I'm so excited to announce that today is the official birth day of my new book, Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing! It's a collection of my favorite investigatory romps from the past decade (check out what Ken Burns, Stephen Colbert and Kirkus Reviews had to say) and I invite you to watch my first ever book trailer video to get a taste!
I'd love to hear your reactions and would be especially grateful if you could share your comments with fellow genealogists, history buffs, and mystery lovers, as well as post reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. "Likes," Tweets and retweets, +1s and so forth also much appreciated.
Finally, I'd also love it if you'd consider joining me at one of my upcoming events in NJ, PA, MD, VA, AZ, TX, OH, IN, CA and even online (thanks to Legacy Family Tree) – and please let your genealogical buddies know, too! The book, video and my speaking schedule are all available on my freshly hatched website, MeganSmolenyak.com.
Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing
Part forensic scientist, part master sleuth, Megan Smolenyak2 has solved some of America's oldest and most fascinating genealogical mysteries. You've read the headlines, now get the inside story as the "Indiana Jones of genealogy" reveals how she cracked her news-making cases, became the face of this increasingly popular field—and redefined history along the way.How did Smolenyak2 discover Barack Obama's Irish ancestry and his relation to Brad Pitt? Or the journey of Michelle Obama's family from slavery to the White House? Or the startling links between outspoken politicians Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond? And why is Smolenyak2's name squared? Test your own skills as she reveals her exciting secrets. Whether she's scouring websites to uncover the surprising connections between famous figures or using cutting-edge DNA tests to locate family members of fallen soldiers dating back to the Civil War, Smolenyak2's historical sleuthing is as provocative, richly layered, and exciting as America itself.
"Watch out Watson and Crick! Megan Smolenyak decodes our
fascinating, complicated past in this tour de force of detective work."
— Ken Burns
You're practically family. You certainly know more about us than we do."
— Stephen Colbert "This splendid book makes genealogy come alive in the most vivid and compelling manner."
— from the Foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. "Megan is a genealogist's dream, a forensic investigator who can also tell a great story."
— Sam Roberts, The New York Times "Megan is a blessing to cold-case detectives and a master genealogist."
— Julie M. Haney, Special Agent, NCIS Cold Case Homicide Unit "Megan . . . is, hands down, America's greatest genealogist, and this book is proof of it."
— Andrew Carroll, editor of the New York Times bestsellers War Letters and Behind the Lines "The Indiana Jones of genealogy...Megan Smolenyak is a national treasure."
— Buzzy Jackson, author of Shaking the Family Tree "Megan Smolenyak is the genealogist's genealogist - the go-to person for building
your family tree and solving stubborn historical mysteries."
— Dr. Spencer Wells, Director of the Genographic Project, National Geographic "In this breezy narrative, Smolenyak allows us to look over the shoulder of a relentless genealogist as she works the puzzle pieces of her craft. 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, eager to share her methods and excitement."
— Kirkus Reviews, "Bottom-up history from a top-shelf researcher"
This is the third in a series about the ancestry of the First Lady. The previous segments can be found here:Michelle Obama's Ancestors: Chicago Beginnings (part 1)Michelle Obama's Ancestors: The Great Migration (part 2)
Among the half million African Americans who moved to Chicago during the Great Migration were a number of Michelle’s relatives, and they hailed from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and the southern part of Illinois. In fact, of all the southern states, only Florida, Arkansas and Texas did not hold a piece of her family’s past.
In a sense, the Great Migration could also be considered a “great mixing,” and Michelle’s ancestry includes as much diversity as anyone’s. With the exception of individuals of recent African or Caribbean origin, most African Americans have deep roots in America extending back several centuries. Enslaved Africans were brought to America as early as the 1620s and almost all were here by 1825, so family trees typically reach back 200-400 years on this continent. In spite of this, by the time the Great Migration began, there were still pockets of what might be termed African homogeneity in the South.
It’s a harsh reality that some slave traders and owners had regional preferences. For instance, many in South Carolina and Georgia preferred slaves from the rice-growing region of West Africa (roughly the coastal area stretching from Senegal down to Liberia) because they were regarded as being better suited to the climate and work, as well as more resistant to malaria. As a result, it was possible for the majority of slaves associated with a particular plantation or locality to have roots that would, if we had the means to follow the trail, trace mostly back to present-day Sierre Leone, for example (DNA testing now provides at least some prospects in this regard.). When the descendants of these somewhat insular communities joined the steady stream of traffic heading north, it was inevitable that they would meet, mingle and marry people from other states who sported different backgrounds – and that’s before factoring in the white and Native ancestry many also carried. Consequently, the Great Migration produced a considerable mixing of everything from traditions to gene pools.
Michelle is very much a legacy of both the Great Migration and the inherent mixing that accompanied it. In fact, it’s almost as if an unseen force reached down with impressive regularity – at the rate of a branch of her family tree per decade – to scoop up another eventual ancestor from the South to bring to Chicago. It also happened to be a ladies-first situation with her future grandmothers’ families leading the way.
The parents and half dozen older siblings of LaVaughn Delores Johnson, Michelle’s paternal grandmother, were the Chicago pioneers, arriving in the first decade of the twentieth century and bringing with them a mélange of Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee roots. Her mother’s family had resided in Illinois (though not Chicago) since the 1860s, while her father spent his early days in Louisiana and Mississippi. Second on the scene was her maternal grandmother, Rebecca Jumper. Virginia-born, but taken to North Carolina as an infant, Rebecca was sent North in the 1910s to be raised by an aunt and uncle. Next up was maternal grandfather Purnell Shields who came from Birmingham, Alabama with his mother, sister and step-father in the 1920s. His mother Annie was the only great-grandparent Michelle would actually know, and Michelle and her family would eventually live in the second floor apartment of the home owned by Robbie Lee, Purnell’s sister. Though this family came from Alabama, their heritage extended back through Georgia and ultimately to South Carolina and Virginia. Bringing up the rear of this decade-by-decade migration was Fraser Robinson, the grandfather whose surname would become Michelle’s maiden name. Born and raised in South Carolina, Fraser made his appearance in Chicago in the early 1930s. Last to arrive, he was also the only one to return to the place of his birth, retiring to his hometown after 40 years of cold winters.
The merging of these assorted branches came about through the marriages of LaVaughn to Fraser and Rebecca to Purnell – and of their children, Fraser III and Marian, some decades later – but each limb of Michelle’s family tree arrived in Chicago with its own past and created a bit of history there before Michelle was born. What follows is a brief introduction to the cast of ancestors who would unknowingly bequeath not only their DNA, but also a combination of their habits, beliefs, aptitudes and hopes to a future First Lady.
(to be continued)