The Minnesota State Fair, Genealogy, WCCO Radio, and the Lennon Sisters

I bet that’s a combination you may be surprised to hear. It does not involve the Lennon Sisters performing at the fair. Minnesota has one of the largest and best state fairs in the country. I have lived a few miles from the state fairgrounds most of my life but that’s not part of the story. I am reminded of my story every year at this time. The 2017 Minnesota State Fair opened yesterday. The 2016 attendance at the 12-day fair was 1,943,719 people!

It was the early 1990s and I was listening to the radio. One of the on-air personalities was again mentioning his connection to the Lennon Sisters. Being a dedicated genealogist, I decided to call the station and explain what common ancestor they needed to have in order for the cousin relationship to be what he said. The producer asked if I would go on the air to explain it to the host. I protested but then gulped and said ok. Tim Russell was that host and he was so kind. The relationship appeared to be solid. Appeared is a word that did not mean proof.  The producer contacted me later and asked about me appearing on a later show to discuss genealogy. Again I protested but acquiesced and had an idea that she liked.

I had hesitated because that subsequent show meant I would be live on air at the state fair. WCCO Radio is a big Midwestern station and has a large glassed-in booth each year at the fair and in front of it, fans stand around watching and listening to the shows. That meant people could see us. Another GULP. (My husband accompanied me on that show.) That was a year before I first stood in front of a large audience at a national level genealogy conference.

My idea was that I would do some research on the Tim’s ancestry to add some substance and proof to the family tree. That would help to document the connection to the Lennon Sisters. The producer liked the idea.  I did some research at the Minnesota Historical Society and then was off to the Wisconsin Historical Society. My youngest son, who was 12 or 13 at the time, helped with the research. I put the documents and a story into a 3-ring binder and surprised Tim with the binder live on the air at the fair. He loved it and that was another genealogy win!

I was nervous before appearing in front of the crowd, but a smile came to my face when I looked out at the crowd and saw my three children standing there. They surprised us by coming to the fair to watch us. That was so cool!

Tim shared the binder contents with his now proven cousins. A few weeks later, I received a thank-you note from Kathy Lennon and a call to appear on Tim’s show so Kathy could thank me on behalf of her sisters. Their Irish ancestor was well-known in his part of Wisconsin.

Now you see the connection that is given in the title of this blog post. In case you don’t recognize why, but the name Tim Russell sounds familiar to you, there is a reason. If you have been a faithful listener of Prairie Home Companion you have likely head Tim’s ability as the “man of a thousand voices.”

There are some lessons from this story.

  • Take every opportunity to share about doing family history.
  • Do it without expecting anything in return.
  • Be sure to involve your nieces, nephews, children, and grandchildren in the search.
  • Remember that much is still not online today. This work was done before the exciting websites we have today and much of the work we did would still need to be done on-site in the two states.
  • Make it a fun experience.
  • Everyone has ancestors with records and connections to be discovered.

If this story sounds familiar, you may have read a version of it on the Family Tree University website.

 

© 2017, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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