Recent Blog Posts

  • city-of-the-dead

Genealogy Roundup, October 19

In this week's Roundup: an ancient cemetery, an in-depth conversation with Bruce Springsteen, and the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards.

  • new-york-public-library

Genealogy Roundup, October 12

In this week's Roundup, explore the long-vacant custodian's apartment at the Fort Washington branch of the New York Public Library (including the "death chute"!) and read about a sad motivation for DNA testing (fortunately the exception, rather than the norm).

  • wedding-photo-re-creations

Genealogy Roundup, October 5

This week: old wedding photos recreated, preserving the smell of history, raise a glass at 10 of the remotest bars on the planet, the cave where Nat Turner hid, and more.

  • postmans-park-london

Genealogy Roundup, September 21

Lots of inspiration this week! Start with a look at a memorial which had as its genesis this thought: "The character of a nation as a people of great deeds is one, it appears to me, that should never be lost sight of." Explore the story of Lucy Lee Shirley, a woman who transcended the shadows of slavery and domestic abuse and who, among other things, was able to educate herself and her family and leave her children more than $23,000 in today’s money; check out the update on the DNA of long-lived Italians which was previously reported as stolen, and more.

Megan Smolenyak2

Megan Smolenyak2 is a real life history detective who loves to solve mysteries. You might have spotted Megan or her handiwork on Top Chef, Who Do You Think You Are?, Finding Your Roots, Faces of America, Good Morning America, the Today Show, The Early Show, CNN, PBS and NPR.

Her news-making discoveries include uncovering Michelle Obama’s family tree, revealing the true story of Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island, and tracing Barack Obama’s roots to Moneygall, Ireland. Formerly Chief Family Historian for, she also founded Unclaimed Persons.

Megan is the author of 6 books, including Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing and Who Do You Think You Are? (companion to the TV series), and conducts forensic research for the Army, BIA, coroners, NCIS and the FBI.

Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing!


  • Miranda family tree quote 2

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Revolutionary Ancestors

June 27th, 2016|10 Comments

In climbing the branches of Lin-Manuel Miranda's family tree, I found myself following the trail of an early nineteenth century, interracial love story, peppered by war and rebellion, all interwoven with a decades-long struggle to outrun slavery that began in Virginia and ultimately unfolded under a handful of flags even though most of it occurred in one place – Nacogdoches.

  • Joe Biden and Megan Smolenyak

Joey From Scranton – Vice President Biden’s Irish Roots

June 14th, 2016|0 Comments

Given Vice President Biden's forthcoming trip to Ireland to explore his roots, I thought this would be a good time to re-share an article I'd previously written about his ancestry. Enjoy!

  • no girls allowed

When It Comes to Genetic Genealogy, Women Need Not Apply

May 5th, 2016|0 Comments

Television producers frequently reach out to pick my brains about forthcoming shows, and I generally do my best to help because I have a conspicuous bias: I’d like to see as much genealogy on air as possible. But yesterday I received an inquiry that made me check the calendar to be sure it was 2016.

  • Sgt. (William) Henry Johnson

WWI Hero Sgt. Henry Johnson Receives Long Overdue Medal of Honor

June 8th, 2015|2 Comments

Almost a century after their service, Sgt. Henry Johnson* and Sgt. William Shemin were finally awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony for their heroics in World War I. As the genealogist who had the privilege of researching both of these Medal of Honor cases for the Army, I had the opportunity to seek out and steep myself in more than 1,300 pages of Sgt. Johnson's paper trail, so I'd like to clarify some misconceptions.