If you’ve ever wondered how genealogists figure out someone’s ancestral roots, you need to pick up Megan Smolenyak’s Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing. Deeply fascinated with how America’s past often shapes its future, Ms. Smolenyak has made a career out of the rich field of genealogy. Working with various governmental bodies helping them solve cold cases, identifying remains of long-forgotten soldiers, bringing them home, and providing closure for surviving family members has given her quite an education and respected reputation among her peers. In addition to her governmental work, she’s been pivotal at such places as ancestry.com as well as having constructed family trees for famous celebrities. In her latest novel, she shares with us over twenty of her most famous and meaningful cases, outlining how she made her conclusions.
Lest you think Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing a weighty tome, rest assured Ms. Smolenyak’s writing style is so fluid you feel as if you are entering a conversation with her throughout the book. From its opening pages, I couldn’t help but admire her scholarship in leaving no resource untapped to come to her conclusions. Over the course of her investigations, she’s had to travel to many countries, look into countless archives, examine numerous documents in a variety of formats, utilize a vast network of other genealogists, and keep up with current technologies such as DNA matching to assist her on her cases.
While there are several chapters talking about how she figured out famous celebrities as well as President Obama and his wife, Michelle’s, ancestral lineages, the stories I enjoyed the most in Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing involved people who are often forgotten by history. I especially admired her work with helping to identify remains of our unknown soldiers so that they get the proper respect due for their ultimate sacrifice. Being a spiritual person, I enjoyed her story about all the research she did to connect names in a Bible given to her as a gift. Starting with the inscription of being found on a battlefield in the Civil War and ending with the descendants who are alive today, Ms. Smolenyak shows you step by step how she came to her conclusions. You absolutely have to read this book to see how she figured out a lonely tombstone on a sidewalk in Manhattan is the same person who wrote the first American Yiddish cookbook as well as a paralyzed prostitute who wound up becoming a Madam in Oregon. I can’t recommend Megan Smolenyak’s book enough and can’t help but wonder if there are any skeletons in my ancestral closet that can be uncovered with a little digging myself!