Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

February 17 , 2006

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

It's been a little while since I've shown up in your mail box, so I guess it's time to play catch up. I hope you're all enjoying your mild or wild winter. As I write these words, I have about 15 inches of snow outside -- pretty to look at for someone who doesn't have to commute! And perfect weather for long web surfing sessions (not that I need an excuse)! At any rate, I hope to get to meet a lot of you before the next issue comes out. I'm hitting the road with a lot of talks shortly, so there's a good chance we'll be seeing each other soon!

In this newsletter. . .

Found! New Column for Orphan Heirlooms

Starting with the May/June issue of Ancestry Magazine, I'll have a new column called Found! Much as I've done for a while with Ancestry Daily News, readers will write to me about family items that have somehow come into their possession, even though they're from someone else's family -- that old photo you couldn't pass up at the local flea market, that family Bible you purchased on eBay, or those military discharge papers you found in the back of a drawer in a beat-up dresser bureau you snagged at a garage sale. I'll do the detective work to track down "rightful owners" (usually descendants of the original owners) and the reader will return the item to the family of origin. And then I'll explain the trail I followed and share the (hopefully!) happy ending. Many of you already know that I tend to refer to this kind of sleuthing as "orphan heirloom rescues."

The first column is about a 1940s photo album that was found on the streets of Jerusalem, Israel about nine years ago. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of handing it over to the original owner (now 82 years old) over lunch in a New Jersey diner!

If you've got an orphan you'd like rescued, please consider submitting details about it here. Because of volume, I can't personally respond to every submission, but don't give up hope if you don't hear from me for a while. I tend not to contact folks unless I'm fairly optimistic that I can complete the rescue, so it may just be that yours is one of many that I have in-process at any time. You'll probably hear from me just when you least expect it!

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BBC Documentary and Newsweek

I can't spill the beans about it yet, but I've had a ton of fun lately working on a BBC documentary about a U.S. history-mystery situation! It's been a wild ride that's had me playing with DNA, cold-calling strangers in Scotland, and tramping around numerous cemeteries -- just the kind of stuff I love to do! I'm told it will air this summer, so I'll share more details as soon as I'm able.

Also, if you didn't catch the February 6, 2006 issue of Newsweek, the cover story was on genetic genealogy. I had the pleasure of speaking with writer Claudia Kalb, who was remarkably ambitious about the scope of her article. Most journalists focus on a single test, but Claudia's done an impressive job of providing a survey of the full range of genealogically-oriented DNA tests available today. If you haven't read it yet, you might want to take a look. Oh yeah, I guess I should mention that the article sort of explains my Smolenyak Smolenyak name! And if you're interested in the t-shirt I'm described as wearing, go to any page of Honoring Our Ancestors and click on the icon for the JMK Genealogy Store on the right side. While you're there, you might also want to take a browse of all the fun Irish items -- just in time for St. Patrick's Day (I just ordered the 40-shades-of-green and descendancy chart of shamrocks t-shirts earlier today!).

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HOA Winners and a New Contest!

Congratulations to Sharon Wilson of Tennessee and Jeanne Sawtelle of Maine for winning copies of The Genealogist's Glossary (by Christopher Dunham of The Genealogue fame) and On Gold Mountain (by Lisa Lee), respectively. And thanks to all of you who were kind enough to take time out of your busy schedules to inspect and comment on all the changes at my Honoring Our Ancestors website. All your remarks were much appreciated and many have been implemented!

If you missed the last contest, here's another shot at a signed book! Actually, another two chances. I have The Queen of the Big Time autographed by author Adriana Trigiani ("For a dear reader! Much love!"). If you're even part Italian, I don't have to say any more because you already know about this bestseller. I really enjoyed meeting Adriana Trigiani, partly because she's so exuberant and partly because she shares roots with my husband, Brian (here's a big shout-out to anyone with Roseto, Valfortore roots! If that describes you, drop me an email because my sister-in-law has a private MyFamily.com site for folks from Roseto).

And I have Behind the Lines: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters -- And One Man's Search to Find Them, autographed by one of my all-time favorite authors, Andrew Carroll. This would make an amazing gift for the veteran in your family -- or for yourself! By the way, for other Andy fans out there, he has yet another terrific project underway and I can't wait until I can share some details with you!

So what's this contest?? I need to test out another new feature in my website. I'm looking for ancestral look-alikes! Is your son the spitting image of your great-grandfather? Do your older relatives always tell you how much you resemble a great-aunt you never met? Have you ever done a double take at a sepia-toned photo because the Civil War soldier staring out looks just like your brother? If so, please share your images here.

If you'd like to enter this contest, but don't have any look-alike ancestors, here's an alternative. Send me an email telling me your favorite books, shows, movies or documentaries with any kind of genealogical or family history theme to them. Maybe Far and Away appeals to you because of your Irish or Oklahoma land-rush roots or you have a favorite documentary that no one's ever heard of -- but you love it because it was filmed close to where your great-granddad emigrated from. Perhaps you're a big fan of Howard Fast's The Immigrants or one of Edward Rutherfurd's books. Let me know what you love and why, and you'll be entered in the contest.

I'll select two of the entries submitted by the time of the next newsletter as winners, so please be sure to mention your preference between the two books if you have one. Good luck!

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Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Congratulations to the January Honoring Our Ancestors grant awardee -- The Wayne County Public Library of Kenova, West Virginia is launching an on-going oral history project with a "station" set up at each library where individuals and families can come and be recorded. They will also (upon request) travel to local senior housing or nursing homes to collect interviews. As they explain, "Memories of the elderly are fading, thus the stories...we would like to make an effort to preserve this history available in our area so rich with details from the people who experienced significant events or just have memories of family reunions, coal mining, or harvest season." This grant will be used to purchase digital voice recording systems.

Please visit the Honoring Our Ancestors Grants page to read about our awardee projects, and how you can apply for a grant to support your genealogical project.

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Recent Articles by Megan, Published in Ancestry Daily News

February 16 , 2006: More Genealogical Quotes
The January 26th article below struck a chord with readers and I was inundated with more terrific, roots-oriented quotes (thanks, if you were one of the folks who wrote!), so I shared some more in this article.

January 26, 2006: Say What?!
I went surfing one day and got distracted looking for quotes having anything to do with genealogy. This piece features a sampling of some of the best and strangest I found!

January 19, 2006: This Is For You, Mrs. Berkowitz
Mrs. Berkowitz was the 6th grade teacher who inadvertently hooked me on genealogy and this article is about a terrific donation program (DonorsChoose) for school projects -- and how you can use it to encourage youngsters in the quest for their own roots.

January 3, 2006: Unsung Genealogical Heroes
There are many amazing people in the field of genealogy that dedicate their time to provide tools, resources or services that help countless strangers explore their ancestry. In this article, I recognize a few of these unsung heroes.

You can read many more articles of genealogical interest, by category, at the Honoring Our Ancestors Library.

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Upcoming Events

Special thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library in Brooklyn, NY and the Haddon Heights Historical Society in Haddon Heights, NJ for hosting me last month. The folks in Brooklyn were kind enough to let me experiment with something new I'm doing this year. Whenever I speak on DNA, I'll now have DNA kits with me, so attendees can jump into genetic genealogy on the spot of they're interested! Brooklyn was the first time I did that, so they were very patient with me as I worked out some logistical kinks. Thanks!

As I mentioned earlier, I'm hitting the road big time over the next two months! 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, Ancestry Daily News or whatever, so don't be shy about introducing yourself!

For more information on these events, please see my Event Calendar.

  • March 11, 2006 - Port Charlotte, FL - Charlotte County Genealogical Society - "Real World DNA", "Reverse Genealogy", "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • March 18, 2006 - Ft. Pierce, FL - Treasure Coast Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • March 19, 2006 - Deland, FL - Roots & Branches Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • March 23, 2006 - Camden County, NJ - Camden County Historical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • March 29, 2006 - Tavistock, NJ - Haddonfield Historical Society - "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • April 5, 2006 - Westampton, NJ - Burlington County Genealogy Club - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • April 8, 2006 - Stony Brook, NY - Genealogy Federation of Long Island - "Reverse Genealogy: Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • April 10, 2006 - Elkins Park, PA - Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia - "Real World DNA Testing"
  • April 22, 2006 - Richmond, VA - Virginia Genealogical Society - "Real World Y-DNA Testing" and "Beyond DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • May 6, 2006 - New City, NY - Genealogical Society of Rockland County - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • May 20, 2006 - Newport News, VA - Tidewater Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • September 2, 2006 - Boston, MA - Joint Genealogical Speakers Guild and International Society of Family History Writers and Editors luncheon at the FGS conference - "Finding Your Voice: Speaking and Writing in the Genealogical World"
  • November 11-18, 2006 - 2006 Genealogy Conference and Cruise, Hosted by Wholly Genes Software - "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research"

The Diamond Princess
The Diamond Princess

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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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