Current Affairs

Due to Wild Fires and Vital Records Lost, Oregon State Vital Records Department Will Provide Free Replacements

The following announcement was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ Public Records Access Monitoring Committee’s mailing list:

Due to the many wild fires in Oregon, which has so far burned over one million acres, many families have lost all their vital records.

As a result, the Oregon Center for Health Statistics has issued temporary rules to waive fees for certified copies of records for these families, in accordance with the Governor’s Executive Order 20-35. The State Vital Records office will provide up to three certified certificates of birth, death, marriage, divorce, domestic partnership or dissolution of domestic partnership free of charge if the record is requested in connection with the wildfire response. The temporary rules are in effect September 14, 2020 through March 1, 2021.

The temporary administrative order may be read at:

Grandson of Former US President Asks to Exhume His Remains

Warren G. Harding

Here is a person who is really determined to prove his ancestry:

The grandson of former US President Warren G Harding has launched a legal bid to have the Republican’s remains exhumed to confirm they are related.

James Blaesing is the grandson of Nan Britton who was Harding’s mistress while the president was still married to Florence (Kling) Harding. James Blaesing told a court he wants to establish his ancestry with “scientific certainty”.

But other members of Harding’s family have opposed the request, filed in May.

You can read more about this story in an article in the BBC News website at:

Arlington National Cemetery Gravesites Will Reopen to the Public This Week

From an article by Nikki Wentling published in Stars and Stripes:

Members of the public will be allowed inside Arlington National Cemetery this week for the first time since March.

New Online Resources Help Australian Indigenous People Trace Ancestors

From an article by Rachael Knowles in the National Indigenous Times (NIT) web site:
“In honour of Family History Month, the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) announced the launch of Finding Your Ancestors.
“A series of introductory videos and virtual seminars, Finding Your Ancestors was created in collaboration with members of the NSW Aboriginal community and historians, Paul Irish and Michael Bennett. The resources aim to assist Aboriginal people in New South Wales with tracing their bloodlines to learn about their family and ancestors.
“The resources were developed to address the concern that whilst there is a wealth of online information for non-Indigenous people to track their family history, there is little support and guidance for Aboriginal people.”

Wanted: A New Home for Photo of a Civil War Soldier

A California resident is trying to find a new home for a historical photo with Southern Indiana connections. Dan Fahey, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., is the owner of an antique photograph of William P. Davis, a Southern Indiana resident who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. After conducting some research, Fahey discovered that the soldier was born in New Albany in 1834, and he served as an officer in the 23rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

A Tombstone with a Video Screen

Mr. Robert Barrows of Burlingame, California, has filed a patent application for his design of a tombstone that can accommodate video equipment operated by a remote control. “You can go from grave to grave and click on anything that person wanted to say before they died,” said Mr. Barrows. Messages could include telling your side of the story, making amends, or saying “sweet things to loved ones,” he added. Mr. Barrows declared that it would be a far more “dramatic” way of communicating from beyond the grave than leaving a videotaped message to be played at home.

Barrows also stated, “Imagine how interesting it would to go to tombstones where you didn’t know the person, or historical tombstones to find out what someone had to say… .”

Is it just me, or do other people think this is an idiotic idea? Wait, it gets worse.

Inventor Barrows maintains that computer equipment could be installed in the tombstone and connected up to the internet, enabling people to program their messages to be delivered long after they have died. Barrows suggests that the person who died could use one of those “after I die” email services to update his messages.

Had enough? Wait, there’s more…

Kamala Harris Family Tree

It’s often said among genealogists that the best way to get your family tree researched for free is to run for office. Indeed, that seems to be true. For instance, take the case of Kamala Harris.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that Sen. Kamala Harris would be his vice-presidential running mate. Even before the official announcement of her candidacy for Vice-President of the United States, her ancestry had been posted in a video on YouTube.

The 55-year-old former California attorney general will be the first Black woman to be nominated by either major party for vice president. While Harris lists her own ancestry as Black and she does live in the U.S., it is interesting to note that she apparently has no known ancestors who who were enslaved. The video at details Harris’ Tamil (a region in southern India) and Jamaican ancestry.

Should You Remove Your Data Now From

Blackstone Inc. is purchasing (See my earlier articles at and at for the details of the announcement.) As you might expect, the announcement has generated a lot of questions amongst genealogists asking questions about the future of the company and how the services might change. Many of those questions concern the privacy of personal DNA information of customers as presently held by

Are there any issues of privacy or with the idea that the new web site owners might use your genealogy data or your DNA information for purposes you never envisioned when you contributed the information? The answers are mixed.

Gedmatch is Investigating After Users’ DNA Profile Data was Made Available to Police

From an article by Zack Whittaker in the TechCrunch website:

“Gedmatch, the DNA analysis site that police used to catch the so-called Golden State Killer, was pulled briefly offline on Sunday while its parent company investigated how its users’ DNA profile data apparently became available to law enforcement searches.

“The site, which lets users upload their DNA profile data to trace their family tree and ancestors, rose to overnight fame in 2018 after law enforcement used the site to match the DNA from a serial murder suspect against the site’s million-plus DNA profiles in the site’s database without first telling the company.

The Mask Wars of the 1918 Flu Pandemic versus Those of Today

“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” ― George S. Patton”

Our ancestors lived through the worldwide 1918 Flu Pandemic and found many similarities to today’s Covid-19 pandemic. The phrase “social distancing” didn’t exist in 1918 but everyone quickly learned to avoid the enclosed public spaces, such as churches and movie theaters.

The 39th Infantry Regiment marches through downtown Seattle in 1918, donned in masks, on their way to be deployed in France. (National Archives)

In many ways, the 1918 Flu Pandemic was much worse than today’s worldwide pandemic. For instance, in 1918 through 1920, it was not unusual for someone to wake up in the morning feeling normal, to begin to feel ill around 10 AM, and then to be dead by sundown.

Library of Virginia Once Again Open to Genealogists, With Restrictions

The Library of Virginia, which houses the state’s archives, reopened for researchers on July 7, by appointment only and with other rules. Here is the announcement from the Library’s website:

RICHMOND, VA – The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that its reading rooms will reopen to researchers by advance appointment beginning at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. During the initial reopening phase, researchers will be able to use the collections by appointment Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 AM– 4:00 PM. To make an appointment, please call 804.692.3800.

The Boston Public Library and American Ancestors│NEHGS Collaborate To Present Author Larry Tye on Lessons and Legacy of McCarthy Era

The following announcement was written by: American Ancestors / NEHGS:

The Best-selling New York Times Author and Former Boston Globe Reporter Discusses His New Book with BPL President David Leonard on Thursday, July 23, at 6 PM EDT, Virtually, as Part of the American Inspiration Series and Boston Public Library’s Arc of History: Contested Perspectives Series

Talks Are Free – Online Registration Now Open

DEMAGOGUE: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy by author Larry Tye.

July 17, 2020—Boston, Massachusetts—On Thursday, July 23, at 6:00 p.m., the Boston Public Library (BPL), in collaboration with American Ancestors | NEHGS, will present a virtual conversation between best-selling New York Times author and former Boston Globe reporter Larry Tye, and BPL President David Leonard. The two will discuss Tye’s new biography, DEMAGOGUE: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. Joining the discussion will also be Margaret Talcott, Director of Signature and Literary Events at American Ancestors.

Pandemic Prompts Growth in Family Tree Digging

I am normally in favor of anything that encourages people to research their family tree. However, I am not so sure we need to wait for a worldwide pandemic before starting such research! In any case, an article by Steve Meacham published in the (Australian) Sydney Morning Herald details the major growth in genealogy research in the past 3 months:

Since words like “pandemic” and “coronavirus” became part of everyday parlance, Australians have sought solace in researching their family histories in increasing numbers.

Tapping into this desire to know more, the National Library of Australia announced a new series of Family History for Dummies online tutorials as the international and local shutdowns took effect.

An Obituary for a House?

If deceased people can have obituaries published, why can’t a house have the same thing when it “dies?” In fact, that has been done.

A house at 1720 Julian Street, Denver, Colorado was demolished quietly on the afternoon of June 8, 2020. She is believed to have been aged somewhere between 121 and 135 years—her origin story is certainly complicated.

The “obituary” for 1720 Julian, written by Katie Rudolph, may be found in the Denver Public Library’s web site at:

My thanks to newsletter reader Harry Ross for telling me about this obituary.

Congress Members Express Concerns About Politicizing the U.S. 2020 Census

The following is a message sent by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

The 2020 US Census has already experienced a number of problems, including going to the US Supreme Court over a citizenship question, inadequate funding, and a delay in the contractor contracts. Now there is concern expressed in an article in the New York Times that two new top level positions were filled with outside the agency political appointments which is unprecedented –and that is what is raising concerns about making the census partisan.

Until now only the Director of the Census Bureau, its Congressional liaison and its spokesperson have been political appointees. “For decades, the agency’s directors and top managers have been career statisticians, economists and survey methodologists — sometimes eminent ones.”  The new appointees are:

This Summer, Take Part in the Fine Old Pandemic Tradition of Graveyard Outings

From an article by Matthew Moyer in the Orlando (Florida) Weekly:


“Put on your copy of Disintegration or The Flood to pregame, get that cat’s eye eyeliner just right, hair carefully sculpted and black umbrella in hand, you’re on your way not to the goth club, but a leisurely afternoon at the cemetery!

How Immune From COVID-19 Are You? New DNA Test Hopes To Offer Insight

I have no knowledge of this company and its products, other than what it says in a promotional article at It does look interesting, however:

With all the talk about boosting immunity during the pandemic, people are looking for ways to stay informed, take precautions, and boost their body’s ability to fight infection. Endocanna Health, a cannabis DNA company, believes they have a unique tool to help you understand your body’s genetic predispositions and potential health risks—a free DNA test that takes a molecular dive into your endocannabinoid system.

Juneteenth: FamilySearch seeks Volunteers to Transcribe Records for a New Database of People of African Descent

From the FamilySearch Blog:

An image of a “Colored Census” from the archives of the Freedmen’s Bureau that was organized near the end of the American Civil War to assist newly freed slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

Those looking for a Juneteenth weekend activity can go online and transcribe a small batch of digital images of records about people of African descent.

“We need indexers,” said Thom Reed, FamilySearch’s deputy chief genealogical officer for African heritage. “Come help us with this Caribbean Civil Registration Project.

You can read more about this worthwhile project at

State Of Maine Archives Offers Grants for Preservation of Archival Collections

Would you like financial assistance in creating and displaying an archive of of information from Maine newspapers, digitized photographs, audio recordings, or transferring microfilm to digital (and hopefully online) formats? If so, the Maine State Archives wants to hear from you.

The following press release was written by the office of Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap:

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and the Maine State Archives today launched the New Century Community Grant Program for the preservation of archival collections.

This grant program will provide resources for collecting institutions throughout Maine to care for and improve access to their archival collections. Funding for the grant program comes from the Maine State Cultural Affairs Council and the Maine State Archives.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are finding their resources strained, and we are pleased to be able to offer this assistance to help preserve Maine history far beyond our own collections,” said Secretary Dunlap.

The Archives will award grants of up to $1,500 to Maine government entities, non-profit collection or preservation organizations, and Maine State agencies charged with caring for historic collections.

$500K in Renovations to Altenburg (Missouri) Museum to Be Unveiled This Week

From an article by Jacob Wiegand in the Southeast Missourian web site:

Altenburg, Missouri, is a small town rich in regional history. A dedicated group now aims to showcase that history in a newly updated museum, reopening to the public in limited numbers Thursday.

The Starzinger Family Research Library is the home of the Zion Roots Research Project. It is an outstanding collection of resources which assist in researching your family history if it has any connection to Perry County, Missouri.