All Relative

The world’s largest family tree belongs to Confucius — his descendants have been carefully cataloged through 2,500 years and more than 80 generations.

This year will see the first published update since 1937. It contains more than 2 million people.

A Delicate Matter

In 1926 an English probate court accepted a will written on an empty eggshell.

A Manchester widow had found the shell on her husband’s wardrobe. On it was written, “17-1925. Mag. Everything i possess. — J. B.”

The dead man had been dieting and used to bring eggs with him to work. His initials had been J.B., the message was in his handwriting, and he had always called his wife “Mag.” The court accepted the shell as a valid will (Hodson v. Barnes, 1926).

See also Let’s Get This Over With.

One Solution

The Professor brightened up again. ‘The Emperor started the thing,’ he said. ‘He wanted to make everybody in Outland twice as rich as he was before — just to make the new Government popular. Only there wasn’t nearly enough money in the Treasury to do it. So I suggested that he might do it by doubling the value of every coin and bank-note in Outland. It’s the simplest thing possible. I wonder nobody ever thought of it before! And you never saw such universal joy. The shops are full from morning to night. Everybody’s buying everything!’

— Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno


A friend of mine, a cosey old bachelor, who has been looking into a prayer-book, says that the Matrimonial Service exactly resembles Matrimony itself, since they both begin with ‘Dearly Beloved,’ and both end with ‘Amazement.’

The Nic-Nac; or, Oracle of Knowledge, May 10, 1823

Enter Here

Notable immigrants through Ellis Island:

  • Isaac Asimov
  • Charles Atlas
  • Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Irving Berlin
  • Claudette Colbert
  • Max Factor
  • Bob Hope
  • Lucky Luciano
  • Bela Lugosi
  • Arthur Murray
  • Ezio Pinza
  • Knute Rockne

Between Irish teenager Annie Moore in 1892 and Norwegian seaman Arne Peterssen in 1954, more than 12 million immigrants passed through the entry facility. Today, more than 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry back to them.

The Jackass of Vanvres

In 1750, Jacques Ferron was caught having sex with an ass and sentenced to death.

To add insult to injury, the ass had a character witness:

The prior to the convent … and the principal inhabitants of the commune of Vanvres signed a certificate stating that they had known the said she-ass for four years, and that she had always shown herself to be virtuous and well-behaved both at home and abroad and had never given occasion of scandal to any one, and that therefore ‘they were willing to bear witness that she is in word and deed and in all her habits of life a most honest creature.’

The ass was acquitted, and Ferron hanged.

From Edward Payson Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906.

Above the Law

For an omnibenevolent being, God has a lot of legal trouble. Nebraska legislator Ernie Chambers sought an injunction against the deity in 2007, asserting that He had caused “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.” And in 2008 a Romanian prisoner claimed that his baptism had been a contract that God had broken by failing to protect him from evil.

God escaped both suits on technicalities. Chambers’ action was dismissed because God has no address and thus couldn’t be notified, and the Romanian suit was deemed to be beyond the court’s jurisdiction because God is not an individual or a company. So that settles that.

Strange Eyes

G.K. Chesterton used the term moor eeffocish to describe the queerness sometimes glimpsed in familiar things. He borrowed the phrase from Charles Dickens, who as an unhappy child would sometimes sit in a coffee shop in St. Martin’s Lane:

In the door there was an oval glass plate with ‘COFFEE ROOM’ painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood.

J.R.R. Tolkien later wrote: “The word Mooreeffoc may cause you to realise that England is an utterly alien land, lost either in some remote past age glimpsed by history, or in some strange dim future reached only by a time-machine; to see the amazing oddity and interest of its inhabitants and their customs and feeding-habits.”