HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED where you
fit in on your family tree and the branches
that grew before you? The new year is a great
time to start digging, and Costco member
Megan Smolenyak2 ( www.honoringourances
tors.com) can show you the way. (More on
that name later.)
One of the foremost North American
genealogists—she calls herself a genealogical
explorer—Smolenyak2 has researched the
family histories of Barack and Michelle
Obama and many celebrities, most notably on
the television show Who Do You Think You
Are? She has written six books, was spokesper-
son for Ancestry.ca and has done speaking
events in Toronto, Vancouver, Saskatchewan
and all over Canada.
“It was a sixth-grade homework assign-
ment,” she says, explaining how she got
started. “We had to go home and find out
what country our surname was from.”
Her initial interest in genealogy came in
the pre-Internet years, requiring a lot of work
via snail mail and on-site research. She was liv-
ing in Washington, D.C., as a teenager and
couldn’t wait to turn 16. “Not to get my driver’s
licence,” she says, “but because that was how old
you had to be to get into the National Archives.”
Privacy laws are another challenge. “For
instance, under the Statistics Act, Canadian
census records can only be released after 92
years, and even when that time had expired for
the 1921 census, it took pressure from genealo-
gists and other interested parties before the
records were made publicly available,” she says.
For those who want to research their own
family backgrounds, the New Jersey resident
advises, “Start at home. Do a scavenger hunt
IT HAS BEEN SAID that laughter is the best
medicine. Rebecca Rotenberg is happy to dispense it for those facing life after a breakup.
Rotenberg, a Costco member in Ottawa,
has used her decades-old divorce as inspira-
tion to show the lighter side of being single
again—and in so doing fashioned a sideline
as a cartoonist. She tackles her subject with compassion, giving equal attention to issues
affecting both men and women. She strives to be fair, politically
correct, anger-free and hilarious—all in one sentence.
Her cartoons manage to be comical yet meaningful pokes at
life post-partnership. Whether you’re widowed, divorced or wishing you were, they force you to laugh and to think.
“Anyone who has ever written to me has said you take life
and turn it upside down,” says the mother of two. “Each cartoon
is a therapy session.”
Rotenberg’s zingers are rendered thanks to a professional car-
toon artist who draws the images Rotenberg sees in her mind’s eye.
In 2009, she self-published a 101-page opus, Flying Solo: A Colourful
Glimpse at Being Single Again ( www.flyingsoloagain.com).
After all, who says big changes in life don’t have their ha-ha
ILLUS TRATIONS: GORD COULTHAR T
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at your home or a parent’s home. Look in
drawers, the attic; look in the basement. Look
for old photos with names on the back; look
for diplomas, military discharge papers. And
pick up the phone and call any relatives you’ve
got who are even 20 minutes older than you.”
Now, about her name. Smolenyak is her
real maiden name, but it’s also her husband’s
name. “I don’t know what’s weirder,” she
laughs. “That I managed to find another
Smolenyak to marry or that I managed to find
one that wasn’t related to me.”—Steve Fisher
President Obama poses
with Megan Smolenyak2
in Moneygall, Ireland, a
village to which she traced
some of Obama’s ancestors.