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Honoring Our Ancestors
October 18, 2017


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Well, this month's issue is heavy on military stories — for a good reason. Several of the soldiers I've researched for the Army over the years have been recently identified and finally interred with proper honors. Those with Louisiana roots will appreciate the feature article on Leah Chase, the Queen of Creole Cuisine, as her family history is essentially the story of Louisiana. Loved every minute of researching her past. And you'll find Seton Shields Genealogy Grant #201 – for Reclaim the Records. If you're not familiar with this group, please read on as they're doing a lot of good for the genealogical world!

Until next time!



The Louisiana Roots of Leah Chase, Queen of Creole Cuisine

Legendary chef, restaurateur, activist, and patron of the arts, Leah Chase, may be 94 years old, but that doesn’t mean she’s slowing down. These days, the New Orleans luminary can be found everywhere from the National Museum of African American History & Culture to Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ video.

Though she is entirely self-made, an exploration of her heritage makes her seem almost pre-destined to be a stand-out representative of her home state. After all, her family history is the history of Louisiana.

Miss Chase’s family tree meanders back through Louisiana for generations, primarily in the parishes of Orleans, East Baton Rouge, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Pointe Coupee. In fact, only one of her great-grandparents was born elsewhere, and even he started life nearby in Pass Christian, Mississippi. And her roots are classic Creole. As might be expected, French surnames abound, but her Spanish ancestry is also evident.

Among Miss Chase’s more intriguing ancestors are one of the first African American members of the Louisiana state legislature, a fellow who purchased the freedom of several relatives, a gentleman who served as the military legal counselor to the Spanish governor, and a great-great-grandmother whose cause attracted the attention of the then governor of Florida and future American President, Andrew Jackson. To share the entirety of her family saga would require a book, but here are some highlights.

Click here to continue reading.

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Reclaim the Records Receives Seton Shields Genealogy Grant #201

The moment I learned about Alec Ferretti’s success with obtaining twentieth century New Jersey marriage indexes in conjunction with Reclaim the Records, I knew what my first target would be: my grandparents’ marriage.

I’ve been a professional genealogist for 18 years, and somewhat paradoxically, rarely have time to indulge in researching my own family history, but we all have those gaps that torment us, and this was one of mine. I had to look.

My grandparents were from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, both children of coal-mining Rusyn immigrants, so logically, they would have married in Luzerne County, PA. But no, the records came up empty. Then I tried nearby counties including Broome in New York as it was once known as a Gretna Green – that is, a place where laws made it easier to get married. Nothing.

My dad – their first child – was born in Harlem in Manhattan, so perhaps they married in New York City? I tried all five boroughs. Nope.

By now, my father and I were starting to entertain the notion that his parents had a common law marriage, and that no record would exist.

But then this New Jersey index arrived. After years of searching, I had resigned myself to yet another disappointment, but still, you have to be thorough, right? So I looked – and there it was!

Oh, the names were butchered – Smolenyak was Smolenisk and Sydorko was Sedurka – but it was them!

For this particular period, the only information provided was the year and certificate number, but I knew for sure the record existed. My first instinct was to order it through the New Jersey State Archives, but their online ordering system only permits requests up to 1916 at the moment, so I turned to professional researchers sending the specifics I had along with the guess that Essex, Hudson, and Union counties (close to New York) were most likely. I struck out twice with people who wanted to help, but weren’t available, but this was a case of third time lucky. The last one I contacted was at the Archives when I reached out to her and pulled the record within minutes.

Moments later, I was on the phone with my dad (not a fan of technology, so no computer or smart phone) who insisted that I methodically talk him through every snippet of information in the record. After so many years of waiting, he was sucking the marrow out of the bone, and I was rewarded with stories about the witnesses and other tangential memories.

Coincidentally, I had selected Reclaim the Records for a Seton Shields Genealogy Grant a week or two before all of this transpired because I’ve been so impressed with the accomplishments of Brooke Schreier Ganz and the organization she’s created. I’m sure I would have found the record regardless, but then again, maybe there is such a thing as genealogical karma. Why not find out yourself?

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was invited to join the Reclaim the Records board – but this was after I had selected the initiative for a grant and before I had made notification.

As a reminder, you can apply for a Seton Shields grant here. Don't miss checking out the cool projects I've had the opportunity to contribute to over the years, plus an article that will give you a behind-the-scenes peek into my grants program (and might help you increase your odds of being selected when you apply)!

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Genealogy Round Up, October 11

Photo Credit: Sao Paulo Fotografia

Couple Takes Their Wedding Photos 60 Years After Tying The Knot

Puerto Rico Relief Collection by Lin-Manuel – One of the things that struck me as I looked at this - the lyrics to Lin-Manuel Miranda's lyrics to "Almost Like Praying" (love the "West Side Story" inspiration!) is how many of these town's records I've had cause to delve into. Occasionally for a celeb's roots - like those of LMM himself - but far more often for military heroes who sacrificed their lives for America in WWII, Korea, etc.

Reclaim The Records is proud to announce the free public availability of the NEW JERSEY MARRIAGE INDEX, 1901-2016 – Exciting news for those with NJ roots!

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Genealogy Round Up, October 4

Photo Credit: Tom Thai

FWB man celebrates 88th anniversary of arriving in U.S. – 98 year-old WWII veteran recalls his arrival in America.

Airman Missing From World War II Accounted For (Spence, H) – Welcome home, 1st Lt Homer A. Spence. Honored to have researched your family.

Calling Up the Ancestors: Genealogist Megan Smolenyak – Love what I do!

Rachel Maddow: Trump’s TV Nemesis – So there's an otherwise well-researched and written article about Rachel Maddow, but once again, that old name-was-changed-at-Ellis-Island myth is in there. Pls look at my first few comments to see the reality.

Summerland World War II vet reunited with memento after 73 years

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Genealogy Round Up, September 27

Photo Credit: Tim Evanson

Family preps memorial service for World War II pilot who disappeared 74 years ago – One of my cases. Delighted that he was buried this past weekend. RIP, 1st Lt. Francis Pitonyak.

Family speaks out after WWII soldier is identified – Welcome home, Pfc Gerald F. Wipfli. (Another one of my soldiers who was laid to rest recently)

I often trip across articles about the soldiers whose cases I've worked on, as I did with Pfc Gerald F. Wipfli who was buried this past weekend. But what's unusual in this instance is that his family did a traditional obituary even though he gave his life decades ago. Lovely. I wish all families would do this.

'South Park' to Skewer White Oppression, Genealogy Sites – Well, I guess this was inevitable. Warning: do NOT watch the video unless you can handle salty language and other cringe-inducing aspects.

As I mentioned a few months back, "Genealogy Roadshow" began in Ireland, came to the US, and now has crossed back the Atlantic to the UK. And now they're casting. So UK genies, here's where to apply, if interested.

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Genealogy Round Up, September 20

Photo Credit: Bill Strain

Starting a new case for a soldier who lost his life at age 22 in the English Channel on D-Day, and don't you know, he had applied for Sons of the American Revolution when he was only 20. A hero and a genealogist. Obviously, his family history meant a lot to him.

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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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