Sunday, October 21, 2018

Genome: Unlocking Life's Code

The Orange County Regional History Center (65 E. Central Blvd. Orlando, Florida 32801) has installed and opened a new exhibit called Genome: Unlocking Life's Code.  This special exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Institutes of Health examines the complexities of the genome - the genetic or hereditary material of a living organism - through cutting-edge displays, animation, and fascinating real-life stories that reveal the links between generations and how our histories begin long before we are born. The exhibit also examines both the benefits and challenges the study of genetics presents to our society. The exhibit runs from October 13, 2018 to January 6, 2019.

Pam Schwartz, the History Center's chief curator, along with her staff, have added to the exhibit to make it tie into our Central Florida human history. As part of the project they asked five local Orlando celebrities to take DNA tests to track their heritage through She then began the painstaking process of researching their family trees.

Long-time mayor John "Buddy" Dyer has several generations of roots in Central Florida, so he was a natural choice. Research lead Pam to discover his family's roots in colonial America. In 1758 his fourth and fifth great grandparents were in Fort Seybert, a frontier fort in the Allegheny Mountains in what is now Pendleton County, West Virginia. They were caught by surprise by an Indian raid. The fort fell and those inside were lined up in two rows, one to be taken captive and the other to be murdered and scalped (at least as the European settlers story goes). Buddy's distant grandfather was tomahawked in the mouth by a Shawnee warrior, sending his teeth flying. He died instantly. His daughter fainted, her life was spared as she was taken captive. 20 settlers died that day. By a stroke of luck, a small boy from the Dyer family was away at a distant village when the massacre happened. This is the boy who kept the family lineage alive and why Buddy is here today. Pam was also able to prove that Buddy and his sons are eligible to apply for the Sons of the American Revolution status since the Dyer family was actively engaged in the Revolutionary War up several branches.

Jorge Estevez, a news anchor from Channel 9 News, discovered that his family was a prominent part of Cuba's early history. Documents contained signatures and seals from his distant relatives who were very prominent notaries in Havana. Cuban documents are not available online so a possible trip to Cuba could further bring this research to life. Channel 9 is considering sending Jorge there
 to dig deeper into his family's past.

Geraldine Thompson, a former State Senator, may be united with a close relative she has never met before. Pam was contacted by a man who has spent his life - 47 years - searching for his biological father. The man he had been told was his father took a DNA test, but the results confirmed that he wasn't this man's biological father.  Through her research, Pam was able to confirm the father was, in fact, the Senator's brother. Though he passed away in 2003, Pam was still able to unite the man with this new-to-him side of his family

Other family histories were for Toni Deion Pressley from Orlando Pride, and Brendan Bunting O'Connor the editor of The Bungalower. Each participant will receive a binder showing the breadth of what has been discovered so far. The rainbow colored tabs are a gateway to an amazing vibrant multicultural past. Each family tree will be part of the Genome Exhibit at the Orange County Regional History Center, check it out for more fascinating stories from these individual's families.

If you are curious about finding out about your family History, you should stop out to Lunch and Learn, which will  discuss Genealogy on November 2, 2018 at Noon at the Orange County Regional History Center. Guest speakers will include Elaine Hatfield Powell of the Central Florida Genealogical Society and Allison Ryall of the Orange County Library System’s West Oaks Branch and Genealogy Center. Bring a lunch or let them order one for you by calling 407-836-7046 – lunch orders must be made at least 24 hours in advance. Members are free; non-members $5. With lunch: Members $8; non-members $13.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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