What I’m Reading Now


Here’s part two of a review of The Invisible History of the Human Race, written while I was reading it. This work bears no relationship to what I thought it would be. It is touted as DNA as family history, but in early pages, it’s a highly engaging history of genealogy, full of anecdotes about the author’s family. The big issue it avoids because no one has answered is why? Why do people find digging into their past so intriguing, addictive even?

Christine Kenneally more or less answers her own question as the descendant of a man consigned to Australia over the theft of a handkerchief. It’s a family with a continuing mystery about the identity of her grandfather. Who wouldn’t want to know more?

My personal answer as to why I do genealogy is: because my ancestors are there. They’re a mystery that needs solving to round out who I am. My mother did some excellent fiction around both sides of her family. We have the Lanes arriving in Hartford by boat from “Jersey” with the patriarch jumping to the dock, yelling, “Throw the baby down to me” when he thinks the boat is about to head back down river; there’s Bill Hod (Willis Howard James) who smuggled Chinese immigrants from Canada and ensured his own safety by wrapping them up and tying rocks to their feet in the event immigration stopped his boat. Who wouldn’t want to know more? So I dug in. Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters was the result.

On the other hand, my father’s story remains pretty much of a mystery. Like Kenneally, he didn’t know who his grandfather was – well, I think he did but wasn’t allowed to speak of it. Invisible History is satisfying my need for personal answers in the meantime.

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