What I’m Reading Now (Invisible History of the Human Race)

Another in the series. And one I read and wrote about  months ago but never posted.

The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures bears no relationship to what it promised. The publishers tout Christine Kenneally’s work as a study of DNA, but the early pages contain a 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?

Kenneally does answer her question about how DNA and history shape us. As the descendant of a man deported to Australia from Ireland for stealing a handkerchief, she delves into the mystery about her ancestor. Who wouldn’t want to know more?

My personal answer to the larger question is because my ancestors are there, and they’re a mystery that needs solving to round out who I am. My mother wrote some excellent fiction around both sides of her family. We have the Lanes arriving in Hartford by boat from “Jersey” and 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 his boat was stopped. 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 a mystery. Like Kenneally, he didn’t know who his grandfather was – well, he claimed not to know. I think he did but wasn’t allowed to speak of it. The mystery has yet to be solved. In the meantime, read Invisible History.

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