Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

January 15, 2007

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Wow! 2007! I'm just old enough for that to sound slightly space age to me. I have to say that the new year has already been genealogically generous to me with a few new family history toys and even a pocket of new relatives. Here's hoping that you're experiencing the same phenomenon and that it lasts all 2007!

Take care,


In this newsletter. . .

Frances & Florence: 98 and counting . . .

This article about a pair of Jersey City residents, both 98 years old and born just a day apart, caught my attention -- partly because I have Jersey City roots myself.

But reading it, I became curious -- and yes, nosy. I decided to take a closer look at Frances (Stenlake) Oakley's past and it all checks out. Here's her name listed in a BMD index for England and Wales (on Ancestry.com) showing her 1907 birth:

And just for good measure, you can find her with her family in Jersey City in the 1920 census as Frances H Stenlake -- and sure enough, her year of immigration is listed as 1914 and it shows that her father had come slightly earlier. Frances, you've got a great memory!

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History Buff Gets Her History Wrong

Oh, I know. I should just let it go. But one of my pet peeves is that tired, old myth about names being changed at Ellis Island, so I just had to share this piece called Holding History Hostage.

First, she sets it up by explaining that she would "like to dispute some of the hysterical historical inaccuracies I have read, all of which came from P-News letters to the editor (God love the partially educated masses!)."

And then she goes on to explain that:
They changed their names because some guy at Ellis island, who was barely educated himself, decided to change their names. This would be like if we had someone at the border crossing in El Paso who evaluated everyone who crossed. Too sick, send them back. Young, healthy and ready to work in a field or slaughter house (In 1900 it was a factory or coal mine)? Welcome to the US. By the way, to make you sound more American your name is now Sanders instead of Sanchez.

That would be news to the branch of my Smolenyak family who changed their name to Simmons a generation after arriving in America.

I don't want to get bogged down in the immigration debate, and in general, I agree with much of her piece. But here's the thing: if you're going to hold yourself up as the one who's bright enough to correct the "partially educated masses," it would be a good idea to educate yourself first.

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A Not-So-Sweet Family Tale

Who knew there was so much drama behind the family whose patriarch invented Sweet 'n' Low? Rich Cohen, his grandson did. You can read more here.

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How Do We Stop This Epidemic?

An article I recently wrote for Ancestry.com's 24/7 Family History Circle really struck a nerve. It just appeared on Monday and there are already 42 comments -- and that's not counting all the folks who have written to me privately.

It's about an experience I had watching an elderly woman's family items being auctioned off, and what I fear is becoming an epidemic of history-tossing. Please take the time to read the article and add your comments there or here.

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Treat Yourself to a Genealogy Class in '07

For $29.95, you can become more genealogically savvy in 2007! I received this press release about GENCLASS from my friend, David Webster, over in Scotland, and Lisa Alzo, well known for Eastern European research -- both of whom are among the instructors. So why not sign up for one and sharpen your skills in an area that needs a little improving?

People around the world are catching the genealogy bug, but many just don't know where or how to start. Are you one of them?

The experienced GENCLASS instructors want to help you, step by step, learn what records are available, how to access available resources and search the Internet.

All instructors have previously taught specialized classes for MyFamily.com to thousands of satisfied students from North America and around the world. Considered the "best kept secret" in the genealogical world, those classes helped many begin their searches and make great discoveries.

Current classes include Scottish, Eastern European basic/intermediate, Native American, Jewish basic/Internet, Lost Family & Friends, Write Your Family History, Great Lakes Research and Adoption Investigation.

If there's a class you'd like but its not listed, let GENCLASS know.

Each four-week class includes a detailed course curriculum, online class meetings and more, for the low price of $29.95.

For more information, available classes, instructors' bios and student comments, go to www.genclass.com and sign up today, as demand is sure to be high, and the maximum numbers of students per class are limited.

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Russian/English Name Play

Just my luck. It's not enough that I have to deal with countless Latin-alphabet versions of Smolenyak. Now I get to deal with all the Cyrillic variations!

I entered "Smolenyak" in Steve Morse's cool tool for Transliterating English to Russian and here's what I get:

Смолэняк, Змолэняк, Смоленяк, Змоленяк

As anyone with Eastern European roots knows, it's a good idea to be able to recognize your name when it's written in Cyrillic. But frankly, it's fun to do this with any name. Here, for instance, is the oh-so-unRussian name of Nelligan:

Нэлйган, Нелйган, Нэлиган, Нелиган, Нэлйгэн, Нелйгэн, Нэлигэн, Нелигэн

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Deep Ancestry by Spencer Wells

I just finished reading the latest book from Spencer Wells and it's a winner. Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project strikes the right balance for beginners and those who are already immersed in the world of genetic genealogy (aka genetealogy).

It provides an excellent overview of National Geographic's Genographic Project. That might not be a huge surprise since Dr. Wells is the director of the project, but what I appreciate about his writing is that you don't have to be Harvard and Stanford-educated (as he is) to follow it. This book is for everyone. And this project is for just about everyone as well, with more than 160,000 participants -- not too shabby for an initiative that launched in April of last year.

If you're just venturing into the world of DNA, you'll find it easy to grasp, and finally understand what all the fuss is about. And if you're a seasoned "pro" (that is, someone who's been dabbling in this world for, say, three or more years), you'll love wallowing in all the haplogroup descriptions and details.

So if you'd like to better understand this effort to essentially create a family tree of mankind and its migrations, why not snag a copy of this book? And if you're so inspired, join the project itself. For that matter, this book (and/or a kit from the project) would make a great gift for that annoying person on your list who already has everything!

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Genetic Genealogy Books

Bill Hurst, who's featured in the latest episode of DNA Stories (see the DNA category) has shared a list of his favorite genetic genealogy books at Amazon. So if you're thinking of venturing into the wild, wonderful world of genetealogy, you might want to snag a couple of these books for your library.

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APG's Got a New Look!

The Association of Professional Genealogists just revealed a new look for its website, and I'm liking what I'm seeing! I also experimented with the search functionality to see how easy it is to find folks with particular skill sets and was very impressed.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I'm on the board of APG until the end of this year, but as a genealogical consumer who's constantly on the prowl for likely subcontractors and experts, I'm more than pleased with this overhaul. Congrats to all involved!

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You Can't Go Home Again

I have absolutely no roots in Kentucky, but I became intrigued by a book called The Town on Beaver Creek: The Story of a Lost Kentucky Community as a result of doing research for Good Morning, America. Both Diane Sawyer and Sam Champion had Kentucky roots -- and I mean, serious Kentucky roots, and I happened to trip across this book right around the time I was poking into their family histories.

I immediately noticed that the book was written by Michelle Slatalla, a columnist for the New York Times, and to tell the truth, that set off some alarms. Over the last couple of years, I've stumbled across a surprising number of family-history-based books written by journalists who apparently had very limited genealogical skills. They'd include all the fundamental myths, such as my-name-was-changed-at-Ellis-Island or great-grandma-was-a-Cherokee-princess without the slightest investigation to support the claims. Or they'd marvel over an incredible find provided to them by a library -- and it would turn out to be the 1880 census that anyone can search online for free at www.familysearch.org.

But Ms. Slatalla is different. She did her homework. She earned her genealogical stripes. And I can't think of a more compelling topic because her family hails from flood-prone Martin, KY-- which is in the midst of a 10-year rebuilding project. That is to say, it's being rebuilt on higher ground. But first, the original town is being demolished. In fact, it may be fairly far along since the razing began back in 2004.

How would you feel if the town of your ancestors was being entirely wiped from the map? Yup, that's exactly how Ms. Slatalla felt. So she did the best thing she could. She went there before the town disappeared and collected stories from about 100 people -- and then prowled court records, newspaper archives, diaries and whatever else she could get her hands on. And she told the stories warts and all.

The result is a compelling portrait of a town -- just in the nick of time. I would never wish the destruction of anyone's ancestral home, but at least the residents of the new Martin have their history safely captured in The Town on Beaver Creek. If you're considering writing a family history, this would definitely be worth a read. And if you have Kentucky roots, what are you waiting for?

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MyFamily.com Changing Its Name

According to this press release, MyFamily.com is changing its name to The Generations Network. That should put an end to all those confusing conversations about "my family."

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Don't know much about (family) history . . .

First, the British and now the Australians.

Turns out while 80-90% of us consider family history important, much smaller percentages of us can answer fundamental questions such as grandma's maiden name or grandpa's occupation. And lest any of my fellow Americans feel even momentarily superior, I'm sure our turn is coming and I bet it'll be an eye-opener!

Here's hoping that folks of all nationalities use the holiday season to close a few of the gaps in their family history knowledge!

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Annie's a wee bit older than we thought

Yes, Annie Moore's back again! Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a virtual conference of sorts that permitted me to speak to a roomful of folks in Co. Cork, including no less than the mayor of Cork. The occasion was the announcement of some brilliant detective work done by Tim McCoy's class of film students -- mostly 10- and 11-year-olds.

The class settled on Annie as the topic for a film they'll be making this school year, and in the course of their preparation, they managed to uncover quite a bit more about our girl -- including the fact that she was older than we all thought.

There was always confusion on this matter, as the manifest has her as 13, while the newspaper accounts of the day have her as 15. Well, it turns out she was 17. And Philip and Anthony, the little brothers who traveled with her, were also older than previously thought. In fact, it would probably be appropriate to add a few inches to the height of all three of siblings in the statue above (located at the Cobh Heritage Centre).

As to the exact date of Annie's birth, she's still left us with a lingering mystery. The civil registration matches the day and month given on her death certificate -- May 30th -- but her baptism record claims that she was born on May 25th and cleverly christened on May 24th. Guess she's not quite ready to give up all her secrets!

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Megan's Popularity Plummets

Looks like my name has had its moment. From 1984 to 1998, it ranked anywhere from the 10th to the 13th most popular girls name in the U.S., but by 2005, it was all the way down to #40. Of course, it didn't even make the top 1,000 until 1952 when it entered the charts at #846.

And that, I suppose, explains why I grew up being called Mee-gen. In fact, the only other Megans I met in the first 20 years of my life were Irish Setters.

Anyway, now it's all about Emily and Jacob. Want to play with your own name? Check out the Social Security Administration's baby names page.

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A Taste of My Roots

Don't ya just love the internet? Now I can buy nostalgia in the form of ethnic comfort food. For me, that means the kind of treats you can order online at Zum Zum. Honestly, haluski never did much for me, since it always struck me as somewhat akin to noodles in mayonnaise. But golabki! Well, that's a different matter!

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We're not all babushkas!

I sometimes mention here that I'm half Carpatho-Rusyn. But did you know that there are different kinds of Rusyns? Lemko, Boyko, Hutsul, etc. I happen to be Lemko.

Since I just fed into Eastern European stereotypes with my posting about our comfort food, I guess I should balance things out by proving that we're not all babushkas. Take a look at Ruslana, who's very proud of her Hutsul roots. She hails from L'viv, about 30 miles from where a pair of my great-grandparents came from, so it's fun for me that she incorporates her heritage into her work. You'll get a sense if you click on her "Wild Dances Project." I guess you could say that she's our Rusyn Shakira.

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Remembering a President

As a kid who attended school with Gordon Liddy's kids, I recall Watergate through a peculiar prism. But like many, I remember Gerald Ford as the one who restored decency to the presidency. Still, many of us forget (or maybe never knew) that he wasn't always Gerald Ford. In fact, he was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. You can learn more of his roots here and see some photos from his youth here. RIP, President Ford.

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The Book Quest Continues

In 2006, I wrote a couple of articles about books that sported some sort of genealogy theme, but weren't overtly genealogical. The response was terrific, and readers started suggesting other books I should snag and then write about. So that's what I've been doing. The latest article has just appeared in Ancestry.com's 24/7 Family History Circle. You can check it out here. It will be of particular interest to those of you who are into DNA or cemeteries!

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Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Well, I'm finally caught up with my grants. Congrats to Ted Steele and his gang in St. Louis! January's recipient never replied, so I'll just start fresh this year. Don't forget that you can apply (and view summaries of several years' worth of monthly awardees -- just use the drop-down menu) here.

December 2006
Established in 1967 with 2,000 active members from 46 states, the St. Louis Genealogical Society (StLGS) of St. Louis, Missouri, is an all volunteer organization that offers monthly and quarterly publications; monthly meetings with speakers; Special Interest Groups that hold quarterly meetings for individuals with German, Jewish, French, Irish, African American and/or Scandinavian heritage; preservation of records - naturalization, church, mortuary, and cemetery; annual fair with prominent guest speaker; classes at the Society office, local community college and in the St. Louis public schools; a computer lab at the Society office that offers several genealogy software packages for trial use, as well as access to Ancestry.com and HeritageQuestOnline.com; and annual research trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah as well as to Missouri record depositories. Phew!

StLGS is completing a project to index all burials in the St. Louis area cemeteries -- one which will result in approximately 1.5 million burial records. The focus now is on early church registers, so grant money will be used to photocopy and microfilm these fragile records. Resulting films will be given to the local church, StLGS office and the Special Collections at the St. Louis County Library. This project will provide archival back-up copies of this data, thereby insuring preservation of the original records in the advent of a fire or other destruction.

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Upcoming Events

If you plan to be near any of the events where I'll be speaking, I would love to meet you. It's always a kick for me when folks mention that they read this newsletter, my blog, Ancestry Daily News or whatever, so don't be shy about introducing yourself!

For more information on these events, please see my Events Calendar. And if you're interested in scheduling me, just click here.

  • February 13, 2007 - Haddonfield, NJ - Haddon Fortnightly - "Cases that Made My Brain Hurt"
  • February 24, 2007 - St. Charles, IL - DuPage County Genealogy Society Conference - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research"
  • March 17, 2007 - Baltimore, MD - Enoch Pratt Free Library - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • April 13-14, 2007 - Oconomowoc, WI - Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Gene-a-Rama - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Building a Village Based Community," "Remembering Our Ancestors," "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy"
  • April 21, 2007 - Boston, MA - New England Historic Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt" and "Right Annie, Wrong Annie"
  • April 26-29, 2007 - Hartford, CT - The New England Regional Genealogical Consortium Conference - "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • June 8-10, 2007 - Burbank, CA - Southern California Genealogical Society - "Reverse Genealogy Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Remembering Our Ancestors" and "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • August 4, 2007 - Newport News, VA - Tidewater Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • August 15-18, 2007 - Fort Wayne, IN - FGS/ACPL Conference: Meeting at the Crossroads of America - "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "The Quest for Ellis Island Annie"
  • September 29, 2007 - Manassas, VA - Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center (RELIC) for Genealogy and Local History - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • October 4-6, 2007 - Marshalltown, IA - Iowa Genealogical Society Annual Fall Conference - "The Quest for Annie Moore," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research," "Maximizing Your Results from the Ellis Island Database," "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options" and "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt"

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Please forward this newsletter to your family and friends who are interested in genealogy -- thank you!

Wishing you an abundance of genealogical serendipity!
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak


Note: You are receiving this because you have demonstrated an interest (e.g., you have a story in one of my books, applied for a grant, attended previous events, etc.) or subscribed via my website, but please let me know if you do not want to receive any further emails, and I will promptly remove you from my list. And rest assured, this is my personal list and not shared with anyone else! Thanks, Megan

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