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Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree - The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors

3.43  ·  Rating Details  ·  181 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
In this dazzling, hilarious memoir, best-selling author of Kinflicks Lisa Alther chronicles her search for the missing--often mysterious--branches of her family tree.

Most of us grow up thinking we know who we are and where we come from. Lisa Alther's mother hailed from New York, her father from Virginia, and every day they reenacted the Civil War at home in East Tennessee

Hardcover, 264 pages
Published April 11th 2007 by Arcade Publishing (first published March 1st 2007)
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Dec 31, 2008 Gwen rated it it was ok
I expected to love this book, since it's written by a transplanted Southern woman and looks at her family and some of the secrets of her heritage and the way that race plays into that. I was surprised that not only did I not love it, I actively disliked it.

The whole book struck me as an example of self-involved "who AM I?" reflections. If she was looking into the history of her family, and their possible Melungeon ancestry, just because it's interesting or to know more about her family, I would
Maitri Butcher
Aug 03, 2015 Maitri Butcher rated it really liked it
....woman searches for her DNA ancestry in Appalachia and discovers roots to Portugal, Jewish, Native American heritage - which is not expected since her family culturally identify as Scottish protestant.

I love the way this is written and the humor. It reads so quickly and comes across as an honest re-telling of her experience at each step of the way. It helps me to find surprises and interesting turns in my own DNA ancestry - and that there is no need to try and figure out "how" or "why" inform
Jul 07, 2009 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
What a wheeze of a memoir. A young Tenessee woman who feels rather out-of-place no matter where she goes latches on the the Melungeon people of her region as a metaphor for her own identity. Her searches are fascinating, her droll and wonderful family are a delight, and her storytelling--punctuated by the sayings on church signboards she sees on her travels through the South--is so original and just plain fun. Of course, I too have been contacted by researchers wanting to know if anyone in the f ...more
Sarah Beth
Lisa Alther's memoir explores her family roots, as she goes on a exploration to discover what her grandparents wouldn't tell her and what other family members never knew. Alther discovered that she likely had Melungeon ancestors, and set out to find out exactly who the Melungeons were. Multiple theories about Melungeon origins abound - members of Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony, descendants of shipwrecked Portuguese, descendants with mixed race including Native American and African ancestors.

Jan 19, 2016 Carol rated it liked it
This book is part travelogue, part history, part genealogical search, and part memoir. It makes for an interesting, funny, sarcastic, penetrating, and informative read. In this memoir/essay/history, etc., Alther tries to not only understand her formative years in Eastern Tennessee, but the roots of her family. In that quest she begins to question the silences of her grandparents as she pursues this search. One question rises above all others: were her ancestors Melungeon, the unique group of peo ...more
Dec 01, 2007 Jeanne rated it really liked it
This is a non-fiction book by a successful fiction writer. She has a nice sense of humor. The book is interesting for its history, social commentary, and also to see how DNA research is helping to clear up some of history's little mysteries.
Mar 19, 2008 Dana rated it really liked it
I like how she focused on parts of life other than her romantic life. And hey--that monster in Lake Champlain is real--her family all saw it while at a family reunion.
Jan 18, 2008 Janna rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: a wide range of readers, but particularly those who can relate to an amusing family.
Liza with an S! We met at the Appalachian Writers Workshop. A memoir as charming as the author! I laughed out loud at times. A fun read.
Jan 30, 2008 Naomi rated it really liked it
Really wonderful and funny exploration of self-discovery and identity.
Jan 15, 2014 Zack rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2014
Plot: East Tennessean Lisa Alther (author of the 1976 novel Kinflicks) explores her family history as well as the origins of the Melungeons, a multiracial enclave from around the Cumberland Gap.

Thoughts: I THOUGHT THIS BOOK WAS AWESOME. Alther does a great job exploring what it's like to be a shade of gray in a binary world, and to my liking offers a very compassionate overview of injustices wrought against non-white folks throughout southern U.S. history. There is a recurring theme of living be
Dec 16, 2007 Malina rated it liked it
Recommends it for: southern family history enthusiasts
Shelves: genealogy
This book is filled with history. I probably learned more about world history from her tellings of possible theories about the melungeons than I did in all of my high school history classes combined.

It started off really slow and took a while to get into the story. It is also fairly intense - requiring school-like concentration to read in spots, so I wasn't always in the mood for it.

The book is filled with anecdotes from the author's life as well as her wry tongue-in-cheek comments about the w
Jun 02, 2012 Sara rated it really liked it
Yet another dollar store purchase that I was pleasantly surprised by. I only picked it up since it had a genealogy/history slant. She writes about her decades long search for "melungeons" that she supposedly belongs to. Thankfully she keeps her very liberal opinions short & few as she travels to discover what she calls an American history that she didn't learn in school (I did so I don't know how she didn't know that this continent was already heavily populated pre-Columbus). Yet I did learn ...more
Roughly the first half, and parts of the rest are pretty much straight memoir; the Melungeon aspect doesn't really get going until well into the book. The history of that phenomenon is interesting in terms of the southeastern U. S. not being as purely British-descended as historical teaching would suggest. However, and perhaps I'm being overly critical, her jaunts through Europe researching possible Melungeon historical origins came off as a tax-writeoff vacation to me. Other reviewers have ment ...more
Mar 01, 2016 Nicholas rated it liked it
I liked this well enough. I have a bit of a Melungeon fascination and I've done research in eastern Tennessee, where Melungeons traditionally resided. I've also read and enjoyed Alther's fiction in the past. Alther is a funny writer and I did learn some about Melungeons I did not know, but she also rehearses an enormous amount of the history of colonial America and the state of race in the early colonies, most of which I already knew.
Margo Solod
Oct 25, 2007 Margo Solod rated it really liked it
Shelves: justread, memoir
Here again is where I wish there was a star in between three and four. I really wanted to really like this book. And parts of it I loved. Alther writes memoir as well or better than she writes fiction. The parts about her family and her life I found absolutely engaging and often hysterical. But I had trouble slogging through the history. This may just be me. I had the same trouble with The Lemon Tree although I did not find it as engaging as I did kinfolks. But then, I grew up in East Tennessee. ...more
May 29, 2014 Antonellam rated it liked it
I learned a lot from this book and appreciated all the theories about where Melungeons come from. (I even came up with one that the author later presented-hooray!) However, I found the author's writing style very choppy. I wonder if her fiction books are written the same way? (This is her first non-fiction)
Nov 16, 2011 Melody rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoir
I picked this up almost reflexively, after all, I've loved Alther's fiction and I'm a big fan of the memoir. However, this meandering philosophical search for Alther's genetic heritage didn't suit me at all.

To be fair, I do have a dog in this particular hunt. I suspect that because my own child's parentage will always be 50% unknowable mystery, I bristle a little when people assign importance to ancestry. I tend to err on the side of who you are does matter and who your ancestors were doesn't,
Marcia Call
Aug 14, 2011 Marcia Call rated it it was ok
We bought this book at the Alexandria Scholarship Fund gala -- it was part of a package that included 10 books that were profiled by Kojo Nnamdi on NPR. Lisa Alther is a hoot and this book is a fun and interesting read about her search for her identity. In addition to the usual Northern European ancestors she knows about, she suspects that she has Indian or African forebears. I have about 50 pages to go and can't wait to finish it. Will definitely share this delightful book with family and frien ...more
May 06, 2014 David rated it it was ok
I didn't like this book too much. The search seemed disconnected, and it never really went into why the author was so curious (if it was I must of missed it).

I did learn about the ties of the Moors/Turks to American Indians, and that was interesting-as I didn't know that.

I also didn't like the author. Growing up in Tenn/Vir, and moving to Vermont, she seemed real intent on proving herself as a intellectual northerner who escaped from the southern Hillbillies she grew up with.
Sandy D.
Part memoir of growing up in eastern TN, part author's search for her family's history, who may or may not be Melungeon (a historically isolated group in the area that was known for dark skin, six fingers, etc.). There is a lot of interesting southeastern US history here (the Spanish rampaging through bringing diseases and pigs, the different Indian groups and how they dealt with traders, colonists, etc.), including some surprising scenarios suggested to account for the Melungeons and other mixe ...more
Kathryn Bundy
Jul 24, 2012 Kathryn Bundy rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, historical
Lisa Alther is one of my favorite authors. This book is a memoir rather than the fiction she usually writes. I was very interested in the Melungeon connection, because it's something I've been curious about. I recognized so many "southernisms" and enjoyed them. The presentation was a little choppy and sometimes I lost the thread of where we were or who we were talking about. In that regard, it was not as satisfying as her fiction, which is so well woven.

I know the impulse to delve into the fami
Apr 10, 2008 JulieK rated it it was ok
I picked up this book because I didn't know anything about the Melungeons and was curious to learn more, so I was impatient with the larger-than-expected portion of the book that was straight (non-Melungeon-related) memoir. I wasn't particularly interested in what club the author was in during high school or whether or not she saw a sea monster in Lake Champlain, and wished she'd stayed more focused on the Melungeon aspect. It felt a little self-indulgent on the author's part, I guess.
David Ward
Kinfolks - Falling Off the Family Tree: The Search For My Melungeon Ancestors by Lisa Alther (Arcade Publishing 2007) (Biography). For whatever reason, this book really works. I mean it really pops! This is a straightforward tale of a woman's search for “the melungeons in her woodpile” so to speak. As she weaves her tale, you'll spend a lot of time drifting along on tangential currents. As it turns out, that's the fun of this ride. My rating: 7/10, finished 1/26/15.
Aug 03, 2009 Chip rated it liked it
Never knew what a Melungeon was, but had heard about folks being sensitive to being labeled "Black Irish" or "Indian" or anything other than a white person. I attained a greater understanding about why folks wouldn't want to talk about their past, especially in Appalachia. I'm not sure the mystery about Melungeonalia was solved by this book, but it is at least in the mainstream now. I passed the book on to my mum the genealogist, who gives it two thumbs up.
Oct 11, 2007 Deborah rated it liked it
That's about it - I liked it. A fun and funny search for mysterious ancestors. Alther's sense of humor sometimes made me groan; sometimes her sarcasm is hard to distinguish from serious racial comments. One of those books that is much better when you hear the author read in person - a performance piece in many ways!
Jan 24, 2009 Kerry rated it it was ok
This book just didn't draw me in. I tried...really I did, but I just didn't have the motivation to finish it.

If you are interested in Melungeons, have tried to determine if you own relatives were or characterized themselves a Melungeon or any of this type of thing, then you might really dig this book.
Mar 26, 2008 Valerie rated it it was ok
Worth reading once. She's a good writer, and I liked her biographical information, and I liked to read what she thought of things. I didn't know what a Melungeon was (I'm actually still a bit confused!)but the way she puts together her memories is interesting (as long as I take out her political snippets).
May 29, 2011 Beth rated it really liked it
I was pleased to find a book by Alther I hadn't read yet (although I wish she'd write another novel). This was a well-written, fascinating story about her search for her roots, with good insight into the construction of racial and ethnic identity in American society.
Rita Quillen
Dec 28, 2013 Rita Quillen rated it really liked it
Folks who only know Alther's fiction need to read this one...a romp of a memoir and revealing her wonderful sense of humor. This book cracked me up!
Oct 27, 2013 Julie rated it liked it
One women's journey to find out who she came from in order to find out who she is. Lesson learned all "America's" are mongrels. We are all a little of this and a little of that.
Good story.
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