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Honoring Our Ancestors
November 22, 2017


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to soak up family history from your relatives, and since many of you will be in planes, trains, and automobiles getting to said relatives, here's a whole bunch of genealogical goodies to help pass the transit time.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Mother's Last Gift

A taste of genealogical serendipity seems appropriate for Thanksgiving, so please enjoy this tale by Faye Berra Venegoni, one of 101 found in In Search of Our Ancestors.

Mother’s Last Gift

My eighty-five year old mother passed away in May 1999. Shortly before, she emphatically told me that she wanted all eight of her siblings listed in her obituary. She wanted to make sure “her people” were recognized at the time of her death.

When making the arrangements for her funeral and obituary, I naturally wanted to carry out her final wishes. Others tried to talk me out of it as they felt it wasn’t necessary since Mom’s siblings had all passed away many years ago, but I held my ground due to an overwhelming feeling that Mom had had some reason for being so adamant.

At the funeral parlor a tiny, elderly woman came to pay her respects. I did not recognize her, nor did she seem to know any of our family members. She clung to my hand and kept repeating, “My family didn’t want me to come. They think it is so wrong of me to invade your grief.”

After several minutes of apologizing, she introduced herself as Naomi and told me about the strong feelings that had convinced her to come that day. She had scanned the obituaries that morning, and seeing a reference to my mother’s maiden name, went on to read it. The maiden name of Volz was the same as her grandmother’s maiden name. When she saw the names of Mom’s siblings, she was struck by how many of them were the same as the siblings of her grandmother.

Then Naomi pulled a paper out of her purse. It was a copy of a page from her family Bible with entries in Old German script. As she deciphered them, I learned that four of the 14 children listed overlapped with the names of my mother’s brothers. When she continued, I was stunned to hear the name of my own grandfather, along with that of his twin brother. Her grandmother and my grandfather were brother and sister!

Naomi and I are delighted to have expanded our families. She has been doing genealogical research for 20 years. I have always had an interest, but our connection has given me the spark for research. Working together, we have begun to open new doors to our history in only a few short months.

I truly believe that bringing Naomi and me together was Mother’s last gift. She instilled me with a love of family and history, and knew how important this connection would be to me. Both Naomi and I trusted our intuitions. Doing so has brought us new family, a connection with the past, and a legacy for my mother.

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Seton Shields Genealogy Grants

I'll be considering applications for my next genealogy grant before long, so here's a reminder to get yours in if you've been intending to. Submissions remain active candidates for six months from the date I receive them.

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)!

Seton Shields, pictured above, is my remarkable mother. Naming this grants program after her is one small way to keep her memory alive, though she’s no longer with us.

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Genealogy Round Up, November 15

Photo Credit: DVIDSHUB

Ray Nance, Last of the Bedford Boys, Dies at 94 – Among my cases this year have been several "Bedford Boys." If you're not familiar with them, Bedford, VA is the American town that was hardest hit casualty-wise on D-Day (on a per capita basis). They lost 22 men that day.

I recently researched one case only to discover that the soldier's brother had also been killed that day. And now I'm working one where one brother was killed two months later and the third made it back alive, but only after a year in a German POW camp.

As a tiny tribute to this town that made such an incredible sacrifice, I wanted to share this piece for Veterans Day.

Soldier Captured During Korean War Accounted For, (Harkness, H.) – Another one one of my soldiers has been identified. Sgt 1st Class Harry E. Harkness gave his life in Korea. Welcome home, Sir.

How a Long-Lost Photograph Revealed One Family's Immigration Story – Imagine stumbling across photos of your family at Ellis Island!

Why You Should Write a Memoir—Even if Nobody Will Read It

‘Always remember: You’re a Madison’ – Mixed feelings on this one. Thoughts?

Decluttering is for the Living, Not the Dying – Anyone heard of "Swedish death cleaning" before?

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Genealogy Round Up, November 8

Photo Credit: Maya Caulfield Instagram | Reddit

Woman Hand Sews Eclectic Kimono to Honor Her Japanese and Scottish Ancestry

You Had Me At Haluski – For my fellow Slavs ...

Hamilton's Mandy Gonzalez Blends Family History & Activism in 'Fearless' Music Video – Perhaps because my father also served in Vietnam, this song got to me. Family history portion begins about half-way into the video. And oh, yeah, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mandy Gonzalez!

Wow, a soldier I researched a decade ago has been identified. Welcome home, S/Sgt. Michael Aiello.

Family welcomes home WWII veteran 73-years after his death – Lovely memorial service footage for S/Sgt. Michael Aiello, a soldier I researched about a decade ago. Thanks for sharing, Patrick M. Tavenner.

Ellis Island Reverie – Well done, anonymous park ranger.

Looking for History, Bill Sebring Finds a Daughter – Bachelor town historian accidentally finds a daughter.

Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine – Both sides of my family - Irish and Rusyn - have experienced famine, but you never hear about the so-called "Harvest of Despair," the famine that killed (depending on which figures you accept) 4 to 10 million Ukrainians in the 1930s (most 1932-33). It's like a quiet genocide. Here's hoping this book makes it more widely known.

It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree – I had a chance to read "It’s All Relative," the new book that will be coming out shortly from A.J. Jacobs, and have a few thoughts to share.

Family reunited with heirloom hidden in mirror frame for years – Hadn't occurred to me that framers sometimes trip across our forgotten family heirlooms. Lovely that this one troubled to track down the family!

Photo Credit: Boyd Huppert, KARE

Neighbors put out chairs for walking WWII veteran – If I lived here, I would totally put a chair out for Harvey.

Young man who married his 91-year-old great aunt fighting legal battle to claim her pension – This will create confusion for future genealogists

Glitter, Glamour, and Graveyards: Meet the Members of New Zealand's Original 'Coffin Club'

Watch the heart-warming final trailer for ‘Coco’ (VIDEO) – Yet another movie with an ancestral theme.

So I'm obviously biased, but this is a lovely and thought-provoking video about the importance of tradition in the modern world, and it's set in Osturna, hometown to all Smolenyaks. Please watch to the end! Thanks so much to Michal Glevanák for bringing it to my attention. Jan Timko wrote the song.

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Genealogy Round Up, October 25

Absolutely love this video about Osturna, the village of the Smolenyaks hail from. My fellow Rusyns will love this.

Osturna was selected for historic preservation way back under the days of Communism, so even today, it's ridiculously charming.

Aside from the mayor's name, I recognize all the surnames as classic Osturnite. They do a lovely job of capturing the spirit of the place and include our music, homes, and even village korj!

Should you wish to visit, check out Thom Kolton in the video. Though he's speaking Slovak, he's American and he runs an inviting pension in Osturna.

Warhol Soup Can Chess Set – The Rusyn in me really wants this.

World War II Airman identified after 70 years to be buried in Clearwater Saturday – What a lovely way to start the day. If you have a couple of minutes, please watch this about a viral video that happened to capture the homecoming of one of my soldiers who was buried recently.

Welcome home, 1st Lt. George W. Betchley. Honored to have researched your family.

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Genealogy Round Up, October 18

Photo Credit: Obec Louka

90-Year-Old Grandma in the Czech Republic Passes Time By Artistically Painting Houses – h/t Messy Nessy Chic (who finds the coolest stuff online!)

Alex Jones teaches Hillary Clinton to speak Welsh on The One Show – Well, this would explain why Swansea University asked for my "full research" on Hillary Clinton's Welsh heritage.

Talking bottles of 19 Crimes wine with augmented reality – I first bought this when I tripped across it in a store and was intrigued by the genealogy aspect of the labels. Turned out to be very good wine. Strange now to see it brought to life. My only question is: which genealogy company will partner with them?

Guy Seamlessly Photoshops Himself into His Old Childhood Photos – Way to torture future genealogists, Conor. ;-) (also, clever)

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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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