A Nation of Descendants

Politics and the Practice of Genealogy in U.S. History

By Francesca Morgan

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6478-1
    Published: October 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6477-4
    Published: October 2021
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6479-8
    Published: September 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5769-9
    Published: September 2021

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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. Morgan also describes how individuals and researchers use genealogy for personal and scholarly purposes, and she explores how local businesspeople, companies like Ancestry.com, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Finding Your Roots series powered the commercialization and commodification of genealogy.

About the Author

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

For more information about Francesca Morgan, visit the Author Page.


"Genealogy and its use can be quite political in nature. In this latest work, Morgan explores how genealogy in the Unites States has evolved over time, especially with its increased popularity in the 21st century. . . . Recommended for historians and students of information and cultural studies for its expansive overview of a niche field."—Library Journal

"Morgan does an excellent job of tracing the history of genealogy in the United States over more than two centuries. Her diligent primary source work is invaluable, and her knowledge of applicable secondary sources is itself a treasure to those interested in this topic. Academic historians, genealogists, public historians, and the general public will all find this work useful." —The Public Historian

“[Morgan] offers professional genealogists an excellent history of the field while providing a cautionary tale for those pursuing the history of their family.”—Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“Very impressive…this is an important book.”—Honor Sachs, author of Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier

"Drawing on prodigious archival research, Francesca Morgan traces Americans’ fascination with genealogy from the early republic to the present day."—Scott E. Casper, President, American Antiquarian Society