January 29, 2015

Learning About Genetic Genealogy, Part 1

Earlier this month, I spent an exciting (and exhausting!) week at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). My brain is full of new information about genetic genealogy, and my flash drive is full of new records about my ancestors. I enjoyed reconnecting with friends who share my passion for family history, as well as meeting new people.

I took the course “Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy,” coordinated by Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL. Blaine Bettinger, PhD, JD, and CeCe Moore also instructed significant sections. The three of them made a good team, and we covered a lot of ground. The binder of handouts we received will make a great resource going forward.

Many people have asked me what the course was like, and whether I’d recommend it. The answer to the latter is definitely yes. First of all, SLIG is an incredibly well-organized institute, the new hotel facilities are good, and the people couldn’t be nicer. Still, the true test of a course is in its content and instructors, and I’m happy to say this one delivered on both counts.

We started out with an overview of DNA testing and basic genetics, talking about the different tests and the “big three” companies: Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA, as well as specialty testers. We spent some time the first day learning some scientific vocabulary. I now understand terms like centiMorgans, alleles, recombination, pseudo-segments, and endogamous populations, not to mention MCRA, CRS, IBD and IBS. Not sure of the difference between a SNP and a STR? Neither was I before this course.

Debbie Parker Wayne covered mitochondrial (mtDNA) testing, and what it can reveal about your direct maternal ancestry far back into history. Crucial to this is understanding that a mother passes her mtDNA to all her children, but only daughters can then pass it on to the next generation.

While using mtDNA to solve genealogical problems for recent generations can be challenging, we talked about ways of approaching it. For one thing, mtDNA can often be used to either support or refute a supposed relationship. It also can be used to prove questions of Native American ancestry through the mother’s line. For me, a key point in our mtDNA discussion was understanding more about haplogroups, which indicate where your maternal ancestors originated many hundreds of years ago.

Y-DNA also deals with deep ancestry, but on the opposite side of the pedigree chart. Only males inherit a Y chromosome, so Y-DNA passes from father to son through many generations, with occasional small changes. These changes, or mutations, can provide big clues for families. Blaine Bettinger presented an excellent discussion of the advantages and limitations of Y testing, using Y-DNA results, finding Y-DNA cousins, surname projects, STR markers, haplotypes and haplogroups. He told us about some third-party databases and tools for analyzing results, and showed how Y-DNA can be used to identify whether two males share a common paternal ancestor.

We also learned about X-DNA, which is tied to the sex chromosomes. A female inherits one X chromosome from her mother and one from her father. A male inherits an X chromosome from his mother but none from his father (he gets a Y instead). Because of its more complicated inheritance pattern and the fact that it hasn’t been studied as much, X-DNA often gets overlooked. In the right situations, though, it can be used to narrow down the ancestral lines you should focus on.

In addition to lectures, we did in-class projects designed to identify individuals on a pedigree chart who could be tested for a common ancestor. One takeaway from this was that when you start to work with DNA, those collateral relatives—your grandfather’s brother’s kids, your grandmother’s aunt’s kids, and cousins of every stripe—become vitally important. I have a renewed sense of how valuable it is to include these collaterals in my traditional genealogical research.

That's a quick overview of our first two days. I'll talk about what we covered the rest of the week in my next post, and tell you about opportunities to take a similar course at GRIP and SLIG. There was just too much happening to fit it all into one!


DNA image: "DNA methylation" by Christoph Bock (Max Planck Institute for Informatics) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DNA_methylation.jpg#mediaviewer/File:DNA_methylation.jpg

January 11, 2015

Attending the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy

For the next week, I’ll be participating in the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) and researching at the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah. I think SLIG offers a great environment for developing better research skills and getting to know other genealogists. It’s not easy to leave home at this time of the year, right after the holidays, but I’m already glad I came.

SLIG offers twelve tracks or courses for intermediate and advanced genealogists, presented by top-notch instructors. I had a hard time choosing a course, because they all sound so good. In the end I elected to enroll in Getting Started with Genetic Genealogy. I want to learn how to interpret and use the results from the DNA tests that I’ve asked family members to take, and how to integrate genetic matches with traditional research to find common ancestors.

The course instructors—Debbie Parker Wayne, CeCe Moore, and Blaine Bettinger—are three of the leading experts in the field of genetic genealogy. I’m looking forward to learning from them and my fellow classmates.

In addition to the course I’m taking, I’m loaded with research goals for the FHL, including one particularly vexing problem that I hope to make some progress on. I created a detailed list of films and books to consult, using the strategy I outlined earlier in Tips for Planning Your Visit to the Family History Library. Since I’ll be in class all day, my time in the library will be limited, and I want to make the most of it. Fortunately, I’ll have all day Saturday to spend at the FHL.

Here’s hoping it will be a good week for new discoveries, both in the classroom and the library. 


January 3, 2015

Ohio Genealogical Society Conference Set to Rock Columbus in April

I know the year just started, and I don’t want to rush time—it does that well enough on its own—but I can’t wait until April 8th. That’s the day programming for the Ohio Genealogical Society’s 2015 family history conference starts. I’m excited that this year’s OGS Conference will be coming to my home city, Columbus. And the program looks fantastic.

Just how good is the line-up of speakers and presentations? Take a look and decide for yourself. You can find the online registration brochure here. I’ll give you one clue: Judy Russell, aka The Legal Genealogist, will give the keynote address and four additional presentations you won’t want to miss.

Here’s the full announcement from OGS:

Registration Open for the
2015 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference
Columbus, Ohio, 8-11 April 2015

The Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) is pleased to announce the program schedule and registration for its 54th Annual Conference, OHIO: Your Genealogical Cornerstone. The conference will be held April 9-11, 2015, at the Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square in Columbus, with numerous pre-conference activities on April 8. The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL, will give the keynote address.

The twelve-page program brochure is now available to view and download at www.ogs.org/conference2015/index.php. Registration is open for both online and mail-in options. Hotel reservations may be made at the special conference rate via a link from the above site. Attendees will enjoy free Wifi in all guest rooms and conference facilities, as well as complimentary parking for one car per room.

Pre-conference activities on Wednesday, April 8, include tours and research opportunities at the Ohio History Center, tours of the Ohio Statehouse, and several workshops at the hotel. From Thursday through Saturday, family historians of all experience levels can select from over 90 presentations on a wide variety of topics to enhance their genealogical skills and understanding of their ancestors. The conference features 44 expert speakers from across the country. Tracks include:

Thursday: Organizing & Productivity, Problem-Solving Strategies, Records & Resources, Across the Ocean, Sharing Family History, and Forensic Genealogy.

Friday: Skill Building, Technology Tools, German Ancestors, Methods for Success, Military Research, and African American & Southern Ancestors.

Saturday: Getting Started, Records & Resources, DNA/Genetic Genealogy, Ohio Ancestors, Research Challenges, and Preserving Your Heritage.

A variety of social events, including luncheons and an informal evening gathering with live music, are offered for attendees to make and renew connections with others who share a passion for genealogy. New this year are express breakfast and grab-and-go lunch options. Businesses and societies will offer their products, books, software, expertise, and more in the exhibit hall.

Sign up to receive posts from the OGS Conference Blog, www.ogs.org/blog, for updates and details about conference activities.

Visit www.ogs.org/conference2015/index.php to view the program brochure, register, and make your hotel reservations. The Ohio Genealogical Society, founded in 1959, is the largest state genealogical society in the nation. We look forward to welcoming you to Columbus in April.

I’ve already registered, and am happy to report the online form was quick and easy. Why not do the same now, while you’re thinking of it? I hope to see you there! 


January 1, 2015

Happy New Year 2015

Dear Readers,

Best wishes for health, happiness, and prosperity in 2015. I hope you make many exciting discoveries about the lives of your ancestors in the coming months. Happy New Year!


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