November as Native American Heritage Month

In recent years, we have had Columbus Day thankfully replaced in many places within the United States with Indigenous Peoples Day. While, welcome in the attention it focuses on Native and First Nations peoples across North America, it comes with negativity and necessary information.

Columbus and his journey to “discover” America from Spain resulted in, not only the beginning of the invasion of the continent by Europeans seeking freedom and land, but also in the massacre, rape and pillaging of Indigenous peoples – by Columbus and his crew and then the onslaught of settlers in the colonies, the stripping of forests, myriad diseases that dessimated tribal peoples and land grabs that are notable for their violence and disrespect.

So while Indigenous Peoples Day is ONE day of recognition and writings about these first peoples of the Americas, the month of November is meant to offer 31 days of information too. Is it fully respectful, honoring, inclusive and informative? Sometimes. Is it meant to fulfill some goal of assuaging feelings of guilt or shame among European descendants as movements for cultural diversity, inclusion and equity proliferate around the world? Perhaps.

It IS an opportunity for all of us to assess our relationship to, contact with, and possible friendships among the populations of the Indigenous cultures and tribal groups. Mostly invisible to many, Native peoples in recent United States census enumerations give some perspective, as there are 2.9% that have identified as Native/Indian according to recent reports (CNN – Why the jump in the Native American population may be one of the hardest to explain:,according%20to%20the%20Census%20Bureau.). That’s a small percentage of the overall population of our country AND it is believed to be a low count of the actual population of people with full Native identities and those with mixed racial families. And it is also representative of some of the isolation and invisibility of tribal people broadly. While the vast majority of Native people live in urban areas, others are very isolated on the remote reservation systems across the country. The likelihood is that you actually KNOW and perhaps work with Native people but you don’t even know it.

Which speaks to the classic comment heard often: “You don’t LOOK Indian!” as if there is a physical “type” or “look” that all should be. Yes, television and media generally don’t help in this case, as the stereotypical images in cowboy westerns or depictions in movies (think Dances with Wolves) confuse many with historical imagery. Where are the “modern” images that are as diverse as the multiracial communities in which we all live? The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian released a documentary, A Thousand Roads, depicting four modern Indigenous people as they cope within modern communities with the challenges of retaining their identities. The popularity of the Hulu series Rez Dogs (remarkably an entire cast, writing and directing group that is virtually all Indigenous!) gives us a glimpse too of the humor and stories of some young adults and the often hilarious and difficult lives they are negotiating.

Good reading can be found through some great writers.

Books that are especially good for Native history, with extensive footnotes to further works, include Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country by Sierra Crane Murdoch, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and for a sweeping history of the North America, please read The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere by Paulette F.C. Steeves.  All of these books include bibliographies, source notes and/or citations that will lead the reader to even more resources. A fundamentally good resource book, that offers frequently asked questions with answers, comes from the National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian Institution) – Do All Indians Live in Tipis? by a group of contributors from the museums’ tribal specialists, Elders and leaders.  It’s just a starting list but can help you to move into more study as you are ready. A book that should be mandatory reading for anyone claiming indigeneity based on their DNA is Native American DNA:  Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science by Dr. Kim Tallbear.

As a genealogist and family historian, in my own family research, I have encountered much of the worse of the stereotypes and the outcomes of negative encounters between the White/European worlds with Indigenous peoples and organizations. I recently wrote articles, hoping to guide researchers in their pursuit of genealogical information about researching among our Native peoples, archives, libraries and tribal governments. Family Tree Magazine has published The Do’s and Don’ts of Respectful Native American Research ( and an earlier article in the Family Tree Magazine, November/December issue covered some of the same information.

So as you may be considering Native American Heritage Month and perhaps activities that will guide you in learning about or studying various tribal peoples, please consider respectful ways of engagement that will help to build good relationships for all of us.

#Native #Indigenous #Heritage #LineageJourneys

Elmer AND Bill Died the SAME Day!

Obituary Notice, Lansing State Journal (Lansing, MI), 24 May 1971, pg 2

Having made a commitment to be more active here in my blog, and being really behind on SO many things, I decided that I would work at putting up family information more regularly. As I’ve written about RootsTech and other conferences, I’ve decided also to include content about our families – mine and Den’s – and information about my work in genealogy, I made the commitment.

So I truly KNOW and believe that our ancestors want us to find them (their information, records, photos, etc.) and know them – from what they did, what the records say, how their lives progressed and more …. it came as no surprise to me that, having made this commitment to myself and these ancestors, my return home from the National Genealogical Society’s 2022 Family History Conference included a discussion with my husband about my “take aways”.

The “take aways” is understandable for most folks … “what did you take away from that experience?”. Den and I, when completing a trip (the plane ride home or the final part of a drive home), will often have a conversation …. like “what were the top 3 things you will remember?” or “what are the top 3 images that will stick in your mind?” – that sort of thing.

Well, on this particular Sunday afternoon of Memorial Weekend, with the washing machine running after my unpacking the suitcase, Den and I were taking a moment for me to process the NGS conference and my experiences there. And our talk then moved further into “do we want to go to Ludwig’s grave tomorrow to honor him?” He’s Den’s Civil War ancestor who is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery here in Detroit. While we decided not to go, it began a conversation about ancestors in his family.

It evolved into this discussion about his grandfather Elmer and uncle Wilson/Bill. As the obituary pictured here states, they died the same day. I didn’t remember it that way …. and that’s a story!

You see, I met Denny in college, Michigan State University. It was in our sophomore year, and his Grandfather Elmer had died two years before, as had Wilson or Bill, Den’s uncle. As I got to know him and his family, I heard the story of Elmer’s death because Den and his parents and two brothers all lived on the same family farm in Alma, Michigan. When Elmer died, he had a heart attack in his home right next door to Den’s family’s home. Den actually heard his Grandmother Vera scream when Elmer dropped in the house and Den ran over to see what was wrong. He performed CPR on his grandfather but Den knew that Grandpa was gone.

The way I REMEMBERED the story was very different, although with parts of it factual and the same. BUT – and this is the key – even when someone tells us the story from their actual presence and knowledge, we can remember it wrong!

The thing about my memory was that there were parts that I remember coming from other people. So Den’s older brother Van and possibly Den’s mom, Melba, had told me their memories of what happened. Now, Van was not in the home or on the farm when Bill and Elmer died, so perhaps that is where my memory got jarred in the wrong direction. What I remember, was “someone” told me that Bill committed suicide and that, after his funeral, Elmer had come home, took a walk around the farm and then had his heart attack.

Well …. parts of that are true. Elmer DID take the walk around the farm just before the heart attack. Den knew that and had actually see Elmer walking around. Den remembered thinking that his grandfather perhaps was thinking through, reflecting on the fact that his eldest son had just passed away and what was the future of the farm? While the family had sold their dairy cows back in the mid-1960s, the farm was still operating but, since 1969, was leased to another farmer to plant, harvest while the family retained ownership and received annual checks from the crops sold. ANYWAY, I digress …

So what was TRUE was that Elmer died after taking that walk around the farm. What was NOT true – Bill died from lung cancer and Elmer died the same day, as you can see in the obituary. Where had I gone SO wrong on these memories? Did Van or Melba tell me elements that I confused? Apparently!

My point in offering this is that we can’t and shouldn’t fully trust our memories! Documentation of the elements of stories really helps and it provides some interesting lessons. In my case, I never documented the stories that I was told (by Van or Melba or whomever!) AND I clearly messed up parts of it. Suicide is awful and so is cancer but they carry a much different trajectory both physically and emotionally in a family! AND the fact that they died on the same day was totally missed by me until I found this obituary. While I have Elmer’s death certificate from our family, I didn’t have Bill’s (and yes, I could connect with his family). That said, I learned a lot on Sunday!

A genealogists, family historians or even just members of an extended family that tells stories and “embellishes” perhaps as the story evolves, please DO keep in mind that finding the key facts, documents and information is important in documenting our families’ lives and stories. I’m so glad that I dug into this more after that conversation with my husband as he was amazed by how much I had wrong. Good to be stopped before I’d shared it SOOO far off from the facts! Keep digging!

Happy birthday to my 2nd Great-Grandfather, Norbert Albert Villeneuve

Here’s Norbert Albert Villeneuve and wife Adele Paquet and their family probably around 1902 in Ishpeming, Michigan (colorized thanks to MyHeritage!).

When Norbert Albert Villeneuve was born on March 3, 1840, in Quebec, Canada, his father, Joseph, was 31 and his mother, Julie, was 33. He married Adele Adelaide Paquet on November 7, 1865, in Maskinongé, Quebec, Canada. They had 11 children in 21 years. He died on May 13, 1914, in Ishpeming, Michigan, at the age of 74.

That doesn’t say a lot about Albert or Al as he was known. He was likely a farmer in Quebec as many in the community of Maskinongé were but we also know from family stories that he made furniture, very solid, functional furniture that was nice looking too. He became a miner in the iron ore mines in and around Ishpeming area. He was a carpenter and worked in and around the mines constructing joists and structures to hold up the rock for the miners, hoping to keep them safer. According to the 1910 census, he was still working for the mining company even at the age of 71. When he died just 4 years later, his obituary stated that he was one of the “early pioneers” and had cut trees to help construct the main road in Ishpeming. The family must have been a bit musical as family stories that I heard over the years about Albert, Adele and the kids included a great deal of music and dancing. And on his death, the inventory of his belongings included a piano that my Great Grandmother Louise Villeneuve Elliot took for her large family. My Grandmother Elsie Elliot Sutinen told me that this family, back in Quebec, were well known formal dancers – participating in waltz and ballroom dancing competitions, often winning. So maybe the family piano helped in teaching the children?!

A recent trip this summer to Ishpeming included driving around the area where the Villeneuve family lived, even finding their home address using the census records. Such a small home for a family of 11 children and 2 adults!

350 South 1st Street, Ishpeming – the Albert and Adele Villeneuve home in 1910.

Happy Birthday, Grandma! Because she was, I am ….

Mary Elsie Cecelia Elliot Sutinen – My grandmother: Because she was, I am.

Remembering my grandma on her birthday….

Today is Grandma’s birthday – Mary Elsie Cecelia Elliot Sutinen – she was of French-Canadian, Acadian, Scottish and First Nations descent. Born in Ishpeming, Michigan to immigrant parents who came from Maskinonge, Quebec. She had five children – my mother was the youngest girl and the fourth child. Her life was not easy … hard work, poverty, difficult circumstances and more. But my memories of her are of a loving, doting, beloved woman who gave us kids sugar-free (she was diabetic) Jello with whipped cream, the BEST snuggles, learning from her about tatting, needlework, hearing occasional Quebecois words from her, her sisters, and the wonderful smells of a grandma’s home. A devout Catholic, she endured a lot and relied on her faith to get her through – AND was happy, smiling, welcoming, gentle and very obviously loving me and my brother, my cousins. Missing her now when I would like to ask SO many questions. Bonne Fete with our ancestors, Grandma!!

And thank you! You birthed my mother, who birthed me … and you loved and cared for all of us in your family, and the HUGE family of your birth (she was one of 16; 14 lived to adulthood). She connects me to my matrilineal ancestors, my distant past, going all the way back to Benouville, Rouen, Normandie, France where my 10th great-grandmother Guillemette Rolleville was born in 1625 and any paper trail further seems to end (for now … ). From Guillemette to her daughter Marie-Catherine and on and on, for generations, it comes to me and my only female first cousin in this line, Karen … Neither Karen or I had children, so this part of the lineage ends with us. Feels sad … but there are others who descend from her in the mitochondrial lines so the DNA continues. Merci, Grand-mere …. je me souviens!

DNA Weekly – An Interview About Lineage Journeys!

The heading on my interview at DNA Weekly – Hope you will check it out!

There are some moments that remind you of why you do your work, why it is more fun to do what you love. I had that moment with Ditsa Keren from DNA Weekly, who had contacted me for an interview about my genealogy work.

It had been some time since I had thought about why I started Lineage Journeys and my motivations for continuing to work in this field. I truly love searching for my family and I love helping others get excited about their family history too. So the combination of the two had been great for me, but reflecting on it to answer Ditsa’s questions was particularly enjoyable. In our interview on Zoom, she had a thoughtful way, was fun and asked good questions. And I was grateful for the opportunity to share about what I do and how much I enjoy working with clients – I LIVE for those wonderful “ah ha” moments that all family historians or genealogists have when they learn something new about an ancestor or where they lived, what they did for an occupation.

While I can’t quite place my hands on the article that I read that shared the importance of sharing family stories, I remember that the psychology of it was that it builds resilience in children to hear about the trials and troubles that their ancestors got through. And for the children to hear those stories from their grandparents (or great-grandparents, as so many are living longer, thank God!), has a direct and deep impact on their own ability to manage in tough times.

Thank you to Ditsa Keren and DNA Weekly for the opportunity to do some reflection. Hope you all will think about checking DNA Weekly out –

Lineage Journeys – Summary of RootsTech 2019!

Goodbye to Salt Lake City for now!

Well, RootsTech 2019 is in the books … and thousands of us enjoyed a great experience! New this coming year is RootsTech London and of course 2020 is the 10th anniversary of RootsTech and promises to be another amazing experience!

Learned a lot this year! Returning for RootsTech for a second year gave the advantage that I knew more of what to expect, knew my way around the building and locations where I could prepare as a speaker and take time to blog, but also to network, meet other professionals and hook up with cousins. SOOOOO fun!

Lessons learned – participants sometimes don’t fully read the descriptions for presentations, so announcing at the beginning of my presentations who the audience is that I’m directing my information to; participants want to take pictures or record our presentations to share with others, and there’s an internal struggle to be honest about how we are working hard to make a living while also being transparent with how that works/doesn’t work when others share our content. And finally, by far the biggest learning is that there are thousands of truly dedicated family historians that want to get it right – to document their families through records, stories, photos and more so that present and future generations can appreciate the blessing of lives well-lived. And some great stories along the way – even with their own research journeys! I learned A LOT from the cousins I met, other attendees that offered me their perspectives.

So, if you haven’t attended RootsTech, DO!! Stay tuned – if I’m selected again to be a speaker or ambassador, I may have tickets to offer for a lucky family historian to get free registration to the conference!!

The Sandhills Are Alive With Music!

“The hills are alive with the sound” of Sandhill cranes!!  It’s obviously fall … and I did the best that I could on the pictures as I had to grab my cell phone FAST to rush outside.  Wow … the sound was deafening and there were HUNDREDS of Sandhill cranes, all squawking at once, getting into formation.  There were multiple “V” patterns, and birds flying to catch up.  As I stood on the porch snapping what I could, I could hear more coming and more in a farm field nearby …. VERY loud but eerie, surreal, primordial …. special.

When I hear, see such wonderful creatures, I think about the migratory journey they have ahead as they eat up what corn, grains they can from the surrounding farm fields.  I’ve always loved these beautiful and large birds and wanted to study them when we realized that they were so numerous here in our new home.

Wondering what to write about today, as I wanted to keep Lineage Journeys readers up on more than just the upcoming conferences and events that I’m doing, the sandhills provided a great way to break from writing, researching and keeping up with the business end of the work.  I wanted therefore to share a great book I found that has tremendously beautiful photographs AND tells the story of the struggles that sandhill cranes have with habitat encroachment, pesticides, and more.  On Ancient Wings:  The Sandhill Cranes of North America by Michael Forsberg is the book that gave me a perspective that increased my joy of them all the more, as I’d like to see what I can do locally to help them.   The book is linked here and in the title above as I found the book on Amazon (there are other great field guide-type of books too!)  if you might be interested in learning.

The reason that I am thinking about this, writing about this?  Maybe because I’m a genealogist or because I’m such a nature-lover, these birds are a fascination to me.  As a genealogist, I wonder whether my ancestors had the opportunity to witness such a spectacle, if their farms had these graceful birds feeding there before setting off for the south.  My Québec ancestors were farmers almost entirely (some were woodworkers) so I think about what I just saw and how ancient these birds are (I think I read somewhere they they are millions of years old, from fossil evidence!), wondering if they were part of the lives of my people in Québec.  With the St. Lawrence and other waterways in the region that my families’ farms were located (most recently, my ancestors are from Maskinongé, Québec and around both Québec City, Montréal and back into Acadia), it is certainly likely.  What did they think?  Did they stop from their farming just as I stopped from my work to look UP?

As I think about and work to write the stories of my ancestors, I want to include content about their day-to-day lives like the sounds of the sandhill cranes or the weather patterns (like the very severe rains that we’ve been having this year!) that impacted their survival.  It’s not about the dates for me – births, marriages, deaths – but it’s about what they DID, who they were friends with, the music and foods that were important, and the struggles and joys they experienced.

I hope they experienced the sound I heard this morning – the sandhills’ music of life.

Watershed Moments

A “watershed moment” is a point in time in which you feel that something changed, that you changed, that life changed.

I had a moment/day like that recently. Actually it is more of a series of things that have happened. As a genealogist, there are moments in time that I recognize that I’m noting a date and it was a big deal for my ancestors. Someone died, someone was born, two people were married. There are so many of those moments as a genealogist that I honestly can say that they are dates in a computer sometimes to me … until my own “moment”.

You see … someone died. Actually there have been a series of deaths in the recent past (since my brother died in July 2013 actually) and this most recent death of a beloved “sister” has caused a shift. I put “sister” in quotation marks because, while she wasn’t a genetic sister, she was a sister of my heart … a teacher, friend, beloved leader and spiritual Elder. To me and many. And it was at her funeral and the four days of the wake and then burial ceremony, that I’ve been thinking about A LOT! Without going into all of that here, it DID make me think, as a genealogist of those “watershed moments” of my ancestors.

Perhaps it was in the mid-1860s when my Villeneuve (Amiot dit Villeneuve) ancestral family came from Maskinonge, Quebec to Marquette, Michigan area. My Elliot ancestors came from the same area to Ishpeming, Michigan in the 1880s. Then they all eventually ended up in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, in Houghton County – around Hancock and Boston Station and the mining communities. They met up there supposedly because they attended the same church. A Villeneuve girl married an Elliot boy, and an Elliot girl married a Villeneuve boy. In June, 1889 when Edward Elliot married Marie Louise Villeneuve in Ishpeming, was that a “watershed moment” for them? Did they recognize the importance of that day and the history that they would create together (they ended up having 18 kids!!!) that resulted in my grandmother? Did the day that great-grandfather Edward died in 1919, crushed by a shifting pile of coal that he was assigned to move, created that incredible “watershed moment” for great-grandmother Louise? She had a pile of children and now no husband. In the 1920 Census, she has eight children living with her. The two oldest sons are working so the family at least had an income but many of the children were very young. My grandmother, Mary Elsie Elliot had married Warner “Waino” Sutinen and was living nearby. Grandpa Warner was also a miner – I wonder if he was present when Edward was crushed … who told Great-Grandma Louise that he was severely injured (he later died of his injuries according to the newspaper account and his death certificate). Certainly, that would have been a “watershed moment” for both families.

Maybe it’s a function of the death of others that gives us “watershed moments” … it has been for me, early in this new year. Does everyone have moments like this?

As this year ends …

WishingYouTheBestHoliday Dec2017

As 2017 draws to a close, and I’m writing with just another day away from Christmas, Hannukah and Winter Solstice are behind us and Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s coming, I’m reflecting on family, research, change and the coming year.

This year was the one with a trip to Australia/New Zealand (part pleasure trip and part research trip), the selling of our home of 18 years and downsizing into a new home, much in the way of our Native ceremonies and family, and new jobs for both my husband and me … well, yes, it has been “interesting”.

But through it all, I am reflecting on the blessings …. getting to know new genealogy clients (through my work at Lineage Journeys) and their families (past and present), learning much new information at the various genealogy conferences I’ve attended (IF you haven’t gone to a conference, even a local one, you are missing out on learning so much, AND making great connections with fellow genealogists!), and building relationships in the genealogy community that I hope will be mutually beneficial.

Speaking engagements have been picking up, and the continuation of my relationship with my local library through monthly presentations, has been a great gift of learning too. Yes, mostly I love to speak because it gives me the chance to learn from others. Yes, I give them information but, more importantly to me, they give me their enthusiasm and excitement for the “hunt” of their family, information about resources that they have found that are helpful, and just the fun of meeting yet another person who is hooked to this hobby that we call genealogy. Searching for our families and where they came from and what they experienced is a unique and growing passion of so many of us – and I so love meeting others that I share this love with!

In this new year, this blog will look different – I’m revising and updating this site and the matching website and pages for my work. With the help of technology, graphic design, wordsmithing, and some great women who are helping me think it through, you will soon see a fresher design and content. I plan to blog more in the new year and share more about resources, sites and helpful information that I find. So please “stay tuned”!!!

Until then, may you experience the peace, joy, hope and festivities of the season with good health and prosperity in the new year!

Changes and Journeys

Genealogy Forms

It wasn’t easy for our ancestors, and it’s not easy for us. Change. It is constant and sometimes we are easily able to adapt and other times, it is just hard as we’ve settled into a way of being or doing that we don’t want to shift from.

In my work at Lineage Journeys, or when I reflect on the journeys that my ancestors have taken – those who came from Europe in less than wonderful conditions on a ship, those who were the Native people of North America and the moves that they had to make to deal with the influx of other tribal people or the Europeans – I realize that I have it SOOOOO much easier!

A friend of ours just left yesterday for medical school in another country. I heard from him today and he’s going through the initial stresses of the move – learning about the currency there, the costs of average supplies and food, and beginning to set up his life there. It’s not easy, of course, AND he’s alone with only our Facebook connection for conversation at this point (yes, we’ll use Skype or something later).

There’s a spiritual journey in all of this, and there’s the drawing on ancestral wisdom too in all of this. For our friend, his youth and inexperience are playing out while I can reflect on the changes that are happening for me with
work, family and internally. When I get into stress about my own challenges with change, I reflect on “what would my ancestors have done?” or “how mightthis grow me, spiritually?”. Both elements are “in play” and available for me todraw on if I remember not to freak out about what is happening. It’s all an illusion of my mind anyway!

Change is good, change is necessary, and change is hard.