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Honoring Our Ancestors
August 26, 2015


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

This newsletter is long, but my welcome will have to be short because my husband got a new job so we're moving (from NJ to FL) — and I'm, well, a little pre-occupied as a result. But please take some time to peruse this month's wildly eclectic offerings, especially the first article below about Inmates Indexing Genealogy Records. This piece seems to have struck a chord with many of your fellow genealogists, so it may well do the same with you.

Until the next time, enjoy the rest of your summer — and happy sleuthing!



Inmates Indexing Genealogy Records

A short while ago, I tripped across an article in Mother Jones by Shane Bauer entitled Your Family's Genealogical Records May Have Been Digitized by a Prisoner.

I've long enjoyed the insightful pieces this publication offers and was pleased to see this particular topic being addressed, but as a professional genealogist, I felt that a few key aspects were understated or left out. Reading the article, one could be left with the impression that the primary mission in this undertaking is retroactively baptizing ancestors into the Mormon faith — and that's undoubtedly part of the motivation — but the fact that millions of us, regardless of faith, benefit from these records as they are made available free online at FamilySearch deserves greater emphasis. Nor does the website wait for records to be indexed to make them available. If you don't mind clicking through a few dozen pages of records to find that circa 1876 marriage of your great-great-grandparents, you can probably search digitized images now.

Then there's the matter of the baptism itself which has been a controversial issue for decades. Many feel otherwise and I understand their conviction, but as a Catholic, I don't mind for the simple reason that I don't subscribe to Mormon beliefs. If someone chooses to "seal" my Roman and Greek Catholic ancestors, this doesn't disturb me because my belief system tells me that they retain the religion they practiced in life. From my perspective, my Roman Catholic ancestors who lost their lives or fled their homeland as a result of the Irish famine are no less Catholic because someone performed a ceremony on their behalf a century and a half later.

And frankly, I'm grateful to have access to their records because they help me learn about my ancestors. The Greek Catholic church records for Osturna, Slovakia (available on Family Search), home to all the Smolenyaks in the world, for instance, shed light on forebears I would otherwise remain ignorant of. I can peek into their lives, grieving after the fact for the loss of three children in rapid succession and watching the trail of orphans that the epidemic left in the village, but also celebrating the bursts of marriages just before or after each harvest season — and the crop of children that inevitably appeared nine months later.

The article also insinuates that the prisoners are being exploited. There's no mention, for example, of the "Fuel the Find" initiative which was held earlier this month with the aim encouraging 100,000 volunteers to do exactly what the inmates are doing.

And finally, for many inmates, this is more than just an opportunity to get out of their cells for a while. As substantiation, I offer this piece (excerpted from Honoring Our Ancestors) I wrote in 2001 (the program has been around longer than mentioned in the article) attempting to capture my interview with Blaine Nelson, one of the inmates then indexing records.

Click here to continue reading . . .

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In Search of Our Ancestors is Available as an eBook!

For anyone who may have missed the special edition of the newsletter I sent out earlier this month, I'm so pleased to announce that my first book, In Search of Our Ancestors, is now available in ebook format!

It's available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Book Baby. Full disclosure – as the author, I get the most generous slice of the book price when it’s purchased directly from BookBaby. That said, I’m beyond grateful for any platform people choose to purchase from!

If you've had a chance to read the book, I'd also be very thankful for any reviews on Amazon and for anyone who chooses to share the book with with genie friends – whether it’s this mailing or via the sharing options on BookBaby or Amazon, etc.

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Seton Shields Genealogy Grants

I'm now awarding a grant once each quarter, rather than monthly – but, as a reminder, you can apply anytime and submissions remain active candidates for six months from the date of receipt.

To get a feel for the types of cool projects I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to over the years, check out the retrospective posts on my blog featuring a number of them (or just go to megansmolenyak.com and do a search for “grants”).

And to apply for a Seton Shields grant, fill out and submit the form here. Why not give it a go?

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Genealogy Round Up, August 12

Wallet Left Behind 70 Years Ago in Austria During World War II Returned to California Veteran – Love stories like this!

Long-lost relatives torn apart by Halifax Explosion reunite

Picture this: With family photos out of fashion – are we losing something precious?

Lake Mead shrinks to unveil long-submerged historic town (+video)

Famous siblings visit day therapy unit – As I recall, Colin Jackson was the first celebrity brave enough to DNA test for Who Do You Think You Are?. His testing is what inspired June Black to jump into genetic genealogy, and that's what eventually led to the discovery that the Haley family (of Roots fame) is Scottish in origin. June met her cousin Chris Haley a short time later.

After a fruitless search on Who Do You Think You Are?, Toni Collette asks the public to help find her grandfather – Can you help? (wonder if they're trying DNA, eh?)

Korean War soldier’s remains identified, buried at Arlington – So happy to hear this. Even after doing more than a 1,000 cases, certain ones stand out and this is one of them. (One small correction to the article: it was his nieces who provided DNA. His sister has been deceased for 30 years.)

Man Visits The Places In Grandparents’ Vintage Photos To Recreate The Images

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Genealogy Round Up, August 5

Photo Album: The Shields Family – I was recently asked to write a short piece about my mother, and debated about it. While I write about non-relatives all the time, it was daunting to think of trying to capture even a hint of my mother in 500 words and I hadn't tried in the 9 years since we lost her. But I gave it a go and wound up including my sister, too. So here's a little peek into my own family history.

Lisa Kudrow Reveals Painful Truths Uncovered on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’

Lincoln Center's Silent Disco – So this is a new one to me. Silent disco in a cemetery! The folks at Woodlawn sure are innovative!

Top 5 signs your ancestors were geniuses at beating the heat

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Genealogy Round Up, July 29

The Genesis Engine. Editing DNA is now cut-and-paste. We could eliminate disease, cure hunger - or break the world. – The article is less alarmist than the opening makes it sound and quite interesting. A behind the scenes peek at the science world. Nice to see women front and center since there's a shortage in STEM.

Via an Island of Hope, a New Home – Well, this is different. I got a call from a fellow at the New York Times about two months ago asking me questions about Ellis Island, but he was a little vague on the whys and wherefores. Turns out I've been quoted in a multi-media piece that blends information/education with advertising - in this case for Airbnb.

Kudrow cherishes ‘Who Do You Think You Are?' – Interesting to see Lisa Kudrow's response to this question: "Have you ever run into a situation where a celebrity asked you to hide or downplay something? (PBS' Finding Your Roots stirred controversy by concealing the discovery that Ben Affleck's ancestor owned slaves, reportedly at the actor's request.)"

NJ Family To Be Reunited With WWII Dog Tags Found In The Thames River

Rare African American family photo albums give glimpse of 19th century Albany – h/t to Lisa Walsh Dougherty for this!

High School Student Proves Professor Wrong When He Denied “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Existed – How the heck did this guy get published when he was so obviously wrong? A quick search of just one online newspaper site popped up 1,321 articles with this phrase, including articles from 1850s Irish American publications already addressing the issue. Love that it was a 17-year-old who corrected him!

Hall discovers family link to Daniel Boone – Hmmm . . . I guess she's in the UK version of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?' because she was once married to Mick Jagger? At any rate, here's a little something about Texan Jerry Hall.

What I Learned from My Famous Relative – A peek into Maya Rudolph's family history coming up on the next season of "Finding Your Roots"

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Genealogy Round Up, July 22

First World War medal dug up on rubbish tip is reunited with soldier's family

Ancestry.com Welcomes AncestryHealth To The Family – Hmmm . . . not sure how I feel about this. You?

Meet the woman leading Ancestry.com into the world of personal genetics

Internet Sleuths on the Hunt for Next of Kin – Someone shared this article on my personal page, so I thought I'd share it here - was a while ago, but a very nice piece about Unclaimed Persons

Brooklyn Public Library just made New York history buffs very happy

Still Life – Whoa. I tripped across this film totally by accident (happens to be free in Amazon Prime at the moment), and though it's a work of fiction, I have to say that it rings more true to me than the assorted non-fiction TV shows I've worked on over the years. It captures both the heart and the realities of what genealogists do.

Google Is Scouring Ancestry.com to Find Out What's in Your Genes

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Genealogy Round Up, July 15

The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogotá – adds an unexpected twist to "separated at birth"

This Empty Sicilian Town is Giving away Free Houses – ooh . . . tempted! very tempted!

Family history in a trove of scribbles – jealous of a family like this that kept every scribble - growing up military, we moved so often that it just wasn't possible

Jerry Springer thanks World Jewish Relief for family records – this was a really interesting episode of the UK "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Exclusive New Study! 13 Celebrities Who Have Enviable Ancestors – Well, they're calling this an "exclusive new study," which is kind of funny since you'll recognize just about everything from episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are?" and past press releases, but some folks might find this interesting.

If it becomes possible to safely genetically increase babies’ IQ, it will become inevitable – I have been pondering this for years and reached the same conclusion. What do you think?

Joe Biden’s Mumbai Relations – So how cool is this? Looks as if Joe Biden has cousins from India! And if you poke around on Ancestry and FamilySearch, you can find plenty of India-born Bidens, so it looks quite likely! Oh, to be able to Y-DNA test the VP and a possible cousin or two! Love small world stories like this! Incidentally, some of you might recall that I researched his roots, but only the 5/8ths that's Irish.

Photo Credit: Stefan Ruiz

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Upcoming Events

After traveling around and speaking in 40 states and half a dozen countries since 2000, I decided to take a breather from the road to tend to some projects. That said, I'm sharing exceptions here. And by the way, you can see if I’ll be in your area any time by checking my Events Calendar.

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