Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Passing of a Legend

I was saddened to learn today of the passing of Pittsburgh's legendary broadcaster and reporter, Myron Cope. He was 79. Mr. Cope was the creator of the signature "Terrible Towel" waved at Pittsburgh Steelers' games. For native Pittsburghers, he was more than an announcer, he was an institution.

Mr. Cope's photograph appears in the book I co-wrote with another Pittsburgh sportscaster, Alby Oxenreiter, Sports Memories of Western Pennsylvania (Arcadia). I am certainly glad we were able to include it, since his signature broadcasting style is truly one of the great memories associated with sports in Pittsburgh.

Click here to read Mr. Cope's obituary.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Your Life Story--in Just Six Words?

As a writer, I am always looking for new and interesting ways to tell a story. That's why I was particularly drawn to this segment "Six-Word Memoirs Can Say It All" featured on the CBS Early Show today in which Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser talked about their new book: "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure." The book resulted from submissions for a contest launched by Smith Magazine, in which people wrote six-word stories of their own, as memoirs. The idea grew out of the a literary legend that "that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged in a bar to write a story in only six words, a novel that would tell the whole story, and he wrote, 'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.' "

Even celebrities, such as Stephen Colbert and Joan Rivers submitted their respective six-word memoirs. After listening to those of the Early Show anchors, I was inspired to write one as well. The basic premise is that you don't have to be a professional writer to write your life story (a topic I frequently cover in my classes and genealogy lectures). "But, with six words, anyone can start,.." says Smith.

I've ordered a copy of the book and can't wait to read it. Taking this exercise a bit further, I then decided to write six-word summaries about a few of my ancestors (below).

Why not give it a try yourself?

My "Six-Word" Memoir:

Devoted daughter. Must write. Ever striving.

"Six-word" tributes to my ancestors:

Anna Figlar Alzo (my mother): Generous heart. Wonderful cook. Dearly missed.

John Alzo (my father): "Shoot Your Best Shot" Carpenter. Smiles.

John Figlar (maternal grandfather): Rugged Rusyn. Disciplinarian. "I'm the Boss!"

Verona Straka Figlar (maternal grandmother): Family devotion. Inner strength. My inspiration.

John Alzo, Sr. (paternal grandfather): Deep faith. Died too soon. Handyman.

Elizabeth Fenscak Alzo (paternal grandmother): Fine hair. Tough as nails. Enigma.

Friday, February 22, 2008

University of Pittsburgh Coroner Case File Project (and Wiki)

A good friend/colleague of mine shared the news with me about the The University of Pittsburgh Archive Services Center's Coroner Case File Project. Here's a brief summary as posted on their corresponding Wiki, which includes even more interesting details about the project.

Internship Project
Allegheny County Coroner Case File Records

In 1982 the Coroner’s Office of Allegheny County transferred inquest case records, 1887-1973, to the University of Pittsburgh. The inquest case records, referred to in this document as Coroner Case Files, are public records open to all, as affirmed by the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office. The records were created by the Coroner’s Office to satisfy public law. Beyond the final inquest report, materials in the files may include eye-witness testimony, grand jury reports, physician notes, affidavits, press clippings and other documentation. As a whole, the information is valuable to researchers studying a variety of topics pertaining to societal and legal issues. It is imperative that the Coroner Case Files be rehoused in order to ensure their long-term preservation.

Beyond documenting the medical and legal proceedings of questionable deaths in Allegheny County for over a century, the files provide unique perspectives of nineteenth- and twentieth-century industrial dangers, urban problems, social values, diseases, and dislocations, as well as the state of medical knowledge and practice at the time. Though the files certainly contain evidence of sensational murders, they also portray ordinary and accidental deaths, many of which were related to work....

Since most of my relatives settled in the Pittsburgh area, and I have a "suspicious death" lurking in my paternal family tree, I am very excited about this project. I decided to use their formal "search" mechanism which is conducted a few times a month, and submitted a request using a special form.

There's a $12.00 fee which covers copying and mailing of all relevant info. There are some exceptions to record availability: The records between 1933 and June 1938 are not in the Archives Service Center's possession and are presumed to have been destroyed in 1982 prior to the transfer of this collection.

But, since the "probable murder" I am looking for occurred in 1916, I am hoping that I'll have some luck. I am always intrigued when such great unusual resources turn up. It keeps genealogy interesting and proves that not all information is available online just yet. You always have to keep an eye out for those surprise sources!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

FEEFHS 2008 Conference

For Immediate Release

Salt Lake City, UT--The 2008 Federation of East European Family History Societies (FEEFHS) Conference will be held August 1-3, 2008 at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott Hotel, 777 Aten Road, Coraopolis, PA.

The theme will be “Pittsburgh: The East European Magnet”—reflecting the vast number of immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe who came to the city and its neighboring towns during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The conference will feature presentations from leading experts in the fields of Central and East European Genealogy, DNA testing, and Online Databases, one-on-one research consultations & more! The keynote speaker on Friday morning will be Dr. Stephen P. Morse, Creator of the "One-Step Web Pages." The Saturday evening banquet will feature the talk, "Don't Stop for Red Lights: The Story of the Creation of the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning" by Joseph Bielecki. On Sunday August 3rd, an optional event, The Rivers of Steel "Babushkas and Hard Hats Tour" will take place from 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Vendors specializing in East European merchandise welcome!

The full 2-day FEEFHS member or non-member fee entitles registrants to attend any of the sessions on Friday and Saturday, both the Friday and Saturday lunches, the Friday evening reception and cultural event, and the opportunity to sign up for individual consultations with participating conference speakers. Registrants will also receive a copy of the Syllabus.

An “Early Bird” registration discount ($120 for FEEFHS members; $150 for non-members) is available until 1 June 2008. Early registration is highly recommended to

Click here for additional information. Also, check out the FEEFHS 2008 Conference Blog for updates!

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Video features Carpatho-Russian/Rusyn Historical Event‏

I received this notice from today. I've got Rusyn roots (my maternal grandfather was born in Osturna, and worked as a coal miner as a young man) so was very interested to watch this video.


The largest mine disaster in Pennsylvania history took place on December 19th 1907 at the Darr Mine, just across the Youghiogheny River from Jacobs Creek, PA – hometown of the Simkovich family. Because the local Carpatho-Russians (Carpatho-Rusyns) had taken off work on a Monday with no pay in order to attend church for the Feastday of St. Nicholas, their lives were spared.
Pittsburgh public television station WQED recently produced a 30 minute program to mark the 100 year anniversary of the mine disaster, and it’s now online. Watching the entire program will give one an appreciation for the hard life that East European immigrants led. Click here to start Part 2 of the program:

The segment on Jacobs Creek’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and the Rusyn people begins at the 3 minute 49 second point, ending at the 7 minute 12 second point. It opens with Charles Bobich (a Simkovich on his mother’s side) ringing the church bell.

Interviews are conducted inside the church and in the church hall in the basement. During the time of the mine disaster, this church was actually Greek Catholic.

This program was first aired on television in December, and will be re-broadcast in Pittsburgh on Tuesday February 26, 2008 at 7:30pm.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

New Beginner's Genealogy Magazine

Discovering Family History – a new beginner’s magazine from the publishers of Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy Toronto – 15 February 2008

Discovering Family History, a new genealogy magazine targeted at beginners, will shortly start publishing. A 24-page preview is included in the March/April issue of Family Chronicle and the April/May issue of Internet Genealogy. A full 56-page preview issue can be downloaded at<>

Halvor Moorshead, the publisher andeditor of all three magazines, says that the seed of the idea for Discovering Family History was sown when Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy magazines exhibited at an event in Toronto last September, called “The Word on the Street”. Some 200,000 people attended this event, put on forthose interested in books and literacy.

“We sold plenty of subscriptions to both magazines,” said Moorshead, “but I found that I was continually explaining to new subscribers some real genealogy basics ­ steering them to Cyndi’s List and other places that listed beginner’s courses. These people were smart enough; they just needed something more basic than what we were selling. It was sobering to realize that there might be a big market for a genealogy magazine that dealt with the basics.

“This triggered us to conduct marketresearch among Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy readers. We sent out questionnaires, via the Internet, to 1,000 readers and were more
than pleasantly surprised by the response. A few people said they thought the idea for a beginner’s magazine was a bad one, but for each one of these, 12 people were excited by the idea.We had not expected to find that many people, whohad been researching their genealogy for many years, still considered themselves beginners. But then we realized that most of us are beginners when we tackle a new area for research. Most of us are beginners in some area or another.”

The free online preview issuecontains such articles as Free Family History Websites, Obituaries, the Ultimate Guide to Subscription Databases, Who Else is ResearchingYour Name?, What is a Vital Record?, Citing Sources, a genealogical Case Study, The 10 First Steps, Computer Basics, It’s All About Parents, Genealogical Societies, Web 2.0 and Making Sense of the US Census. The articles are targeted at beginners, but Moorshead says that great care has been taken not to talk down to the reader. “I consider myself a fairly experienced genealogist but I continue to come across aspects of research that bewilder me. For example, until recently I had never investigated land records –I would find a basic article on this subject very useful”, said Moorshead.

Discovering Family History will be published six times a year. There is an introductory subscription rate of $20 per year (same rate for the US and Canada). For more information visit the magazine’s website <>

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pittsburgh Valentines

I caught this item on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette site. Since it is my hometown, I can relate.


Their hearts are in Pittsburgh

Thursday, February 14, 2008
By Brian O'Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Robin Rombach/Post-Gazette

Cameron Greenaway, 7, of Baldwin shows his "Pittsburgh Valentine" to Toni Staab of McKees Rocks during a luncheon with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at the City-County Building.
Choosing a valentine is tough when the spectrum runs from heavy schmaltz through slapstick humor to straight-ahead sincerity.

It gets even tougher when you try to find one that suits more than 300,000 people.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked for Pittsburgh Valentines, seeking "unique reasons to love'' the city, and he got 160 answers. Eleven were chosen for the city web site.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Family Tree Magazine Videos on YouTube

I just received this from the folks at Family Tree Magazine. Check out two new videos posted to YouTube.

Editor Allison Stacy created a slideshow of theFamily History Expo 2008 in St. George, Utah. There's also a video tour of the Allen County Public Library, starring Allison and Diane Haddad, managing editor!

Thursday, February 07, 2008 Opens Records to the Public in Honor of Black History Month

This is a press release from Footnote. Questions should be addressed to:

Records Include the Amistad Case, the 1963 March on Washington and the
Southern Claims Commission

LINDON, Utah--(BUSINESS WIRE) today announced free access to select databases during February in celebration of Black History Month. These databases include original historical records from the Amistad case, the program for the 1963 March on Washington and the Southern Claims Commission records from the Civil War.

“The Southern Claims Commission records document the experiences of former slaves during the Civil War and in the days immediately after,” says Toni Carrier, Founding Director of the USF Africana Heritage Project. “They often contain information that cannot be found anywhere else. Family historians should plan to spend some quality time with this collection.”
The majority of the records on come from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Since partnering with NARA a year ago, has been working aggressively to digitize and make these original source documents available online. To date, has digitized over 26 million images. Each month, approximately 2 million new records are uploaded to the site.

“Our partnership with Footnote has brought millions of our documents to far more researchers than ever before possible,” says James Hastings, Director of Access Programs at NARA. “Now researchers can come to any or our research rooms across the country and use the online indexes and records free of charge. And for a small fee they can have access to this rich historical collection in their own homes. We look forward to many years of working together to help Americans understand their history.”

In addition to the records uploads to its site every month, members of the site are also making contributions by adding records from their files at home and creating their own web pages dedicated to topics that interest them. Member pages pertaining to African American history include topics such as slavery, African American war heroes and Civil Rights.

“We love to see people get involved and take an active interest in history,” said Russ Wilding, CEO of “There are so many historical treasures contained in shoeboxes that have been tucked away and forgotten in closets and attics. We encourage everyone to upload their shoeboxes of letters, documents and photos to to preserve and share their own histories.” is the place where history comes alive. The site has something for everyone from avid researchers to those with a casual interest in the stories of our past. Visit today and see the future of history.

About Footnote, Inc. is a subscription website that features searchable original
documents providing users with an unaltered view of the events, places and people that shaped the American nation and the world. At all are invited to come share, discuss, and collaborate on their discoveries with friends, family, and colleagues. For more information, visit

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Five Czech Americans Awarded: Czech Government Awards Five Czech Americans

Congratulations to Margie Sobotka, one of my colleagues on the Board of Directors for the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, who is one of five recipients of the 2007 Černín Palace Bronze Memorial Medal from the Czech Republic. This is well-deserved honor! Bravo, Margie!


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of the Czech Republic awarded the 2007 Černín Palace Bronze Memorial Medal to five extraordinary Czech Americans whose life’s work has helped enhance Czech-American relations. Named for the building which houses the MFA, the annual award honors those who have made significant contributions to preserving and promoting relations between the Czech Republic and the United States. Ambassador Petr Kolář presents the awards to the honorees, who are nominated by Czech honorary consuls in the United States. The 2007 recipients are Tiree and Lubomir Chmelar, Libuse Imbrone, Radomír Luža, Marvin J. Marek, and Marjorie Sobotka.

Tiree Chmelar (in memoriam) and Lubomir Chmelar helped found Czech Greenways-Zelené Stezky whose Prague-Vienna Greenways is a 250-mile long network of hiking and biking trails that travels between the two cities through historic towns in some of the most picturesque countryside in Europe. The Greenways objective is to promote and preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the region while developing sustainable ecological tourism. The Chmelars modeled the Czech Greenways project on the Hudson River Valley Greenways in New York. In 1994 New York Governor Mario Cuomo declared these two greenways sisters. Tiree Chmelar and her husband were instrumental in raising funds from international organizations to develop and support the Czech Greenways program.

Libuse Rybnicek Imbrone was raised in a family of Czech immigrants who nurtured in her an appreciation of Czech language, literature, art, music, and civic affairs. Throughout her life, Ms. Imbrone has worked to promote Czech and Slovak culture in the United States. She is a long-time member of Sokol-Minnesota and a founding member of the Czech and Slovak Cultural Center in St. Paul, MN.

Marjorie Sobotka is a devoted genealogist and author of numerous publications including the book Nebraska-Kansas Settlers, 1891–1895. A board member of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, Ms. Sobotka actively works to perpetuate Czech and Slovak heritage in the United States and helps Americans find relatives or ancestry in the Czech Republic.

Radomir Luza, born in Czechoslovakia, was an active member of the anti-fascist resistance in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. The son of a Czechoslovak Army General who went into hiding, young Luza was captured by the Germans and then released in hopes that he would lead the Nazis to his father. Instead Lubomir evaded his pursuers and joined his father in the underground movement. His subsequent story of resistance, hiding, and guerilla attacks on the occupiers is told in his memoir The Hitler Kiss. Mr. Luza escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1948 and came to the United States where he is professor emeritus of history at Tulane University. His books, articles, and teaching have contributed greatly to the understanding of Czech history.

Marvin J. Marek has dedicated more than 30 years to fostering Czech heritage in Texas. In addition to serving as president of the Texas chapter of the National Alliance of Czech Catholics, Mr. Marek’s work with the Czech Educational Foundation of Texas helps promote the study of Czech music in the United States and enables Czech students to study in Texas.
To read the speech of Libuse Imbrone from the ceremony, please click here.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

World Vital Records Launches International Collection

This announcement was forwarded to me by World Vital Records regarding of their international database collection to be launched on February 4, 2008.

------------------------------------ Launches World Genealogy Collection

A billion names from 33 countries coming online

PROVO, UT, February 4, 2008 -- (a service of released today its flagship product, the World Collection, an online genealogy database containing more than 1.5 billion names from 35 countries.'s World Collection launch includes significant collections from countries such as: England, Canada, Australia, France, Ireland, Scotland, Hungary, and Portugal.

"All over the world there are wonderful people who are digitizing and preserving historic records," said Paul Allen, CEO,, Inc. "During the past year we have traveled and met with these content providers from more than a dozen countries. We are pleased today to announce that many of them have chosen to let us distribute their genealogical databases on the Internet."

More than 20 companies have partnered with to make this new collection possible. They include Find My Past, Genealogical Publishing Company, Archive CD Books Australia, British Origins, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, Archive CD Books Canada, Eneclann, Quintin Publications, Gould Genealogy, Familias Argentinas, Godfrey Memorial Library, and Moravian Heritage Society.

"This is a very exciting announcement for our members. As we enter our second year, we have accomplished much including having more than 24,000 paid subscribers, 2 million users on our We're Related application on Facebook, and have announced 2 billion names in our two major content collections, the US and World Collection. The number two seems to be common theme in this announcement as we enter our second stage," said David Lifferth, President,, Inc.

The World Collection includes birth, marriage and death records, census records, passenger lists, immigration lists, emigration records, foreign newspapers, cemetery records, reference materials, land records, family histories, historical records, city directories, business directories, township histories, civil service records, telephone directories, government records, war records, and maps, atlases, and gazetteers.

Census records from the UK comprise's largest database in the World Collection. These records include the 1851, 1861, 1881, and 1891, 1901 censuses. These records are the official civil registration records for England and Wales from 1837 to the present. All of these censuses will be periodically posted county by county throughout the year. These censuses include images, and also a key-word searchable index.

"Alongside birth, marriage, and death records, census records are the most important building block for family historians," said Elaine Collins, Commercial Director, Find My Past. "We feel is set for success, and we are excited to make our census records more accessible to an American audience who wouldn't normally think of Find My Past as the first place to look for census records."

The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (ISTG) lists is another large database containing almost 9,000 passenger lists and millions of names. The ISTG records include information such as surname, captain's name, port of arrival/departure, and name of the ship. These records are the result of the work of more than 500 volunteers over a ten-year period.

"I am very excited about this partnership. I remember when ISTG was one-year old, and everyone was supporting us. In return, I'm happy to partner with because they provide a service that is affordable and easily accessible on the Internet," said Patty MacFarlane McCormack, Founder, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild.

The World Collection also includes newspapers from Australia, the Bahamas, Canada (over 80 newspaper representing all provinces), Chile, Ecuador, England, Ireland, and Mexico (more than 150 newspapers from 15 states).

Genealogical Publishing Company also adds more than 600 large databases to the World Collection including colonial and Irish genealogy, royal ancestry, and family history.

"We have been publishing at for 55 years, and we look forward to expanding our work into new territories, such as," said Barry Chodak, President, Genealogical Publishing Company.

Individuals can access more than 5,000 genealogical databases, more than 2 billion names (these names are being added throughout the year), and the World Collection at


Media Contact

Whitney Ransom
Corporate Communications Director, Inc.

About, Inc., Inc. is a family of services that includes,, and We're Related on Facebook. The focus of the company is to provide innovative tools to connect families.

About World Vital Records, Inc.

Founded in 2006, by Paul Allen and several key members of the original team, World Vital Records, Inc. provides affordable genealogy databases and family history tools used by more than 470,000 monthly visitors, 6.4 million monthly pages views, and more than 24,000 subscribers. With thousands of databases including birth, death, military, census, and parish records, makes it easy to extend your family tree. World Vital Records also runs, a social network for genealogists, and We're Related, a popular Facebook application with more than 2 million users. Some of its partners include Everton Publishers, Quintin Publications, Archive CD Books Australia, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, Archive CD Books Canada, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., SmallTownPapers®, Accessible Archives, Genealogical Publishing Company, Find My Past, Godfrey Memorial Library, Find A Grave, and FamilySearch™. Investors include vSpring Capital and several angel investors.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Open records bill running into resistance in Pa. House

An update on this bill as written about on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette web site:

Saturday, February 02, 2008
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- When a new open records bill sailed through the state Senate with unanimous approval this week, many legislators thought it would be a slam dunk in the House and quickly get to Gov. Ed Rendell.

But now questions have arisen about the bill, especially among some House Republicans. Also, Common Cause/Pennsylvania, the self-styled citizens' lobby, is urging changes before the House acts on it.

Senate Bill 1, the open records bill, was expected to come up for a vote in the House next week, but now that timetable seems in doubt.

Click here to read the rest of the article.