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Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

October 15, 2007

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

This issue is a little longer than usual because it's been a busy month in genealogy-land! But I did manage to finally find the time to play catch-up with my grants, as you'll see toward the end of this newsletter (my apologies to anyone out there who's been patiently waiting). Here's wishing you an October (Family History Month, of course!) full of discoveries!


In this newsletter. . .

BBC Launches Family History Magazine

That does it! I'm moving to England! Multiple genealogy TV shows and now BBC is even getting in on the publishing act! Check out this article about their Who Do You Think You Are? magazine that's to be a companion to the on-going series.

When will American networks, cable outlets and publishers wake up to our numbers?? If there can be multiple shows on tattoo artists, truck drivers, and fishermen of all types, where are the TV series for what's purported to be the second most popular hobby in the country?

Truthfully speaking, the lack of such programming is largely what motivated those of us who launched Roots Television, but I'm more than a little surprised that we're still the only ones -- in the U.S., at any rate.

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Wonder who she is/was . . .

Well, there's debate about whether they're real or not, but they look real to me. Photos of a woman through the years found at a flea market. It's hard not to get caught up in the passage of time . . .

Click here to see what I mean.

I'd like to try to find her or what's become of her, but the only clues given are dates. Not enough to go on. *sigh*

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A Coming Boon for Chicago Researchers!

Wow! When I read this, I thought I might be dreaming! Something on the order of 24 million Cook County, Illinois records will go online around next January. Included will be:

birth certificates that are at least 75 years old, marriage certificates more than 50 years old, and death certificates more than 20 years old

Read more here: Old county records being put online (free registration required)

I'm loving this! States like Arizona, Missouri and West Virginia have put some vital records online. A healthy chunk of Ohio records are available through the Family Search beta site, while Footnote.com is adding records from Texas. And plenty of indexes are available at Ancestry.com. All I've got to say is keep it coming!

And by the way, if it's too difficult to keep up on everything, just be sure to bookmark Joe Beine's deathindexes.com.

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Genealogy show tops ratings

Now that's the kind of headline I like to see! The ratings for BBC1's Who Do You Think You Are? actually went up from previous seasons. And the show is beating the likes of Hell's Kitchen. In fact, the ratings were about 67% higher than those of this popular cooking show, which came in a distant second. Not too shabby, eh?

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It's Good to Be Famous: Barack Obama's Family Tree

If you want your roots searched in-depth for free, just be famous! Check out this multi-part article on Barack Obama's family history, including an interactive family tree, plenty of photos, unexpected connections and the like. This link will take you to the introductory article, but be sure to click around the "photo gallery" and "related stories" section. Earlier this year, I traced his Kearney branch to Moneygall, Ireland, but that's just the tip of this genealogical iceberg!

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Get Grandpa's FBI File

I'm trying to figure out some "trouble maker" (actual or otherwise) in my family who might have generated an FBI file, just so I can try out this new site.

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Sorenson Genomics Quintuples Lab Capacity

More evidence of the growing popularity of DNA testing:
Sorenson Genomics Quintuples Laboratory Capacity to Fulfill Rising Demand for DNA Testing Services

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Cool Digital Version of Ancestry Magazine!

Wow! I recently received my first digital copy of Ancestry Magazine, and I have to say that it's pretty slick!

I have a regular column called "Found" that features assorted orphan heirlooms tales (about the detective work done to reunite stray family heirlooms with their family of origin), so to give you a taste, here's the link to that article in this issue.

I'm still happy to get my hard copy of the magazine because it has some content not included in the digital version, and of course, it travels easily and is also easier to curl up with than a laptop. But still, this new digital version is -- well, fun to play with. Try it!

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What 23andMe Is Up To

If you're into genetic genealogy, you're probably curious about 23andMe. And although it's still a bit of an enigma, there's a little more to be learned in this article.

This is the comment that caught my eye:

"the company will be more focused on ancestry--questions like which parent one got more traits from, or who your distant relatives are--than medicine"

If you read the article (and BTW, there's a 3.5 hour video too, if you have the time to spare), you'll see that it appears they're going to focus on SNPs initially. I think that's probably good news since most genetic genealogy companies are more focused on STRs, so the new company's offerings may provide a nice complement to what's already available.

Regardless of your perspective, with companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe entering the space, these are definitely interesting days for those of us who like to play with our DNA!

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The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

Turns out some folks associated with the popular British series, Who Do You Think You Are?, are poking around a house in Massachusetts for a possible future episode. Wonder if there's a famous Brit with a Yank hiding in his or her family tree? Any theories from anyone familiar with this historic house?

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Of Skeletons and Whispered Tales

Was greatly amused by this article about skeletons in the closet:
Secrets in the family closet for 1 in 6 Britons

According to the statistics at the end, I have a rare scandal in my own family tree. One of my great-grandfathers was both a murderer and bigamist -- both weighing in at only 2%. Wonder what these figures would be on this side of the pond?

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Sock It To Me!

If you're the kind who enjoys a good spoof, check out the "sockumentary," The Socks to America. It tells the dramatic and inspiring saga of the Sockish people in the classic, Ken Burns style. Perfect timing, since his latest venture -- The War (all about WWII) -- is coming out later this month. If you've got three minutes to spare and are in the mood for a good laugh, check it out.

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Genealogy at the Emmys

I watched the Emmys last month and was delighted to see elements of the past and the future of genealogy.

The past was represented by the 30th anniversary tribute to Roots, a catalyst event that triggered the interest of many involved in genealogy today. It also reminded me how fortunate we at Roots Television were to welcome Chris Haley (Alex Haley's nephew) to FGS this year (for video, click here).

The future? Well, if you watched, you saw Al Gore accept the first-ever Emmy for "Interactive Television Services" for Current TV. I predicted a few years ago that this category would enter the Emmys, and it's nice to see it finally coming to pass. Perhaps next year, there will be several Emmys of this type, a few more the year after that -- and so on, until it becomes unnecessary to break such awards out separately since conventional and online television will have merged.

So what does this have to do with genealogy? Roots Television. Roots Television is our Current TV. Relatively few communities already have a dedicated online network of free programming available 24/7, but we as genealogists already do.

As one of the co-founders, I have to say it's been an odd ride -- partly because many we've dealt with haven't recognized the coming blending of regular TV and Internet-based TV. And because we've been pioneers, we've had to figure out just about everything from scratch.

So it's been challenging, but well worth it. We've only ventured out to a few conferences so far (Who Do You Think You Are Live!, FGS and the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree), but when we have, the reception has been overwhelming. Folks tell us that they'll sit and watch hours of our programming, instructors tell us that they advise their students to watch our How To channel, conference planners tell us that they watch our Conference channel to pick speakers for their events, kids and teachers alike tell us that they love watching Flat Stanley do his roots on the Roots Kids channel, and viewers tell us that they're delighted with our selection for the winner of our first viewer-submitted contest conducted through the RootsTube channel.

All that enthusiasm and last night's first-ever award tell me we're on the right path to be a part of genealogy's future. If you haven't checked out Roots Television yet, please do -- and invite your friends!

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New York Times for Free!

As Leland Meitzler and Chris Dunham (The Genealogue) -- not to mention Joy Rich -- have already reported, a huge portion of the online New York Times archives (the most recent 20 years, plus 1851-1923) will now be available for free! I went and checked it out, and sure enough, here's a rather gruesome article about an immigrant great-great-grandfather of mine from 1871:

Let's hope that this is the beginning of a trend and that other newspapers follow this example!

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Will Your Descendants Know You in 100 Years?

Microsoft Home Magazine has an article about putting your family history online:

Your family history – digital style
Use technology to bring your family tree to life

The piece includes a few predictions of mine about what's to come in the wonderful world of genealogy. Enjoy!

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mtDNA Solves Another History Mystery

Both The Genealogue and Genetic Genealogist have already blogged this, but I just have to jump in here and say what a cool story this is. Those who are familiar with mtDNA know that it's used on a regular basis to tackle history mysteries -- the Romanovs, the Titanic baby, unidentified soldiers, and so forth.

And the Washington Post had a great tale involving a 150+ year old tomb accidentally uncovered and the detective work done to identify the teenager found in the coffin.

The article tells of the false starts (research-wise) and final resolution, although my one concern is that it never addresses the limitations of mtDNA as an identification tool. Since the Smithsonian Institute is involved, I would assume that they took every precaution before reaching this conclusion, but just for my own sake of curiosity, I wish they had delved a little more deeply into the specifics of the DNA testing involved. And I think it would have been kind of the writer to give a shout-out to the anonymous genealogist who helped the researchers get back on the right path. Regardless, it's a great genealogical romp and you'll enjoy reading out it!

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A Charming Family Tree Song

You've earned it. Take a four-and-a-half minute break and watch this video for a song called Family Tree. He had me at "DNA, chromosomes . . ."

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Genealogical Round Up

It's hard for me to blog every time I'd like, so every once in a while, I like to provide a collection of links to articles or sites that have caught my attention recently. Here's the latest batch. Happy browsing!

It's not too soon to start getting ready for next year's FGS!
FGS 2008 Conference Blog

Here's an idea that was new to me:
Online Safe Deposit Box

I'm not going to comment on this because everyone and his brother already has, but it's still intriguing:
Coming Soon: The Mother of All Genealogy Databases
Is combining all genealogy data too scary? It's all relative

I'd like to see lots more DNA projects like this to explore suspected links across national boundaries:
DNA to track UK-Russia migration

Several times over the course of the last year, I've had cause to research African-American families from Culpeper, Virginia, so this article caught my eye. Be sure to check out the slide show:
Unraveling the shared family history of master and slave

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More Genetic Genealogy

Here's a great article about how DNA is used to explore your roots, and I'm delighted to see that it centers on Georgia Bopp, who was one of the early adapters and is well known and respected in the genetic genealogy world:

DNA Helps Get To The Roots Of The Problem (paid subscription required)
Science adds dimension to researching ancestry (paid subscription required)

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BBC: Genetic Genealogy - What Can It Offer?

Here's an article I wrote for BBC recently to accompany the Who Do You Think You Are series, which has started delving into the world of DNA testing. I had written it and then forgotten about it, but tripped across it when researching something else. Hope you find it useful!

Genetic Genealogy - What Can It Offer?

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Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Congrats to our recent grant recipients! Don't forget that you can apply (and view summaries of several years' worth of monthly awardees -- just use the drop-down menu) here.

April 2007
Ann Williams of Alberta, Canada has compiled a large body of data relating to the Astridge surname and has worked over the years with fellow researchers to connect long lost family members. A gathering of Astridges in Overton, Hampshire, England is planned for October 20-21, 2007 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the marriage of the earliest couple traced, Aaron Astridge & Mary Smith. Approximately 74 of their descendants from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all parts of England are expected to attend. The grant will subsidize copies of materials to include wall-mounted charts and individual kits containing the weekend schedule, family trees, a listing of local places and their Astridge associations and the story of Aaron and Mary.

May 2007
While working in genealogy since 1994 in the Georgian State Archives, Georgian Genealogy created one of the first genealogical websites in the country of Georgia. The website provides genealogical and historic information based on the state archives and libraries. The grant will go towards the purchase of a digital camera to be used to archive records and books, taking photos of historic places, etc.

June 2007
Amy Smith is a doctoral student in the School of Communication Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, focusing her dissertation on women as they conduct their own research into family genealogy. The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding behind the motivation of these women when conducting such research, as well as to gain insight into the impact genealogical data has upon family communication. The grant will be used for research expenses, such as audio tapes, transcription machine rental and travel expenses to and from interview sites.

July 2007
The Genealogical Society of Southwestern Pennsylvania provides research assistance, purchases research materials for the local library, offers how-to sessions, and publishes periodicals four times a year. The grant will fund updating their current website to a database-driven site to accommodate large searchable documents.

August 2007
Kristina Mullenix is beginning a project to interview those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement in Meridian, MS, of which almost no documentation currently exists. Special attention will also be given to documenting women's roles in the movement. The grant will be used to purchase a digital camera for photographing interviewees and a tape recorder for proper transcription and documentation.

September 2007
The Genealogical Society of Siskiyou County provides the only connection to genealogy for members in Yreka, CA, a rural farming community. The organization maintains a research center for meetings and to house their growing collection of local family histories and research aids from all over the U.S. They would like to add Internet access to their research center, providing members with the opportunity to contact experienced genealogists for assistance in their research. The grant will fund Internet access and wireless capabilities for the organization's research center.

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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.

  • 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 - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt"
  • January 26, 2008 - Boerne, TX - Genealogical Society of Kendall County - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • February 3, 2008 - Morristown, NJ - Morristown Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • February 8-9, 2008 - St. George, UT - St. George Genealogy and Family Heritage Jamboree - "Trace Your Roots with DNA, "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research"
  • February 16, 2008 - Hemet, CA - Hemet-San Jacinto Genealogical Society - "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research," "Trace Your Roots With DNA," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques For Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • 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"
  • March 29, 2008 - Virginia Beach, VA - Virginia Beach Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research"
  • April 12, 2008 - Pittsburgh, PA - Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research," "Building a Village-Based Community" and "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt"
  • April 26, 2008 - Topeka, KS - Topeka Genealogical Society - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Building a Village-Based Community" and "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones"
  • May 2-3, 2008 - Lincoln, NE - Nebraska State Genealogical Society - "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt," "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research" and "Remembering Our Ancestors"
  • 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"
  • August 15-16, 2008 - Indianapolis, IN - Indiana Historical Society Midwestern Roots Conference - Topics TBD
  • September 3-6, 2008 - Philadelphia, PA - Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference - Details TBD
  • September 20, 2008 - Bangor, 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," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt' 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!"
  • April 22-26, 2009 - Manchester, NH - The New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2009 - 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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