson:

157 Years Later–Our Civil War’s Battle of Antietam Survivor

Originally posted on Our Heritage: 12th Century & Beyond:

Freshly Fallen Bricks of My Morris Family Wall

After searching to uncover more information about my maternal great grandmother’s (Mary Susan MORRIS Ford) family, I once again stumbled and fell upon freshly fallen bricks of a wall I had pushed against for many years.  Until now, I primarily had focused on the origins of my Native American heritage through the Morris branch.  And then, I immediately shifted my center as a result of revisiting my earlier research in Grandmother Susan’s tree.

Gideon W Morris HeadstoneTo refresh my memory, I reviewed data I had compiled about her father, Gideon W. Morris–my second great grandfather (1837/8-1880)–Virginia born and raised.  It was about 18 months ago when volunteer contributor Michael Hollingsworth first created a findagrave memorial page about Gideon W. Morris and I added his entries to my tree. My newest research, based upon Michael’s findagrave.com page, has helped me remove some significant bricks from my Morris Family wall–thank you, Michael.

It turns out that TheSouthern Historical Society,

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Faith and Football–The Ties That Bind

Faith in Christ – Love of Football

With our son and grandsons scattered across the South Atlantic and Midwest States and one in Europe serving his country, our faith in Christ and love of football continue to keep our family close in heart and spirit.

The National Football League (NFL) has just concluded Week Two of the 2014-2015 season.   And who knew a woman of my age with only a minor interest in football would be anxiously awaiting each week’s reviews?  And why, you might ask?

Well, it all started back around 28 years ago when our eldest son Bob’s most favorite and frequent pastime with our three grandsons was watching, playing, or debating football and even collecting Topps football trading cards.

It wasn’t that all of them rooted for the Washington Redskins–our home team.  No. They were fans of opposing teams.  Our son, Bob, is a New York Giants fan; his eldest son, Joey (28), a Dallas Cowboys and now also Chicago Bears fan.  Joey’s interest in the Dallas Cowboys most likely goes back to the days when his dad was a Redskins fan and the two teams were first recognized as the best rivals in the NFL–and, too, Joey always enjoys and looks for lively debates. Michael (26), has always been a San Francisco 49ers follower, and Andy (22), remains truly loyal to DC’s team even though he hasn’t lived in our area for eight years–And, has only seen the Redskins in a Superbowl one time.  In 1997, in Coach Joe Gibbs second season, they played in Super Bowl XXVI and beat the Buffalo Bills 37-24–following their all-time best season finish at 17 wins and 2 losses!

And to bring my discussion about football and my interest in weekly status reports to a head, I’d like to share with you our eldest grandson Joey’s NFL Weekly Review with “Rob Crowe” – NFL 10:  Week 2

Two weeks in and I’m already scratching my head a little bit. Teams that I thought were going to be GREAT this year are below average or worse. Sorry Saints fans, you still stink away from the dome. I thought the Raiders wouldn’t suck. I didn’t think they would be good, just not suck. Sadly the Raiders are still the Raiders. I also thought the Cowboys would be historically bad, but they remembered how to hand the ball to Demarco Murray and have over achieved on defense. And don’t get me started on my Giants, for who, in spite of logic, I still cling to hope for. In any case, week 2…


1. Dear Oakland Raiders, I’ve always heard that everyone enjoys their own scent, but that was just offensive, or so says Charles Woodson, and I quote, “we suck,” and, “I’m embarrassed.” I’m embarrassed for him after the dump they took all over that game. i swear someone buttered the ball before that before that game because watching James Jones chase two consecutive fumbles off a single catch was a bit like watching a bunch of drunk guys chasing a greased up pig at the fair.


2. and speaking of embarrassing… hey Colin Kaepernick, why not show some modesty. I know, I know, Kyle fuller, Chris Conte, and Danny McCray are all famous athletes and you were a little star struck, but at least make them buy you dinner before you give it all away like that. Four turnovers, Really? no one likes a groupie.


3. On a related note, Bear fans and pundits, can we please stop pretending like Jay Cutler was the hero of that game… PLEEEEEZ! the defense, i mean Kapn K, bailed you out with four turnovers, and Brandon Marshall single-handedly carried that offense… and by that I mean he leaped through the air and made a one-handed circus catch for a TD followed by two more TD catches.


4. This just in, J.J. Watt apparently plays every position on the field. that’s right, he scored a touchdown from the tight end spot this Sunday.. and Oakland hangs their collective heads in shame… again.


5. In other news, the NFC ordered the refs of Monday night’s Eagles Colts game to refund their game checks and immediately take a trip to Lense Crafters. After missing a blatant pass interference call that resulted in T.Y. Hilton hitting the turf and a subsequent Andrew Luck interception the refs decided to call a phantom horse collar tackle of LeSean McCoy, allowing the eagles to tie the game at 27 all. this was a two score swing as the Colts were well within Vinatieri’s range which would have made it a minimum of 30-20 Colts.


6. having said that though, the sheer pace with which the Eagles are able to run plays while still basically being a run first offense is impressive. I was out of breath just watching them. I can only imagine what opposing defenses must feel like… probably similar to Jonah Hill after walking from the couch to the kitchen for a bag of Cheetohs. McCoy and Sproles are going to be a nightmare all year long.


7. This makes the colts 0-2. that’s right two of the teams expected to be in the thick of the playoff hunt have the same amount of wins as the Giants, Jags, and Raiders. Meanwhile the Buffalo Bills are undefeated.


8. Apparently the Colts-Eagles refs weren’t the only ones who got paid off this week. Marty Mornhinweg kamikazeed a 36 yard game tying TD pass on 4th and 4 and ended the Jets hope of an upset over the Green Bay Packers.


9. Seahawks fans across Seattle shed a tear as it was the first time in over three years that the hawks lost by more than a score. don’t get used to it though. These guys are too tough to let that happen again. and Sherman exposed? get real! he gave up three passes for less than fifty yards and zero TDs. I’m not impressed Keenan Allen.


10. there is a tombstone being placed in a field near Fed-Ex Field today. It reads R.I.P. RGIII’s career as a franchise QB.

If you like reading this every week then do me a favor please? Click the like button, or share, or like my page. Thanks and see you next week.


With all this being said I’d to close my post about our guys and their football by also adding that they stay fans of football and stay passionate in their faith because they continue to do good works for God’s people and their families. And by knowing that they have the following biblical verse in common with so many other faithful athletes:

Isaiah 40:30-31 – New International Version (NIV)

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.


Native Americans, White People, and Scottish-Irish Emigrate to North Carolina

Native Americans

A recent blog post focused on my maternal great-grandmother Mary Susan MORRIS‘s family–our native american heritage through the Morris branch–and the freshly fallen bricks of a wall I had been up against for years.

White People

Not abandoning this wall, but continuing on, I returned to my maternal great grandfather–Grandmother Susan’s husband, John Carpenter Ford’s (1864-1961) family. Similarly, I found myself at yet another brick wall at his paternal grandfather, Henry Ford (1790-1830)–not the infamous innovator of the automobile industry.

Henry Ford’s birth and death have been recorded as North Carolina in many public family trees.  These trees also show that he and Peggy Rigsby had a son, Robert Jackson Ford, father of my great grandfather, John Carpenter Ford. Henry’s marriage to Peggy is documented in the North Carolina Marriage Index (1741-2004) as 5 Aug 1816 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina.  Without any evidence to the contrary, we suffice that this Henry is my third great grandfather, who we also believe was of Scottish/Irish descent based upon the etymology of the surname Foard, Foord, and Ford as it became commonly spelled.

Scottish/Scotch-Irish Migration

The term “Scotch-Irish” is an Americanism, generally unknown in Scotland and Ireland, and rarely used by European historians. In American usage, it refers to people of Scottish descent who, having lived for a time in the north of Ireland, migrated in considerable numbers to the American colonies in the eighteenth century.

Scot Immigration USThe Scotch-Irish, or Ulster Scots had prospered in Ireland until changes in English policies led many to migrate to America, where most settled in Pennsylvania. They began to arrive in North Carolina in the 1730s, leaving Pennsylvania after crops were harvested in the fall and arriving in the Piedmont in time to plant winter crops and seedlings that they brought with them.

On small farms these Scotch-Irish settlers grew corn for home use and wheat and tobacco for use and for export. They raised livestock and drove them in large numbers to northern markets. Settlers built stores, grist mills, sawmills, and tanneries. Blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, potters, rope makers, wagon makers, and wheelwrights established many local industries. Brewers, distillers, weavers, hatters, tailors, and others practiced their trades either in isolated homes or in shops in towns.

“The Guttenberg Project:  Scotland’s Mark on America,” published in 1921

In 1682, a number of Scottish nobility and aristocracy first left Scotland and settled in New Jersey and the Carolinas. During the following century a constant stream of emigrants both from Scotland and from Ulster, Ireland came to the colony.  The largest influx of Scots/Scots-Irish into North Carolina was in the form of Protestants–largely Presbyterian but also Anglican due to religious persecution.

Cape Fear is in the lower right.  The pin points to House Creek in Raleigh where my Ford ancestors lived.

The red arrow points to Cape Fear. The red pin points to House Creek in Raleigh where my Ford ancestors lived.

From 1715-1773 tens of thousands of Scots settled in North Carolina on or near the Cape Fear River. Cross Creek, now Fayetteville, was the center of these settlements. It was in this area of North Carolina that my Ford family’s history is first documented.  In fact, my 2nd great grandfather lived and died in the House Creek area of Raleigh, Wake County, and still today there are thousands of Fords who still live in North Carolina.

Gov. Gabriel Johnston, of the province of North Carolina from 1734 to 1752, appears to have done more to encourage the settlement of Scots in the colony than all its other colonial governors combined.

Between 1729 and 1740 scots were in Virginia. A strong infusion of Scottish blood in New York State came through settlements made there in response to a proclamation issued in 1735 by the Governor, inviting “loyal protestant Highlanders” to settle the lands between the Hudson River and the northern lakes.

The first Presbyterian Church was organized in Albany, New York, in 1760 by Scottish immigrants who had settled in that vicinity.

In 1773 Scots penetrated to and settled in Kentucky.  By 1790 seventy-five thousand people were in the region and Kentucky was admitted to the Federal Union in 1792.

According to the United States Historical Census Data Base (2002), the ethnic populations in the American Colonies of 1775 were:

English 48.7 %
African 20.0 %
Scottish/Scot-Irish 14.4 %
German 6.9 %
Scottish 6.6 %
Dutch 2.7 %
French 1.4 %
Swedish 0.6 %
Other 5.3 %

By 1779 they had crossed the Ohio River into the present state of Ohio. Between the years 1730 and 1775 the Scottish immigration into Pennsylvania often reached ten thousand a year.

Scotland immigration_tableIn 2000, the state of North Carolina had more citizens of Scottish ancestry than any other state or country.

And, like so many other of my posts that I have written while journeying through stories and searching for historical records that give me new and improved evidence about the life and times of our family’s ancestors, I must end today’s post here–with many questions still unanswered…until next time.


The Guttenberg Project:  Scotland’s Mark on America

You Little Dickens!

MarySusanMorrisFordMy mom has told me a story about my relationship with my Cherokee maternal great-grandmother, Mary Susan Morris Ford, ever since I was old enough to talk. Unfortunately, I was only 14 months old when Grandma Susan passed at 73 years old.

The story goes like this.  My great-grandmother went to sleep one night and when she awoke the next morning she was completely blind probably due to glaucoma.  Despite her blindness her favorite pastimes were knitting and crocheting and I was highly interested in her and her hobbies.  However, when Grandma Susan would leave the room for any reason I would toddle over to her chair, grab her yarn and needles and either take off on a run or try to hide them under the seat where she had sat. I’m told Grandma Susan would chuckle each time, retrieve her goods and say to me, “You, little dickens!”

littledickensknittedmouseAccording to Answers.com, “Dickens” is a minced oath. It stands for Devil. A little Dickens is an imp. Used familiarly, it is usually affectionate.  The phrase “what the dickens” was coined by William Shakespeare and originated in The Merry Wives Of Windsor Act 3, scene 2, 18–23.

And to add irony to this story, little did anyone know that I would become the mother of “three little dickens,”–ah–Dickinson’s, that is.


To my knowledge, no one in our past or present day family has researched its Cherokee heritage. However, mom at 87, often looks at her arms and says that they remind her of her Grandma Susan’s; “except grandma’s skin had more of a red hue to it”.   Mama also is the only family member alive who remembers her grandmother telling her that she was full-blooded Cherokee–a powerful detached tribe of the Iroquoian family. And Grandma Susan’s father, Gideon W. Morris, passed away when she was only 5. So, again, immediate family information about our Cherokee heritage was not handed down from generation to generation.

In my recent research, however, I discovered that the Cherokee Nation formerly held the mountain region of the south Alleghenies, in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and South Carolina, north Georgia, east Tennessee, and northeast Alabama, and claiming even to the Ohio River when first they were first met by De Soto in 1540.  Our Morris family branch hailed from Virginia and North Carolina.

Cherokee wars and treaties

Seven clans are often mentioned in Cherokee ritual prayers and in the printed laws of the tribe. They seem to be connected with the “seven mother towns” of the Cherokee, described by Sir Alexander Cuming in 1730 as having each a chief, whose office was hereditary in the female line.

Numbering about 22,000 tribesmen in 200 villages throughout the area, a series of battles and agreements around the period of the Revolutionary War (1763-1787) effectively reduced Cherokee power and landholdings in Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and western North and South Carolina, freeing up this territory for speculation and settlement by the white man.

Today’s Cherokee Nation is the federally recognized government of the Cherokee people with sovereign status granted by treaty and law. Its capital is the W.W. Keeler Complex near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation has operated under a constitutional form of government since 1827. Today there are more than 320,000 registered Cherokee citizens, making it the largest Native American tribe in the United States.  And, for now, this is where my story pauses.  That is, until I find new discoveries that can place my Morris family within a particular clan and village before 1798 when my third great grandfather, James Thomas Morris, was born in Virginia. James was Mary Susan’s grandfather.

157 Years Later: CSA Sgt. Gideon W. Morris–Our “Battle of Antietam” Survivor

Freshly Fallen Bricks of My Morris Family Wall

After searching to uncover more information about my maternal great grandmother’s (Mary Susan MORRIS Ford) family, I once again stumbled and fell upon freshly fallen bricks of a wall I had pushed against for many years.  Until now, I primarily had focused on the origins of my Native American heritage through the Morris branch.  And then, I immediately shifted my center as a result of revisiting my earlier research in Grandmother Susan’s tree.

Gideon W Morris HeadstoneTo refresh my memory, I reviewed data I had compiled about her father, Gideon W. Morris–my second great grandfather (1837/8-1880)–Virginia born and raised.  It was about 18 months ago when volunteer contributor Michael Hollingsworth first created a findagrave memorial page about Gideon W. Morris and I added his entries to my tree. My newest research, based upon Michael’s findagrave.com page, has helped me remove some significant bricks from my Morris Family wall–thank you, Michael.

It turns out that The Southern Historical Society, a public organization founded by Confederate Major General Dabney H. Maury in 1868-1869 documented Southern military and civilian viewpoints from the American Civil War until now. These were compiled into the Southern Historical Society Papers, published in the late 19th Century, comprising 52 volumes of articles written by Southern soldiers, officers, politicians, and civilians.  And among these papers and published online, when googling “Sergeant Gideon W Morris,”  I found the military history of my second great grandfather Sergeant Gideon W. Morris.

Gideon Morris’s Life in the Confederate States of America Infantry

At age 25 on April 23, 1861, Gideon enlisted in Virginia’s Infantry less than two weeks after the civil war officially began on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.  He was a member of Company A of the 15th Virginia Infantry.

Battles Involving 15th Infantry


The Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg

Drewry's Bluff-Fort Darling

Drewry’s Bluff at Fort Darling

In the Antietam/Sharpsburg Campaign (September 16-18,1862)  16 months after he enlisted, Sgt. Morris was captured on Wednesday,
September 17, 1862. The battle began just outside Sharpsburg early on the morning of September 17, 1862, when Union troops under General Joseph Hooker attacked the Confederates near the Dunker Church. Later, the fighting would move to the Sunken Road, and then to a bridge over Antietam Creek, across which troops under General Ambrose Burnside managed to fight their way only to be withdrawn again when rebel reinforcements arrived at the end of the day.  With a combined tally of dead, wounded, and missing at 22,717, this is the all-time bloodiest single-day battle in American history. Based upon those statistics, I would consider the capture on this day of Sgt. Morris to be one of his luckiest days in life.

Twenty months later, on Saturday, May 14, 1864, Sgt. Gideon Morris was wounded in action probably at Drewry’s Bluff at Fort Darling in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

And then, nearly one year later he was captured again on Saturday, April 11865, just 8 days before the Civil War came to its official end on  Sunday, April 9, 1865.

Gideon’s Private Life

Before Gideon’s enlistment in 1861, according to the 1860 Census, he and his wife, Mary J. Schaner, ten years his junior, and their first-born, one year old son Granville, J. Morris, were living in Mecklenburg, North Carolina.   Unfortunately, the enumerator failed to enter any occupations for the Morris’s.

The 1870 Census has Gideon and his wife, Mary J. Schaner and their one year old daughter, Florence, living back in the Marshall Ward of Richmond, and Gideon working as a lumber inspector.

My next tracer, The U.S. City Directories, shows Gideon and his family at 2404 E. Main Street, Richmond where he worked as a laborer.

The Census beginning on June 1, 1880, shows Gideon alive at age 43 or so, working as a carpenter and living in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife, Mary, and his two daughters, Florence D., 10, and Mary Susan (my great-grandmother), age 5.  This explains why our Ford family knew so very little about Mary Susan’s ancestry.

And, aside from the  findagrave memorial page (noted above), to date, I have found no further information about Gideon Morris’s life or death.

A 2-minute Video Commemorating the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam and all those who lost their Lives or were Injured

The video below concludes a series of six two-minute segments from The Civil War’s Trust’s animated events of The Battle of Antietam.  To see the full series, click on this link.

References,Sources, and Other Notes:

Basic information from Southern Historical Society: Note: From an annotated roster of Company A, 15th Virginia Infantry by Captain M.W. Hazlewood, published originally in the Richmond Dispatch of 19 August 1894.

Southern Historical Society, and Rev. John William Jones, Robert Alonzo Brock, James Power Smith, editors, Southern Historical Society Papers, 52 Vols., Richmond: Southern Historical Society, 1876-1959, Vol. 21, pp. 48 – 54 [AotW citation 8853]