As if authors don't have enough to deal with given the changing landscape of the publishing industry, there's a new scam afoot. I went to Amazon last evening to check on something and was startled to learn that I had supposedly published a new book two days earlier. 

Someone has used Amazon Digital Services to publish a 37-page Kindle book with my name and part of the title of my actual "Who Do You Think You Are?" companion book. I don't know how this was permitted to happen since I have a long-established author's page at Amazon, but I'm currently using the copyright infringement process (there is no option to cover exactly this situation!) to lodge a complaint and have it removed. 

I've also posted a review to warn folks in the interim.

I count my lucky stars that I am literally the only person in the world with my name, and pity authors with common names who might have more difficulty proving that such a faux-book is an attempt to profit off of them. 

* sigh * If these scammers would use a fraction of their ingenuity doing something useful instead of ripping off hard-working writers, they might actually accomplish something!

September 2013 Seton Shields Genealogy Grant Awarded

September's grant recipient is Kim Ostermyer of The Wyoming Room (an extension of the Sheridan (Wyoming) Fulmer Public Library).  The room is a substantial research facility and unique in the region, serving historians, genealogists and the local municipality.  The funds have been designated to acquire a portable scanner and scanner mouse which will be used to digitize and catalog Sheridan, Wyoming City directories. Using OCR software, the images will then be placed in a searchable engine to assist researchers in locating specific information about residents and businesses.

DNA Stories: A Tale of Two Sisters

As promised, I'm continuing to share RootsTelevision videos, and this one will be of particular interest to folks who are into genetic genealogy or thinking of trying it out. It features a clever use of mtDNA testing to get past a long-standing brick wall, and the man behind it is Bill Hurst, who's well known in the DNA community. As you watch, it might be worth pondering whether the same approach might not help knock down a brick wall or two in your own research.

If you enjoy this video, please check out the others I've uploaded so far, consider subscribing to this blog or YouTube channel so you can stay in the loop about new videos, and tell your genealogy buddies! Thanks!

Down Under: The Case of the Cannon Tombstone

Over the last few weeks, I've started uploading popular RootsTelevision videos, and I've just added one that was a favorite of many. Down Under is a series that focuses on tombstone tales. We've all wandered a cemetery and found ourselves curious about this or that person whose name we spotted on a grave, and this show is an effort to ferret out some of those untold or long-neglected stories behind the stones. 

In this instance, The Genealogy Guys - aka George Morgan and Drew Smith -- find themselves drawn to a tombstone with a cannon on it, and in the course of their sleuthing, we learn the unexpected story of Idlebrando Zacchini. Enjoy!

Unclaimed Persons (video)

As I explained last week, I've started uploading videos that used to reside on RootsTelevision (RTV). One of the fortunate aspects of waiting to do this is that YouTube now accommodates longer videos, and many RTV ones exceed their earlier length restrictions. Now I have the luxury of uploading a single, complete video, rather than a sliced-up version in two or three separate sections.

This week, I decided to share one of our classics - Unclaimed Persons. In case you're not familiar with this concept, it's essentially "lost and found," but for human beings instead of gloves and umbrellas. It's a quiet but disturbing epidemic. People are going to their graves with no family to claim them. Medical examiners and coroners' offices — frequently overstretched with burgeoning case loads — are turning to an unexpected resource for help: genealogists. 

This video shows me tackling cases from Lackawanna County, PA (heads-up - the Finch case mentioned has been solved!) and San Bernardino County, CA. I started assisting coroners and medical examiners back around 2005, and several years later, we figured that this would make an interesting topic for RTV to cover, so we produced this video. When we shared it, I was inundated with requests from fellow genealogists saying that they wanted to help,and that's how the volunteer organization organization known as Unclaimed Persons was born.

If you like this video, please tell your friends and keep your eyes open for more!

Genealogical Cruising (video)

Many people have asked me about the thousand or so videos that were once featured on RootsTelevision. I've been meaning to share at least some of them, but frankly, have a busy life with lots of competing priorities. Still, I've been wanting to do this and am delighted to finally start! I set up a personal YouTube channel, and over time, will upload selected RootsTelevision videos.

The first one I've popped up is all about genealogical cruising. I've had the good fortune to be invited to speak on about half a dozen cruises (hope to see some of you this September on Legacy Family Tree's Panama Canal cruise!), and highly recommend it. This is a homemade video my husband and I put together on the second genealogical cruise we went on. It's nothing fancy, but we figured that folks who hadn't tried it yet might want a taste of what it's like. You'll recognize a few faces, no doubt -- Dick Eastman, John Grenham, Cyndi Howells, Bob Velke, and others -- and get a sense of the ship, food, events, and so forth.  But perhaps most importantly, you'll also hear reactions from the participants themselves toward the end. Enjoy!

LUCKY 13: A Modest Proposal Regarding Genealogy Grants

Mark Hall-Patton of Pawn Stars and Megan Smolenyak

UPDATE: Will consider applications for family treasures found not only in pawn stores, but also at flea markets, in antiques stores, on eBay. etc. Main objective is to rescue orphaned heirlooms.

Earlier this year, I had the honor of speaking at the banquet of the annual National Genealogical Society conference.  In a sense, I was the opening act, since Mark Hall-Patton of Pawn Stars was the featured speaker, and that makes it wildly appropriate that we were in Las Vegas. 

I had been invited to speak about my Seton Shields Genealogical Grants program (Seton Shields being my mother's name), which you may or may not know about. Because genealogical and historical initiatives and organizations are notoriously under-funded and because I'm so darn grateful to be able to make a living doing what I love, I decided to launch this program soon after I became a professional genealogist. Each month, I review new applications submitted to my website (it's a simple form that was designed to take perhaps 5 minutes to complete), as well as those from the previous 5 months (applications remain active for 6 months). Typically, I pop them all in a folder and my husband and I head off to a local coffee house where we rate each one and debate the merits of our favorites. Once we settle on one, I send off a check. It's as simple as that. 

Summaries of all the grants I've given to date are included on the website, and if you take a good look, you'll notice that it makes no difference whether the application is from an individual or an organization (non-profit or otherwise) or whether it pertains to New Jersey or New Zealand. What does matter to me are factors such as the nature of the undertaking, whether it's a new approach that can serve as a model for others, and how many it could potentially affect. Scan the summaries and you'll see grants for documentaries, ground-penetrating radar rental, cemetery restoration, digitization projects, and bookshelves for a library that just can't afford them. 

All told, I've given 161 grants and this month - May 2013 - just happens to be the 13th anniversary.  When I was invited to speak about these grants at the NGS conference, I wanted to find a way to make it relevant to Mark's talk, and after some noodling, it finally hit me. Vegas, 13th anniversary, pawn stores - Eureka! What about 13 orphan heirloom rescues originating in pawn stores?

Over the years, I've done a number of orphan heirloom rescues -- that is, I've used my genealogical skills to track down the descendants of the original owners of particular family history treasures that have gone astray. They may have turned up at a flea market, at an antiques store, on eBay or wherever, and when they do, people sometimes submit them to me. I've then gone into sleuthing mode, and once I find relatives (hint: I recommend finding descendants who live somewhere other than where the item was purchased so it doesn't end up getting re-sold), the submitter returns the photos, Bible, military medal or other treasure to the family. Occasionally, I write about these rescues. 

Though I've never done a rescue for a piece of family history found in a pawn store, being invited to speak on this occasion made a light bulb go on in my head. Pawn stores are exactly where many such items wind up, so I decided to do a genealogical mash-up blending my grants with orphan heirloom rescues.  At the banquet in Las Vegas, I announced what I'm calling my LUCKY 13 initiative and committed to giving 13 grants for the purpose of purchasing family treasures from pawn stores, doing the detective work to track down descendants of the original owners, and returning the item to that family.

Once you've made a rescue, apply for a Seton Shields Genealogical Grant. Over time, I will select a minimum of 13 such applications and cover the costs. It goes without saying that your odds of a successful rescue will improve considerably if you select an item with some form of identifying information, but if you happen to get stuck in your research efforts, consider submitting for my help with that aspect.

The way I see it, this is a win-win-win. Pawn stores will get sales from what is likely a fresh batch of customers.  Genealogists will get to go on a mini-shopping spree and apply their research talents for this worthwhile purpose.  And at least 13 lucky strangers out there will get a piece of their past back out of the blue.

Those at the banquet that evening were the first to hear about LUCKY 13, but now, I'm asking for your help to spread the word.  Tell your genealogical buddies about this, include it in your society's newsletter (might make a fun group project!), share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or wherever you hang out online. Do whatever is easiest for you and let's get these LUCKY 13 rescues under way as soon as possible!

P.S. Feel free to borrow the LUCKY 13 image above!

Family Tree's Chris O'Dowd Threatens to Show Up at Your House

Chris O'Dowd, star of the HBO/BBC mockumentary Family Tree -- brainchild of Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock (who's also in the show), answered some questions about the series and a variety of other topics.  My favorite responses are below (and yes, I'm biased because he was kind enough to address my question!), but there's more where this came from at HBO Connect

You can find Family Tree on HBO on Sundays at 10:30 p.m.