Monday, February 13, 2012

Book Review - "Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing" by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

I received my copy of Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak's latest genealogy book on 30 January, just before flying off ot Salt Lake City, so I had a chance to enjoy it on the airplane (both ways) and after I returned home.

The book is:

Megan Smolenyak2, Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing, published by Kensington Books, 2012 (ISBN-13: 978-0-8065-3446-6. Paperback, 256 pages, U.S. $15.95.  Canada $17.95. 

You can read the front and back cover review quotes at "Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing" Available Today!  and the Kensington Books site.  It is available for sale at Kensington,,, or your favorite retailer.  It's also available for the Kindle.  The Foreword is by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 

You can see a three minute video trailer about the book here:

In this book, Megan shows the world that genealogy research is not necessarily a dull and plodding pastime.  She also shows that the study of genealogy and family history can be challenging, uplifting and fun.

As I read this, I marveled at how well Megan writes for the casual reader - the words flow so well drawing the reader into the "mystery story" about the ancestry of unknown, famous or infamous persons.  There are 22 short stories in this book, each based on Megan's "genealogy detective" work for clients, her own research, and pro-bono work.

If you've known  Megan for a number of years (I've only known her for 6 years, but it's been fun), then you've seen her rise to be one of the "rock stars" of the genealogical community.  Her body of work is impressive, to say the least.  Much of it has been presented on television series and interview shows.  I had heard about several of the cases, but there many in the book that I had not previously read about.

The 22 stories in the book are:

*  No Man Left Behind (for Real) - a decade of forensic consulting for the Army
*  Famous Cousins - Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are related - *Yawn*
*  Serial Centenarians - Could two relatives who knew each other live in four centuries?
*  Alex Haley Was Scottish? - Uncovering the unexpected heritage of Roots author Alex Haley, through DNA
*  Egyptian Roots in a Library - Researching Hoda Kotb's roots for the Today show on a fierce deadline

*  A House Divided, a Bible Shared - The strange travels of a Civil War-era Bible
*  There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama - Tracing his roots to the Auld Sod
*  Unclaimed Persons - Why you should call your estranged brother
*  Adventures in TV Land - You need what by when?
*  Finding Melvina, Michelle Obama's Great-Great-Great-Grandmother - How do you trace a slave girl in South Carolina?

*  The Road to a First Lady's Roots - Road-tripping to discover all that's not online about Michelle Obama's heritage
*  King of America - Who would rule America today if George Washington had been king?
*  Skeletons in the Turret - Could DNA reveal the identity of the men of the USS Monitor.
*  Anatomy of an Adoption Search - Helping adoptees discover who they are.
*  The Slave Who Rescued Freedom - Rediscovering Philip Reed, without whom the Capitol would look very different.

*  No, Your Name Wasn't Changed at Ellis Island - Why you shouldn't fall for this popular myth.
*  Paralyzed Prostitute - Following the trail of an Oregon madam.
*  Half a Negro Boy - Finding a hidden connection between Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond.
*  A Lonely Tombstone on the Sidewalks of Manhattan - the wandering memorial of a Jewish pioneer goes home
*  Grandma Stepped Out - My accidental genetic discovery

*  They Call Me Yak-Yak - What I learned from helping the FBI with civil rights cold cases.
*  Annie Moore, Ellis Island's First - Rectifying a case of historical identity theft.

The cases discussed demonstrate Megan's prowess at scouring people-finder websites, online genealogy historical record collections, and paper and/or microfilm resources in repositories (sometimes with the help of other professionals) in order to solve thorny research problems.  Throw in a healthy dose of DNA tests and analysis, and these vignettes show a modern and capable genealogist at work.

I highly recommend Megan's book, Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing because it shows what can be accomplished on difficult cases while demonstrating research techniques for genealogists and family historians to emulate.  The general public should be interested in this book because they know some of the celebrities researched and may have seen Megan on television.  Family history researchers should proudly display this book on their coffee tables so that visitors and relatives will be curious and pick it up, and want one of their own.

I give this book the highest rating - 5 Genea-Stars - because it displays some of the very best in genealogy research and is a wonderful read!

Disclosure:  Megan Smolenyak2 gifted me with a review copy of this book before publication.  That has not influenced my reciew of this book - I loved it!

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Copyright (c) Randall J. Seaver, 2012.


Lynn Palermo said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed it Randy, I wanted to finish it on the plane ride home but was too tired. Looking forward to finishing it this weekend.

J. Paul Hawthorne said...

Thanks for the details of the book. I'm ordering mine today!