Book Review: The Genealogical Sublime

I had watched Julia Creet’s documentary Datamining the Deceased: Ancestry & the business of family last year and found it interesting. Her book The Genealogical Sublime expands the topic into chapters focusing on (amongst others) Ancestry, the Mormons, genetic genealogy, and the debate around ethnicity and what that means for minority groups like Native Americans.

At 204 pages, it’s also a short read. I have to admit I found the introduction very hard going. It was too philosophical for my taste. But after that, the rest of the book was fascinating, particularly the early history of why Mormans got interested in genealogy, what are they doing with all those records, and how they spawned Ancestry, which is not now owned by them. On a side note, I really enjoyed the fictional The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff which contrasts a modern-day polygamist sect with the search for documenting the wives and children of Brigham Young, a founding father of the Latter Day Saints.

I also really enjoyed the chapter on Iceland and the Íslendingabók database which attempted to link all of the genealogy of Iceland and then interpret sample DNA from about a third of the population. It’s also an exercise in caution & who can buy and sell this information.

Overall, I liked it but I didn’t love it. It’s not an essential read for the hobbyist but, if you’re a professional, I think it’s worth your time. Knowing how your industry came about is worth the price. If you’re interested, you’d get a good taster from watching the documentary online which costs $4.99 to rent from her website.

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