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Virtual Book Club – The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are

Date(s) - Thursday, September 3rd
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm


dsc0801-version-2You swab your cheek or spit into a vial, then send it away to a lab somewhere. Weeks later you get a report that might tell you where your ancestors came from or if you carry certain genetic risks. Or the report could reveal a long-buried family secret and upend your entire sense of identity. Soon a lark becomes an obsession, an incessant desire to find answers to questions at the core of your being, like “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” Welcome to the age of home genetic testing.

Award-winning journals Libby Copeland will discuss her new book, The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are. In this book, Copeland investigates what happens when we embark on a vast social experiment with little understanding of the ramifications. She explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, all while tracing the story of one woman, her unusual results, and a relentless methodical drive for answers that becomes a thoroughly modern genetic detective story.

The Lost Family delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests—a technology that represents the end of family secrets. There are the adoptees who’ve used the tests to find their birth parents; donor-conceived adults who suddenly discover they have more than fifty siblings; hundreds of thousands of Americans who discover their fathers aren’t biologically related to them, a phenomenon so common it is known as a “non-paternity event”; and individuals who are left to grapple with their conceptions of race and ethnicity when their true ancestral histories are discovered. Throughout these accounts, Copeland explores the impulse toward genetic essentialism and raises the question of how much our genes should get to tell us about who we are. With more than thirty million people having undergone home DNA testing, the answer to that question is more important than ever.

Gripping and masterfully told, The Lost Family is a spectacular book on a big, timely subject.

Registration is Required to Access the Zoom Session

This program is free and open to the public.
Suggested donation $5

About Libby Copeland

Libby Copeland is an award-winning journalist who writes about culture, science and human behavior. Her book, The Lost Family, published March 3, 2020, looks at the impact of home DNA testing on the American family (sign up here for updates and events). A staff reporter and editor for The Washington Post for over a decade, she now writes from New York for publications including The Atlantic, SlateNew York MagazineSmithsonian MagazineThe New York TimesThe New Republic, Esquire.comThe Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Glamour and more. In recent years, she’s chronicled the cultural and personal implications of at-home DNA testingprofiled Dave Grohl, told the deeply intimate story of a man who kept his wife’s body at home after she died, explored the science of the wandering mind, chronicled how a women’s grassroots movement is changing how Americans view death, and delved into marketing topics as varied as the revival of Tiger Beat magazineunmentionable bathroom products and the “artisanal” beauty trend. She also regularly reviews books (recent topics: cannibalismAmerican child bridesLindy West’s memoir). For New York’s The Cut, she conceived, assigned and edited a fascinating series called “Lies We’ve Told.” As a staffer at The Washington Post, she wrote feature stories from the 2008 presidential trail, the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, and the 2005 Michael Jackson molestation trial, and edited the newspaper’s television coverage. She wrote about the Jersey shore before MTV thought of it, and about political women who plan their pregnancies around election cycles.

Copeland has appeared on MSNBC, CNN and NPR, and has been a speaker many times on writing and reporting. In 2018, she gave a talk called “A Secret in the Blood,” about her Washington Post feature on DNA testing, at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston conference. In 2013, she gave a talk at Razorfish on why women should be buying their cars online, based on what the science shows about how gender impacts negotiation. (The talk was based on this Slate piece.) She also does corporate content writing; she’s written about creativity, change and decision-making for the app Unstuck. She was a 2010 media fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Her work has been selected by Longreads, Longform and The Sunday Long Read. Her recent piece for, “Kate’s Still Here,” won Hearst Magazines’ 2017 Editorial Excellence Awards for “reported feature or profile.” In 2005, she won first prize in the feature specialty category from the Society for Features Journalism (then called AASFE) and, two years later, served as a judge for the organization.

Sponsored by the Young Leadership Division of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

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