cover image The Genetic Strand: Exploring a Family History Through DNA

The Genetic Strand: Exploring a Family History Through DNA

Edward Ball, . . Simon & Schuster, $25 (265pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-6658-1

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)