chapter  12
20 Pages

Roots and Revelation: Genetic Ancestry Testing and the YouTube Generation

ByALONDRA NELSON AND JEONG WON HWANG

As is widely acknowledged, parallel developments in computing and molecular biology precipitated the genomics era. A noteworthy extension of this interdependence of bytes and genes is the budding role played by social network sites (SNS) on the terrain of consumer genetics.2 The Google-backed personal genomics company 23andMe that sells consumers genetic inferences about their “health, disease and ancestry,” for example, was launched in 2007 as an ebusiness with a social networking component.3 As envisioned, this feature allows 23andMe’s clients to tap into the wisdom of the crowd by sharing and aggregating data about their respective genetic analyses. Virtual communities have also risen up more organically around other types of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing in the form of listservs and blogs through which users disclose and discuss the SNPs (“snips”), Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA), mitochondrial DNA (mt-DNA) and haplotype group results they purchased from various enterprises toward the end of conjecturing identity, familial origins or disease predisposition.4 In this essay, we examine another iteration of the interplay between on-line community and DTC genetics-the use of the video-sharing SNS YouTube (Broadcast Yourself)TM by African American genealogists, who have purchased DNA testing to learn about their ancestry. With this phenomenon, the authoritative “imprimatur” of genetic science and the practice of genealogy are married to the media cultures of Web 2.0 and reality 5

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community formation among young adults. This phenomenon also suggests the broadening demographic appeal of genetic root-seeking; interest in genealogy, a practice that has long been the provenance of older adults and retirees, may be growing in a younger generation, owing in part to the recent technological mediation of root-seeking.