Some people adopt stray cats, others take in homeless dogs. Megan Smolenyak rescues heirlooms. Orphaned heirlooms.

Characterizing herself as a “genealogical adventurer who loves solving mysteries,” Smolenyak loves the thrill of the hunt — researching items without a family, tracking down descendants of the original owners, and seeing that the piece is returned to them. The treasures she’s found homes for include Bibles, photos, autograph books, family papers, letters, postcards, and even silver flatware.

An avid genealogist and an expert at family history research, Smolenyak has authored several books, provided forensic consulting services to the U.S. Army, and served as lead researcher for the PBS Ancestors series. In addition, she is Chief Family Historian and spokesperson for, the world’s largest genealogical database. She’s an expert at reuniting families and their lost possessions.  

So, if you happen to have someone else’s treasure and would like to see it returned to the family of origin, visit Click the Submit button at the top of the page, select Orphan Heirlooms from the drop-down menu, and fill out the form to provide details about the item. Due to volume, Smolenyak can’t research every request, but she does write about those stories with successful outcomes.