“That is mind-blowing to me.”
When we explore our family history, we are looking for ways to connect with our ancestors. But it isn’t often that we find that our great-grandfather shares our catchphrase.
Family history research is all about connecting people today with those who came before. Often, echoes of the past reverberate in the present. Sometimes, though, something an ancestor did or said is directly related to our life today. Of all the sources we work with as genealogists, those reflections of history are best revealed through newspapers, which give us personal insights rarely available elsewhere.
Newspapers and other printed documents played a key role in telling the story of Zachary Quinto’s maternal great-grandfather P. J. McArdle. They also revealed a mind-blowing connection between McArdle and the fictional sci-fi character Spock, played by Quinto in the recent reboot of the Star Trek movie franchise. McArdle was a union leader in Indiana and Pennsylvania whose activities were documented in publications of the union (the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers, a.k.a, Amalgamated Association) and local newspapers.
Advances in technology have made it possible to scan and index vast numbers of pages from historical newspapers and make them available through websites like Newspapers.com. When we first start looking for people mentioned in the news, that’s where we start. However, there are still many more newspapers that have not been digitized yet and are only available on microfilm. It takes more effort to find articles when things are on microfilm, but the results can be powerful.
This is where we transition from straightforward newspaper research to advanced-level research. We knew Zachary’s great-grandfather was a union leader, and unions have their own publications. In this case, the Amalgamated Association published The Amalgamated Journal, which is available on microfilm at a major university library. We spent numerous hours reading every issue of the journal on microfilm looking for any mention of P. J. McArdle to see what stories we could find as we knew he was a corresponding member of the union.
All that effort led to an amazing letter to the editor, written by McArdle to the journal on 16 October 1899. He wanted to thank the Amalgamated Association for the quality of the publication and subscribed some of the workers from his local mill. In closing, McArdle wrote: “May it live long and prosper….” To say we were shocked to find McArdle writing the same words made popular by the same Star Trek character played by his great-grandson would be an understatement!
“All Are Well Pleased With the ‘Journal,’” The Amalgamated Journal, 20 October 1899
This couldn’t be a historical coincidence, could it? A television show made the phrase “live long and prosper” famous, but it turns out it has earlier origins. Searching Newspapers.com showed that this was a common expression going back even further! It is part of a toast by the character Rip Van Winkle from a short film from 1896. It even appeared in a Welsh newspaper in 1834!
Zachary got to learn that his great-grandfather used the catchphrase from the character he played in modern movies, and we learned two important lessons. Most importantly, don’t let the internet be the last place you search for something. And, many recognizable quotes and phrases have their origins much earlier than you might realize.
Live long and prosper.
To watch Zachary Quinto’s entire journey and discover more celebrities uncovering their family history, watch full episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays at 7/6c on NBC or stream on Peacock.
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