Who Was William Frank Byle?

Posted By on November 20, 2011

Recently I received an email inquiry from a reader who was asking me about his great-grandfather, William Frank Byle (1868 – 1933), who appears in my North Annville Genealogy. Specifically, he wanted to know how I had come to the conclusion that William Frank was the son of Henry Byle. He correctly pointed out that, on the 1870 census of Fredericksburg in Lebanon County, although there was a William, age 1, in the household of Henry and Elizabeth Byle, there was also a Franklin, age 2, in the household of John and Rebecca Byle. He wondered if I had any other evidence that William Frank, who was known to his family as Frank, was the son of Henry and not the son of John. He also noted that I had added Henry Byle to the listing for Cedar Hill Cemetery (on the findagrave.com website) in Fredericksburg, where other members of the Byle family are interred. William Frank, on the other hand, is buried at the Bellegrove North cemetery, and I have a photograph of his gravestone, on which his name is inscribed, “WM. FRANK BYLE”.

I always appreciate hearing from descendants and am always open to corrections. So I began to review my notes and reconstruct my research. Without any new evidence or family history to the contrary, I still believed that William Frank Byle was the son of Henry and Elizabeth Byle. When I started to write a response to the email, I realized that it was a bit more involved than a few sentences, so I decided to write it as this blog post, as an example of the type of diligence that genealogy research requires.

To address the reader’s first issue, that William Frank’s age on the 1870 census is off by a year – he would have been two years old at the time – I can only say that inaccuracies of age, especially of children, are quite common on old censuses. It’s not unusual, for example, to see a child listed as 5 years old on one census, and 17 years old on the next census. We know that census takers may have relied on neighbors when a family wasn’t home.

Like the reader, I had researched several Civil War documents for Henry Byle, who served in Company L, 60th Regiment of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry. There is no question that he is the same Henry Byle. According to the registry for Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, Henry Byle died 26 February 1879 and was buried at the “Village” cemetery in Fredericksburg. His Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Card specifically names “Ceder Hill” cemetery in Fredericksburg. It was these documents on which I based my entry on Find-a-Grave. I have never personally been to the Cedar Hill Cemetery. Additionally, the Civil War Pension Index card shows that Henry Byle was survived by his wife, Elizabeth.

My conclusion that William Frank Byle, who married Alice Huey, was the son of Henry and Elizabeth was based primarily on the information we find on the 1880 census. We know that Henry Byle died in 1879. Accordingly, we find Elizabeth Byle on the 1880 census as a single head of household with two small children, Henry and Matilda, still living in Fredericksburg. We find William F. Byle, age 12, as a pupil at the Mount Joy Soldiers’ Orphan School in Lancaster County. There were three other Byles at that school: Adam, James, and Levi. I had found two different census lists for the school, and in both instances, the three latter boys were listed together, while William F. was listed separately. To be clear, the “Orphans” school took Civil War orphans, as well as children of veterans who were unable to provide for them. We know that Levi was a son of John and that he died in 1898. His name is inscribed on the gravestone of John and Rebecca, along with two other infant sibling. In 1900, Rebecca Byle, now widowed, was living with her son, James, and she reported that she had borne five children, only two of whom were still living. Adam Byle, whose age is consistent with the Adam Byle mentioned above, was enumerated in Lebanon County through 1920. So it seemed that all five of Rebecca’s children are accounted for, and William Frank Byle was not one of them.

In the end, all of that circumstantial evidence went for naught, because a new document was later discovered which revealed the identity of William F. Byle’s parents. That document was William’s marriage application, on which he reported that his parents were “John B. & Rebecca Byle.” Additional information has come to light that Adam was the son of Henry and Elizabeth.


Posted By on August 29, 2011

Unlike the earthquake of last week, Hurricane Irene was fully anticipated this weekend. We made all the necessary preparations — fresh water, nonperishable foods, gas in the cars, propane for the grill, LED flashlights, candles, lighters, a cooler full of ice, two bathtubs full of water, a basic corded telephone — and we had all of our electronic devices (I think we have eleven of them) fully charged.

Like everyone else, we kept a constant watch on the weather forecast. In our family natural disasters have an additional dimension, because I am always on emergency call at the hospital, and my step-daughter is a captain in the local Ambulance Corps.

As predicted, the storm’s effects first reached us around noon on Saturday in the form of light rain. (The 1:05 Orioles-Yankees game had already been postponed. The game was a makeup game from a previous rainout of April 22. I’m still holding our four tickets, but that’s another story.) The rain changed intensity throughout the afternoon, but by early evening it was quite heavy, accompanied by strong winds.

Our electricity flickered a few times, just enough to be annoying as we waited for the cable TV boxes to reboot each time, but the electricity always came back on. By midnight, when the hurricane was at it’s nearest point to us, the winds were very strong. I poked my head out the front door periodically to see if there was any flooding on our street, but it was still clear. Around 2:00 AM, the cable TV went out, so I decided to go to bed.

I got up Sunday morning to find that the storm had passed. It was still breezy with a few sprinkles here and there, but we had suffered no appreciable damage, just a soggy lawn and a few small branches down. It seemed as though we had been spared any consequences of the hurricane. Such was the case until 11:59 AM. That’s when the electricity went out and stayed out.

I’m not trying to make our situation sound tragic, but this was our experience. I know that lots of other people have it much worse. It’s August, but the temperature is comfortable without air conditioning, and we still have water — no hot water, but water for all the necessities. We plugged in the corded phone and verified that we could get calls in and out.

For lunch, we made hamburgers on the outdoor grill. We broke out some board games in the afternoon and played Monopoly, Bupkis, Jenga, and Guesstures. That was fun. We have two portable radios in the house, so one was tuned to the Orioles game, and one was tuned to a music station. I made a jug of sun tea. I also finally read that book on Pennsylvania German Fraktur that I had picked up last year.

By now it was obvious that the blackout affected, not only our town, but much of the county, and there was no way to know how long it would last. Tomorrow’s opening day of the school year was already postponed. We had avoided opening the refrigerator, but eventually we had to decide what food to move to the ice chest.

As twilight fell, the lack of electricity hit harder. For lighting, we lit a jar candle in every room. It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas… But no TV, no DVDs, no video games, no Internet. No Internet!? The laptops were charged, but of course the modem has to have power to connect. My Incredible phone has Internet access, and I could have used it to watch videos or listen to audio broadcasts, but that would put an unnecessary drain on the battery. Nevertheless, I am still able to charge my phone using the adaptor in the car.

As I write this narrative on paper by candlelight, the electricity has been out for twelve hours. It’s an eerie darkness in the town — no street lights, no traffic lights, no business signs, no porch lights — with just the faint glow from a window here and there. Solar powered walkway lights look like they lead nowhere. The occasional passing auto lights up the street momentarily, then it’s back to darkness.

Tonight’s sky is cloudless. Without the normal ambient light of the town, the Milky Way has never looked so brilliant from our front porch. The darkness is supported by uncanny silence. Crickets and the far-away drone of a generator provide the only background noise. The silence is broken every thirty minutes, or so it seems, by a siren.

We heard a rumor earlier this evening that they expect to have our power back on by 2 AM. With apologies to those still in the dark, I hope so.

Update — The electricity came back on, with a hiccup, at 1:03 AM.


Posted By on August 25, 2011

On Tuesday, August 23, 2011, around 2:00 PM, we experienced an earthquake in Maryland. I was working alone on my computer on the 3rd floor of the hospital when I saw my monitor shake and felt a vibration in the floor. My first thought was that someone was wheeling a heavy cart down the hallway. When I noticed the Venetian blinds shaking, I stood up. By now I could tell that this more than just a vibration in the floor. And it wasn’t a quick shock from a nearby explosion. The entire hospital was shaking, and it continued to shake as I walked out into the hall.

The emergency system, which normally responds to a fire alarm, had already kicked in, with the hall doors closing automatically. I could also see personnel scurrying about. As I walked by the Outpatient department, one of the nurses came out with a bewildered look on her face and asked me, “What’s happening?” Not wanting to alarm the patients behind her, I just whispered back to her, “I think it’s an earthquake.”

Indeed it was an earthquake. We soon learned that it was a 6.8 magnitude earthquake centered in rural Virginia, felt up and down the Eastern seaboard.

The local TV stations broke in with Special Report broadcasting and stayed on the air until the regular network news at 6 PM. They really didn’t have much to report. Fortunately, here in Maryland there was no widespread damage and no casualties. All they could do was show live video reports from downtown Baltimore of buildings being evacuated and workers being sent home. For the most part, all they could do was recap what had happened — that Maryland had felt the shock of an earthquake in Virginia — and warn of aftershocks. Public transportation was halted until authorities could assess potential damage to rails and bridges.

Over the next 24 hours, I heard many people interviewed on TV, who were, more or less, poking fun at the people and media in Maryland for making such a big deal out of a little tremor.

The fact of the matter is, it was a big deal. Maryland gets mostly imperceptible earthquakes every few years. But a tremor like the one on Tuesday is a once in a century event. Most people in this area have never felt one. Like me, when it began to rumble, people around here had all kinds of thoughts about what it could be, but an earthquake was certainly not the first thought that popped in their heads.

The severity of the situation is all relative. I remember a few years ago when Atlanta, Georia, got a few inches of snow. To them, it was a blizzard. When a dusting of snow fell in Los Angeles, it shut down the interstates and created a 30 mile backup. Imagine what it would be like if Los Angeles ever got a real snowfall. The city would shut down. The TV stations would have live coverage of people trying to drive in the snow. They’d have reports from hospitals of how many people slipped and fell. They’d probably have an expert from AAA come on to show people how to brush snow off of their car windows.

The bottom line is, you can never really prepare for something that’s never happened. And it isn’t always the best option to try to prepare for every possibility.

You can be assured that you’ll never run out of gas,
If you stop and top off at every station you pass.
— by BrokenClaw

Who Was Albrecht Deibler’s Wife?

Posted By on August 17, 2011

Albrecht Deibler was a known historical figure. He was also one of my 5th great-grandfathers. He was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, around 1726. Later he settled in what is now upper Dauphin County and established a homestead he called Horn Pipe. The Land Grant map of 1773 shows his 336-acre estate. During the Revolutionary War, he became an officer in the militia with Col James Burd’s 4th Battalion of Lancaster Associators. In historical records, he is known as Capt Albright Deibler, an anglicized version of his German name. In August, 1776, the 4th Battalion notoriously fought at the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn), the first major conflict after the United States had declared its independence. The published history of the battalion reports that Deibler went missing at that time and “never returned home.” Presumably, he was killed in action, or died shortly thereafter in captivity.

The genealogy of the Deiblers in Dauphin County has never been fully elucidated. Official documents of the day reveal several Deibler families, including those of Albrecht, Michael, and Mathias, but it’s likely that there were individuals who shared the same first name, which makes it difficult to separate brothers and sons and nephews.

For genealogists researching Albrecht Deibler’s descendants, one of the most oft-quoted sources is William Henry Egle’s 1887 publication, Notes and Queries, in which we find the following entry:

Albrecht Deibler, of Upper Paxtang, d. about 1773, leaving a wife, Catharine, who in 1776 was the wife of Benjamin Buffington…

Egle then lists the following minor children: Daniel, Christiana, Maria Magdalena, John George (my line of descent), Catharine, and Susanna. The dates given by Egle have subsequently been adjusted, but court records confirm that Deibler’s widow married Buffington, a widower himself with several children. Catharine and Benjamin went on to have five more children of their own.

The question is, who was Albrecht Deibler’s wife? In the historical records she is identified simply as Catharine or Catharina. There are no known documents for her marriage to Deibler which reveal her maiden name. Nevertheless, she is often identified online as Anna Catharina Schupp, daughter of John George Schupp, Jr., and Anna Catharina Matter of Lancaster County. The church records from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Holland clearly establish that Schupp’s eldest daughter, Catharina, was born in December 1752. Accordingly, Albrecht Deibler would have been about 40 years old and Catharine about 14 when they married in 1767. As far as I can tell, this marriage date is just a calculated estimate, based on the age of Albrecht’s children. However, others claim to be their descendants through children born as early as 1763. You can also find online genealogies which state that Buffington married the daughter of Albrecht Deibler. Still other researchers claim that Anna Catharina Schupp was never married to Deibler or Buffington, that she married a Nicholas Redsecker in 1772 and lived and died in Cumberland County.

I have never been able to find the origin of Catharine’s identity as Catharina Schupp, either on RootsWeb or Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org or general web searches. There are plenty of user-submitted entries, but none of them cite a source. It seems to be one of those things that just gets perpetuated from one genealogy database to another, and when it reaches critical mass, it’s accepted as fact.

In my search for Catharine, I came across a well-documented Shope family genealogy (no longer online), which includes Anna Catharina, daughter of John George Schupp, Jr., of New Holland. The author, William Kenzie Shope, writes that the Schupp family eventually moved to the same area of upper Dauphin County. Unfortunately, he makes no mention of the younger Catharina as an adult. There is other evidence that John George Schupp III, Catharina’s brother, married Anna Maria Deibler, who was likely a niece of Albrecht Deibler. It’s possible that some researcher, knowing that Albrecht’s wife was named Catharine, and that the Schupps had a daughter named Catharine, concluded that they were the same person. Incidentally, the author of the Shope genealogy contests most online genealogies with regard to John George Schupp’s wife. He believes that she was not Catharina Matter, but rather Catharina Meder from a different family.

Nevertheless, Catharine Deibler may well have been Anna Catharina Schupp. Perhaps there is an unpublished document that is the source of this contention. It may seem unlikely from today’s perspective, but it is possible that she married at 14 and bore six children by the time she was 24. The fact that she had five more children with Buffington supports the idea that she was much younger than both of her husbands. However, none of the source documents can confirm Catharine’s age during her marriage to Deibler or to Buffington (census records at that time did not record specific ages), and there is no existing gravestone to compare her date of birth with Catharina Schupp. One also has to consider the possibility that Catharine was not Albrecht’s first wife. I don’t think any of the court documents referring to the disposition of his orphaned children preclude the idea that some of them may have had a different mother.

Another revelation of the Shope author from above is that a gravestone exists at the old Salem Church cemetery in upper Dauphin with the inscription, “Cadrina Schupp 1817″. That date is significant because 29 April 1817 is the date most often associated with the death of Catharine Deibler Buffington. However, most researchers believe that Catharine Buffington would have been buried with her husband at the family cemetery of John Peter Hoffman, another family that intermarried with the Deiblers. The Cadrina Schupp stone may just be coincidental (such as infant daughter of a Schupp family), or it may be the bit of data that holds it all together.

UPDATE 2013: After extensive research into the court records of Dauphin County, other researchers have concluded that Albrecht Deibler’s widow was indeed Anna Catharine Shupp. Nevertheless, questions still remain about the age of Albrecht, his widow, and his children.

Why the World Cup is un-American

Posted By on June 27, 2010

The FIFA World Cup is just a plain un-American sporting event. I’m not talking about it being anti-American, and I’m not talking about it’s participants having an anti-American sentiment. I just mean that there are so many aspects of the tournament that are antithetical to what we as Americans expect of our professional sports. I actually watched quite a few games this time around, and here’s what I found.

1. Not enough scoring. This aspect of the game has been discussed ad infinitum, including my own rant a few years ago. It’s a part of soccer in general, but it seems even more evident in the World Cup. A lot of the teams seem much more concerned with not losing than with winning. So both teams play hard defense and don’t attack the goal. I guess they just hope that the one shot on goal they take each half happens to go in.

2. The Group Stage allows ties. Teams can advance out of their group without ever winning a game! As a result, teams play for a tie. Seriously. In other words, as long as the game is tied, they exclusively play defense. And since the game is tied nil-nil to start, they actually hope to end the game nil-nil. These are the top 32 teams that qualified out of the 200+ FIFA national teams, and all they want to do is tie?  Can you imagine that in an American sport… to have a team play to not score?

3. Flops. Need I say more? Replay after replay shows players pretending to be pushed down, grabbed, or tripped, when there was virtually no contact. And after acting like their legs were broken, after they get the call, they make a miraculous recovery and play on. The most egregious use of the flop is to get the offending player to be given a yellow card. Oh, yes, let’s talk about that card.

4. The Yellow Card. The referee pulls the little yellow card out of his pocket to indicate “unsporting behavior”, which, as far as I can tell, is equivalent to “unsportsmanlike conduct” or a “personal foul” in NFL football. But really, a little yellow card pushed in the face of the player? What is this, middle school gym class? And of course, two yellow cards leads to a red card, which apparently means you have to go to the principal’s office and can’t play anymore.

5. Stoppage time. What is up with that? There is some nebulous amount of time added to the end of the game, to allow for the time the game was stopped for injury during the game. So why don’t they just stop the clock during the game? Instead, they just let the official on the field blow his whistle when he decides it’s time to end the game. Is this a legacy rule from when they used a pocket watch to time the games?

6. Unexplained fouls. Apparently, officials are not required to specify which player committed the foul, or even what the foul was! All they have to do is blow their whistle and point in the opposite direction. In the NFL, it wasn’t until the last quarter century that officials were required to name the player committing the foul, but they’ve always had to call the actual foul. Can you imagine an official in an American pro sport calling a foul, without saying what it was? If you watched the US vs England game this year, you know what I’m talking about. The official blew off a late goal by the US team, but FIFA did not, and said they would not, require the official to tell us what he thought he saw.

7. Obvious bad calls. Okay, so there’s no explanation of why the US was called for a foul which disallowed their goal against England. But remarkably, that wasn’t even the worst of the calls in this year’s World Cup, and it’s not even the quarter finals yet. In the Argentina vs Mexico game, the Argentine player was clearly standing by himself in front of the goalkeeper when the ball came to him and he headed it in for a goal. But no offside foul was called by the official on the field nor either of the sideline officials. To their credit, they huddled on the sideline to discuss it, but I guess they pulled a Sgt. Shultz and declared, “I see nothing.” In the England vs Germany game, the English player banged a shot off of the crossbar, which bounced down and into the goal behind the goalie. Replay showed the ball a foot or more across the goal line. Apparently, all the official saw was the ball bounce back up to the goalie, who caught it, so no goal was awarded. Seriously.

8. Not enough officials. This deficiency is probably the worst part of it all, and helps explain several of the other curiosites of FIFA World Cup play. They have one official on the field, who ostensibly makes all the calls and keeps the time. There are assistant referees on either sideline who mostly just points their flag when the ball goes out of bounds. One of the main reasons that flops work is because the referee may be on the other side of the field and can’t see what actually happens. The same goes for those other bad calls.

Next to the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup is the largest sports event in the world. Part of soccer’s world appeal is it’s simplicity — a team, a ball, and a field, where nothing changes. Apparently, they have no desire to embrace modern times, because the members seem to accept these shortcomings. I’m not talking about changing the rules of soccer, or mandating changes to all amateur and professional contests. But this is the World Cup! Would it be so bad if they added an official to keep the time on the scoreboard, or had extra officials on the end lines who can actually see what happens when a shot on goal occurs, or had two officials on the field so they can have two different viewing angles, or use replay to confirm or deny a goal? Really.

Join us in the 21st century, FIFA.

Documenting Blood Quanta

Posted By on November 13, 2009

Recently I received an email from a grandchild of Mary Anna Rich (born 1899). He told me that he was contesting tribal records with regard to his grandmother’s blood quantum, which was officially changed from full-blood to 7/8th sometime after the 1950s. He was requesting my assistance in finding documentation that his grandmother was indeed full-blood Otoe-Missouria, as the daughter of Ben and Julia Mahee Rich. He indicated that Ben and Julia’s other child, Frank Rich, is still listed as full-blood in tribal records.

I doubted that I could provide any documents with sufficient authority to overturn official tribal records. Nevertheless, having been through genealogy research on my own family, I was familiar with the issues, so I decided to see what I could find out about his grandmother.

The first problem is that old records of blood quanta are not always reliable, and the tribe has routinely corrected previous records. My grandfather, Dewey Washington Dailey (1901-1986), was an allottee on the second allotment schedule and was always listed as full-blood up through the 1960s, when the tribe changed his official blood quanta to 7/8th, based on the fact that one of his great-grandparents was white. Dewey’s mother, Belle Robedeaux (1878-1939), was the daughter of Antoine Robedeaux (1847-1903), who was presumably the son of a Frenchman named Robedeaux. It is generally accepted that surnames such as Robedeaux and DeRoin among the Otoe-Missouria and Ioway tribes are the result of this same type of parentage.

Mary “Anna” Rich is enumerated on the 1900 US Census as full-blood, and I’m sure she was considered full-blood by the tribe. With regard to her parentage, the evidence is overwhelming, but circumstantial. Ben and Julia Rich are enumerated on the 1899 and 1900 Tribal censuses as husband and wife, and “Annie” first appears on the 1900 Tribal census as Ben’s 1 yr-old daughter.

Keep in mind that I was not raised on the reservation, so my observations and conclusions are based on academic research without the benefit of personal experience. But it seems to me that the real issue here is that in earlier times, many people who were considered full-blood were not actually full-blood. Historically, descendants of half-breed children who were raised within the tribe and married within the tribe, after two or three generations, eventually were culturally accepted again as full-blood.

I don’t have any documentation other than family history from others, but I believe Mary Anna Rich’s mother, Julia Mahee (born c.1875), was the daughter of Harry and Laura DeRoin Mahee. Again, Julia is consistently enumerated as a full-blood. However, her mother, Laura DeRoin (born c.1852) was the daughter of John and Rozella DeRoin, who were quite likely not full-bloods. In fact, the list of allottees on the Nemaha Half-Breed Reservation in 1860 includes a Rozella DeRoin and several men named John DeRoin. The fact that they were using familial surnames in the mid-1800s is more evidence that they were not full-bloods. It’s quite possible that both John DeRoin and his wife, Rozella, were the children of white fathers and Otoe-Missouria mothers. If that were the case, it would make Mary Anna Rich, their great-granddaughter, 7/8th Otoe-Missouria.

I don’t know why the tribe would still have Frank Rich listed as full-blood. It may be as simple as the fact that he died without descendants before the tribe became more diligent about blood quanta, so there was no reason to change it.

Plaxico Burress, just a regular guy

Posted By on August 28, 2009

When Plaxico Burress was first indicted on weapons charges in New York City, he pleaded Not Guilty (I still don’t understand the difference between pleaded, plead, and pled) . I guess he and his lawyer were going to claim that someone stole Plaxico’s pistol, then stuck it down and his pants and shot him.

Okay, so later they got back to reality and changed the plea to Guilty and took a plea bargain, for which Burress was sentenced to about two years, which is normal for NYC. Afterward, Jeremy Schaap of ESPN interviewed Burress, who said, in reference to the pistol:

It wasn’t like I was trying to hide it or go into this place and go through security. They knew I had it, they pat me down and they said, ‘OK.’ They let me in, with it.

First of all, they had to pat him down. Does that mean he first tried to get into the club without revealing that he had it? Regardless, after they saw the gun, the security guards let him in. Is that normal practice at NYC nightclubs? If you go to a nightclub, should you assume that some patrons are packing heat? Did Plaxico routinely carry his pistol? Is that how Plax rolls?

Whenever celebrities get in trouble for carrying a handgun, they always say it’s for self-defense. But professional athletes and entertainers are the only millionaires who feel compelled to carry a weapon themselves, rather than hiring a professional body guard. Can anyone recall a story in which a pro athlete averted a crime against himself or others because he was carrying a weapon? I don’t think so. Jeremy Schaap didn’t ask any of these questions. I thought of them as I was watching the interview. Why didn’t Schaap think of them?

Six Degrees of Separation on Facebook

Posted By on August 16, 2009

The idea behind six degrees of separation has been around for nearly a century, but it was John Guare’s play and film of the 1990s that brought the actual phrase into public consciousness. Put simply, the concept is that any two people in the world can be connected by jumping from one’s friends, to their friends, to their friends, etc., with no more than five intermediary steps, hence, six degrees of separation.

Over the years there have been several research experiments designed to test the concept in different settings. The consensus seems to be that the hypothesis has some validity, although some researchers contend that the number six is scientifically arbitrary. In my own reading on the subject, I have never been able to pin down exactly what constitutes a “friend”. Some writers use the term “acquaintance” instead. Obviously, the broader the definition, the more connections you have.

I think most people would define a friend/acquaintance as someone you know by sight and name, whom you have met in person, who also knows you by sight and name. For instance, I know Tiger Woods by sight and name, but we’ve never met, and he doesn’t know me. I know the mayor of our town by sight and name, and we’ve met in person, but I’m sure he doesn’t know me. So I don’t think Tiger and the Mayor would count as friends in my six degrees.

On the other hand, when I was in high school, I knew (using the definition from the previous paragraph) all 160 people in my class and at least another hundred students from other classes, sports teams, and extracurricular activities. I’m sure there was at least another hundred people I knew as relatives and as other people from my community. When I went to college, in two different states, I probably met and knew several hundred more people. While working summers at Hersheypark, I made dozens of new acquaintances every year. All told, I think I’m safe in saying that when I was in my youth and early adulthood, there was close to a thousand people who, at one time or another, fit the definition of friend/acquainance.

What brought this topic to mind was that I recently attended my high school reunion, and several of my classmates encouraged me to join Facebook. While poking around, I came across a Facebook (fb) “group” called Six Degrees of Separation (actually there are several such groups on fb), which purports to be a six degrees experiment. They encourage people to join the group and then invite their friends to join the group, and then their friends, etc. with the intent of showing how all fb users are connected by common friends.

I have three problems with this experiment.

First of all, no matter how popular fb becomes, you’re never going to get my thousand friends. Okay, so maybe their intent isn’t so global. Maybe they just want to try the six degrees of fb.

My second problem is, if they really want to document friend connections, shouldn’t they limit membership in the group to people who already have a friend in the group? In that way all the people in the group would already have a connection and you could draw real conclusions. The way it is now, with anyone joining, you just end up with a bunch of disjointed subsets of people, who aren’t connected in any way to the other subsets. Having a large number of people in the group doesn’t prove anything. I imagine what they are trying to do, by allowing anyone to join, is to grow the group more quickly, with the hope that eventually a connection will be made for everyone. Well, that brings me to the third problem I have with this experiment.

Doesn’t Facebook already have the complete data? Couldn’t fb do their own analytics with the friend connections? They wouldn’t have to rely on voluntary participation. It seems to me that fb could do their own analysis of the friend connections. They could look at the friends database and calculate every user’s complete set of connections. They could even post it on each home page, like “You have 461,874 friends in your Six Degrees of Separation.”

Now that I think about it, maybe I’ll write the script myself. Let me fire up my GW-BASIC interpreter and see what I can do. Wait, I might need Turbo Pascal for this one.

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