Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review of Cold Cases via Skype by Megan Smolenyak

March 29, 2011

Last evening we hosted Megan Smolenyak live via Skype. We had about 27 people in attendance, and we think the weather may have discouraged some from attending. Who knew we'd have snow at the end of March in Nebraska? We thought we'd probably be okay weather wise.

Megan's topic was Cold Cases: Unclaimed Persons and the FBI. She talked about how she got started with Unclaimed Persons. For those of you who don't know, an unclaimed person is a deceased person who has an identity but the family cannot be located. She started using reverse genealogy to find living family members of a few cases. At first coroners were hesitant to work with amateur genealogists, but after about 5 years they now consider them a valuable tool. She described three particular cases to us and techniques she used. Unclaimed Persons is now a group of over 500 volunteers all over the country who have solved about 240 of the 310 cases they have received (77%). If you are interested in Unclaimed Persons, you may search for the Unclaimed Persons--Private group on Facebook. There is also more information on the web site http://www.unclaimedpersons.org/.

Megan pointed out that most of the family members are grateful and relieved to know what happened to their family. Some family members have just lost track of their unclaimed person because of a small dispute. So the moral of this story seemed to be to keep in contact with your family. Send a Christmas letter each year, or give someone a call each Thanksgiving, etc. There are many ways to stay in touch especially now with cell phones, email, social networking sites, etc. (I know some of my family has dismissed other family members because they "aren't interested" but I make an effort to keep in contact at least once a year.)

Megan mentioned now she works with the FBI, NCIS and the military locating family members of their unclaimed. She even has an FBI code name! Did you know there are over 8000 Korean soldiers who are unclaimed persons? She also mentioned several TV shows she has worked with, including Who Do You Think You Are? and more recently Top Chef. About 300-500 hours of research are done for each 42-minute segment of WDYTYA? Sometimes she traces celebrities for these television shows, which she says is harder than your "average Joe".

After her talk which lasted approximately an hour, we had a question and answer period which was very valuable. We learned more about her and about genealogy and research techniques. Someone asked about her favorite web sites, so she then told us several. She mentioned she keeps 15-20 internet tabs/windows open at once! I thought only my husband (a network administrator) had that many. Someone asked how a newbie to genealogy should get started; she recommended starting at home and talking to your living relatives. She mentioned one of the best web sites for International records is http://www.familysearch.org/.

Overall, we were very pleased with the presentation. I heard many good comments after her presentation and a few people asked when we could do it again or who else we could get to speak. I would highly recommend Megan Smolenyak as a speaker. For more information about having her speak, visit her web site http://www.honoringourancestors.com/. I know I'd love to go to Denver tomorrow to see her, but it's just not going to work this time.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I encourage anyone interested in genealogy challenges to join Unclaimed Persons. Having been a member for years, I can assure you it is a very worthwhile and gratifying experience to be part of solving a case.