13 June 2012

Book Review: Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing

Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak.

I'll start with a disclaimer: this book was not what I expected. However, the natural question to that is, "what did you expect?" and I'm not really sure about that either. I guess I thought it was going to be more like a reference text, versus stories.

I also have to admit, this is the first of her books that I've read.

I know! That must be some kind of crime, somewhere. But, I have a family, I have my own research to do, I have a blog to write... I just don't have a lot of time for books anymore. My other defense is that I have a very small local library with a very small selection of genealogy related books, and not a whole lot of time to work the inter-library loan system (see my first point in this paragraph). So, guilty. I will also defend myself with this: I have only been trying to "go pro" since January. Therefore, when I reached for a new book to read, I grabbed the one mostly recently released, most talked about, most "now".

Last confession: I've never written a book review before.

I'm 0 for 3 here. (This may be the only time you ever see a baseball reference in one of my posts.)

If you haven't read it yet, stop now. Go get it, read it, come back to my blog to share your opinions. I'm a firm believer in not reading a review of a book until after I've read it myself.

Ok, here goes.

First of all, this was an easy read. What I mean by that is, it flowed well; the stories pieced together well; it was easy to follow even for a non-genealogist. In fact, in my opinion, it was not written for genealogists at all - it was written for those that think that we all sit in dusty back rooms staring at microfiche's for hours on end with no social engagement, nor the desire to engage. It was written to prove that our study, our search, can be exciting, invigorating, and engaging.

It's written to show that genealogy is more than names and dates; it's a story. These are real people we work with every day, real lives. Non-fiction. Real history, lived by every day people having every day lives.

As a genealogist, I think what I gained from it most was exposure to the new. New ideas, projects I was unaware of, different ways to go about gaining results. Although Mrs. Smolyenak touches very briefly and lightly on technique, I was still able to learn through her innuendos and by "reading between the lines."  A particular moment that caught me was her discussion of researching Mabel Calvin (pages 179-186). She uses the term "black sheep" and that really got me thinking about my own livestock (see my recent post: Baaaa... Black Sheep, inspired by this chapter.)

I also learned about www.UnclaimedPersons.org. I was truly intrigued by what the the author has done with coroner's offices, the FBI, and the Army. What a wonderful way to utilize your skill and passion! So of course, I'm now registered with the site and on Facebook. The grace and respect in her story telling came through every word, she obviously is very passionate about this work.

In short, getting a quick glimpse at the varying situations she has encountered during her career was a fun way to learn more about the "other side" of genealogy, where the grass is so green, and the opportunities that may still be out there for the rest of us. It was eye opening and, yes, inspirational to a point.

I'm giving this book five stars in my brains' "general reading" category, and four (out of five!) in my "genealogy" category. Simply because I stand by the idea that it wasn't necessarily written for genealogists - if it had, it would have included more technical information. If you are at all interested in family history, American history in general, or any other such area of study, pick up a copy and enjoy it.


  1. I agree Jen, the book was not what I expected, but I liked it. I've read all her books, you should too, they are good! Well, no, I haven't read her DNA book. I tried, but I got lost real quick! :) I also agree, this book should be read by non-genealogists to illustrate just what can be done through genealogy research! The stories she has to tell! AND how quickly she can work to find answers, I love it!

    1. I do plan on reading more of her stuff, just need to make more hours in my day! I think the DNA is next for me - need to learn more about that. As always, Jenna, thanks for reading and commenting! ~ Jen

  2. I thought your book review was a good synopsis of the book, and your rating was generous.

    I too was disappointed in the book. I was hoping for more how-to information, since she is such an acclaimed genealogist. Instead, it was "see what a wonderful life I lead, as a genealogy rock star".

    This is definitely a book that I will NOT keep to re-read or refer to in the future.

    1. Hello Anonymous,
      I'm not sure I would rate it as "disappointing". Even though it was not exactly what I thought it was going to be, I still enjoyed it, it was still a good read. Though I do agree that it is not something I will purchase and have on hand - I would spend my money on other, more research based technical texts. Thank you for reading, and I appreciate your comments! ~Jen

  3. Thank you for this review! I was glad to learn this book is exciting and engaging, rather than overly technical. Having seen Megan's webinar, Finding the Living, I would have expected the energetic narrative approach that you describe. Confession -- I have not read this book yet, but it is near the top of my list. So many books, so many tweets, so many blogs, so much research, so many family trees to make, and a family reunion in July -- and of course, so little time. Thank you for your insights into this book!

    1. Completely agree with that, Mariann - just too much to do and not enough hours in the day! I'm glad you used the word "narrative" - its what's missing from my original post. Thanks for reading and commenting! Always love to hear from you. ~ Jen

  4. I found this very interesting. Thank you for the review.

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