“A Nation of Descendants”, A conversation between author Francesca Morgan and Matt Rutherford for Newberry Library

Earlier this month, Newberry Library hosted a virtual “Meet the Author” event with Francesca Morgan, author of A Nation of Descendants: Politics and the Practice of Genealogy in U.S. History. Morgan spoke about her book with Newberry Curator of Genealogy Matt Rutherford. From family trees written in early American bibles to birther conspiracy theories, genealogy has always mattered in the United States, whether for taking stock of kin when organizing a family reunion or drawing on membership—by blood or other means—to claim rights to land, inheritances, and more. And since the advent of DNA kits that purportedly trace genealogical relations through genetics, millions of people have used them to learn about their medical histories, biological parentage, and ethnic background. 

A Nation of Descendants traces Americans’ fascination with tracking family lineage through three centuries. Francesca Morgan examines how specific groups throughout history grappled with finding and recording their forebears, focusing on Anglo-American white, Mormon, African American, Jewish, and Native American people. 

Francesca Morgan is associate professor of history at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and author of Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America