Every genealogist remembers the moment when they were bit by the genealogy bug, when they broke through one of their brick walls, or when they won $20,000 for their very own personal family history journey.

Well… I don’t remember the latter happening to me either, but Carolyn S. from Youngstown, Ohio does.

That’s because Carolyn is the Grand Prize winner of the Ultimate Family History Journey™ Sweepstakes that took place earlier this year. As the Grand Prize winner, Carolyn was awarded $20,000 in travel money, an 8 hour consultation with an expert genealogist, help from up to 5 experts in the fields relevant to her family history, an annual World Deluxe Subscription for herself and 5 more World Deluxe Subscriptions for her family.

For those of you that didn’t know about the sweepstakes, we awarded one lucky winner the Grand Prize and twenty entrants a World Deluxe Ancestry.com subscription. We had more than 850,000 entrants, but Carolyn was the fortunate one to win the $20,000 in travel money to put towards her  ultimate family history journey.

We had a chance to talk with Carolyn about her family history story and find out her plans for her own family history journey.

Carolyn started researching her family history full-time in November of 2009. You may think she is new to family history, but this genealogist is no novice. Carolyn spends nearly 10 hours a day working on her family history and has already added more than 800 ancestors to her family tree.

Of all of the stories and history she has discovered, she says the greatest thing she has done so far is to uncover details about her grandparents.

“We were a very close family growing up – my parents and siblings. My grandparents died when I was two years old and we never talked about family outside of ourselves. To me there are a lot of family mysteries,” she said. “In fact, when I started, everyone thought my one grandfather’s name was George and it wasn’t. It was James.”

Through Member Connect on Ancestry.com Carolyn was able to reach out and find new cousins who had more information about her grandparents. It was those cousins that sent her photos, stories and memories of her grandparents. Until that moment, Carolyn only had pictures of her grandparents in their old age.

“They sent pictures to me of my grandparents when they were young,” Carolyn reminisced. “When I saw them as young people, my connection to them became so much stronger.”

Carolyn attributes her love of family history to the desires she always had to know her grandparents better. She hopes to use the genealogy experts to break down some of her family history walls, including information about her father’s brother who the family never knew.

“I also want to find my great-great-grandfather or grandmother on both sides,” Carolyn said. “But it’s hard when everyone in the family has the name James.”

Her great-great-grandparents are from Ireland and Wales and Carolyn hopes to uncover details about this side of her family.

“I always thought Ireland would be a great place to visit, never thinking that something like this would ever happen. If I go to Ireland, I’ll have to go to Wales too,” she said.

Carolyn’s winnings are something that many of us will only be able to dream about in our lifetime. Yet we are so excited that she’ll be able to take this journey and uncover the mysteries in her family.

$20,000 is a lot of cash to use on an ultimate family history journey. What would you want to discover if you had won the grand prize?

Heather Erickson

Heather Erickson is Head of Global Communications for Ancestry.com and has been with the company since 2009.


  1. Beverly

    Congrats to Carolyn…….. No, I didn’t know about this contest, but if I had know………… I want to discover my mother’s grandmothers side of the family. I had always wanted to learn French and could not understand why I loved it so, until I was working on my French (as an adult) and my mom hates me speaking it, which I never knew, so I asked her and she told me that that is all that her other brother, sisters, mother and grandmother spoke… I was really shocked to know this, so this is where I get that from. I want to know how this language just went away from our family and how is it that they spoke it and to find out about my grandmother’s people, which is a mystery.

  2. Atreegrowsinbrooklyn

    What would I want to discover? Just one thing: To “detach” himself from my gr. gr. grandmother, did my gr. gr. grandfather “whack” her and bury her in the backyard to get a divorce and custody of their three children in 1875? She was never “found” to serve the papers to; never answered the court’s request for her to show up at the hearing, and the town she supposedly ‘ran off to’ doesn’t even exist on the map anymore.

    That’s all.

  3. Carol Lanza

    Congratulations Carolyn. I live near you so I’m so happy another “Ohioan” got the grand prize!!! I’m in Niles. So great and I hope you get to travel and find many more members of your family!!


  4. Susan West

    Congrats, Carolyn!

    I believe my GGG grandmother was axed to death with 8 other family members, she was the great aunt in 1887 Georgia. A book was written about the murders, but not much lineage or information written about her. I’d spend a lot of time in Georgia and the south since most of lineage came from that direction.

  5. Atreegrowsinbrooklyn

    4. Susan: I hope you return to read others responses. When I read your post about the ax murders in Georgia in 1887, it hit me that I had read about that on the Lizzie Borden Society website.

    There is quite a bit of discussion there. I copied this from that website. Lots of links to the case:

    Author: Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law.

    Author: Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law.

    Tom Woolfolk and the Woolfolk Family murders

    Family Woolfolk
    This is where the Woolfolk family are buried. Interred here is Richard F. Woolfolk (54), Mattie H. Woolfolk (41), and their six children, Richard Jr. (20), Pearl (17), Annie (10), Rosebud (7), Charlie (5), and baby Mattie (18 months).

    Thomas G “Tom” Woolfolk
    There have been two books written about the murders, Shadow Chasers : The Woolfolk Tragedy Revisited by Carolyn Deloach in 2000 and The Woolfolk Tragedy: The Murders, the Trials, the Hanging & Now Finally, the Truth! by Carolyn Deloach in 1996. The author uncovered much undiscovered evidence and was able to conclude that the actual murderer was Simon Cooper, a hired hand of the family. After Cooper’s death, a diary was found that he had written, notating the Woolfolk murders just as Tom had stated. He had also written a statement, “Tom Woolfolk was mighty slick, but I fixed him. I would have killed him with the rest of the d*** family, but he was not at home.” Tom was married to Georgia Bird Woolfolk (she was later married to Reuben Lamb and Bryant Holcomb). She passed away June 22, 1932 and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Macon, always believeing the innocence of her late husband.

    The Murders, the Trials, the Hanging & Now Finally, the Truth!
    by Carolyn Deloach in 1996.
    This is the first book on the Woolfolk murders that Carolyn Deloach wrote; unfortunately, I couldn’t find a book review on it.

    Shadow Chasers: The Woolfolk Tragedy Revisited
    By Carolyn Deloach
    Publisher: Eagles Publishing Company, (June 2000)

    Everybody has heard of Lizzie Borden, the young Massachusetts woman charged in 1892 with murdering her father and mother-in-law (both hacked to death with a hatchet), and acquitted by a jury the following year. We all remember the ditty: “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks, and when the job was neatly done she gave her father forty-one.”

    Hardly anyone, however, remembers a convicted mass murderer named Tom Woolfolk whose far worse crime, an ax mass murder, occurred in Macon, GA, five years before Lizzie Borden’s arrest. The ditty about that crime — “Woolfolk, Woolfolk, look what you’ve done; you’ve killed your whole family and never used a gun” — has long been forgotten.

  6. Atreegrowsinbrooklyn

    I neglected to include the list of names of the victims. Your West relative is mentioned:

    The nine victims are: Richard F. Woolfolk, 54, Tom Woolfolk’s father; Mattie Woolfolk, 41, Richard’s wife and Tom Woolfolk’s stepmother; their six children (2 boys, 4 girls)–Richard, Jr., 20; Pearl, 17; Annie, 10; Rosebud, 7; Charlie, 5; and baby Mattie, 18 months old; and 84-year old Mrs. Temperance West, an aunt of Mrs. Woolfolk paying a visit.


    I am very pleased for Carolyn S. from Youngstown, Ohio – at least she got the chance to tell her story. Here in the UK we were not included in the Ultimate Family History Journey™ Sweepstakes.

    We pay the same subscription fees, but Ancestry.com seems to have a great and unfair bias towards American records.

  8. Dorothy Carlo

    I have discovered that in the early 1900’s families in Lithuania sent their teenagers to America to start a new life. My grandparents and the parents of an acquaintance of mine were among those teenagers. I would like to know more about this story, but I a largely stuck in my pursuit of the answers to this question.

    Secondly my Italian grandparents and their siblings came to America around the time the Lithuanians came. They came from Sicily. I would love to visit the place they all grew up in Sicily.

  9. Annette

    It sounds as though Carolyn has plans to make good use of her prize. I entered daily and had my fingers crossed, but alas! If I had won, I would have used the funds and the professional assistance to research my paternal lines. My grandfather, Henry L. Thompson, died sometime after 1930. He was living in Tulsa in that census year. I am sure he was dead by the time I was born in 1945, but due to divorce, etc., no one had kept in touch with him since the late 1920s. I want to know when and where he died; I want to know more about his grandparents, John Thompson and Mary Polly Frankeburger, from TN and PA respectively, who met in OH. John died in 1819, Mary remarried and eventually ended up in Bureau Co IL. Everything before John is a blank. On the other side of the paternal lines, I want to discover from where in Ireland my paternal grandmother’s family came — their surnames were Colgan, Ferguson, Hanley, Star, Orilley — and they immigrated from Ireland to Canada from about 1800 to 1841. Let’s have another contest soon!

  10. Congratulations to Carolyn! I hope you’ll update the blog after her trip and let us know what she finds out. Ooh, and you could do some videos of her (to post here) making different discoveries, like on “Who Do You Think You Are?” That would be so much fun to watch!

  11. Barb Woodworth

    My heartfelt congratulations to Carolyn. I’m sure we are all a bit jealous but thrilled to death that someone who really cares about their tree has won this wonderful prize.

  12. Jeanette Rooney-Marquez

    Carolyn is a lucky lady. There are so many stories to be told. I know I seem to get lost in my searches at times and some of my family do not understand my fascination. The truth is, for me, researching is like reading a book and trying to find out “who done it.” Fact is…EVERYONE done it! I have come to some dead ends in some of the family lines and I find that so dissappointing because the truth be known, those stories may be as enlightening or fightening as those I have been able to uncover. I have learned of a few relatives I would prefer to keep in the closet and others I want to bring out and celebrate. I believe everyone has such diversity in their ancestry and I dare them to take that step backwards, as has Carolyn. What was, IS within us. Enjoy the journey Carolyn.

  13. Susan West

    Atreegrowsinbrooklyn: Thank you for the links. I have visited quite a few of them and had to wait for a printing of DeLoach’s book.

    You know when you have a really huge hunch and you sometimes just have to wait until something breaks?

    I think because of the NBC show, there are many new researchers and I have found a male cousin that descends in this West lineage. He had DNA tests done and as I had suspected, my West family came down from Craven Co, North Carolina. Again, hunch. Don’t know how our ancestor fits in yet, but I’ve really made some strides with this newly found cousin.

  14. Congratulations, Carolyn. I’m trying to push down my little “green monster.” In all seriousness, I hope you have a fruitful journey. I didn’t know about the contest either but I neglected to go online for a period of time.

    I wish I had entered. My family is African American and it has been difficult to research my family roots. However, last year I learned quite a bit about my ancestors that was well-documented in Virgina and Ohio. Well, maybe next time…although “next time” better come pretty darn quick, since I’m 74 years old. This is something I want to pass down to my children.

    Again, Carolyn, God Speed, on your journey.

    Harriette Anderson
    Minneapolis, MN

  15. Congrats to Carolyn!

    If I’d won the prize there’s a couple of things I’d be looking into most of them starting in New York City:

    – My great-great-great-grandfather Gustavus Pope Briggs’ name change to William Edward James which occurred sometime after the Battle of South Mountain during the Civil War and his marriage to my great-great-great-grandmother in 1864.

    – Trying to find missing connections for my great-great-great-grandfather Salmon on the other side of the same branch of the family to find out where in Connecticut he was born and where his family migrated to the U.S. from and around when. In the same family, would like to track down clues to his grandson’s WWI service record and whether or not he really was gassed in combat as per family legend.

    We’ve already found out that my Dad’s side of the family has a much longer tradition of ‘being American’ than we thought, with ancestors on both sides of the Revolutionary conflict and more than one Union Civil War soldier. Prior to research, we’d always thought that most of the family was ‘fresh off the boat’ at the turn of the 19th century from Ireland, England and Wales.

  16. Dawn

    Congratulations Carolyn! I too have had distant cousins send me a photo or document that I couldn’t even hope exist or survived. Only 2 weeks ago a cousin whose name I’d learned from her mother’s death certificate reply to my letter about the family history project and she had sent me a photo of my GG-Grandmother and her youger sister taken when they were young. The photo was taken in the 1850’s and is very rare at least in my family. I actually started crying with joy, surprise and gratitude. Enjoy your trip!

  17. Lynne

    Congrats Carolyn!! Have a great trip to Ireland. If I won (and I wished I had because I entered every day!) I would be planning my trip to Sweden to see where my g-grandmother came from in Holm, Alvsborg, Sweden (Ida Maria Carlsson)and try to break through the brick wall of my g-grandfather Andrew Bengtsson. I’ve learned so much from Ancestry but have so far to go!!

  18. Donna

    What an awesome gift! I wish Carolyn great joy as she puts this prize to work learning more about her family & how they influenced her life!

    Thank you Ancestry.com for running the contest & awarding such a wonderful prize! woo-hoo

  19. Karen

    Congratulations Carolyn, I hope you find the answers you are looking for and the experience is really enjoyable.

    If I had won, I would have like to have gone to Ireland too and England.
    In East Galway I would search manor records for some evidence that my paternal Irish Catholic family [surname Rowan]lived in a townland there, most likely labouring on the farms of a landlord before 1850. I have an oversea birth record that links them to Loughrea.
    In South Yorkshire England I would have looked into my maternal line [surname Grant] who I have traced back to Aston 1698 but don’t have a lead before this as to where to look. I would have been looking to prove or disprove what my Grandfather’s cousin said that the family came from Scotland [Stirling]before Yorkshire.
    After that a few brickwall missing baptisms and marriages in England to find, would have completed my perfect genealogy discovery trip.


  20. Diana Kading

    I’m fairly disappointed for all the people who have dedicated years and years to genealogy, hours to volunteering, miles and miles of traveling to see such a prize given to someone who hasn’t been looking at genealogy for even year…. just doesn’t seem fair..

  21. Larry Van Wormer

    While I certainly see nothing unfair about a new member getting the prize (that’s just the way things go…), I do think it’s unfair of Ancestry to limit the contest to U.S. members only. All paying members should have an equal chance.

  22. AnnetteJ

    I know that the selection is random, but I am not sure exactly how it is done. When all you enter is your e-mail address on a clickable form, no one knows if you are brand new or an old timer. And, yes, I can understand your disappointment, as I confess that it was the first thing that flashed through my mind as well!

  23. Colleen

    Congratus Carolyn…but I really wanted to win this. I entered every day and didn’t even win a subscription. And yes, I am a sore loser : )

  24. Leeann Gatten

    Congrats Carolyn! Enjoy and happy hunting.

    I as well entered just about everyday but that was part of the fun. The TV show has given real teeth to my passion, now when I say genealogy is my hobby people don’t look at me as thou I just spoke in Latin.

    I am planning a trip back to Marylans where my family came from in 1860 via horse and wagon. I was going to use the money to try and pay for the trip and collect my g-g-g-grandfathers medal of honor and bring it back to Ohio where he is buried.

  25. Dawn Campbell

    I didn’t know about the contest. But if I would have won I would like to have discovered more about my gr-gr-gr-great-grandfather who immigrated from Germany. Thats one of my stand still points he was born in the 1830’s in Germany, my other brick walls end in Maryland in the late 1700’s, The last names of WARD and LILLEY have been very frustrating to the say the least. Congrats to the winner.

  26. Carolyn, Congrats to you. Hope you are able to find out more about your family. I would be happy with one of the other prizes. I was lucky enough this summer to be able to visit Scotland and the Isle of Skye where my fathers family came from in the mid 1700’s to North Carolina. Gave the lady at “MacDonald” center a copy of all the info I have on the family so maybe I will be able to find out more. I can only go by what I have been able to beg and plead from others and once and a while go on their computer as I can only afford the free Ancestry.com as of now. I am so oooooooooo happy for you. Betty

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