Honoring Our Ancestors Newsletter
August 24, 2005

By Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

It's been such a fun summer, meeting with friends and working on a wide variety of stimulating projects.  Lately my attention has been focused on orphan heirloom "rescues" -- reuniting "lost" heirlooms with the appropriate owner (usually a descendant of the original owner).  This can be one of the most exciting and rewarding "reunions" for both the rescuer and the owner.  For more information and resources to inspire your heirloom search or rescue, visit Honoring Our Ancestors Library.  And if you have any orphan heirlooms that have somehow come into your possession that you'd like to give to a family member, send me an email at megan@honoringourancestors.com.  My latest case involves a photo album that was lost in the streets of Jerusalem about nine years ago, and I've just located the 80-something fellow it belongs to in New Jersey .  Won't he be surprised to get my call?!

In this newsletter. . .

CastleGarden.org Launches on 150th Anniversary of Immigration Station

On August 1, the Battery Conservancy celebrated the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Castle Garden immigration station, and launched a new website, www.CastleGarden.org, giving users access to a database of New York passenger arrivals from 1820 to 1913.   Castle Garden itself operated from August 1, 1855 to April 18, 1890 (the Barge Office became the point of entry until Ellis Island opened in 1892), but the database includes other records as well. 

According to David Bromwich of The Battery Conservancy, the completed database will contain twelve million records - 8.5 million people who entered through Castle Garden and 3.5 million who entered the Port of New York between 1820 and 1855 and between 1890 and 1892.  At this point, I confess I'm not sure why the search tool covers up to 1913.  I tried searching on the name Smith for each year starting with 1890 and found hits up through 1897.  Each year thereafter came up empty.  This may be because they are still populating the database (which is said to be about 80% complete).

A basic search for a name will be free, and more advanced searches will be available for a fee.  I tried ordering an advanced search on the day the site opened, but have not yet received the results.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, that they took the trouble to call me to tell me the results would not be available for some time.

As is typical with new sites, the search functionality is not as flexible as we might like, but once again, Steve Morse has created a solution.  If you have ancestors you believe came through pre-Ellis Island New York , you'll want to bookmark his one-step search form at http://stevemorse.org/ellis/cg.html to improve your chances of finding your kinfolk.

Incidentally, you can also search these records at Ancestry.com in their Immigration Collection.  There's a fee involved, but you may be able to access the collection for free at a local library, and their database includes digitized images of the passengers' manifest.  Also, I've already learned that it's helpful to use both to excavate those ancestors who might be hiding.  I've found some ancestors in Ancestry.com's collection that I haven't found at the Castle Garden site yet (perhaps they will appear when the transcription is complete), and I've found different transcriptions for the same person for instance, Smolinak at one site and Smolinsk at the other.  All in all, the new site could use some tweaking, but the bottom line is that it's great to have yet another genealogical resource at our finger tips especially one that's mostly free!


I haven't had time to play with it yet other than just exploring the examples they have but you might want to experiment a bit with MapYourAncestors.com, a site that does exactly what the name would make you think map out where your ancestors lived.  The default example is the Bush family, and if you click on the individual entries, windows pop up with photos and basic details.  For a simpler, but international example, click on "Beginner Example" at the top of the page.  Note in the upper right-hand corners of each map that you have map, satellite and hybrid options for viewing.  The maps also include zoom and click-and-drag functionality, so you can zero in or out, or follow a line that seems to veer off the map.  If you decide to try it out, drop me a line and let me know how it goes!

NPR Talk of the Nation Interview

Neal Conan, host of NPR's Talk of the Nation interviewed Colleen Fitzpatrick, author of Forensic Genealogy, a representative of African Ancestry, and me for his program on July 26 titled, "Genealogy, Forensics and the Digital Age." The impact of DNA testing and other types of technology is definitely growing as more people are being DNA-tested and using sophisticated research techniques that border on forensics.  The interview came about suddenly as one of his producers had spotted a reference to Trace Your Roots with DNA (the book I co-authored with Ann Turner) in the previous day's issue of The New York Times.  I think I might have caught Neal off-guard when I gleefully explained my Smolenyak-Smolenyak situation!  To listen to this interview, please visit: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4771723.  

Honoring Our Ancestors Grants

Congratulations to the June, July and August Honoring Our Ancestors grant awardees, and a big Thank You to everyone who took the time to send in their grant proposals.  It was a lot of fun to read them and, as usual, difficult to choose the winners. 

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.

Recent Articles by Megan, Published in Ancestry Daily News

August 18, Flirting with Death -- Summer is a great time to read for fun, and I share my top three favorite summer reads on death.  I promise -- it's not as morbid as it sounds!  52McGs is about a legendary obituary writer, Robert McG Thomas Jr., and 52 of his best obituaries.  Where the Bodies Are:  Final Visits to the Rich, Famous and Interesting tells the reader exactly where to look for those grave sites, if one is so inclined!  The Undertaking:  Life Studies from the Dismal Trade is a laugh and learn about the funeral business that won the American Book Award in 1998.

August 2, A Coronery Case -- This case has nothing to do with arteries and the heart, but has much to do with our friend, the coroner. Like funeral home directors, coroners can be extremely helpful to genealogists, but it isn't often we get the chance to return the favor. Recently, I had such an opportunity and it reminded me very much of the orphan heirloom rescue cases I've written about in the past.

July 7, Ancestral Art -- I share fun ways and creative resources you can bring the visuals of family history into your everyday life through customized "graffiti" in your home, photostamps, Irish Townland Maps, converting photos into 3D sculptures and other ideas.

June 26, Still More Extreme Genealogy -- The last in a series of four articles based on a survey taken at www.genetealogy.com, I share the most extreme stories of what people have done to satiate their genealogy cravings -- bold actions taken, big money spent, and slightly naughty behaviors revealed!

  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 New York Genealogical and Biographical Society for having me speak at their conference.  Here's what's coming up next (visit Schedule for speaking topics and details):

  • September 7, 2005 - Salt Lake City, UT - APG Professional Management Conference

If you're going to be at the FGS Conference in Salt Lake City,
please visit Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak at the book signings she'll be doing at the
International Society of Genetic Genealogy
(9:30-11:00 a.m. on September 8, 2005)
and Ancestry.com's booth
(12:15 - 2:00 p.m. on September 8, 2005)
 (see your registration packet for more details)

  • 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
  • January 21, 2006 - Brooklyn, NY - Brooklyn Public Library
  • 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