WASHINGTON (March 15, 2010)—Acclaimed nonfiction writer Donovan Webster sets out to chart his ancestral journey using his own DNA as a global guide in his new book for National Geographic, MEETING THE FAMILY: One Man’s Journey Through His Human Ancestry (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0573-6; April 20, 2010; $26 hardcover).
In 2005, National Geographic, IBM and the Waitt Foundation created the Genographic Project, which uses the tools of molecular genetics to track the ancient migrations of our ancestors, employing modern science and a global community to disentangle the stories that weave us together as members of the human family. Award-winning author Webster was one of the first participants, and, soon after getting the results of his cheek swab that identified a pattern of markers in his DNA, he set out to meet members of his ancestral family. The journey took him to three continents and through thousands of years of human history.
Webster’s first stop was Tanzania’s Rift Valley, where he lived among Hadzabe tribespeople, hunted wild boar, gathered healing plants and visited the hollow tree where generations of Hadzabe women have given birth.
From Africa, Webster traveled to Roman ruins in Lebanon’s fertile Bekaa Valley and shared afternoon coffee with two men whose lives reflect this cultural crossroads. His quest for family connections took him next to Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where he discovered kinship with the performers of a traveling circus.
Finally, in the heart of Bilbao, Spain, a city that has reinvented itself time and again through the ages, Webster came face-to-face with a museum exhibition that mirrored his own incredible journey.
Webster’s adventure, tracing his family tree all the way back to its roots 60,000 years ago in Africa, is unique and universal. It’s a tale of chance meetings and thought-provoking occurrences that, as it unwinds, tells the story of all humankind.
In his foreword to the book, Genographic Project Director Spencer Wells, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, writes that Webster’s story “intersects with everyone else’s at various points along the way. Each of us is carrying the pattern of our family’s wanderings inside ourselves, in our own DNA. The tools of modern molecular genetics can help us read the history encoded there. Written in the pattern of nucleotides, the As, Cs, Gs, and Ts in our genome tell a story of birth, death, adversity, and triumph — an epic trek from an African homeland to the far corners of the Earth. The baroque pattern of human tapestry, woven from such seemingly disparate threads, ultimately reveals a deeper pattern of shared journeys. We are truly members of a human family far more closely related than we ever dreamed of a generation ago — one than includes Europeans, Asians, Native Americans, New Guineans, Africans, and everyone in between.”
Webster’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, National Geographic, Vanity Fair and the New York Times Magazine. His previous books include “Aftermath: The Remnants of War” and “The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the Burma-India Theater in World War II.” MEETING THE FAMILY is his first book for National Geographic.
About The Genographic Project
The Genographic Project seeks to chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species and answer age-old questions surrounding the genetic diversity of humanity. The project is a not-for-profit, multiyear, global research partnership of National Geographic and IBM, launched in 2005, using genetics as a tool to address anthropological questions on a global scale. At the core of the project is a consortium of 11 global regional scientific teams who, following an ethical and scientific framework, are responsible for sample collection and DNA analysis in their respective regions. The project is open to members of the public to participate through purchasing a public participation kit from the Genographic Web site, nationalgeographic.com/genographic, where they can choose to donate their genetic results to the expanding database. Proceeds from kit sales support the field research and a Legacy Fund for indigenous and traditional community-led language revitalization and cultural projects.
About National Geographic
The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 375 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 9,200 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit nationalgeographic.com.