A Genetic Genealogy Book Review

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Edward Ball is the author of Slaves in the Family, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1998. Mr. Ball’s latest book is the subject of this review-by-proxy (I haven’t read it myself, so I’ll be sharing what others have said).

The new book, The Genetic Strand: Exploring a Family History Through DNA, is reported to “intrigue America’s many amateur genealogists and also serve as a cautionary tale.” The book follows Ball’s journey through his family’s genetic genealogy after he discovers locks of hair in an old family desk.

Megan Smolenyak reviewed the book over a week ago at Megan’s Roots World with “The Genetic Strand: Slightly Disappointing.” Megan’s review brings up a number of points, including Ball’s failure to provide some essential information (like his family tree). One of the most interesting critiques, which was also criticized by a review in the New York Post, surrounds the following paragraph:

“Genealogy, a search for family history, is practiced by millions of middle-aged and middle class Americans, for whom it has traditionally been a way to snatch a bit of glory or a helping of a fantasy from the past. It is, after all, the little activities, visiting libraries and surfing Web sites, that allow one to acquire “good genes.” Most people who do family research are white, and most of them look for ancestors with the goal to unearth the whitest, most moneyed forebears they can. That is one definition of good genes.”

That is quite an assertion to make, and one that I have a very difficult time believing. I recommend reading Megan’s review (here), the New York Post review (here), Entertainment Weekly’s review (here), and the Genealogue’s take (here). Megan even suggests another book about genetic genealogy which she found to be very enjoyable. I guess I some reading to do!

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007