My Great Aunt Frances


Some random family trivia is that we are related to the famous children’s book author Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy).  I was told she was my great great great great aunt.  But is this accurate?  If so, how?  How can it be so?  Is it a direct relation, or through marriage?  No one knew.  (Not that I really asked anyone.)  History became legend and legend became myth and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.  It was kind of like a secret… a secret garden…

So I registered for a free trial on to investigate the matter and after a few hours of researching and putting all the clues together, I can confirm that the family legends are true.  You see, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s older brother, John George Hodgson, was my great great great grandfather.  According to a biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett, John was a poor drunk, and when he died in 1904, it was my dear rich Aunt Fran who paid for his burial.

John had two children, Edith and Bert.  Interestingly, Bert was a songwriter, which explains why my grandparents had some obscure sheet music he had published in the 1920’s.  At some point, I’ll try orchestrating my great great great uncle’s work to see what it sounds like.  Edith married some guy named Alonzo Miller.  They had three daughters, Nellie, Lucile, and Bertie.  Lucile married John Ashe Hannifin and they had six children, one of whom was my grandfather.

So there you go, from Hodgson to Miller to Hannifin.  Not too complicated.  Also making the research easy was the fact that each generation between me and John Hodgson was born and lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the Hodgson family emigrated to from England in the 1860’s.

Unfortunately Frances Hodgson Burnett left no money or book dedications for her great great great great nieces and nephews.  I must confess, it is tough living under the shadow of my great great great great aunt.  There’s just so much pressure.

Martin Gardner

I came across this blatant copyright infringement on YouTube this morning, an episode from the 90’s of The Nature of Things, an educational Canadian TV series, this one about the late Martin Gardner. (I don’t know why the video title says John Conway. While Conway’s in it, the show is about Gardner.)

Though I can’t claim to have a great stock of Gardner’s books, the ones I read had a great influence on me when I guess I was around 10 to 12 years old. He makes mathematics fun and fascinating in a way that no teacher who wants to give you a grade ever can. Whereas a teacher may say, “Learn these rules because the board of education has deemed them necessary,” Gardner’s approach is more exploratory, playful, and welcoming, as if to say, “Here’s an idea that’s interesting and peculiar, let’s see what we can do with it.” (If you’re a teacher and want to make any subject more fun, stop grading students for starters. Oh, you can’t do that? Then your methods will always fail, because your philosophy of education is wrong.)

With Gardner’s approach, it’s easy to see how mathematics naturally blends with so many other subjects, such as science, art, magic, and games. While this episode only touches the surface of many of the ideas Gardner helped popularize, it’s still a fun refresher.


Some of my earliest games made in good old GW-BASIC were text-based interactive stories; choose-your-own adventures, but a little more complex than the in-print books; not that much more complex, I was only ten years old or so, but being able to use the magic of “variables!!” the story could remember player names and past choices. Unfortunately the games are now lost… so you’ll just have to trust that I was smart enough to do that when I was ten.

The point is, I enjoyed the art of interactive fiction.

So I recently read about an online program called Inklewriter which allows storytellers to quickly and easily write and test interactive fiction. I used it to quickly write a simple dialog story called The Movie Deal.

I’d like to try to write something more serious with it at some point. It looks like they’ve recently announced a contest that I think would be fun to try.

So, go have fun with it. And let me know about your work if you’d like me to check it out!