Thursday, January 3, 2013

Did this watch record Abraham Lincoln's death?

This morning's Boston Globe contains a fascinating story about the intersection of collecting, eBay, genealogy, and perhaps the most revered figure in American history, Abraham Lincoln.

Paul Mellen, who collects antique pocket watches, recently acquired an unusual oversized Appleton Tracy pocket watch on eBay. Engraved on the case was the name of one Major Jonathan Ladd. What Mr. Mellen subsequently discovered, after researching Major Ladd and consulting Merle Ladd, genealogist for the extended Ladd family in America, is that both Ladd and his watch were likely present at Lincoln's deathbed.

Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on the morning of April 15, 1865, after a fatal wound from assassin John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater the previous evening. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is said to have broken the stunned silence as he uttered, "Now he belongs to the ages." Did Ladd's watch record the time for posterity?

As a genealogist, you'll find yourself nodding in recognition as the story walks you through the discovery process — from acquisition of the watch, to initial glimmerings, to followup research, to Mellen's realization of what he had acquired.

Photograph by Yoon S. Byun courtesy of The Boston Globe.

Read the story here.

Squash holds Louis XVI's blood

From the genetic genealogy front, and, comes this fascinating if slightly bizarre story about extracting the DNA of Louis XVI (he of guillotine fame) from a gourd.
More than 200 years ago, France's King Louis XVI was killed (along with his wife, Marie Antoinette) via guillotine, and legend has it someone used a handkerchief to soak up the king's blood, then stored the handkerchief in a gourd.

Now scientists have confirmed that a squash emblazoned with figures from the French Revolution indeed contains the dried blood of the executed king.

Scientists matched DNA from the blood with DNA from a detached and mummified head believed to be from a direct ancestor of King Louis XVI, the 16th-century French king Henry IV. The new analysis, which was published Dec. 30 in the journal Forensic Science International, confirmed the identity of both French royals.

"We have these two kings scattered in pieces in different places in Europe," said study co-author Carles Lalueza-Fox, a paleogenomics researcher at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain. The new analysis confirms that the two men "are separated by seven generations and they are paternally related."
Some years back, a gentleman who had learned that I was involved in DNA testing for genealogical purposes wrote to ask if he could send me a 19th-century letter, a stamp still affixed to the envelope, with the goal of extracting DNA from dried saliva. I had to reply that even were this possible, I was certain that it would require a specialized test from a specialized lab at enormous cost. I commented at the time that this was something you'd see on a television fantasy program.

Today, who knows? I'll bet the cost would still be astronomical.
Read the story (link opens in a new window)