Text size:  A  A  A  

Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

February 15, 2008

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Well, it's been a busy start to the new year! I've already spoken in Texas and New Jersey and am writing from the road in between gigs in St. George, Utah and Hemet, California! As you'll see from the following, it's also been an intense time in genealogy-land! Looks like 2008 is going to be a wild ride!


In this newsletter. . .

A Nice Way to End 2007!

Thanks to both Dick Eastman and Family Tree Magazine (by way of Diane Haddad's blog) for including Roots Television among the major developments in the genealogical world in 2007!

Dick was very generous in his remarks (you'll want to be sure to check out all of his 2007 in Review commentary):

Television on the Internet
One major new genealogy service appeared on the Internet during 2007: RootsTelevision. This new "video-on-demand" service allows you to watch interviews, conference keynote speeches, "how to" instruction, and much more, all without leaving your computer. The video appears on your computer's screen while accompanying audio plays on your computer's speakers.

Late in the year, RootsTelevision even recorded a number of episodes from a genealogy cruise ship, giving viewers some great insight into what happens on board. We even saw what may have been the first "genealogy wave." No, that's not a tidal wave overwhelming the ship. I had the pleasure of being involved in a few of those videos and must say that I am enthused with the concept of genealogy videos on the Internet.

I believe that video is going to become more and more popular on the Internet in the next few years. One of the most popular Internet sites of today is YouTube.com, a gigantic repository of all sorts of videos. Banking on the potential of this kind of service, Google acquired YouTube late in 2006 for $1.65 billion in stock. In 2007, RootsTelevision.com became a rather specialized video repository for genealogists. Perhaps RootsTelevision will be acquired for a billion dollars, too. (OK, so I am just kidding about the money. Seriously, this is a fascinating service that just might become an acquisition target for a well-financed organization that wishes to expand into genealogy for few million dollars or so.)

Diane was also very kind (take a browse of her 10 Biggest Genealogy News Stories in 2007 that includes everything from DNA mania to genealogists getting younger). Here's what she had to say about what we've been up to:

Online videos are everywhere
Thank Roots Television for this one. It actually launched in 2006, but expanded its coverage this year by sending crews to genealogy conferences and on cruises, and adding RootsTube (a genealogical version of YouTube where you can upload videos). Founder Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak says the site's roughly 400 shows (divided into 1,100 smaller chunks) are "pushing half a million video views."

As one of the troublemakers behind the scenes at Roots Television, I'd like to thank Dick and Diane! And thanks to the rest of you who have noticed us, watched our stuff, and told your friends about us. Wait to you see what we have in store for 2008!

Return to Top

Steve Morse Adds DNA Search

You know genetic genealogy has arrived when search-king Steve Morse adds it to his much-beloved one-step page. Why do I have a feeling this new part of his site is going to get longer and longer?

Return to Top

Forgotten Ellis Island

I have just now received both the book and video of Forgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America's Immigrant Hospital.

The accompanying website is compelling and I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to explore. I'm looking forward to a little quiet time to absorb both the book and documentary -- and hoping against hope that some of the mystery faces in the photos (again, check out the website) are identified.

The topic reminds me very much of the Immigration episode of the Ancestors series about Cathy Horn's quest to find out about a surprise relative named Apollonia who died at Ellis Island -- and I suspect it will be equally as moving.

Return to Top

Another Genealogically-Themed Movie

Some of you may have seen Golden Door when it came out last year - an Italian movie all about the Ellis Island experience. Well, now there's another option -- National Treasure. Not only is the movie a runaway hit, but it's core is the quest to restore an ancestor's good name (even the bad guy wants to restore honor to his family name). Granted, these folks are a little zealous -- and I suppose the movie could reinforce that tired old concept that we're all after bragging rights -- but really, it's just a fun romp! If you've got a couple of hours to spare and like detective yarns and adventure flicks, give it a go!

Return to Top

Did I marry my cousin?

I get this question a lot -- well, more than most. And I suppose that's not surprising, given that I'm a Smolenyak by birth and by marriage. For those of you who didn't know that before, I'll give you a moment to let that sink in. While you're at it, go ahead and take a little more time to rehearse your favorite kissing cousin joke!

Ready to move on? OK . . .

Well, now the latest episode of DNA Stories on RootsTelevision.com provides the answer to this question. Just click on the image below to watch.

Return to Top

When Bibles Go Camping

The latest issue of Ancestry Magazine just came out and includes another article from my Found! column about orphan heirloom rescues. This one's called When Bibles Go Camping. Now I've got to curl up with the rest of the magazine -- I get both the hard and digital copies!

Return to Top

More Online Vital Records Links

Joe Beine offers reason for hope with his posting of Recently Added Online Birth and Marriage Records Indexes. While records access is an on-going struggle, the good news is that many government agencies are waking up to the fact that it's not such a bad thing to have records (or at least their indexes) online, especially when they're historicain nature. Let's hope this trend continues!

Return to Top

He's b-a-a-a-ck!

. . . and he's got some pent-up funny because I loved this latest posting of The Genealogue:

Top Ten Worst Ways to Begin a Family History.

We missed you, Chris!

Return to Top

I told you genealogy was important . . .

As seen in a terrific talk by Dr. Spencer Wells last night at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA:

Return to Top

Dr. Spencer Wells in Philadelphia

When I hear talks like this, it reminds me how lucky we are to be living at this particular point in time when it's becoming possible to know so many previously unknowable things about our past! Pretty cool, huh?!

Return to Top

Are We Losing Our Census?

OK, this article appeared a couple of weeks ago, but it makes you think, doesn't it? Do you think in the future that the digitalization of just about everything coupled with our genetic signatures will make the census a relic or will 22nd century genealogists mourn its loss?

Nation on the move signals end of census

Return to Top

R.I.P.: James LeVoy Sorenson

This may sound strange to say, but I really didn't see this coming. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Sorenson, the man behind the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation and Sorenson Genomics, a couple times over the last few years. And though in his 80s, he was still known to demonstrate his push-up prowess with the slightest of provocations! He would have been a remarkable man even if he weren't a self-made billionaire.

I extend my sincerest condolences to his entire family as well as the Sorenson Genomics companies and foundation.

Utah billionaire James Sorenson dies

Return to Top

Do You Have $8 for the U.S. National Slavery Museum?

Now here's an idea that makes sense to me. The campaign is based on asking folks to contribute $8, but for $50, you can have a name put on a commemorative wall and walkway -- which is what I plan on doing to remember my great-grand aunt, Wilhelmina Hubbard.

Bill Cosby Calls on All Americans to Donate $8 to Build Slavery Museum

The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) - Bill Cosby called on each American to contribute $8 (6) to help build a national slavery museum amid the battlefields of the Civil War.

Cosby, who already has committed $1 million (780,000) to the project, joined Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder on Friday in launching a new campaign to raise $100 million (78 million) toward the Fredericksburg museum's $200 million (156 million) price tag.

"The incentive is that they would join in with the rest of the United States of America in saying yes, as an American, I gave $8 (6) to help build something that tells the story," he said in a teleconference with Wilder.

In a nation of some 300 million people, even a tepid response would surpass the$100 million (78 million)goal, Cosby said.

He admitted this kind of campaign "generally fails badly."

"But I'm going to try again because I'm going to present this national slavery museum as a jewel that's missing in a crown."

The campaign marks the latest attempt at fundraising for the U.S. National Slavery Museum, a project in the works for more than a decade.

Wilder struggled to find a location before settling on a site near the Rappahannock River, a region where many Civil War battles were fought.

For Wilder, $8 (6) has symbolic significance in a campaign to create what is billed as the first national museum dedicated solely to telling the story of American slavery.

"The figure 8, in shape, is both of the shackles, which is the symbol of slavery," said Wilder, a former Virginia governor and the grandson of slaves. He thought up the museum concept during a visit to Goree Island, the infamous slave shipping post in West Africa.

"If you turn it on its side, it's the symbol of infinite freedom," he said.

Wilder said the museum has about $50 million (39 million) on hand.

On the Net:

U.S. National Slavery Museum, www.usnationalslaverymuseum.org

Return to Top

Music for Geeks: An Ode to PCR

Return to Top

23andMe Moves into European Market

The DNA revolution continues to spread . . .

Google-funded firm launches DNA test in Europe

Return to Top

Genealogy on Oprah Today?

I'm thinking it might happen. There's a teaser saying that Chris Rock will discover who he really is. And it just so happens that he was one of the celebrities whose roots were explored for the upcoming African American 2 series on PBS. Check out the video below. You don't expect to see a fellow like Chris Rock to to say, "I can't believe this. I'm gonna cry."

BTW, I'm delighted to say that I had the opportunity to research the roots of a couple of the featured celebrities, as well as the winner of the contest that was held last year. I'm really looking forward to the 4-part series to watch everyone's reactions! In the meantime, I'm going to check out Oprah and see if my hunch was right!

Return to Top

Annie Moore Memorial Fundraiser

Whenever I travel to speak, folks ask me about Annie Moore of Ellis Island fame. What's happened since her discovery? Has the absence of a tombstone been rectified? Well, it's taken a while, but I'm pleased to announce that there's been progress on that front:

Cardinal clears way for Annie headstone

Here's a mock-up of what's been designed. I'm happy to see that the names of the others who are buried with Annie will be included.

So now the family is in fund-raising mode. They've launched an Ante Up for Annie campaign and are aiming to raise $25,000 by this St. Patty's Day. If you're at least part Irish or you have Ellis Island ancestry, you might want to consider kicking in. Won't it be nice to finally see Annie's final resting place appropriately identified?

Return to Top

Po-nasomu Film Festival!

From time to time, I mention that I'm half Carpatho-Rusyn, and I can't tell you home much I wish I could be here this weekend to go to this Rusyn Film Festival! Nine films and videos about Rusyns! Including, of course, The Deer Hunter. Wonder how many folks know The Deer Hunter is about Rusyns? If you're anywhere close to NY and might be interested (it's Jan 26th), just click on the image below to learn more.

Oh, po-nasomu? That's what we call ourselves. It means "our people."

Return to Top

A little more on po-nasomu

I just posted about a Carpatho-Rusyn film festival, and it occurs to me that many people still don't know what a Rusyn is (po-nasomuu = "our people," which is how we refer to ourselves). The following might give you some sense:

In the early 1900s, as recounted in his book "The Furthest Man Down," Booker T. Washington traveled Europe in search of a group that would be most comparable to Southern blacks at the time. In other words, a group that was disproportionately poor and discriminated against.

In the Carpathian Mountains across what is now southern Poland, Washington found a little-known ethnic group called the Lemkos.

"They were a minority within a minority," Kurilko said. "They were the poorest of peasants."

Poland, at the time, was part of the Russian Empire, but the Lemkos weren't Russian enough to be accepted in Russia. And they weren't Polish enough to be accepted by the Poles, either, Kurilko said.

Stigmatized and marginalized, thousands fled to the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s, many ending up in the coal mines . . . (click here to read the whole article).

Lemkos are a subset of Rusyns -- and yeah, I'm part Lemko and half-Rusyn. This all resonates with me -- that we were the poorest of the poor, the ones everyone else looked down on (when I first met my relatives in Slovakia in the 1990s, they were too embarrassed to admit that they were Rusyn, but now they're proud of it!), and we worked in coal mines. I have lots of death certificates with lung and stomach cancer as the cause of death.

If you're interested in learning more, please check out

Rusyns - Lost Homes -- a remarkable quasi-documentary (including traditional songs) of a handful of Rusyn villages that were destroyed in 1980 for a dam -- will give you a visual and audio sense of what it is to be a Rusyn.


The Carpatho-Rusyn Society

Return to Top

Guess where I was this weekend?

Yup, you got it -- Texas! This is one of the hand-crafted centerpieces from Friday night's banquet hosted by the Genealogical Society of Kendall County in Boerne, Texas. And by the way, that's pronounced "Bernie," as I learned!

A thousand thank you's to Mary Alice (President extraordinaire), Lucy & L.K. (who good naturedly chauffeured me all over the place, even at extreme hours), Nancy (who, in addition to making these center pieces, presented me a scrapbook of Friday night's dinner -- at 7:30 Saturday morning as I was setting up for that day's talks! yup, she made it overnight!), and everyone else who helped out and attended. It was a great crowd and I had a blast. Hope everyone there did too!

Return to Top

Online Chicago Records Update

Spotted this yesterday on the APG list and thought others would be interested. I know I'm counting the days!

Hi Everybody. Here is an update for those with an interest in Chicago area vital records.

I talked to a spokesperson today at the Cook County Clerk's office. Their project to make vital records available for online purchase is continuing. The vital records (for genealogical purposes only) are still expected to go online this year. The estimated date for going live is June or July, 2008. The website for access to the records is being designed and programmed now. The fees for genealogical requests will remain $15.00. The dates of records available for genealogical purposes will not change.

Kathy Brady-Blake CG
Libertyville, IL

Return to Top

TheRoot: Tony B. and Me

Quite a few -- including the Washington Post and New York Times, as well as a number of bloggers -- have written about TheRoot.com:

Washington Post Starts an Online Magazine for Blacks (you might have to log in, but it will be free to view)

I decided to do a little exploring and discovered that my friend Tony Burroughs and I are both featured in the 6-minute introductory video they have on this new site. The footage was borrowed from interviews we did for the African American Lives 2 series that's about to air on PBS. I'll be going to a preview tomorrow night to check it out.

If you'd like to get a taste of what to expect, just click the link below to view to video I mentioned -- and look to the left for snippets from AAL2.

A Beginners' Guide to Tracing Your Roots

Return to Top

Where my DNA was 200 years ago

OK, who could resist playing this game? There's been a chain of genealogical google mapping going on that you can read about in Blaine Bettinger's posting here:

Where Was My Y-DNA and mtDNA in 1808?

I especially liked the notion of mapping one's DNA 200 years ago, so here's mine. My mtDNA was in County Kerry, Ireland and my Y-DNA (via my dad, of course!) was in Osturna (now Slovakia). Fast forward to the late 1950s and they came together in Jersey City, NJ. The first outcome of this particular mtDNA-Y-DNA combo was me -- born in France. Quite a journey!

Return to Top

Everybody Wants the Remains

I actually find this oddly refreshing -- folks fighting over who gets recently disinterred remains. So often in the not-so-distant past, there have been situations where no one cared. So even if there is some dissension, I think it at least shows that we're becoming more caring about our dearly departed.

Meeting focuses on where to rebury immigrant remains

Return to Top

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.

  • February 16, 2008 - Hemet, CA - Hemet-San Jacinto Genealogical Society - "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research," "Trace Your Roots With DNA," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques For Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • March 1, 2008 - Tallahassee, FL - Tallahassee Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • March 29, 2008 - Virginia Beach, VA - Virginia Beach Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research"
  • April 12, 2008 - Pittsburgh, PA - Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research," "Building a Village-Based Community" and "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt"
  • 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 "Right Annie, Wrong Annie"
  • 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"
  • 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 - Bangor, 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," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt' 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
  • April 22-26, 2009 - Manchester, NH - The New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2009 - Topics TBD

Return to Top

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

Return to Top