Solving History Mysteries
As a professional genealogist who has invested many months and untold sums researching everything from Michelle Obama's roots to the sailors who lost their lives on the USS Monitor in 1862, I'm often asked one question: Why?
The answer is simple: I can't help myself.
I've been an avid family historian since the sixth grade, addicted to the thrill of the hunt for decades, and can't resist the pull of a tantalizing history mystery. And just as I'm powerless to fend off the sleuthing urge, I have virtually no control over which cases I pursue.
You might logically assume that I decide whose life stories to explore, but the reality is that the subjects choose me. Take Annie Moore. From Ireland, Annie was the first person to arrive at Ellis Island, a symbol of the immigrant dream. She waltzed into my life about a decade ago while I was working on a PBS documentary. That's when I accidentally discovered that an American-born Annie Moore was mistakenly considered the Annie Moore who had landed at Ellis Island. It took four years to track down the true Annie and her descendants, resulting in a family reunion that morphed into a press conference when the story was splashed on the front page of the New York Times.
You would think that this event would have made a tidy ending, but my research revealed that she had no tombstone. Something had to be done about that, right? Fast forward to 2008 and her memorial dedication. This, I thought, was the end of her tale--until one of her descendants ushered me aside, handing me a photo of what appeared to be Annie and her brothers arriving at Ellis Island. But was it really them? If so, it should be in every child's history textbook. I hadn't even left the cemetery, and Annie was calling me back for another round.
I'm a sucker for the historical underdog--the neglected and overlooked--and count myself beyond fortunate to live at a time when a stubborn researcher can make a living writing and speaking about her adventures as a real life history detective. --Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, author of Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing