On gene-ealogy: identity, descent, and affiliation in the era of home DNA testing

Sarah Abel*, Catherine J. Frieman

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    Over the last two decades, home DNA testing has reshaped popular narratives around iden-tity, descent, kinship, and modes of ethnic and racial affiliation. The ability to pair oral histories and family lore with scientific data seems to have totally upended the formerly ‘quaint’ hobby of genealogical research. But genealogies have been serious business for thousands of years, and DNA is far from an objective witness to the past. Genetic data create visceral connections between past and present, self and other, here and there. As such, genetic genealogies, or ‘gene-ealogies,’ have proved to be a potent arena for the negotiation of identity, belonging, and authority—over both the past and the future. In this paper, we review diverse DNA-driven genealogical practices in Europe, the Americas, and beyond, developing a discussion about how genetic approaches are intersecting with traditional ideas of identity and descent, as well as new developments in ethnoracial politics in different parts of the world. In par-ticular, we explore the genetic narratives and agendas of care that drive direct-to-consumer companies and communities of gene-ealogists, seeking not just to explain to what extent DNA tests might shift or reinforce conceptions of ‘who we are,’ but to contextualize this with regard to wider political and social forces.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)15-25
    Number of pages11
    JournalAnthropological Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2023


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