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Honoring Our Ancestors
April 21, 2021


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Whoa, this was a busy month in genealogy-land! Reclaim the Records continues the good fight for access to records, MyHeritage offers still more ways to animate your ancestors (I made my great-grandfather bop along to some music), The New York Times covered the latest on the U.S. military's efforts to identify soldiers from past conflicts (with a few remarks from yours truly), and the ground-breaking Ellis Island database just had its 20th birthday! All that and more. Plenty to explore until next month!

Happy hunting!



Happy 20th Anniversary, Ellis Island Immigrant Database!

What a difference two decades make

In April of 2001, a miracle occurred. Well, it certainly seemed that way at the time. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (SOLEIF) opened the American Family Immigration History Center (AFIHC), launching an online database — digitized and indexed — of the passenger records of millions of immigrants who took their first steps in America at Ellis Island.

Fast forward 20 years, and we expect genealogical companies to provide fresh databases weekly, but I’d like to try to convey what a big deal this was. It was — quite literally — national news. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:

SOLEIF had partnered with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which transcribed the massive dataset. 12,000 volunteers had taken seven years — five million man hours — to wrestle with and interpret the handwritten documents so we could surf in our pajamas to find our ancestors’ arrivals. And once we did, we could click right through to see the actual record — for free! This was revolutionary.

Time Travel

Please indulge me as I travel back in time to describe the process today’s genealogists no longer have to endure. To find the immigrants in their family tree, researchers had to already have an approximation of when a given ancestor arrived, physically go to the National Archives or one of the limited repositories scattered across the U.S. that housed these records on microfilm, use Soundex, and then scroll through in the hope of spotting their target. And heaven help you if your name “coded common.” This meant that if the Soundex code for your surname was, say, M530, you would have to sift through the countless Smiths to find your Smoot in their midst.

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Genealogy Roundup, April 14

Photo Credit: Vicki Vellios Briner

‘It’s a way to honor them’: Lights glow at unmarked graves in African American cemetery – What a lovely approach to addressing this all too common reality.

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Genealogy Roundup, April 7

Photo Credit: Bill Dickinson

Modern Crime-Solving Methods vs. the Mystery of World War II Deaths – This article went in a different direction than I expected from the time I interviewed for it a couple of months ago, but I know the genealogical community will be interested in it. However things evolve, I'm grateful to have played a modest role in the identification of a number of soldiers who gave their lives in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Southeast Asia.

One other point. He quotes me on the difficulties of African American research, but includes comments on the "it's challenging" aspect without the "but it's possible" message I always try to convey. I understand that fits the article, but please be aware, for example, that of the 53 Buffalo Soldier cases mentioned, 8 were assigned to me and I found all their families. Yes, it can be an uphill climb, but it *is* possible.

Sean Kirst: Scrawled 86 years ago at Statler, hidden names summon a family – I just love uncovering the past with Sean Kirst. He shares the most intriguing mysteries, gifts family members with slices of their history they never knew about, and writes about it in a way that never fails to bring a smile. If you need a break, take a few minutes to read this.

Rock Out with Your Ancestors – Decided to write an article about the latest animation customization offered by MyHeritage. Wild stuff!

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Genealogy Roundup, March 31

Photo Credit: Google Maps

DNA Confirms Biden Link to Galway

‘Finding people is easy:’ DNA databases help unite American veterans with their long-lost children – It certainly is getting easier. 🧬

I’ve Got a Crush on Steven Tyler’s Grandfather – In case you're curious about the Italian-Polish roots of Steven Tyler, who just celebrated another birthday recently. And shout-out to his rock-star great-uncle, Pasquale Tallarico, and grandfather, Felix Czarnyszewicz/Blancha!

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Genealogy Roundup, March 24

Image Credit: _mixer_

Tracing Barack Obama’s Roots to Moneygall, Ireland – Though this was years ago, I still remember it well because it was one of those breathing-down-my-neck situations. Some media folks desperately wanted to know *where* in Ireland his Famine era family was from, but didn't appreciate how iffy a prospect it was to figure that out - much less swiftly. Thank goodness for informative tombstones!

Happy (recent) 90th to William Shatner!

An exciting update on Reclaim the Records' long-running lawsuit regarding access to the 1949-1968 New York City death certificates.

Among the strangest ancestral photos I’ve got is this one of my Aunt Peg. What’s yours?

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