Lost Family
Libby Copeland

Book cover image

Narrated By: Cindy Kay

Duration: 11 hours and 12 minutes

What to expect

A deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives

You swab your cheek or spit into a vial, then send it away to a lab somewhere. Weeks later you get a report that might tell you where your ancestors came from or if you carry certain genetic risks. Or the report could reveal a long-buried family secret and upend your entire sense of identity. Soon a lark becomes an obsession, an incessant desire to find answers to questions at the core of your being, like “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” Welcome to the age of home genetic testing.

In The Lost Family, journalist Libby Copeland investigates what happens when we embark on a vast social experiment with little understanding of the ramifications. Copeland explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, all while tracing the story of one woman, her unusual results, and a relentless methodical drive for answers that becomes a thoroughly modern genetic detective story.

The Lost Family delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests—a technology that represents the end of family secrets. There are the adoptees who’ve used the tests to find their birth parents; donor-conceived adults who suddenly discover they have more than fifty siblings; hundreds of thousands of Americans who discover their fathers aren’t biologically related to them, a phenomenon so common it is known as a “non-paternity event”; and individuals who are left to grapple with their conceptions of race and ethnicity when their true ancestral histories are discovered. Throughout these accounts, Copeland explores the impulse toward genetic essentialism and raises the question of how much our genes should get to tell us about who we are. With more than thirty million people having undergone home DNA testing, the answer to that question is more important than ever.

Gripping and masterfully told, The Lost Family is a spectacular book on a big, timely subject.


Genetics (non-medical)

Listen to a sample

“Before you spit in that vial, read this book…Copeland’s well-researched exploration of the consequences—intended and otherwise—of Americans’ increasingly common practice of sending saliva samples to companies.”

New York Times

“A smart and absorbing exploration of the ethics and privacy questions surrounding this relatively new ability to confirm who’s who on our family trees.”


“Even if you think (like everyone does) that your family tree holds no uncomfortable surprises, Copeland will make you ponder just how much stock we put into our genetic heritage.”

Washington Post

“It is at once a hard look at the forces behind a historical mass reckoning that is happening all across America and an intimate portrait of the people living it.”


“A fascinating account…Impeccably researched…Copeland presents her quest for her late father’s true heritage as a riveting mystery with as many false leads as any crime novel.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Copeland uses fascinating stories of family discoveries…[and] emphasizes that if you choose to send in your saliva sample, the results can reverberate through the whole family tree. Verdict: Highly recommended for popular science and memoir fans, as well as readers with an interest in genealogy.”

Library Journal

“So many families have been touched—and will continue to be touched—by the secrets unearthed by home genetic testing. We are in an epidemic with few signposts, little to guide us as we contend with the unintended consequences brought upon us by scientific advancement. The Lost Family is an urgently necessary, powerful book that addresses one of the most complex social and bioethical issues of our time.”

Dani Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author

“Not long ago, the idea of sequencing your DNA was as plausible as booking a trip to Jupiter. Now we give each other DNA tests as holiday gifts. As tens of millions of people look at their genes and link them to their ancestry, this science is having a profound impact on our society as a whole. It is reuniting relatives, breaking up families, and sending criminals to jail. The Lost Family is a deeply reported, deeply humane exploration of our ongoing redefinition of our identity and our kinships.”

Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother's Laugh

“A riveting mystery combined with a beautiful meditation on family and identity. I read it in one sitting and immediately preordered copies for everyone I’m related to, both by blood and by love.”

Monica Hesse, author of American Fire

“A compellingly readable narrative that takes us down the rabbit hole of modern personal genomics. Libby Copeland brings a gripping story from the front lines of genealogy and genomics.”

Razib Khan, geneticist, the Insitome Institute

The Lost Family is a fascinating exploration of the mysteries ignited by DNA genealogy testing—from the intensely personal and concrete to the existential and unsolvable. In the world Copeland’s ‘seekers’ are exploring, ‘Who am I?’ becomes a mystery more intricate and more crucial than any novel’s whodunit. Copeland deftly weaves together individual stories, technical explanations, and sociological discussion to make a book that’s both gripping and deeply thought-provoking.”