“ The Lost Family is a fascinating exploration of the mysteries ignited by DNA genealogy testing—from the intensely personal and concrete to the existential and unsolvable. In the world Copeland's 'seekers' are exploring, 'Who am I?' becomes a mystery more intricate and more crucial than any novel's 'Whodunit?' Copeland deftly weaves toge ther individual stories, technical explanations and sociological discussion to make a book that's both gripping and deeply thought-provoking.
New York Times bestselling author of the Dublin Murder Squad series and The Witch Elm - Tana French
"A compellingly readable narrative that takes us down the rabbit hole of modern personal genomics. Libby Copeland brings a gripping story from the front lines of genealogy and genomics."
The Insitome Institute - Razib Khan
"Not long ago, the idea of sequencing your DNA was as plausible as booking a trip to Jupiter. Now we give each other DNA tests as holiday gifts. As tens of millions of people look at their genes and link them to their ancestry, this science is having a profound impact on our society as a whole. It is reuniting relatives, breaking up families, and sending criminals to jail. The Lost Family is a deeply reported, deeply humane exploration of our ongoing redefinition of our identity and our kinships."
author of She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity - Carl Zimmer
“Before You Spit in That Vial, Read This Book.
“Journalist Libby Copeland’s deep dive into the family secrets uncovered and privacy questions untested will blow your mind.
“…well-researched, thorough and fascinating "
“So many families have been touched—and will continue to be touched—by the secrets unearthed by home genetic testing. We are in an epidemic with few signposts, little to guide us as we contend with the unintended consequences brought upon us by scientific advancement. The Lost Family is an urgently necessary, powerful book that addresses one of the most complex social and bioethical issues of our time.
New York Times bestselling author of Inheritance - Dani Shapiro
“A riveting mystery combined with a beautiful meditation on family and identity. I read it in one sitting and immediately preordered copies for everyone I'm related to, both by blood and by love.
author of American Fire and Girl in the Blue Coat - Monica Hesse
WNYC’s All Of It - Alison Stewart
“Copeland takes readers inside America’s first DNA testing lab dedicated to genealogy, to Salt Lake City’s Family History Library—the largest genealogical research facility in the world—and into the living rooms of dozens of people whose lives have been turned upside down due to the results of a recreational DNA test. It is at once a hard look at the forces behind a historical mass reckoning that is happening all across America, and an intimate portrait of the people living it.“
“A fascinating account of lives dramatically affected by genetic sleuthing.
“[ The Lost Family] wrestles with some of the biggest questions in life: Who are we? What is family? Are we defined by nature, nurture or both?
“A fascinating deep dive into the massively popular world of direct-to-consumer DNA testing.
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
A fascinating account of consumer genetic testing's "fundamental reshaping of the American family" over the past two decades.
Swabbing your cheek and sending off for personal DNA results is increasingly common, for the curious as well as for family historians and those in the dark about their parentage. In her impeccably researched debut, journalist Copeland traces the development of "genetic genealogy," a field created by citizen scientists. Whereas 1970s genealogists relied on microfilm archives and in-person interviews with relatives, their yearslong searches only shortened by lucky discoveries, today's genetic "seekers" can get answers within days. In 2000, FamilyTreeDNA became the first company to offer at-home DNA testing, followed by Ancestry.com and 23andMe. The author chronicles her meeting with the founder of FamilyTreeDNA, her visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and her correspondence with 400 DNA testers. Many received shocking results but agree it's better to know the truth, even about abandonment, rape, or incest. Copeland highlights a few representative cases—e.g., a father who had a second family and a woman who didn't learn she was adopted until age 51. Foundlings and children of sperm donors often meet (half-)siblings they never knew existed. But the anchoring storyline is that of Alice Collins Plebuch, who was surprised when her saliva sample indicated that she was half Eastern European Jewish instead of 100% British/Irish. Copeland presents her quest for her late father's true heritage as a riveting mystery with as many false leads as any crime novel. Along the way, the author thoughtfully probes the ethical dangers of genetic testing, including conflicting privacy rights, an essentialist view of race, unexpected medical results, and DNA databases being used in crime-solving. As she notes, it's a fast-moving field in need of regulation, and she engrossingly examines the many questions that arise, both practical and rhetorical: "What makes us who we are? Blood? Family? Culture?"
Up-to-the-minute science meets the philosophy of identity in a poignant, engaging debut book.