From The Washington Post:
Several years ago, Edward Ball took possession of an ancient family desk and discovered something in a locked compartment that to him must have seemed almost predestined. He found a collection of carefully labeled and dated locks of hair from nine of his 19th-century relatives, the oldest specimen dating from 1824. Ball was uniquely qualified to explore the implications of such a trove: His 1998 book Slaves in the Family was a National Book Award-winning investigation into his white ancestors’ dealings with their African slaves. Now he held in his hands the means to take that exploration a giant step further. Perhaps modern DNA analysis of his ancestors’ hair could provide evidence of unsuspected liaisons, redraw the tree of genetic relationships, and deepen Ball’s understanding of his family’s story and his own identity.
The Genetic Strand is the tale of Ball’s efforts to extract truth from these preserved hair specimens, and of what he learned about the power and pitfalls of DNA testing as a tool for exploring ancestry. The book engagingly switches back and forth between history and science, alternating anecdotes from the lives of the family members with visits to the labs of the various biologists who assist Ball with his genetic quest.