Family Tree DNA Conferences

It’s hard to believe, but the 8th Annual International Genetic Genealogy Conference for project administrators is upcoming Nov. 9-10 in Houston.  And wow, where did the last 8 years go?  I remember how excited we were when the first conference was announced.  I think the spaces filled for that one the very first day registration was open.  Now there are more spaces available, but it does fill, and there is a cutoff, so if you want to sign up, don’t wait too long. You sign up from your GAP administrator page or you could also call Family Tree DNA.

There aren’t too many of us who have been to all of the conferences.  Probably a handful of diehards!  And yes, I am one of them, along with several others.

Family Tree DNA often doesn’t publish the actual agenda until fairly close to the conference date.  I’ve received e-mails asking about what former conferences have been like from people who are trying to decide whether to sign up or not.

So this blog posting is really a chat and a run down memory lane.  I’ll be introducing you to some of the folks you can expect to see at the conference too.

I’m going to work from last year’s agenda.  Yes, I’m so geeky that I have every one of the notebooks we’ve been given, and I can even put my hands on them.  If you knew how much paper is in my office, you’d know just how remarkable that is!

We normally fly in on Friday in the day.  There are some “events” that aren’t on the Family Tree DNA schedule.  Some special interest groups meet at one time or another, and Friday later afternoon or early evening is a favorite time. Its about the only time.

Friday evening, at about 7 or 8, is a reception.  Now I can’t remember which evening is the ISOGG reception and which one is the FTDNA reception.  One is Friday and one is Saturday.  You don’t really need to remember which is which, just where to show up and what time.  We all pitch in for the ISOGG reception too.  Some kind of munchies or something to drink (alcoholic or not.)  There is a cash bar at the FTDNA reception.

Our group sort of takes over the lobby and the lobby bar and restaurant as well.  We all have nametags so we just all walk up and introduce ourselves.  After 8 years for us who have been before, it’s much like a homecoming.  I can’t wait to see all my friends again and a few of my cousins that I didn’t know were cousins before DNA testing came along.

Newbies or oldtimers, it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet people, talk over challenges or successes, and just enjoy the company of those with like interests.  It’s also great to put a face with a name.  Of course, I can remember the face forever, but the names get a bit skewed.  Oh well, that’s what nametags are for.

The actual conference and registration begins on Saturday morning, fairly early.  They have a full day of sessions both Saturday and Sunday.  The hotel does not have a complimentary breakfast and let’s just say it’s not inexpensive, or quick, in the restaurant.

I do know who a few of the speakers will be this year, but it’s not my place to steal that thunder, so I won’t. I’m looking forward to the ones I know about though, I assure you.

Max (below) and Bennett (above) always provide a warm welcome to everyone.

Last year, Spencer Wells, the Scientist in Residence for the Genographic project opened the conference with an update called “News from the Field.”  Spencer (below) is always interesting.  And that’s the understatement of the year.  I live vicariously through Spencer’s adventures!

Bruce Walsh, a mathematician from the University of Arizona, who we all know and love, followed Spencer.  Not an enviable slot.  These men are as different as night and day.  But if you have a math question, or even if you don’t, Bruce will answer it for you….then he will explain to you in terms you can’t possibly understand the theory of relativity:)

I remember the first session I attended the first year with Bruce.  I walked out of that session with my eyes glazed over like donut holes.  I remember him saying “It’s simple……then writing an impossibly long string of numbers.”  Keep in mind that I’m a computer science graduate….back when computer science was in the engineering school….so I understand math and science….but not at the PhD level, no matter how easy that PhD level is to a PhD!  I talked to Catherine Borges later who said “I think I understood a few words.”  Yep Katherine, we’re on the same page.

Suffice it to say that we’ve all learned a lot since then, but we all need something to stretch the limits of our understanding and Bruce always does.  Well, except the one year he really toned it down to undergrad level and we told him it was too simple that year.  We always look forward to Bruce’s sessions.  I understand full sentences now, most years!  Dr. Walsh has a little tradition too.  I won’t tell you what it is, but the photo above holds a hint.

Mid morning there were breakout sessions.  Max and Bennett always try to have a wide variety of topics and levels of sessions.  These were “Phasing and Other Analysis of Family Finder Results” by David Pike, who has written a phasing utility, and “Walk Through the Y” with Thomas Krahn (below) who runs the lab at Family Tree DNA.

My husband always goes with me and we split up between these breakouts because I can never decide which one I wasn’t going to go to and try as I might, I can’t clone myself so I can go to both.

Lunch, the most popular session of the day.  Lunch is provided, and is generally a buffet type of event.  Lots of visiting and socializing going on.  The ice is well broken by now.

After lunch, Dr. Michael Hammer spoke about “Neanderthals in our Midst: Just How Modern is our Genome” which was a fascinating session.  Michael, Family Tree DNA’s Chief Scientist, runs the Hammer Lab (yes, named after him) at the University of Arizona who has partnered with Family Tree DNA all these years.  I don’t know what he was saying in the photo below, but it must have been pretty good because I seem to be hanging on every word.

Next on the agenda was Stephen Morse with his “One Step Web Pages.”  No this wasn’t exactly DNA, but it wasn’t terribly separate either and by this time, our minds needed something that we didn’t have to think too hard about.  Steve has great tools and is wonderfully entertaining, especially for genealogists.

The favorite conference sessions seem to be the Q&A panel and sessions.  The official agenda closes each day with Q&A where attendees get to ask questions and the speakers of the day answer them.  This is one of the best parts of the conference.  Each of the speakers, below, have thier questions and Matt Kaplan is answering his.  Matt, by the way….has been “finishing” his PhD for nearly all 8 years.  I have to go this year to see if he finished!!!

Dinner is on your own, but don’t be late back for the evening reception.  Lots of other fraternizing goes on in the lobby, which has couches and conversation areas, in the lobby bar and restaurant.

Sunday’s agenda starts even earlier than Saturdays because the ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) meeting is generally at 8 AM.  Katherine Borges, below, the Director, keeps everyone current with what is going on in the genetic genealogy areana and needs our attention.  Last year the big topic was the FDA and their attempts to regulate DTC testing.

The first official Sunday session was with Elliott Greenspan.  If the surname looks familiar, yes, Elliott is Bennett’s son, but Elliott is perfectly well qualified, even without the Greenspan name.  Elliott is in charge of the IT department and he did a session about the year in review and the year ahead. He does something like this every year and I expect this year will be no exception.

That was followed by Peter Hrechdakian’s “Armenian DNA Project.”  I wasn’t terribly excited about this, but was I ever glad that I didn’t skip out on this one and read my e-mail or something.  It was wonderful, inspirational and enlightening, and had implications far beyond Armenia.

That session was followed by Peter Biggins and Thomas Roderick with the “DNA of the Three Collas.”  I did have to step out and didn’t see that session.  I think that’s when Cece Moore (above, notice her necklace) was filming my segment for the FTDNA infomercial (below).  See, I told you all kinds of things were going on.

Steve Morse followed with a second presentation called “One Step Web Pages, Part II.”  I learned things that I still use regularly.

Lunch is provided again on Sunday.  The food is always good there.  But warning, get dessert early if you want it.

The afternoon session was led off by Jessica Roberts, a lawyer, who talked about “DNA Tests and the Law and the Potential Use of Ancestry Tests for Immigration.”  Ok, it wasn’t the most exciting session of the conference.

However, the final speaker, Dick Hill, was just wonderful and had us all spellbound as he gave his session “An Adoptees Journey to His Ancestral Surname.”  As you know, Dick has gone on to publish his story as a book, “Finding Family”.

On the last day, the closing panel is very popular, and you’ll be very disappointed if you decide to leave early to catch your plane.  Been there, done that.  Don’t expect the sessions to end until 5.  The final panel is the same format as the day before, with attendees writing their questions and the panelists answering them.

And after that, it’s goodbyes and a mad dash for the airport, which isn’t far because the hotel is one of the airport hotels.  Still, you have to have enough time to ride the hotel bus, which may be full, and get there in time for all of the security checks.

So now that you’ve had a whirlwind tour of last year’s conference, you have some idea of what to expect.

If I had to describe it in one sentence, I would say that it is something like drinking from a firehose fueled by the best educators in the genetic genealogy and population genetics world.  Some are from the academic world, some from the business and genealogy environments, and some of them, folks, are us.  If you’re not really serious about genetic genealogy, this conference would likely be overwhelming. If you want to come and learn, you’ll have every opportunity.  Every single one of us had a first conference and a first day in genetic genealogy.  We all start at the same level.  These conferences are one way to grow from there!

If you can’t attend, several bloggers do cover it, although not immediately.  We barely have time to go to the “loo” while we are there.  Several people do tweet as well and a few e-mail to the lists….but I guarantee you, it’s not the same as being there in person.

Katherine Borges, Bennett Greenspan and Emily Aulicino enjoying a relaxing minute.  Actually, I think Katherine is begging Bennett for some new feature!!!  A lot of that goes on that the conference too:)  We all hope to see you there!



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8 thoughts on “Family Tree DNA Conferences

  1. Thanks, Roberta, from one of the few who has been to all the Conferences. I’ll see you again next month, of course. I certainly was inspired by Richard’s adoption story last year, which he has now expanded into a book. Peter’s Armenian presentation was closer to what I do in genetic genealogy. He has encouraged many of his project members to upgrade to the full-sequence mtDNA test and to join my K Project. Armenia is very close to where I think K originated.

    At the first conference, I believe, after having bought a nice R1b pin, we were told by one of the AZ guys that we were now in R1b1. So I took off the pin, took out a pen (being from East TN, those two words sound the same), and drew in my new “1.” Of course, now that I’m an R1b1b2a1a1a1 the pin has been retired – and FTDNA says the designation is being retired in favor of the short R-U198.

    The FTDNA reception is Friday night, being combined with pre-registration. Don’t miss it. Or the ISOGG reception on Saturday night.

    • Bill does a really fun thing in conjunction with the conference. He does a “driving journey” and sometimes it takes him a month to get to the conference. He incorporates genealogy research into the equation. It’s always a pleasure to hear about Bill’s latest adventures and I always look forward to getting a few minutes to chat with him.

  2. Oh! How I’d love to go to that Conference. But not this year, unfortunately. Maybe next year. Sounds like a very interesting place to be. Thanks for telling us all about it Roberta.

  3. I am looking forward to the conference. One of my cousin matches at 23andMe is joining me as my guest. She matches several other administrators so hopefully she can meet them. I noticed FTDNA has the agenda posted now. – Revis

  4. Pingback: DNAeXplain Archives – Historical or Obsolete Articles | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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