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The genetic strand : exploring a family history through DNA
Edward Ball
Adult Nonfiction F279.C453 B35 2007

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Some locks of hair found in the secret compartment of a family heirloom was the catalyst for Ball, a National Book Award winner for Slaves in the Family, to embark on a genetic family history. He became animated with the thought that through DNA analysis of the hair he could discover some truths about his Ball ancestry, such as whether his father's maternal grandmother, Kate Fuller, was part African-American. As he relates his experiences with various DNA labs, Ball also describes the hard science behind DNA forensics, informed by conversations with experts in the field. But the account's drama comes from a finding that suggests a Native American ancestor in his family tree. Another lab contradicts this evidence, and the error affects Ball profoundly, leading him to rail about the fallibility of science, the dangers of making science the new religion and scientists, specifically molecular biologists, the new priests. Forensic DNA testing has become hot (exemplified by Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s televised testing results), and as Ball's own emotions show, is also playing into Americans' sense of identity. Ball's tale will intrigue America's many amateur genealogists and also serve as a cautionary tale. (Nov. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

How much can DNA analysis tell us about ourselves? How prepared are we to accept alternative family histories it suggests? Most important, how many of us are equipped to examine and interpret the findings critically? Surprised to discover locks of long-deceased relatives' hair concealed within a family heirloom, Ball (Slaves in the Family) decided to use forensic science to investigate his genealogy. The results caused him and his kin to reconsider both their "thoroughly white" ancestral origins and their confidence in DNA testing. Some readers may be offended by the central story of this book, while others may view it as a tempest in a teapot. Nonetheless, Ball's portraits of aristocratic forebears and contemporary geneticists are fascinating, and his wry commentary on pre-20th-century, white, upper-class South Carolinian mores entertaining. Nonscientists will benefit from his lucid explanations of genetic techniques and terminology. The final chapter, however, disappoints, as the author abandons his inquisitive approach to indulge in complaints about how scientists interpret genetic data and communicate their conclusions to the public. Recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/07.]-Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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