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To The Best Of Our Knowledge
October 20, 2018

Self-Discovery, Powered by DNA Data

The Gee family gallery.

This week, we're revisiting the story of Alex Gee — who, upon delving into his genetic ancestry, uncovered that he had living white relatives, a product of a schism within his family tree that happened decades before he was born. 

He tells the beginning of that story to Charles on the show, but he's gone deeper since then. This week, Gee is launching a multi-part series about his experience on his podcast, "Black Like Me." The series is called "Geeanaeology" — here's a summary: 

Geeanaeology is going to be a multi-episode release from the Black Like Me podcast that shares the story of Dr. Gee uncovering the complex history of his own family background, and its implications and parallels with American history and family backgrounds in general. 

While Dr. Gee's story is remarkable and deeply personal, it is only one piece of recovering the whole American story in history of black and white America. Geeanaeology is an invitation to its listeners to enter into Dr. Gee's own personal story, and then to contemplate how their own story and family background may speak to and represent American history in relation to race. 

There are many remarkable parts to Gee's story, but the one that jumps out in my mind is how empowering data can be if we have control over where it leads us in our lives. In a time that we're all a little more paranoid about tech companies knowing what we like, how active we are, even what we say to each other in our living rooms, it's great to hear a story of someone gaining data about themselves and where they come from, and using it to open new relationships and new paths of self-discovery. 

I can't say that I've gotten anything as meaningful as this story from my efforts to maintain a "quantified self" of tracked biking routes taken, craft beers consumed, and horror films reviewed, but it's nice to hear a story of someone using data to better contextualize a valuable part of their life. 


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How Do You Know Ruben Gee?

Half brothers Robert Lafayette Gee (right) and Henderson Gee (left). Robert was Ruben Gee‘s first child to his white wife, Aurelia. Henderson was his second child to his slave, Venus. Henderson was born a slave.
Rev. Alex Gee is fascinated by geneology. So he took a DNA test and discovered one of his ancestors was a white slave owner. Then he went down to New Orleans to meet his white relatives — and that meeting sparked a slew of complicated emotions.
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A Partial Glossary To A Horrifying Future

Robot boy
Alexander Weinstein’s “Children of the New World” is a collection of cautionary tales about extreme emotional attachment to software and silicon.
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The Borax Dinner Party That Kickstarted The FDA

"Poison Squad" Volunteers taking in a dinner with a side of Borax.
Science writer Deborah Blum on the government scientists who made the case for food regulation by "eating dangerously."
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The Internet Has Made Dying More Miserable

Art Official Age cover
Chuck Klosterman thinks the Internet has ruined a lot of things, including death.
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George Saunders Recommends "I Will Bear Witness"

"I Will Bear Witness" by Victor Klemperer
The author of "Lincoln in the Bardo" recommends Victor Klemperer's two-volume diary that reads as a slow-motion picture of what the Holocaust looked like before it was known Holocaust.
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