< Go back to newsletter archive

Honoring Our Ancestors
January 21, 2015


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Happy 2015! We're barely two weeks in and genealogy is already back on the air - and Who Do You Think You Are? is coming back next month! If you skim through this newsletter, you'll learn half a dozen of the celebrities who will be featured this season.

And now that it's awards season, I'd welcome your input on the article about historical accuracy in film. While you're at it, take a look at the five people born in the 1800s who are still alive! Since they've lived through so much history, maybe they could correct a few of those inaccuracies in the movies, eh?

Until next month, stay warm and research on!



Photo of Barack Obama's Irish Immigrant 3rd Great-Grandfather, Fulmoth Kearney, Discovered

Family Resemblance? (Image of Fulmoth Kearney used with kind permission of Merlyn White)

It was seven years ago when I identified Fulmoth Kearney of Moneygall, Ireland as the most recent immigrant on the maternal side of Barack Obama's family tree. Inheriting land in Ohio from a brother, Fulmoth's father, Joseph, left Ireland for the United States in 1849. Fulmoth and his sister, Margaret, followed in 1850, and his mother and two younger siblings in 1851 -- a classic, chain migration pattern found in countless families.

Not surprisingly, many have asked over the ensuing years whether there were any photos of Fulmoth, who was known to his family as "Fully." I continued to look, but he had done a masterful job of keeping his secrets to himself -- until now. Just recently, President Obama's second cousin once removed, Dean Dillard, and his research companion, Norman Peters, solved the riddle of Fulmoth's burial, and it was only weeks ago that they had a tombstone placed memorializing Fulmoth and his wife, Charlotte, noting that they were the great-great-great-grandparents of President Obama.

Photos of Fulmoth Kearney and his wife, Charlotte, with their dates of death noted (used with kind permission of Merlyn White)

And now, thanks to another descendant of Fulmoth and Charlotte's, we know what Fulmoth looked like. Merlyn White, the President's third cousin once removed, inherited a photo album and other items through a great-aunt who lived until the impressive age of 107. In an illustration of how intertwined our family trees all are, it was while visiting a distant cousin in Scotland that Mrs. White first learned she was related to Barack Obama. The cousin, an avid genealogist, had made the connection. This discovery prompted her to take a closer look at the family memorabilia that had come her way, and that's when she found photos of Fulmoth and Charlotte, images which Mrs. White graciously agreed to share here.

Fulmoth Kearney is a distinctive name, but should there be any doubt that this is the correct fellow, the original owner of the scrapbook noted Fulmoth's date of death under his photo -- March 21, 1878 -- exactly the same date that Dean Dillard and Norman Peters had uncovered by tracking down old cemetery records. So roughly 185 years after his birth, 164 years after his arrival in America, 136 years after his death, and almost six years after the inauguration of the most famous of his progeny, Fulmoth Kearney has finally revealed his secrets, and rather appropriately, he did so through his descendants.

Back to top^

Historical Accuracy as Prison?

Bilge Ebiri opens his article, "Oscar Films and the Prison of Historical Accuracy," saying, "You know it’s Oscar season when the historical-accuracy hit squads show up." The genealogist in me bristles.

But read it all, I tell myself, and I do. And as I continue, I can't help but concede some of his points. After all, these are movies, not documentaries, and don't the director, producers, and screenwriters have the right to take some liberties in order to craft and deliver the best possible story?

As a genealogist, I'm borderline obsessed with the truth, but then, I'm a writer as well, and three of my books have been collections of stories, so I can appreciate the importance of storytelling. Frankly, good storytelling is all that makes history palatable to many.

I found myself being persuaded to his point of view until I got to the part where he wrote of The Imitation Game. This film about Alan Turing is on my to-see list and I was excited to learn more about this tragic genius - and still am. But it wasn't until reading Ebiri's article that I learned about the Poles who had begun cracking the Enigma code years earlier.

Ashamed of my own ignorance, I realized that this is my true gripe with liberties taken in historical films - for the vast majority of the people who watch, the movie will be the only version of events that they'll ever know. It will become their truth, their reality.

I understand that I'm a relic, feebly shaking her fist at the sky, insisting that historical accuracy does indeed matter. But then I think of Annie Moore, the first immigrant to arrive at Ellis Island, and how her story had been hijacked and later corrected, and I realize that small victories are possible. And though I genuinely believe the truth is usually fascinating in its own right, it's next to useless if no one knows about it, so some compromise with movie embellishment is in order.

I suspect that in the battle between story and accuracy, story will almost always win, but at least these slices of history will be out there, and the almost inevitable debates about the veracity of this or that aspect of this or that movie will themselves lead to greater understanding. So while I'll instinctively continue to at least clench my fist, I'll console myself with the historical awareness that films generate.

Even so, with all due respect to Alan Turing, I'd be very grateful if someone would make a film about Marian Rejewski.

Back to top^

November 2014 Seton Shields Genealogy Grant

Alex Trapps-Chabala began, at age 15, to research his 5th Great Grandfather, Jordan B. Noble, a drummer in Andrew Jackson's militia who played an important role in the Battle of New Orleans. Alex attended commemorative events to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans earlier this month. While there, he presented information on the life of his ancestor, who gained fame throughout his life both for his music and his role in the history of New Orleans. The grant award funded copies of records at the New Orleans Public Library to help further Alex's research.

Back to top^

Genealogy Round Up, January 14

These 5 women are the last living people born in 1800s – OK, I haven't verified this, but I'm guessing it's at least mostly right and I found it really interesting to see them...

National Archives Sleepover Giveaway – Might have to borrow some kids to enter this contest!

Hmmm . . . could Josh Groban have been exploring his German roots for "Who Do You Think You Are?" Get acquainted with his family tree here.

Melissa Etheridge est Quebecoise? She clearly loved every minute of her "Who Do You Think You Are?" experience in Quebec.

Professor finds long-lost home movies playing at NYC museum – Imagine strolling into a museum and seeing your home movies playing!

Back to top^

Genealogy Round Up, January 7

17 year old Annie Moore was the 1st immigrant to arrive at Ellis Island 1/1/1892 (seen above with her brothers)

Melissa Etheridge and her French-Canadian ancestry to feature in "Who Do You Think You Are?" She was in Quebec filming earlier this month.

Those of you on Pinterest might be interested in this board I have on Orphan Heirloom Rescues.

Back to top^

Genealogy Round Up, December 31

The house that time forgot: Mother and sons keep family home frozen in the 1920s for 70 YEARS with original decoration, food and furniture. – Can't get enough of these time capsule houses!

RIP, 16 men of the USS Monitor - 12/31/1862 – December 31, 2014 marked the 152nd anniversary of the loss of the USS Monitor.

Back to top^

Genealogy Round Up, December 24

Sean Hayes Traces Roots to Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland. More on this here.

For more about the photo of Barack Obama's Irish Immigrant 3rd Great-Grandfather, Fulmoth Kearney, discovered thanks to Fulmoth's great-great-granddaughter, Merlyn White, see this article, which I love, by Sheila Langan of Irish Central!

New Pennsylvania archivist has big task – My kind of archivist and good news for PA! "...at age 10, he was forbidden to enter the genealogy room in his local library So he wrote his congressman and soon received permission to enter."

Back to top^

Genealogy Round Up, December 17

Julie Chen, Angie Harmon, Sean Hayes & Bill Paxton in upcoming #WDYTYA season. Check out a season preview here.

Incidentally, this is the grandfather that Julie Chen will be exploring on #WDYTYA – definitely an interesting fellow!

For fans of The Voice, here's an interesting look into the roots of Pharrell Williams.

And since he was on The Voice recently as well, here's a peek into the incredibly cool heritage of Bruno Mars.

Back to top^

Upcoming Events

After traveling around and speaking in 40 states and half a dozen countries since 2000, 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.

  • No upcoming events at this time

Back to top^