Text size:  A  A  A  

Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

June 15, 2008

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

It's been a comparatively quiet month, but I'm getting ready to head out to Louisiana and Southern California soon. Hope to see lots of you while I'm on the road. And by the way, if you haven't checked my schedule lately, take a look as I'm heading everywhere from Auckland, New Zealand to Anchorage, Alaska to Manchester, New Hampshire! This genie gets around! Here's hoping that you're all off to a summer full of genealogical adventures and discoveries!


In this newsletter. . .

Bad News for Catholics

As a Catholic myself, this really disappoints me:

Catholics told not to give LDS parish data

Now, Catholics around the world will have a tougher time of tracing their roots, as if it isn't already challenging enough in places like Ireland.

Kimberly Powell does an excellent job of summarizing the situation:
Vatican Orders Catholic Parish Registers Off-Limits to LDS Church

The part that got my attention is that the Vatican declared back in 2001 that baptism conferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not valid. This is the disconnect for me. I have no objection to what the LDS Church does because, given that I don't hold the same beliefs, I don't perceive my own ancestors as being baptized into the Mormon faith. Moreover, if you watch this interview I taped just a few weeks ago with Ahmad Corbitt, Public Affairs Director (NYC) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you'll see that he explains that members of the LDS Church believe that those who lived before us have a choice about the baptism as well.

I personally will gratefully accept and use any Catholic records the LDS Church chooses to make available. And I sincerely hope that some additional thought will be given to this issue and a reversal will be made. Otherwise, all Catholics better start leaving an excellent trail for their descendants!

Return to Top

Good News for Czechs

Well, bad news for Catholics (see above), but good news for Czechs!

Return to Top

Return of a Slave-Owned Bible

This is actually pretty cool. I do a lot of orphan heirloom rescues, but I don't often take even temporary custodianship of the item in question, but this time I did. I had the pleasure of returning a Bible that had once been owned by former slaves to one of their descendants. You can read the full article here:

Who Gets the Bible?

Return to Top

Random Links

As I surf around, I come across all sorts of interesting and useful sites, so every once in a while, I like to do a bit of a round up. So here's a recent batch:

-- The latest issue of The Journal of Genetic Genealogy

-- For my fellow military brats who know what it's like to have no home town: Military Brats Registry

-- For those interested in playing with Ancestry.com's recently released income tax records (1862-1918): A Taxing History

-- A really cool, recent database release by Ancestry.com: U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914

Return to Top

DNA: Deja Vu All Over Again All Over Again

Boy, this is getting old. There's a fresh batch of articles circulating in the U.K. claiming that genetic genealogy tests are a rip-off. Here's just one:

£200-a-time ancestral DNA test kits are a rip off, say experts

What's especially disappointing is that this one is driven by an article that apparently appeared in Ancestors, a popular British genealogy magazine. The person who took the testing is mentioned as a deputy editor, so given that genetic genealogy has been around since 2000, you would think that she would be fairly savvy about the topic. But sadly, she's not. In fact, based on the information included in the online newspaper articles, she's impressively clueless. It sounds, for instance, as if she tried to compare her mtDNA results with autosomal ones. Here's a comment I posted on one of the newspaper sites to try to explain why this makes no sense:

Based on the information provided in this article, it sounds as if Ms. Law is comparing apples and oranges. For instance, it sounds as if she's comparing the results of an mtDNA test (her direct maternal line) to an autosomal test (which would include contributions from ancestors from all branches of her family tree). In the case of the third test, there isn't enough information here to be sure which one she took. This is roughly equivalent to getting measured by several companies and being surprised that the height and weight results weren't identical. I hope I have misunderstood because I would assume that a magazine called "Ancestors" would have troubled to master the basics of genetic genealogy (which has been around since 2000) before publishing an article on it.

In my opinion, we either sadly have an editor from a genealogy magazine failing to do even the most basic of research before publishing an article or we have a magazine just trying to attract attention. Unfortunately, it's succeeded in gaining attention for badly distorted information. What really blows my mind is the fact that it's a genealogy publication that's done this. Why would they, of all people, try to scare folks off with misinformation?

At any rate, I apologize if I sound beyond frustrated with this, but it's because I'm been here so many times before. Check out this posting of mine from last October that referenced an earlier posting of mine from June of 2006 that referenced something I wrote in early 2004. If folks are going to continue to attack genetic genealogy, they should at least try to be accurate and/or original!

60 Minutes on DNA: Deja Vu All Over Again

Return to Top

Let's Scuba to the Cemetery!

Just when I think I've seen it all, I spot this article on an underwater cemetery:

Artificial reef near Miami is cemetery, diving attraction

I hope they keep good records because this would be a tricky one to transcribe!

Return to Top

What Ancestry.com's Done for You Lately

CEO Tim Sullivan is at NGS on this, Ancestry.com's 25th anniversary. Among other things, he's sharing some highlights of what the company has been up to over the last year or two. Pretty amazing, eh?

Ancestry.com Global Content, Product, and Marketing Update - May 14, 2008

P.S. Yes, I'm Chief Family History of Ancestry.com, so my opinion is -- let's say -- gently biased. But seriously, 7 billion records and all those other toys?! Not too shabby.

Return to Top

Congrats to the ISFHWE Winners!

The annual ISFHWE awards were just announced at NGS, so I'd like to congratulate all the winners:

Category I-Newspaper Columns
First Place: Mary Alice Dell, "Land Ho"
Second Place: Julie Miller, "Dear Lucy, Love Phil: A Cotton Family Legacy"
Third Place: Mary Penner, "Union Vets Joined Posts Across Nation"

Category II-Articles
First Place: Colleen Fitzpatrick, "Clues Left Around a House"
Second Place: Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak: "Found! Serial Centenarians"
Third Place: Schelly Talalay Dardashti: "Planting the Family Tree"

Category III-Original Research Story
First Place: Hazlehurst Smith Beezer, "Dr. James Hill: Skeleton in the Hall Family Closet"
Second Place: Terry R. Barnhart, "Unraveling the Mystery in Ginghamsburg"
Third Place: Nancy Waters Lauer, "When a Brick Wall Crumbles Onto the Wrong Path"

Category IV-Want-to-Be Writer/Columnist
First Place: Debra A. Hoffman, "Bricks & Mortality"
Second Place: Harold Henderson, "City Directories as Clue Factories"
Third Place: J.H. Fonkert, "Celebrate Minnesota's History by Starting Your Own"

P.S. Here's a link to the one I wrote, a story that's now become part of my "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt" talk!
Serial Centenarian

Return to Top

USCIS sets up genealogy service

Sure hope this is true!

USCIS sets up genealogy service

If it is, I bet we have Marian Smith to thank!

Return to Top

In Memorium: Seton Shields

Two years ago, my mother passed away. For those of you who happen to be Catholic, you'll know what it means when I say that my sister and I had our own Mother Seton.

Several months after she passed away, I wrote about the experience of finding Mom in the Social Security Death Index for the first time. Apparently, it struck a chord for both emotional and practical reasons, so there are more than 30 responses posted. I think it probably remains the most authentic piece I've ever written, so today, in memory of a remarkable, before-her-time woman, here's a bit of a replay, a link to the original article:

Using Ancestry.com: SSDI Blues

Return to Top

Genealogy Everywhere!

I can't help it. I see genealogy everywhere I look. Here are some random recent spottings that caught my attention:

Who's your daddy?
The body of an Australian politician notorious for his womanising has been dug up for DNA testing a century after his death to settle a paternity case . . .

Dutch first in decoding female DNA
A red-haired, 34-year-old Dutch woman has become the first woman in the world to have her compete DNA unraveled . . .

A Case of MisTaken Identity?
(TV show) A Case of MisTaken Identity?" chronicles one man's search for the father he never knew. . .

Unearthing bones can also unearth family secrets (might have to sign in)
It started off as a routine DNA test to help two parents from a wealthy Southern family decide whether to have children. But the saga that unfolded as a genetic counselor investigated the family's biological roots became a tale of long-concealed secrets worthy of a Faulkner novel. . .

For 60 years, her birth date was wrong
Her entire life, Meriellen Lacy, 60, believed she was born on June 27. Thursday, she found out that was wrong. . .

Springfield construction site turns up mystery skeleton
A shovelful at a time, Chris Ruiz sifts dirt from an unmarked grave through a one-eighth-inch screen. There are bones there. But whose?

And finally -- and I heartily agree with this:
Everyone's a historian now; How the Internet - and you - will make history deeper, richer, and more accurate. (might have to sign in)
UNTIL RECENTLY, IF you were a historian and you wanted to write a fresh account of, say, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in World War II, research was a pretty straightforward business. You would pack your bags and head to the National Archives, and spend months looking for something new in the official combat reports . . .

Return to Top

Coroners and Genealogists Join Forces in New Show to Tackle Quiet Epidemic of Unclaimed Persons

Please help spread the word about our latest show at RootsTelevision.com. It's about a serious epidemic that most folks are clueless about -- and it just so happens that genealogists are in a good position to help. In addition to an episode about a couple of actual cases I worked on, you'll also find a bonus video showing the research I did to solve one of the cases. Please read the following, watch Unclaimed Persons, and tell others! Thanks! -- Megan

PROVO, UT, May 28, 2008 -- What happens to people when they die with no next of kin to claim their bodies? RootsTelevision.com, an online channel dedicated to all aspects of genealogy and family history, has launched a new show, Unclaimed Persons, to bring attention to this largely unknown epidemic. Coroners' offices across the country are struggling to cope with thousands of unclaimed people whose identities are known, but for whom no family can be found.

"I knew about John and Jane Does," said genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, "but I had no idea about all these unclaimed people who are usually cremated and buried in unmarked graves, and that's often after several months on a shelf in a morgue. We hear about abandoned pets, but you never hear about these abandoned bodies."

Accidentally stumbling across an article about one such case is what prompted Smolenyak Smolenyak to cold call a couple of coroners' offices and offer her sleuthing skills for tracking down family members. Unclaimed Persons features cases -- one involving a man who was found in his jeep in the desert and had been lost to his family for more than 50 years -- from Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania and San Bernardino County, California.

Says RootsTelevision.com co-founder Marcy Brown, "We hope this show will create awareness, and that viewers will help with unsolved cases. But most of all, we hope it will motivate folks to pick up the phone and call that brother they haven't spoken with in decades. I think it will make people ask themselves if maybe it's time to call home."

Unclaimed Persons can be viewed at www.RootsTelevision.com.

About RootsTelevision.com
RootsTelevision.com was launched online in late 2006 and already provides more than 1,000 videos -- free, on-demand and 24/7 -- for family history enthusiasts around the globe. In its first year, this Internet-based channel won four Telly Awards for its diverse programming. For more information, please visit www.RootsTelevision.com.

Press Release Contact Information:
Marcy Brown
Phone: 801-494-5634
E-Mail: unclaimedpersons@rootstelevision.com
Website: www.rootstelevision.com

Return to Top

Amusing Endorsement for Trace Your Roots with DNA

I don't know who Clif is -- clearly a fellow who watches his pennies -- but I had to laugh when I read his remarks about Trace Your Roots with DNA. Still, it may be the single, kindest comment ever made about our book, so thanks, Clif! Here's the gist:

Smolenyak and Turner: Excellent writers!

I visited Barnes and Noble several times to sit in the Starbucks (in the bookstore) and read "Trace Your Roots with DNA" by Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner.

After I finished reading the book in the store, reading cover to cover, I decided to buy it anyway. I bought it, not because I needed the book, but because I was so impressed with the authors, that I thought they deserved the sale.

Return to Top

Wanna Be My (Facebook) Friend?

I've been toying around with Facebook now for several months, and I have to say that I really like it. Like many taking their baby steps, I was borderline obsessed for a short while -- throwing strawberries at my friends, insisting on more cowbell, and mapping out the countries where I've traveled. If some or all of this doesn't make sense to you, don't worry -- it didn't to me either until a short while ago.

I haven't written about it before because I suspected that I might be going through a honeymoon phase and would grow bored after a while, but that's not been the case. In fact, if anything, I've become increasingly enchanted because -- over the last month or so -- genealogists seem to be flocking to Facebook.

I think what especially appeals to me is the ability to socialize between conferences. So many of us just see each other once a year or communicate only by email or message boards, but Facebook provides the means to link with folks and lots of alternatives for letting someone know that you're thinking of them. And yes, I know you can socialize in a sense by email, but this is frankly a lot more fun. Facebook overall is pretty darn playful.

As I've become more familiar with Facebook, I've started experimenting to see how this social networking tool can also be used for practical applications, such as communicating in a public forum with RootsTelevision.com viewers and -- my latest experiment -- using this environment to assemble a team of genealogical volunteers to help coroners' offices tackle the problem of Unclaimed Persons. And so far, I'm impressed.

So please consider this your invitation to join me on Facebook in any or all of three ways:

-- as my friend

-- as a friend of RootsTelevision.com

-- as a friend of the Unclaimed Persons research initiative

If you're already on Facebook, you already know how to add me to your friends. And if you're new, you'll have to register, but it's free. And I suspect you're going to have lots of fun finding all your other friends who are already on there!

Return to Top

Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Congrats to our recent grant recipient! Don't forget that you can apply here.  

June 2008
Through her website, Arkansas Ties, Pris Weathers has been photographing and archiving Arkansas history since 2000. She has over 200 cemeteries indexed online and over 1,800 pages of Arkansas History.  The grant will cover website fees, allowing her to double the size of her site and provide even more Arkansas information and pictures.

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.

  • 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 - Details 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 - South Portland, 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" 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. - "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options", "Right Annie, Wrong Annie"
  • January 16-20, 2009 - Auckland, New Zealand - Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations 12th Australasian Congress on Genealogy & Heraldry - Topics TBD
  • February 14, 2009 - Secaucus, NJ - Hudson County Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • March 7, 2009 - Surrey, BC - Surrey Public Library - Details TBD
  • April 18, 2009 - Anchorage, AK - Anchorage Genealogical Society - "Introduction to Ancestry.com," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Find that Obituary! Online Newspaper Research" and "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt"
  • April 22-26, 2009 - Manchester, NH - The New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2009 - Topics TBD
  • September 11-13, 2009 - Spokane, WA - Eastern Washington Genealogical Society - Topics 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