Living History February 2001

By Dena Eben Premium


Getting Your Phil

If you’ve seen the movie Groundhog Day, then you have some idea of Punxsutawney Phil’s important role in this quaint Pennsylvania town. The ritual originated with Candlemas Day, when early Christian clergy throughout Europe would bless candles and pronounce a weather-related prediction. Groundhog Day emerged when the Romans spread the tradition to the Germans (or Teutons), who introduced the hedgehog-as-meteorologist. German settlers in Pennsylvania brought it to the United States, and they proclaimed the groundhog the closest kin to the European hedgehog. If Feb. 2 is sunny enough that the groundhog’s shadow scares him, look for another six weeks of winter. Punxsutawny’s annual observance first took place in 1886, according to local newspaper records, and the town’s Groundhog Club helps maintain the tradition. Today’s celebration draws as many as 30,000 people to Gobbler’s Knob for a possible shadow sighting and ensuing festival. For directions and more information, call (800) 752-7445 or see <> and <>.


New Year’s Redux

America’s oldest Chinatown celebrates the Year of the Serpent in style. Join more than 650,000 sidewalk spectators of all nationalities for “the biggest nighttime illuminated parade in North America,” which is also broadcast on local television. The festivities originated when Chinese settlers wanted to share their culture with Californians in the 1860s and elected to use a popular American medium — the parade. Floats, acrobats, music, martial arts and traditional lion dancing and fireworks typify this elaborate procession. Chinese New Year is Jan. 24 and the parade is Feb. 3. See <> or call the parade office at (415) 391-9680 for more details.


Chinese genealogy could be quite intimidating for researchers who can’t read Chinese. For the monolingual among us, recently launched an English version of its site, which is full of articles and aids for the Chinese family history researcher. Features include Chineseroots 101, a surname origin library and dictionary, news, links and help from Shanghai Library’s “Gen Gurus.” Explore this new version, or its traditional and simplified Chinese versions, at <>.

– Susan Wenner

A Polish Manor for All

With 9 million people of Polish descent living in the United States, the new Polish Center of Wisconsin shouldn’t have a problem attracting visitors. The social and cultural center in Franklin, Wis., resembles an old-country manor house on 46 sprawling acres. Officially opened last August, the center features a banquet hall, replica furnishings and a lake view. A genealogy library is in progress. Polish gatherings, cultural events, weddings and community events will be held at the center throughout the year. See <> or call (414) 529-8801 for more information. For a guide to researching Polish roots, see the December 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

– Susan Wenner

NowThat’sFamily Togetherness

Nearly 200 descendants of the first “Siamese twins” recently reunited in Mt. Airy, NC, to pay tribute to their patriarchs: Chang and Eng Bunker, born joined at the waist in 1811. After growing up in Siam (inspiring the popular term for congenitally joined twins), the two men traveled around the world exhibiting their unique physical characteristic and earning a small fortune. In 1843, the Bunkers married sisters, naturally, and settled in North Carolina. Living alternately in separate homes, each fathered several children. Eventually, their genes created an entire progeny, which gathered in Mt. Airy (the town that inspired Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, incidentally). A recent novel, Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss (E.P. Dutton, $23.95), and musical are based on the Bunkers’ story. — Susan Wenner


Get ready for more instant gratification from Once you find your ancestors’ names on the World Family Tree, the popular pedigree database of 117 million individuals, there’s no more waiting for the CD-ROM to arrive by “snail mail.” The company that also produces Family Tree Maker <> recently came out with the World Family Tree Diamond Collection, which is instantly accessible to online users. Similar to <> (see the December 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine for details about that database), World Family Tree subscribers will be able to contact and exchange information with those who contribute to the database. Subscriptions range from $19.99 for one month to $199.99 for one year. For more information, see <>.

– Susan Wenner


Southern Hospitality

Time travel this spring to the antebellum South in Natchez, which has more pre-1860 buildings than any other US city of comparable size. The Natchez Pilgrimage spotlights 32 houses dating to the mid-1860s, with 10 designated as National Historic Landmarks. Hoop-skirted tour leaders escort morning and afternoon tours of four houses each, beginning March 7. Many houses have period furnishings and lovely gardens, which bloom throughout the month-long tour season. Live evening entertainment includes a musical Confederate Pageant, a satirical “Southern Exposure” comedy show and a gospel tribute, “Southern Road to Freedom.” Several historic homes also offer bed-and-breakfast accommodations. More information is available at <> or by calling (800) 647-6742.


You’ll Really Flip

As the story goes, a 15th-century housewife in Olney, England, was using up the last of her cooking fat before Lent, and she was still baking when the church bells announced the start of daily worship. She hurried to the church, still donning her apron and carrying her skillet. Inspired, Olney women developed a competition, which involved running 415 yards through the winding village streets with pancake-filled skillets. To prove the women still carried the pancakes, the cakes had to be flipped at the start and finish lines. In 1950, Liberal Jaycees challenged Olney to an International Pancake Race and created a similar, zigzagging course. The race is held on Shrove Tuesday, Feb. 27 this year. Contestants dress in traditional housewife attire, and the British consul awards a kiss to the winner. Contact the Liberal Convention and Tourism Bureau at (316) 626-0170.

living history


Largely considered to be George Washington’s hometown, Alexandria retains its colonial charm and designates a sizable historic district. Washington owned property in town, participated in civic functions, led the Masonic lodge at its 1788 inception and built his Mount Vernon estate just 9 miles away. So, we cannot tell a lie: The annual George Washington Birthday Celebration here, Feb. 17-19, features the nation’s largest President’s Day parade. The streets of Old Town Alexandria fill with floats, horses and antique cars; marching bands, military re-enactment units and, naturally, “George and Martha” join in the fun. At Gadsby’s Tavern, a hangout for our nation’s founding father and other “Revolutionaries,” visitors can join in 18th-century dancing at the Birthnight Banquet & Ball. Other attractions include George’s breakfast of choice — “hotcakes swimming in butter and honey” — at Mount Vernon, as well as a re-enactment of a Revolutionary War skirmish and Washington’s farewell address. The festivities are accessible by DC’s Metro and family friendly with several free events. See <> or call (800) 388-9119.


Route to Freedom

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center,10 years in the making when it opens on Cincinnati’s Ohio Riverfront in 2004, hopes to be the one-stop station for African-American roots. While fundraising efforts for the three-building museum are still underway, symposia and interracial forums through the Freedom Center raise consciousness of the ongoing effects of slavery. The Freedom Center also has a Family History Program; contact the Museum Services division at (513) 412-6900. Log on to <> for details, its e-newsletter and a schedule of educational events nationwide. And don’t miss “7 Steps to Finding Your Slave Ancestors” on page 56 of this issue.

DENA EBEN is assistant editor of Family Tree Magazine.


A new CD-ROM index puts 12 million foreign birth, christening and marriage records at your fingertips without going abroad. The Western Europe Vital Records Index, compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, includes France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Alpine regions. It contains information extracted from the records, which date to the 1600s, and indicates where you can find the originals. To order this set of 21 CDs for $27, call (800) 537-5971 or see <>.

– Susan Wenner

Marriages of Manifest Destiny

If your ancestors went West to seek their fortunes, they may have found love (or at least a spouse) along the way. A new searchable database could reveal if your kin wedded in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, northern California, eastern Oregon, eastern Washington or southwestern Wyoming during the mid-1800s to mid-1900s.

Volunteers at an Idaho Family History Center indexed more than 230,000 records of such marriages, which you can search online. Type in the bride or groom’s name, and you may find:

• name of each spouse

• marriage date and place

• county and state in which the marriage was recorded

• residency of bride and groom

• miscellaneous comments

• location of the record’s microfilmed image

Search the database at <>.

– Susan Wenner

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From the February 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine