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Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

July 15, 2009

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Apparently it's milestone time. One year of Unclaimed Persons and nine years of grants. I hope you'll enjoy reading about both. And if you happen to have a little free time this month, you might want to mosey on over to RootsTelevision.com to check out the new videos coming out from the Southern California Genealogical Jamboree – starting with Tukufu Zuberi of History Detectives! Hope you're all enjoying your summer and making lots of wonderful genealogical discoveries!


In this newsletter. . .

Genealogical Round Up, June 4

LOVE these files. Will be a fun new toy for many! -Immigration files offer hidden history of America
Immigration files offer hidden history of America - USATODAY.com

No more free testing from SMGF
On-line Journal of Genetics and Genealogy: Sorenson suspends most free DNA testing

Lisa See's latest, Shanghai Girls: Love that her books always have a strong element of family history
For Lisa See, Los Angeles' Chinatown was always like stepping into her past - Los Angeles Times

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Unclaimed Persons Solves 83 Cases by its First Birthday!

Addressed to the Unclaimed Persons - Private group on Facebook (note: if you don't already belong, you'll have to make a request to join):

Happy birthday! Unclaimed Persons (UP) is one year old today!

Well, more or less. I went to our old Facebook environment and see that I first posted on June 5th of last year, so this seems about the right date. I am delighted to tell you that in our first year, we have managed to assist coroners and medical examiners in Hillsborough County, FL (Tampa); Los Angeles County, CA; Travis County, TX; San Diego County, CA; San Bernardino County, CA; and Fulton County, GA (Atlanta). All told, we have successfully located family members for 83 unclaimed persons. Because of your efforts, there are 83 families scattered across the country who are no longer wondering about their lost loved ones. Take a moment to let that sink in because it's rather remarkable when you think about it. Given that this is our first birthday, I thought it would also be a good time to share some news about our future. I am beyond thrilled to tell you that Skip Murray, Keri Maurus and Janis Martin will be your new leadership team. I'm delighted because I think that Keri, Skip and Janis are an ideal combination to lead UP forward. Among them, they have tons of case experience, outstanding research skills, a contagious can-do attitude, an intimate knowledge of UP's operations, and astonishing organizational skills. I know that UP's future is in the best possible hands and will only grow stronger.

As to me, I will be “retiring,” if that's the right word! As you may or may not know, my involvement in all this is largely accidental. I had quietly been researching cases for a few coroners' offices for several years, and my RootsTelevision.com (RTV) partner, Marcy Brown, and I decided this would be a good topic for a show. So we made one focusing on a couple of cases I did. We went live with the show on RootsTelevision.com a little over a year ago – sometime last May, as I recall. Once we did this, RTV was inundated with emails from genealogists saying that they wanted to do the same kind of thing. RTV is a small company and didn't want to become an obstacle or bottleneck to all the obvious enthusiasm for helping tackle an important problem of national scope. I had recently started playing with Facebook and knew that they had some sort of group functionality, so I decided to launch a group there where folks could gather. I think most of you know the story from there. This simple gathering morphed into the organization we have today.

I am very pleased to have had a part in bringing this quiet epidemic to the attention to a large group of people who are in a position to do something about it. And I'm honored to have played a leading role along with Dee Welborn, Terry Elliott and others in guiding UP through its first year. My intention was to create a vehicle of sorts – an environment where people interested in the topic could solve cases that were provided by coroners. I also thought it was important to have a conventional web presence, so I designed www.unclaimedpersons.org and had the site created. But I never intended to run UP, and with the assorted hats I wear in the genealogical world, it's become increasingly difficult to juggle everything.

So now seems a good time to step aside. UP is stable and performing well, and will only get better under the stewardship of Keri, Janis and Skip. I will assist with the transition, but from this point on, future decisions about UP's operations will be in the hands of this capable troika!

Thanks to each one of you for all you have contributed – your time, energy, enthusiasm and talents. And thanks for the difference you've made in so many lives. You're all amazing and it's been my privilege to work with you.

Take care,

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Genealogical Round Up, June 11

My family tree & DNA results echo each other health-wise. "Life-Saving Secrets in Your Family Tree":
The Life-Saving Secrets in Your Family Tree - WSJ.com

Thanks for spreading the word, Myrt!
DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Blog: Cemetery research videos

Would you mind wrapping up this death certificate with that gown?
Grand opening cocktail party at Genealogy Boutique & Formals | Seersucker & Stilettos | Charleston C

Love stories of remembrance
61 boys in cemetery nameless no longer | lansingstatejournal.com | Lansing State Journal

When is a Tree not a Tree? A presumed family legacy uprooted
A presumed family legacy uprooted - The Boston Globe

Unclaimed Persons Solves 83 Cases by its First Birthday!
Roots Television | Megan's Roots World: Unclaimed Persons Solves 83 Cases by its First Birthday!

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9 Years of Genealogy Grants!

Nine years ago -- back in May 2000 -- I started the Honoring Our Ancestors Grants Program. It's a modest program run and funded by myself with the help of my good-natured husband, Brian. Folks take about five minutes to complete a brief form on my personal website and once a month, I print out all the latest applications. Brian and I then head to a coffee house along with new applications and all the others from the previous five months (they remain active for six months). Then we pick one and I write a check. That's the whole process. It's that simple. The only requirement is that they be for some sort of genealogically-oriented initiative.

When we picked the one for this May, it dawned on us that we've been doing this for nine years. I started the program as a way of giving back to the genealogical community because I consider myself very fortunate in so many ways, but I'll confess to you now that in the early days especially, it was sometimes difficult to come up with the funds for that month's grant. Still, I'm glad we stuck with it.

Every once in a while as I travel around speaking, folks will ask me about the program. How do I do my due diligence? How do I know the money is really used for the intended purpose? My system is admittedly less than scientific, but if I had any doubts whatsoever, the time leading up to the 9th anniversary this year brought me a reminder each and every month.

It's so random, but coincidentally (if that's what you want to call it!), I received a thank you out of the blue each month from someone I had given a grant to over the years -- going all the way back to 2001! Here, in chronological order, is what happened:

January 2009 -- speaking at AFFHO in Auckland, New Zealand. Christine Liava'a, who received the February 2003 grant to help with a book about 1,100 soldiers who served in WWI from Fiji, surprised me by showing up at the conference and giving me a copy of her book!
Grants NZ Grant bk cover

February 2009: I received the following email from Susan Parish who had received the May 2001 grant to store a collection of Washington State photographs.
Grants WA

March 2009: I received the following letter from the Great Falls Genealogy Society of Montana, the recipient of the June 2006 grant.
Grants MT

April 2009 -- speaking in Anchorage, Alaska: Representatives of the Totem Tracers Genealogical Society which received the February 2004 grant to capture and share cemetery records from the Kenai Peninsula surprised me by showing up and presenting me with lovely gifts, including a photo and ash from recent volcanic eruptions!
Grant AK

Thanks to each of you for reminding me why I started this grants program, and thanks for all the amazing projects you have undertaken for our collective benefit! If you'd like to browse the more than 100 other grants, please go to Honoring Our Ancestors, mouse over the Grants button at top, and select the year that interests you. And while you're there, feel free to submit for your own undertaking!

Take care,

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

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Genealogical Round Up, June 18

Thanks, Myrt! CONGRATS: Honoring Our Ancestors Grants Program
DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Blog: CONGRATS: Honoring Our Ancestors Grants Program

Apparently you can go home again. And then redecorate it.
Buying (and styling) your childhood home - TODAY Home & Garden

9 Years of Genealogy Grants!
Roots Television | Megan's Roots World: 9 Years of Genealogy Grants!

Nice to hear the State of Kansas troubled to find the family.
Deposit box unveils history | CJOnline.com

More good stuff!
Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter: National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis Opens Agency C

Promising news on FOIA . . .I'm all for open access.
NARA names FOIA overseer -- Federal Computer Week

www.23andMe.com gives a well-deserved shout-out to www.ISOGG.org! Time to check Dad's haplogroup
Genetic Testing for Health, Disease & Ancestry; DNA test - 23andMe

Think I'll wait until it gets down to four figures!
Map Your Own DNA for a Mere $48,000 - San Diego 6

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Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

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

June 2009
The Phillips County Museum is one of the major genealogical and local history resources in northern Montana, providing access to historic newspapers, obituary files, homestead plat maps, county histories, family history files, and rural school records, as well as a small library of local history reference works. The Museum also maintains an extensive collection of historic photographs of the area that have recently been digitized. The grant award will fund the purchase of a computer to allow visiting researchers to access the digitized historic photographs and other digital resources.

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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.

  • September 11-13, 2009 - Spokane, WA - Eastern Washington Genealogical Society - Topics TBD
  • February 6, 2010 - San Luis Obispo, CA - San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Online Newspaper Research," "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Right Annie, Wrong Annie"
  • March 20, 2010 - Round Rock, TX - Williamson County Genealogical Society - Topics TBD
  • July 8, 2010 - Toms River, NJ - Ocean County Library "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt" - 6:30 p.m.
  • October 16, 2010 - Louisville, KY - Louisville Genealogical Society - Topics TBD

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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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