Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter
August 15, 2006
By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak
This is another long issue, so I'll keep my greetings short. There's something about blogging that makes me perhaps a little more prolific than I should be! I hope your summer is going great, that you're finding lots of elusive ancestors, that someone reading this will solve the Annie Moore mystery (the search is still on!), and that I'll see some of you at FGS in a few weeks!
In this newsletter. . .
OK, that's a bit of a misnomer. The Annie in question wasn't an orphan in the usual sense, but she is in a genealogical sense because her true story has been lost. What am I talking about?
Devout Ellis Island fans like myself are well aware that the first immigrant to land there was Annie Moore, who arrived from Ireland with her brothers, Anthony and Phillip, on January 1, 1892. She was greeted with much fanfare and a $10 gold coin. You can read all about it here and see her arrival record here (note: you may have to sign in to view it; registration is free).
Since then, she's been commemorated in statues at both Ellis Island and the Cobh Heritage Centre, and has crept into American national lore. She's celebrated in St. Patrick's Day parades. Pubs are named after her in New York City and St. Pete Beach, Florida. Books have been written about her.
This is all well and good, so what's my point? Well, not surprisingly, since she's a historical celebrity of sorts, folks want to know what became of her. And many sources gratify this curiosity. Here's an online example. And here are a couple of additional examples, the first from Coming to America, a children's book based on her story (registered Amazon.com users can see the whole page by going to amazon.com, searching on "Coming to America," selecting the "search inside this book" feature, and entering "1958"), and the second from a booklet I purchased at the Cobh Heritage Centre over in County Cork, Ireland.
Of course, this is a great story. It's a classic go-West-young-woman tale riddled with tragedy. Who doesn't like that? If only it were true.
The problem is that the Annie Moore whose story is told time and time again -- and whose photo is even displayed in the American National Tree (and companion book) at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center -- is the wrong one.
How do I know? I researched her for a documentary. Guess what? This Annie Moore was born in Illinois, not Ireland.
I didn't want it to be true. In fact, I tried for document after document, hoping to discover that it was just an accident that "Illinois" had been scribbled on a single paper. But nope, it was Illinois. I've got this Annie's marriage record. I've got her obit. I've got her death record. I've got all her census records. I know where she's buried. I even have a recollection from one of her daughters printed in a local history publication -- no mention of Ellis Island anywhere. And her parents and siblings don't match those of Ellis Island Annie in any of these docs either.
I actually did enough research to figure out how this myth started circulating. Let me be clear about one thing: there's been no attempt to deceive on the part of anyone. What happened is that a family fell prey to an elderly relative's fanciful tale -- an innocent exaggeration that morphed into indisputable family lore. How many times have we all seen this happen? Over time, this now-deceased woman's wishful thinking claimed more victims, as folks simply accepted her version of reality as truth without questioning it.
I've let this be for a while. Occasionally, I've made an attempt to learn the truth -- to discover what became of the real Annie Moore of Ellis Island fame. But so far, I haven't succeeded. It's a bit of a needle-in-a-haystack situation. And that's where you come in.
I'm offering $1,000 for the first proof of what became of Ellis Island's true Annie Moore. This is not a joke. Those of you who are familiar with my Honoring Our Ancestors Grants program know that I put my money where my mouth is.
I want to know the truth, and I'm hoping some great genealogists out there can unearth it. So try to solve the mystery yourself or join up with a research buddy and tackle it. For that matter, why not make it a project for your local genealogical society? Or just spread the word. Together, we can find out what happened to Ellis Island's Annie Moore.
Here are links to follow-up pieces I've written. And be sure to check the blog for all the comments that have been posted (to get more clues)!
Those of you who have been at genealogy for 20 minutes or longer know that The Source is one of the must-have items for your genealogy library. Fortunately, a freshly updated version has just been released. I haven't been able to see it yet (still waiting for my copy), but I caught Joe Beine's review at the Genealogy Roots Blog. Looks like a keeper, although I wouldn't have expected any less.
P.S. I've got a brief section in there on finding those ancestors in the Ellis Island database, so take a look if great-granddaddy is still playing hide-and-seek with you. Hint: start at Steve Morse's site.
Discovery has yet another article on a topic I see time and time again -- the remarkable discovery that some celebrities are related to each other. In In Politics, Some Ties Are by Blood, the writer is surprised to discover that George Bush and Dick Cheney are distant cousins. This is a popular angle for articles these days. In fact, it's become something of an election ritual to "reveal" that the candidates are related. Personally, I'm astonished at their astonishment.
Take any two families that have been in the U.S. for a few centuries, and odds are -- if you care enough and are willing to work at it -- you can find a connection. We're all cousins, and if you do the math (2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, etc.) and toss in the collaterals, we're cousins much sooner than most folks suspect. Add other ingredients, such as having affluent ancestors (as is still the case with most politicians), and the convergence will occur still sooner.
At any rate, I'm pleased to see genealogy get a little PR in the mass media for any reason, so if this does the job, I'm all for it!
Many of you know that I work on the U.S. Army's Repatriation project, tracking down family members of soldiers still unaccounted for from Korea (and occasionally, WWII and Vietnam). Working on these cases, I encounter some truly peculiar circumstances -- and one of my latest cases is definitely on the unexpected side.
I just contacted a gentleman in his 70s informing him that he had a brother who was killed in Korea in 1950. Until my call, he had no clue that this brother ever existed. Fortunately, he's an open-minded fellow and fascinated with all this -- curious to know more about his roots.
It's a strange call to make -- to tell someone about a sibling they've never heard of -- but this isn't the first time I've dealt with this set of circumstances. And this -- in addition to the prospect of some soldiers finally being identified and properly interred -- is why I love doing this work.
I just love the curves it tosses at me and the opportunity to give folks pieces of their family history that they never knew about -- just as I got to do on the recent BBC show where I tracked down a woman in Scotland to tell her about her Civil War hero great-uncle. He was one of the fellows who went down on the U.S.S. Monitor, but that knowledge had been lost to the family. Lucky me to get to dwell in history's mysteries practically every day!
Anyone else out there remember that great movie The Russians Are Coming? I love when the Russians are running around, screaming at everyone with their heavy accents, "The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Ev-er-ee-bod-ee to get from the streets!" Seems that's the way some react to genealogists these days.
In Massachusetts Prepares for Invaders, always hilarious Chris Dunhum (of The Genealogue) tells of Massachusetts's efforts to batten down the hatches for the upcoming onslaught of genealogists at this year's FGS conference.
It's tongue-in-cheek, of course, but sadly, it seems that genealogists find themselves on the defensive more and more often -- particularly with regard to attempts to deny, or at least, severely curtail access to vital records.
Whenever you hear of one of these initiatives, please take the time to add your voice by contacting the relevant politicians and expressing your concerns. Such attempts are usually sold to the public on the notion that they somehow protect us from fraud, identity theft and/or terrorism, but the reality is that they don't. To learn more, take a quick read of Dick Eastman's So Why Lock Up the Birth Records?
Just received this about Family Tree DNA's annual genetic genealogy conference on November 3-4, 2006:
The only catch is that you have to be the administrator of an active surname project at Family Tree DNA in order to register. That's how they keep attendance to a manageable level. I've been to the first two conferences, and it's great chance to mingle with other avid genetealogists and find out the latest and greatest.
Finally, a place to buy milk chocolate caskets! They're soooo hard to find! You can find these and satisfy your morbid curiosity at the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, Illinois.
Shhhh. Don't tell anyone about this or they'll take it off the internet: birthdatabase.com.
If DNAPrint Genomics can sell their genetic genealogy products through dentists, why shouldn't relative newcomer, Chromosomal Laboratory, team up with a medical testing company, eh? More details available in this press release: MyMedLab.com and Chromosomal Laboratory Announce Partnership to Deliver Cutting-Edge DNA Testing Directly to Consumers.
If genealogical cozies appeal to you (don't worry, I didn't know what they were either), check out this piece of mine that just appeared in Ancestry.com's 24-7 Family History Circle.
And by the way, if you're interested in books with something of a genealogical theme, but not necessarily a how-to, check out 24-7's Book and Movie Club where you'll find plenty of suggestions and review.
I've been a little frustrated with genetic genealogy articles in the mainstream media of late. It's such a hot topic that folks who don't know much about it are writing up a storm. And while I'm grateful that genetealogy is finally getting its due, I'm also concerned about the confusion created by pieces that -- in the defense of the writers -- have to be cranked out under impossible deadlines.
So I've decided to rate the articles I stray across. For instance, just a few days ago, I mentioned an article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It was one of the better ones I've read -- well-researched and explained through effective examples -- so I'm retroactively scoring it 8.5 out of 10 (have to leave myself wiggle room for future articles!)
Today, there's a piece called Finding Out Who You Are in the Lawrence Journal-World. Unfortunately, I think it's one of those that confuses more than it enlightens, so I'm giving it a 4.
I'm not sure which test Alice Lieberman, who's profiled in the article, would have taken from Family Tree DNA that provides the kind of results she shares (it sounds like a BioGeographical test, but FTDNA doesn't offer them). Also, the article states that Lierberman can't be tested for the "Cohen marker," as she desires, since she's female. Well, there isn't a "Cohen marker" (it would be a collection of markers -- or haplotype -- that would provide insight), and all she has to do is get her brother or father (or other paternal relative) tested as her proxy. There are other shortcomings to the article, but that will give you a feel.
If you trip across any articles on genetic genealogy or have opinions about ones shared here, please feel free to add your comments. Thanks.
As I mentioned a few days ago, I've decided to start rating mainstream media articles on genetic genealogy. I'm still playing with names for the rating system. What do you think of a Gigi Score? I often use "gg" as an abbreviation for "genetic genealogy," so I'm thinking this might be an appropriate name for my little rating system. Any opinions?
Anyway, there's another article of interest today in The Saginaw News, entitled Finding the lost tribe Science gives people with lost history a glimpse at origin (phew! out of breath!).
I'm giving this one a 7.5 out of 10. It focuses on the roots of an African-American woman who took a test from African Ancestry. I found it slightly confusing because it interweaves her genetic results with her family history lore, and it's not entirely clear where the two intersect. Also, the article neglects to mention an important nuance of this particular testing -- that it's slightly overstating things to say that her direct maternal line (I believe this is the line she tested) definitely came from the Hausa and Masa tribes of current-day Cameroon. It's very possible over time that this same genetic signature will be found elsewhere in Africa, given that mankind has longer to migrate in Africa than anyplace else. So these results are a strong indication, but fall shy of absolute fact. If you caught PBS's African-American Lives earlier this year, you know what I'm talking about. Most of the featured celebrities found that their genetic signatures matched folks in perhaps 4 of 5 places around Africa.
Having said that, virtually every article on African Ancestry tests neglects to mention this. And aside from that, the piece is well-balanced -- not wildly pro-genetealogy, nor anti-genetealogy. And perhaps this is biasing me, but I'm quoted a couple of times in the article -- and I'm quoted accurately! And that hardly ever happens.
P.S. One other tiny quibble -- the piece notes that mtDNA "is passed from mother to daughter without much change." Yes, this is true -- and in the context of the testing that was done, it's a key point. But just to be technically correct, mtDNA is passed by mothers to both their sons and their daughters. But the sons don't pass it on; they become a genetic dead-end for mtDNA.
Some of you may know that I have a bit of a habit of rescuing items that stray from their families of origin. You can find a bunch of examples here.
Well, here's the latest rescue - a Bible that went from one nursing home to another. If you happen to be one of those people who's somehow wound up with other people's stuff (that you'd like to return), you can submit the details to me. I can't get to and solve every single case, but I have a pretty good hit rate!
Well, I feel as if I've truly arrived. Why? Because complete strangers are blogging about what an idiot I am! In this case, my idiocy apparently stems from the "uber ridiculous" decision to use my name. I admit it's tempting to toss off a wicked comment in return, but I have to give them credit -- they read Newsweek and never once misspelled "Smolenyak." I'll be sure to tell Diane so she can claim her t-shirt . . .
Back on July 12th, I wrote about an upcoming online e-symposium on Genetic Genealogy being hosted by DNAPrint Genomics. I attended the conference a couple of days ago and found most of the presentations to be quite interesting.
In particular, I was intrigued by Edward Ball's talk on his upcoming book (to be published next year by Simon & Schuster), which he describes as a "genetic memoir." I had read two of Ball's captivating books, Slaves in the Family and The Sweet Hell Inside, so probably shouldn't have been surprised that he would venture into the world of genetic genealogy.
He had the good fortune to be born into a fascinating family, and as it turns out, his luck hasn't run out yet. As you can see from the mini-screen capture below (this will give you a sense of how an e-symposium works -- you hear a voice narrate over what appear to be PowerPoint slides), he discovered a bunch of hair samples from his ancestors -- each one carefully labelled and dated. Who gets that lucky?
At any rate, he decided to delve into genetealogy to see what these hair samples might reveal. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a myth that hair is a good source for DNA. Unless there are roots involved, you'll probably only be able to get mtDNA -- and if the sample is old, even that is questionable. So I wasn't surprised to hear that Ball found the results somewhat disappointing -- less than precise and occasionally conflicting (as he consulted geneticists around the globe). While I'll be one of the first in line for his new book, I hope he doesn't come out as anti-genetealogy based on his hair expedition. Avid genetic genealogists are well aware of the limitations of mtDNA, which is why it's such a distant second to Y-DNA.
When I speak on the topic, I always explain that mtDNA is primarily a deep ancestry tool and is usually not all that helpful in a genealogical sense. There are a few exceptions -- and as testing advances, mtDNA will likely become more useful in the future -- but right now, mtDNA is mostly used to give you a sense of roughly when and how your direct maternal line migrated out of Africa.
I may be way off-base, and perhaps I didn't listen carefully enough (I freely admit that I haven't listened to his talk a second time yet, so my memory could be faulty). And Ball may be withholding a lot of information about the measures he took until the book comes out. Maybe he did all sorts of testing on all sorts of people. Maybe he sought out all the necessary distant cousins to create a genetic pedigree. I don't know.
But the impression I was left with the other day is that he had relied primarily on mtDNA and was disappointed with the results -- as those acquainted with genetic genealogy would expect. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that my initial sense is off -- that he used several types of testing on both the dearly departed and his many living cousins. We'll see what next year brings.
Now here's the good news. If you'd like to see Ball's talk yourself -- or any of the others -- you still can. Go to www.ancestry.e-symposium.com and register (it's free). Then click on the speaker you want to hear, and you're good to go! (One suggestion: do it using Internet Explorer. I tried initially with Mozilla Foxfire and it hung up.)
JDR of the Anglo-Celtic Connections blog recently wrote about a fun mapping tool that you can find here. It's an online toy you can use to designate the countries you've been to, but JDR suggests the alternative of using it to show the countries your ancestors hailed from (well, reflecting today's boundaries, so an approximation).
I went ahead and followed JDR's suggestion (immediately below) and then -- as best as I could recall -- attempted to highlight the places I've traveled (second map). Only gripe: no Antarctica!
And for those Americans who like to stay close to home or and/or have deep domestic roots, there's a U.S. states map as well.
Makes you think for a second, doesn't it?
I'll post more of these from time to time, but if you've got some time for surfing, you can check them out yourself at www.ancestralfindings.com.
For those who are new to my blog, I decided not long ago to start rating articles on genetic genealogy (which I often call genetealogy) that appear in the popular press. I don't know if it's really fair to rate this article from the Austin American-Statesman because it's an editorial, but it has one statement that's so glaringly wrong that I had to include it.
According to this piece, "Genetic genealogy is based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)." That will come as quite a shock to the many thousands who have been using a combination of Y-DNA, mtDNA and autosomal DNA to trace their roots. In fact, in terms of popularity, Y-DNA leaves mtDNA in the dust.
Mitochondrial DNA is often the only option when it comes to tackling history's mysteries -- and that's why it makes so many appearances in those PBS and BBC documentaries where they're always disinterring someone. But in terms of folks actually out there getting tested to learn more about their roots, Y-DNA (which is passed from father to son down through the generations) is the test of choice.
Having said that, the underlying theme of this article -- the notion that we're all related -- is valid. And that's why I'm giving it a score of 6.0 (on a 0 to 10 scale).
One of my all-time favorite museums is the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City. If any of your ancestors spent some time in a tenement in a major American city, you can step into their shoes by taking a tour -- and it's pretty darn authentic. They've recreated actual residents' apartments, and if you go in summer (as I did), you'll likely find yourself soaked to the skin (no A/C for this place!). They did, however, draw the line at sanitation (a compromise much appreciated by many 21st century wimps, I'm sure). I like this place so much that one of my grants was designated for a field trip for a 4th grade class from Spanish Harlem.
But if you're not near New York -- or not tempted by the prospect of a sweat-drenched tour -- the good news is that you can visit virtually! If you go here, you can click on the hand that indicates "enter here" and/or listen to the audio tour (just look for the little headsets right under the photo of the tenement). You can also select one of the families across the top of the page to learn more about their story.
And BTW, I couldn't help but notice that they're in the process of re-creating another family's apartment -- the Moore family from Ireland. For those of you who have been following the Annie Moore contest, that's just a coincidence and has nothing to do with her family.
It also turns out that there's a freshly released book available, Biography of a Tenement House in New York City:
But one of the coolest features of this site has to be the folk songs toy. It lets you create your own city tune by mixing the sounds of a seafood salesman, a street busker, kids playing, a train and other noises you would typically hear in NYC. Don't ask me why, but I love playing with this, and I suspect you might, too.
Chris Dunham (of The Genealogue) just wrote about the project I work on for the U.S. Army -- the effort to repatriate our servicemen who are still unaccounted for from earlier conflicts -- especially Korea, Southeast Asia and WWII.
I won't repeat what Chris has said (please take a moment and read his posting), but I'd like to second what he's written and encourage you to contribute remembrances for any soldiers you might be related to or might have known. In this way, you make it easy for the Armed Forces to locate you or the serviceman's family. (And in case you're wondering why it's so challenging to locate families, read here about the 1973 fire that destroyed so many 20th century military personnel records.)
The following are the best places to search for servicemen and leave postings for each of the conflicts:
As an Army brat whose father served in Vietnam, it's my privilege to work on this project, and I'm proud of our military's efforts to ensure that no man is left behind. This is one time I would be delighted to be "worked out of a job," so please help spread the word.
Here's the latest news from the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. A new toy for genetealogists! Plus improvements in one we've been using for a while . . .
How many times have you had a hankering for a latte with your DNA test? Well, good news. Nowyou can get both in one place.
I read about this, but had to go see for myself. Sure enough, at City Coffee in Camden, NJ, you can order up paternity and other DNA tests with your iced chai.
That might sound a little peculiar, but it's all about location, location, location. You see, City Coffee is situated very close to the county courthouse -- where an occasional dispute over paternity has been known to arise. Now folks can ponder their testing options over a relaxing cup of joe.
I checked, and so far, they're not offering any genealogical DNA tests, but I sort of like the notion. Imagine if we could somehow combine courthouse research with ancestral DNA tests -- and all while indulging in a tasty beverage!
Congratulations to the April and May Honoring Our Ancestors grant awardees -- the Hartington Public Library of Hartington, NE and the Great Falls Genealogy Society of Great Falls, MT!
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.
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!
Please forward this newsletter to your family and friends who are interested in genealogy -- thank you!
Wishing you an abundance of genealogical serendipity!
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