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Honoring Our Ancestors
July 20, 2016


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Any Hamilton fans out there? I am for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it's gotten so many young folks fascinated about history! If you're an admirer as well, you're going to enjoy this issue as I took a deep dive into the roots of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (who already has an Emmy, 2 Grammys, 3 Tonys, a Pulitzer, and MacArthur Genius award to his credit) and turned up - well, let's just say it was unexpected! And Miranda's reaction to his family's saga only added to the experience. Aside from this, you'll also find a grant for a Chinese American scholar, the demise of cursive, a serious historical whoopsie pertaining to the iconic Iwo Jima photo, and more.

It's hot out there, so be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water to your cemetery outings this month!



Lin-Manuel Miranda's Revolutionary Ancestors

It makes perfect sense that someone who has as much respect for history as Lin-Manuel Miranda would be well acquainted with his roots, but I couldn't help but be curious about them myself, so decided to climb the branches of his family tree. And what I discovered is what everyone already knows – that he's Nuyorican, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage. Well, mostly.

One of the things I love most about genealogy is tripping across the unexpected and getting sucked into a historical wormhole you might otherwise never have explored, and that's exactly what happened here. Before I came up for air, I found myself following the trail of an early nineteenth century, interracial love story, peppered by war and rebellion, all interwoven with a decades-long struggle to outrun slavery that began in Virginia and ultimately unfolded under a handful of flags even though most of it occurred in one place – Nacogdoches.

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5 Things You Didn't Know about Melissa McCarthy's Family Tree

Photo Credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com

Easily one of the most popular and reliable box office performers today, actress, comedian, producer, and now fashion designer Melissa McCarthy has a lot to be proud of. With a string of hits (Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, The Heat, Spy!, The Boss, etc.) that consistently deliver an enviable ROI, it's a no brainer that her next one will follow suit because she's part of the long-anticipated Ghostbusters dream team of Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig. While they're all ghostbusting, I thought I'd do a little ghost-searching – that is, for the ancestors who populate McCarthy's family tree – and here's what I learned.

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Q2 2016 Seton Shields Genealogy Grant: Cecilia Chien, West Chester, PA

See other grants from this quarter:

Daughters of Zion Cemetery
Terry Cemetery Fund

For the last in this quarter's cluster of grants, I'm mostly going to let the recipient – Cecilia Chien – speak for herself. I'll just start by saying that I've been fascinated by Chinese genealogy since 1999 when I researched a story for PBS's Ancestors series. It's hit and miss as many records were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but if they survived, it's not unusual to find 4,000 years of family history. I'll let Cecilia take it from here:

“As an American-born Chinese, I have long been interested in my roots. When I was growing up in the Midwest, my father, an immigrant from China to the U.S. in the 1950s, told me that the Chiens were descended from a king of the 10th century. Alas, I did not begin to investigate this tantalizing thread of my roots until after my father died in 2002. I have since discovered a network of Chien family societies across China.

According to our genealogy, I am a 38th generation descendant of King Chien (852-932) who founded a prosperous kingdom in the Yangzi delta. My goal is to write an account, “1,000 Years of a Chinese Family,” an odyssey back to the land of my parents. So far, I have shared my findings with the community in bits and pieces. I am a member of the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, PA, where I have participated in genealogy workshops. I have spoken at “Family History Day” at the Historical Society of PA in Philadelphia. I've made good use of the Valley Forge Family History Center to tap into the Salt Lake City Family History Library. My research feeds into my lectures at West Chester University, where I teach in the History Department; as this is a normal school, most of our graduates go on to teach K-12 and, I hope, will incorporate such interests in their own lesson plans. I have enjoyed presenting my slides and findings on campus and at conferences.

I have furthermore shared my work abroad, particularly in China. I am a member of the King Chien Society of Shanghai, in the region where the king established his kingdom. This genealogical society is staffed by volunteers, mainly retirees and professionals in various fields, and almost all descendants of King Chien. We at times greet each other not by name but by generation number! The Society annually publishes an 80-page journal of research, letters, poetry, photography, and distributes it to members of the family across China. They run a website with the latest lineage news, reunion celebrations, and digital photo albums.

Once I joined the King Chien Society, I became their link to America. Few members have access to Western scholarship or are able to read English materials or have the chance to travel overseas. I have written short articles for them in Chinese on the efforts of local Chester County genealogists and about the Salt Lake City Library, which they have read with great interest. I have mailed copies of their journal to collections on the East Coast. I have translated some key historical texts from Chinese into English. I created the English subtitles for a 28-part historical TV drama series on King Chien—I hope this bilingual version can be produced for an English-speaking audience.

This year, I will finally have the luxury of doing some reading and writing with a sabbatical leave. I plan a number of field trips, including to the Shanghai Library, which has the largest genealogical collection in China, with at least 80 editions of the Chien lineage. I will also visit King Chien's natal place, his capital city, and his royal tomb, all within a few hours of Shanghai. In each of these locations, the local government has opened to the public a number of museums and cultural parks to help promote heritage education, architectural preservation, environmental conservation, not to mention tourism. I feel I can make a contribution in shedding light on the genealogical practices of our two countries.”

Cecilia requested and received funding to cover half of her round-trip airfare from Philadelphia to Shanghai for her fieldwork.

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

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Genealogy Round Up, July 13

The French Banksy of Fake Facades – I want this fellow to come paint the building we live in now! Take a moment to browse his work!

Tens of Thousands of Artifacts Have Been Found in Colonial Philadelphia Toilets

Lin-Manuel Miranda takes the 'Hamilton' stage one last time – So very grateful I got to see this show with its original cast earlier this month - not to mention, go backstage. And exceedingly thankful for all Lin-Manuel Miranda has done to get young people excited about history. MacArthur genius, Pulitzer, a pile of Tony awards - the list goes on. Can't wait to see what he does next once he has a chance to catch his breath.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: When good things happen to good people – Yeah, still fan-girling Lin-Manuel Miranda, but maybe this article will help folks understand why.

Penzión Európa – For my fellow Osturnites and travelers! Wow! Can't believe this! Thom Kolton opened Penzion Europa in Osturna, Slovakia (where all the Smolenyaks and about 50 other families come from). And it's even got free wifi & parking. The village is beautiful (no bias whatsoever), so if you're looking for a little R&R - biking, hiking, rafting, time travel - that kind of thing - please go check it out!

86-Year-Old Woman Celebrates Birthday With 86th Great-Grandchild – Some poor genealogist is probably experiencing finger cramps from all the data entry, but for a sweet reason.

Danny Dyer joins Amanda Holden and Cheryl on Who Do You Think You Are? – Ooh, Sir Ian McKellen! Should be a good season!

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Genealogy Round Up, July 6

Photo Credit: President Obama being greeted by local residents in Moneygall, Ireland in 2011. The White House/Public Domain.

The Best Obama Swag Comes From This Tiny Irish Town – This remains the weirdest outcome of my genealogical research ever.

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Genealogy Round Up, June 29

Photo Credit: Mark Goebel via Flickr

Marines misidentified one man in iconic 1945 Iwo Jima photo – He never told them. Harold Schultz, a hero twice over.

Bidens embrace extended Irish family in Co Mayo – More on the family reunion in Ireland . . .

Joe Biden has links to Louth and Mayo, says US genealogist

The Strange History of Microfilm, Which Will Be With Us for Centuries – Microfilm and pigeons. Who knew?

One Guy's Quest to Save the 1960s Time Capsule Homes of America – A trip down memory lane from Messy Nessy Chic. Who else used to decorate with all the Christmas cards?

I can't even believe this. When I tweeted my piece on Lin-Manual Miranda's family story, he did this! What's even better is that lots of non-genies read it and said that they want to look into their own roots! I can't stop grinning!

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Genealogy Round Up, June 22

Joe Biden: US Vice President returns to his Irish roots – I guess I can finally 'fess up that I assisted VP Joe Biden, his staff, the U.S. Embassy, etc. with this trip since early March of this year. It is still surreal to me to pick up the phone and have it be the Vice President on the line.

I'm especially thrilled about this because VP Biden is genuinely intrigued by his roots - which is one of the reasons this will be a tri-generational Biden family trip. I first went to Ireland when I was nine, and can only hope that this visit leaves the kind of lasting impression on his grandchildren that it did on me. The photo above is of the Biden grandkids upon arrival in Ireland.

Counties Mayo and Louth, prepare to meet your cousin!

One of the Kilmoremoy Parish records that led to Garden St. in Ballina for VP Biden's Blewitt ancestors.

Georgetown's priests sold her Catholic ancestors. Then she found out in an unexpected way. – Happy to see the Washington Post give credit to Patricia Bayonne Johnson, the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society, and Judy Riffel for this research and story!

LeBron James Is Making His Cleveland Ancestors Proud

Wow. I knew this day was coming. Honestly didn't expect it quite this soon. #RIPcursive

RIP Cursive

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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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