The lost family How DNA testing is upending who we are

Libby Copeland

Book - 2020

"You swab your cheek or spit in a vial, then send it away to a lab somewhere. Weeks later you get a report that might tell you where your ancestors came from or if you carry certain genetic risks. Or the report could reveal long-buried family secrets and upend your entire sense of identity. Soon a lark becomes an obsession, a relentless drive to find answers to questions at the core of your being, like "Who am I?" and "Where did I come from?" Welcome to the age of home g...enetic testing. In The Lost Family, journalist Libby Copeland investigates what happens when we embark on a vast social experiment with little understanding of the ramifications. She explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, all while tracing the story of one woman, her unusual results, and a relentless methodical drive for answers that becomes a thoroughly modern genetic detective story. Gripping and masterfully told, The Lost Family is a spectacular book on a big, timely subject" -- Goodreads.com.

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Subjects
Genres
Creative nonfiction
Published
New York : Abrams 2020.
Language
English
Physical Description
294 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 277-278) and index.
ISBN
9781419743009
1419743007
Main Author
Libby Copeland (author)
Review by Choice Reviews

Have you been tempted to take, or perhaps already taken, an at-home DNA test? If you have taken one, did the results contain any surprises? If not yet taken, have you considered the possible ramifications of what you may discover? This book, written by a journalist, explores the rise of home genetic testing and the unforeseen (by many users) impact of genome-informed genealogy on personal identity and the concepts of race, ethnicity, and family. Immensely readable, the book introduces the basics of DNA, the business of DNA testing companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry, and the intense world of genealogy buffs (known here as "seekers"). The text is interspersed with personal stories from people whose lives have been affected by home DNA tests—with results including the discovery of unexpected paternity, unknown siblings, and surprising ancestral histories. One woman's experience in particular presents a compelling mystery that provides a framework for the book. Writing with a definite point of view and for a lay audience, the author makes many blanket statements that unfortunately aren't supported by specific references or footnotes, despite the inclusion of a "selected bibliography." Nevertheless, the book is well worth reading for anyone seeking an engaging entrée into the fascinating and evolving realm of personal genetic testing. Summing Up: Optional. General readers.--C. L. Iwema, University of PittsburghCarrie Leigh IwemaUniversity of Pittsburgh Carrie Leigh Iwema Choice Reviews 58:03 November 2020 Copyright 2020 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Journalist Copeland explores the rapid advances in home genetic testing kits in the last decade. The kits have become popular gifts, but Copeland shares numerous cautionary tales of "seekers" who found more than they bargained for. The heart of the book is the story of Alice Collins Plebuch, who tested in the early days of commercial kits and discovered that her genetic heritage was not solidly Irish, as she had supposed, but was Ashkenazi Jewish on her father's side. This led to a years-long quest to unravel the mystery of her heritage, resulting in the discovery that her father was switched at birth with another baby in a (no longer existing) hospital in New York in 1913. Copeland uses fascinating stories of family discoveries to illustrate the science behind genetic connections and to discuss the ways bioethical considerations have not kept pace with the improvement of the kits, including privacy concerns with how genetic databases are used by law enforcement. She emphasizes that if you choose to send in your saliva sample, the results can reverberate through the whole family tree. VERDICT Highly recommended for popular science and memoir fans, as well as readers with an interest in genealogy.—Caren Nichter, Univ. of Tennessee at Martin Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A journalist investigates the business practices of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe and explores the stories of individuals who participated in home genetic testing and had their lives turned upside down by the results. 20,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives   You swab your cheek or spit into a vial, then send it away to a lab somewhere. Weeks later you get a report that might tell you where your ancestors came from or if you carry certain genetic risks. Or the report could reveal a long-buried family secret and upend your entire sense of identity. Soon a lark becomes an obsession, an incessant desire to find answers to questions at the core of your being, like 'Who am I?' and 'Where did I come from?' Welcome to the age of home genetic testing.   In The Lost Family, journalist Libby Copeland investigates what happens when we embark on a vast social experiment with little understanding of the ramifications. Copeland explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, all while tracing the story of one woman, her unusual results, and a relentless methodical drive for answers that becomes a thoroughly modern genetic detective story.  The Lost Family delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests'a technology that represents the end of family secrets. There are the adoptees who've used the tests to find their birth parents; donor-conceived adults who suddenly discover they have more than fifty siblings; hundreds of thousands of Americans who discover their fathers aren't biologically related to them, a phenomenon so common it is known as a 'non-paternity event'; and individuals who are left to grapple with their conceptions of race and ethnicity when their true ancestral histories are discovered. Throughout these accounts, Copeland explores the impulse toward genetic essentialism and raises the question of how much our genes should get to tell us about who we are. With more than thirty million people having undergone home DNA testing, the answer to that question is more important than ever.   Gripping and masterfully told, The Lost Family is a spectacular book on a big, timely subject.  

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives   You swab your cheek or spit into a vial, then send it away to a lab somewhere. Weeks later you get a report that might tell you where your ancestors came from or if you carry certain genetic risks. Or the report could reveal a long-buried family secret and upend your entire sense of identity. Soon a lark becomes an obsession, an incessant desire to find answers to questions at the core of your being, like “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” Welcome to the age of home genetic testing.   In The Lost Family, journalist Libby Copeland investigates what happens when we embark on a vast social experiment with little understanding of the ramifications. Copeland explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, all while tracing the story of one woman, her unusual results, and a relentless methodical drive for answers that becomes a thoroughly modern genetic detective story.  The Lost Family delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests—a technology that represents the end of family secrets. There are the adoptees who’ve used the tests to find their birth parents; donor-conceived adults who suddenly discover they have more than fifty siblings; hundreds of thousands of Americans who discover their fathers aren’t biologically related to them, a phenomenon so common it is known as a “non-paternity event”; and individuals who are left to grapple with their conceptions of race and ethnicity when their true ancestral histories are discovered. Throughout these accounts, Copeland explores the impulse toward genetic essentialism and raises the question of how much our genes should get to tell us about who we are. With more than thirty million people having undergone home DNA testing, the answer to that question is more important than ever.   Gripping and masterfully told, The Lost Family is a spectacular book on a big, timely subject.