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Honoring Our Ancestors
August 15, 2014


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

This is a busy issue - mainly because of all the material out there on the currently airing season of "Who Do You Think You Are?" and the upcoming season of "Finding Your Roots." No shortage of genealogy on air these days!

But if you browse through the rest, you'll find links to stories about remarkable reunions, DNA, Ellis Island, orphan heirlooms, and LeBron James as well! Here's hoping you can find a little time between shows to take a look!

Happy sleuthing!


P.S. I hope some of you are live-tweeting with us during the show on Twitter (just look for #WDYTYA to follow the conversation). This little postcard capturing one of my tweets during the Rachel McAdams episode will give you a taste of the kind of reactions we share with each other!


Was David Duchovny's Family From Ukraine or Russia?

There's been quite a fuss about a nationalistic, Russian beer commercial David Duchovny made not long ago -- especially given that he recently discovered that his roots are actually in Ukraine. For obvious reasons, this is less than ideal timing. As a genealogist who also has Ukrainian roots, but grew up being told she was Russian (Smolenyak -- we must be from Smolensk, of course!), I decided to take a look into the specifics of Duchovny's case.

It doesn't take much effort to learn that his grandfather was Moshe Duchovny, but that's where things start to get challenging. If you search Ellis Island records for likely candidates, a couple with similar names pop up, but their ages and years of arrival don't match what's known about David's grandfather. That's because the real Moshe Duchovny is well hidden since his name was badly distorted on his passenger arrival record, possibly because he and his father Abraham embarked in Greece where names like theirs would have been unfamiliar (in spite of the popular myth that names were deliberately altered at Ellis Island, officials there mostly verified lists created at the point of departure).

In case you're curious, here's the declaration of intention for Abraham Duchovny, filed by David's great-grandfather in December 1920. In it, it claims to have been born in "Kiev, Russia." That alone is enough to confuse us today, but avid researchers also know to be wary when immigrants cite a major city as their place of origin because they often used the closest one as a proxy for the town or shtetl they really came from, assuming (no doubt, correctly) that no one here would have heard of it. Note also that he lived at 2 Hester St. and his wife Dobe was back in "Russia."


In his WWI draft registration card recorded in September 1918, Abraham was still living at 2 Hester St. and his wife -- who was now going by Dora -- had apparently joined him. And once again, he stated that he was a citizen of Russia. Incidentally, he was working at 85 Orchard St., just about a half a block from the Tenement Museum located at 97 Orchard.


Using additional details provided in his declaration of intent -- specifically, that he arrived on the Constantine from Piraeus, Greece on March 7, 1916 -- it's possible to back into his passenger arrival record despite the distortion of his name. He and his son, Moise, are both listed as "Douharmi," but this is definitely the same Duchovny fellow in the declaration, and if you read the rest of the details, you'll learn that his wife, Dobe, was back at home in "Beardichef, Russia" -- what's now known as Berdychiv, Ukraine.


Lest there be any lingering doubt that this is the correct fellow, David's grandparents married twice (immigrants sometimes did this, usually starting with a civil ceremony and following with a religious one), and in both instances, Moshe's parents were noted as Abraham and Dora, just as expected. His birth place on both records? "Russia."

The bottom line is that David's Duchovny grandfather and great-grandparents were originally from Berdychiv, which by today's borders, is clearly in Ukraine, but Ukraine as an independent country was a distant dream when the family left in 1916. The immigrants themselves repeatedly identified themselves as Russian, and upon applying for American citizenship, Abraham renounced his allegiance to "Russia, or any independent state within the bounds of the former Russian Empire."

So it's easy to see why David would have been raised with the impression that he was of Russian heritage, and short of a deep dive into his ancestry, it would have been difficult for him to learn otherwise. Admittedly the commercial could have been better timed, but you can't fault the timing of his immigrant ancestors whose 1916 departure was just shy of the 1917 Russian Revolution, a 1919 pogram in Berdychiv, and widespread destruction of the city by Soviet troops in 1920.

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Genealogy Round Up, August 4

Nas Discovers His Third Great Grandmother: Pocahontas (no, not THAT one) - coming up this season on Finding Your Roots

A SECOND Homecoming: LeBron James and His Return to Cleveland

Couple who could never forget one another are reunited 70 YEARS after their families forced them to break up in China

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Genealogy Round Up, July 28

Nas and LL Cool J to earn about their heritage on "Finding Your Roots" (PBS)

Interview with Jenn Utley (!) re: Cynthia Nixon episode of "Who Do You Think You are?"

In case you're into Pinterest, here's my board on GENEALOGY ON TV. Lots more genealogy-related boards there, too!

Courtney B. Vance, Anna Deavere Smith, Nas & Khandi Alexander find their roots in PBS series

Unexpected application of genealogy

Who do you look like? DNA and family resemblance across generations

BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

Google to Offer Close-Up View of Ellis Island!

'Easter miracle': Children's author Eric Carle reconnects with lost Syracuse friend after 82 years

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Genealogy Round Up, July 21

Couple Married 63 Years Dies On The Same Day

Do You Know What The Most Common Names Are In Other Countries? Here Are 27 Names From Around The World

Cynthia Nixon on "Who Do You Think You Are?" A tale of murder and social reform in Missouri

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Genealogy Round Up, July 14

Genealogy Roadshow looking for stories for season 2 to tape in New Orleans, LA, Philadelphia, PA, and St. Louis, MO

Can't resist a good orphan heirloom tale!

When did getting buried near your favorite celebrity become a thing?

Brazil 2014: Visualising ancestral and international connections between teams

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Upcoming Events

After traveling around and speaking in 40 states and half a dozen countries since 2000, I decided to take a breather from the road to tend to some projects. That said, I'm sharing exceptions here. And by the way, you can see if I’ll be in your area any time by checking my Events Calendar.

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