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Honoring Our Ancestors
February 18, 2015


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

As I write this, I'm happily snowed under in fun genealogical projects - which seems fitting for this time of year (though I want to express my admiration and sympathies to those in the Northeast who are literally snowed under). I look forward to when I can share them with you, but in the meantime, get yourself prepared for another season of Who Do You Think You Are? starting on March 8th (more below) and consider checking out Strange Inheritance (I had to use my program search feature to record it) in the interim. The show is just what it says, but not surprisingly, is often genealogical in nature.

Read on to discover why the Grammys weirdly sparked a lot of traffic to my website, of the latest Seton Shields Genealogical Grants (May will be the 15th anniversary - any ideas how I should celebrate?), and lots of other family history goodies!

Stay warm!



The Family Tree of Pharrell Williams and Why He Almost Didn’t Exist

Traffic to my www.megansmolenyak.com website abruptly spiked the night of the Grammys. Turns out folks were really curious about Pharrell Williams's heritage.

If you find yourself curious, too, a peek into the family tree of Pharrell Williams reveals how a decision made by one of his ancestors in 1832 almost erased him from existence!

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Who Do You Think You Are? back on March 8th!

Just in case you haven't heard the news, Who Do You Think You Are? returns to TLC on Sunday, March 8th. The schedules occasionally shift even after they've been announced, but as of this moment, these are the slated dates for each celebrity:

March 8 Julie Chen
March 15 Josh Groban
March 22 Angie Harmon
March 29 Sean Hayes
April 5 Tony Goldwyn
April 12 America Ferrera
April 19 Bill Paxton
April 26 Melissa Etheridge


And here's a flavor of what you can expect:

  • Melissa Etheridge, who heads to Quebec to trace the history of her paternal side, learns about the scandalous marriage of her 6x great-grandparents.
  • America Ferrera, who brings the series to Honduras for the first time ever, learns about the father she barely knew, and unravels her great-grandfather’s role in the violent Central American political system.
  • Tony Goldwyn, who is familiar with his prestigious paternal Hollywood lineage, but knows little about his mother’s side of the family. In his episode, he comes to learn about his 3x great-grandparents, who fought for women’s rights and westward expansion.
  • Josh Groban, who discovers his 8x great-grandfather was a highly educated and renowned scientist that studied astronomy, and was quoted by Isaac Newton himself.

Finally, if you'd like a warm up of sorts, check out this piece I wrote on Josh Groban's roots:

10 Things You Didn't Know about Josh Groban's Family Tree

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December 2014 Seton Shields Genealogy Grant

The Simpsonville Genealogical Research Room is a small, independent genealogical research library currently located in the Senior and Activity Center of Simpsonville, SC. The room consists of several shelves of local history books and research guides, as well as a computer, all to help beginner and advanced genealogists in finding their Simpsonville roots. Much of the initiative to establish the library came from a young man in the community named Andrew Staton. The grant will assist with the cost of applying for 501c3 federal tax exempt status.

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January 2015 Seton Shields Genealogy Grant

Crystal Medler Rojas Mora of Kenmore, WA has spent the past six years researching the life of her maternal second great-grandmother, Lucretia Berry Porter Cowan, who, after her move from Maine to Seattle with her two young children in 1912 eventually gained a reputation as one of the best photographers in Seattle. Crystal is planning to write a biography of her ancestor and will be making a research trip to Maine, where she will visit a number of libraries, archives, and historical societies, including the Maine State Archives, pictured above. The grant will help to pay for fees associated with this trip.

To apply for a Seton Shields grant, fill out and submit the form here. You can see examples of past grant awards here.

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Genealogy Round Up, February 11

Journeys Home – Delighted to share some genealogy tips in this cool, new National Geographic book about roots journeys along with my good friend, Lou Szucs! My friend, Marion Hager, at Hager's Journeys, also shares her wisdom!

Brothers' Amazing Reunion After Nearly 60 Years

African-American genealogy: Researchers share stories of joy, fulfillment – "I love what I do."

SiriusXM Launching ‘African Ancestry Radio'; Louis Gossett Jr., others to guest star

I am Italian-American. The debate over "who is us" has grown more heated.

Strange Inheritance on Fox Business – I've only watched one episode, but this show is slightly genealogical and has potential.

President pays stealth visit to The Dalles, Hood River – Oddly, I have roots in The Dalles as well. BTW, they mean Tony Goldwyn, not the real President.

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Genealogy Round Up, February 4

I've done a lot of African American genealogy over the years, so for Black History Month, I decided to put together a collage of photos of some of the people I've been fortunate enough to research and meet.

Friends and countrymen, lend me your (jug) ears...

10 Things You Didn't Know About Katy Perry's Family Tree – Something to ponder about one of the stars of the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show

UK to Decide If It's OK to Make Babies From DNA of 3 People – Genealogy might be about to get harder.

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Genealogy Round Up, January 28

Stephen Colbert: One Last Report (It's Genealogical) | Irish America – Better late than never? I researched Stephen Colbert's roots back around 2006/2007, and am finally getting around to writing about it! Here's an article that just came out in the latest issue of Irish America Magazine (and BTW, if you're part Irish, you really should consider subscribing to this magazine - whether in print or for your tablet!).

I love you: Holocaust survivor salutes American soldier who saved him. – Love that they were able to meet again. Remarkable.

Elderly man finds son after discovering letter hidden by deceased wife for decades. – Imagine finding this letter!

Fatherland comics review – Family history in comic/graphic novel form. Looks interesting!

Dartmouth Alumni Columnist, at 100 Years Old, Is Still Looking for New Stories – A really interesting read - inspiring, but realistic. Anyone who's done a family newsletter will relate.

Heirloom Homecomings: Rescuing other people’s heirlooms brings out the hero in family historians. – Delighted to have been interviewed by Sunny Jane Morton for an orphan heirlooms article in the January/February 2015 issue of Family Tree Magazine - pages 8-9! P.S. Please considering subscribing. I get it on my ipad.

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Genealogy Round Up, January 21

"Arranging Family:" First Solo Exhibit by Carlee Fernandez. Photographer and sculptor Carlee Fernandez uses the central theme of family - and how the past intersects with the present and gives hope for the future. – Love this baptismal cup!

On Meet the Press: Finding History in Everyday Places – Great video about Andrew Carroll and his book, "Here Is Where" about the hidden history all around us.

Husband finds wedding ring lost 64 years ago.

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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.

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