Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

April 15, 2007

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Another crazy month with lots of travel and long hours, but a great time to be a genealogist, so no room for complaining! I hope all of you had a productive month research-wise and maybe turned up another ancestor or two. And may the rest of Spring shower you with new databases and freshly discovered cousins!


In this newsletter. . .

Sharpton's Plantation near Edgefield, SC

Yesterday, Rev. Sharpton went to Edgefield, SC to walk in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton. What you see below is part of the media convoy going to the Sharpton plantation where Coleman once lived. The house is still standing -- and fairly authentic. Still heated by fireplace today. Imagine how Rev. Sharpton must have felt seeing this for the first time.

Believe it or not, the tenant house -- that is, the former slave quarters -- is still standing at the Sharpton plantation. The current owner gave Rev. Sharpton an old horse shoe from the building, which is estimated to possibly be 200 years old.

Shortly after I took this shot, we all wandered off single file into the woods -- with all the camera folks doing the best they could to manage their equipment -- to the old slave cemetery. It's simply stone markers now -- no words, just markers. But I poked through the trees and brush and saw many of them. The owner estimates 40-60. Amazing.

I told Rev. Sharpton that Coleman wanted his story told. From the remarkable paper trail to all that's literally still standing, it seems to me that Coleman is practically shouting to be heard.

Return to Top

Ellis Island Winners Announced

Remember that contest that Ellis Island launched for school kids? Well, the winners have been picked. Click on the image below to see the artwork of all the winners and finalists. Congrats to all!

Return to Top

A Great Read: Battersea Girl -- Tracing a London Life

I'm always on the look out for great books with anything resembling a family history theme, and I spotted one a few weeks ago when I was over in London. I swallowed it whole on the flight home and have been intending to write about it since, but just haven't had the time.

I don't have a drop of British blood (that I know of yet, anyway!), but I was completely absorbed by this book. Perhaps my recent wanderings around the south side of the Thames colored my perspective, but this book enchanted me from the beginning.

What makes it all the more extraordinary is that it's simply the story of Ellen Tregent, the grandmother of Martin Knight, the author. Ellen lived a century -- from 1888 to 1988 -- and though she was an "ordinary" woman, her life was anything but. Not that she ever made the papers aside from the day she turned 100 years old, but it's amazing to grasp what a life can encompass. I also like that Knight doesn't do a lot of embellishing or pontificating. He lets his grandmother's story speak for itself.

I suspect most folks who are into genealogy would enjoy this book, and if you happen to sport any London roots, you'll be all the more enamored for the tales of the city that are interwoven with Ellen's.

And incidentally, I checked to see whether the book was available in the U.S. and was pleased to discover that it's about to be released here on March 27th. So for those who might be interested and live in the U.S., you should have an easy time of snagging a copy. Those of you in the U.K. can go snag a copy today!

Return to Top

When Ancestors Attack

First, Al Sharpton on The Daily Show and now Stephen Colbert offering a new segment called When Ancestors Attack. Genealogy is suddenly pop culture -- and since I'm a big fan of both of these shows, I don't mind one little bit. In fact, I really enjoy seeing genealogy finally get a bit of attention.

If you'd like to see Colbert's take on Rev. Sharpton, McBama (yes, he really does have Irish roots), and others, take a look at this video.

Return to Top

Don't Hate Me, Waco

Well, St. Patty's Day was last month (which I greatly enjoyed celebrating in Baltimore after having a terrific time with the crowd at Enoch Pratt Library, one of those grand old libraries I just love), but it's never too late (in my mind, anyway) for a touch more of Annie Moore. So I take this opportunity to share this article (one of the most accurate summaries I've seen) and offer my sincerest apologies to the people of Waco.

Tale of two Annies: Wacoan Annie Moore's story no longer part of Ellis Island lore

Return to Top

Hang on to that Flamingo!

Lest you need a reminder that one day you, too, will be history, check out this amusing article:

A Family Heirloom, Disguised in Pink

If you're like me, you probably have a flamingo story or two in your past. I recall one time opening the door to greet some guests at our annual Christmas party, only to find a bunch of my mom's employees scattered around the lawn all standing on one leg. It was part of an on-going flamingo gag that started when they decided to adorn her office balcony -- on Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from the White House -- with -- you guessed it -- pink flamingos!

I didn't have the foresight then to realize that I should have kept and babied those pink resin creatures, so don't make my mistake. If you have any flamingos left, cherish them. Wrap them securely and protect them for the benefit (and perhaps puzzlement) of future generations.

Return to Top

16th Family Reunion Conference

In March, I had the opportunity to attend the 16th annual Family Reunion Conference -- this time in Philadelphia, PA. It's run by the very capable Dr. Ione Vargas. I had attended a few years ago in Baltimore, but was long overdue! If you're not familiar with it, you might be startled to learn just how large an event it is. Check out this photo from the conference:

I also got a chance to catch up a bit with my friend, John Logan, whose email updates I greatly appreciate. John manages to stay up to date on a lot of interesting stuff that others don't always catch.

BTW, one of the reasons I was there was to film a few lectures for Roots Television, so be sure to keep an eye out!

Return to Top

Thanks, Enoch Pratt!

I already mentioned that I spoke at the Enoch Pratt Free Library (check out their remarkable digital collection here) on St. Patty's Day, but I wanted to give them a shout out for all the effort they put into creating a terrific event. Made me feel like a big shot to discover this in the window! And as you can see, the other person on tap that day? None other than Tom Kemp of Genealogy Bank. Pretty good company, don't you think?!

Return to Top

She Had Me at Junkyard

Hey! Have you spotted the new website for Ancestry Magazine yet?? If not, you'll definitely want to check it out!

I went in there today and discovered that one of my articles is the current featured one. I write an "orphan heirloom" column for the magazine called Found, and She Had Me at Junkyard is the latest. It's about a box of family treasures that were found, appropriately enough, in a wrecked Legacy in a junkyard in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you want to know any more, you'll have to go read the article!

And if you have any treasures you'd like to return to the family of origin, just submit them here.

Return to Top

Check out our Channels!

Well, we still have some more work to do, but we've been quietly working on a revamp of Roots Television and flipped a switch late yesterday. One of the first things you'll notice is that we're categorized all our programming into 20 channels and added both a program guide and video search feature to make it easier to find exactly what you're looking for. So now you'll be able to go straight to Flat Stanley, or find all the shows with DNA in them, or see what's showing in the Dearly Departed channel. And now it'll be a lot easier to tell your friends about a great show they just have to see because you can send them a direct link. Lots of options. If you've got a few minutes, check it out! And tell your research buddies!

P.S. I also confess that I think our channel images are pretty cool. Try playing with the mouseover on the home page!

Return to Top

Paranoia Reigns - or Does It?

Wow, I know we've become borderline paranoid about privacy in recent years, but even I was startled the other day when I had to provide a copy of my drivers license for -- get this -- a marriage record from 1894 and a death record from 1908. Mind you, there was no requirement to be related to the individuals in the records, so this wasn't a matter of proving a blood tie. This is simply routine procedure at the repository involved.

Is our fear of fraud and/or terrorism so great that we really need to track exactly who's ordering copies of century-old marriage records or 99-year-old death records? Is this truly protecting anyone from anything?

Even if these documents could somehow be used to, say, commit a crime (sorry, but my feeble brain can't quite figure out how), I maintain that criminals are too lazy to work this hard. Aren't criminals mostly folks who want a lot for a little? Do we really think they would take the time to research someone's grandparents in order to try to steal their identity? Wouldn't snagging their wallet, running their credit card twice when they shop, or buying card numbers from fellow criminals be a lot easier?

What do you think? Am I over-reacting or do I have reason to be perplexed?

Return to Top


As you may or may not know, I'm one of the founders of Roots Television, so I wanted to be sure to tell you about the improvements we've made -- not to mention our RootsTube contest! Please consider entering and spread the word!

Roots Television, LLC (www.rootstelevision.com) wants everyone to flaunt their roots! Launched just a few months ago, this first-ever online home for family history programming boasts 20 channels of great shows for the roots-enthusiast -- all available 24/7 and almost all for free. And now viewers have the opportunity to submit their own video through the freshly introduced RootsTube channel and win $500!

Yes, it’s finally here! The perfect way for millions of genealogists around the globe to share their sleuthing adventures, family reunion mishaps, cemetery explorations, interviews with WWII vets, trips to the old country, or even the local society’s monthly lectures. With a few easy-to-follow instructions, anyone can put their video out there for fellow roots-lovers to enjoy.

To celebrate the launch of RootsTube, Roots TelevisionTM is holding a Wild Roots! contest. While submissions of all things genealogical are welcome, viewers are invited to tell the world about the craziest thing they ever did in their quest to learn about their heritage. Did you accidentally pull an all-nighter at your computer? Did you cross a field with a bull in it to get to an old cemetery? Did you purposely get yourself locked into a library overnight? If so, we want to hear about it. You can tell your tale directly to the camera, re-enact it, animate it, use hand puppets or whatever appeals to you. Do it by yourself or with your sister, research buddies, fellow society members, or that 6th cousin of yours in New Zealand. All countries and languages welcome! On May 15, 2007, Roots Television will select and announce the winner of the Wild Roots! contest.

While you’re at it, why not take a few minutes to explore what else Roots Television™ has to offer? Check out our recently unveiled new look that makes it easier than ever to navigate around our 20 channels that include DNA, Military, Kids, Dearly Departed, African Roots, How To and more. Watch your favorite speakers at national conferences, peek over Flat Stanley’s shoulder as he does his roots, or see how Bob Zins used DNA testing to find out who his real father was. Browse the program guide to see what must-see video you might be missing. While you’re there, subscribe to the Og Blog or our newsletter to keep up on the latest programs – and keep an eye out for an exciting new original series coming soon!

Return to Top

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.

  • 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"
  • May 5, 2007 - Haddonfield, NJ - Red Kimono Day - "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • 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"
  • October 21, 2007 - Wilmington, DE - Delaware Genealogical Society - "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • October 28-November 4, 2007 - 2007 Genealogy Conference and Cruise - hosted by Wholly Genes Software - Speaking topics TBD.
  • 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"
  • April 12, 2008 - Pittsburgh, PA - Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society - Details TBD.
  • April 26, 2008 - Topeka, KS - Topeka Genealogical Society - Details TBD.
  • May 2-3, 2008 - Lincoln, NE - Nebraska State Genealogical Society - Details TBD.

Return to Top

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

Return to Top