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Volume 15, Issue 9 ~ March 1 - March 7, 2007

Current Issue





Fruit and Nuts from the Burton Family Tree

If you shake the family tree, be prepared for anything to fall out

Once you start digging into the roots of family genealogy, as regular readers know by now is a pastime of this writer, you never know what the next turn of the spade will dig up. It can be dirt.

More than a few restless folks searching amidst their roots to learn from where they came have found more skeletons in the closet than at Flanders Fields. Not only, they have discovered, can the family tree have deep roots, it can also have a lot of nuts mixed in with the blossoms.

Those who take up genealogy had best be prepared when they start digging. If they’re sensitive, they might not appreciate learning that some family-fabled rich landowner was a slaveholder. Or that a brother of a great-great-grandfather on grandmother’s side was an infamous butcher renowned for filleting his wife like a Thanksgiving turkey.

That can offset the satisfaction of newly discovering a third cousin, a preacher, who lives less than 20 miles distant.

Yes, indeed it can be a small world; take that from this writer, whose family includes all the above examples.

Earlier this month came a letter that was quite a shocker. It began: When web surfing for genealogical leads, I ran across a Memorial Day article you wrote a few years ago for Bay Weekly. In it you noted you were descended from a family named Stone, some members of which had fought in the Civil War. I, too, am descended from that same family and recognize the veterans’ names found in your article. It just might be we share an individual named Lory Stone as a mutual second great-grandfather.

It was signed by Dan C. Stone, who is a pastor of a Methodist church in Severn.

The Good News

Was I interested? First thing I did was call the Rev. Stone. In a chat, we both added genealogical info to what each of us had already dug up. We were cousins, and according to my brother John, a professor emeritus at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Dan is probably a third cousin. The Mormons of Utah have the most complete genealogical records to be found anywhere, and John has easy access to them. Dan has more to add.

In mid-life, my grandfather William Joel Barber, once a silver prospector and banker, turned farmer for reasons of health, changed his last name to Burton and eventually came East; no crimes involved, just romance with my grandmother Clara Clark, school teacher on the Iowa frontier. For years, the name change stumped brother John in his genealogical pursuits.

Once brother John became aware of the name change, genealogical history poured out like water through a breached dam. Everything heard in family lore fell into place: ancestors who arrived at Mayflower time, others who served in about all the conflicts of note since the French and Indian Wars, a Minute Man who died at Bunker Hill — and Mervin Barber, my great grandfather who was with General Sherman in his March to the Sea.

And the Bad

That’s the good news; now the bad news. There was a rich landowner named Greer who served as an officer in early wars, farmed in St. Mary’s and Charles counties and was a slaveholder. To his credit, though, upon his death he freed all his slaves and had a fund set aside for pensions.

Uncle Crippen, Murderer

Then there was Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, who gained medical credentials in Cleveland, New York and London. How good a doctor he was we’ll never know, but we do know he was England’s most famous murdering doctor. The English still talk about him; more than a few books have been written about him, at least two television documentaries were produced about him and recently he was written up in Newsweek magazine.

His dastardly deeds fill a chapter in books on the most famous murders in Europe, Canada and the U.S. I have run down a few, among them Infamous Murderers and Maniacs Filled with Hatred and Rage, which includes two pictures (directly across from a photo of hatchet-lady Lizzie Borden), one of which shows a balding man with a great mustache, the other the doctor at the dock of the London courtroom where he was tried. Alongside him is Miss Ethel Le Neve. And therein is quite a story.

Dr. Crippen was a great-uncle of my father, William Hawley Burton, and we always wondered where the Hawley came from. The doctor wasn’t from the Barber side, which surely must be a relief to the Rev. Stone; he was from my grandmother’s side, which also had its share of military heroes from the early years of this country.

Dr. Crippen’s first wife died in childbirth. Then he met and married Cora Turner, a budding opera singer, whose real name was Kunigune Mackamotzki. They took off to London, where he managed a doctor’s facility. He was henpecked, she was a philanderer, and he became one when he met Ethel.

He murdered Cora, filleted her and carefully buried the flesh in his cellar. Her bones were never found. Police toured his house, though he was not a suspect — until he made his big mistake. Taking Ethel with him dressed as a boy of 16, he booked passage to Canada, arousing suspicion of police who found a loose stone in the cellar. Beneath it was what was left of Cora.

The captain of the steamer, who had read about Cora’s murder, became suspicious, thereby claiming a place in history. He was the first to use the new wireless telegraph to send a message from ship to shore to nail a fugitive.

Technology and chemistry did Dr. Crippen in. Though a doctor, Hawley Harvey — who by then had changed his name to Peter Crippen, then to John Robinson — obviously didn’t know the difference between the action of dry and wet quicklime.

Had he used dry quicklime, all evidence could have disappeared, but he used wet, so he went to the gallows, despite public sympathy building for a henpecked husband. Ethel was found not guilty; she is said to have died in 1950 in Australia.

Be Prepared

The moral of all this genealogical research suddenly so popular: Play it like a boy scout. Be Prepared. That’s the advice from Bill Barber-Burton. Enough said.

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