One of the most rapidly advancing areas of genealogy and family history research is genetic genealogy. At this point, millions of people all over the world (myself included) have gotten involved in using the most cutting edge tools (think 23 and Me, Ancestry DNA) to better understand their family history and discover more ancestors. Because this is a topic that interests me, I was keen to read two memoirs released this year that successfully meld family narratives with genetics research: Inheritance by Dani Shapiro and Daughter of Family G by Ami McKay. Both offer compelling stories of self-discoveries made possible through advances in genetics.
Inheritance: a memoir of genealogy, paternity, and love by acclaimed memoirist and novelist Dani Shapiro is best described as a thought-provoking genealogical mystery. Shapiro was told her entire life that she was an Orthodox Jew but she always had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right; she never felt like she belonged. So when she takes a DNA test on a whim and learns that her beloved father, who had since passed away, is not actually her biological father, her world is turned upside down. It's revealed that her parents sought help conceiving at a less-than-reputable fertility clinic in the 1960s, when little was known about artificial insemination. Shapiro meets with relatives, rabbis, her biological father, and anyone else who might help her understand what happened and what this means for her identity. If you are curious about how the DNA tests that have recently flooded the market could impact someone’s life, or even if you just enjoy a solid memoir, this is a book you’ll want to check out. The library has copies available in print, e-book, and digital audiobook formats.
Daughter of Family G: a memoir of cancer genes, love and fate by Ami McKay, author of The Birth House, weaves together stories for McKay’s life, as well as that of her ancestors. Both she and many generations before her have tested positive for Lynch Syndrome, a genetic condition that predisposes its carriers to several types of cancer, including colorectal, endometrial, ovarian and pancreatic. In 1895, her great-great aunt, Pauline Gross, a seamstress in Ann Arbor, Michigan, confided to a pathology professor at the local university that she expected to die young, like so many others in her family. Rather than dismiss her fears, the pathologist chose to enlist Pauline in the careful tracking of those in her family tree who had died of cancer. Pauline's premonition unfortunately proved true (she died at 46) but because of her efforts, her family (who the pathologist dubbed 'Family G') would become the longest and most detailed cancer genealogy ever studied in the world. Naturally, McKay struggled emotionally with the knowledge that she might be a carrier and later, when she was found to be a carrier, her concerns turned to whether she would pass on the mutation to her sons. She describes it as living in “an unsettling state between wellness and cancer.” While it sounds depressing, this memoir is actually quite hopeful and will have you marveling at the advancements of genetics and medicine in general. The library has copies of this book available for you to reserve in print, e-book, and digital audiobook formats.
If this topic interests you, you will want to take note of an upcoming workshop we’re hosting at the library relating to DNA kits and how you can use them to support your genealogical research. With so many different DNA kits on the market, you may be wondering which one is best suited for your needs. Whether you are giving it as a gift or would like it for personal use, Joyce Fingland of the Ontario Genealogical Society will explain the differences between the kits to help you decode your DNA. This workshop is also being held on November 28th at the Amherstview Branch (10:30am) and Napanee Branch (2pm). This event is free and registration is not required. See you there!
This article was originally published in the Napanee Beaver.