In the summer of 2009 Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes that is her full name) was approached by the production team for the new television show on NBC, “Who Do You Think You Are?” (WDYTYA) to put together a companion book to compliment the new American-version show. Because of Megan’s years of experience doing live presentations to audiences across the country, she knew the types of questions people asked and what interested them while searching for their ancestors.
Megan put together, based on her own real life experiences in research, a how-to book within a matter of months. It mostly was geared to assist those new to genealogy who became interested in doing their own family history after watching the WDYTYA program. Yet, she included numerous suggestions of methods of research that even experienced researchers might have overlooked. She offers real insights of what to look for and how to approach even some brick walls (difficult or dead-end searches) with new strategies.
This book, her fifth one, offers sound and proven advice for one’s own family search with step-by-step techniques. Within her nine chapters Megan covers about using vital records, census, photos, documents, how to effective use the Internet, military records, resources from European homelands, about DNA testing, how to set-up the gathered information, save it and then share it with others. Every aspect to begin or further one’s own family history is covered in everyday language.
Also in this U. S. version book is information about many of the American celebrities which would be profiled as they go in search of their family lineage. Each is a great overview of the celebrities without divulging too much of what is eventually learned about their ancestors before their segment is aired on television. What most people don’t realize is the vast amount of time it takes to meticulously research each; anywhere between 300 and 700 hours. Then the film is edited down for the show to bring to the public the summary of the research.
One aspect Megan hoped to bring about with the book; “Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History” was that with patience and an organized approach to investigating about one’s ancestors, they can be just as successful as the celebrities. There are “no boring or ordinary families, everyone has a story” as stated by Megan.
Smolenyak is known for her research on President Barack Obama’s Irish heritage back in 2007. As it is, Irish research can be difficult and with relatives on Obama’s maternal side coming to America between 1849 and 1851, the records were not always very complete. After months of tracing down various sources she found the key on the tombstones located in Ohio of those first Irish immigrants in Obama’s family. There on the tombstones was impressed the name of the village, Moneygall, the hometown of Obama’s great-great-great grandfather.
The years of experience working as a forensic consultant with the United States Army to locate the present-day families of MIA soldiers from decades ago has provided her with vast knowledge in knowing what works when it comes to good research methods. Megan has broken down the process into everyday language with a straight forward approach that everyone can follow.
Some of her upcoming public appearances will be October 8, at the conference for American Society of Genealogists held in Salt Lake City, Utah and then on October 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore located at 3535 U. S. Route 1 in Princeton, New Jersey where she will be on hand to showcase her book “Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History.” In early 2012 on February 8th Megan will be in Princeton, New Jersey at the Present Day Club, then from March 10-11 at the Tucson Festival of Books in Tucson, Arizona and in Houston, Texas from April 18-20 at the Texas Library Association conference.
Megan Smolenyak has a new book coming out in February 2012 titled: “Hey, America, Your Roots are Showing” which blends history and genealogy to solve some of America’s most fascinating mysteries. She reveals some long hidden historical secrets and finds answers to a few unsolved questions on famous individuals in America’s past.
The companion book by Megan Smolenyak for “Who Do You Think You Are?” is a wonderful reference and guide for individuals or a whole family wishing to begin their own journey of discovery. Your ancestors have a meaningful story to tell and it begins with you.
This article was written by Alice L. Luckhardt, a friend and genealogical associate of Megan Smolenyak. One of the 101 genealogical stories in Megan’s 2000 book “In Search of Our Ancestors” was researched and written by Alice.