History’s mysteries solved by a dogged genealogist.
Readers may recognize Smolenyak (Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family’s History, 2010, etc.) from her many TV and radio appearances discussing her instrumental role nailing down Barack Obama’s Irish roots, researching the First Lady’s family tree or establishing the Reverend Al Sharpton’s slave ancestors as the property of the notorious segregationist Strom Thurmond’s family. She’s generated a slew of other headline-grabbing articles that help fill in the crevices of American history: identifying the real Annie Moore, Ellis Island’s first immigrant, or recovering the life story of Philip Reed, the former slave responsible for the casting the bronze statue of Freedom atop the nation’s Capitol. Sometimes, the historical riddle lies in an artifact. What’s the story behind a Yiddish inscribed tombstone found leaning against a fire hydrant on the Lower East Side? What’s the provenance of a Bible rescued from a Civil War battlefield? In this breezy narrative, Smolenyak supplies the back story to these and other investigations, allowing us to look over the shoulder of a relentless genealogist as she works the puzzle pieces of her craft. More commonly, she’s busy finding the “primary next of kin” for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, putting medical examiners in touch with the families of unclaimed persons, helping the FBI revisit troubling cases of racially motivated homicide during the civil-rights era or assisting everyday folks with their adoption searches. Whether unearthing evidence from Internet databases, newspaper offices, court houses, libraries and cemeteries, consulting translators, historians or her vast network of fellow genealogists, pioneering the use of genealogical DNA testing, solving the mystery or occasionally hitting a brick wall, Smolenyak remains wholly committed, curious and cheery (exclamation marks abound), eager to share her methods and excitement.
Bottom-up history from a top-shelf researcher.