31 October 2011


Samhain is said to be the time of year when the veil between this world and the next is thinnest.

I wouldn't really know about that.

Lots of cultures have some kind of Day of the Dead, set aside to remember family members and friends who have died. That seems a reasonable thing, to me. It's not inherently creepy or evil. It's more like an acknowledgment that death is as much a part of life, and as necessary a part of life, as birth. It's a time to think about the ending of things, accepting losses, coming to terms with them, getting ready to move on. I'm down with that.

So I'm thinking, and accepting, and coming to terms, and getting ready.

And wondering.

Why the heck don't we ever get any trick-or-treaters?

29 October 2011

Typhoid Tuffy


Tuffy came down sick last weekend. I mean sore throat, goopy chest, nasty cough, staying-home-from-the-gym sick. Bad sign. For this kid to stay home from the gym, she has to have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. She says she's feeling some better, but still sounds terrible. She's got kind of cough that hangs on forever.

Scarecrow came down sick a couple of days later. He took off work for a couple of days, and Scarecrow never takes off work. He took off work, even though he's been working from home. That's how sick he was. Even thought about getting somebody in to take care of me, he was that sick.

Me? I'm feeling like an opossum in the middle of the road, trying to ignore the headlights.

24 October 2011

Looking for Sparklies

Two of my blogger buddies have asked where I'm getting all this stuff about stalking dead people. Since two people probably constitutes a supermajority of the people who normally read this blog, it's like an invitation to write about something people might actually be interested in. What a concept!

Before I jump in, I should emphasize that I'm no kind of rigorous, by-the-book-type genealogist. In fact, I'm no kind of genealogist at all. Those are people who meticulously document the blood relationship between descendent X and ancestor A. I don't do that.

A Family Historian tries to understand what life was like for people in their family; where did they live? who did they live with? in what kind of house? what kind of work did they do? what kind of clothes did they wear? what did they eat? That's a little closer, but I don't really do that, either. Not in any systematic way.

I'm more of a magpie. I go after the sparkly bits. Rather than following one person's life from start to finish before starting on another one, rather than starting with my parents, then going to my grandparents, and carefully working my way back from there, I jump from wondering why my grandmother had her picture taken on a farm when she was 17, to wanting to know how much stuff a typical voyageur canoe held and how many men it took to paddle it, to being tickled to find that in the late '20s Willys-Overland Motors made a car called the Whippet, even though I don't think anybody in my family worked there at the time. Or wait. Maybe they did…

Nope. My paternal grandfather worked there (as a woodworker!) in 1918, but by 1920 he had a grocery store. My dad and my uncle Willie weren't there until later – Willie, the older brother, didn't graduate from high school until 1937. So, no.

You see what happens? In checking to see what years various forebears might have worked at Willys-Overland, I ran across a photo of a jeep in a museum exhibit that looked like it might've been designed by a place I used to work. The museum exhibit, I mean, not the jeep. Of course, I had to see if the place I used to work actually designed that museum, but the museum webpage didn't say, and the place I used to work is out of business now. So that was an hour spent chasing after something totally unrelated. And I never did find out.

It's not that I mind. I don't have any place I need to be, or any time I need to be there. I'm just not very focused about this, I guess is what I'm saying. I can't tell you how to do genealogy, or how to research family history. I can only tell you about being a magpie.

And a disabled magpie, at that. At some point, people doing this kind of stuff usually wind up going places, like libraries, or archives, or courthouses; and opening books, or turning pages, or scanning microfilm; and writing stuff down. On paper. I don't do any of that. If it's not online, I can't get to it, so I don't bother looking for it. I don't collect paper copies of documents, because I couldn't file or store them if I had them.

So, after all that, where do I find all this stuff? I've got to tell you, there's a ton of stuff out there, with more appearing online by the day. In true magpie fashion, I have about a million bookmarks, organized in a way that doesn't make a whole lot of sense even to me, most of which would only be helpful to someone whose family happens to come from the same places mine does. There are, however, a couple of good general places to start looking:

Cindi's List probably comes as close as anything to inflicting some kind of organization on the bewildering amount of genealogy information available on the net.

FamilySearch is the genealogy website of the LDS church. In addition to a lot of how-to information, it gives you free access to a lot of genealogy database resources.

And as always, Google is your friend. Cindi's List even has links to information about how to take advantage of it.

So, that's a lot of disclaimer for not very much information, but there it is. I don't know How It Should Be Done. I just look for the sparkly bits.

18 October 2011

Medicare for Dummies

OK, I need to buckle down and do this. After two years of scrambling to patch together some kind of health care coverage that we can more-or-less afford, in December I finally become eligible for Medicare. Apparently there are decisions to be made. I'm a little apprehensive about this.

Fortunately, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services provide a little (147-page) booklet:

Medicare and You 
This is the official US government Medicare handbook

Yes! Documentation! A user manual! As one of the infinitesimally small number of people on this planet who actually read these things, I find this very reassuring. It's filled with pictures of such happy people. If they've done this Medicare thing and they're still so cheerful, how bad can it be? Aside from the gray hair, most of them don't even look all that old. In fact, they look about my age. What's up with that? The print is comfortably large, I guess so they don't have to produce a separate large print version – accessibility and all that. Well, maybe not. On the back cover, it says it's "also available in Spanish, Braille, Audio CD, and Large Print (English and Spanish)." I wonder how large the print is in the large print version?

So I start reading. They put the index in the front, which seems odd. I don't know if I like the idea or not. On page 58, I find:

Things to Consider When Choosing Your Medicare Coverage

Excellent. This sounds like exactly what I'm looking for. They followed this with a bunch of questions:

Are the services you need covered?
Are you eligible for other types of health or prescription drug coverage?
How much are your premiums, deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and other costs?
How much do you pay for services like hospital stays or doctor visits?
Is there a yearly limit on what you pay out-of-pocket?
Do your doctors and other health care providers accept the coverage?
Are the doctors you want to see accepting new patients?
Do you have to choose your hospital and health care providers from a network?
Do you need to get referrals?
Do you need to join a Medicare drug plan? 
Do you already have creditable prescription drug coverage?
Will you pay a penalty if you join a drug plan later?
What will your prescription drugs cost under each plan?
Are your drugs covered under the plan’s formulary?
Are there any coverage rules that apply to your prescriptions?
Where are the doctors’ offices?
What are their hours?
Which pharmacies can you use?
Can you get your prescriptions by mail?
Do the doctors use electronic health records or prescribe electronically?
Will the plan cover you in another state or outside the U.S.?
Are you satisfied with your medical care?


The Socratic method is just not working for me here. How the f#@k should I know? Isn't that what I'm trying to find out? If this is an FAQ, I've got the Qs. What I need are the As. And the $$. I need to know about the $.

Aside from the gray hair, I do not resemble the smiling, happy people in this booklet. Maybe I shouldn't have started in on it when I was already cranky about MetLife terminating my group life insurance because they aren't sure I'm still disabled. I wasn't really feeling open-minded and positive and cheerful.


If I put off dealing with this until I'm feeling open-minded and positive and cheerful, it'll never happen. That's just a fact. Aside from the gray hair, I never look anything like the smiling, happy people in this booklet. Maybe I'm going to need to grit my teeth and slog through this stuff anyway.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow.


14 October 2011

<Your Name Here>

“Block Card 902 Locust Street, c1937, courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.” 

I just found this picture of the building where my dad's family was living when he was born. Turns out the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library has an archive of photos of buildings, many taken in the 1930s by the WPA for tax assessment purposes (and to give people jobs). This was obviously the same building that was there in 1920, when my dad was born, and the U.S. Census said the family was living here. Cool, no? Amazing, what you can find on the Internet.

My dad never liked the name Ezra. It always startled me a little when his brothers called him Ez, because nobody else did. Everybody else called him Charlie, after a trumpeter who led a big band in the 1940s. As long as I knew him, he introduced himself as Charlie. He used E.C. in correspondence and such like, but Charles wasn't his middle name. He didn't have one. He just picked Charlie, I guess because it was better than Ezra.

For those of us trying to untangle the limbs of the family thicket, a distinctive name like Ezra beats the heck out of a Charlie. In Scarecrow's family, I'm indebted to those old Puritans who gave their offspring names like Hachaliah Brown, or Preserved Reade. Or Philo Dibble Bates. As it turns out, the Puritans in Massachusetts and Connecticut were way more creative in their choice of names than their contemporaries north of the border. How pathetic is that?

You'd think, with the big French-Canadian families of the previous couple of centuries, that you'd see a large number of very imaginative names, just to keep them all straight. I wish. What happened was that the first boy got his father's name, the first girl got her mother's, the next couple maybe got the grandparents' names, then they'd start handing out names of aunts and uncles. So even if 15 kids had 15 kids apiece, they were all drawing from the same pool of 15 names, generation after generation. They might be in a different order, but every family had an Antoine, a Joseph, a Pierre, a François, and so on. To further confuse the issue, everybody wss Marie-something or something-Marie. This was so common that they'd sometimes leave the Marie part out, without feeling the need to mention it. And they sometimes recycled names, even within the same family. If Jean Baptiste or Marie Louise died young, the parents may bestow the same name on a later child. So you frequently got several people with the same name, living in the same place, at the same time.

The cultural peculiarity of assigning dit names makes it both easier and more difficult to track down individuals. As I understand it, it was common in the military of 17th-century France to give soldiers a sort of nickname. Gilles Couturier, for example, might become Gilles Couturier dit Labonté, or Gilles Couturier called Labonté. Since many of the early residents of New France came from the military, it was a common thing. Another Couturier might use a different dit name, perhaps Couturier dit Verville, which would help tell the different Couturiers apart. Or not. It turns out Gilles might be referred to as Couturier, Couturier dit Labonté, or just Labonté. One (or more) of his offspring might adopt the dit name, or not. Or they may choose a different one. I guess you had to be there to understand it, because I sure as heck don't. In addition to spelling being flexible in a largely illiterate population, it's sometimes not clear, at least to me, what name they're trying to spell.

On the other hand, at that time women in France – and New France – typically kept their father's surname after they married. So there's that. One Pierre Couturier might be the offspring of Joseph Couturier and Gertrude Maugras (hopefully not Gertrude-Marie or Marie-Gertrude), and another Pierre Couturier the son of a different Joseph Couturier and Marie Allard. If they were both Mrs. Couturier, I don't know how you'd ever sort them out.

So it's a puzzle. Some future family historian may get stuck trying to figure out what happened to Ezra, who was born and lived with his family and went to school and then seemingly disappeared. And where did this Charlie-person come from, anyway? It will be a puzzle. Dad would like that.

And I don't blame him. I wouldn't want to be called Ezra, either.

03 October 2011

How Much Does an E-Book Weigh?

As grateful as I am that e-books became widely available just about the time I began to have trouble managing regular physical books, some e-book features require this elderly canine to attempt some new tricks.

I've been reading regular books for a long time, you understand, and I'm pretty well accustomed to that way of doing things. For example, just about any e-reader gives you some way to tell how much progress you've made through the book, and while I know the slider bar on the edge of the screen (or whatever) is conveying that information, it is not (yet) as intuitive as comparing the difference in thickness between the pages on the left side of the open book with the thickness of the pages on the right.

I also seem to have a heck of a time remembering to note how many pages are in an e-book. With physical books, it's obvious, isn't it? The breadth of the spine, the weight when you pick it up — it's not something you have to remind yourself to do. E-books, on the other hand, all look pretty much the same. It was only after I got started onCryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) that I noticed that turning virtual pages seemed to have remarkably little effect on the position of the slider bar at the edge of the window. I guess it wouldn't. Turns out the darned thing is 1168 pages long, although admittedly that includes what they call "e-book extras".

If I'd been paying attention, I would've realized that I didn't need to check out any other books at the same time; particularly not The Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin, 835 pages) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami, 640 pages). The Game of Thrones returned itself to the library when I was part way through it, thoughtfully sparing me any overdue fines. I had to put it back on hold, and I'm waiting for my name to get back to the top of the list.

Format aside, I guess it's a good sign when you finish a really long book, and would look for other books by the same author. Cryptonomicon is something of a classic in its genre, and deservedly so. Parallel storylines, engagingly geeky characters, elements of the theory and history of cryptology — it took me a while to get into it, but it was a lot more fun than I expected.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle… not so much. My English-major daughter recommended the author, so I expected it to be challenging. Opaque was more like it.

Just because I knew you'd want my opinion.