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Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

April 15, 2008

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Well, April 15th doesn't have the happiest of connotations for most Americans, at any rate, but I'm thinking good thoughts that many reading these words will actually get a tax refund that can be wisely invested in a new online subscription, book purchase or perhaps a DNA test! And here's hoping that April also brings a fresh family history discovery or two!


In this newsletter. . .

More Online Death Indexes

I don't know how Joe Beine keeps on top of all these online resources, but I'm sure glad he does! Here's his latest update to online death indexes. If you haven't already, be sure to bookmark www.deathindexes.com. That way, you'll always have access to the latest and greatest!

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Yeah, I didn't know what this meant either, but I wish I had time for it. It's an Irish language weekend on Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Here are a few more details:




$200.00 CDN, $200 US

If you're interested, just email kenny-h@rmc.ca.

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Ancestry's Volunteer Indexing Program

Well, now you can volunteer to index records for Ancestry.com. Read more here:

New Volunteer Indexing Program at Ancestry

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Yet another genealogical social networking site launches

Is anyone keeping count? I've lost track . . .

MyGreatBigFamily.com Launches Enhanced Social Networking Websites for Families

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NEHGS: Rare Childhood Helen Keller Photo Discovered

This is the kind of story that reminds us that the stash in our own attics could contain national treasures:

Helen Keller Photo from 1888

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Huckabee: Elder liked 'em younger

A couple of months ago, Ancestry.com was approached by Fox News to have someone on to answer questions about the candidates' roots. At the time, there were a lot more candidates -- about eight, as I recall. At any rate, I was selected to do the spot, so had to study up on everyone. I was pretty darn sure I would get asked about Huckabee since he had just won Iowa earlier that week, but in fact, I was only asked about Obama and Clinton.

With Huckabee now out of the race, I thought it might be time to share one of the vignettes I had ready to go if asked that evening in the studio. It concerns his grandfather, William Elder (appropriately named), who leaned toward younger ladies. When he was 36 years old, he married a 17-year-old, and then when he was 57, he married a 21-year-old. He's must have felt a little sheepish, though, because as this doc shows (his second marriage), he only admitted to being 52.

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Ziggy's DNA

Click here to learn about his ancestors. I think we all feel that way sometimes . . .

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Good News for Those with Dublin Roots

Was delighted to read this from Juliana Smith at the 24/7 Family History Circle:

Dublin Cemetery Records to Be Made Available Online

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I Have The Results of My Genetic Genealogy Test, Now What?

How would you like a free, 28-page book that answers this question? Well, check out this generous offer from The Genetic Genealogist (aka Blaine Bettinger)!

I Have The Results of My Genetic Genealogy Test, Now What?

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Taking a Chance on America: Bela Lugosi's Ellis Island Story

Well, his real name was Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó, but he entered this country as Bela Lugosi, probably because he was from a place then known as Lugos, located in present-day Romania. His Ellis Island record is interesting because it shows him arriving in New Orleans and details about his inspection. And now there's a play about this well known immigrant at Ellis Island:

Taking a Chance on America: Bela Lugosi's Ellis Island Story

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Kathy Griffin's Belligerent Grandfather

She's 100% Irish, and I happen to be a fan, so that's enough reason to write about Kathy Griffin when St. Patty's Day is rapidly approaching. Poking around in her roots, my fancy was captured by her Irish-born grandfather, Patrick J. Griffin (actually, both of her grandfathers were Irish-born).

But here's something you don't see everyday. You know how there's a question about military service in the 1930 census? Here's his response. Apparently, he served in both the Boer War and the Spanish-American War. His obit claims he was a captain for the British in the former, and a second lieutenant in the latter. How's that for a one-two punch?

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Obama: They're Celebrating in Moneygall!

Last year, I had the opportunity to dig into Barack Obama's roots. Around last St. Patty's Day, Ancestry.com went out with the news that he was part-Irish. After that, I started hearing from members of the Irish media. Where exactly in Ireland did his family come from? That's what everyone wanted to know.

It took some elbow grease, but as I blogged last year, we were finally able to determine that Moneygall gets the bragging rights:

Finding Barack Obama's Irish Roots (click to see the tombstone that pointed me in the right direction)

That's why I was delighted to come across these videos:

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WWII Pilot Remembered on Both Sides of the Pond

My latest orphan heirloom article concerning the return of an inscribed fountain pen that was owned by William Lee Bell, a pilot who was killed in WWII, is now in the current issue of Ancestry Magazine:

Link to the Past

There's a little bit of a postscript that's not in the article itself since it occurred more recently. Lt. Bell's plane was recovered in 1998 and there's an exhibit about it at the General Patton Museum in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg. As part of my research, I located a family member who had just recently come into possession of a photo of Lt. Bell and was kind enough to email me a scanned copy. When the article came out, Jim Gilmer, who had submitted the case to me, saw the photo -- and informed me that the museum had been looking for a photo of the pilot to complete the exhibit. And now, thanks to the family and Jim, the museum has it. Here's part of the exhibit that Jim generously sent me images of. It's nice to know that Lt. Bell's pen has been returned to his family, that his image has been sent to Luxembourg, and that his memory is being protected on both sides of the pond.

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Message in a Bottle Mystery Solved

Just thought this was a cool story!

Mystery of Aunt Pete's message in a bottle solved by soldier's grandson

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Not Again! Potential Records Restriction in NJ

I would love to hear that this is a false alarm, but in case it’s not, I'd like to encourage folks -- especially anyone with NJ roots or residency -- to do whatever they can about this potential restriction of NJ vital records access:

Bill would restrict access to records

Here’s a relevant article that Dick Eastman wrote that might be used to help educate Quigley and others:

So Why Lock Up the Birth Records?

And this might also be useful. Folks trying to gain greater access to records in PA have created this site to get across the message that many states are actually making access to records easier, even to the point of making digitized, searchable records available online (often for free):

People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access

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ISOGG Has a Newsletter!

Yeah, I know that might sound a little strange that I'm excited that the International Society of Genetic Genealogy has a newsletter, but based on the first issue, this one is a keeper. Go check it out here and be sure to scroll to the bottom to learn how to subscribe.

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RootsTelevision.com Wins 4 Tellys in Its First Year

PROVO, UT, March 26, 2008 -- RootsTelevision.com, an online channel dedicated to all aspects of genealogy and family history, has been recognized in the 29th Annual Telly Awards for four of its original productions. Selected from more than 14,000 shows were "DNA Stories: A Tale of Two Fathers" (documentary), "Heir Jordan: Extreme Genealogy" (entertainment), "Roots Books: Psychic Roots" (talk show), and "Flat Stanley's Family Tree" (children's audience).

"We're delighted," said RootsTelevision.com co-founder, Marcy Brown. "To receive this kind of recognition during our first year of existence is remarkable, and winning in four different categories is even more astonishing. We take this as an indication that our decision to pioneer online programming for the substantial but neglected niche of millions of genealogists was a risk worth taking."

The four winning shows include an episode of "DNA Stories," a series that focuses on the exploding hobby of genetic genealogy and shows how avid roots-seekers are using DNA testing to solve family history riddles. The award-winning "Tale of Two Fathers" episode features Bob Zins and his efforts to determine whether the man who raised him was really his father. "Heir Jordan: Extreme Genealogy" showcases the unexpected twin talents of Jordan Auslander, who's both a professional genealogist and stand-up comic. "Roots Books," a talk show hosted by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, received its award for the especially popular "Psychic Roots" episode that centers on a discussion of the role of serendipity in genealogy between Sharon and popular speaker and author, Hank Jones. And "Flat Stanley's Family Tree" follows the beloved children's character as he explores his colonial roots in Williamsburg, Virginia and his gold rush roots in California.

Founded in 1978, The Telly is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional and cable TV programs, as well as the finest video and film productions. The Telly Awards, a highly respected international competition, annually showcases the best work of the most respected production companies in the world.

About RootsTelevision.com
RootsTelevision.com was co-founded by producer, Marcy Brown, and professional genealogist, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes, her real name). Marcy and Megan, who frequently refer to themselves as "two chicks and a channel," launched online in late 2006 and already provide more than 1,000 videos -- free, on-demand and 24/7 -- for family history enthusiasts around the globe. For more information, please visit www.rootstelevision.com.

Links to the award-winning shows:
DNA Stories: A Tale of Two Fathers
Heir Jordan: Extreme Genealogy
Roots Books: Psychic Root
Flat Stanley’s Family Tree

# # #

Press Release Contact Information:
Samantha Butterworth
89 N. University Avenue, 4th Floor
Provo, UT 84601
Voice: 801-494-5634
E-Mail: info@rootstelevision.com
Website: www.rootstelevision.com

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Do you have relatives buried at Hart Island?

If you have a relative who's gone missing in New York, it might be worth learning more about Hart Island. It's estimated that 800,000 people have been buried at Hart Island, New York City's largest potter field, from 1869 to the present.

A remarkable woman named Melinda Hunt has made it her mission to help those buried there be known. Most recently, she managed to obtain -- through the Freedom of Information Act -- a list of the 50,000 buried there since 1985. Read more here:

Finding Names for Hart Island's Forgotten

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Who's Wooing Who?

So Ireland is trying to attract roots travelers from Australia and New Zealand:
Go Green and Discover your Irish side

and Scotland is trying to attract roots travelers from Canada:
Tourism chiefs eye expat market at inaugural Scottish week in Toronto

I just finished reading Bloody Foreigners about the history of immigration in England -- and based on this emerging pattern of trying to attract folks back to their homelands for a visit and the information jammed into this book -- there are a lot of countries (Denmark, France, Jamaica, India, etc.) that should start trying to entice the English "home" for a holiday!

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A Personal Plea

Ah-ha! That explains it! All of a sudden, I started getting lots of orphan heirloom applications in rapid succession. After wondering what was going on, I discovered the answer -- Jana Lloyd's article in the current issue of Rootsweb Review:

Orphan Heirlooms: Returning Flea Market Finds to Their Families

I'm delighted, of course, but I'd like to take this opportunity to make a personal plea. I've done countless orphan heirloom rescues over the years (you can read about a bunch of them here), but there's been a bit of a disturbing trend. More and more, when I do the detective work to find the family of origin and get back to the submitter, I get no response -- even if I try several times. Frankly, this is frustrating as it forces me to solve multiple cases in order to write a single article, and I wind up feeling, well, cheated. There's no rescue and I can't get the time (and sometimes money) I invested in the research back. It's to the point where I sometimes have to research five cases in order to be sure to have one to write about (sadly, I'm not exaggerating).

So here's my plea: By all means, submit your orphan heirloom to be rescued. I welcome it. I love doing the sleuthing! For me, there's nothing like the thrill of the hunt. But please don't submit if you're not quite sure whether you're truly ready to return the item to the family of origin yet (yes, I know, we can become quite attached to these items even if they're not from our own families). So please be sure you're ready and willing to participate in the rescue before submitting, OK? Thanks!

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Brian's Ancestry Painting

23andMe has added an interesting new feature: Ancestry Painting. Here's my husband's:

Here's how 23andMe describes Ancestry Painting (which I see as a sort of admixture assessment):

"As populations became separated over the millennia, small genetic differences developed that can still be used as signatures of geographic ancestry. Ancestry Painting looks at those signatures in the 22 numbered chromosomes (that is, all but X and Y) to infer where in the world the ancestors who passed you each stretch of DNA were most likely to have lived – Africa, Asia or Europe.

Ancestry Paintings essentially give you a snapshot of where your ancestors lived before the beginning of the colonial era about 500 years ago. That’s because the massive migrations that have occurred since then have blurred many of the genetic boundaries that had developed over the millennia. For example, most Americans trace their ancestry not to the continent where they live but to Africa, Asia, Europe or a combination of those places."

So my husband -- who's half-Italian and half-Carpatho-Rusyn (think Slavic) -- comes out 99% European and 1% Asian. See those little splotches of orange? That's his Asian contribution, according to 23andMe. Would be interesting to hear results from anyone who's tested both with 23andMe and DNAPrint Genomics.

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Annie Update

Here's the latest I've heard on Annie Moore (first immigrant through Ellis Island) from a good friend in Ireland:

There is a proposal before Cork City Council to erect a plaque to Annie on the lane where she lived, Rowland's Lane. This is where no. 2 is still standing and which is as far as I know the only house where she lived in is still left standing. The occupants of the house are traveling to New York for a few days and are going to Ellis Island, etc.

It also seems that the fund-raising efforts for her memorial are going very well!
Kelly Gang Raises $85,000

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Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Congrats to our recent grant recipients! Don't forget that you can apply here.  

January 2008
Lynn Maffessoli of Jersey City, NJ is making a documentary about the discovery of information surrounding her great-grandmother’s unsolved murder. After researching her family’s history for five years, she was startled to learn that her great-grandmother was murdered in March of 1930. In her documentary, Lynn will recount her ancestor’s actions on the day she was murdered. The grant will be used in support of this documentary – and I confess that one of the reasons I selected this application is because it resonated with me since one of my own great-grandmothers was murdered in 1932.

March 2008
The Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance has been locating, registering and preserving Alabama's lost cemeteries since 2003. They have located many cemeteries that were hidden in the woods or about to be destroyed by new developments, and had legislation passed to protect the rights to visit those cemeteries. Their website is utilized by every county in Alabama as well as accessed by other visitors. The grant award will assist them with finding a new server for their website.

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Upcoming Events

If you plan to be near any of the events where I'll be speaking, I would love to meet you. It's always a kick for me when folks mention that they read this newsletter, my blog, Ancestry Daily News or whatever, so don't be shy about introducing yourself!

For more information on these events, please see my Events Calendar. And if you're interested in scheduling me, just click here.

  • April 26, 2008 - Topeka, KS - Topeka Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Building a Village-Based Community" and "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones"
  • May 2-3, 2008 - Lincoln, NE - Nebraska State Genealogical Society - "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt," "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • May 10, 2008 - Thousand Oaks, CA - Conejo Valley Genealogical Society - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt," "Find That Obituary: Online Newspaper Research" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • June 21, 2008 - Mandeville, LA - St. Tammany Parish Genealogical Society and the National Knowles/Knoles/Noles Family Association - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Introduction to Ancestry.com," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • June 27-29, 2008 - Burbank, CA - Southern California Genealogical Society - "Right Annie, Wrong Annie," "Welcome to RootsTelevision!," "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options" and "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research"
  • August 15-16, 2008 - Indianapolis, IN - Indiana Historical Society Midwestern Roots Conference - Topics TBD
  • September 3-6, 2008 - Philadelphia, PA - Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference - "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • September 20, 2008 - South Portland, ME - Maine Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • September 27, 2008 - Naperville, IL - Fox Valley Genealogy Society - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research," "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • October 18, 2008 - Huntsville, AL - Huntsville-Madison County Public Library - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Welcome to Roots Television!"
  • October 26-November 2, 2008 - 4th Annual Genealogy Conference and Cruise, hosted by Wholly Genes, Inc. - Topics TBD
  • January 16-20, 2009 - Auckland, New Zealand - Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations 12th Australasian Congress on Genealogy & Heraldry - Topics TBD
  • February 14, 2009 - Secaucus, NJ - Hudson County Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • April 18, 2009 - Anchorage, AK - Anchorage Genealogical Society - "Introduction to Ancestry.com," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Find that Obituary! Online Newspaper Research" and "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt"
  • April 22-26, 2009 - Manchester, NH - The New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2009 - Topics TBD
  • September 11-13, 2009 - Spokane, WA - Eastern Washington Genealogical Society - Topics TBD

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Please forward this newsletter to your family and friends who are interested in genealogy -- thank you!

Wishing you an abundance of genealogical serendipity!
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak


Note: You are receiving this because you have demonstrated an interest (e.g., you have a story in one of my books, applied for a grant, attended previous events, etc.) or subscribed via my website, but please let me know if you do not want to receive any further emails, and I will promptly remove you from my list. And rest assured, this is my personal list and not shared with anyone else! Thanks, Megan

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