The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

A case study on the multiple components of identity


1Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

March 26, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 2 Add to calendar

Historically, the concept of “blood” as a symbolic proxy for ancestry has been a key element of defining political identity, as well as shaping social and ethnic identity. Now, in the Genomic Age, symbolic blood has been reconceptualized as a scientific truth which can be revealed or verified through genetic ancestry testing. Previous scholars have discussed the way identity has become essentialized as biological through both academic and public discourse on genetic ancestry. However, few scholars have examined the relationship between various narratives of ancestry and identity. This multi-generational, single family case study serves as a point of departure for these discussions. Genetic data on ancestry is examined in concert with oral family history, obtained through individual interviews, and document-based genealogical research. When compared, these biological, oral, and historical narratives invite a dialogue regarding how biological understandings of ancestry may conflict with or complement previous constructions of both personal and family identity. Based on this multi-component analysis, scholars who seek to understand genetic population histories should also consider non-biological narratives of individual, family, and community identity. Within the larger context of molecular anthropology research, this study brings to light how biological anthropology may privilege biomolecular understandings of identity and group membership over other socially constructed definitions, and what information is gained or lost as a consequence. This family-based analysis also provides insight into the larger-scale relationship between genetic population history narratives and oral or historical narratives.