Library Notes: Mysterious roots

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 11, 2023

By Gretchen Beilfuss Witt
Rowan Public Library

Genealogy continues to be one of the most popular hobbies in America. Ancestry boasts over three million subscribers and is one of the largest genealogical databases in the nation. Stories exist in cultures world-wide that tell of the origins of humans and often of their relationships with other institutions — legal, religious and social. Many traditions track ancestry as part of their cultural heritage, for instance JokBo which is clan history kept by the eldest male in Korean families. Many western Christian families record their ancestor information in a family Bible. Family research is accomplished by following the traditional “paper trail” and now it is possible to gain valuable information from DNA genealogy tests.

The Edith M. Clark History Room has many resources to help with family research. Lee’s “DNA Q&A” is a brief volume answering specific questions about the basic science of DNA, which companies offer tests and what types of tests, and what “matches” tell about one person’s specific DNA. Similarly, D. Barry Starr’s “A Handy Guide to Ancestry and Relationship DNA Tests,” explains basic DNA, how DNA tests reveal certain relationships between various people — third cousins twice-removed, how does sibling DNA compare and the like — as well as information about heritage, where in the world did the family come from — eastern Europe, China or India? There are some fantastic illustrations and charts to help the reader visualize the concepts under discussion.

The following two books at RPL move on from what types of tests to pursue to the DNA and genetic history of humanity in general. Recently acquired, Jennifer Raff’s book “Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas” is an overview of how groups of people immigrated to the Americas, both North and South via the Siberian/Alaskan land bridge. This book is written more from an anthropological perspective and discusses human history and evolution as well as how genetics is tangled up in identity, particularly as it applies to indigenous peoples. Sarah Abel’s “Permanent Markers” explores how DNA ancestry testing has transformed into a multi-million-dollar international industry and how genealogical genetic research is connected to discussions about race and racial politics.

If less theory and more example is your cup of tea, see what happens as people investigate their DNA and find out where events end up taking them. In Bill Griffeth’s, “The Stranger in My Genes,” Bill finds that his DNA test results are not at all what he expected. His journey to acceptance is interesting and helps the reader bear in mind what DNA testing can reveal. Lastly, one new item on the shelves at the library is Henry Gates’ DVD series on discovering celebrities’ family history stories with the complete Season 8 of “Finding Your Roots.” Earlier seasons of this award-winning PBS series, which has inspired many to start on their own genealogical journey, can be checked out.

The Genealogical Society of Rowan County and the History Room of RPL are offering Genealogy 101, a class which includes information about DNA testing. The class will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 18 at headquarters. Registration is encouraged but not required —

Gretchen Beilfuss Witt is supervisor of the Edith M. Clark History Room at the Rowan Public Library.

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