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Honoring Our Ancestors
January 27, 2016


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

2016 is off to a rocky start for nostalgia buffs (see my first article below), but I just know it's an uphill trajectory from here! This issue features a little bit of everything - grants, babies born on roadsides, historical coroner records, a new Ellis Island song, and birds who accidentally preserved history, to mention but a few. Here's hoping you'll find something in here to inspire and spark your ancestral wanderings and discoveries for this year!



My #NotAllowedToDie List

Photo Credit: Steve Corey

First David Bowie. Then Alan Rickman. This week and cancer both suck. Sixty-nine years is not enough, so we all take to Twitter, Facebook, and countless other platforms to lament. This is now familiar territory and not in a good way.

My first memory of this kind of grief was watching my nana's reaction to the death of Jimmy Durante back in 1980. I barely knew who he was, but he had clearly made a lasting impression on her and his passing hurt. Since then, I've had my share of Durante moments - Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, Diana, Freddie Mercury, Whitney Houston, Gilda Radner, Luther Vandross, and John Lennon, to name a few - those special, mind-blowingly talented souls I never met whose loss still felt personal, the grief only compounded if they were unexpectedly young. Whenever one of these icons passes, we all feel robbed of a piece of our youth, fond memories, and future smiles.

I don't want one more morning of waking to a gut-punch on Twitter followed by frantically googling to see if by some miracle it's just a false alarm, so I've decided to make a not-allowed-to-die list. Because I'm as self-centered as everyone else on this planet (well, maybe not 48-minutes-a-day-taking-selfies level narcissistic, but I'm no slouch either), here's my list (in no particular order) of those I'm requesting to kindly stay alive indefinitely:

  1. Steve Martin
  2. Paul McCartney
  3. Oprah
  4. Bill Gates
  5. Billie Jean King
  6. Bruce Springsteen
  7. President & Mrs. Obama
  8. Tina Fey
  9. Tom Hanks
  10. Stevie Wonder
  11. Steven Spielberg
  12. Steven Tyler
  13. Stephen Colbert
  14. Betty White
  15. Elizabeth Gilbert
  16. Eddie Izzard
  17. Edward Rutherfurd
  18. Barbara Streisand
  19. Jon Stewart
  20. John Goodman
  21. Lisa See
  22. Mick Jagger
  23. Ben Stiller
  24. Pharrell
  25. Helen Mirren
  26. Joe & Dr. Biden
  27. Meryl Streep
  28. Bill Nye
  29. Madonna
  30. Dikembe Mutombo
  31. Ellen DeGeneres
  32. David Sedaris
  33. Pope Francis
  34. Emma Thompson
  35. Sarah Vowell
  36. Monty Python members (thank you, Eric Idle and John Cleese, for coming to Florida about five minutes after I moved here)
  37. Martina Navratilova
  38. Al Jarreau
  39. Cheryl Richardson
  40. Jimmy Carter
  41. Judd Apatow
  42. Rachel Maddow
  43. Tony Horwitz
  44. Amy Poehler
  45. Ken Burns
  46. Pat Ewing
  47. Bill Clinton
  48. Melissa McCarthy
  49. Gloria Steinem
  50. Bill Murray

I realize there's a bit of an age bias built in here, but I decided to include 40-somethings as doing so means that they've already left as much of a mark as their senior mega-talents, and yet, I drew the line at under-40 (I'm talking to you, Beyoncé, Amy Schumer, John Green, Pink, Serena Williams, Kate McKinnon, and Saoirse Ronan) to avoid coming across as even creepier than this probably already seems to some.

To those on the list, I'd be grateful if you could set an alert for my obituary. Once you receive it, you're welcome to pass over to the great wild yonder, but before then, would you mind staying alive?

What? You've never heard of this silly list, and even if you had, wouldn't have time for such nonsense? Well, maybe I should take another approach then.

What if I make it a point to travel a few hundred miles or even catch a flight to see you in concert rather than wait to download your music after the fact? What if I watch your latest TV show to see what you've been up to lately instead of turning to Roku once you've passed? What if I read that book I never got around to now instead of when it hurts to realize that I'll never get another first-time escape into your magical storytelling voice again? What if I make a minor contribution to your wealth instead of to your estate? What if I use my #NotAllowedToDie list to support these gifted individuals here and now?

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Q4 2015 Seton Shields Genealogy Grant

Photo Credit: This photograph of microfilm rolls and of Society president, Lorene Clark, (left), providing a tutoring session is used with the kind permission of the Sequoia Genealogical Society.

For the final quarter of 2015, I awarded a grant to the Sequoia Genealogical Society of Tulare, CA - an award which will effectively be doubled thanks to a matching initiative (love it when that happens!).

After the city decided it could not afford to have a paid genealogical librarian in the library's genealogy research room and that if the room were to remain open, it would have to be run by volunteers, the Sequoia Genealogical Society stepped up to the job and even pays for all supplies needed to keep the room running. The library houses over 500 rolls of newspaper microfilm and the grant will assist with the costs of digitizing the rolls covering the years 1882-1922, which are no longer copyrighted. From these years, the newspaper microfilm to be digitized includes The Tulare Register, The Daily Evening Register, The Weekly Tulare Register, The Tulare Advance, and The Daily Tulare Register. You may also enjoy this newspaper article about the project.

To apply for a Seton Shields grant, fill out and submit the form here. You can see examples of past grant awards here.

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Genealogy Round Up, January 13

That time President George H. W. Bush Escaped Cannibals — Respect.

Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase, still cooking at 93 — Proud to have researched the roots of Leah Chase, truly a remarkable woman!

Joan Griffis/Illinois Ancestors: Apply for genealogical research grant

Here’s how many babies have been born on the sides of Utah roads since 2010 — Well, this is a vital statistic I hadn't given any thought to until now.

Royalton native John Winscher wins glimpse into family history on Swedish reality TV show

Dublin Rising 1916-2016 — Very cool - hope we see more of this kind of thing. Helps bring history alive. Whether you've got Irish roots or not, I suggest you take a few minutes to check this out.

VIDEO: Saoirse Ronan and Stephen Colbert pronounce 'ridiculous' Irish names — I was almost named Siobhan (can you imagine? Megan Smolenyak wasn't challenging enough, so I could have been Siobhan Smolenyak!), so found this charming. Also, if you haven't seen Saoirse Ronan in "Brooklyn," go check it out. Lovely wander-back-in-time about the immigrant experience.

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Genealogy Round Up, January 6

Two Strangers, One Year of Postcards sharing the Hidden Patterns of their Lives — I had a lot of pen pals around the world when I was a kid, but we never got this creative!

Kunta Kinte played by Londoner Malachy Kirby — An update on the forthcoming 21st century version of Roots.

Finding Your Roots Looks to Find Its Footing, Again, After Misstep on Affleck's Slave-Owning Ancestor — I've written about Finding Your Roots for HuffPo a number of times, but someone else has just done so and has an interesting take.

Statue of Liberty caretakers now doing good works in Seacoast — Wow, interesting how close we came to losing so many treasured Ellis Island artifacts!

DNA Testing Provides Shortcut To Trace Family History — Chatting about DNA and genetic genealogy with Eric Weiner on NPR

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Genealogy Round Up, December 30

LOOKING BACK: Family butcher's memories of 500 years in business — 500 years - 26 generations! - of a family business! Awesome!

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Genealogy Round Up, December 23

Photo Credit: peasap

The Least Popular American Baby Names According to Early Records — Meet my sons Spurgeon, Flem, Josephine and Gorge and daughters Clifford, Chestina and Dimple. Actually, I could see some of these names catching on again - say, Mayo, Metro and Ivory.

DNA Personalised Products — I want a DNA tartan, but maybe you'll go for the scarf or family tree?

Thanks to all who weighed in on the ad selection for "In Search of Our Ancestors" a few weeks ago. The clear winner has now made its first appearance in a magazine - see page 71 of the latest Irish America Magazine here!

Peek Inside the Grisly, Salacious Case Files of NYC's Head Coroner in the Early 1900s — Cue the dash to the NYPL by genealogists who want to check out these files!

Be still my heart - "Ellis Island," the new song by The Corrs, includes a shout-out to Annie Moore. At least, I'm pretty sure she's the Annie they mean when they sing, "Annie be my guide." Love the bit about "six minute medical, leaving no chalk on me." Lyrics here: https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/The-Corrs/Ellis-Island

How Children of the Future Could Have 32 Parents — Hmmm . . . I think Ancestry picked the wrong time to deep six Family Tree Maker - Can their online environment handle 32 parents?!

Russian Birds Accidentally Preserved Historic Documents in Their Nests — Thank you, birds!

In rapidly aging Japan, dying is big business — Try-before-you-die coffin shopping??

PBS host is ‘over’ Ben Affleck’s slave ancestry

The Shark Tombstone of Allegheny Cemetery

Looking to make history more accessible in Haddonfield — Nice article about the historical society that's two blocks from our home in Haddonfield, NJ. How I wish I had roots in the area as it's a treasure trove! Once taped for a BBC show there!

From Ellen to Eileen — Genealogical serendipity in my own family!

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Upcoming Events

After traveling around and speaking in 40 states and half a dozen countries, 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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