101 stories of serendipity
By DONNA MURRAY ALLEN
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 21, 2000
Megan Smolenyak didn't set out to write a book on serendipitous anecdotes, but fate intervened.
As the lead researcher for the PBS show Ancestors, Smolenyak had the job of finding personal stories to be featured on each segment of the 13-week series. (The series is now airing Fridays at 12:30 p.m. on WUSF-Ch. 16.) Taking to the Internet, she placed queries on various sites. More than 5,000 responses quickly poured in. Soon she noticed a pattern emerging. Few people wanted to focus on the nuts and bolts of genealogy. Most wrote about strange and eerie incidents they had experienced while tracing their roots.
"At our next meeting, I told the producers that it was too bad we weren't doing a series on 101 stories on serendipity because "I could give that to you right now,' " Smolenyak said. An idea was born. The book, In Search of Our Ancestors: 101 Inspiring Stories of Serendipity and Connection in Rediscovering Our Family History became a companion piece to the television series and garnered Smolenyak a stint on the Today show.
Each tale is unique. One woman discovered her great-great-grandmother's 1848 marriage certificate stuck between two antique postcards. Another woman, researching obscure records at a county historical society with the aid of a helpful clerk, discovered that it wasn't the first time his family had helped hers. The clerk's great-grandfather had signed her grandfather's citizenship papers. And one man had spent years fruitlessly searching for a tiny Irish town only to learn its exact location during a chance encounter during a business trip to the Middle East.
Her participation in the project itself was kismet at its best. Smolenyak, an international marketing consultant by trade, began producing documentaries as an avocation. While working on a film about a princess who lived in Zanzibar in the mid-1800s, she contacted a couple of documentary producers she had previously met "to pick their brains." A discussion ensued about their new project, Ancestors.
"I babbled on and on about my interest in genealogy," she recalled during a phone conversation from her home in Virginia. "When their lead researcher abruptly left the series, the producers flashed back to this conversation. I got an e-mail asking me if I could come to Utah -- tomorrow," she said, sounding somewhat awed by the quick turn of events. The rest, of course, is history.
An Army brat born in France, Smolenyak began tracing her roots in the sixth grade as part of a homework assignment. "Our surnames were written on small pieces of paper and placed on a world map to indicate where our origins were," she said. "It looked like I had the whole Soviet Union to myself. I started digging then."
In reality, her ancestors hailed from what is now known as the Slovak Republic. She has conducted extensive research there, and arranged family reunions in both the United States and the Slovak Republic. To her, that's what genealogy is all about.
"For me, it's the connection, the bringing of people back together these days as much as finding living relatives," she said. "I'm as welcome in Slovakia as my dad's home. I think it's important to know where you come from in order to gain a better understanding of yourself.
"What I aim to do with my book is to inspire as many people as possible to become involved in genealogy," she said. "I want to attract new recruits and keep others involved. To keep them addicted, in a good way."
Smolenyak's book may be purchased at most large bookstores, or ordered from her Web site: http://www.honoringourancestors.com.
Plans call for a sequel. If you have an interesting story to tell, send it to "In Search of Our Ancestors," Adams Media Corp., 260 Center St., Holbrook, MA 02343.
- Donna Murray Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, she can't take phone calls, but you can write to her c/o Home & Garden, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
$STPT$ ID: +
Paper: + Date: 10/21/00+
Page: 1 Section: LARGO TIMES +
Byline: LEON M. TUCKER
LARGO -- A Seminole man charged with having sex with a 13-year-old in 1999 is on the run after he left the Pinellas County Criminal Courts Complex during a recess in a hearing Thursday and didn't come back
An arrest warrant has been issued for Anthony Quinones, 34, of 10132 64th Ave. N for failure to appear after the break in Judge W. Douglas Baird's court.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Greg Tita said investigators are concerned Quinones, who is not a U.S. citizen, may be planning to leave the country.
"Our main concern is that he is a citizen of Costa Rica, and he carries a passport," Tita said. "If he were able to get on a plane and make it south, it would be next to impossible to get him extradited."
Quinones was arrested in November 1999 and charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious battery on the 13-year-old girl. He was released on bail and was awaiting a trial scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Assistant State Attorney Matthew Wilson said the girl's family has alleged that Quinones called and drove by their home. Wilson filed a motion to revoke Quinones' pretrial release, citing a separate allegation that Quinones violated a restraining order filed by his wife, Nicole Quinones.
The allegation put Anthony Quinones in jeopardy of being taken back to jail.
"Apparently he felt there was a lot at stake," said Dyril Flanagan, Quinones' attorney. "It became apparent the judge was leaning toward taking him into custody. I guess Tony interpreted the way things were going were not in his favor."
He said the last time he heard from Quinones was at 1:45 p.m. Thursday.
"We were supposed to be back in court at 1:30 p.m. and I got a call (from Quinones) at about 1:45 p.m.," Flanagan said. "He said he was coming back with witnesses at 2 p.m."
Flanagan said he and other members of the court waited for Quinones until well after 2 p.m. but he didn't come back.
A warrant for Quinones' arrest for failure to appear was issued by Judge Baird. The warrant carries no bail.
The now 15-year-old victim told prosecutors that Quinones had taken her to various motels, where they had sex on three occasions. She also alleged that at one time he took her as far away as Crystal River and told her he wanted to take her to Costa Rica.
"I know they very badly want him caught and brought back," Wilson said. "I know, before this, they were afraid of Anthony taking their daughter away. But at this point I think they realize he is more concerned about getting out of here than harming them."
According to Tita, Quinones has a number of acquaintances in the area and access to various means of transportation. Information gathered from interviews with some of those people, he added, did not produce substantial leads.
"He's been known to carry a handgun, so we would consider him possibly armed and dangerous," Tita said. "We have no idea where he would have gone. He has made threats to the victims, and that is the reason why we are concerned."
Quinones also has a number of charges pending against him, including grand theft and scheming to defraud. A pretrial hearing on those charges is scheduled for Oct. 24.
"There were fears all along that the guy was going to take off," Wilson said. "In my opinion he just got a lucky lunch break and got an hour and a half head start on everyone. It kind of upsets me that he got that lucky. Hopefully, he won't be that lucky in the end."
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