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Saturday, May 01, 2010
WDYTYA? Recap: Spike Lee Episode
Posted by Diane
We’re at Ancestry.com’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” viewing party, watching the season finale with a few hundred of our best genealogy friends at the National Genealogical Society conference.
Here are a few of them:
First, we hear some behind the scenes info on the season from Anastasia Tyler, who coordinated the research for the show:
Curtains up and the show begins. Director Spike Lee says his mother’s side of the family is a mystery.
This show starts with Lee visiting his mom, but this episode is different from previous ones: He’s at her gravesite. Jacqueline Shelton Lee died of cancer when Spike was 19.
- 6,300 hours of research went into the series
- An average of more than 425 hours of research went into each show
- Researchers did preliminary work on more than 20 trees, then whittled that down to 7 due to the celebrities’ schedules
- A core team of 30 genealogists worked on the episodes, aided by scads of others who visited archives, did record lookups and more.
- Places the crew researched around the world that didn’t make it into the show include Germany, England, Ukraine, Russia, Ireland, Korea and Canada
- Repositories visited included the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Massachusetts Historical Society and other state archives, local courthouses, public libraries, churches in New York City and France, and synagogues in Ukraine.
- Filming all seven episodes took 9.5 months
His grandmother “Momma” put him through college and helped him start his career. She died at 100 in 2006. Lee says he “squandered” opportunities to ask her about her family. “Being a filmmaker, I should’ve been filming her … you take stuff for granted” and let yourself believe that the person will be around forever.
Momma’s grandmother Lucinda Jackson was born into slavery. Lee looks for her death records in Dublin, Laurens County, Ga., with help from African-American history expert Melvin Collier. From Georgia death records on Ancestry.com, we learn Lucinda died in 1934.
Next is an obituary search in newspaper microfilm—a successful one. From Lucinda’s obituary, Lee is surprised to learn Lucinda had three sons, Isaac, Phillip and Wilson. But there’s no mention of the boys’ father.
Phillip’s death certificate reveals the answer: His father’s name is Mars Jackson. Spike recalls that when he called Momma to ask for a character’s name for his film She’s Gotta Have It, she suggested Mars.
Next, Lee heads to the Georgia State Archives to meet historian Mark Schultz. They search the 1880 census on Ancestry.com and find a Mars, a farmer in Twiggs County. The family has all the right first names and ages, but they’re under the name Woodall. Schultz says this could be the name of a former slaveowner.
On to earlier censuses, now searching for the slaveowning Woodall family. In the 1860 census, they find the only white Woodall family in the county. This is likely Mars’ owners. Woodall’s 1860 slave schedule, which enumerates slaves by age (not by name), probably includes Lee’s ancestors.
Because Mars was listed as a farmer in 1880, Schultz and Lee look in the 1880 agricultural census. They discover Mars owned land—80 acres of tilled land, plus 50 of wooded land, plus 75 acres of “other” land. Schultz says that when positive relationships existed between former slaves and owners, the freedman may have used those ties to get a start. Perhaps Woodall lent Mars the money to purchase the land.
Lee uses a map to find the acreage Mars owned. He puts on his Mars necklace from the film. “It all started here,” he says. He digs up some Georgia red clay and puts it in a TJ Maxx bag to take with him.
Now we look for Lucinda, starting with her death certificate. Her parents were Wilson and Matilda Griswold. In the 1870 census, Matilda, listed as mulatto, is a cook living with an Ebenezer and Eliza Grier in Griswoldville. There’s no Wilson.
Genealogist Daina Berry presents a contract for several slaves, including Wilson, to be hired out to work in a Samuel Griswold’s cotton gin factory. Berry points out that the fact that the slaves were named means they’re probably highly skilled. Another document (we don’t hear what it is) says that in 1865, Gen. Sherman’s troops destroyed the business and carried away five “negro” men.
Did Wilson go with Sherman? Was he killed? We head to Griswoldville, which has a plaque where the factory once was. The cotton gin company’s plant had been converted to a pistol factory to supply the Confederate Army—hence Sherman’s attack.
Local historian Bill Bragg drives up with some records and a pistol that was manufactured at the plant. It was the biggest pistol manufacturer in the Confederacy. “My great-great-grandfather built this pistol…” Lee says. “Which was used to kill the people who were coming to liberate him,” finishes Braggs. The irony.
We see a picture of a grim Samuel and Louisa Griswold in 1860.
Lee wants to know if he could be related to James Griswold, perhaps through Matilda, who was listed as a mulatto in the census. Certainly, Bragg says, it’s a possibility.
Berry says that Griswold’s daughter Eliza married Ebenezer Grier, and Matilda was probably gifted to her. Often, children of owners and slaves were sent away to another household. Circumstantial evidence points to Griswold as Matilda’s father.
Berry finds a descendant of the Griswold family on ancestry.com. Guinevere Greer is a great-great-granddaughter of Wilson Griswold, so she may be a third cousin twice removed to Lee. They sit on the couch and have a conversation. What do you say to someone whose ancestor your ancestor owned? You should definitely watch this part of the show. Watch the whole thing, but definitely this part.
“My grandmother, maybe she knew a lot, but she didn’t tell us because we didn’t ask,” says Lee. “I hope my children know they’re on the shoulders of great people.”
I thought this was the most educational episode because it seemed to
offer more explanation about the records we were seeing. This episode
also has a lot of humor in it--Spike lee's a funny guy.
You can read more about this episode on Ancestry.com. You can watch the show on NBC’s website.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Saturday, May 01, 2010 2:12:54 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, April 30, 2010
A Celebration of Family History
Posted by Diane
Some 20,000 people attended the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints-sponsored Celebration of Family History Thursday night in the
LDS Conference Center Auditorium.
It was a spectacular presentation
that combined music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple
Square, video shorts showing real people talking about what family history
means to them, and talks from LDS president Henry B. Eyring and historian David McCullough.
McCullough is the author of the books The Johnstown Flood, 1776,
John Adams and others. Each element flowed smoothly into the next, in a
seamless and inspiring program.
This is a picture I took with my phone before the celebration got underway:
One of my favorite moments came after a video about a man
whose family came to appreciate their Scottish heritage when one young son decided
to take up the bagpipes. The video’s sound faded as the choir launched into Amazing
Grace and out marched a quartet of bagpipers—including the real live boy in the
video, now all grown up.
Hearing McCullough was a real treat. Growing up in
Pittsburgh, he said, all the kids would make gravy lakes in their mashed
potatoes, use a fork to break the side and say “Johnstown Flood” as the gravy
flowed into the peas—having no idea what they were talking about. That tragic flood was the topic of his first book.
At dinner time in the 1940s, his hard-of-hearing
dad (who detested president Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and his equally
hard-of-hearing grandmother (who believed that next to Jesus, FDR was the best
human being to walk the earth) would debate the New Deal at unforgettable
McCullough spoke about the importance of history and the
wonderfulness of journals as sources. If you want to be immortal, he advised the
audience, keep a journal, and when you think the curtain’s about to come down
on your life, give it to the Library of Congress. Your journal will be famous
because it will be the only one in existence from this era.
To get to know your ancestors, besides studying their
records and reading what they wrote, you should read what they read, McCullough
said. There’s no such thing as a self-made man or woman—we’re all made from the
people before us and the people before them and the people before them. There’s
no such thing as the “forseeable future,” our ancestors no more knew how things
were going to turn out that we know.
The phrase shouldn’t be “gone but not forgotten,” he said, but
rather, “if not forgotten, then not gone.”
You can read more about the Celebration of Family History here
and here , and see a video about it here.
FamilySearch | Genealogy Events | Genealogy fun
Friday, April 30, 2010 10:24:57 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Genealogy News Corral, April 26-30
Posted by Diane
Tonight’s season finale of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” features
director Spike Lee’s search for his roots. Tune in at 8/7 central.
UK genealogy website Findmypast.co.uk just added75,000 new WW1 records
to its subscription databases with the release of the Royal Marine
Medal Roll 1914-1920. The lists of Royal Marines who received medals
for their WWI service provide name, rank, service branch, service
number, a description of where or to whom the medals were issued, and
sometimes more. You can search the index and click to see the record
Archives.com has added more than 30 million California
vital records, enhanced its family tree tool, added videos to help you
use the site, and added to its Expert Series of how-to articles. This
is in addition to the announcement earlier this month about the free
search of the records on FamilySearch’s Pilot Record Search site.
Subscription pedigree site OneGreatFamily launched a free genealogy-oriented bookmarking site called GenealoGee.com. It works like Digg: You can click to "Gee" an online genealogy article and share it on Facebook or Twitter. Genealogee.com visitors can vote for and comment on the article. You must register with GenealoGee.com to Gee an article; anyone can vote.
At the National Genealogical Society conference, we came across a site
called ShipIndex.org. It indexes historical
resources that refer to ocean and river vessels. If you search or
browse on the site to a page for a vessel, you’ll get citations to find
more details in resources such as Ships of the World: An Historical
Encyclopedia by Lincoln P. Paine. You can subscribe to the site for
I also learned about a free online tool called Hi-Lite that lets you
highlight information on websites. You register for a Hi-Lite
membership, and use a toolbar to highlight information on webpages.
That adds the passage and a citation to your Hi-Lite account.
Pennsylvania researchers might want to check out the Ancestor Tracks website, which has free township warrantee maps
for many counties and other resources for learning about early
Pennsylvania landowners. You can get the full maps, atlases and more on
Ancestor tracks’ Early Landowners of Pennsylvania books and CDs.
The National Archive sand Records Administration opens its new Civil
War exhibition, Discovering the Civil War, today at 10 a.m. Opening day
features a free outdoor concert, noon lecture by historian and author
Robert V. Remini, and a screening of "Glory" For more on the exhibit,
visit the archives' website.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy Events | Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives | UK and Irish roots
Friday, April 30, 2010 1:47:13 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Three News Announcements From Ancestry.com
Posted by Diane
Ancestry.com senior vice president of product Eric Shoup made three news announcements at a reception the online genealogy company hosted this evening:
1. Shoup previewed Ancestry.com’s new search features, some of which have already been implemented (such as the filters I blogged about last week). Features to be added “in the near future” include
You can see what the new Ancestry.com search eventually will look like here.
- more prominent browsing by place (right down to a county, which got applause from the audience), record category and collection
- a simplified basic search form that asks for name and place of residence (it includes a calculator to help you determine a birth year based on your ancestor’s age at a specific time)
- pages with historical information and basic facts about counties, as well as additional resources outside of Ancestry.com.
2. Ancestry.com is launching a new, free wiki with all the information from the references Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources edited by Alice Eichholz, and The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy edited by Lorretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargraves Luebking (these books will remain available in print through Turner Publishing, which took over Ancestry.com’s book business earlier this year). A wiki is a site anyone can contribute to and edit to update and correct the information. The Ancestry.com Wiki is available now in beta.
3. Mac users, listen up: Ancestry.com will make its Family Tree Maker genealogy software available for Macs. Shoup said that’ll happen before the end of the year.
Ancestry.com | Genealogy Software | Genealogy Web Sites
Thursday, April 29, 2010 12:21:25 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Posted by Diane
During the morning rush at our National Genealogical Society
booth today, someone looked at the July 2010 Family Tree Magazine and said “Oh, I
saw your guy!”
What guy? I’m pretty sure we didn’t bring a guy.
A little while later, Sherlock Holmes walked into the booth.
It was Tim Firkowski, a professional family history detective (and creative
marketer) dressed to promote his business, The Genealogy Assistant.
In a purely coincidental turn of events, Tim looked exactly
like our July cover! See:
Genealogy Events | Genealogy fun
Thursday, April 29, 2010 12:00:31 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
NGS Conference News
Posted by Diane
We’re hearing that 2,500 people were preregistered for the National Genealogical Society (NGS) conference, going on now through Saturday at the Salt Palace convention center in Salt Lake City. From the rush in the exhibit hall when the doors opened this morning, that seems about right.
Now for some news from the conference:
This morning in the opening session, the National Genealogical Society announced that its 2012 conference will be in our own stomping grounds, Cincinnati. Research opportunities will include the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, one of the country’s best public library genealogy collections.
Also during that session, FamilySearch International announced today that it has posted an
additional 300 million names to its database collections, include those from sources not previously available online. The names are on a FamilySearch beta site, which is similar to the Record Search Pilot site but has an expanded search form. Read the full announcement here.
The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) today announced its genetic genealogy database of test results has surpassed 100,000 DNA samples, linked with corresponding family pedigree charts from the submitters. You can read an article about the milestone here and search the database at the SMGF site (it’s free, but registration is required).
UK family history website Findmypast.co.uk will take over FamilyLink’s WorldVitalRecords Australasian website. The WorldVitalRecords.com.au subscription website will relaunch next month as Findmypast.com.au. Initially, it’ll provide mostly Australian and New Zealand content from Gould Genealogy and History books and CDs; eventually, Findmypast.co.uk content and features will be added.
The New England chapter of the Association for Professional Genealogists (NE-APG) announced it’s offering a DVD of two genealogy lectures from expert Tom Jones: "Correlating Sources, Information and Evidence to Solve Genealogical Problems" and "Writing Genealogy. " It covers how to interpret and analyze your research—putting it all together and using a variety of records to build a case for what your ancestors were up to. See a full description on the NEAPG website. You don’t purchase this DVD online, but you can download an order form to print out and send in.
FamilySearch | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies | Genetic Genealogy | International Genealogy
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 11:55:39 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
A Hopping Genealogy Joint
Posted by Diane
After setting up Family Tree Magazine’s booth in the National
Genealogical Society conference exhibit hall here in Salt Lake City, editorial director Allison Stacy and I stopped by the
Family History Library
The place was buzzing with activity! Researchers were busy at
almost every computer terminal and microfilm
reader. (I surreptitiously took these pictures on the second floor, which
has US and Canadian microfilm.)
To help everyone get the records they need, the library is extending its hours, staying
open until 11 pm Tuesday,
Wednesday and Thursday (the library normally closes at 9 on those days).
We’re looking forward to seeing lots of researchers in the
FamilySearch | Genealogy Events | Libraries and Archives
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 10:03:03 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, April 26, 2010
July 2010 Family Tree Magazine Hitting Newsstands!
Posted by Diane
Our July 2010 Family Tree Magazine is mailing to subscribers and hits newsstands tomorrow, April 27, with a plethora of resources and suggestions for helping you find ancestral answers.
I'm partial to "Undercover Genealogy" by Lisa Louise Cooke, because it highlights an area of genealogical research I’ve only started to explore. The 10 strategies for finding living relatives (who may hold family history clues) go beyond online search engines to show you how to think like a detective—using the person’s occupation, organizational affiliations, hobbies and interests to figure out where to search. (You can see an article excerpt, with tips on finding old phone books, on our website.)
If Susan Sarandon’s ancestral search on last week’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” piqued your interest in your Italian roots, we have just the article for you: “A Little Italy” by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack names 10 resources for discovering Italian ancestors. She also walks you through an example of tracing an immigrant to his hometown in Italy and researching his family in microfilmed church records.
Just a few of the other topics in the July 2010 Family Tree Magazine: Doing cemetery research, finding female ancestors, using British site FindMyPast.co.uk, and ramping up your research with help from social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter.
Visit ShopFamilyTree.com to see the issue’s table of contents and place your order (the July 2010 issue is available in print or in digital format).
Editor's Pick | Family Tree Magazine articles
Monday, April 26, 2010 11:53:08 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Saturday, April 24, 2010
NARA Social Media Scavenger Hunt Starts Monday
Posted by Diane
Get your game face on for the National Archives and Records Administration’s Civil War–themed social media scavenger hunt, starting at noon next Monday, April 26.
The hunt celebrates the new Discovering the Civil War exhibit opening April 30 at NARA’s Washington, DC headquarters. It’ll send participants scouting for answers across the National Archives' social media sites, including more than a dozen Facebook pages and Flickr, YouTube and Twitter sites.
Visit NARA’s main Facebook page Monday for the scavenger hunt kickoff. Those who complete the hunt and submit their answers will be entered into a drawing for four Discovering the Civil War t-shirts from the NARA gift shop.
For more details and rules, see NARA's facebook page.
Genealogy fun | Libraries and Archives | Social Networking
Saturday, April 24, 2010 5:00:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, April 23, 2010
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Recap: Susan Sarandon Episode
Posted by Diane
I’ve missed my little Friday night get-togethers with WDYTYA?, so I was excited about watching actress Susan Sarandon’s search for her roots.
She was already into family history, but faces a mystery: What happened to her grandmother Anita, who disappeared when Sarandon’s mom Lenora was 2? Family rumors paint Anita as a bad mother who spent time running numbers and hanging out in jazz clubs. Susan—the self-identified “black sheep of the family”—feels a connection to this “colorful character.”
Sarandon visits her mom, who’s been hesitant to try to find Anita. Lenora says her mother was a “showgirl” at a nightclub, and produces a fuzzy newspaper photo. Lenora found out when she was 9 or 10 that her mom was alive and eventually met her; both are in a photo taken in a funhouse mirror. But that was the extent of their relationship.
We go to New York City, where Sarandon knows Anita lived around 1929, to meet with genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. We see Anita’s birth certificate naming her mother Angelina and her father Mansueto Rigali, whose occupation was “statues.” The couple was from Italy, and they had nine children before Anita—but only two of them were still living when Anita was born.
Their mother had died by the time Anita was 12.
Smolenyak presents a marriage certificate for Anita. The groom was 21 and the bride was 15—no, wait, make that 13! She claimed to be older, but doing the math from Anita’s birthday puts her at barely teenaged. Sarandon recalls that Anita must have been pregnant, because her uncle was born six months after the wedding.
Sarandon meets Italian immigration historian Mary Brown at St. Joseph church. The Rigalis lived at 35 Madison Street in a crowded Lower East Side tenement neighborhood Brown calls a “death trap.”
I llike the interwoven history lessons.
Cut to Sarandon and her son Miles at the New York Public Library, where they search an Italian website for Anita’s surname. I love that her son’s getting involved! They’re from Tuscany, so of course, this is Hollywood and that’s where they go.
Ahhh, Florence. Genealogist Cinzia Rossello produces records of the family, including a military conscription document showing Mansueto was from a small town, Coreglia, and owned land.
Sarandon goes to Coreglia, where Rossello shows her the family’s baptismal records. Mansueto’s record has his father’s and grandfather’s name. We can get back 10 generations, to 1640, just in this church’s baptismal register.
“I’m from Tuscany,” Sarandon says. “It’s gone from being something abstract to being very concrete.”
Next she meets Gabriello Cabrese at Coreglia’s statue museum—the town was famous for its figuremaking. We learn that in 1888, at age 32, Mansueto was one of the first sculptors to go to the United States. That year, 98 figuremakers left.
Back in New York, Sarandon visits the cemetery where Mansueto is buried. He died at 72. He and his children—except Anita—are on the burial register, but they have no markers.
Still in search of Anita’s story, Sarandon meets Burton Pereti, an expert on New York nightclubs. He suggests she was active at speakeasies in New York, which were magnets for young women who worked as dancers and singers. There’s little documentation of Anita in nightclubs, he says, but he presents an October 1932 marriage license showing Anita’s marriage at age 25 to a Ben Kahn. The document reports no previous marriages. “Nothing seems to add up,” Sarandon says.
Pereti tells her the show’s researchers were unable to find a record of a divorce from Sarandon’s grandfather, the man Anita married at 13. After a commercial, Sarandon says her grandfather didn’t divorce Anita until after that photo in the funhouse.
Sarandon and Miles visit the New York library to use city directories. They find Anita on West 78th Street and a possible Ben on 74th. Were they already separated the year after they married?
Next, they search Ancestry.com for Anita's death record. It’s not under Kahn, so Miles suggests not using a last name. Clever kid! They find an Anita Fiorentini who died in 1984—wrong name, but everything else fits.
At the library in Rockland County, NY, where Anita Fiorentini died, Sarandon finds her obituary. The details fit, down to the parents’ names, except that Anita’s birth date makes her younger. Anita had married a man named Dominick.
Sarandon goes knocking on doors in her grandmother’s neighborhood, and learned a lot about what she was like from a neighbor who didn’t want to talk on camera. Sarandon next visits Dominick’s nieces. “If you can tell me anything…” Sarandon says, and the nieces say “We can!” They tell her Anita and Dom were happy and show pictures of them.
This was the least tearful WDYTYA?, but still touching. “As this journey unfolded, I became more and more compassionate to her and more forgiving and my heart went out to her,” Sarandon says. “Now my mom has some closure.”
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Friday, April 23, 2010 9:26:47 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)