By Austin Fenner
Special to DNAinfo
MANHATTAN — One of Americaʼs premier genealogists, who unearthed First Lady Michelle Obamaʼs family roots, will share her process of uncovering family secrets at the New York Genealogical Society on Wednesday.
Megan Smolenyak spent eight months tracking a paper trail across 11 states to connect Michelle Obama's family history back to her southern ancestors in a history-making breakthrough.
“Michelle Obamaʼs story in the story of the American south and the story of the great migration,” said Smolenyak, whose work was ﬁrst published last October in the New York Times. “Her family tree was challenging. But I like it when the ancestors make me work for it.”
Smolenyak dug back ﬁve generations into the first lady's family tree and found a woman named Melvina McGruder, Obama's great, great, great grandmother, who was born into slavery in South Carolina around 1840.
McGruder died in 1938 approximately at the age of 96, Smolenyak said.
The first lady is only one of several high-profile African Americans who Smolenyak has traced back to their ancestors. She was also part of the team that discovered that Rev. Al Sharpton was decended from slaves owned by the family of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
Smolenyak said she started tracing Michelle Obamaʼs antebellum ancestry with another resident of the White House, Marian Robinson, the First Grandmother.
Smolenyak will discuss that journey as well as her work as featured in the NBC show and accompanying book, "Who Do You Think You Are?" at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society on Wednesday. The lecture starts at 5:30 p.m.
She will also discuss “Tracing Your Roots with DNA” on April 13 at the New York Public Library's main branch on Fifth Avenue.
“Itʼs a rapid journey from Melvina to Michelle," said Smolenyak. "In many countries, it would have taken much longer to get from slavery to the White House.”