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Honoring Our Ancestors
December 23, 2020


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

I hope you'll indulge me if I make this issue hyper-personal by sharing the obituary I wrote for my father. This has been such a tough year for so many of us, and I apologize for being less upbeat than usual, but as a genealogist, I can't help but want to do whatever I can to ensure that he is remembered. I know you all will understand. And so, I hope you enjoy reading about my dad.

All my best to you and yours. Please stay safe this holiday season and I'll see you in 2021.



In Remembrance of Col. George C. Smolenyak

Col. George C. Smolenyak
26 January 1936-14 November 2020

He would wake us on Saturday mornings whistling reveille. This was usually accompanied by a glass of OJ and quick, vigorous back rubs to “get the blood pumping.” It was time to do chores and you weren’t going out to play before the house was spotless because this officer-father liked precision, control, and cleanliness. The army had been a good choice for him.

Born to George and Mary (Sydorko) Smolenyak in New York City, George C. Smolenyak was raised initially in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and later in Newark and Rahway, New Jersey. The first in his family to receive a college degree, he graduated from Seton Hall University in 1957 and would later earn an MBA at George Washington University.

Shortly after college, George was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Signal Corps and soon thereafter stationed in France. In 1959, he traveled Stateside briefly to marry Seton Shields. The couple returned to France where their two daughters were born. Later assignments included New Jersey, the DC Metropolitan area, Kansas, England, and Germany, as well as a tour in Vietnam, where his service ranged from extracting Marines from Khe Sanh to rebuilding destroyed villages. When one grateful village leader offered his own son in thanks, he politely declined and instead accepted a walking cane.

Of all his assignments, it was perhaps England that suited him best as George was an Anglophile and ardent admirer of Winston Churchill. So proper was his speech that it seemed at times he spoke with a hint of a British accent despite his NY-PA-NJ upbringing. And it was Germany where Barbara Palmieri, his wife of more than 40 years, entered the frame. They would have two sons, the elder of whom was bestowed with the middle name of Winston.

The balance of his life was centered in Northern Virginia where he retired out of the Pentagon as a colonel. There he raised his sons, launched and managed several businesses, and absorbed countless history books, sometimes re-reading them to glean further nuance. He had an encyclopedic recall for any form of history be it his own, the battle of the Somme, or the construction of Hadrian’s Wall. Other interests evolved over time and included photography, architecture (he largely designed his Great Falls home of several decades), landscaping, battlefield exploration, and geography. He remained “battle ready” in his later years, having to be discouraged, but never successfully dissuaded, from climbing ladders for home repairs into his 80s.

George was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Robert T. Smolenyak, and leaves his wife, Barbara, children, Megan, Stacy, Sean, and George, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. He will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

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A Fun Gift for Genies

Just a little reminder of a fun gift for your fellow genies...

In Search of Our Ancestors: 101 Inspiring Stories of Serendipity and Connection is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Baby.

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Genealogy Roundup, December 16

Photo Credit: WMTV

Making a Difference: UW volunteers help locate and bring remains of America’s missing heroes home – This article features a case that was challenging (let's just say that I got lucky with Hungarian records), but it's so heart-warming to be reminded how much this means to the soldiers' families. ❤

Caroline Cutter Headstone – Taking care of unfinished business from the grave.

Cops Are Getting a New Tool For Family-Tree Sleuthing – I know I'm in a minority, but I'm not thrilled with or surprised at this. 🧬

For the history buff in your life:

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Genealogy Roundup, December 9

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore (taken in January, 2020)

Joe Biden's Roots – I can see from my Medium traffic that lots of folks are interested in Joe Biden's Irish roots. Those who'd like to dig deeper might be interested in these links.

The untold story of how the Golden State Killer was found: A covert operation and private DNA – While I can’t say I’m surprised, I’m still disturbed by the revelations here. DNA privacy is not something to be trifled with even for noble purposes. 🧬

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Genealogy Roundup, December 2

Photo Credit: quadelirus

Enslaved.org – Promising resource

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