Thursday, June 26, 2008

Book Report: "Finding Oprah's Roots, Finding Your Own"

I mentioned in my post "I'm 1 in 1,000" that I received the book "Finding Oprah's Roots, Finding Your Own" by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as part of the Buick Heritage Sweepstakes contest. I finished the book the other night, and have been pondering what to write about it.
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I really liked the book because Gates went into so much detail about the records found and family interviews that documented the real lives of Oprah, her parents, her grandparents and the other post Civil War generations, and then into what records could be found from the years of slavery in the USA. I knew and thought I understood most of this information, but now I have an even better understanding, especially about the pre-Civil War slave era records and research processes, and the post-Civil war "surname selection" issue.
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The "family history" part of the book was, to me, both inspiring and terrible sad. I, like Oprah and Gates, was inspired by the struggle of some of Oprah's ancestors to overcome the injustices and hardships of first slavery and then in the post-Reconstruction South. Several of her slave ancestors owned land, thirsted for education, created and ran schools after the Civil War. The sadness is the darkness of slavery that robbed millions of people of their identity. Oprah has overcome poverty and hardship in her early life, and is a successful person who is admired the world over. Gates tells these stories well.
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The second part of the book concerns DNA testing and trying to find where Oprah's maternal line (her mitochondrial line) came from in Africa. Gates describes the mtDNA and autosomal admixture testing processes and the results. Oprah had thought that she was from the Zulus in southern Africa, but her matrilineal line she is probably from the area around Liberia; she may be closely related to the Gullah people in South Carolina.
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However, there is no mention in the book of Oprah's patrilineal DNA - the Winfrey line. Her father is still alive, and could have been tested for his Y-chromosome DNA, and there are other related male Winfreys. I wonder if they were tested, and they didn't want to publish the results? Or did they refuse to be tested? To me, this is an important part of the DNA/genetic sequence for any person, and a Y-DNA test of Oprah's patrilineal line might have been very revealing of their African origin. They wrote this book that highlighted DNA testing and hardly mentioned a major part of the DNA test equation (all I found was mention of Gates's own Y-DNA testing). Surely they didn't just "forget" about it.
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The Appendix of the book is Gates's effort to help readers discover their own genealogy and family history, oriented to African-American readers. It's pretty well done and useful for any person to read and learn from - it's easy reading and only 11 pages. He provides a good list of books for general genealogy research and also for African-American research.
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I enjoyed the book and learned quite a few new things about African-American research in the process. I'm still in a quandary about the Y-DNA issue, however.
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There are other reviews of this book - see:
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* George Geder's review is here.
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* The http://www.amazon.com/ web site with comments about the book is here.
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* The PBS description of the documentary Oprah's Roots that was shown in early 2007 is here.

1 comment:

Apple said...

I received the same book but I haven't had time to open it yet. Haven't watched the DVD either! With vacation finally here I hope to be caught up enough to read and watch in a week or so.