Curse the Thief the Medieval Way

When you were in school, did you ever have an assignment that required you to use a specific text in a library? As an undergrad in psychology, I often had to complete weekly required readings of journal articles. High tailing it to the library was never the issue for me; what was absolutely awful was discovering that the required reading was (gasp!) missing. And by missing I don’t mean that someone was using it, I mean that some mean, no good, very bad person had left the book on the shelf but ripped out the sought after article.

Complaining to the media specialist was fruitless. There staff was as limited then as today, there were no security cameras and few interlibrary loans. Complaining to the professor helped somewhat; he/she often had the needed matierial in their office so you could read it to complete the assignment but you had to sit under their watchful eye and that was nerve wracking.

What frustrated me the most about those experiences was that they were ongoing. The professors never addressed the class to let the self centered individual know that their behavior was abhorrent. The practice was so wide spread at my university that by my senior year the library changed policy and any required reading for our department was removed from the general shelves and held safely behind the reference desk. To view it, the student had to sign their life away and produce a valid photo id.

Today, this would no longer be an issue since most readings can be done electronically. So my unpleasant experiences may have been the end of that diabolical practice.

During the time this was occurring, I can admit that I cursed whoever the individual was that was behind the devious deed. My husband, an economics major, never had this happen to him so he empathized with me. Together, we created verbal curses of the absolutely worst thing that we thought should happen to the perpetrator. From our world perspective at the time, this included horrible happening in the then present, such as having their draft number called, and to the future, as we wished if they ever had children they would go missing. Yes, my coping skills at the time weren’t fully developed but it did help me get through the semesters.

With that background in mind, I was delighted to read a blog post written at Olive Tree Genealogy a few weeks ago about medieval book curses. At first, I thought the curses referred to black magic but that wasn’t the case. Instead, scribes often wrote curses warning individuals who were reading the text of dire consequences if they tore out a page or stole the book. I loved the idea! Granted, this would not have been a viable option for me as society is not quite so superstitious as it once was. Nonetheless, it would make someone think twice before they made a bad choice.

Here’s an example from a Bible scribed in 1172 with the transcription below:

“If anyone take away this book, let him die the death; let him be fried in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever seize him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen.”1

Since reading that blog story I’ve done some more research into the topic. Evidently, the practice was begun long before Medieval times; ancient Greek and Babylonian scribes had recorded threats of their own.

It is understandable why a curse threat was added as back in the day, it took months to hand copy a book. It was painstaking work and the text could be destroyed easily from spilled ink or getting to close to the candle flame.

If you’d like to read some more curses, visit:
Protecting Your Library the Medieval Way
Top 10 Medieval Book Curses
You Have Been Warned!
Chain, Chest, Curse: Combating Book Theft in Medieval Times
Medieval Copy Protection

and if you just have to keep your own library safe, Etsy has a set of 24 Medieval book plates you can stick in your own collections!
24 Medieval book plate curses you can stick in your own collections!

Hubby thinks we ought to put the practice to use today by adding them to our writing. He came up with:

He who forwards this article for others to see
I only ask that you quoth me
Thieves and pirates be forewarned
Your actions will be duly scorned
Copyright law is the real deal
Designed to address what others try to steal!

1 “Top 10 Medieval Book Curses,” Medievalists; digital image, ( accessed 28 January 2017); citing Marc Drogan, Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses, (New York: A. Schram, 1983).

Saturday Serendipity in Cycadia Cemetery

On a crisp sunny October morning, Hubby and I took a cemetery tour of Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs, Florida.  As one of the oldest cemeteries in the county, many figures of historical prominence in the area are buried there.  Eight historical re-enactors portrayed former residence who were important to the town’s development.

The first tour stop was for John C. “Greek” Maillis who had been born in Gary, Indiana in 1918. Hubby and I were, too and our grandparents lived there at the time.  I plan on researching Greek’s father as I’m guessing he worked for U.S. Steel as that was the big industry in town.  My grandfather, great grandfather and hubby’s grandfather were all employed there in 1918.  What a small world!

Although that was an interesting connection it was T the tour’s end that had the biggest chance encounter happened.

Our last stop was to learn about Irish born Captain Thomas Carey who came to Tarpon Springs with his family in the 1870’s and worked in the sponge industry.  His reenactor became misty eyed, lost character and said he had to step out of being Capt Carey for a moment to tell us what had happened in the previous tour group.  As the program entry by the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society stated, Capt. Carey “…left a legacy of exceptional off-spring.”  Not only exceptional, they were numerous.  A woman in the group stated she was a descendant.  Then another group member stated she, too, was a descendant.   A few generations removed from Capt. Carey they shared which of his children they had descended from.  Most remarkable was that these cousins had never met before.  Nearly 75 years after the Captain’s death his descendants are reunited at his grave site.  There was a large turnout for the program and groups were formed by your arrival time.  What a coincidence that these individuals just happened to be placed in the same group.  Serendipity at its finest!

Photo courtesy of thefifthofnov on Find-a-Grave

Remembering the Past

Originally published on on 12 July 2016.

I’m at NARA waiting for my military record pulls  so I’m taking  a break to blog.  Read an interesting article about a way that World War I soldiers participating in the Battle of the Sonne that began on 1 July 1916 were recently memorialized throughout Great Britain recently as reported in The Guardian.  Regarded as the largest battle of WWI, between 1 July and 18 November 1916, it was actually a number of battles in three phases.  Best said by Friedrich Steinbrecher, a German officer, “Somme.  The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word” casualties were high on all sides; estimates of 485,000 British and French and 630,000 German soldiers was made at the Chantilly Conference on 15 November 1916.  But the war continued….

Please read the moving way that these lost lives were memorialized.

Hoping to make it home tonight.  Can’t wait too share my latest research finds.

Righting History

Originally published on on 26 June 2014

I’ve been following the interesting series of articles published by the New York Times and Washington Post regarding Georgetown University’s history of selling slaves to keep the school financially solvent.

Finding records in the old south is often difficult but for the former enslaved, it is even more so.  The links to the three articles below provide helpful hints on how to identify the paper trail:

272 Slaves were Sold to Save Georgetown.  What Does it Owe Their Descendants?

A Million Questions From Descendants of Slaves Sold to Aid Georgetown

Georgetown’s priests sold her Catholic ancestors.  Then she found out in an unexpected way.

Of course, the articles were not written to help newbie genealogists learn how to discover records of enslaved individuals.  Besides discussing reparations, they highlight the emotions that families experience when a discovery of unsavory findings from the past is brought to light and the journey the families face as they move forward with the knowledge gained.  As I’ve previously written, the process is similar to how one deals with grief and loss in the present.

The Georgetown slave story, however, adds another layer of acceptance; that of reconciliation with one’s religious convictions.  From a social science perspective, I find it fascinating how the descendants are processing the information that their current religion’s forefathers treated their kin, especially knowing that the Roman Catholic Church was at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s.

I applaud the formation of the Georgetown Memory Foundation which as part of its mission, is to memorialize the event.  Remembering history is a wonderful way to make it right.

While the Georgetown University administration tries to identify ways to right a wrong they have overlooked another story from their past.  Father Patrick Francis Healy was the university’s 29th president tasked with its growth shortly after the Civil War.  He was quite successful and much beloved.  Fr. Healy’s ancestry makes his tenure even more remarkable then his legacy.  Born in Georgia to an Irish Roman Catholic father and a mulatto slave owned by his grandfather, Patrick Francis and his siblings were born into slavery.  Healy’s parents wanted their children to be educated which was illegal since they were slaves.  The family sent Patrick to a Quaker school in the north, however, he faced discrimination not for being a mulatto but for being Irish Catholic.  During this time, his grandfather and father continued to own slaves, another strike held against him by the Quaker school.  Patrick transferred to a Jesuit owned school in Massachusetts.  He joined the priesthood and went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at a Catholic university in Belgium. He achieved this during the time his mother remained enslaved.

The interaction of race, creed and national origin have complicated our country’s history and continues to do so today.  As genealogists, it is wise for us to remember the complexities as we help those who have newly discovered information gain acceptance.

Mosquito Epidemics, Oh My!

Originally published on on 12 Jun 2016.

After picking up all the soggy Spanish moss in my yard after Tropical Storm Colin I started thinking about mosquito epidemics.  Well, this was how my thought process ended up on disease caused by skeeters:

1.”I hate Spanish moss because it’s everywhere after a storm”

2. It can be useful.  The early settlers used it for comfort by stuffing their mattresses with it and if you’re lacking water in the woods, you can suck on the inside.”

“Chiggers – I hope there’s no chiggers in this stuff cause I’ve feeling itchy!”

“OMG, I just got bit and I hope it was a chigger and not a mosquito!”

All that rain has produced a bumper crop of mosquitoes in my area.  I tend to use natural products so I’ve been dowsing myself with Skin So Soft even though I hate the smell of it.

I don’t know if Zika is causing concern in your area like it is here; the Avon lady told me she completely sold out of Skin So Soft the week before my purchase.  Understandable, as even the state of Florida website has a post that would make anyone not want to live here:

“Mosquito-borne diseases found in Florida include West Nile virus disease, Eastern equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis. Many other mosquito-borne diseases are found in different parts of the world, and can be brought back to Florida if infected people or animals are bitten by mosquitoes while in Florida. Some examples of these diseases include chikungunya fever, dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, and Rift Valley fever.”1  

Notice how Zika isn’t even mentioned.  With 15 reported cases in my county I think it should be included!  So that’s how my mind started thinking about epidemics back in the day.

What did people do  when there was no products to repel critters?  I decided to investigate…

When a major yellow fever epidemic hit Tampa in the 1880’s, a well meaning Jacksonville doctor recommended  that everyone leave town as he thought poor sanitation was the cause.  Calling the people of Tampa dirty caused a backlash in the press and his response below explains  his scientific rationale:

As to Yellow Fever - excerpt2

I guess the good doctor should have been more specific as to where those fleeing the epidemic should go as this shows how they were greeted in New York:

Print in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper about yellow fever


Man’s inhumanity to man; labeled refugees and turned away.  Hmm, how history repeats itself!

The state government had no idea how to contain the spread so they returned to what worked in the middle ages – burn the property of anyone infected:


The belief in fumigation lasted well into the 20th century.  A Leininger cousin of mine was the inventor of this device:

You read that right!  Dr. George Leininger Chemical Company of Chicago manufactured a Formaldehyde Generator to disinfect the sick room. I guess if the disease didn’t kill you, the chemicals would!  Seriously, my son the chemical engineer almost had a heart attack when I purchased this on E-bay.  I have no plans to use it. I just thought it fit perfectly in our den with our other family treasures.

Back to the Tampa epidemic – what I learned was that there was NOTHING available to the population to prevent the spread of the mosquito born disease.

Florida has always been swampy yet it was settled by Native Americans long before the Spanish arrived.  How did they repel the critters?

I found lots of theories but no proof.  Some say citronella was used but that is not native to Florida. Southern bayberry, paw paw,  bracken fern or cedar have been recommended but I find nothing to link them to Native Americans usage as an insect repellent.  Personally, I’m doubting that any of those plants were effective  as I have a side yard filled with bracken fern and the mosquitoes seem to be worse there in the shade than in the more open spaced parts of my yard.  We have cedars around, too, so that’s not helpful.  I’ve never seen a bayberry or paw paw.  My neighborhood is filled with old oaks so perhaps they grew here more than 150 years ago.

The Washington Post mentioned that burning sweet grass, which does grow throughout Florida, was effective.5    I don’t believe Native Americans walked around holding burning grass all day and night, though.

Some have suggested diet, while others say lung capacity discharging carbon dioxide differed.  I have no idea but I’d love to know the lost secret because this is going to be a long itchy summer!

My son built this handy dandy mosquito trap for us:

It won’t kill adult skeeters but it does kills the larva, if the standing water on the top is drained through the middle level (an old pillow case).  The water drips through the middle layer into the bucket, the larva die on the pillow case (or lizards and birds come and have a delightful treat).  The bucket water is then placed back into the top to start the process all over again.  Does it work?  Yes, if you faithfully drain.  No, if the weather is so awful outside that you can’t do it.  It also doesn’t kill mosquitoes that fly in from other areas, like the park that has standing water in low spots.  Going to keep using it though, as every little bit helps.

Now I’m going back to hunting ancestors and not skeeters.  That’s much safer.


2 John P. Wall “As to Yellow Fever” Florida Times-Union.

3. Frank Leslie,  “Refugees from areas with yellow fever are not allowed to leave the trains, for fear of spreading disease,”  Illustrated Newspaper, 8 September 1888,

4 Letter from J.J. Daniel, President, Jacksonville Auxiliary Sanitation Association to Dr. Porter, 17 October 1888.

5Wilborn P. Nobles III “Research confirms Native American use of Sweetgrass as a Bug Repellent” Washington Post, 18 Aug 2015.

My thanks to the Florida Memory Project where a lot of this information was found – you can read more records there regarding the Yellow Fever scare in Florida.

Wagon Insights

Originally published on on 2 March 2016.

I’ve been reading through the diaries that were sent to me from Indiana and I’ve found a few surprises about life in the late 1800’s.  Here are 10 wagon facts I never thought about:

  • You had to wash your wagon
  • When you purchased a new wagon you traded in your old wagon, like we do today with our cars
  • Wagons broke down ALOT!  Poor road conditions, skittish horses and driver error contributed to the break downs.
  • You were responsible for the cost of damages caused by your runaway horse and wagon
  • There were ALOT of serious accidents around wagons – falling out of, getting run over by, getting injured by overhanging tree limbs, etc.
  • When your wagon needed repairs someone would come to you but it was much more expensive than if you somehow got the wagon to the wagon shop to be repaired.
  • Depending on the repair needed, it could take a few hours or several days to get the part
  • Wheels fell off wagons frequently
  • If you were going to take a train you hired a livery person to pick you up and take you home, unless you had relatives to help you out.
  • Family members borrowed each other’s wagons for various jobs that needed to be accomplished

Who knew?!

Careers of Yesteryear…And Today!

Originally published on on 28 Jan 2016.

Last week I took an interesting webinar called Your Ancestor Was…Occupations of our Ancestors by Nancy Waters Lauer through the Florida State Genealogical Society.  I had never heard of many of the occupations the presenter mentioned. Have you ever heard of a brightsmith?  It’s a metal worker. How about a bluestocking?  That was a female writer.

I guess this topic was in the back of my mind as I continue to work on my Kinship Determination Project for my Certified Genealogist portfolio this week.

Guess what century I’m working on based on the “hot” jobs of the individuals I’m writing about:

  •   Blacksmith
  •   Wagon Maker
  •   Farmer

If you speculated it was the 19th Century you are correct!

Funny, but I did an Interest Inventory with my students recently and I found many scored high in the areas of Transportation and Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources.  I doubt any of my students will turn out to be blacksmiths or wagon makers but the allure of travel and the interest in food production definitely continues in this century.  The more the world changes the more it stays the same!

Creepy Creepy October

Originally published on on 22 Oct 2015.

As we approach Halloween, I’m thinking about the weird and unexplained that happens in the world of genealogy.  I’ve had several strange situations occur which I’ll be sharing over the next few posts.

Since I know I’m not alone I wanted to share with you some coincidences I’ve discovered in the past few weeks written by other genealogists.

The first was from – if you don’t subscribe to their free email newsletter you really need to as it’s filled with useful posts.  In their September recap there’s a link to their interesting finds for the month and one written by Vicki Noels-Cornish, The Ginger Genie, who shares a serendipitous find.  Click on Crestleaf to read about it.

Don’t know if you saw the History Channel show last year about the violin that was discovered to belong to one of those who perished on the Titanic.  I’m not a big Titanic fan but I loved how the show followed the trail to discover that the violin was in fact one used on the ship.  I was astounded to read the rest of the story – recently posted by the Daily Mail in the UK.  This you’ve got to read if you’re not aware of the update.  Warning – there’s a spoiler in the headline so scroll down before you begin reading!  View it here.

My Mother was quite superstitious and one of her favorite saying was “It always comes in 3’s.”  So here’s the 3rd coincidental story – I’ve discovered recently that Genealogy Today has short stories submitted by users about Serendipity.  I really enjoyed “Marriage Arranged By Ancestors” as my husband and I met accidentally through friends.  Over the years we’ve discovered that we are “cousins” several times, the most recent in the 1500’s.  Before researching my ancestors I would have said I was Croatian and German and he would have said he was Swedish.  Little did we know we are also Irish, English, Welsh, Scottish, and French. Enjoy!