Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review - Who Do You Think You Are?

Megan Smolenyak, Who Do You Think You Are? The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History, The Penguin Group Inc., New York, New York, 2010, 205 pages.

Audience: This book was written to compliment the television show “Who Do You Think Your are?” and is directed to people desiring to know how to go about researching family history. It is applicable to all ranges of genealogical researchers, providing key tools for successful research.

Purpose: The book is a follow up to Megan’s work as the chief genealogical consultant to the television series. Many people who watched the series found it to be interesting, but lacking in the overall process of how the family history questions were answered. This book is the avenue for a more in depth view of the research process.
Author’s qualifications: Megan Smolenyak is the chief family historian and spokesperson for She works as a consultant and has appeared on the Today show, CNN, NPR, PBS, and the BBC. She is the creator of, a pioneering online channel of free videos. She has written for numerous ancestry and genealogy publications and she is a popular speaker. She describes herself as, “a genealogical adventurer who loves solving mysteries, making unexpected discoveries and pushing the boundaries of conventional genealogy.” She is a member of APG, and her specialties are listed as, “Emigration & Immigration ; Genetics ; Heir Searcher.”
Organization: The book is well written and easy to read. There are nine chapters, a short introduction, and a short appendix of various research tools. In the middle of the book is a section in which she shares the stories of the seven of America’s best-loved celebrities covered in the series. This section of twenty-four pages is not included in the overall page count of the book. There are no footnotes or index, so a highlighter would come in handy while reading the book.
Accuracy: Megan presents a very carefully articulated and researched work, with a focus on detail and presentation.
Content: The nine chapters include:
Preparing for Your Ancestor Hunt – a how to on what to look for in your home and the homes of your relatives.
Webbing It: What’s Online? – a thorough review of online resources.
Learning to Love the Census – what can be found in census and the various types of census records that are available.
Vitally Important: Births, Marriages, and Deaths – an overview of vital records and where else the information might be if those records are not available.
Marching Orders: Did Your Ancestors Serve? – provides information on military service records and how those records enhance the research for a family.
Crossing the Pond: Old Country Roots – how to get back to the immigrant home.
The Best of the Rest – a general overview of critical resources useful in research.
Sleuthing in Action – she shares two of her case studies.
Pass It On – the importance of sharing our work with others, so it is not lost.
            Conclusion: This is a very impressive book. It is full of firsthand knowledge and experience in how to do genealogical research. Everyone, from the novice researcher to the professional genealogist will benefit from reading this text. It provides crucial information for successful tracing of ones ancestors. The bonuses in the book are the stories of actual experiences in finding the family histories of people we are familiar with, as well as her other case studies.

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