February 08, 2012

Get connected? We already are!

By Megan Smolenyak
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“If you go back far enough,” Megan Smolenyak points out in her latest book, Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing, “we’re all cousins.” In fact, “mathematically, we all have millions of cousins.” That’s a lot of connections to wade through before even taking into consideration grandparents, parents, siblings, friends and long-lost loves!

Still, the exact nature of those connections often date back to pre-documented times, so while some hereditary mysteries may never be solved, Smolenyak, the former chief family historian for and the author of five other books, including Who Do You Think You Are?, is renowned for her success at genealogical sleuthing. From tracing Barack Obama’s roots to the small town of Moneygall, Ireland, to lifting an obscure slave boy’s story to front-page news when she revealed his intricate connection to both Strom Thurmond and Al Sharpton, Smolenyak has a proven track record of unearthing ancestral secrets and solving perplexing problems. Working closely with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which strives to recover, identify and bury soldiers from any conflict, she has helped solve cases from WWI, WWII, Korea and Southeast Asia.

She shares her complex investigative adventures in a straightforward, evidence-driven manner that allows readers to feel the excitement of being hot on the trail, the disappointment of a dead end and the ultimate thrill of a new discovery. Whether it’s an old case, such as the story of Annie Moore, considered the first to arrive at Ellis Island, or one of current import, such as tracing First Lady Michelle Obama’s roots, Smolenyak attributes a large measure of her success to hands-on research. Everything apparently is not on the internet: “Countless insights to our collective past remain hidden in local, underfunded repositories, and even in our sophisticated twenty-first century, the only way to find these treasures is to get in the car or hop on a plane and do some intensive digging.” That intensive digging even turned up a puzzling question regarding her own family tree: Who fathered her uncle? The genetic impossibility of it being the man she knew as her grandfather has sent her on a DNA quest of personal proportions!

With provocative chapter titles like “Skeletons in the Turret” and “Paralyzed Prostitute,” Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing is a page-turner that simultaneously informs, intrigues and leaves you wanting more!

Learn five things you didn’t know about your DNA on The Book Case.

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