Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter

December 15, 2006

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Megan Smolenyak SmolenyakGreetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Holiday Greetings! Here's hoping this newsletter finds you ready to join your extended family for some celebrations -- and maybe planning to inject a little genealogy by videotaping an interview with a relative you don't see that often, going over some old photos, or at least annoying folks with all your pesky questions about the family!


In this newsletter. . .

Katherine's 2006 Top Ten Reasons You Know You're a Genetic Genealogist

In genetic genealogy circles (which I like to call genetealogy), Katherine Borges is well-known as the fearless leader of The International Society of Genetic Genealogy. And if you haven't checked out ISOGG, you should because it's probably the fastest growing genealogical society in the world -- 3,000 members in 18 months. Not too shabby.

Anyway, I recently came across Katherine's 2006 Top Ten Reasons You Know You're a Genetic Genealogist and thought it was hilarious. And she was kind enough to let me share it, so here goes . . .

10. Ads ascribing DNA to non-organic objects irritates you...

9. and watching "CSI" get their lab results back in one day irritates you even more.

8. You attribute all your best traits to "Founder Effect"...

7. and all of your worst traits to "Genetic Drift".

6. You actually know who "Niall of the Nine Hostages" is...but don't know who or what happened to the nine hostages.

5. You see someone expectorate on the ground and it strikes you as a lost opportunity.

4. You no longer equate "National Geographic" with the magazine.

3. You're alarmed by hurricane warnings forecasted for Houston, Texas...and you don't live there.

2. You lose your turn in "Trivial Pursuit" because you just named the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve -- "Bennett".

and the #1 reason you know you're a genetic genealogist...

1. You do a double-take on the sign of the local bar-b-que rib joint because you could have sworn it said "Bar-b-que R1b"

If it doesn't all make sense to you now, I promise it will once you immerse yourself in the world of DNA!

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Crossing the Pond Movie-Style

I knew it was just a matter of time until MTV caught on to what a HOT topic genealogy is! Here's a series of mini-reviews of ten movies with an immigration theme from MTV News:

Rewind: Borat, Tony Montana And Fievel Discover America

Should I use this opportunity to vent about The Godfather cementing the classic name-changed-at-Ellis-Island myth into the minds of millions?

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Being on TV Clever Tactic for Reconnecting

Boy, if you ever want to find your third cousins or your parents' former neighbors or someone you used to work with 15 years ago, just be on TV! I've been getting calls and emails from folks I haven't heard from in years as a result of the Good Morning America series.

BTW, here's the last in the series, Diane Sawyer's roots. I also did some Q&A online here.

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Loving the Old Man's Draft

If you've been researching a long time, you start to develop "pet" resources -- favorite ones that you enjoy turning to again and again. One of my relatively newer favorites is the so-called Old Man's Draft from WWII. To find out why, check out Loving the Old Man's Draft in Ancestry.com's latest 24-7 Family History Circle.

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Canadian War Brides Reunion

This sounds like a hoot! Boy, I'd love to be there. Imagine the stories you'd hear!

More than 200 war brides bound for Halifax to revisit their journey to Canada

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Ellis Island Birthday Girl 106 Years Young!

How can you not love a story like this? Anna Harchar was born around 1900 and emigrated via Ellis Island in 1921. In Bayonne Woman to Celebrate her 106th Birthday, you can learn about the Ellis Island immigrant experience from someone who's still living it -- and someone who hit the Atlantic City slots until she was 102! And if you'd like to take a peek at her past, just click below to see Anna in the 1930 census as a young wife and mother:

View image

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Hamburg Passenger Lists Moving

This is one of my favorite, not-so-well-known resources for European emigration. Before all the great immigration resources starting appearing online over the last few years (e.g., Ellis Island, the Immigration Collection at Ancestry.com), using FHL microfilm for the Hamburg Emigration Lists was one of the best ways to find folks who left Europe circa 1850-1934. For instance, it's how I found the 1890 departure for my great-grandfather, Peter Smolenyak. That's what allowed me to then find him arriving in the U.S. on the same ship a few weeks later.

At any rate, an index for this resource became available online a few years ago, but had been emerging at a crawl. In a good year, maybe three years' worth of the records would be indexed. I explain all this so you can understand why I'm so excited about this announcement.

To give you a sense, here's the opening of the announcement:

The Hamburg Passenger Lists -- formerly at linktoyourroots.com -- have moved!

With construction work for BallinStadt underway, Hamburg's most crucial source for emigration research -- the city's comprehensive passenger lists covering the period 1850 to 1934 -- has moved to another website. As of December 2006, the complete lists will be posted on www.ballinstadt.com and www.ancestry.com, respectively. Please understand that, until then, the lists will not be accessible online for a brief transitional period. Starting in mid-November 2006, BallinStadt will launch a new family research service, staffed with specially-trained genealogists for your assistance. For further information, please see: Familyresearch@ballinstadt.com.

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Find that Blog!

I know -- you just can't get enough of genealogical blogs, right? Well, there's good news for you! Chris Dunham of The Genealogue has located and categorized over 200 of them (and still counting). To find just the right genealogical blogs for your particular interests (you'd be surprised how many specialized ones there are), just search his aptly named Genealogy Blog Finder. I'm sure you'll find a couple you'll want to keep an eye on. Thanks, Chris!

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A Gathering of Genetealogists

Want to see what it looks like when a bunch of obsessed genetic genealogists get together? Well, wonder no more . . .

photos from 2006 FTDNA Conference

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Pop Your Cork!

If you've got County Cork roots like Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island, or Sam Champion of Good Morning America, you might enjoy this recent series of photos, including some of Annie and the Cohn Heritage Centre. Click on each one to see an enlargement.

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U.S. Immigration Records for 1820-1960!!!

I am just a little bit excited! Have you checked out the new Ancestry.com Immigration Collection? Well, technically, it was an update, but boy, what an update! Personally, I'm thrilled! It's no surprise that I couldn't resist taking this for a spin -- and what do we all do in those situations? We go poking into our own roots, of course! So I thought I'd try an Irish immigrant great-grandfather of mine who's always been a challenge. There are family stories that he continued to return to Ireland on a frequent basis, but I had never been able to find any proof. So I searched on his name -- David Shields -- and limited it to fellows with this name who were born within 2 years of 1857. Ta-da! There he was in 1929 as a 70 year old returning from a trip to Ireland! I'm sure it's him because the street address given is correct. And look! There's passport info -- another clue to pursue!

The only bad news? It's inevitable that I will now spend hours playing with this new -- well, much improved -- toy! Here's hoping you find some long hidden ancestors as well!

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Post-1925 Passport Applications

I've never had cause to do this kind of research before, but thanks to Ancestry's recent massive update to its Immigration Collection, I found a reference to a passport number for one of my great-grandfathers. He applied for one in 1929 for a trip back to Ireland.

I've had cause to deal with passport applications before -- and have even written about them (see the April 2004 US Passport Applications article I wrote for Family Chronicle here, downloadable in .pdf format). But this was the first time I was confronted with the question of how to obtain a more recent passport application.

So I did some surfing. And here's what I came up with -- instructions from the U.S. Department of State. How well does it work? Well, stay tuned. I just popped a request for my great-grandfather's application in the mail today. Let's see how long it takes and what I get back. I'm hoping for a photo since I've never seen what this fellow looks like!

If I like what I get, I might even request copies of some of my own passport applications, but at $60 a request, I think I'll take my time!

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My Osturna Roots

All the Smolenyaks in the world harken back to a village called Osturna that's located in present-day Slovakia. And now, thanks to the Internet, I can rent a cottage there any time I like. In fact, here's the place my husband and I stayed the last time we went:

Want to see more? Take a peek here.

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Google News Archive

Have you played with Google's News Archive yet?

I spoke about it last week on TMG's genealogy cruise during a lecture on online newspaper resources and it appears that not too many folks are familiar with this resource yet. It does an interesting job of mining "news" sites on the Internet, but defines "news" rather broadly. For instance, a search of "Smolenyak" turns up 99 hits ranging from obituaries to pieces about me speaking on genealogy to a WWI draft registration record available via Ancestry.com.

What's also interesting about this search tool is that it seems to crawl some databases embedded within particular sites -- such as the WWI draft example I just gave. It also tells you which items require payment -- a handy feature.

Yet another aspect I appreciate is that it surfaces foreign articles. Among the 99 Smolenyak offerings were ones in Polish and Italian.

And here's another handy feature -- the timeline. You can set it to timeline mode so that results are clustered into years and then by month. Or you can just use the timeline and publication clusters that are presented in the left-hand column when you do a conventional search in order to narrow your focus. Pretty cool, huh?

The world of online newspaper resources is far broader than most people realize, but it's in a massive state of flux at the moment, so I'm going to keep an eye on this Google News Archive search. I'm hoping it evolves into sort of a master news search. It's not quite there yet, but for those who are unfamiliar with all the newspaper resources scattered around the Internet, this is an easy way to search at least some of them without even knowing what they are -- and for the rest of us, it's yet another intriguing toy to play with!

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Jamestown: It's a match until we say it's not

Well, this is a new approach to genetic genealogy. The attempts to identify remains found in the walls of the Jamestown, Virginia fort are covered in Tests close in on 400-year-old Jamestown bones' identity. This is the line that caught my attention:

"I still think the evidence lines up, until proven otherwise, that we have Gosnold."

So far, none of the testing done has confirmed the identity as Gosnold. In fact, the tests done to date seem to make a case that it's not Gosnold. The ideal solution would be to find a living mtDNA-relative of Gosnold. Previous efforts relied on disinterred remains of his sister in England, but how can you be sure you've got the right set of remains when you're dealing with 400 year old graves? So it's probably not a huge surprise that the mtDNA of the Jamestown skeleton and the alleged sister did not match. Finding a living mtDNA relative would be a daunting task -- 400 years of maternal lines -- but it just might be possible. Of course, the clock is ticking since Jamestown's 400th starts in 2007.

And BTW, as a part-time Williamsburg resident, I'm delighted to hear that Queen Elizabeth will be coming back! She came for the 350th, so how appropriate that she'll be there for the 400th!

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Journal of Genetic Genealogy

If you're into genetic genealogy - and I mean seriously into it -- you'll definitely want to read Journal of Genetic Genealogy. It's online, free and edited by some of the best minds in the biz, including my Trace Your Roots with DNA co-author, Ann Turner, M.D. (in case you haven't guessed it, she's the smart one!). They're aiming for quarterly, but so far, it seems more like twice a year -- but that's probably a good thing because they have the kind of articles that you'll want to ponder for a while. Looking forward to the next issue (Fall 2006), which I'm assuming will come out shortly. (Note: the Fall issue has, in fact, come out since I first wrote this)

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Thanks to GeneTree!

I wanted to give a shout-out to GeneTree -- one of the Sorenson Genomics companies -- for their generosity. Let me explain . . .

I was talking with a young woman I met while traveling recently, and it came out in the course of conversation that she had never met her father. She had apparently been searching for him for years with no luck. I quizzed her a bit and learned that she knew some tidbits of information which she was willing to share. Long story short -- I tracked him down in my hotel room that evening.

Fortunately, she was brave enough to pick up the phone -- especially fortunate because it turned out that her father sadly has a brain tumor and is in failing health. Imagine the regrets if she had waited. But what do you know?! She now has six brothers! Better yet, she's been welcomed into the family.

But there was still just a little doubt, so DNA testing naturally came to mind. Because of her father's ill health, though, there was reluctance to do conventional paternity testing. So what were the options?

Well, most folks don't know it, but there are several alternatives when it comes to "close kin" situations like this -- including, for instance, half-siblingship testing. (Incidentally, I know from speaking around the country that lots of families have situations that can benefit from this kind of testing -- there are always a couple in the audience who approach me at the end of my talks with such scenarios.)

GeneTree offers all these tests (e.g., siblingship, cousinship, grandparentage, etc.), so I called an acquaintance associated with the company -- and in spite of the fact that he was in Italy when I reached him -- DNA testing had been arranged within an hour. Amazing!

The tests have come back -- they finally opted for paternity testing (more accurate when you can do it) -- and YES! She's definitely found her father! Just the other day, she emailed me photos of her dad, and it's clear that the apple didn't fall far from the tree! Pretty cool, huh?

Thanks again to the generous folks at GeneTree who didn't hesitate in contributing to this wonderful reunion! You gave one family a very special Thanksgiving!

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MyFamily.com Sites Double in Size

If you're like me and have one or more MyFamily.com sites, you just got a pleasant surprise. Your sites doubled in size overnight! I read this article in Ancestry.com's 24/7 Family History Circle, and went to take a look at the ones I belong to. Sure enough, my Osturna village website can now hold 8.1 GB. Not too shabby! I participate in ten MyFamily.com sites and administer three of them, so this gives me lots of room to grow. Time to dig out and scan some more old photos!

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Unforgettable Forgotten Faces

OK, first I have to confess that I haven't even read this book yet. I've just ordered it. But I'm captivated by its topic.

I've always been intrigued by cemeteries and tombstones in general, but tombstones with photos of the dearly departed? They're fascinating. And for those of us with fairly recent immigrants in our families, they sometimes provide the only image of an ancestor we'll ever see.

Well, Forgotten Faces: A Window into Our Immigrant Past (go here for a preview), is full of exactly these kinds of images. Yes, it's on the expensive side (about $50), but I have to have this book! So I thought I'd share it in case there are others out there who share similar interests (obsessions?).

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Smithsonian's HistoryWired

Just what I need. Another website that makes me lose track of time. But this one's pretty intriguing. It takes a minute or so to get the hang of it, but once you do, forget the clock -- at least, if you're a history buff.

The Smithsonian Institution's HistoryWired: A few of our favorite things online exhibit is definitely a fun toy. Because of the massive size of the SI's collection, only a tiny fraction can be on display at any time. This is a way for them to showcase about 450 of their hidden treasures.

So how to use it? Well, just move your mouse over the grid and read the assorted golden boxes that pop up. If you find one that interests you, click on it and select either "learn more about this object" or one of the zoom options. When you choose learn-more, you'll get a variety of options from that point for that specific item. Maybe there will be an audio file you can listen to, some images to take a look at, an interview with the subject, or some other tidbits. Experiment by moving your mouse all over and sampling the wares, so to speak.

When you get tired of that, try clicking some of those categories across the top -- say, "accomplishment" and "people." See the darker boxes in the grid? Those are the ones with selections that include both of your categories. Continue to play and narrow the field to surface items of particular interest to you.

You might pop up Khalil Gibran's poster of encouragement to young Syrian-Americans. Or a jersey from the Harlem Globetrotters. Or a 1908 boy's sailor suit. Or Fiestaware. Or a collection of automobile emblems. Or a 19th century heirloom quilt.

To learn still more tricks for playing with HistoryWired, click on the help button at the top of the grid (incidentally, it will open by default when you first go into the site, but if you're like me, you'll instinctively close it). One note: you'll have to disable any anti-pop-up software you have. If you don't, you'll find yourself puzzled and staring at an impenetrable grid, wondering why I was so darn excited about this thing.

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Ancestry's Immigration Collection Now Free until 2007!

Turns out that we're all loving the vastly expanded Ancestry.com Immigration Collection that was launched back on November 9th. Traffic at Ancestry is up a whopping 25% and that's saying something, considering what their traffic already was. Seems a lot of us are curious about our immigrant roots -- and this amazing collection has already helped me surface a passenger arrival record I've been looking for for several decades.

Now they've extended the free search time until December 31st! So what are you waiting for? Get over there and search!

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Steve Morse's Enhanced Gold Form for Ellis Island

I haven't had time to play with it yet, but I just learned that search-guru, Steve Morse, has developed a new gold search form for unearthing those ancestors hidden in the depths of the Ellis Island database.

The first thing that jumps out at me with this form is that you can now search on traveling companions (previously only possible with Steve's blue form for Jewish passengers). That's especially handy for those situations where you know that several family members came together. And at the bottom of the page, you can now specify which fields you'd like to see displayed on the results page and how you'd like to have the results sorted.

Steve's search tools just keep getting better and better! You'll have to excuse me, as I've got some experimenting to do!

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I Just Subscribed to Digital Genealogist

Yeah, the last thing I need is another publication to read, but darn it, this one's really good! Of course, it would be since it's edited by Liz Kelley Kerstens and has some of the best writers around.

But don't take my word for it. Check out the free, 42-page sample issue of this online magazine. If you decide, like me, that you have to have it, you can order it for $20 here.

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Family Tree Magazine Forum

Wanna chit-chat with your fellow genealogists -- or maybe pepper the pros with some questions? Well, Family Tree Magazine has just launched a forum for doing just that. Here's an intro . . .

We can barely contain ourselves: In the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine, we'll tell readers about our new FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum. It's an online community where you can respond to Family Tree Magazine articles, discuss genealogy news, post queries, get research advice and correspond with our experts. We also have a Calendar section where you can tell everyone about your upcoming genealogy and living history events.

You can check it out for yourself here.

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C'mon! Stump Me!

Yeah, I know. I could live to regret those words, but here's the thing -- I'm really good at cracking mysteries.

Many of you know that I've been doing this for some time with the "orphan heirlooms" that I write about. And some of you know that I locate family members for the U.S. Army (thousands and counting). Some of you know about the Annie Moore story. Fewer of you know about my work with BBC locating the families of the sailors who lost their lives on the USS Monitor in the Civil War. Or my work with coroners' offices. Or the random sleuthing I do for folks I meet, such as the 20-something and 70-something women whose birth fathers I helped find over the last couple of weeks. But the end result of all this is that I'm pretty darn good at finding both the living and the dead.

My life has been really crazy this year, so I haven't had as much time to do this kind of thing as I like, but it looks as if the horizon might be clearing slightly, soooo . . .

I'd like to invite you to submit your unsolved mysteries for possible resolution. I can't do 'em all, of course, but it only takes a minute or two to submit and you just might get that stubborn brick wall knocked down! Here's where to submit:

Orphan Heirlooms

Lost Loved Ones

Brick Wall/Mystery

DNA Stories

If you're not sure which category to use, just pick the one that seems the closest to you. They all come to me -- just wind up in different folders in my email system.

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Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Congratulations to the August, September, October and November Honoring Our Ancestors grant awardees!

August 2006
Established in 1996, The Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York is a non-profit organization focused on Hispanic ancestry. Its volunteer staff organizes meetings, plan projects, provides instructional forums and seminars, encourages Hispanics to research their roots, offers assistance in genealogical research, and protects and restores historical documents relating to Hispanics and their history. This grant will be used to pay for printing costs of their newsletter Nuestra Herencia (Our Heritage), which recently won the National Genealogical Society's Newsletter Competition's first prize for the second time (2001 and 2005).

September 2006
The Buckingham County High School Genealogy and Local History Club, run by Jeanne Stinson of Buckingham, Virginia, was recently launched to help students record the oral history and genealogy of their families. This school is not located in an affluent area, so books and even postage can be beyond the reach of many. Jeanne intends to use this grant to obtain books and engage students in the quest for their roots -- and, as she so aptly puts it, "to find themselves in the process."

October 2006
The North Dakota State Genealogical Society, based in Bismarck, North Dakota, coordinates projects to promote the history of the families of North Dakota and preserve records. The society recently placed the North Dakota Death Index online by funding the website setup, and has also worked on indexing the 1885 Dakota Territory census, compiling county cemetery indexes, funeral home records, school records and early marriage records. The purpose of this grant will be to support the setup a website for a pre-1925 marriage index for the state. These records are kept in county courthouses and some have been lost due to negligence, damage or misplacement. It is hoped that this initiative will make people more aware of the value of these and all old documents, as well as encourage indexing and reorganization of these records to make them more accessible to the public.

November 2006
Richard D. Longo of Rochester, New Hampshire is the first two-time Honoring Our Ancestors grant recipient. Check out his earlier award in October 2001. His organization is 100% volunteer and includes Richard and three others. They are attempting to find, physically verify, and transcribe everything that is written on a headstone, footstone, monument or obelisk in Rochester, and insert it into a computer program that they have created. They also find missing headstones (e.g., bring them to the surface to transcribe the information) and GPS all burial grounds. Now they have been given authorization to repair any broken or damaged headstones that they deem important. This grant will be used for the very practical purchase of epoxy guns, nozzles, boxes of epoxy/drier cartridges, and bags of Sacrete (a sand and cement mixture).  

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.

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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.

  • 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 - "Trace Your Roots with DNA," "Beyond Y-DNA: Your Genetic Genealogy Options," "Cases That Made My Brain Hurt" and "Right Annie, Wrong Annie"
  • 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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