February 2, 2015

Learning About Genetic Genealogy, Part 2

Class at SLIG 2015, front row, left to right: Debbie Parker Wayne, CeCe Moore, Blaine Bettinger

Last week, I wrote about some of my experiences in the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) course, Getting Started with Genetic Genealogy. My post on Learning About Genetic Genealogy, Part 1 talked about our coverage of mtDNA (direct maternal line), Y-DNA (direct paternal line), and X-DNA testing.

CeCe Moore, one of the nation’s leading genetic genealogists, took us into the intricacies of autosomal, or atDNA, testing and analysis the latter part of the week. And what a fascinating field it is.

Autosomal DNA is valuable for genealogy because it looks at chromosome segments inherited from all ancestral lines—your whole pedigree chart. The big caveat in this is random recombination. That’s the process by which bits of your mother’s genes and bits of your father’s genes randomly mix together to create an unique individual: you. It’s why sisters and brothers share a significant amount of, but not all, traits and chromosomes.

Because of recombination, you may inherit relatively large segments of chromosomes from one ancestor, and small segments from another. Each generation, the bits get smaller, and eventually some don’t make it to you at all. So in effect, some ancestors five or six generations ago drop off your genetic pedigree chart.

AtDNA analysis for genealogy, therefore, becomes a matching game. Who among other testers matches you on a specific chromosome segment, and how does that help you identify your most recent common ancestor (MRCA)?

CeCe talked about identifying close matches by centiMorgan size, chromosome mapping, and triangulation. She discussed the methodology for working with match data on Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA. We talked about the special challenges of working with endogamous (self-contained) populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews. CeCe also shared some moving stories of the successes she has had using atDNA to identify parents of adoptees and others with an unknown birth parent.

Blaine Bettinger offered tips for using third-party tools to aid in analysis, with a special focus on GEDmatch. I found this very helpful and wished we had even more time to spend on third party tools. Blaine also discussed privacy, regulation, and ethical issues, introducing the new Genetic Genealogy Standards announced just days earlier.

One of my favorite lectures of the week was Blaine’s presentation on ethnicity, admixture, and kinship analysis. Ethnicity predictions, while far from an exact science, are one of the most intriguing components of DNA testing. Everyone who has tested in my family, at least, is curious to know where their long-ago ancestors came from.

On the last morning, Debbie Parker Wayne talked about when and how to incorporate DNA testing with traditional research to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, and offered some citation models.

If this course sounds like something you might be interested in taking, I have good news for you. A similar course will be offered twice this summer at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), and again at SLIG next winter. Here are the details:

Practical Genetic Genealogy with Debbie Parker Wayne, CeCe Moore, and Blaine Bettinger: at GRIP, June 28-July 3, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Registration begins WED., FEBRUARY 4, at 12:00 noon Eastern time at www.gripitt.org.

Practical Genetic Genealogy with Debbie Parker Wayne, Patti Hobbs, and Blaine Bettinger: at GRIP, July 19-24, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Registration begins WED., FEBRUARY 18, at 12:00 noon Eastern time at www.gripitt.org.

Beginning Genetic Genealogy coordinated by Blaine Bettinger: at SLIG, January 11-15, 2016, in Salt Lake City. Registration begins June 20 at 11:00 am Eastern time at www.SLIG.ugagenealogy.org.

One tip: to get the most out of an intensive study opportunity like this, it’s helpful to come in with some experience under your belt. Read about genetic genealogy, test yourself and some family members at the major testing companies, and attend any webinars, conference lectures, or local seminars on DNA you can find. That will help you catch onto the concepts more quickly, and recognize how you can apply various processes to your own research. You might start by exploring Blaine Bettinger’s blog, The Genetic Genealogist.

Just like regular genealogy, DNA research can be both time-consuming and addicting. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some matches to investigate…


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