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Shaking the Family Tree

Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist

About The Book


As a historian, Buzzy Jackson thought she knew the answers to these simple questions—that is, until she took a look at her scrawny family tree. With a name like Jackson (the twentieth most common American surname), she knew she must have more relatives and more family history out there, somewhere. Her first visit to the Boulder Genealogy Society brought her more questions than answers . . . but it also gave her a tantalizing peek into the fascinating (and enormous) community of family-tree huggers and after-hours Alex Haleys.

In Shaking the Family Tree, Jackson dives headfirst into her family gene pool: flying cross-country to locate an ancient family graveyard, embarking on a weeklong genealogy Caribbean cruise, and even submitting her DNA for testing to try to find her Jacksons. And in the process of researching her own family lore (Who was Bullwhip Jackson?) she meets legions of other genealogy buffs who are as interesting as they are driven—from the boy who saved his allowance so he could order his great-grandfather’s death certificate to the woman who spends her free time documenting the cemeteries of Colorado ghost towns.

Through Jackson’s research she connects with distant relatives, traces her roots back more than 250 years and in the process comes to discover—genetically, historically, and emotionally—the true meaning of “family” for herself.

About The Author

Photograph by Andrea Scher

Buzzy Jackson earned a Ph.D. in U.S. History from UC Berkeley, where she wrote her first book, A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them (W.W. Norton: 2005). She has received numerous writing and teaching awards, including those from UC Berkeley, PEN-West and the American Library Association. She is currently a Research Affiliate at The Center of the American West at CU-Boulder. Buzzy writes for many online publications as well as for radio and film.

To contact Buzzy and find out more about her current projects, visit

Product Details

  • Publisher: Touchstone (July 6, 2010)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439149263

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Raves and Reviews

"Very interesting and entertaining—I read it with pleasure."
Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and New York Times bestselling author of Strength in What Remains

“Part Gen-X guide to genealogy, part rollicking road trip for roots – complete with somebody named Cousin Mooner – Buzzy Jackson’s book is funny, illuminating and profound. If your idea of genealogy is grandpa hunched over that tattered ancestral chart he keeps in the back of his suspenders drawer, think again.”
—Ariel Sabar, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and author of My Father’s Paradise

“It’s as if Tony Horwitz or Sarah Vowell invaded the hallowed halls of genealogy and exposed our past-adoring, source-citing, ancestor-worshiping underworld.”
—Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, author of Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History

“This is a delightful book -- fun to read, but educational. Much recommended for anyone who has considered searching for their ancestors (or loves someone who does so). Jackson is so friendly, her outlook so generous -- from a cruise ship in the Caribbean to a forgotten graveyard in Alabama to a crowded library in Salt Lake City -- she is the perfect companion for this adventurous trip into the world of genealogy.”
—Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club

“Jackson packs an amazing amount of information and advice into small, pithy paragraphs. . . her descriptions of the process and the people she met will prove fascinating to everyone with an interest in tracing their family backward.” Booklist

"Jackson’s account is an easily digested travelogue into her family’s history and a vivid journey into the world of genealogy." The Boston Globe

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