Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Five-Time Fanny Magee

Family History, or genealogy, has been a nearly life-long passion for me, going back to the days when my grandfather used to tell me of his grandfather who was killed in the Civil War. Armed with just his name, I headed for history section of Plainwell’s Ransom Library and began checking the index of every Civil War volume on the shelves. Before long I had found the name! He was a Union general… killed at the Battle of the Wilderness. Wow! A general!

Well, it was the wrong guy. When I was 10 or 12 years old it never occurred to me that there might have been more than one James Wadsworth in the Union Army. Later, I learned that my guy was a sergeant, not a general. (More on him in a later post.) That was the beginning of my interest in family history. In the intervening 50 or so years I have run across a lot of folks I wish I’d had the chance to meet.

There was old C.C. Gilbert, my Scotch-Irish Great-great-grandfather who emigrated from Belfast to Canada and taught weaving in his old age; William Higgs, my English Great-great-grandfather, who in the 1881 UK Census was cooling his heels in one of London’s most notorious prisons for reasons which I have yet to discover; and, there was Five Time Fanny Magee.

Fanny (or more correctly Frances Jane Magee) was my great-grandmother’s mother who may have been raised as an army brat and married at least twice and possibly as many as five times. Fanny was born to Sgt. James Magee and his second wife, Jane Startup, I believe on the grounds of the Royal Military Asylum, in Chelsea, Middlesex, England. Her father was a career soldier who served in the British Army with the Grenadier Guards. At the time of Fanny’s birth he was a Hospital Sergeant at the R.M.A.

Fanny began her series of marriages three days before Christmas in 1873 when she married George Warner, a Buckinghamshire mason and bricklayer. They had three children, including my great-grandmother. Then George just disappeared, sometime after the 1881 census. By December of 1884 Fanny was getting married again, to a Frenchman named Charles Megain. They also had three kids. Charles, who was living on an army pension, died in 1896. By 1901 Fanny was living with William Robson. The 1901 Census showed her as his wife, though when she died some 15 years later her death certificate showed her name as Megain. I think she might have been “living in sin” with Mr. Robson so her military widow’s pension wouldn’t be jeopardized.

I think Fanny must have also been either married or involved with at least one and maybe two other men. Both of her daughters’ marriage certificates show their father’s name as James Brown, though clearly their father was George Warner. Who the heck was James Brown (aside from the Godfather of Soul?)

Fanny’s occupation on a couple of UK censuses was listed as “charwoman,” but it’s clear she picked men who had some income. Charles Megain was receiving an army pension and William Robson was a bootmaker.

Many questions remain about my Great-great-grandmother, Five-Time Fanny Magee. But hers is one of the more interesting lives that I've investigated, so far.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

To Lamb or Not To Lamb… that is the question (with apologies to Will!)

With Easter just days away, the question of what to serve for dinner is upon us. Lamb, of course, is traditional and will probably win the day at the Higgs household this year. That might not have been the case, except that we have a newfound fondness for the wooly little critter.

Like many people, I have not always cared much for lamb (they’re cute, but for eating I usually prefer beef… “real food for real people.”) The occasional leg of lamb for special events or lamb chops, if you can afford them, were okay. But recent events have changed my mind. You see, Suzanne has a friend who raises sheep, and not long ago we bought one of the butchered lambs.

All of a sudden I was faced with what to do to make a bunch of steaks, chops, roasts and legs palatable. Not to mention the challenge of ground lamb, stew meat, and lamb liver (the dogs won that one!)

Believing that lamb is more frequently eaten in the UK, I emailed a cousin in England and asked for any special lamb recipes she might have. She sent me a link to a BBC food site, which has a ton of lamb recipes. I will be trying some that sound particularly good.

But one thing I learned was that garlic, fresh rosemary, and feta cheese can turn lamb into something truly delicious. Another thing I learned was that a privately raised young lamb tastes a whole lot different than most of the lamb that I’ve eaten before. So, give lamb another try. Don’t overcook it. Don’t be afraid to be creative. And, if you’ve got a favorite lamb recipe, share it with the rest of us.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Welcome to the first post on my new blog. I’m doing this at the urging of my dear wife, Suzanne, who seems to think that the world is waiting for me to expound on all kinds of things. So, from time to time I will offer up some opinions, thoughts, recommendations, and comment on those things near and dear to me: Radio, Genealogy, History, Politics, Food, Cooking, and whatever else come to mind.

Suzanne has been blogging for some time now. You can find her blog here:

Hooked On Felt

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (that’s an old radio term) you can expect to find some shameless promotion here of my radio station… WAKV, The Memory Station. For those of you located in Southwest Michigan, tune it in at 980-AM. This is a station meant for people over the age of 50, so you’ll hear some of your favorite songs of the last 50 years or more. And you’ll heard them the way you first heard them, complete with static and fading, on an AM radio. It’s the only place you’ll hear much of this music! Everything from Sinatra to Three Dog Night… Tony Bennett to the Beatles. Bob Seger (he’s over 60 now,) Peter, Paul, & Mary, Mathis, The Eagles, Anne Murray… even the occasional Glenn Miller.

I know it’s a strange mix… but I like it…and I own it!!!