Saturday, April 16, 2011

Abraham Lincoln, the Titanic, Taxes -- and My Brother

April 15 is an important day in the history of the United States.  Abraham Lincoln died on this day in 1865 (though he was shot on April 14).  The Titanic sank on this day in 1912 (it hit the iceberg on April 14).  Income taxes have been due on this day since 1955 (except for those years, such as 2011, when April 15 falls on a holiday of some sort).  And in 1963 my brother was born.  Hey, it's an important day for my family, right?

It's easier to remember a date when you can connect it with one you already know.  In this situation, the main reason I know when Lincoln died and when the Titanic sank is that the date was one I already remembered.  I remember that Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9 because that's my birthday.

Historically, it was usually not important for people to know exactly when they were born, which is one of the reasons there are often discrepancies between the dates they used and what genealogists discover in records.  You get used to this after a while and anticipate it.

Sometimes you get a pleasant surprise, however.  If a birth occurred at the same time as a more prominent event, it was likely that it would be remembered in connection with that event.  For example, I found a Bible entry once that did not state the child's actual date of birth but said he was born on Easter Day and gave the year.  Something I have noticed with researching Jewish immigrants is a large number of people who said their birthdays were April 15, September 15, or December 15 -- in other words, they were told they were born during Passover, Rosh Hashanah, or Chanukah.

You can find the same phenomenon with years.  Someone was born the year of the great flood, or a couple was married the year of the great earthquake.  You learn to appreciate these clues when you come across them.

So happy birthday to my brother!  Thanks for helping me remember Lincoln and the Titanic!

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