“Long Sought” Podcast Series with AI Assistant: Uncover Hidden Heritage on October 6, German-American Day.

Davar Ardalan
6 min readSep 30, 2023
John Oliver Smith and Iran Davar Ardalan embark on an eye-opening journey through Maryland and Virginia’s genealogical records, unraveling the mysteries of John’s heritage and true identity.

As we reach the age where exploring family roots becomes a fascinating pastime, my husband, John Oliver Smith and I delved into the vibrant tapestry of John’s lineage. “Long Sought” is a podcast journey that may inspire you to uncover your own hidden heritage.

Over three episodes, discover the unexpected tale of how John’s family changed their surname from Schmidt to Smith, driven by a historical animosity towards German ancestry in America — a time when even the music of Beethoven was once shunned.

From the heartland of Ohio to Maryland and Virginia, John’s life weaves together the familiar and the mysterious, as we unravel his ancestry while celebrating diversity and the power of heritage. Through rich conversations with historians and heartfelt reflections, this exploration delves into the complexities of identity, history, and coexistence.

The name “Long Sought” reflects John Oliver Smith’s quest to uncover his roots. It also happens that John’s ancestor, John H. Smith, owned land called Long Sought in Washington County, Maryland. This series, now on Spotify and Amazon Music, not only unveils Smith’s German-American roots but also paves the way for the future of podcasting by integrating an AI assistant (in training).

Guided by genealogists, historians, and CK, an audio synthetic character, named after John’s ancestor Catherine Kessler, listeners will be immersed in a narrative that transcends mere history. CK debuts in episode 2 of the podcast and serves as an AI assistant on our series’ platform connecting the past with present-day AI. Given eco considerations and computational costs we have limited the number of messages each user asks to 10.

Listen on Spotify:

While CK is still in training, the “brain” of CK is a knowledge base encompassing episode scripts, US census data, and Library of Congress content on German Americans. “Long Sought” illuminates the German-American experience and its shaping of American culture.

Visit our Long Sought podcast website to chat with CK about the series during the month of October. It’s early days for AI Assistants in podcasting, and we are keenly looking forward to feedback and observing how listeners engage with CK.

John and Iran Davar found the hometown of John’s great-great-great-uncle, Hardin Albert Smith in Mount Crawford, Virginia and honored him on his 200th birthday by placing flowers near his childhood home.

340 Years Since Pennsylvania’s First German Settlers

On October 6, 1683, German Mennonites, led by Francis Daniel Pastorius, sought refuge from religious persecution. They founded Germantown near Philadelphia, marking the beginning of America’s first permanent German settlement.

The Library of Congress notes that over five million Germans migrated to the U.S. in the 19th century, with America serving as a haven from persecution once more. The tumult of 19th-century Europe led many intellectuals and advocates to the U.S. These included fervent backers of Germany’s 1848 Revolution. Bringing a legacy of dynamic public debate and activism, they engaged in pivotal American matters, from land reform and abolition to labor rights and women’s suffrage.

Today, 42 million Americans can trace their roots back to German pioneers who introduced traditions like Christmas trees, kindergartens, pretzels, and hamburgers. Their invaluable contributions, particularly during the Civil War, have etched a lasting legacy in American history.

Episode Breakdown:

Episode 1: “Searching for John Smith” — Embark on a journey to Hagerstown, Maryland, where John and Iran unearth the legacy of an 18th-century ancestor, John H. Smith. Expert genealogist Jean Conti directs them to Warren County, Ohio, hinting at deeper discoveries in Rockingham County, Virginia.

Episode 2: “Discovering Johann Schmidt” — Traverse the scenic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia as the mysteries of John’s lineage unfold. With the help of Rocktown History, historian Dale MacAllister and researcher Margaret Hotchner, the legacies of Catherine Kessler and the true identity of John H. Smith as Johann Schmidt emerge.

Episode 3: “Unraveling Generations of Hidden Heritage” — The series culminates in Rockingham County, Virginia, revealing the intricate interplay of German influence in America and John’s ancestral connections. From World Wars to lunar landings, the resonance of personal history in our present is accentuated.

Following a spotlight in the Daily News Record, a Virginia-based newspaper, in March, an early installment of this series prompted John to receive messages from fellow descendants of John Smith. John has been immersing himself in the correspondence that passed between the Smith brothers, which traversed from Virginia to Ohio and Kansas, with roots dating back to the late 1880s.

For John and I, this exploration took on even greater significance. The journey wasn’t only about tracing lineage but unraveling a transformative moment when Johann Schmidt felt compelled to Americanize his name to John Smith, a poignant decision emblematic of the sacrifices made by countless immigrants to assimilate and find acceptance in their new homeland. This endeavor to unearth the roots of this decision embodies a deeply human story, one of identity, adaptation, and the silent weight of choices that echo through generations.

Our expedition led us in March 2023 to Jackson Center, Ohio, where we found the grave of John H. Smith, the husband of Catherine Kessler, the father of Hardin Albert Smith. John H. Smith came from a family of German immigrants who left their mark on Virginia and Ohio in the late 1800’s.

We are also eager to go back to Germany to retrace the life of John’s great ancestors — Johannes Albrecht Schmidt born in Württemberg in 1729 and his wife Maria Barbara Kolben born in 1731. It’s amazing to think that just over 250 years ago, Johannes and Maria left their homes in Württemberg for an exciting new life in America. But what motivated them on this incredible journey? We’re trying to uncover the answers.

About the Hosts:

John Oliver Smith — A Registered Professional Civil/Environmental Engineer, John’s journey to uncover his German heritage is the heart of this podcast, bridging continents and eras.

Iran Davar Ardalan — As the Executive Producer of “Long Sought” and John’s spouse, Iran is a celebrated media executive and tech entrepreneur with an extensive background in media projects and a profound grasp of voice AI.

CK: The AI Co-Host — Introducing CK, the innovative podcast co-host and audio synthesizer powered by Amazon Polly. Named in honor of Catherine Kessler, John’s ancestor, CK revitalizes history, spearheading the historical re-enactment team and acting as the AI assistant (in training) on the series’ website.

Thanks to Javier Perez for his amazing sound design of the podcast series. To learn more contact: Davar Ardalan: Davar@Tulipai.co

John Oliver Smith & Iran Davar Ardalan, Indian Lake, Ohio, March 2023.




Davar Ardalan

Founder TulipAI. National Geographic, NPR News, SecondMuse, White House PIF Alum.