Rockstar Genealogists – There Is no I in Team

We received the first results, kind of like early election returns, of the Rockstar genealogist voting today, which announced the silver and bronze winners.

electionI’m paired with Megan Smolenyak in the USA category and CeCe Moore and Judy Russell represent the DNA grouping.  Tomorrow, the first place winners in each category will be announced on John Reid’s Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections website where you can see today’s results too.

I’m stunned, honored and humbled.  I had hoped with my donation committment to raise awareness of genetic genealogy and it looks like that was certainly successful.

Why did I offer to make the donation to the Preserve the Pensions?  Twofold.  First, and it goes without saying, that I am extremely committed to preserving our original records and I think this project not only preserves records and makes them available for everyone, but it also raises awareness of the needs and the records themselves.  Plus, I think benevolence is contagious…at least I hope so.  Hint – you too can donate in honor of someone.

Second, because there is no I in team.  Genetic genealogy is a team sport, and the genetic genealogy nominees are all tireless players in this field.

family tree dna logoWithout Bennett Greenspan, founder of Family Tree DNA, who literally hounded Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona to perform a Y DNA test on himself and another Greenspan male, fifteen years ago, there would be no genetic genealogy today.  Thank you Bennett for your persistence and thank you, Dr. Hammer, for finally giving in!!!  You two made history – you are the astronauts, first walkers on the moon, of the genetic genealogy world.  We would not be here without you – bottom line!  What an incredible legacy.

But that walk has not been a stroll in the park.

I remember, years ago, when Rootsweb (owned by Ancestry, ironically) would delete any post that referred to DNA for genealogy except for the genealogy DNA mailing list.  As hard as it is to believe today, and as unimaginable as it seems, DNA was treated as some kind of pox and was verboten…and it went on for years.  I never fully understood why, but I believe it was most likely fear that DNA would unhinge some of the treasured long-standing genealogy works of the past – and perhaps the researchers of those works as well.  Thankfully, we now have the opportunity to confirm those works…or not.

When Megan Smolenyak was appointed as Ancestry’s official genealogist, the genetic genealogy community was ecstatic because as one of the earliest genetic genealogists, we were very hopeful that Megan could make a difference and bring that embargo to an end.

Fortunately, those days are long in the past now, but for a very long time, genetic genealogy was an uphill struggle through the briar patch with those at the top of the hill casting a suspicious eye upon us.

spencer machu pichu

The real turning point for genetic genealogy was when the National Geographic Society began the Genographic project in 2005 in partnership with Family Tree DNA.  Not only have the Genographic projects versions 1 and 2 brought hundreds of thousands of testers into the community, it has raised awareness throughout the world and lent unquestionable credibility to genetic genealogy.  No longer does anyone wonder if genetic genealogy is even possible.  National Geographic brought genetic genealogy mainstream – in retrospect, it was the infamous tipping point.

U.S. Army Officer Cap BadgeA few of the RockStar genetic genealogy candidates have been in this field since the beginning.  Megan was one of the first, using DNA in her genealogy business to repatriate the remains of soldiers.  Megan was the first to bring genetic genealogy to the public through her original Roots Television series, originally hosted on her own website, but now a Youtube channel.  She even provides genealogy grants to worthy people and organizations, and has for, are you ready for this….14 years.

Megan is clearly, and without question, not only a professional genealogist, as well as a genetic genealogist, but has also been a long-standing ambassador in the genetic genealogy world.  We would not be where we are today without her efforts.  She opened many doors that were firmly sealed shut and greased many skids.  Thank you Megan for all of your efforts for so many years that continue today.

Like I said, there is no I in team.  As more genetic genealogists came into the fold, each one brought a special skill and passion and focus.  Each person on the list of candidates and winners has contributed profoundly to this community in their own unique way.

Family Tree DNA held their first conference for their project administrators back in 2004.  The conference in Houston next month marks the 10th anniversary.  For many years, this was the only genetic genealogy education other than an occasional general session at a genealogy conference or speakers at genealogy groups.  Administrators did, and do suck up advanced education like thirsty sponges, even if it does sometimes feel like we’re drinking from the firehose.

Today, through ISOGG and the newly formed Institute for Genetic Genealogy (i4gg), CeCe Moore and Tim Janzen, along with their many volunteers speakers have brought education specifically focused on genetic genealogy to the masses – the public and professional genealogists alike.  Thanks to their efforts, genetic genealogy is becoming mainstream.  Soon, genetic genealogy won’t be something separate, just another tool that every genealogist understands and is able to utilize.  Maybe it will be another specialty under the genealogy umbrella, just like regional or country specialties are today.

isogg clipKatherine Borges founded ISOGG in March 2005 because she felt there was a need to educate genealogists, testers and the public about genetic genealogy.  I remember talking to Katherine at the DNA conference after a particularly intensive statistical session, just before she founded ISOGG, and she said “I think I understood 2 or 3 words.”  We were all wandering around in a bit of a daze after that particular session wondering what the devil we had gotten ourselves into.

Today, ISOGG, still free, serves thousands of members worldwide.  Katherine, as an unpaid volunteer, continues to champion genetic genealogy around the world.  Megan referred to Katherine as the “godmother of genetic genealogy,” and indeed, she is.  I think of her as the fairy godmother actually, because more than once at the conferences where she works (volunteers) for ISOGG she has found testers for my surnames or even documents for my family.  I love her magic wand!!!

The success of genetic genealogy is a result of everyone bringing their own chisel to the brick walls that surround us.  Genetic genealogy is the result of tools and technology, social media, communications and plain old elbow grease grunt work court house basement genealogy research.  It’s a special brew, all ingredients stirred into the soup called collaboration – and the results are discoveries the likes of which we could never have imagined.  No, there is no I in team.

Some of the people on the list of Rockstar candidates are professional genealogists, some professional genetic genealogists, and some unpaid.  All of us, bar none, are volunteers and donate a huge amount of time and effort into the community.  Some of us are bloggers, and if you think bloggers make lots of money from their endeavor, think again.  Every article we write is an investment of our own time with very little, if any expectation, of a return.

Some of us have a particular focus and private commitment that involves genealogy.

In Bennett’s case, his focus has always been Jewish genealogy.

Bald Eagle in FlightIn my case, my passion and focus have been, long before genetic genealogy, reviving the history of Native American people from the obscurity of a nameless history.  Today, that passion is manifested through my haplogroup project research, my blog, the American Indian Project at Family Tree DNA and the Native Names Project which is a list of thousands of transcribed names of Native people from obscure original documents.

Gates PBSCeCe Moore’s focus has been on utilizing genetic genealogy to reconstruct the family trees of adoptees, eventually identifying their birth family by process of elimination.  Much of her work is quiet and private, which means she can’t publicize a lot if her findings.  But that’s OK, because she makes up for it with her television presence, working with Dr. Henry Gates on his Finding Your Roots PBS Series, which starts this season, as luck would have it, September 23rd.

mennoniteTim Janzen, MD, a long time genetic genealogist is also a practicing physician.  I have no idea when he finds the time to do everything he does, including his commitment to the Mennonite DNA project.  Tim utilizes autosomal DNA within this project and developed early tools to be utilized in autosomal DNA analysis.  Tim is also teamed with CeCe as founders of i4gg.

Gavel and Law BooksJudy Russell needs no introduction as her blog, The Legal Genealogist, speaks for itself, every day.  I can’t believe the amount of content this woman produces, and quality content too.  In addition, she keeps the most intensive travel schedule of anyone I know outside of the Secretary of State.  Judy’s passion is genealogy and the law, and it shows.  I’m glad Judy loves and embraces genetic genealogy, but I’m also glad that’s not her primary focus, because we need her expertise so desperately in the legal end of the records we sometimes see and don’t fully understand.  If you ever get the opportunity to see Judy speak, by all means, do.  I don’t care if she is talking about icebergs in the Amazon….catch her talk.  Stand in the back of the room if necessary…just make sure you are there.

sca;esBlaine Bettinger is also a lawyer, now.  When I first met Blaine, he was still in school.  He authored one of the earliest blogs about genetic genealogy, covering all type of topics ranging from press coverage to the X chromosome.  Blaine is also the past editor of the Journal for Genetic Genealogy, hosted on the ISOGG website.  Blaine has been a genealogist for 20 years, and while Judy brings her perspective of law to genealogy, Blaine brings his perspective of being a genealogist to law.  I’m glad to see the “next generation” passionately involved in genetic genealogy.

british flagDebbie Kennett’s dive into genetic genealogy is through her Cruwys News blog where she chronicles her family genealogy journey and occasionally genetic genealogy.  Debbie, who lives in England, is an Honorary Research Associate attached to the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. I value Debbie’s non-US centric perspective and that fact that she has perspective and information about the non-US companies and players that we simply don’t have here.

If anything, genetic genealogy has shown us over and over again how widespread our “cousins” are, how trivial today’s political borders are and how closely related the world is.  I hope it has changed our perspective a bit of other people.  Of the genetic genealogists, CeCe Moore and I share an ancestor someplace along the line, but as irony would have it, we haven’t had time to figure out the identity of our common ancestor.  The cobblers kids never have shoes….

winnerAs far as I’m concerned, these genetic genealogy nominees are all winners.  They are certainly all contributors.  It’s nice to see the official Rockstars receive recognition for their efforts.  But more importantly, because we as genealogists and genetic genealogists cannot succeed alone, I hope the cumulative success of these Rockstars serves to raise awareness of the promise of genetic genealogy and encourages everyone to integrate these tools into their genealogy toolbox, because, well, there is no I in team.

Congratulations to all of the winners, in each category. I’m so honored to be included!  What an incredible group.

Thank you, everyone, for voting in this fun Rockstar exercise.  Thank you John Reid for being a fine emcee:)    And thanks, everyone, for making me pay!!!

Now, it’s time for me to figure out how to best donate my $250 so that it receives the best matching possible for the Preserve the Pensions project.

Cricket Team Holding Hands



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8 thoughts on “Rockstar Genealogists – There Is no I in Team

  1. You are a rockstar! Really, your explanation of genetic genealogy and your examples of your own research has helped me understand the field. I always refer other people to your blog when they say “I don’t really understand this genetics stuff.” Thank you for your clear explanations & wonderful writing & sharing.

  2. Thank you so much, Roberta – particularly for all the above details of each genetic genealogist’s focus and history, as well as for your many blogs explaining all the details. I actually understand and follow most of what you write!! One day, I’ll be nodding along, understanding almost ALL of it. Maybe. Thanks again. You’re definitely on my go-to list for genetic genealogy. Cheers.

  3. Congratulations, Roberta! I know that you have helped me time after time, in more ways that you will ever know! Either way tomorrow goes, you’re a WINNER in every way (a very classy winner!)…

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

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