Several weeks ago, my friend, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, sent me a copy of her new book. It’s titled “Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing.” I finally got the chance to sit down and read it cover to cover. Megan knows how to write, with several successful books behind her. However, in my humble opinion, this time she’s outdone herself. The book is brilliant – and should be required reading for any genealogist that wishes to sharpen their skills. I’ve been reading and editing genealogy books and articles as a profession for 30 years. This is without a doubt the best genealogy book I’ve ever read.
In full disclosure, I’ve known Megan for many years, and she’s a friend. However, she’s also arguably one of the very best genealogists in the country, if not on planet Earth. Megan can find the living as well as the dead – and she has the skills to do it quickly. This 288-page book is made up of first-hand accounts about how Megan has gone about doing the research that has made her famous. She has been on more network television talk shows and genealogy-related programs than any of the other genealogists that I know. Sure – this came about principally because of celebrity research, but there were many hours of sleuthing required before the 15 minutes of fame in a network studio.
The book covers a wide variety of topics, as Megan has been involved in many types of genealogical quests. Each of the chapters tells a story. She details the story well enough that any of us can come away with research ideas we may never have considered before. There’s a lot to be learned here.
The Foreword is written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr – and Ken Burns added this note to the back cover, “Megan Smolenyak2 decodes our fascinating complicated past, in this tour de force of detective work.” Wow! Ken Burns on the back cover! Now that’s something to be proud of.
Following is a list of the chapters:
Foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Introduction: Rewriting History
1. No Man Left Behind (for real)
A decade of forensic consulting for the Army
2. Famous Cousins
Barak Obama and Sarah Palin are related – “Yawn”
3. Serial Centenarians
Could two relatives who knew each other live in four centuries?
4. Alex Hailey Was Scottish?
Uncovering the unexpected heritage of Roots author, Alex Hailey, through DNA
5. Egyptian Roots in a Hurry
Researching Hota Kotb’s roots for the Today show on a fierce deadline.
6. A House Divided, A Bible Shared
The strange travels of a Civil War-era Bible.
7. There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obama
Tracing his roots to the Auld Sod.
8. Unclaimed Persons
Why you should call your estranged brother.
9. Adventures in TV Land
You need what by when?
10. Finding Melvina, Michelle Obama’s Great, Great, Great Grandmother
How do you trace a slave girl in South Carolina?
11. The Road to the First Lady’s Roots
Road-tripping to discover all that’s not online about Michelle Obama’s heritage.
12. King of America
Who would rule America today if George Washington had been king?
13. Skeletons in the Turret
Could DNA reveal the identity of the men of the USS Monitor?
14. Anatomy of an Adoption Search
Helping adoptees discover who they are.
15. The Slave Who Rescued Freedom
Rediscovering Phillip Reed, without whom the capital would look very different.
16. No, Your Name Wasn’t Changed at Ellis Island
Why you shouldn’t fall for this popular myth.
17. Paralyzed Prostitute
Following the trail of an Oregon madam.
18. Half a Negro Boy
Finding a hidden connection between Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond.
19. A Lonely Tombstone on the Sidewalks of Manhattan
The wandering memorial of a Jewish pioneer goes home.
20. Grandma Stepped Out
My accidental genetic discovery.
21. They Call Me Yak-Yak
What I learned from helping the FBI with civil rights cold cases.
22. Annie Moore, Ellis Island’s First
Rectifying a case of historical identity theft.
To purchase a copy of Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing, click here. $15.63.