All posts by Banai Lynn Feldstein

JGSLA 2010 – 0.2 – Preparations And Glitches

I finished up all my client work and even did some of my own genealogy organizing. I got my family newsletter sent out, finally, and updated the book just a smidge. I am teaching a computer lab on using Microsoft Publisher and that book is my example, so I thought I’d get reacquainted with it again before the conference.

This Friday morning, I woke up early and packed and cleaned a bit around my house. The garbage had a very late pick-up which I had to wait for, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet. And then finally, off I went.

An hour later, when I got to the Springville exit, my car died. This car is 19 years old and she’s never had something break that actually stopped her from working before. Looks like it was the transmission. But Murphy and his laws didn’t get me completely. If I’d gone past two more exits, I would have been in the middle of nowhere and completely stranded. This way, at least I was in Spanish Fork. So I left my car at a repair shop without even asking him to fix her and Enterprise came and picked me up.

And so I was finally on my way again. I must say, cruise control is a wonderful thing and I don’t know how I survived so many drives across the country or across multiple states before without it.

And now I’m in Mesquite. I was hoping to make it to Las Vegas for the night. I even got half an invitation from a friend, and I called her, but I didn’t really feel like driving anymore and it was already dark. She went online for me and found an obscure little motel with free Internet included and here I am writing this blog entry. In the morning, I’ll stop in Las Vegas for breakfast with her and then I’ll be in Los Angeles in the afternoon for the IAJGS Conference.

JGSLA 2010 – 0.1 – Before I Leave

I had a bit of a blogging black hole in there where I made no entries. I’ll try to be better. In the meantime, it’s time to prepare for the IAJGS conference. Actually, it’s probably past time to prepare, but I’m just getting started.

I plan to drive down to Los Angeles in advance of the conference, but the time to get there in advance is shrinking. I want to meet some more of my relatives; I have a few in the area that I’ve never met.

I’m teaching a computer lab and still need to make preparations for it. I gave the same lab last year, but wanted to improve on what I did and part of that improvement will take me some time working at home.

I will be helping in the Resource Room and introducing a couple of other computer labs that I volunteered for. This will be my first time as introducer. I was just curious about a couple labs and there I went volunteering again.

In the meantime, I’ve been flattening the weeds in my yard and it’s just slightly possible that someone will give them a serious death spray while I’m gone. I also fixed an old leak in my swamp cooler, so I shouldn’t have to worry about turning off the water to that while I’m gone.

NGS 2010 – Part 2

It was quite unfortunate that I missed the third day of NGS. I only had one session highlighted in my schedule, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t have gone to any others. It was just the lack of sleep all week that caught up to me. So I really had to make the most of Saturday.

I got started a little later than I meant to so I missed the first lecture I had planned to go to. As I was about to head to the next lecture session, Beau Sharbrough came around and I got to talking to him, was introduced by him to a few people including his wife, and missed another lecture.


By the afternoon, I’d had enough vendor room socializing and found a new addition to the schedule: J.H. Fonkert’s Anatomy of a Genealogy Research Report. I followed that with Maureen Taylor’s Every Picture Tells a Story: Dating Family Photographs. Both research report lectures I attended were filled with good information. Photo dating is a weakness of my genealogy skills, so those lectures are always helpful. Maybe someday I’ll pick up some of the books on the subject and really learn something.

I missed all the evening events during the week like the concert at the conference center (I really wanted to go to that) and the group watch of Who Do You Think You Are?.

Social Networking

This conference further reinstated to me that when I attend IAJGS conferences, I go for the social networking more than attending lectures. At my first IAJGS, I attended as many lectures as I could, but found that I didn’t learn very much because I already knew so much. I viewed the NGS lectures about the same way. I’ve chatted with many Twitterers and bloggers online, but many of the ones I talk to the most weren’t there. I did get to briefly meet several of them including Dick Eastman, Randy Seaver, Ancestry Insider, Lisa Alvo, and Kathryn Doyle. I was upset that Megan Smolenyak only attended the day that I missed. I was really thankful that I had some friends tethered to their vendor booths so I could visit with them often. (I hope I didn’t drive them nuts.) I stopped at many other vendor booths just to chat a bit, which I rarely did at IAJGS.


I was really hoping to really meet the bloggers and spend more time with them, but we didn’t know each other so I didn’t get invited to their impromptu get-togethers. I know I judged some of the conference a bit unfairly due to my IAJGS experience. For instance, I know everyone who runs those conferences and many of the regular attendees, so there’s no lack of people to socialize with all week. Also, there were several times when I couldn’t decide what lectures to attend because I had no interest in any of them. At IAJGS, there’s usually something that I have at least a mild interest in learning about because it’s all on-topic for Jewish genealogy.

All in all, I enjoyed the conference. I will definitely consider attending future NGS and FGS conferences.

NGS 2010 – Halfway Through

This year is my first year attending the National Genealogical Society conference. It is taking place in Salt Lake City, so I really didn’t have an excuse to miss it.


My week started on Monday when Michael Goldstein came into the city in advance of the conference and I met with him for lunch, some research at the Family History Library, and then dinner along with Daniel Horowitz, Kahlile Mehr, and his wife.


On Tuesday, I brought boxes to Ron Arons at the Salt Palace Convention Center. He had shipped his books to me in advance of NGS for his booth in the vendor room. This was beneficial to both of us as I had no idea where the conference would be in the very large Salt Palace. He thanked me with dinner and then we went to the FHL for a UJGS meeting where Daniel Horowitz spoke to a crowded room about MyHeritage. I only left 30 flyers at the FHL the week before and I was absolutely thrilled at the guest turn-out along with the large number of members in attendance.

Wednesday – NGS Day One

By Wednesday, the first day of NGS, my sleep deprivation was really catching up to me. I have two rare sleep disorders and one of them sometimes dictates that I am basically awake all night and asleep all day. I am in the midst of that one now, but forcing myself to stay awake during the day does not cause me to sleep at night anyways. I was working on only 3-4 hours of sleep each day.

I was only a few minutes late for the 8am opening session. Sitting so far in the back, I mostly listened as there were too many heads in front of me to see much. I was most interested in watching the video of the Granite Mountain Vault and was glad to see later that the FamilySearch booth in the vendor room was replaying it.

After the opening session, everyone crowded into the vendor room as the opening session room was set up for regular sessions. I walked around and spoke with people, picked up some snacks, and learned what some of the companies were about.

I attended some of Laura Murphy DeGrazia’s Prove It! Evidence Analysis for Genealogists, and stepped into Thomas Jones’s Five Way to Prove Who Your Ancestor Was, which was standing room only. Unfortunately, the sleep deprivation was catching up to me and I was wiped out. I headed home early.

I obviously missed a couple sessions I wanted to attend on Wednesday, and the Ancestry presentation, but I learned about the major points overnight from Twitter.

Thursday – NGS Day Two

On Thursday, I again arrived late for the first session I wanted to attend, but this time I could partly blame the weather. Claire Bettag’s Research Reports: Meeting the Standards was not quite standing room only, but I stood outside the door with a small group instead of trying to find the few remaining empty seats.

Again spending time in the vendor room, I spoke to Ron Arons for a while and several other vendors. I stopped at the Genlighten booth (many times during the week) to speak with Dean Richardson and his wife, and the MyHeritage booth to see Daniel Horowitz. I somehow spent enough vendor room time that I didn’t go to an 11am session. I had nothing marked in my calendar, but I’m surprised while typing this blog entry that I don’t recall attending any sessions.

During the lunch hour, Ancestry had a session to speak with bloggers, which I attended. I saw mention on Twitter of the Geneabloggers meeting in the vendor room but never found this elusive location. So I finally saw a few of my tweeps (Randy Seaver, Lisa Alvo, Ancestry Insider, among others) at this meeting.

Afterwards, I sat with Tony Macklin for a while to discuss the Ancestry web site. We ended up looking at the new search and trying to find my great-uncle’s 1930 census page, which caused a great deal of difficulty. Did the transcription get changed (incorrectly) since I first found it years ago or did I have such a hard time finding that one record? In the end, we did find it, and submit the transcription correction.

At 4pm, I went to Thomas Jones’s Organizing Evidence to Overcome Record Shortages. This time, there were still some seats left. I was on time and actually heard the introduction, which he gave himself. I stayed for most of the session, leaving only when he was on his second example near the end. Again, the lack of sleep was catching up.

I wanted to go to the Conference Center for the evening concert but knew that it was unlikely I would be able to stay awake while sitting still in a darkened room for two hours. I checked in again with Ron and, while realizing that I’d be driving home in rush hour traffic, he suggested dinner again to wake me up a bit and delay the drive. (It worked. Thanks again Ron.)

Upon arriving home, I started to catch up with Facebook and Twitter, only to leave that unfinished to go to sleep. I woke up around midnight, but went right back to bed to wake up around 5am. Finally, some sleep! (And in the dark, almost like a normal person.) I don’t suppose I’ll be without the feeling of sleep deprivation all day, but it should help.

Two more days to go at NGS. What do I hope to accomplish? I’d really like to talk to my Geneablogger friends some more and get to know them a little. I only have a few sessions marked in my schedule, but I’m sure I’ll drop in on many of the others.

WDYTYA – Episode 5 – The Nitpicker’s Version

From the previews, we already knew that Brooke Shields was going to find that she was descended from royalty. Reading some of the articles that have been written recently by people who don’t like genealogists, this is what they think the field is all about: finding where your family intersects with the royalty of Europe. Although Brooke has this on one side of her family, the majority of genealogists do not. Or maybe many of them do, but not in Jewish families. Either we run out of records to trace, or Jews were simply so isolated from the rest of the population that our families don’t intersect with the European royalty that everyone else is trying to find in their families.

Why Do The Research?

I think that most people find an interest in genealogy because they inherit old items from parents or grandparents, or are involved in helping someone downsize from the old family house to a smaller place.

For Brooke Shields, it was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I didn’t really understand what it was about that event that made her suddenly interested in her family history based on what she said, but I can understand that people reacted very strongly to that moment in time and that was simply her reaction.

No Family Visit

Brooke started by going to New Jersey, where her mother was born. Apparently she had no family to talk to in the way all the other episodes started. There was no mention of any other relatives. Were there none alive or did she not have contact with them? Either way, sometimes you have to start without.

Michelle Chubenko was her first contact, a genealogist who worked in New Jersey. They searched through microfilms for the birth record of her grandmother and sister. Can regular people do that if they go to the archives? I have never been to the New Jersey archives but I’ve been to others, and such things didn’t happen. You have to request the record, giving specific details, often the details you are trying to learn, in the hopes that they will find the record for you. Oh, the privilege of celebrity and a camera crew.

Looking up her grandmother and sister, they saw that there were four children in the family, which Brooke didn’t know about. She was “in shock” that there were two more siblings, but Michelle found the records of the other births. Just because she hadn’t heard of them, why would she be surprised to find there were more?

Come to think of it, my grandfather was one of twelve. When I was told there were two others that had died in infancy, I was surprised. Not because I didn’t think it was possible but just because I hadn’t been told about them before. Watching the first time through, I didn’t think of this and took her shock at the revelation to be wrong, but now I see that it was probably the same kind of reaction I had.

From the birth records, they determined that of the two brothers, one died in infancy while the other was still alive when the fourth child was born. Brooke suddenly wanted to know everything about him, saying she felt like a detective. That is exactly what genealogy research is about.

To Newark

Going back to the old neighborhood, historian Tom McCabe showed her a 1910 picture of the street where the family lived and pointed out the buildings where they lived and where two of the siblings were born.

Meeting with Michelle again, now in a restaurant, Michelle “did additional research”. I always like when they mention that they did research and didn’t just produce all kinds of information out of thin air. She found Brooke’s great-grandmother’s death certificate, when her grandmother was only ten years old. She also found the death for Edward when he was 13, along with a newspaper article about his drowning.

Why do they meet so many genealogists in restaurants? Are there no better places? Just seems odd to me. Sure, that may happen in real life when you’re meeting a stranger and need a public location, but that’s not the case here. Maybe they just like the bad lighting conditions for the episodes.

From Mom to Dad

Once Brooke had discovered enough to understand more about her grandmother, she switched to her father’s side. When I look at how far back in time the research went for her father’s family, I can only hope that they did more on her mother’s side but didn’t find anything TV-worthy.

At the New York Historical Society, genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts unrolled a family tree scroll going back to the early 1700s.  (We later see the other side of it goes to the 1600s.) This is one of those moments that I don’t like, where they skip over far too much of the research and just suddenly produce all kinds of results. Not only that, but he traced that far back and all she could ask about was what came before.

Of course, she may have asked questions about every person in the chart and none of that made it into the episode, but not only does this show that genealogists can magically produce detailed charts going back several hundred years, but that the person receiving the information should only ask what came before that and expect to find more going even further back in history. Usually, when time and money aren’t an issue, whatever information is found is all that can be found. This also suggests that no matter what information is available, if you get on a plane and go to another country, you’ll find so much more when you get there. Is that true? If so, I need to start racking up more frequent flyer miles.

To Rome, Italy

Daniela Felisini, a professor at the University of Rome, who had written a book about the history of the Torlonias, brought Brooke to the location of the original textile shop and bank where her ancestor began building his businesses.

Villa Torlonia was one of the palaces that her ancestor bought for the family’s summer home. Wouldn’t we all like to find a place like that in our family’s history?

Once again, she wanted to know more about where Giovanni came from, which was her original goal. That family tree scroll went back to Marino, Giovanni’s father, and that was who she wanted to know more about. Going back to his birth in 1725 wasn’t enough.

From the wedding certificate of Marino, they discovered a French origin for the family.

Not the Best Part of the Show

Before the commercial break, a clip is shown where Brooke is standing in front of the house and says “This is where it all began.” (This is not shown later in the episode but just in the previews.) She is not the only celebrity to say this in the show previews. Each part of this particular episode was about finding what came before whatever research she was given, so why does it begin at that house and not several generations before? Is that as far back as the research went in that family so it became the beginning of it?

This is like when people say they are finished with their genealogy. No, they probably aren’t. They may be finished with the records that are available, but their genealogy goes back a lot further.

The narrator’s voiceover after the commercial was also disturbing. “She thought her father’s side was Italian, but now she’s just discovered she may have very strong French roots.” I remembered this a little differently after the first viewing, but it still sounds a bit wrong. To me, it sounded like her family could be traced back to the early 1700s in Italy, but she wasn’t really Italian?  If you can trace your family back 300 years in a country, I think your family is from that country. Just because they came from somewhere else before that doesn’t negate your link to that country. After all, we’re really all from Africa, if you trace back far enough into the history of the species, but we don’t all claim African roots.

Augerolles, France

On the trail of Marino Torlonia, she went to France. Historian Carene Rabilloud showed her the baptism, where he was born in France. Next, she visited the house where the family lived 300 years earlier.

Brooke felt “linked” to the family and it was repeated a few times that she studied French literature in college and she was amazed to find that France was part of her ancestry. Moments like that are some of the bonuses you get from studying your genealogy; finding specific connections to your ancestors.

Again, The Chart Was Not Enough

After tracing beyond one side of the scroll, she wanted to go back on the other branch that went back to the early 1600s.

“Not being satisfied without the least bit of royal blood in my veins, I must find out about her.” As I stated before, this is what some people think genealogy is all about. Brooke sounded like she wasn’t quite so serious as that may read in this blog, but it was what several writers have complained about recently in those anti-genealogy stories.

This is where finally got their plug. What train was she on that had Internet access? I want to take that train when I go to Europe.

Paris, France

Charles Mosley, a genealogist who specializes in royal families, was her contact at the Louvre. Christine Marie’s father was Henry IV. This seems like a pretty important bit of information. Why did the genealogist in New York not have this information on that fancy scroll? Hopefully only because they wanted to break this information later in the episode.

At Saint-Denis Cathedral, she got to touch the actual heart of Henry IV, which seemed macabre. (Borrowing that word from David Tennant in his BBC episode, when he handled a skull found under the church floorboards.) Charles said that the heart was her property more than anybody else; well, hers and all the other possibly hundreds or more descendants, right?

Of course, once you get to European royalty, it all traces back to Charlemagne, so Charles was able to tell her more about her royal ancestry going back even further.

Considering how far back in time you have to go to get to Charlemagne, it makes me wonder about the so-called Borg Tree on Is that tree based on descendents of the royal lines? A cousin of mine married into a family that also traced back to those royal lines. I was sent a file of the genealogy that just went straight back until it got to Charlemagne’s grandfather. If you combine all the information including siblings, cousins, and descending down the families, how many people alive today would be connected to that family tree?


“Being able to sort of find your place in the grand scheme of things, there’s something empowering about it.” That’s a nice way to sum up genealogy research. There are lines like this in each episode. We are all the sum of the people who came before us, whether we inherited something from them in our appearances, our talents, or if it’s just a matter of a change of geography that changed the course of our family forever.

I was kind of disappointed with this episode the first time I watched it, with perpetuating the search for royalty in her family and constantly asking what came before that family tree scroll instead of showing that she could be satisfied just knowing that much. I think it was done that way deliberately to continue the story and show her searching for her ancestry beyond what was written there, but when you take that much care to put together a large scroll in fancy calligraphy that way, you don’t stop at the interesting parts.

Rewatching the show, I was not as disappointed as during the first viewing, but I think this was my least favorite episode so far. And considering how much I enjoy watching every episode of this show, saying it’s my least favorite isn’t really saying anything bad.

This article is the fifth in a series. Previous articles:

Beginner’s Guide to the Family History Library – Part 3 – The Usual Suspects

Each floor of the Family History Library shares many traits.

Information Desk

On every floor, there is an information desk as you exit the stairs or the elevators. The second floor has a bit of an “outer lobby”, but look around and you can’t miss the information desk. There are always people at these counters waiting to help you, so ask questions. (Don’t wander around trying to figure out something when a quick question can save you time.) At any given time, you may find the desk staffed with volunteers or expert consultants. On the International floor, the desk is staffed with people who can help you read the records in foreign languages. (I have been told that a German translator is always available.)

Access Services

There is an Access Services room on each floor. These are small rooms located by the scanners. If you need a restricted microfiche, you can pick it up at the window (in exchange for a photo ID). This is also where you order microfilm from the vault; films must be ordered on the floor where they will be filed, i.e. International films must be ordered on the International floor and cannot be ordered on the US floor.

Very important: This is also where you get items from high density storage. If you have looked for a book or microfilm and can’t find it, and the catalog says it’s available, it’s usually in high density. The catalog will not indicate if an item is in high density, so you have to ask. These items are retrieved immediately; no need to worry about ordering them days in advance like films from the vault.


Microfilm Drawers

Most floors (not the main floor or the third floor) have microfilm. The microfilm are self-serve.   There are signs at the end of each aisle to tell you which numbered films are there. Each drawer displays the number of the first film in the drawer. Try not to take too many at a time because someone else might need the film; stick with five or six at most. You must refile them when you are finished. There are usually two small, rolling step stools in each aisle to help you reach the films that are too high; sometimes you have to check other aisles to find them.

Each floor with microfilm has aisles of microfilm readers. There are some special readers with more magnification and for left-handed use that are clearly labelled.


Floors with microfilm also have microfiche. There is a cabinet on each floor. Red plastic markers are on top of the cabinet to help you mark the place to refile the fiche. There are usually a few fiche readers near the cabinet. As stated before, some microfiche are restricted and must be picked up at the Access Services windows.


Maps can be found on many floors. Some you will find on special map tables containing large books with collections of maps; others are in cabinets.


The main floor has family histories; books that people have written about their own families. The second floor has no books; US and Canada books are found on the third floor. Both basement floors have books. As stated before, many books (especially on B-1, the International floor) are in high density and must be requested from Access Services.

There are usually two sections of books: reference books are found near the information desk on each floor while other books have their own areas on the floor.


There are rows of computers on every floor. You can access the FHL catalog and many subscription genealogy web sites for free. You can access most of the Internet (they do have some filters set up to block some things). You can also use the FHL wi-fi network with your own computer (but it has even more filters — I’ve never connected to email on my own computer).

Scanners, Printers, and Photocopiers

There are some printers within the computer area as well as one by the scanners. Scanners are on all floors except the main floor. From the scanners, you can save digital images from your microfilm or microfiche to your own flash drive, burn them to a CD, or send them to the nearby printer. There is also one flatbed scanner on each floor for scanning books.

The third floor has several photocopy machines instead of film/fiche scanners, whereas other floors have just one photocopier.


Just in case some of my details are incorrect, keep in mind that sometimes things are changed at the FHL, I don’t spend much time on some floors, and I’m writing this article from memory.

This is the third part in a series. For previous articles see:

WDYTYA – Episode 4 – The Nitpicker’s Version

Matthew Broderick had a similar problem to me. His father’s side of the family was the big mystery; my paternal grandfather’s family is the biggest mystery to me, with the earliest record being my grandfather’s passenger ship list to America.

Start with the Family

Matthew started by visiting his sister Janet. Together, they carried a huge trunk of old photos and possibly other items. The part I missed from this scene was the big “Oh wow, this stuff is amazing!” No such trunk exists in my family, certainly not for my paternal grandfather’s family. Any genealogist would love to find such an item.

I like when Janet told the story about the card joke, how their grandfather called a bad poker hand a foot, and how their mother thought it was a dumb joke but used the same expression her whole life. Even little bits like that are interesting to learn about our ancestors.

Matthew hoped that he found nothing embarrassing, hoped it was a good story, but said he was “ready for anything”. That is a good attitude. Studying your ancestors’ lives, you never know what you might find.

National Archives in NYC

Matthew read from the military record of his grandfather, James Joseph Broderick, seeing that he was in the medical department, transferred to Le Havre, and therefore headed to France to find out what happened. Again, someone watching might think that the only way to find out about your ancestors is to fly across the world, when that is rarely ever the case. It is certainly interesting to go to the places where our ancestors lived, but how many people ever get to do that?


On the Meuse-Argonne Battlefield, Peter Barton, a World War I historian, explained to Matthew what the battle was like, further explaining what the medical personnel’s job was like, and how important his grandfather was to every man on the field.

Producing a copy of a document, Matthew learned that his grandfather was awarded a purple heart. He was wounded in 1918 and received the medal in 1933. What they didn’t explain was the large gap in time. Do all medals take that long to be awarded? I would like to know.

Going to the cemetery, they visited the graves of men from his grandfather’s division. Producing another document from the file, Peter handed Matthew a letter that recommended James Broderick for the Distinguished Service Cross. Another missing point: did he get the medal? The letter was a recommendation, but they failed to state if it was awarded. The previous document stated that the medal was awarded.

Switching Families — to Connecticut

Changing his focus to his grandmother Mary, Matthew went to the Connecticut State Archives, where he met with Richard Roberts, the archivist. got their usual plug when they searched the census.

They found that Mary was living in an orphanage which Matthew was shocked to learn. It almost seemed like he realized that that could have been the end of the line for that family’s research. But Richard told him that there were more clues. They looked through the coroner’s records to find what happened to Mary’s parents.

“These cold, little facts get more and more human. As you put them together, you get a story of a life of a human being and it’s just fascinating.”

We all learn about history in school, but when you find that it’s your own ancestors who lived through the events, it makes it more personal. This is part of the beauty of genealogy and family history research. I wonder if I would have been more interested in learning about history in school if I had also researched how my family played their part in events.

“It’s funny to know things about your parents’ parents that maybe your parents didn’t know.”

I can relate to this as well. When I began my own research, my father could not even tell me the names of his grandparents. He had his parents’ ketuba (the Jewish marriage contract) which listed both his grandfathers’ names, and he was named for one of his grandfathers, but he didn’t know.

Who Has Seen the Census on Paper?

Mel Smith, an archivist at the Connecticut State Archives, brought out books of the 1870 census. Has anyone ever seen census pages on paper? I didn’t even know they had such things. Did they do this because they already plugged in the previous section? They were searching for William Martindale, Matthew’s great-grandfather.

Mentioning that the 1870 census does not define the relationships in the household or specify whether someone is single, married, or (in this case) widowed would have been a nice addition to the voiceover. Someone who doesn’t normally work in these records would not know that. I had to look it up myself, as the research I usually do rarely goes back that far in American history. But these kind of details are usually skipped over in the show, and this one is insignificant compared to many other things I mention that are overlooked in the final cut of the episodes.

Back to the 1850 census, they found the same family again, including William’s father, Robert. Why did they skip the 1860 census? The voiceover soon explained that the family was missing from that census. I’m glad they explained it, and so quickly. It’s good to point out that not everyone can be found in every census, just as not everyone can be found in records even where you expect them.

By the age on the census, Matthew determineed that his great-grandfather, William Martindale, probably fought in the Civil War, so they followed up on that.

More Paper Records

Breaking out more boxes of old paper records, I wondered why I didn’t notice so many genealogists on Twitter freaking out because neither Matthew nor Mel were wearing white gloves.

Matthew read from the enlistment papers of Robert, stopping to revel in seeing his signature and then looking at his physical description.

They continued by looking through muster rolls. The pages were folded and looked delicate. Did Matthew open each page to see where the regiment had been? They found a page that showed the regiment fought at Gettysburg. In a voiceover, Matthew said that the muster rolls showed the regiment went from Tennessee to Savannah, Georgia, but how did they know that Robert’s trail ended in Atlanta? Another fact skipped over in the episode. Obviously the research was completed, but as usual, not explained.

To Atlanta

Gordon Jones, curator of the Atlanta History Center and Civil War Exhibit, brought Matthew out to the location of the Battle of Peachtree Creek. Another document was produced for Matthew to read, stating that Robert died in that battle.

Brad Quinlan, a Civil War historian knew more about what happened to Robert after he was killed. They visited the original burial location then went to the Marietta National Cemetery where the bodies were later moved. Robert was buried as an unknown soldier. Brad created a list of all the men in the regiment who were buried there and found only one that was unknown, thus finding Robert.

The preview from the show stated that Matthew’s search helped to solve a 160 year old mystery. It sounded like it could have been solved if someone had really tried before, since Robert was the only one who was missing from the list, but it was very touching to see an unknown soldier mystery solved, especially noticing in the scene how many small stones there were, clearly more unknown soldiers.


“We’re all related to the generations that happened before us. What they went through shaped our time.”

They’re really good at getting the right sound bites from the celebrities in these episodes. Matthew had quite a few good ones.

This was another great episode of Who Do You Think You Are? filled with important events in American history. I find these episodes fascinating because I learned about these events in history classes in school, though I may not have paid much attention back then. Even so, they are not so much a part of my history because all four of my grandparents were born in Europe. Nevertheless, I think I’ve learned more about history from movies and documentaries than I ever did in school. This episode just brings those same stories to life even more. By learning about what happened to a single person, and going through the emotional ride with that person’s descendent, it just makes it seem more real and more personal, like it was something that happened to real people and not just something that was written in history books.

This article is the third in a series. Previous articles:

Additional: By email, Roger Lustig informed me that the Purple Heart was reinvented for George Washington’s bicentennial in 1932, which was when World War I vets could apply. Thanks Roger.

Beginner’s Guide to the Family History Library – Part 2 – The Building


The Family History Library is conveniently located in downtown Salt Lake City, near the Trax line within the Free Fare Zone, across the street from Temple Square, and down the street from the Salt Palace Convention Center.

The library has five floors, two of which are basement floors. When you walk in the entrance — using the door on the right — there will be someone immediately to your left who will likely greet you. Don’t be surprised and just say “hello” back. Also, if someone greets you walking down the sidewalk, don’t be suspicious; people are just really friendly in SLC sometimes.

Straight ahead from the door is an information desk. I believe this is where you get the “First Timer” sticker (they didn’t have them my first time) and they can direct you to an orientation session if you want to go. The orientation room is to your left when facing the desk. There are also stairs up to the second floor on the left. To the right of the entrance is another stairway and the elevators.

The main floor has the orientation room, lots of computers, family history books, a break room (with food and drink machines), and some classrooms.

The second floor is the US/Canada floor, with computers, microfilm, microfiche, microfilm readers, and a printing/scanning area.

The third floor houses US and Canada books, with several photocopiers and one digital scanner. There are also extra tables, many with electrical outlets built in, where you can spread out to work or organize. They recently expanded the number of computers on this floor.

Downstairs, B-1 is the International floor. This floor houses both microfilm and books and has computers, readers, printers, and scanners.

B-2, the lowest level, is the British Isles, which includes Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and a few other areas.

When you look for items in the FHL catalog, they will state whether they are US/CAN, INTL, or BRITISH, which tells you on what floor of the building you will find them. Remember that US and Canada books have their own floor separate from microfilm and microfiche.

This is the second part in a series. The first part can be found at Beginner’s Guide to the Family History Library – Part 1 – Plan Ahead.

WDYTYA – Episode 3 – The Nitpicker’s Version

I knew going into Lisa Kudrow’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? that it would be a little depressing. Any time you research the Holocaust, that’s where it goes. It was a bit in parallel with Jerry’s Springer’s BBC episode, which I will likely refer to in this review. His quest, as I recall, was to find out what happened to his grandmothers, both of whom were killed in the Holocaust.

Meet the Parents

As usual, the episode started with a visit to her parents’ house. I loved that Lisa recognized the old pictures. What wasn’t mentioned in the episode, but some of us learned in other interviews, was that her father had already researched the family history. In which case he had probably shown her the photos or had them around the house where she had seen them.

Recalling the story from her grandmother when she was young and asked about her parents was interesting. I think a lot of us have those random stories floating around in our minds. Maybe we don’t think of them, but they just resurface sometimes when we don’t even expect it. Then her father, Lee, shared a similar story, one that he had held on to for so many years, about Yuri Barudin visiting and telling them that the family had been killed. Lee remembered the name of the ship and that Yuri had been a witness to the massacre. He remembered the visit clearly but may have pictured what happened and changed some of the story in his mind. (Of course, I’m writing this article after having seen the entire episode.)

Lisa stated that she wanted to find her great-grandmother’s final resting place. It didn’t seem likely to me that such a place could be found; possibly a memorial for the Jews in the town, but not anything like a gravesite.


Lisa headed to Belarus to meet with Tamara Vershitskaya, a Jewish historian. Tamara was her guide all through her visit to Belarus.

“It would be amazing if I could find any documentation.” Lisa knew that documents were lost and destroyed and she could only hope to find some. With statements like this, hopefully amateur genealogists watching the show will realize that not everyone will be able to find documentation like Lisa did.

Tamara said that Jewish communities were reduced to 5% of their populations, 10% at most. Was that specific to Belarus? I thought some were eliminated entirely, possibly just because no one returned home to the towns. Often, that may have been because the Nazis convinced the locals to act out against the Jews. Who would want to go back to live with those people again?

Zonal State Archive

Natalia Ivanova, the archive director, had a book they had copied from Moscow with lists of people who were killed. That was an amazing find. It made me think that I need to go to Europe and find out if documents like that exist for my family, because I can’t get access to them from America.

Now, I know that the show does the coming up next and just a minute ago previews, but why did they have to repeat the entire conversation between Lisa and Natalia? Were they so short on content that they had to fill extra time with so much extra repetition?

Ilya, Belarus

Next, Tamara and Lisa went to the place where her family lived in Ilya, walking past a building without mentioning it. Was the house gone? It took the next scene to find out.

They visited Maria Aleksiyonok, who knew her family and remembered the massacre of the Jews. Maria mentioned the houses were burned down. She had a lot to tell Lisa and it was very emotional for both of them. I can only hope Lisa learned more from Maria off camera, because she was clearly a wealth of information.

The Holocaust

They headed to the center of Ilya that used to be a market square. The Jews were brought there in 1942 for selection. David Rubin wrote about the event and Lisa was given a translation to read. A quick search online to JewishGen revealed that it was taken from the Yizkor book. That chapter is not translated online.

Lisa, Tamara, and Alexander Gavrilik, a resident, walked down the street where the Jews were marched and killed, to find the memorial that is apparently placed exactly above where they were buried. Thinking back to the Jerry Springer episode, he did much the same thing; he wanted to walk where his ancestors last walked.

“You make people afraid enough of something completely manufactured, and you can drive them to become murderers.” That is exactly what happened. Except in some cases, the Nazis were able to put that fear into the town residents and they turned on the Jews themselves. From this story, it sounded like the Ilya residents were witnesses but did not participate.

Mention the Sponsor

Lisa headed to to look for ship records for Yuri Barudin and found him listed Boleslaw, finding him employed on the Batory, as her father remembered. The ship name made it more credible that Yuri was Boleslaw, but Lisa still carried a bit of skepticism with her about it, which was perfect for genealogy research.

Gdynia, Poland

Lisa went to Poland, where the ship list stated Boleslaw had been discharged to.

She met with researcher Krzysztof “Chris” Dzieciolowski, to learn more. He found Boleslaw in a record of people who settled down in Gdynia, which listed his wife and son. I loved this scene. I love how she asked if there was a census or voter registration, and he brought out a phone book. Then when she found Boleslaw Barudin listed in the phone book, she kind of freaked out with excitement. She was too scared to call and wasn’t sure if he would speak English.

I think I can safely assume that the family had been contacted previously, so the call was not completely unexpected, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Lisa’s surprise was genuine.

It was great when her cousin mentioned that she was in his house and not on his TV. Did these Polish relatives know that they were related to her? At least one of them remembered pictures taken with her grandmother, but no longer had them. The story of Boleslaw’s visit was cleared up, that he had reported what happened to her family in America, but he just delivered the message and was not an eyewitness.

Standing by the water, Lisa was still raving about meeting her cousins, saying that she couldn’t wait to tell her father. She couldn’t wait to tell him, she repeated, then pulled out her cell phone and called. Fantastic.

Technology is Great

Returning to her father’s house, they used the Internet to contact the Polish cousins by video. I was glad when Lee mentioned that his mother was Boleslaw’s aunt, which solved that mystery. Obviously it wasn’t a mystery to them how they were related, but it was a gap in the show.

As emotional as learning about the fate of relatives in the Holocaust is, I find the reuniting to be more emotional and I understood what Lee was feeling after that conversation with his cousins. Having only read a bit on Twitter and one quick review of the episode, I didn’t think it was a bad thing to show him getting emotional after finally being reunited with his cousins.


I guess there’s not a lot of nitpicking in this article. Instead of this episode being a full-on genealogy search for the family, it was mostly just to fill in a couple of gaps in her father’s research: was there more to know about the fate of his grandmother in Ilya and what had happened to Yuri. So the things that I nitpicked about other episodes weren’t really in this one so much.

I knew this episode would probably be my favorite even before it aired. This story is the one closest to my family’s story. Watching this just makes me want to go to Eastern Europe even more, to see where they lived and maybe to find that elusive document that tells of their fate. As far as I know, I don’t have any relatives still left in Poland, Ukraine, or Moldova, where my grandparents were born, but maybe I do and I need to look for them. For most families, they are all accounted for, either by knowing where they went after the war or that they were killed. But there is one elusive family where all we know is that the Jews in that town were all killed. But what if they weren’t in that town when the war started?

This article is the third in a series. Previous articles can be found at Episode 1 and Episode 2.

Addition March 21: I received an email today (from someone apparently named Lucy) who pointed out something that I missed in my critique, but it is also relevant. One element not addressed in the episode: does the Barudin family identify as Jewish? Many survivors who remained in Europe abandoned their religion, largely out of fear. She also wondered about the fate of Yuri’s family, since his parents and other immediate family were possibly in Ilya as well.

I would think that if they identified as Jewish, that it might be only in more recent times. After all, Yuri changed his name to Boleslaw to not sound Jewish, so he clearly wouldn’t have practiced outwardly. There have been many Jewish families who do not pass down the traditions or even the knowledge of their religion after being forced or frightened into converting. (This goes for Jews in other locations and times as well.) So that family may no longer consider themselves Jewish. Or perhaps they used this new connection to their Jewish American cousins to rediscover that part of themselves. I and other Jewish genealogists are often contacted by people who believe that they are descended from Jews who were forced to convert, in an effort to prove that Jewish heritage. But those are more often Americans, Canadians, or British. I’m not sure if anyone would want to be openly Jewish in Poland even now. Sometimes I read that it is a better time, but then I read something else about some act of anti-Semitism.

As for the fate of Yuri’s family, he probably already knew it, since he was the one who relayed the message to the Kudrows in America.

WDYTYA – Episode 2 – The Nitpicker’s Version

After the first watching of this episode, I could only think of a couple things to nitpick about it, and some of those things were actually positive items in the episode. As an African American, Emmitt Smith set out to trace his ancestry to places and historical times where I’ve never researched, so just like the previous episode with Sarah Jessica Parker, I learned new things about genealogy research and history. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

Before he began the trip for his research, his wife mentioned that he had missed some family reunions over the years. He also took a DNA test.


Emmitt began by visiting his parents. I recall the BBC version of WDYTYA also usually starts with visiting family, as did SJP’s episode where she visited her brother and her mother. This is always the best advice for any genealogist just starting out and it’s good how they show that it is the first step.

His father directed him to the web site his cousin had created. Hopefully the work done there was checked to be sure it was correct before continuing back in history.

Burnt Corn, Alabama

Emmitt said he felt like a detective, which is exactly what genealogy research is. I thought that was a great comment.

He stepped into a store to ask about his great-great-grandparents, Bill and Victoria Watson, showing their photos. Did they plan that he would find himself talking to a cousin? Very entertaining for TV, but probably not likely for anyone else, though such serendipity has happened before for genealogists.

While the East coasters were watching the show (and posting spoilers to Twitter), I noticed that a few thought it was nice that Emmitt was seen taking notes. SJP was shown doing that at least once in her episode also. It’s necessary just to keep track of all the new information you gather.

Monroe County Archives

Dawn Crook, an archivist, showed him a book of Marriage Licenses for Colored, which he had never seen before. She suggested that the easiest way to find more was by using the census, naturally going to the sponsor’s site, By their dates of birth, they determined that the couple were both born as slaves.

The next help he got was from genealogist Marjorie Sholes who said that she was “able to do a little research”. She probably did more than a little, but at least research was mentioned. She found the marriage license for Bill and Victoria, discovering her maiden name was Puryear, which was more rare and would be easier to research than Watson. She sort of guided him to seeing that they should follow up on that particular line of his family. If only we could all know which line would prove most interesting and findable.

Emmitt mentions that if they didn’t find anything about the Puryears that they may be at a dead end. This is very true in genealogy research. In anyone’s ancestry, there will always be a brick wall somewhere. There are plenty of records that don’t exist or were lost in a fire or a flood, or you research back to the beginning of the record-keeping in a location and there’s just nothing more to be found. But even so, if the Puryears were a brick wall in his ancestry, it would still just be one small part of his ancestry. The Watsons were his great-great-grandparents and everyone has sixteen great-great-grandparents.

Going back to, he and Marjorie searched for another census for his family in the first census where blacks were listed by name. Finding Prince Puryear (Victoria’s father), they also noted Mariah listed. He asked if that was Prince’s mother and Marjorie said “possibly”. That was the perfect answer. More of interest in the episode, they pointed out that the family were listed as mulatto, meaning that a white slave owner may have been an ancestor.

An earlier census showed a white Alex Puryear and family and the research continued to them. Marjorie found his will and the will of his wife, Mary, listing Mariah and her children, verifying that Mariah was the mother of Prince.

“Now we know that Prince’s mother is Mariah.” Before that record was revealed, it was only a possibility. This is another great part of the episode, where they didn’t seem to just jump to that conclusion but found some documented evidence and showed it to the viewers.

Mecklenburg County, Virginia

Searching for more information about Mariah’s slave owner, Emmitt headed to Virginia, where Alex Puryear was from, as some documents had stated. He saw Puryear on a few business names while he was driving through. He met with John Caknipe, a local historian, who told him more about the Puryears and the slave trade.

At the county courthouse, they skipped back one generation, with no details as to how, to Alexander’s father, Samuel. Emmitt made a big deal out of the fact that John reached for Deed book 22, which Emmitt made a big deal over having worn that jersey number. I suppose some of the shock there was taken away by the previews of that scene, though some East coasters were amazed at the coincidence.

In the document, Samuel gave Mariah to his son. Emmitt figured that she was about 11 years old at the time. It was noted earlier in the episode that Mary Puryear had kept Mariah and her children together, when giving them to her son, which was significant also.

Meeting with Steven Deyle, an expert in American slavery, he said that “we can only suspect” when he told Emmitt more information about Mariah. Without evidence, sometimes that is all we can do in genealogy research. Emmitt said he had a “hunch” that Samuel was Mariah’s father when asking Steven’s opinion. All of these small bits just show that we can’t always know everything, but knowing the history might give us an idea of the lives of the people we’re researching even if we can never find anything to prove it.

Steven told Emmitt that Mariah was probably the end of the line because there were no more records. As I stated eariler, that is just the way it is. However, Samuel was Emmitt’s 5g-grandfather. Emmitt wanted to know why, if they could trace horses back to England, why he couldn’t trace his family back to Africa. Even without finding that connection, he was lucky to have traced as far back in history as he did. There are so many other families who can’t go that far back.


Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak was the DNA expert that he met with, telling him that he was partly Native American and probably had several European ancestors, leaving 81% African, which was one of the highest she had ever seen. From the DNA, she was also able to tell him what part of Africa his ancestors were from, Benin.


The big spoiler, for me, came when the East coasters on Twitter said he was going to Africa; that wasn’t in the previews. He couldn’t trace his own genealogy there since the paper trail had ended already, but he learned more about the slave trade that his ancestors were caught up in.

Ola Falola, guide and translator at the Ouidah Museum of History, with help from guide Madame Loucress, told Emmitt about the history of the slave trade.

At a more remote village, he met Mede Nicasse at the Sanctuary of Moses School, who explained that the children at that school were usually sold by their parents so that the parents could survive. To me, that didn’t sound much better than what his ancestors went through, and maybe it was worse. Instead of Europeans coming and stealing away people to turn them into slaves, their own parents were responsible for the act.

His wife arrived in Africa and they sat on a boat to talk. What did he say to her off screen? She was crying before he even said anything to her in the episode.

Final Thoughts

Emmitt had a hard time dealing with the slavery part of his ancestry; even being a bit surprised by a book marked Colored, having not been witness to segregation. Being an African American, he obviously knew that he would come from slaves, but maybe he just didn’t really face it before. Or perhaps because he didn’t know the particulars of his ancestry, this suddenly put him in touch with the reality. He now knew the names and a couple of faces of his slave ancestors so he had to really delve into their lives.

This is not all that uncommon from Jewish ancestry, where we all know that we lost people in the Holocaust, and it’s taught in school, but it isn’t talked about much in the family. In the next episode, Lisa Kudrow will follow up on that part of her family history. I’m looking forward to watching that and the rest of the series. It’s been a few months since I was so excited to see a TV show.

This article is the second in the series. The first can be read here: WDTYTA – Episode 1 – The Nitpicker’s Version.