December 23rd, 2010
My Nana was a woman of integrity, but some of her family tales seemed so tall that the line between “this is unbelievable” and “this is so unbelievable it must be true” was a blur. Although I’m hardwired to trust family anecdotes, I’m a researcher by trade, and I just can’t help myself: I need to dig for evidence. Armed with a library card, family documents, and a spirit of discovery, I’m setting out to prove (or debunk) Nana’s most crowd-pleasing claims.
Story #1: Nana invented the Pillsbury Doughboy – just not for Pillsbury.
Preliminary Findings: I started my search with our Magazines database and discovered that the Chicago-based Leo Burnett Company is credited with the first generation Doughboy. Nana was educated at the famous Art Institute of Chicago, and I have seen a restaurant menu she drew. My great-grandfather owned a Chicago-based jam company (a census found on Heritage Quest, while mostly illegible, lists him as “Vice President” as of that year). While that doesn’t prove she invented the Doughboy, it at least establishes that she was an artist in Chicago during the time-period, and a doughboy sketch for a jam company is not far-fetched. Nana said that her version and the Pillsbury version were nearly identical.
Story #2: Nana went on a date with Al Capone’s nephew.
Preliminary Findings: According to Capone: The Man and the Era, ole Scarface had five nephews. Four are sons of “Two-Gun” Hart, Capone’s estranged brother who, ironically, made a life for himself in Nebraska as a Prohibition Officer. So far I haven’t been able to connect his boys with Chicago. That leaves Ralph “Risky” Capone, Jr. He was the right age for her, their childhood homes were less than 10 minutes apart, and, of course, she was quite the catch. Nana said that the man she dated tragically ended his life. Library materials show that “Risky” Ralph, ashamed of the family name, committed suicide after his father, Ralph “Bottles” Capone, testified in front of Senator Kefauver’s special committee on organized crime. Sounds like a match.
Story #3: We are descended from Mary, Queen of Scots.
Preliminary Findings: This is tricky and likely will take me years to do the research required to trace my line back to the 16th century. Mary was arguably the most famous ruler in Scotland’s history, cousin to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Although it sounds far-fetched, it’s certainly possible; my Nana was a Stewart, and Mary was of the Stewart line (also seen in its French spelling, Stuart).
With persistence and access to the right resources, I might be able to find the definite answers to these riddles. Interested in doing some of your own sleuthing? Check out some of our great genealogy books, poke around Heritage Quest, visit the local history section of the Elkton Central Library, or visit our friends at the Cecil County Historical Society on Main Street in Elkton.
What are your family’s interesting stories?