Illinois Ancestors: Genealogist offers grants for worthy projects

Illinois Ancestors: Genealogist offers grants for worthy projects

Noted genealogical researcher and author, Megan Smolenyak, has been awarding grants for genealogy-related projects for almost 15 years. (Next month, May 2015, will mark her 15th year.) Initially called Honoring Our Ancestors, but more recently named after her mother, Seton Shields, her grants have totaled 182. There has been a wide variety of recipients (individuals and organizations — both nonprofit and otherwise) and grant proposals and they can be read at Smolenyak;s website at The application itself is simple, designed to take only about five minutes to complete, asking what the money will be used for and how much is requested plus contact information. She and her husband read over the applications, one is selected, and she writes a check. It's that simple.

Her website has links to other interesting information. From the toolbar across the top of her website, under "Library," one can click on blogs, newsletter, case studies, DNA and genetic genealogy, military, orphan heirlooms (articles) and research techniques.

Under "Celebs," one can click on information pertaining to President Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Annie Moore (first arrival on Ellis Island) and USS Monitor (video of Megan's research identifying sailor's remains that have been recovered from the USS Monitor.)

Under "Books," one can select from a variety of books she has written. I am pleased to have read them all and highly recommend each and every one of them. Her most recent work, "Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing," was reviewed in this column three years ago and tells the stories and detective work behind some of her more intriguing family history finds, such as the connection between Barack Obama and Brad Pitt.

GenealogyInTime Magazine suggests source of old books

At, one can click on the Rare Book Search Engine "to find rare and out of print books about your ancestors." The website boasts, "For anyone looking to buy rare and out-of-print books on any topic, including genealogy, we offer access to the two largest used book platforms in the world. Combined, these two online bookstores provide access to over 250 million out-of-print books ... We can definitely say this is the best place to start your search for that rare genealogy book."

Visit and click on one of the icons. For example, I did a search (at each icon/site) for Anya Seton's "The Winthrop Woman" and learned of several booksellers having copies of this book. I wish I had known of this shortcut many years ago when I was trying to find copies of this book to buy for several members of our family — since we are descended from that lady, Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallett.

Discover your roots

Is it a coincidence that it was just discovered that Megan Smolenyak has written a helpful article for National Geographic's Travel With Heart website at In this article she lists eight steps "to get you started on your own journey."

Smolenyak mentions that she is often asked how long it will take to compile a family history. She answers, "Well, the farther back you go, the more ancestors you have, so it could be a never-ending game. This is your own personal history mystery. You don't want the book to ever end. You can quit at your great-great-grandparents, but I bet you won't. There's always another ancestor to chase and another home place to see."

Smolenyak's article also includes Additional Resources, with links to several helpful books and websites. At the very end of her article, under "Related," is a link to an article that appeared in National Geographic's Traveler Magazine (Feb/Mar 2015), "A Song for Ireland: Andrew McCarthy Finds His Roots." (This is a very interesting article about finding family in County Kerry, Ireland.)

Queries, genealogical questions from researchers and genealogical materials readers would like to share will be printed in this column free. Joan Griffis may be reached via email at or by sending a letter to Illinois Ancestors, c/o The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):People, Technology