Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter
June 17, 2005

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Summertime is typically vacation time with the family, and often we're visiting family in other cities, states and countries.  It's a great time to ask older family members to share a story or two about Great Aunt Sadie or another long-passed family member.  Once a generation leaves us, it becomes that much more challenging to find people who can and will share those stories that pass down through families.  So spice up your summer vacation with some good old-fashioned story telling!

In this newsletter. . .

  Andrew Carroll's Latest

I'm a big fan of Andrew Carroll.  Back when I wrote Honoring Our Ancestors, Andy was kind enough to share the tale of how he became fascinated with letters after a fire had destroyed his family's home.  More than anything else in the house, he mourned the loss of the letters that had been mailed to him over the years, including some that had been sent by a friend who had been at Tiananmen Square during the drama of 1989.  Truly, this was a piece of irreplaceable history lost. 

This experience inspired Andy to write a book called Letters of a Nation, which quickly became a bestseller.  Realizing that the most compelling letters are those written in the environment of war, he went on to found The Legacy Project and write War Letters, another bestseller.  The intent behind both efforts was to "encourage Americans to honor and remember those who have served, or are currently serving, this nation in wartime by seeking out and preserving their letters home."

Not content to kick back, he then embarked on a global tour (35 countries) to collect still more letters for his latest book, Behind the Lines: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters -- and One Man's Search to Find ThemBehind the Lines: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters -- and One Man's Search to Find Them.  200 "as is" letters (that is, he left them unedited) covering conflicts in which America has played a role are featured everything from the American Revolution to Iraq.   But not all letters are by Americans or combatants.

If someone in your family has served in the military, this would make an ideal gift (maybe a last minute Father's Day gift?).  And if you find yourself as entranced with these letters as I have (perhaps it's the Army brat in me!), you might want to check http://warletters.com/missiontour/index.html for Andy's 50-state tour to see when he'll be in your area.

Five Birthday Grants Awarded in May

We celebrated five years of the Honoring Our Ancestors Grant Program by having a contest and selecting five grant winners in the month of May!

The five grants were awarded to the following projects:

  1. A teacher from a school in Spanish Harlem will take her 4th grade class to experience the Tenement Museum in New York City.
  2. The Yamhill County Genealogical Society of McMinnville, Oregon will transfer their interviews of pioneer descendents onto DVDs from deteriorating VHS tapes.
  3. Mark Mugleston is working to create a process where hand-written documents can be extracted through computer technology.
  4. The Scott County Genealogical and Historical Society will obtain acid-free sleeves and albums to protect a truckload of historical photographs donated to the Society by a local newspaper.
  5. Ms. Neater's 100% African-American art class (in Chicago) will acquire art supplies in order to create self-portraits. As part of the project, the students will be looking at the works of Kerry James Marshal, Kehinde Wiley, Carrie Mae Weems and Dawoud Bey.

Congratulations to the winners, and a big Thank You to everyone who took the time to send in their proposals!  It was a lot of fun to read them and, as usual, difficult to choose the winners.  Please visit our Grant Page to apply for a grant to support your genealogical project.

Oprah's DNA

Oprah Winfrey is the latest to join the ranks of genetealogists around the world!  Speaking at an event in South Africa , she announced that she had DNA testing (I would assume but am not sure that it was done by African Ancestry) and that she is of Zulu origin.  I would also guess that she is referring to mitochondrial testing, which would trace her straight maternal line (her mother's mother's mother's . . . line).  Because the announcement is so recent, there aren't a lot of details available, but I didn't want to wait to share the news that even Oprah is jumping into genetic genealogy!

Bo Peep, ISFHWE Writing & Best Web Site Awards

Ever feel like the Black Sheep of the family??  How about actually receiving an award from the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists!  They saw fit to bestow one upon yours truly on behalf of the Honoring Our Ancestors Grant Program, and I'm tickled to be an official Bo-Peep awardee!  I think you'll enjoy reading more about this very interesting organization!

The Family Tree Magazine has named Genetealogy.com (my user-friendly site dedicated to DNA genealogy) one of their "101 Best Undiscovered Family History Web Sites" in the August 2005 magazine.  The magazine will be on news stands Tuesday, June 21, and contains many rich resources for hungry genealogists!

The International Society of Family History Writers and Editors announced awards for their 2005 ISFHWE Excellence-in-Writing Competition at the National Genealogical Society's Conference.  I was delighted to win an award in the  "Articles" category for the third year in a row!  The article that won the award is "Finding Homes for Orphan Heirlooms" published in Family Chronicle, July/August 2004.

Recent Articles by Megan, Published in Ancestry Daily News

June 9, More Extreme Genealogy -- Stemming from a survey at www.genetealogy.com, this article captures some very interesting, wild and crazy situations readers endured in the quest for their roots.

May 25, Memorial Day Is Every Day -- This is a moving story told by Dr. Daniel Kortenkamp of events during WWII, that came full circle many years later in the form of kindness to Americans.  It reveals the gratitude that still lingers for sacrifices made decades ago.

May 12, Why We Search -- In a Genetealogy.com survey, I asked the question, What Triggered Your Interest and Involvement in Genealogy?  The tabulated results are in this article, as well as comments from many readers about what motivated them to pursue family history -- some surprising!   Where do you fit in?

  Latest Survey

In an attempt to satisfy my curiosity and rectify the fact that genealogists although there are countless millions of us are ridiculously understudied and understood, I've taken to running surveys through one of my websites.  If you've got a few minutes to spare, I would be very grateful if you would go to http://www.genetealogy.com/results.html and complete the latest one on the impact of the Internet and DNA testing on genealogy.  As with earlier surveys, results will be shared on the website and in articles I write, mostly for Ancestry Daily News.  Thanks in advance for your time!

 Upcoming Events

It's always a pleasure to connect with other like-minded folks at these inspiring events.  Thanks to the the Oklahoma Genealogical Society, the Orange County Genealogical Society and the Genealogical Society of New Jersey for having me speak at their events.  Here's what's coming up next (visit Schedule for speaking topics and details):

  • June 18, 2005 - New York, NY - NYGBS
  • September 7, 2005 - Salt Lake City, UT - APG Professional Management Conference
  • September 29 - October 1, 2005 - Collingswood, NJ - Collingswood Book Festival
  • October 6-8, 2005 - Clive, IA - Iowa Genealogical Society Annual Fall Conference, 40th Anniversary
  • November 13, 2005 - Monmouth County, NJ - Monmouth County Genealogical Society

2006 Events

  • January 17, 2006 - Haddon Heights, NJ - Haddon Heights Historical Society
  • March 11, 2006 - Port Charlotte, FL - Charlotte County Genealogical Society
  • April 10, 2006 - Elkins Park, PA - Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia
  • April 22, 2006 - Richmond, VA - Virginia Genealogical Society

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