How Home DNA Testing is Changing Family Histories and the Implications for American Culture – Libby Copeland

Libby Copeland

Libby Copeland


In this captivating and wide-ranging talk, Libby Copeland will explore consumer DNA testing’s impact on individuals, families, and American culture at large. Copeland will draw on years of research for her book into the discoveries that this technology can bring, and how they impact many communities—including those who are adopted, people who are donor-conceived, and those discovering NPEs (“non-paternity events” or “not parent expected”). She will examine the experiences of individual consumers, including the riveting tale of a genealogist named Alice Collins Plebuch, whose unexpected DNA results in 2012 launched her on an existential mystery that took years to solve. Alice believed she was Irish-American, but an AncestryDNA test revealed she was half Ashkenazi Jewish. Alice’s exhaustive genetic genealogy work involved tracing the relationships of thousands of genetic cousins, while also grappling with the challenges of endogamy within the population she was researching. The stunning explanation for her unexpected results turned out to be a century in the making.

Through intimate portraits of consumers who find their personal lives and identities changed by DNA testing, Copeland will explore how the truth of family history often clashes with long-established narratives. Expanding on interviews and insights from her award-winning book, The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are, she will explore the patterns that emerged from her research into those who have experienced significant DNA surprises, offering data on the scope of the phenomenon. She will consider how past cultural expectations around practices like donor conception collide with our contemporary culture, discuss common themes for those experiencing genetic surprises, explore successes and pitfalls in reaching out to genetic kin, and offer context for varying emotional responses from different family members impacted by the revelation of a family secret. And, she will explain how consumer DNA testing has implications for all of us, even those who haven’t tested—not only because of the genetic material we share, but because of the age-old essential human questions it raises about nature and nurture, ethnicity and identity.

BIO: Libby Copeland is an award-winning journalist who has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Smithsonian Magazine. Copeland was a reporter and editor at The Washington Post for eleven years, has been a media fellow and guest lecturer, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio. Her book, The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are, on the impact of consumer DNA testing on Americans and our collective understanding of the past and identity, has been praised by The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and was named to The Guardian’s list of The Best Books of 2020.

Go to to learn more about The Lost Family, and to sign up for Libby’s newsletter featuring for exclusive content, columns on genealogy, DNA and family, news about upcoming talks and giveaways. Contact Libby at [email protected], or find her on Twitter @libbycopeland, Instagram @libbycopeland, and Facebook @LibbyCopelandAuthor.

The Virtual NGS 2021 On-Demand! Viewing Starts 15 June

This lecture series is available to view from home on your computer or mobile device and offers you the opportunity to develop exceptional genealogy skills with a highly comprehensive set of on-demand webinars from NGS’s expert conference speakers. On-Demand! packages of audio-visual lectures are now available for purchase.

Select from the 20 or 40 On-Demand! lecture packages with over 85 sessions to choose from. Watch starting 15 June 2021 through 31 December 2021. Both packages come with access to two full days of NGS 2021 Live! from 19-20 May 2021, the virtual conference syllabus, and sponsored bonus sessions. Plus, view the sessions from NGS 2021 Live! and any sessions you did not choose from the breakouts (nine more) beginning 15 June. All sessions will be closed captioned.


To learn more about the NGS 2021 Virtual Family History Conference’s week-long events, 17-21 May, visit the conference and download a copy of the program brochure.