Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

November 15, 2006

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

It's been an intensive month, including a series of appearances on Good Morning America (did any of you catch 'em?), but now I'm kicking back and relaxing on my first genealogical cruise! Rough life, eh? I understand that Internet access will be limited, so I'm actually writing this a bit in advance, but I'll be at sea as you read these words.

Here's wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season -- and a chance to catch a little R&R as well!


In this newsletter. . .

This (Really) Old House

Because I love genealogy so much, I see it just about every place I look. So I guess it's no surprise that I would see it in the home design issue of New York Magazine.

A Colony of One gives you a chance to take a peek into the life of a fellow who bought a 1770s home. He's been there 11 years and has restored the place himself, but it's still very authentic -- as in, he cooks his meals over an open fire and has to sleep with a wool cap (no central heating here!). Be sure to take a look at the slide show - 9 images that allow you to indulge in colonial voyeurism!

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Sorenson Branches into Forensics

Looks as if Sorenson is branching out: Sorenson Genomics Launches New Advanced Sorenson Forensics Division

This makes a lot of sense to me. Many folks don't know that Sorenson Genomics does a wide variety of testing, including (sshhhh . . .) the testing for several other genetic genealogy companies.

They also do what I refer to as "close kin" testing -- tests that can determine siblingship, cousinship, grandparentage, etc. And you'd be surprised to learn how many folks have genealogical conundrums within the last couple of generations of their family trees that could be addressed this way. Learn more here.

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A Little Parting Music

This isn't something I had given a lot of thought to, but perhaps it's something best considered in advance. Either that, or risk being subject to the whims of your survivors . . .

And the most requested funeral song is...

What would you choose?

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Annie on the Air!

Hey, have you checked out the In Search of Annie Moore press conference available at www.rootstelevision.com? Folks have been asking me to share more details about Annie ever since the news broke about her true story being uncovered. Now I finally have a place to direct the curious for more information -- which isn't to say that you won't be seeing a couple of articles or whatever. But now you can virtually join the crowd at the September 15th press conference, hear her story, learn about the sleuthing involved, and meet her descendants. I'm one of those people who doesn't enjoy watching herself, but even I get pulled into the story. It really was a great history-mystery journey, wasn't it?

BTW, I see that a few others have already checked out Annie on air, so if you're curious about what they're saying, take a look at:

The Genealogue at Annie Moore Gets Her Own TV Show

Randy Seaver at See the Annie Moore Story on Roots TV

GeneaSofts at Annie Moore Toujours! (pour ceux qui parlent le francais!)

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Genealogy in the News

Well, October had a good couple of days for genealogy. First, MyFamily.com was featured in the New York Times on October 9:

Genealogy for the Living, the Dead, the Far Away

That's the third time genealogy has made the NYT in the last month, for those keeping score. And then October 10's Wall Street Journal (sorry, but a subscription is required to view the whole article):

Searching for Life's Connection with the Past

This article talks about making a living as a professional genealogist and features Laura Prescott, and also includes Kathy Hinckley, Lou Szucs, D. Joshua Taylor and yours truly. Personally, I vote for roots-oriented articles in every issue of every pub!

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Statue of Liberty Contest for Kids

Here's a great way to get your kids involved in genealogy without using the "g" word! Check out the Statue of Liberty Picture Contest for elementary school kids. Would you be surprised if I suggested a picture of Annie Moore and her little brothers with Lady Liberty?? Maybe while you're at it, you can tell them about their great-great-grandparents who came from Poland in 1906 . . .just a thought!

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We're Keeping Our Names, Thank You!

I loved this article in the New York Times:

As American as Vartan, Luis and Na

(note: if you haven't already registered, you'll probably have to do so to view it)

As someone who grew up being called Meeeg-ann Smooo . . .(this was my cue to jump in and helpfully offer the correct pronunciation), I can totally relate to the folks in this article. The odd thing is that people in Europe and elsewhere never had a problem with my name -- it's just in the U.S. that folks find it intimidating. And now I've made it worse by doubling the scary Smolenyak part!

But it turns out I'm not the only one sticking to her name -- and honestly, I'm glad to hear that. I had a doozie of a time locating a fairly close branch of my own family because they had changed Smolenyak to Simmons -- and who knows how many other relatives are out there unconnected due to past Americanizations of names, eh?

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Be a Part of Virtual History

I was interested to stumble across this in October: Yahoo Starts Digital Time Capsule

Just the opening caught my attention:

"A childhood photograph of a man with a mother he hasn't spoken with in 20 years, an Argentinean's proclamation of his love for ''The Simpsons'' and a tune from the Boston punk band Darkbuster are among the early submissions to Yahoo Inc.'s digital time capsule."

Reminds me of that line from that Lee Ann Womack song: "I may not go down in his-tor-y; I just want someone to remember me." I suspect that if we're honest with ourselves, that's true of many of us.

So why not contribute to a digital time capsule? You've got until November 8th, and then you and others can check back in 2020 to get a peek at your 2006 self.

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Og's Descendants?

I couldn't help but wonder if this drawing maybe includes some of Og's descendants. How many generations are there between cavemen and ancient Egyptians, anyway?

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Why Y-DNA?

Those who followed my blog at its earlier location know that I periodically review mainstream media articles pertaining to genetic genealogy. It's been a while since I've done that and this one about a great history-mystery caught my eye:

Attempt to ID corpse in Kansas grave fails

I can completely believe that they had difficulty extracting DNA from these remains, but what's perplexing to me is that they had apparently located a relative of John Wesley Hillmon -- the mystery man in question -- to provide a comparison sample, and his name is Leray Hillmon.

The two men having the same surname tells me that they were trying to use Y-DNA since it's passed intact from father to son down through the generations (and hence, follows surnames in most families) -- but that makes no sense for this scenario. While scientists would love to use Y-DNA for such history mysteries, it rarely survives in degraded remains, so they're almost always forced to turn to mtDNA which is more plentiful, and therefore, resilient.

So did the writer get this wrong? Were they just unable to extract Y-DNA, or did they try for mtDNA, too? Did they really expect to be able to match Y-DNA samples? Does anyone know any more about this case? It's just not adding up . . .

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300 Million and Counting

Quite a milestone, eh? The U.S. now has a population of 300,000,000 (yes, I was a little late snagging the image below). So October 17, 2006 is the date we'll all mentally bookmark until we hit 400 million.

In case you're curious, the world population at this moment stands at 6,550,987,450. Want to keep an eye out for these figures yourself? Check out these population clocks.

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Joe Canadian's a Genie!

I haven't seen the show yet myself, but apparently, Jeff Douglas -- the actor who used to portray Joe Canadian in the Molson beer ads -- is the host of the new Canadian genealogy series, Ancestors in the Attic. Sort of sounds as if he's the Ty Pennington of the show.

You can learn more by reading Family Made Fun, but I'd love to hear from anyone who's seen the show and can shed more light on it.

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Michael Strank: Rusyn-American Hero

I haven't had a chance to see Flags of Our Fathers yet, but one of the fellows who's featured in the film and planted the flag on Iwo Jima was Ellis Island immigrant, Michael Strank. He is remembered by many as a Marine's Marine, and sadly lost his life shortly after the famous photo was taken.

Articles and books constantly note him as being Czech or Slovak. In fact, on page 231 of James Bradley's book, Flags of Our Fathers, it states, "The Czech immigrant to America, born on the Marine Corps birthday, serving his third tour of duty for his adopted country, the sergeant who was a friend to his boys, was cut down by friendly fire."

Michael Strank was indeed an immigrant. I've been including his passenger arrival record in my Ellis Island talk for years, and now you can find it included with other patriots on the Ellis Island site (he's the second one listed on the page). If you take a look at his record, you can see toddler Michael arriving with his mother. You can also find Michael with his family in Franklin, Cambria County, PA in the 1930 census (search for 10-year-old Michael or his father, Wasil Strank, at Ancestry.com to see for yourself). And yes, these record note the place of origin as Czechoslovakia, so in a sense, all the articles and books are right.

He was born in Czechoslovakia -- but just barely. Michael is noted as having been born on November 10, 1919 in Jarabina. Czechoslovakia was formed on October 28, 1918. Michael's parents -- Vasul & Marta -- had married just a week earlier on October 21, 1918 (see below). So they married in Austria-Hungary and were living in Czechoslovakia a week later -- although they probably never left their house. This is typical of Eastern Europe. Boundaries and names change so often that you can stay in one place your whole life and still manage to live in several countries.

Here's what I'd like to point out about the image above. It's the marriage of Michael's parents -- and took place in a Greek Catholic church. This is an absolute giveaway that they were Carpatho-Rusyn. Yes, they lived in a place that was about to be incorporated into a new country called Czechoslovakia, but they were Rusyn.

If I seem a little sensitive on this, it's because I'm half-Rusyn and we Rusyns have a history of others claiming our most notable members. Andy Warhol was Rusyn, but is often identified as Czech or Slovak. Sandra Dee was Rusyn. Same pattern. Robert Urich -- half-Rusyn. Almost always identified as Slovak. And now it's happening again with Michael Strank. I'm pleased to see that some fellow Rusyns have infiltrated Wikipedia and claimed Michael, so now I'm adding my voice out there in cyberspace. Just maybe if enough of us associate the word "Rusyn" with Michael, it will start to stick!

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Genealogical Article Round-Up

I'm an avid reader and can't help but find an element of genealogy in almost everything I read. Here are just a few articles I've stumbled across over the last few days. Maybe one or more will be of interest to you.

How to Research the History of Your House -- Just what it sounds like.

Personal histories - Stories of the flu, passed from generation to generation -- Really interesting. Be sure to take a look at the photo gallery on the right as well. My only gripe -- the tall tale that someone's name was changed at Ellis Island (from Zlotnicki to Gold). Haven't folks caught on that that's just not true yet??

Legendary Soldier's Remains Coming Home -- Many of you know that I work on this repatriation project, so what caught my eye about this one is this part:

"Dr. Thomas Holland, director of JPAC's Central Identification Laboratory, said McGovern was the only the second person ever identified through "nuclear" DNA from a male relative - a particularly difficult task with bones that are decades old. The first was another Southeast Asia casualty identified recently. Most cases rely on mitochondrial DNA, from female relatives."

That's great progress if Y-DNA can be used, even if only in some cases! Of course, the last sentence is wrong. Mitochondrial DNA doesn't necessarily have to come from female relatives. But still, interesting read.

Empire Online magnate gambles on genealogy site -- MyHeritage.com in Israel is getting $3 million!

Queens woman turning 106 years old -- Pretty cool. She came through Ellis Island as a youngster!

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This Genie's Out of the Bottle!

In case you didn't catch it, I recently 'fessed up that I'm part of the Roots Television team. A lot of folks had already figured that out since I was the first to blog about it, but now I can confirm it. We're having a lot of fun and hope you are, too. Isn't it about time someone did this??

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I'm having an identity crisis!

Well, it started earlier this year when Newsweek ran a piece about tracing your roots with DNA. Some bloggers spotted my name, decided it was the silliest thing they had ever seen, and had an online discussion about it. What amused me, though, is that they thought my name was Diane.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I did a radio interview and before I came on, the hosts said that they would be joined by a guest named -- you guessed it -- Diane. Not sure where that came from, but they realized the error before I even came on and graciously corrected it. And they even said Smolenyak perfectly!

So this morning I was on television and discovered that my name is Megan Blank. Somehow, over the course of 2006, I seem to be morphing from Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak to Diane Blank. Of course, as a genealogist, I had to explore this name and discovered that there are indeed a number of people who sport it -- including, appropriately enough, a contributor to one of my favorite sites, findagrave. So my apologies in advance to those whose name I seem to be in the process of adopting. I'll try not to embarrass you!

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Finding the Living

Let's face it. Most genealogists are much better at finding the dearly departed than the living. But that doesn't have to be the case any longer.

Fortunately for us, Joe Beine's at it again -- updating one of his clean, organized set of links to the best sites pertaining to a single topic. In this case, the topic is People Searching.

So if there's some old high school sweetheart you want to track down, an old Army buddy, that rotten neighbor who moved before returning your lawn mower or whatever, here's your chance!

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I Can't Wait! DNA Project Administrator Toolkit Coming Soon!

If you're into genetic genealogy -- and particularly if you're one of the avid folks actually running a project -- you know that it can be a bit daunting to juggle all the record-keeping and results-tracking. But fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Adrian Williams, help is on the way!

Around the beginning of next year, we will welcome a new software package to the world -- DNA-PAT, short for DNA Project Administrator Toolkit. Adrian gave me a virtual tour and it's pretty darn amazing. To get a sneak peek, go to Adrian's freshly launched website. While you're there, do yourself a favor and sign up to be notified when the software becomes available (you'll find the link in the last line of the Toolkit Information Section).

Not too long ago, I launched a Nelligan DNA study and just haven't had time to do it justice, so I'll be one of the first in line for DNA-PAT, which provides the project manager the necessary tools to easily keep on top of even the largest projects (BTW, Adrian created this software out of necessity since he runs the Williams DNA Project that at last count included 339 members). Once I've got the Nelligans organized, I'm going to tackle my other projects retroactively. This amazing software is looooong overdue!

Want to get a taste? Well, here's a sample. What's really terrific about this software is that it not only gets all your data organized in a clean, user-friendly manner, but everything you enter is automatically updated on your web pages -- so you can be html-clueless (as I am) and still run a spiffy-looking project that others can make sense of!

Those of you heading to Houston for Family Tree DNA's annual conference will be treated to a demo of DNA-PAT -- and I predict that Adrian will be the most popular fellow at the conference!

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Watch Me on Good Morning America

In case you're curious to see the Good Morning America segments I just worked on, you can find them here:

Robin Roberts story: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2623446&page=1

Robin Roberts video: http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2623495

Diane Sawyer story: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2626364&page=1

Diane Sawyer video: http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2626602

Sam Champion story: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2620434

Sam Champion video: http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2621047

Chris Cuomo story: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2607542&page=1

Chris Cuomo video: http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2607823

There's also a section called "Genealogist Answers Your Questions" where I helped answer genealogy questions from Good Morning America viewers: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2626233&page=1

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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.

2006 Events

  • November 11-18, 2006 - 2006 Genealogy Conference and Cruise, Hosted by Wholly Genes Software - "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Find That Obituary! Online Newspaper Research"

The Diamond Princess
The Diamond Princess

2007 Events

  • February 13, 2007 - Haddonfield, NJ - Haddon Fortnightly - "Cases that Made My Brain Hurt"
  • February 24, 2007 - St. Charles, IL - DuPage County Genealogy Society Conference - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones" and "Jump-Starting Your Eastern European Research"
  • March 17, 2007 - Baltimore, MD - Enoch Pratt Free Library - "Trace Your Roots with DNA"
  • April 13-14, 2007 - Oconomowoc, WI - Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Gene-a-Rama - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Building a Village Based Community," "Remembering Our Ancestors," "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy"
  • April 21, 2007 - Boston, MA - New England Historic Genealogical Society - Details TBD
  • 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"
  • 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 - Des Moines, IA - Iowa Genealogical Society Annual Fall Conference - Details 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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