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Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

November 15, 2007

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Wow, another busy month! I can't believe the way genealogy is popping up all over the place! If you don't know what I mean, read on and see all the arenas where it's bubbled up recently. Here's wishing us all another month of high activity -- especially the kind that knocks down those stubborn brick walls!


In this newsletter. . .

Online Death Certificates

Joe Beine is one of my all-time favorite genealogists. He maintains some link lists that I find myself returning to time and time again -- most especially, deathindexes.com.

Everyone knows that the past few years have been rough ones for genealogists in terms of access to vital records, but the good news is that things have actually stayed about even. For every resource that's been taken away, a new one seems to emerge. And this has perhaps been most evident in the realm on online, digitized images.

In his latest blog posting, Joe has done a succinct and handy job of summarizing what's available online in terms of death certificates -- and I mean the actual certificates, not just indexes. Check it out here -- especially if you have any ancestry in AZ, MO, OH, KY, TX, UT, WV or Chicago.

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60 Minutes on DNA: Deja Vu All Over Again

I like 60 Minutes. I genuinely do. But I found their segment on genetic genealogy last night predictable.

Blaine Bettinger of the Genetic Genealogist has already blogged about this, and done a great job of rounding up what others have already said -- including links to pieces I've written on the topic in the past.

Among Blaine's links was one to an article of mine that was published by Ancestry.com back in June 2006. The topic? Is Genetic Genealogy Being Oversold?.

In that article, I quote a passage from page 100 of Trace Your Roots with DNA -- a few sentences I put together back in early 2004:

"Regrettably, a few critics have dismissed genetic genealogy as misleading at best (it only represents a small part of an individual's family tree), and harmful at worst (it could reinforce oversimplified or false notions of race and cause identity problems). By contrast, our experience has been that those who involve themselves in genetealogy are well aware of the limitations and more aware than most of the ambiguity of race. In spite of concerns that we don't grasp the fact that a particular test may only provide insight into one branch of our pedigree, or that another test may only reflect our heritage back a few generations, we are curious to learn what can be learned."

Forgive me if this posting seems to be accompanied with a resigned sigh, but I suppose I'm just tired of this familiar pattern -- the media "revealing" that genetic genealogy has limitations (tell me -- how many of you were mentally reciting 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024 . . . while Ms. Stahl was seemingly being started by this standard genealogical math?) and then bringing in an expert who's concerned for the poor customers who are allegedly too ignorant to grasp these basics. Since I've been watching this same formula repeat itself since 2001, I've developed a pet peeve about the built-in, patronizing assumption that genealogists are too dense to understand the fundamentals of what DNA can and can't do -- rather than the reality that we're pioneers delighted with the prospect of learning what had previously been unknowable and well aware of the limitations.

In this case, I was glad to see the selected expert, Hank Greely, hesitate and carefully formulate his response before answering the question about whether genetic genealogy was being oversold. He did what was expected of him -- which was to seemingly support the notion that it's the testing companies that are guilty of the overselling. But I like to think I saw in that brief hesitation his intent to not vilify the companies -- and an awareness that whatever overselling has occurred has largely come from other quarters.

Once again, I refer back to the article I wrote in June 2006:

"Just as there are people who think they can simply google their name and have their whole family tree magically appear on the internet, there are those who believe the same of genetic genealogy -- that one test can reveal all the mysteries of their heritage. Neither is true, of course. You actually have to master some fundamentals, decide what you want to learn, and pick an appropriate course of action. I'd just like to see a little more effort devoted to helping "newbies" grasp the basics and a little less emphasis on blame-the-seller pieces dismissing the value of genetic genealogy. As I wrote in Trace Your Roots with DNA back in 2004, "Genetealogy is still in its infancy and those of us who are already practicing it have made our peace with the inevitable learning curve and growing pains associated with being a bit of a pioneer. Focusing only on the limitations is a sure prescription for failure, so why not play with the technology to determine what can be understood now and how to stretch the boundaries of its possible future application?"

The very fact that I can recycle bits and pieces that I wrote between 2004 and 2006 to respond to a segment that first aired on October 7, 2007 shows why it's "deja vu all over again" to me. I'll take my consolation as I always do in these cases -- in the knowledge that millions of people were exposed to genetic genealogy. Better still, that viewers of a show like 60 Minutes may well be the curious type who will investigate for themselves and learn just how much can be accomplished through genetic genealogy!

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Another Soldier Comes Home

Thanks to Sharon Elliott for alerting me to this article about Warren Orr, a Vietnam soldier who was recently identified and interred. It was one of the cases I worked on, and given that my dad served in Vietnam and I lost a cousin there, is especially meaningful to me:

Father lays doubts to rest

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Maureen Taylor in the Wall Street Journal!

Yay, Maureen! Check out this terrific article in a recent Wall Street Journal about her amazing sleuthing skills!

The Photo Detective

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Start Planning for FGS 2008!

Press Release for immediate publication: The Federation of Genealogical Societies' Conference Blog

For more information, please contact the 2008 FGS Conference Blog editor, Paula Stuart-Warren, at PaulaStuartWarren@gmail.com or 651-503-4803

Breaking News about the 2008 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference Blog

The next FGS Conference will take place from September 3-6, 2008 in historic Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This four day "Footprints of Family History" educational conference honors the host city as the place where the ancestors of millions of Americans first set foot on the continent. Family historians like to keep up with additional news and details about the annual FGS Conferences. The 2008 conference committee has a blog to provide that.

It is easy to join in on the knowledge -- just go to www.FGS.org, click on Conferences, then on 2008 Conference, and on that page click on Blog. Direct access to the blog can be reached via http://www.fgsconference.org/blog/index.php. Check back often to see the frequent news, updates, program announcements, vendor details, and more that will be provided by the dedicated volunteers of the conference committee and others in the genealogical, archival, and historical communities. Why not add the site to your Favorites or Bookmark it for easy access!

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Ancestry.com Launches Online DNA Testing Service Combining Science and Social Networking

More good news for those of us into genetic genealogy . . .

Integration of DNA, Historical Records and Online Community of 15 Million Users Creates Ultimate Social Network for Family History

PROVO, UTAH -- October 16, 2007 -- Ancestry.com, the world's largest online resource for family history, today launched DNA Ancestry -- a new service combining the precision of DNA testing with Ancestry.com's unrivaled collection of 5 billion names in historical records and the site's unmatched online family history community.

This DNA testing service, online at http://dna.ancestry.com, provides Ancestry.com's growing network of more than 15 million users a tool that helps solve family-tree mysteries through science. By taking a simple cheek-swab test and comparing DNA test results in DNA Ancestry's expanding results database, individuals may be able to extend the branches of their family trees, prove (or disprove) family legends, discover living relatives they never knew existed and find new leads where traditional paper trails dead end.

"DNA testing in family history is reaching critical mass," said Megan Smolenyak, Chief Family Historian for Ancestry.com and co-author of the no. 1 selling book on genetic genealogy, Tracing Your Roots with DNA. "As more people add their results, the DNA Ancestry database becomes a powerful asset for users to make connections and discover their family tree. Already, many people have taken a simple DNA test to uncover genetic cousins and tap into their research, gathering names, dates, places and stories for their own family tree."

DNA Ancestry offers Y-DNA and mtDNA tests -- the two types of DNA tests most useful in family history, ranging in price from $149 to $199. The Y-DNA test analyzes the DNA in the Y chromosome, which is passed virtually unchanged from father to son. Test results can help users identify living individuals who share Y-DNA as well as predict ancient ancestors' origins. Women can benefit from Y-DNA by having their father or other related male take the test. The mtDNA test analyzes DNA in an individual's mitochondrial DNA, which passes from a mother to her children. Test results predict ancient ancestors' origins and migration route from Africa and can aid in identifying living cousins.

In the coming months, DNA results will integrate with online Ancestry.com family trees. Users DNA results can be added to their family trees, which already contain uploaded family photographs, stories and other media files, historical documents found on Ancestry.com and life timelines of their ancestors. Adding DNA results to a family tree multiplies a user's chances to find and make connections with genetic cousins -- and extend their family tree's branches.

By year's end, DNA Ancestry users will be able to create and join DNA Groups -- organized social networks that let users work together to discover genetic connections. For example, people with the last name "Washington" could use their DNA tests results to determine how they are all related.

"Ultimately, we are combining three major pillars of family history research -- DNA, historical records and social networking -- to offer users an unmatched, revolutionary family history resource," said Tim Sullivan, CEO of The Generations Network, parent company of Ancestry.com. "DNA can be a powerful family-tree building catalyst, regardless of whether you are just beginning to find your roots or a seasoned genealogist experiencing research barriers."

DNA Ancestry uses the state-of-the-art DNA laboratories of Sorenson Genomics, the world's first laboratory accredited for genealogy testing services, to analyze users' DNA samples. A pioneer in the relatively new science of genetic genealogy, Sorenson Genomics has provided genetic testing solutions to help genealogists extend branches of family trees since 2001.

About Ancestry.com

With 24,000 searchable databases and titles and more than 800,000 paying subscribers, Ancestry.com is the No. 1 online source for family history information. Since its launch in 1997, Ancestry.com has been the premier resource for family history, simplifying genealogical research for millions of people by providing them with many easy-to-use tools and resources to build their own unique family trees. The site is home to the only complete online U.S. Federal Census collection, 1790-1930, as well as the world's largest online collection of U.S. ship passenger list records featuring more than 100 million names, 1820-1960. Ancestry.com is part of The Generations Network, Inc., a leading network of family-focused interactive properties, including MyFamily.com, Rootsweb.com, Genealogy.com and Family Tree Maker. In total, The Generations Network properties receive 8.2 million unique visitors worldwide and over 429 million page views a month (© comScore Media Metrix, August 2007).

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Chris Haley Joins the DNA Revolution

Those of you who were at FGS this year remember the impression Chris Haley made with his dramatic entrance into the conference. Well, at the conference, he also decided to give DNA testing a go. You can read about his results and his reaction to them here:

Nephew of Alex Haley Using DNA To Trace Family Line

But better yet, you can watch him take his test by clicking on the photo below. I never knew DNA testing could be so entertaining!

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NPR: All Those Famous Cousins

Dick Eastman weighed in the other day with his commentary about the Obama-Cheney linkage. Yesterday, I spoke briefly with Alex Cohen of NPR and tossed in my two cents' worth. What I tried to explain is that we all have millions of distant cousins, so there's a good chance that there are a few famous ones in the mix. The trick is plucking them out from the millions -- especially if you're a true genealogist and actually verify every single link!

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A Bit More on Ancestry.com

The audio's a little uneven since we did these interviews by phone, but if you'd like to hear Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry.com, address this week's announcement regarding Spectrum Equity Investors, or me explain a bit about the company's DNA offerings, check out this video.

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A Genealogical Mashup

Hmmm . . . this piece seems to be blending two of the main genealogical stories of the past week -- genetic genealogy and the Obama-Cheney connection:

Cheney and Obama: It's Not Genetic

I'm not sure I can remember the last time when genealogy was so darn newsworthy -- the WSJ article on Maureen Taylor, the DNA Ancestry launch, the TGN buy-out, the Obama-Cheney link, the latest round of genetic genealogy challenges. . . what's next??

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Here we go again . . .

I would react to the latest round of genetic genealogy "bashing" (probably too strong a word in this instance, but you get the idea), but Blaine Bettinger, aka the Genetic Genealogist, has already done it for me. I've heard all of this so many times, I'm about ready to put it to music!

Apparently, this round was meant to be softened somewhat by the authors' acknowledgment that some genetic genealogists have a clue, but those remarks were edited out -- as does happen. I've been there myself. And I have to say that what was said was considerably more balanced than many of the negatively slanted headlines would lead you to believe.

Still, it's tempting to pick the Dixie Chicks' I'm Not Ready to Make Nice as that musical response!

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My "Marginal" Mega mtDNA Match

If you haven't caught it yet, Ann Turner has a terrific article (title above) on her experience with full sequence mtDNA testing in the Fall 2007 issue of New England Ancestors (pages 49-51). If you're not a NEHGS member, do whatever you have to to get a copy!

And based on the recent chit-chat on the lists, she's not the only one to have found a meaningful match already. Looks as if mtDNA is starting to come into its own!

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Have you played with Google Books lately?

I did. I couldn't sleep one night recently, and didn't really want to work-work for fear of getting the old brain cells spinning, so I puttered around the Internet for a bit. After a while, I decided to check out Google Books since I hadn't been there in some time. I experimented with some combinations of locations and surnames from my family history and was astonished -- upon searching for "Jersey City" and Nelligan -- to come upon this entry:

There's a particular 2nd great-granduncle I've always had affection for. His name was Daniel Nelligan and I learned of him from his great-niece, my nana, who knew him as a youngster. He was a colorful fellow, so I know more of him than many other relatives, but what struck me most is what I learned when I researched him -- that he had outlived two wives and all seven of his children. How heartbreaking would that be?

Well, this unexpected entry -- who knew that Google Books would have annual railroad reports complete with accident summaries from the 1800s? -- is for one of his sons. I knew he had lost a son named David, but I never knew how. With his father, Daniel, affectionately know as the "grand old man of the Erie," David must have grown up around trains and gotten too comfortable with them for his own good. Poor Daniel's story is even sadder than I had thought.

But still, I'm glad for this unexpected little insight that helps me know the lives of David and Daniel that much better. If you haven't played with Google Books for a while, it's time for another visit.

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A Tragic Tale of Lost Love by Alice Luckhardt

I recently read a terrific article by Alice Luckhardt in the November 2007 issue of Internet Genealogy. It centers on her godmother and cousin, Alice Louise Walters, and a wartime romance. So it's a great story, but also features an impressive display of genealogical sleuthing!

In fact, I enjoyed the article so much that I've just gone and ordered the book from which it was excerpted: The Invincible Alice. The site includees a free preview, so if you think you might be interested, go take a look for yourself!

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Orphan Heirloom Rescue on Hallmark

A couple of months ago, I taped a segment for Hallmark Channel's New Morning, and it recently aired. It focused on one of my orphan heirloom rescues -- specifically, a case concerning a photo album that was lost on the streets of Jerusalem. With a little sleuthing, I tracked its original owner practically to my backyard in New Jersey.

You can read more about it here if you like. But you can also watch the video online. If you're especially observant, you'll catch a few ways I honor my ancestors -- from the names wrapped around the top of my dining room to my bowl of matrioshkas.

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Weird Tombstones

For your browsing pleasure (photos and comments alike), I offer this posting on strange gravestones. Enjoy!

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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.

  • 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"
  • May 10, 2008 - Thousand Oaks, CA - Conejo Valley Genealogical Society - "Reverse Genealogy: Techniques for Finding Your Lost Loved Ones," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt," "Find That Obituary: Online Newspaper Research" and "Right Annie, Wrong Annie"
  • 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 - "Trace Your Roots with DNA" and "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options"
  • 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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