A bunch of people named Smolenyak, all hailing from the same tiny village, thought they shared a common ancestor. We were wrong.

Road to nearby village of Ždiar from Osturňa in 2000 (photo by husband of writer)

Many are not aware that genetic genealogy has been around for slightly more than two decades. I was introduced to using DNA for forensic purposes back in the dark ages of 1999 when I began my work with the U.S. Army assisting with the identification of soldiers still unaccounted for…


He did the crime, he did the time, and then he disappeared — again.

Harry Pincus mug shots (New York Department of Correction as seen in Walloomsick Review 22)
animation of the photo above (MyHeritage’s Deep Nostalgia)

I should have known better when I decided to write an article about Barry Manilow’s Irish roots. As an Irish American fanilow, I wanted to know which town or city could lay claim to him (shout-out to Limerick!), but that’s not where…


Credit: Shawn Ahmed

Every one of us is an amalgamation not only of all our ancestors, but of their decisions, and in 1831, Ambrose Hawkins was contemplating moving his family from America to Africa. …


Joe Biden and Barack Obama’s respective Irish cousins, Laurita Blewitt and Henry Healy (courtesy of Laurita)¹

This is an updated version of an article that was first published in Irish America in 2013, but for obvious reasons, has become freshly relevant.

How can you not love a name like Finnegan Biden? I find it charming when family names are given fresh life in ensuing generations, and…

Honor Her Memory by Welcoming Today’s Refugees

Map of the life and death of Giuseppina Jachia (Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names of Yad Vashem displayed via Google Maps)

Many are aware of the hateful rhetoric spouted by Ohio candidate, Josh Mandel, about Afghan refugees now coming to America. “These planes are now being emptied into Cleveland, Toledo and other places in the heart of America,” he said. …


locket found among my aunt’s possessions

I’ve written an entire book of genealogical serendipity tales, but have been something of a wallflower in this regard. With a couple of cherished exceptions, these magical moments of happy coincidence have mostly eluded me in the course of my research, but my dry spell just ended.

Like so many…


Ancestors from Ukraine to China Arrived 1893 to 1940

Jon Stewart and his great-granduncle

Until a few years ago, Jon Stewart came into our living rooms four nights a week to both educate and entertain us. Now he uses his celebrity sparingly to support select causes such as keeping our commitments to and 9/11 first responders, but otherwise keeps a low profile. He didn’t…


What a difference two decades make

Author’s memorabilia from the launch of the AFIHC and database

In April of 2001, a miracle occurred. Well, it certainly seemed that way at the time. …


Which animation will you choose from the menu?

I don’t know if my great-grandfather, Peter Smolenyak, will ever forgive me. Several weeks ago, I wrote about using MyHeritage’s Deep Nostalgia tool to animate him, but now they’ve introduced fresh functionality to customize your animations, and I couldn’t resist playing with it.

MyHeritage’s special animation menu

Immediately drawn to the “special animations”…


Galway joins Mayo and Louth as an Irish ancestral home

President Biden’s ancestral homestead awaits his visit (Google Maps)

Ireland loves to claim her own, so President Biden — who’s conspicuously proud of his 5/8 Irish ancestry — is a source of pride for many in the land of his ancestors. I first explored his heritage before he became Vice President, and later shared some of my findings in…

Megan Smolenyak

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! You may not know me, but chances are you’ve seen my work. (

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