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.

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!

Seton Shields Genealogical Grant Awarded to Girl Museum

Congratulations to our most recent Seton Shields Genealogical Grant recipient!

Girl Museum is a completely virtual museum that focuses on research and exhibitions about girl culture from across time and space. They recently started the Heirloom Project, which is an opportunity for girls to investigate their own families to find out more about their genealogy and histories through interviews and researching old photographs, artifacts and heirlooms. Girls will submit their discoveries to Girl Museum and become part of a large exhibition that will go online at the end of 2013. The grant award will be used toward the creation of a downloadable PDF guide, several how-to videos and online support for participants. 

You can apply for a grant here.

Seton Shields Genealogical Grant Awarded to Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective

Congratulations to our most recent Seton Shields Genealogical Grant recipient!

Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective, has spent ten years journeying through databases, private collections, and museum holdings to find as many photos from the Revolutionary War Generation as possible. So far, she has located over 200 of these images, and some of them are profiled in The Last Muster: Images of the Revolution (Kent State University Press, 2009) and The Last Muster: Faces of the Revolution (in press, 2013). Maureen is now partnering with award-winning Verissima Productions of Cambridge, MA to bring the photos, and the stories behind them, to film. In order to produce and distribute “Revolutionary Voices” they are raising a total of $225,000.

This month's grant award was made in the form of a pledge for this project on Kickstarter. Please consider making a pledge to help get this wonderful project off the ground!

You can apply for a grant here.

Seton Shields Genealogical Grant Awarded to Wikipedia Foundation

Congratulations to our most recent Seton Shields Genealogical Grant recipient!

I wonder how many know that Wikipedia is a non-profit organization that operates off of donations. I didn't, and yet I use it all the time. And yes, as genealogists, we know that it's a good idea to double check information found here, but what a terrific resource for getting a running start on just about any topic. I know I hit it up for everything from 19th century politicians to obscure Ukrainian villages, so this month's grant goes to the Wikipedia Foundation in gratitude for a resource that's often taken for granted.

You can apply for a grant here.

Seton Shields Genealogical Grant Awarded to JewishGen

Congratulations to our most recent Seton Shields Genealogical Grant recipient!

This month’s grant was given to JewishGen, a valuable resource I’ve used many times over the years.  If you have any Jewish heritage or have ever used the popular website, you’re already familiar with all JewishGen has to offer, including countless databases and many other tools and resources.  If not, I encourage you to visit and explore.

You can apply for a grant here.

Name Change and Double Milestones for Genealogy Grants Program

You may or may not be familiar with what I've long called the Honoring Our Ancestors Genealogical Grants Program.  In a nutshell, I make a donation to support one genealogical initative each month.  I've been steadily doing this since I first became a professional genealogist and am delighted to announced a special pair of back to back milestones.

The May 2012 grant marked the 12th anniversary of this program and the June 2012 is the 150th grant (for those who are swift with math, I occasionally give more than one grant a month, which is why the numbering is running slightly ahead of the number of months).  This seemed to call for a celebration of sorts, so I've decided to rename the program in honor of my remarkable mother.  From this point on, it will be known as the Seton Shields Genealogical Grants Program.

Here's to the next dozen years!  In the meantime, you might be interested to read about the most recent awards.


May 2012

For the 12th anniversary grant, I decided to do something I've never done before.  I sought out an unsung hero - someone who probably doesn't get enough recognition for what they contribute to the genealogical world - and I selected Tom Tryniski of If you're not familiar with this website, I'll briefly explain that Tom single-handedly scans and uploads millions of pages of newspapers, much like some larger, commercial organizations. The site initially focused on Central New York, but has branched out to include newspapers in nearby areas ranging from the Pennsylvania border to Brooklyn. I have no idea how he does it, but he does and I'm grateful, so I took advantage of the PayPal donation option he provides on the website. If you have ancestors in that area, do yourself a favor and check it out. And by the way, it's one of the more amusing websites you'll encounter!


June 2012

For the 150th grant, I opted to do something a little different. I was fortunate enough to start playing with genealogy way back in the 6th grade due to a homework assignment. Mrs. Berkowitz provided the spark for me to become a professional genealogist today. For that reason, I thought I would see whether I might be able to pass that spark along. I've long been a fan of, an organization that allows you to browse and support school projects. Many know that education in our country is suffering and both students and teachers are affected. This is a great way to help make up for at least a little of the relentless deficits in our school budgets. So I did a little searching and picked five projects across the country that had some aspect of family, national or international history and culture associated with them. Just maybe a couple of the students will feel the pull of genealogy and contribute to our field and understanding of our history in the future.