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My connection to the new center of the U.S. population

The new population center of the United States is a town I’m sure you’ve never heard of before, though I have. It’s Plato, Mo., a town 22 winding miles southwest of Fort Leonard Wood. The population is 109, up from 74 in 2000.

As you approach Plato from the east on Missouri 32, you pass a road on the right called Groves Drive. My great grandmother was a Groves. The next street on the right is called Kimrey Drive. My great grandfather was a Kimrey. They both lived and died in Plato. I’m probably exaggerating if I say I’m related to all 109 residents of Plato, but I’m related to a sizable percentage of the people who live there, and perhaps an even more sizable percentage of the people buried in the cemetery there.
Read More »My connection to the new center of the U.S. population

The American Dream vs. the American Greed

Last week at church, our newly-installed vicar preached about greed vs. generosity, and he ripped a little on the American Dream, which he defined as each generation having better stuff and living more comfortably than their parents did.

I think he’s right, letting that consume you definitely leads to problems. But I was taught that the American Dream was more about opportunity than it was about materialism. And maybe that’s where we’ve gone wrong.

I’m probably 10 years older than the vicar is, and I attended schools that didn’t exactly value new history books. So what I was taught probably dates back two generations, not just one.

And when I was in school, for the most part they taught us that the American Dream was about opportunity, and about parents giving their kids better opportunities than they had.

Today, I hear marketers on the radio saying, "That’s the American Dream, isn’t it? Owning a home?" Or tying the American Dream to any other materialistic thing.

Note the shift. It shifted from the kids to self.

I don’t know exactly why my direct ancestor, Adam Farquhar, came to the Americas in the 1700s (perhaps 1729). Presumably it was because he couldn’t get land in Scotland. But you see the American Dream working from generation to generation. Adam’s son Benajah owned land. Benajah’s son Edward became a doctor. At least five of Edward’s sons, including my ancestor Isaac, became doctors. Isaac’s son Ralph didn’t become a doctor, but he became a successful businessman who hobnobbed with some very powerful people. Ralph Jr. revived the family tradition of being doctors, and he was wealthy enough to give my dad every opportunity in the world.

My dad never did become as wealthy or as successful as his dad was. But by Dad’s own admission, he was a slacker. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity. Look at things strictly in material terms, and Dad set the Farquhar line back a couple of generations.

But Dad gave me opportunities. Wherever we lived, he got me into a good school. When circumstances found us living in a town that didn’t have a good high school, Dad moved us out before I turned 14, so that my sister and I could go to good high schools. And Dad saw to it that we would be able to go to college.

My sons aren’t old enough to go to school yet, but they live in a good school district. And I did what I had to do in order to ensure they would have a choice between several good preschools, to get them a good foundation. I don’t know if either of them will be reading at age 3 like I was, but I’m going to make sure they have that chance.

I may have to make some personal sacrifices in order for them to have what they need. But for what Dad spent getting me a good high school education, he could have been driving Lincolns instead of those Dodge pickup trucks he drove. (And this was before pickup trucks became status symbols. Dad didn’t want his patients thinking they were paying for him to have an extravagant lifestyle.)

So I don’t have any problem brown-bagging my lunch, driving an older car, or using an older computer so my sons can go to good preschools. And given the choice between a smaller house in a great school district and a bigger house in a bad district, I’ll keep what I already have, so they can go to good schools.

What they make of it is up to them. But never let it be said that I didn’t get them the opportunity.

What’s wrong with American manufacturing and industry

I read a disheartening story today. It’s the story of an entrepreneur, making models out of his garage and selling them. A competitor took a liking to his models and started selling crude copies of them, made in China. The competitor is so much larger than him, he can’t afford to sue.

There’s something even more sad than this story, however. It was some people’s reaction to it.The whole thing started out as hearsay on a train forum. Someone noticed a striking similarity between two companies’ competing products. Fans of the larger company rushed to its defense, and someone who claimed to know someone came in with claims about the larger company copying the smaller. Eventually the person who designed the originals chimed in and confirmed that yes, the designs were his, right down to the placement of the cracks on the sidewalk being identical.

He went on to say in very human terms who it hurt. He’s a guy in southwestern Missouri who could make more money as a draftsman, making buildings out of his home for the love of making buildings. He sells the design to another small company in Maine who buy materials, produce parts, and assemble them into kits for sale, employing a handful of Americans along the way.

And, if sales deteriorate too far, eventually he may have to go back to work as a draftsman. Which most likely means some other draftsman will be looking for a job.

Buying the crude, cheap Chinese-made knockoffs from the other company hurts the designer. But not only that, it ripples over to the manufacturer/distributor and its suppliers, all of whom are employing Americans who are just trying to earn an honest wage working for small businesses.

But the copies sell for about half the price.

To some of the people hearing this story, the end–half-priced models–entirely justifies the means. The cheap copy is, well, cheaper, and more convenient–requiring less assembly and being easier to find, since the larger competitor sells its products in more stores–so that’s all just fine and dandy. Who gets hurt doesn’t matter as long as the purchaser is happy.

Maybe the guy just likes jerking people’s chain, or maybe he really believes this, but he was painting the people who felt empathy for the designer as the ones with the problem.

Others present an easy solution: Sue. Well, he’s not stupid. One look at his models should tell you that. He looked into that. The problem is that a one-man operation can’t hope to compete with a company that sells $50 million worth of product per year. Imagine what happens if the larger company generates a mere 100 hours’ worth of billable work for the smaller company’s lawyer, at $400 per hour. That’s a $40,000 legal bill. If the kits sell for $75, their wholesale price is less than 25. That means he has to sell 1,600 kits to cover the legal bill. And in the meantime he also has to sell enough kits to pay himself enough to pay his mortgage, utilities, and put food on the table.

If that $40,000 doesn’t sink him, maybe the next 100 hours’ worth of work will. All they have to do is delay the trial long enough to make giving up look like the best and most reasonable alternative. They don’t have to be right, and they don’t have to win. They just have to make sure the other guy runs out of money first.

Now I know the majority of Americans have no interest in wood and tin 1:48 scale models of general stores. But the wonderful thing about American capitalism used to be that someone working out of a garage or spare bedroom could make niche products and sell them to the people who want them without breaking any laws. It’s one of the ways our ancestors got ahead in life.

I’m not sure my son’s generation is going to have those same opportunities. Not when a big company can come steal products from guys like Dale in Carthage, Mo. with no fear of recourse, and self-centered consumers will gladly snap them up, just because they’re cheaper, even if they know they’re buying stolen property.

People can blame Barack Obama or George W. Bush or Bill Clinton or NAFTA or unions or any of the other usual scapegoats for being the reason why jobs are hard to find. But none of those guys caused the predicament that Dale in Carthage, Mo. is in.

That’s purely the fault of the people who buy knockoff products, with a narcissistic, end-justifies-the-means attitude, and the people who tolerate it.

But it’s a lot easier to blame the politicians than it is to look in the mirror.

Why study genealogy?

Mom made one of those rare but very valuable genealogical finds recently: A cache of information about a family line that’s more complete than what we had. It seems like the longer you do this, the less often it happens, but the more you appreciate it.

It got me thinking about why these kinds of finds are exciting. Indeed, to a non-genealogist, it probably seems weird.First, there is a religious element to it. I’m not one who believes there’s anything I can do for my dead relatives–they’re either in a better place now or they’re not. But the Bible does say to honor your father and your mother, and that’s the only commandment that comes with a promise: That it may go well with you, and you may live long on the earth.

Recovering and preserving your family history is one way you can honor your parents. So that’s a motivation.

About 10 years ago, when I was dissatisfied with where my life had gone, I was reading a book that encouraged you to write down what you remember about your parents and grandparents. That book argued that if you understood them, you would understand yourself better. I’ve seen myself make the same mistakes Dad made in his professional career, or at least start walking down the same roads he did. Recognizing the potential to make those mistakes hasn’t completely prevented them, but I do move around less than Dad did–and Dad worked in an era when people did tend to spend entire careers in one place, as opposed to my era, when virtually all workers are regarded as mercenaries and people start to wonder what’s wrong with you if you stay more than five years in one place.

The more I study genealogy, the more merit I think there is in that. When I read about my ancestors, I see I have some of the same traits as people who lived a century or more ago, who I never met. I can’t sit down and talk with my great great grandfather, Andrew Davis McQueen, about his philosophy about debt and money, but to my great great grandson, our stories would look very similar. I don’t hide money as creatively as he did, but banks are more closely regulated now–they have to be more honest now than they were then.

I find it ironic that the same career choices the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory said I should consider are the careers that tend to run in my family lines. But maybe it’s not ironic. Those traits came from somewhere.

You can tell from looking at me that I’m a Farquhar, both from the way I look and the way I act. But there’s plenty of Kimrey and McQueen in me too. And now that I’m fresh from reading about the Tope line, that explains where some of my other tendencies might have come from.

But there’s one other thing that motivates me to study genealogy.

There generally are only two things that kill Farquhar males, and those two things are heart attack and stroke. Heart attacks are a more recent phenomenon, but get into the early 20th century, and virtually every Farquhar male whose cause of death is recorded says the same thing: apoplexy. In today’s language, stroke.

Because I study genealogy, I know how long most of them lived and how they died. Because of that, I live with the belief that I have a choice: I can be watching myself right now and take precautions knowing that I’m prone to those two things and I can share that information with my doctor, or my life can be more than half over now.

I can choose life. And if the other Farquhars are like Dad, they’d be glad I did.

I don’t know what interest, if any, future generations will have in my family history. I have no idea whatsoever what information they’ll be able to glean from it that we can’t now. But I do think it’s fairly certain there will be someone who will want it.

I’ve lost some of my zest for pursuing information. I’m sure that will return because I’ve seen it come and go before. But so far I’ve proven to be pretty good at preserving that information. And that’s probably about as important.

Make sure you use this link before it gets sued off the web

It never occurred to me to type into a web browser and see what happens. I’ve known for months that Google was digitizing books but I had no idea the service was out where you could get to it.

Visit and search for something. You’ll be amazed.This is a bonanza for genealogists. If there’s someone reasonably noteworthy you’ve had difficulty connecting to your tree, search for that elusive person. My elusive one is Arthur Briggs Farquhar. I’m a Farquhar (obviously). I also have Briggs blood in me. From what I can tell, A. B. Farquhar was born in Ohio (my grandfather was a Farquhar from Ohio) and he was a Quaker, as were my Farquhars until about three generations ago.

Thanks to Google Print, I’ve found the book American Grit: A Woman’s Letters from the Ohio Frontier. I don’t know just yet if this book will have any answers for me or not. But did I ever find a tantalizing line on page 20:

“When a family named Farquhar bought property near her in Ohio, she wrote home asking if they were related to her or not.”

Could this have been my ancestor Dr. Edward Andrew Farquhar’s family?

I can’t read the whole book on Google Print, but I can read enough to get a pretty good idea whether a book is worth pursuing further. And if a book only has one juicy tidbit about an individual, it finds it.

In 2002, Eric Schmidt said, “The speech I give everyday is: ‘This is what we do. Is what you are doing consistent with that, and does it change the world?'”

In this instance, “change the world” could be the understatement of the century.

But will the courts let it survive?

A super-cool Mozilla extension

I’m about to get you to dump Internet Explorer for good.

And no, this has nothing to do with the latest security exploits (there were only four revealed this week, right?). This has to do with functionality.

Super Drag & Go is what I call a disruptive technology. It’s like multitasking. You won’t understand what the big deal is when I explain it to you, but once you try it out, you’ll find it impossible to use a computer that doesn’t have it.It’s dead simple. You’re using the Web for research. You’re tooling along, finding lots of information you didn’t know about ancestors, obscure toy train manufacturers, or whatever it is you like to use the Web to research. You hit upon a name or phrase or topic or book title that’s useful, so you highlight it with your mouse, copy the text, then open a new browser window, go to Google or Amazon or or Wikipedia or whatever the appropriate research tool is, paste it in, and keep on going, right?

Wrong. That’s what you used to do.

What you do is you install Mozilla Firefox, then you click on that Google icon and install the interfaces for whatever search engines besides Google you like (there’s plumbing that hooks you up with Wikipedia,,, and everything else you can possibly think of). Then you install Super Drag & Go. Then you instantly become about 40 times as productive as you were 20 minutes ago.

How? I tool along the same way I always did. Then, when I find reference to, oh, say, Voltamp, I highlight it like I was going to copy and paste it, but instead of hitting copy, I just drag it with my mouse over to some blank area on my browser window.

Boom-shakalaka, a browser window opens with that phrase punched into Google for me with my results. So then I can read the three–wait, now it’s four!–webpages that make mention of the first company that made an electric toy train that used a transformer plugged into a household AC wall socket.

(You can thank me later for putting that song in your head. Change browsers and I promise I won’t do it again.)

Of course, if you’ve changed your default search engine to something else, then it’ll go to that other page. Now you know why it might be useful to set your default search engine to Wikipedia or It changes back easily–it’s just a matter of clicking the icon in the browser’s search bar.

Next time I see him, I’ll have to thank Todd, the coworker who showed me how this works. I’d read about it and dismissed it, until he showed it to me. And now?

It’s not a habit, it’s cool. I feel alive. If you don’t have it you’re on the other side. I’m not an addict…. Maybe that’s a lie? –K’s Choice, Not an Addict

Visiting the house where my ancestors grew up

I went to a family reunion this past weekend. You typically need rosters at my family’s family reunions, because my grandmother had 13 brothers and sisters. I don’t know why, but before I got into genealogy, I just couldn’t keep everyone straight.

Now that I know how people are connected to one another, it’s somehow easier to keep it straight.

At the end of the day, my aunt drove me out to the house where my grandmother grew up.Along the way, she told me my great grandfather, Tom Kimrey, didn’t buy a car until after World War II, when he bought a surplus jeep. She said she didn’t know if he ever learned how to drive it, although several of his daughters did. We pulled onto Kimrey Lane and drove all the way to the end. It was cool to see a street named after one of my ancestors, even if it was on the edge of a booming metropolis of 74.

The house was a humble affair. It’s a four-room house, with a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. The living room doubled as the master bedroom. There was no running water. The house had a tin roof and tarpaper on the sides. A brick pattern was etched into the tarpaper. My aunt showed me where the pot-bellied stove used to be, and where my great grandmother Sallie Groves’ pump organ used to sit.

The whole house was probably smaller than my kitchen and my study put together. And Tom and Sallie raised 13 kids in it. (One died very young.)

I guess standards of living have changed a bit over the course of four generations.

At any rate, seeing that old house gave me some idea of why my grandmother and great aunts and uncles were the way they were about some things. Sharing a bedroom with six other people changes your perspective about things, I guess.

Getting started in Genealogy

I’ll admit it. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m a johnny-come-lately to the genealogy game. My computer can tell you how I’m related to more than 1,200 different people. And I just started last week.
I’ve accumulated more names than my mom did in years of research, working the old-fashioned way in the 1970s, searching libraries, museums, LDS records, and graveyards.

So how’d I do it?

Talking about Mom’s side of the family is cheating, because she can easily trace her ancestry to pre-Civil War days. Dad’s side of the family was the challenge, because his parents never talked about their roots (my grandmother actually told my mom to quit nosing around in the past and spend time with her two young kids instead–advice that I, as one of those two kids, disagree with, but it’s too late now).

Here’s what I did. I knew that my great great grandfather was named Isaac Proctor Farquhar (I didn’t know if the middle name was spelled “Proctor” or “Procter”), that he was a doctor, and that he lived in Ohio. I literally punched “Dr. Isaac Proctor Farquhar Ohio” into Google to see what came up. What came up was a family tree tracing my ancestry back to 1729. I verified it because I knew the names of my great grandfather and grandfather.

A better approach is to visit a pure genealogy search site, such as or the Mormons’ and punch in the names of any deceased relatives you can think of. The further back they are in the past, the better. The names of living relatives aren’t very useful, since people almost always strip out the names of any living people from their online records due to privacy concerns.

Once you’re reasonably certain you’ve found a relative, enter whatever you can find into your computer. Family Tree Maker is a good piece of software for tracking your roots, and it’s not terribly expensive. Several sites offer free genealogy software. I haven’t looked at any of it. There’s little risk in trying it though–virtually every genealogy program can import and export data in GEDCOM file format. A number of free Linux genealogy programs are available too–just search Freshmeat.

I need to stress entering anything you can find. Often I find incomplete genealogies online. I’ll find a record for a great great great grandfather that lists two children and a birthplace. If I’ve previously entered all available data and I know my great great great grandfather had 10 kids, including the two on that genealogy I just found, and the birthdates and birthplaces and spouses’ names all match, then I can be reasonably certain that I’ve got the right ancestor and I can see where that trail leads me. It’s more fun to track direct ancestors and see how far back into the past you can go, but you need aunts’ and uncles’ and cousins’ names to prove relations sometimes. Besides, sometimes you find a distant cousin who married someone interesting.

If you don’t find anything, talk to your living family members. Ask if they can remember any relatives’ names, birthplaces, and anything else about them. I only know about Isaac Proctor Farquhar because of some conversations I had with my dad. My sister may or may not have known about him. But I know there are relatives she knows about that I don’t. Old family photo albums and Christmas card lists are other sources of clues.

Here’s how I cracked a tough problem. My great grandfather, Ralph Collins Farquhar, married a woman named Nellie McAdow. Nellie McAdow was a dead end. Her mother’s name was Mary Lillian Miller. I didn’t even have her father’s first name. All I found was a guy named McAdow, born in Ohio. A subsequent search revealed her father’s initials were A.G. and he was born in Pharisburg. So then I had A. G. McAdow, Pharisburg, May 25, 1859-January 15, 1904. I did a Google search and found the text of an old book that casually mentioned A. G. McAdow owned a store in Pharisburg in 1883. Great, so the guy’s in the history books, and I still can’t find his first name. Somehow, somehow, Mom knew his first name was Adalaska. Adalaska!? No wonder he went by “A. G.” I searched for Adalaska McAdow. Nothing at But at, I found 1880 census data. I found Adalaska living with someone he listed as his stepfather, Smith May, occupation farmer. His mother’s name was Virginia, and she was born in 1838 in Ohio, and they had a daughter, Lena, who was born in 1871. That was enough information to feed a couple more searches, which gave me Virginia’s maiden name, Evans, and the name of her first husband, James W. McAdow.

He was tougher than most, and I still don’t know nearly as much about this line as some others–including Nellie’s mother, Mary Lillian Miller’s line–but I broke the dead end.

I still have no clue why two people with normal names like James and Virginia would name their son Adalaska.

The grandmother who told my mom not to pry into the past remains a tough one. Social security records confirmed her dates of birth and death, and place of death, because my memory was hazy. Mom knows her parents were German immigrant Rudolph Keitsch and Irish immigrant Bessie Bonner. A Google search revealed Elizabeth Keitsch graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1932. So far I’ve found absolutely no trace of her parents. I’m hoping that census records may help–a Google search for “ancestry records search” turns up several sites that will let you search various U.S. censuses for free, but they all use for something or another, which is down for maintenance as I write.

But I’m reasonably confident that once I can search census records, even my stubborn half-German grandmother will finally yield some information after all these years.

You can subscribe to to get to information that you can’t find online for free, and I’m sure that at some point I’ll end up doing that. For now I don’t have much reason to. You might as well see what you can find out for free as well. And I honestly hope you don’t have four grandparents like Elizabeth Keitsch. I hope yours are more like Ralph Collins Farquhar Jr., who took about 30 seconds to trace back to 1729, and whose grandmother, Elizabeth Stratton, led me back to the sixth century and gave me a splitting headache that forced me to temporarily abandon the search to return to this continent and four-digit years.

May all your lines do the same.

Royal roots

This past summer, someone told me he’d traced his genealogy back to William the Conqueror. I acted impressed, but I didn’t believe him. I dismissed it as wishful thinking.
When I traced myself back to the late 1600s, I felt pretty proud of myself. I mean, I wanted to go back further, but there just didn’t seem to be any trace of Adam Farquhar’s father or Dugal McQueen’s parents. Dugal was shipped over because he participated in a little rebellion intended to overthrow the King of England. I don’t know why Adam did. It was probably something boring, like an inability to get land.

The only way at the time to go back further was to trace a few other mothers’ families. The majority of them only went back a generation, maybe two. Then I got to my great great grandmother, Elizabeth Stratton. I mentioned that via her, I was a very distant cousin of the patriots John Adams and Samuel Adams. But it goes further than that. She also makes me a distant–very distant–cousin of Teddy Roosevelt, his wife, Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George Bush. I always knew I probably had distant relatives in Texas, but I didn’t expect Dubya to be among them.

But I wanted direct relatives, so I traced her back. And back. I started finding knights. Then I started finding people with higher noble titles, like Duke and Baron. Then I found someone with a title of Princess. One link later, I’d connected with William the Conqueror. And within a couple of hours, I’d also with Charlemagne (twice) and Alfred the Great.

I also found people who fought in the Battle of Hastings (besides William), a number of kings of France and Italy (you know something’s wrong when you cease to be impressed when you see a note on an ancestor that lists his occupation as the King of Italy), and people who appeared to be among the invaders who led to that whole Anglo-Saxon thing.

Eventually I had to return to the 19th century though. The inconsistency of last names gives you a headache when you research genealogy in 3-digit years.

Along the way, I found speculation that every person of European descent is probably related to Charlemagne. One genealogist has identified more than 50,000 descendants of Charlemagne. I’ve lived half my life in towns smaller than that. I wonder if the same thing is true of every person of British descent and William the Conqueror.

I think I also know where the plot of the John Goodman movie King Ralph came from now.

But now I want to trace my line back to 1382 in Scotland, when the Farquharson clan was founded. I now believe that Adam Farquhar’s father was a James Farquhar, who lived from 1670 to 1728 in Aberdeen, Scotland, and that James’ father was named Robert. That still leaves a gap of 300 years.