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Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

January 15, 2008

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

As you can see from all the articles, it's been another busy month! Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are gearing up for a 2008 full of genealogical adventures!

Take care,


In this newsletter. . .

Gold Star Mothers

I read with interest recently Joan Kitchen Murray's blog posting about Gold Star Mothers.

The reason it caught my eye had to do with timing. I had cause just recently to research a soldier who was killed in WWI -- and his mother happened to be one of the Gold Star Mothers who traveled to the cemeteries in Europe. I discovered this when her trip showed up in Ancestry.com's Immigration Collection. So for those interested in Gold Star Mothers, don't neglect to check passenger arrival records for more evidence of the journey.

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Sleuths Behind History Mystery Revealed!

I blogged several months about the "boy in the coffin," but ended my posting with a wish that the genealogist who made the critical connection in the case be named. Well, now it's been revealed that it was M.K. Miles who put two and two together and librarian Rachelle Luttig who continued digging for more than 900 relatives of the mystery teenager.

150-year-old D.C. body linked to locals

Give this article a quick read. I think you'll enjoy all the detective work, genealogical and genetic!

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Genealogy at Sea!

Genealogical cruising seems to be all the rage these days, so I figured I'd put together a home video from the Wholly Genes cruise I just went on last month. If you were on the cruise, you'll want to be sure to check it out to see if you're in it! And if you're one of the many who's been considering trying out a genealogy cruise, here's you chance to get a taste of what you'd be able to look forward to! Take a peek . . .

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A Great Day for the Irish!


Eagle-eyed Chris Dunham of The Genealogue already spotted this great news, and I couldn't be more excited! So many Irish records were destroyed in The Troubles (to learn more about this, check out this interview with Irish genealogy guru, John Grenham), and those that remain seem to have mostly been kept offline. But that's starting to change with the 1911 Dublin census now available online!

I've got six branches of Irish including folks from Counties Kerry, Cork, Antrim and Longford. Even though most of my Irish came here in the 1800s, siblings inevitably stayed behind so this will now provide a means to locate collateral lines. Better yet, I'm delighted to see that next on the list are Counties Kerry and Antrim, so I shouldn't have to wait much longer to revel in fresh family details!

In the meantime, I had a search for an alleged (still trying to prove it), collateral line of mine I knew to have resided in Dublin. This religion column -- probably not the most typical for a 1911 Irish family -- makes me more convinced that this probably is my family. Only my family would be this mixed up!

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1st Lt. Dixie S. Parker Laid to Rest

Wow. This is what it's all about. I've mentioned quite a few times that I work on the U.S. Army's repatriation project to locate the families of soldiers still unaccounted for from Korea, WWII, Southeast Asia and even WWI. DNA from family members is used to help identify soldiers with the hope that they can finally be properly interred and honored.

I recently received a case that I asked ace researcher Sharon Elliott to tackle, and she did a remarkable job tracking down distant relatives. The soldier was 1st Lt. Dixie Siniard Parker, who was killed in action in Korea, and I couldn't help but tear up when I watched this remarkable video, including a moving tribute from the man who would have become his brother-in-law.

How wonderful that the whole community would remember and honor him this way.


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Freeing the Freeman Bible

AncestryMagazine recently published another of my orphan heirlooms rescue articles online, Freeing the Freeman Bible. Among other resources I used to crack this case, I tapped into Joe Beine's www.deathindexes.com, one of my all time favorite sites. Check it out!

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6 Generations Alive at Once!

Boy, how cool is this?! Six generations of a New Zealand family are all alive at once -- ranging from 2 weeks to 94 -- right up the maternal line. Someone needs to investigate their mtDNA! Those are some seriously powerful genes!

Baby Tayla is great, great and great again

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Storing DNA at Home

Well, it's not cheap ($175), but it's a good idea. As the article explains, there are more and more reasons you might to keep DNA samples on hand. DNA banking services have been around for a while, but what's different here is that you get to hang on to the sample and keep it at home or maybe in a safe deposit box. I wish this option had been around last year when I lost my mother.

As hard as it was at the time (not the most pleasant of conversations), she and I opted to bank her DNA, but the company I chose for the service recently changed its name and neglected to tell its customers. So that means for the next 20 years (the estimated shelf life of the sample), I'm going to have to keep tabs on this company to make sure I have continued access.

You can learn more about this service by reading Shrink Wrapped Genes

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See You at Sea!

I put together a home movie from last month's Wholly Genes annual genealogy cruise. If you'd like to watch the video, just click here. It will give a you a taste of what genealogical cruising is all about, as well as reactions from quite a few who were on board this year.

So I guess it's time to start spreading the word about next year's cruise! You're really going to want to check this one out with all the great speakers and activities they've got lined up. Hope to see you there!

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Art Meets Roots

These grants were for art museums, but I couldn't help but notice how many of the awards went to support projects that were in one or another roots-oriented:

MetLife Foundation Awards $1 Million to Museums

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History Sold to Pay Medical Bills

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I'm saddened to hear that the family of abolitionist John Brown let a photo of him slip out of family hands (apparently a necessity to pay medical bills). On the other hand, anyone who pays almost $100,000 for it is likely to take good care of it. Guess I'll rest in the hope that the mystery buyer was representing a museum.

Rare John Brown Photo Sells for $97,750

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A Short Response to the Latest Genetic Genealogy Bashing

There's been a lot of DNA bashing of late and on the surface, this looks like one more example, but this is actually a more balanced article than the title would suggest. I'm also pleased that I'm quoted accurately because that doesn't always happen, and if you've got a minute or two, you can check out an accompanying video that includes snippets of an interview I did in NY about a month ago:

Ancestral DNA testing is not exact science

As seen in this article and video, the main point that most of the naysayers make is that most genetic genealogy tests only reveal information about a single branch of one's family tree and, of course, we all have tons of ancestors. That's true.

My beef with this line of criticism is that it isn't news. We all know this. But the journalists who are, for the most part, being exposed to genetic genealogy for the first time usually have nanoseconds to get smart on the topic and then write about it, so they often don't know that this isn't a revelation. And of course, it makes a tempting angle to play up. So I don't have much of a problem with this aside from the fact that it makes it appear that genetic genealogy is being oversold, which -- with a few notable exceptions -- truly isn't the case.

What I have more of a problem with is when people who are very familiar with genetic genealogy play up this same angle. If you've been in the gg playground for a while, you've lost the right to start with an assumption of collective ignorance on the part of the customer -- because you know that your fellow genetic genealogists are well aware of what DNA testing can and can't do. I'm not going to name names. I'll just ask anyone who recognizes themselves in what I've just said to please think twice. Please don't sell out genetic genealogy to try to sell yourself. The topic is fascinating on its own merits, so there's no need to resort to faux controversy to attract attention.

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Proactive Efforts Regarding PA Records

This is nice to see. So often the genealogical community is left scrambling when states abruptly consider restricting access to vital records, but folks in Pennsylvania are taking a proactive stance -- which is a good thing, since PA has always been one of the more challenging states to secure records from. Read about -- and maybe participate in -- this effort to encourage the state to improve the accessibility of records:

People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access

As a bonus, there's a link to a page of online death certificate databases for other states and Joe Beine's www.deathindexes.com.

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The Lives They Left Behind

Wow, this sounds really amazing. Genealogy Insider, Diane Haddad, of Family Tree Magazine wrote about a remarkable project that's apparently been over a decade in the making:

The Lives They Left Behind
Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

I defy you to go to the site and not get pulled into the individual stories -- where they came from, what their lives were like before they arrived, how they wound up in the facility, how long they were there, etc. And the images will really get you -- those items they left behind in the attic and pictures -- mostly from their lives before the hospital. It was Dmytro, a Ukrainian immigrant, who really got me. Check out his artwork below. But all the stories are intriguing. Suffice it to say, I've already advance ordered the book.

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When's My Turn Coming?

Whenever I read about something like this, I just cross my fingers that my phone is going to ring soon with the good news that some long lost cache of family items has just been discovered! I know my turn is coming!

Treasure trove of family history turns up in attic

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A Pair of Ellis Island Videos

If you haven't had the opportunity to travel to Ellis Island yourself, these videos provide a nice overview -- and of course, I'm pleased that they're both set to Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, a song about Ellis Island and Annie Moore that I've always found quite touching. They'll need to correct the song, though, because we now know she was 17 when she arrived, not 15 as the song says several times.

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Flat Stanley Does His British Roots!

This little video is all about Flat Stanley exploring his British roots, but it's also a great way for anyone curious about the Who Do You Think You Are Live! event in London to get a taste. Check it out!

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Genealogist Helps Adoptee Find Birth Mother

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Ancestry.com Available at FHL and Some FHCs

Well, this is good news!



FamilySearch and The Generations Network Agreement Give Patrons Access to More than 24,000 Ancestry.com Databases and Titles

Provo, UT -- December 19, 2007 -- FamilySearch and The Generations Network, Inc., parent company of Ancestry.com, today announced an agreement that provides free access of Ancestry.com to patrons of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the 13 largest regional family history centers effective today.

With this new agreement, full access will be provided to more than 24,000 Ancestry.com databases and titles and 5 billion names in family history records. In addition to the Family History Library, the following 13 regional family history centers have been licensed to receive access to Ancestry.com:

  • Mesa, Arizona
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Oakland, California
  • Orange, California
  • Sacramento, California
  • San Diego, California
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • Pocatello, Idaho
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Logan, Utah
  • Ogden, Utah
  • St. George, Utah
  • Hyde Park, London, England

"We're excited for our patrons to receive online access to an expanded collection of family history records on Ancestry.com," said Don Anderson, director of FamilySearch Support. "Ancestry.com's indexes and digital images of census, immigration, vital, military and other records, combined with the excellent resources of FamilySearch, will increase the likelihood of success for patrons researching their family history."

The Generations Network and FamilySearch hope to expand access to other family history centers in the future.

FamilySearch patrons at the designated facilities will have access to Ancestry.com's completely indexed U.S. Federal Census Collection, 1790-1930, and more than 100 million names in passenger lists from 1820-1960, among other U.S. and international record collections. Throughout the past year, Ancestry.com has added indexes to Scotland censuses from 1841-1901, created the largest online collection of military and African American records, and reached more than 4 million user-submitted family trees.

Free access is also available at Brigham Young University Provo, Idaho, and Hawaii campuses, and LDS Business College patrons through a separate agreement with The Generations Network.

"FamilySearch's Family History Library in Salt Lake City is one of the most important physical centers for family history research in the world, and we are happy that patrons to the Library and these major regional centers will have access to Ancestry.com," said Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of The Generations Network, Inc., parent company of Ancestry.com. "We've enjoyed a ten-year working relationship with FamilySearch, and we look forward to continued collaboration on a number of family history projects."

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Who's Naming Your Kids?

Just came across this little gem on Genealogy Reviews about an Italian couple's attempt to name their son Friday:

There's No Friday in Italy

To add insult to injury, the court -- after denying the request -- insisted that the child be named Gregorio after the saint's day on which he born. A perfectly nice name, of course, but somehow I think parents should be allowed the name selection privilege. Oh, well . . . at least the court didn't do what the Greek Catholic priests back in Osturna (homeland of the Smolenyaks) used to do. Whenever there was an illegitimate birth, they gave the child a really weird name, just to be sure they stuck out for the rest of their lives. No kidding.

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A First Look at deCODEme DNA Results

I admit it. I have no self-discipline when it comes to genetic genealogy. When deCODEme launched, I had to be one of the first in line to get tested. So I ordered on Nov 26th and received results on Dec 19th -- my husband's results, that is. I thought his might be a little more interesting since he sports a Y chromosome.

At any rate, I figured there were probably some curious souls out there like myself, so I decided to make a little video as I was exploring the site and Brian's results. So if you're wondering what $985 can tell you about your genetic makeup, just click on the image below:

A couple of little postscripts. The first is that you'll hear me pondering out loud about whether the Y DNA results were entirely SNP-based. Apparently they are.

Also, I was rather startled when I compared my husband's genome to that of James Watson. My initial reaction was that they must be different species. Well, I went to one of my favorite gurus, Ann Turner, who explained:

" . . . Watson's genome is very incomplete, with "too many" homozygous sites. If they were actually reading both chromosomes, there should be a number of heterozygous sites (different alleles)."

So Watson's incomplete genome accounts for the almost total lack of sharing.

Hope you enjoy the video!

P.S. Sorry about the video quality. Had to do several conversions and it got a little fuzzier each time, but you should still be able to follow along.

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DNA Project Communications

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to finally launch that DNA project you've been pondering -- or maybe to better organize and orchestrate the one you're already running -- you'll want to check out this page at ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy -- an organization I happen to be a big fan of):

DNA Project Communication Methods Comparison

It has just what it says -- example after example of different DNA projects and a summary of how they've opted to communicate with their project members -- including links so you can see and compare for yourself. A terrific resource!

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Hamburg Ellis Island Counterpart Opens

Well, I know where I'm heading first the next time I'm in Hamburg. More than 5 million Europeans (including several of my ancestors) left for the New World via the port of Hamburg between 1850 and 1934, and now -- thanks to a new museum -- you can get a sense of what it was like for them -- just as you can at Ellis Island in the U.S. or the Cobh Heritage Centre in Ireland.

Museum where past masses huddled

If you want to do some digging to see if your ancestors might have spent some time there, you can explore the databases at Ancestry.com:

Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934

Hamburg Passenger Lists, Handwritten Indexes, 1855-1934

And to learn a little more about the museum and port itself, you might want to poke around this site: Ballinstadt

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Pick a Drawer -- Any Drawer

This just sounds like fun. Great way to make family history bother decorative and interactive!

Abandoned cabinet turned into a chest of family treasures

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Please Help Me with my 100th Grant!

Some of you may be aware that I run the Honoring Our Ancestors Grants Program. This is a program I started almost eight years ago when I decided to try to make a go of it as a professional genealogist. I figured that genealogy had been good to me, so I'd give a little something in return. I decided right from the beginning to give a grant every month to some deserving genealogist, society, project or whatever -- just something related to family history.

Honestly, in the early days, there were months when it was tough to do, but I persisted because I made the commitment -- and besides, I figure there's probably such a thing as genealogical karma. If I make a donation, is it a coincidence when I manage to unearth an elusive ancestor in some database a few days later? Maybe, but it suits me to think otherwise! So my little grants program has been partly selfless and partly selfish!

At any rate, I was playing catch-up the other day (I travel a lot, so tend to fall behind from time to time) and decided to take stock. It was then that I learned that I had been at it for more than seven years. But what really caught my attention was the fact that February 2008 would be my 100th grant! 100 months of grants! Pretty cool, huh?

So here's the thing. I'd like the 100th grant to be special in some way. I have no idea what that might be, but in order to maximize the chances of finding an especially inspiring initiative, I'd like to ask for your help spreading the word about the grants program and encouraging as many people as possible to apply. I'm thinking that if I can get tons of applications, there will almost have to be a gem among them! Folks can apply here. Also, the site provides summaries of all the other grants I've awarded over the years, so it might be worth taking a browse.

The process is the same as it's been since the beginning. Anyone with an idea and five minutes can apply, and once a month, I print out all the latest applications and add them to all the other current ones (they stay active for six months). Then my husband and I abscond to a coffee shop where we debate the relative merits of the assorted applications. Finally, we pick a winner, notify them and send a check. It's that simple.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer in spreading the word!

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Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Congrats to our recent grant recipients! Don't forget that you can apply (and view summaries of several years' worth of monthly awardees -- just use the drop-down menu) here.

October 2007
The Howard County Missouri Genealogical Society is a small society that has been accumulating resources and doing research in genealogy since 1993. They plan to use the grant to purchase bookcases and books to further their research activities.

November 2007
The Conway County Genealogical Society in Morrilton, Arkansas provides a number of services to members, including publishing a monthly newsletter with genealogical tips and information, sponsoring the annual Arkansas River Valley Ancestor Fair that is a meeting place for anyone interested in genealogy, and sponsoring several genealogy workshops. The organization also runs the Conway County Research Library that provides a place for the public to begin their genealogy research. The grant will fund Internet service in the research library, allowing members and visitors to expand their research by going online.

December 2007
Mary's Genealogy Treasures, a website started by Mary Tollestrup, houses over 20,000 genealogy links, including over 550 pioneer histories, a surname registry, and over 1100 webpages. Mary created the website to help Alberta, Canada Family History Center staff assist patrons in locating genealogy resources on the Internet. The website now helps people from all over the world find their ancestors. Mary will use the grant to purchase resources she needs to help update and maintain her growing website.

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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.

  • January 26, 2008 - Boerne, TX - Genealogical Society of Kendall County - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • February 3, 2008 - Morristown, NJ - Morristown Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • February 8-9, 2008 - St. George, UT - St. George Genealogy and Family Heritage Jamboree - "Trace Your Roots with DNA, "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research"
  • February 16, 2008 - Hemet, CA - Hemet-San Jacinto Genealogical Society - "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research," "Trace Your Roots With DNA," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques For Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • March 1, 2008 - Tallahassee, FL - Tallahassee Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • March 29, 2008 - Virginia Beach, VA - Virginia Beach Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research"
  • April 12, 2008 - Pittsburgh, PA - Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research," "Building a Village-Based Community" and "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt"
  • April 26, 2008 - Topeka, KS - Topeka Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Building a Village-Based Community" and "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones"
  • May 2-3, 2008 - Lincoln, NE - Nebraska State Genealogical Society - "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt," "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • May 10, 2008 - Thousand Oaks, CA - Conejo Valley Genealogical Society - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt," "Find That Obituary: Online Newspaper Research" and "Right Annie, Wrong Annie"
  • June 21, 2008 - Mandeville, LA - St. Tammany Parish Genealogical Society and the National Knowles/Knoles/Noles Family Association - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Introduction to Ancestry.com," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • June 27-29, 2008 - Burbank, CA - Southern California Genealogical Society - "Right Annie, Wrong Annie," "Welcome to RootsTelevision!," "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options" and "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research"
  • August 15-16, 2008 - Indianapolis, IN - Indiana Historical Society Midwestern Roots Conference - Topics TBD
  • September 3-6, 2008 - Philadelphia, PA - Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference - "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • September 20, 2008 - Bangor, ME - Maine Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt' and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • September 27, 2008 - Naperville, IL - Fox Valley Genealogy Society - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research," "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • October 18, 2008 - Huntsville, AL - Huntsville-Madison County Public Library - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Welcome to Roots Television!"
  • October 26-November 2, 2008 - 4th Annual Genealogy Conference and Cruise, hosted by Wholly Genes, Inc. - Topics TBD
  • April 22-26, 2009 - Manchester, NH - The New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2009 - Topics TBD

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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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