Tenth Annual Family Tree DNA Conference Wrapup

baber summary

This slide, by Robert Baber, pretty well sums up our group obsession and what we focus on every year at the Family Tree DNA administrator’s conference in Houston, Texas.

Getting to Houston, this year, was a whole lot easier than getting out of Houston. They had storms yesterday and many of us spent the entire day becoming intimately familiar with the airport.  Jennifer Zinck, of Ancestor Central, is still there today and doesn’t have a flight until late.

And this is how my day ended, after I finally got out of Houston and into my home airport. This isn’t at the airport, by the way.  Everything was fine there, but I made the apparent error of stopping at a Starbucks on the way home.  This is the parking lot outside an hour or so later.  What can I say?  At least I had my coffee, and AAA rocks, as did the tow truck driver and my daughter for getting out of bed to come and rescue me!!!  Hmmm, I think maybe things have gone full circle.  I remember when I used to go and rescue her:)

jeep tow

So far, today hasn’t improved any, so let’s talk about something much more pleasant…the conference itself.

Resources

One of the reasons I mentioned Jennifer Zinck, aside from the fact that she’s still stuck in the airport, is because she did a great job actually covering the conference as it happened. Since I had some time yesterday to visit with her since our gates weren’t terribly far apart, I asked her how she got that done.  I took notes too, and photos, but she turned out a prodigious amount of work in a very short time.  While I took a lightweight MacBook Air, she took her regular PC that she is used to typing on, and she literally transcribed as the sessions were occurring.  She just added her photos later, and since she was working on a platform that she was familiar with, she could crop and make the other adjustments you never see but we perform behind the scenes before publishing a photo.

On the other hand, I struggled with a keyboard that works differently and is a different size than I’m used to as well as not being familiar with the photo tools to reduce the size of pictures, so I just took rough notes and wrote the balance later.  Having familiar tools make such a difference.  I think I’ll carry my laptop from now on, even though it is much heavier.  Kudos to Jennifer!

I was initially going to summarize each session, but since Jen did such a good job, I’m posting her links. No need to recreate a wheel that doesn’t need to be recreated.

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy/

ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy is not affiliated with Family Tree DNA or any testing company, but Family Tree DNA is generous enough to allow an ISOGG meeting on Sunday before the first conference session.

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy-isogg-meeting/

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy-sunday/

You can find my conference postings here:

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/11/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-opening-reception/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/12/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-day-2/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/13/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-day-3/

Several people were also posting on a twitter feed as well.

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23FTDNA2014&src=tyah

Those of you where are members of the ISOGG Yahoo group for project administrators can view photos posted by Katherine Borges in that group and there are also some postings on the Facebook ISOGG group as well.

Now that you have the links for the summaries, what I’d like to do is to discuss some of the aspects I found the most interesting.

The Mix

When I attended my first conference 10 years ago, I somehow thought that for the most part, the same group of people would be at the conferences every year. Some were, and in fact, a handful of the 160+ people attending this conference have attended all 10 conferences.  I know of two others for certain, but there were maybe another 3 or so who stood up when Bennett asked for everyone who had been present at all 10 conferences to stand.

Doug Mumma, the very first project administrator was with us this weekend, and still going strong. Now, if Doug and I could just figure out how we’re related…

Some of the original conference group has passed on to the other side where I’m firmly convinced that one of your rewards is that you get to see all of those dead ends of your tree. If we’re lucky, we get to meet them as well and ask all of those questions we have on this side.  We remember our friends fondly, and their departure sadly, but they enriched us while they were here and their memories make us smile.  I’m thinking specifically of Kenny Hedgepath and Leon Little as I write this, but there have been others as well.

The definition of a community is that people come and go, births, deaths and moves.

This year, about half of the attendees had never attended a conference before. I was very pleased to see this turn of events – because in order to survive, we do need new people who are as crazy as we are…er….I mean as dedicated as we are.

isogg reception

ISOGG traditionally hosts a potluck reception on Saturday evening. Lots of putting names with faces going on here.

Collaboration

I asked people about their favorite part of the conference or their favorite session. I was surprised at the number of people who said lunches and dinners.  Trust me, the food wasn’t that wonderful, so I asked them to elaborate.  In essence, the most valuable aspect of the conference was working with and talking to other administrators.

bar talk

It’s not like we don’t talk online, but there is somehow a difference between online communications and having a group discussion, or a one-on-one discussion. Laptops were out and in use everyplace, along with iPads and other tools.  It was so much fun to walk by tables and hear snippets of conversations like “the mutation at location 309.1….” and “null marker at 425” and “I ordered a kit for my great uncle…..”

I agree, as well. I had pre-arranged two dinners before arriving in order to talk with people with whom I share specific interests.  At lunches, I either tried to sit with someone I specifically needed to talk to, or I tried to meet someone new.

I also asked people about their specific goals for the next year. Some people had a particular goal in mind, such as a specific brick wall that needs focus.  Some, given that we are administrators, had wider-ranging project based goals, like Big Y testing certain family groups, and a surprising number had the goal of better utilizing the autosomal results.

Perhaps that’s why there were two autosomal sessions, an introduction by Jim Bartlett and then Tim Janzen’s more advanced session.

Autosomal DNA Results

jim bartlett

Note the cool double helix light fixture behind the speakers.

tim janzen

Tim specifically mentioned two misconceptions which I run across constantly.

Misconception 1 – A common surname means that’s how you match.  Just because you find a common surname doesn’t mean that’s your DNA match.  This belief is particularly prevalent in the group of people who test at Ancestry.com.

Misconception 2 – Your common ancestor has to be within the past 6 generations.  Not true, many matches can be 6-10th cousins because there are so many descendants of those early ancestors, even as many as 15 generations back.

Tim also mentioned that endogamous relationships are a tough problem with no easy answer. Polynesians, Ashkenazi Jews, Low German Mennonites, Acadians, Amish, and island populations.  Do I ever agree with him!  I have Brethren, Mennonite and Acadian in the same parent’s line.

Tim has been working with the Mennonite DNA project now for many years.

Tim included a great resource slide.

tim slide1

Tim has graciously made his entire presentation available for download.

tim slide2

There are probably a dozen or so of us that are actively mapping our ancestors, and a huge backlog of people who would like to. As Tim pointed out with one of his slides, this is not an easy task nor is it for the people who simply want to receive “an answer.”

tim slide3

I will also add that we “mappers” are working with and actively encouraging Family Tree DNA to develop tools so that the mapping is less spreadsheet manual work and more automated, because it certainly can be.

Upload GEDCOM Files

If you haven’t already, upload your GEDCOM to Family Tree DNA.  This is becoming an essential part of autosomal matching.  Furthermore, Family Tree DNA will utilize this file to construct your surname list and that will help immensely determining common surnames and your common ancestor with your Family Finder matches.  If you have sponsored tests for cousins, then upload a GEDCOM file for them or at least construct a basic tree on their Family Tree DNA page.

Ethics

Family Tree DNA always tries to provide a speaker about ethics, and the only speakers I’ve ever felt understood anything about what we want to do are Judy Russell and Blaine Bettinger.  I was glad to see Blaine presenting this year.

blaine bettinger

The essence of Blaine’s speech is that ethics isn’t about law. Law is cut and dried.  Ethics isn’t, and there are no ethics police.

Sometimes our decisions are colored necessarily by right and wrong.  Sometimes those decisions are more about the difference between a better and a worse way.

As a community, we want to reduce negative press coverage and increase positive coverage. We want to be proactive, not reactive.

Blaine stresses that while informed consent is crucial, that DNA doesn’t reveal secrets that aren’t also revealed by other genealogical forms of research. DNA often reveals more recent secrets, such as adoptions and NPEs, so it’s possibly more sensitive.

Two things need to govern our behavior. First, we need to do only things that we would be comfortable seeing above the fold in the New York Times.  Second, understand that we can’t make promises about topics like anonymity or about the absence of medical information, because we don’t know what we don’t know.

The SNP Tsunami

One of my concerns has been and remains the huge number of new SNPs that have been discovered over the past year or so with the Big Y by Family Tree DNA and  corresponding tests from other vendors.

When I say concern, I’m thrilled about this new technology and the advances it is allowing us to make as a community to discover and define the evolution of haplogroups. My concern is that the amount of data is overwhelming.  However, we are working through that, thanks to the hours and hours of volunteer work by haplogroup administrators and others.

Alice Fairhurst, who volunteers to maintain the ISOGG haplotree, mentioned that she has added over 10,000 SNPs to the Y tree this year alone, bringing the total to over 14,000. Those SNPs are fully vetted and placed.  There are many more in process and yet more still being discovered.  On the first page of the Y SNP tree, the list of SNP sources and other critical information, such as the criteria for a SNP to be listed, is provided.

isogg tree3

isogg snps

isogg snps 2014

So, if you’re waiting for that next haplotree poster, give it up because there isn’t a printing press that big, unless you want wallpaper.

isogg new development 2014

These slides are from Alice’s presentation. The ISOGG tree provides an invaluable resource for not only the genetic genealogy community, but also researchers world-wide.

As one example of how the SNP tsunami has affected the Y tree, Alice provided the following summary of R-U106, one of the two major branches of haplogroup R.

From the ISOGG 2006 Y tree, this was the entire haplogroup R Y tree. You can see U106 near the bottom with 3 sub-branches.  While this probably makes you chuckle today, remember that 2006 was only 8 years ago and that this tree didn’t change much for several years.

2006 entire tree

2007 was the same.

2008 u106 tree

2008 shows 5 subclades and one of the subclades had 2 subclades.

2009 u106 tree

2009 showed a total of 12 sub-branches and 2010 added one more.

2011 however, showed a large change. U106 in 2011 had 44 subgroups total and became too large to show on one screen shot.  2012 shows 99 subclades, if I counted accurately.  The 2014 U106 tree is shown below.

before big y

after big y

u106 now

u106 now2

There’s another slide too, but I didn’t manage to get the picture.  You get the idea though…

As you can imagine, for Family Tree DNA, trying to keep up with all of the haplogroups, not just one subgroup like U106 is a gargantuan task that is constantly changing, like hourly. Their Y tree is currently the National Geographic tree, and while they would like to update it, I’m sure, the definition of “current tree” is in a constant state of flux.  Literally, Mike Walsh, one of the admins in the R-L21 group uploads a new tree spreadsheet several times every day.

In order to deal attempt to deal with this, and to encourage people who don’t want to do a Big Y discovery type test, but do want to ferret out their location on their assigned portion of the tree, Family Tree DNA is reintroducing the Backbone tests.

They are starting with M222, also known as the Niall of the 9 Hostages haplogroup which is their beta for the new product and new process. You can see the provisional tree and results in the two slides they provided, below.  I apologize for the quality, but it was the best I could do.

M222

m222 pie

Haplogroup administrators are going to be heavily involved in this process. Family Tree DNA is putting SNP panels together that will help further define the tree and where various SNPs that have been recently discovered, and continue to be discovered, will fall on the tree.

As Big Y tests arrive, haplogroup project administrators typically assemble a spreadsheet of the SNPS and provisionally where they fall on the tree, based on the Big Y results.

What Bennett asked is for the admins to work with Family Tree DNA to assemble a testing panel based on those results. The goal is for the cost to be between $1.50 and $2 (US) for each SNP in the panel, which will reduce the one-off SNP testing and provide a much more complete and productive result at a far reduced price as compared to the current $29 or $39 per individual SNP.

If you are a haplogroup administrator, get in touch with Family Tree DNA to discuss your desired backbone panels. New panels, when it’s your turn, will take about 2 weeks to develop.

Keep in mind that the following SNPs, according to Bennett, are not optimal for panels:

  • Palindromic regions
  • Often mutating regions designated as .1, .2, etc.
  • SNPs in STRs

Nir Leibovich, the Chief Business Officer, also addressed the future and the Big Y to some extent in his presentation.

nir leibovich

ftdna future 2014

Utilizing the Big Y for Genealogy

In my case, during the last sale, I ordered several Big Y tests for my Estes family line because I have several genealogically documented lines from the original Estes family in Kent, England through our common ancestor, Robert Estes born in 1555 and his wife Anne Woodward. The participants also agreed to extend their markers to 111 markers as well.  When the results are back, we’ll be able to compare them on a full STR marker set, and also their SNPs.  Hopefully, they will match on their known SNPs and there will be some new novel variants that will be able to suffice as line marker mutations.

We need more BIG Y tests of these types of genealogically confirmed trees that have different sons’ lines from a distant common ancestor to test descendant lines. This will help immensely to determine the actual, not imputed, SNP mutation rate and allow us to extrapolate the ages of haplogroups more accurately.  Of course, it also goes without saying that it helps to flesh out the trees.

I personally expect the next couple of years will be major years of discovery. Yes, the SNP tsumani has hit land, but it’s far from over.

Research and Development

David Mittleman, Chief Scientific Officer, mentioned that Family Tree DNA now has their own R&D division where they are focused on how to best analyze data. They have been collaborating with other scientists.  A haplogroup G1 paper will be published shortly which states that SNP mutation rates equate to Sanger data.

FTDNA wants to get Big Y data into the public domain. They have set up consent for this to be done by uploading into NCBI.  Initially they sent a survey to a few people that  sampled the interest level.  Those who were interested received a release document.  If you are interested in allowing FTDNA to utilize your DNA for research, be it mitochondrial, Y or autosomal, please send them an e-mail stating such.

Don’t Forget About Y Genealogy Research

It’s very easy for us to get excited about the research and discovery aspect of DNA – and the new SNPs and extending haplotrees back in time as far as possible, but sometimes I get concerned that we are forgetting about the reason we began doing genetic genealogy in the first place.

Robert Baber’s presentation discussed the process of how to reconstruct a tree utilizing both genealogy and DNA results. It’s important to remember that the reason most of our participants test is to find their ancestors, not, primarily, to participate in the scientific process.

Robert baber

edward baber

Robert has succeeded in reconstructing 110 or 111 markers of the oldest known Baber ancestor, shown above. I wrote about how to do this in my article titled, Triangulation for Y DNA.

Not only does this allow us to compare everyone with the ancestor’s DNA, it also provides us with a tool to fit individuals who don’t know specific genealogical line into the tree relatively accurately. When I say relatively, the accuracy is based on line marker mutations that have, or haven’t, happened within that particular family.

Jim illustrated how to do this as well, and his methodology is available at the link on his slide, below.

baber method

I had to laugh. I’ve often wondered what our ancestors would think of us today.  Robert said that that 11 generations after Edward Baber died, he flew over church where Edward was buried and wondered what Edward would have thought about what we know and do today – cars, airplanes, DNA, radio, TV etc..  If someone looked in a crystal ball and told Edward what the future held 11 generations later, he would have thought that they were stark raving mad.

Eleven generations from my birth is roughly the year 2280. I’m betting we won’t be trying to figure out who our ancestors were through this type of DNA analysis then.  This is only a tiny stepping stone to an unknown world, as different to us as our world is to Edward Baber and all of our ancestors who lived in a time where we know their names but their lives and culture are entirely foreign to ours.

Publications

When the Journal of Genetic Genealogy was active, I, along with other citizen scientists published regularly.  The benefit of the journal was that it was peer reviewed and that assured some level of accuracy and because of that, credibility, and it was viewed by the scientific community as such.  My co-authored works published in JOGG as well as others have been cited by experts in the academic community.  It other words, it was a very valuable journal.  Sadly, it has fallen by the wayside and nothing has been published since 2011.  A new editor was recruited, but given their academic load, they have not stepped up to the plate.  For the record, I am still hopeful for a resurrection, but in the mean time, another opportunity has become available for genetic genealogists.

Brad Larkin has founded the Surname DNA Journal, which, like JOGG, is free to both authors and subscribers. In case you weren’t aware, most academic journal’s aren’t.  While this isn’t a large burden for a university, fees ranging from just over $1000 to $5000 are beyond the budget of genetic genealogists.  Just think of how many DNA tests one could purchase with that money.

brad larkin

surname dna journal

Brad has issued a call for papers. These papers will be peer reviewed, similarly to how they were reviewed for JOGG.

call for papers

Take a look at the articles published in this past year, since the founding of Surname DNA Journal.

The citizen science community needs an avenue to publish and share. Peer reviewed journals provide us with another level of credibility for our work. Sharing is clearly the lynchpin of genetic genealogy, as it is with traditional genealogy. Give some thought about what you might be able to contribute.

Brad Larkin solicited nominations prior to the conference and awarded a Genetic Genealogist of the Year award. This year’s award was dually presented to Ian Kennedy in Australia, who, unfortunately, was not present, and to CeCe Moore, who just happened to follow Brad’s presentation with her own.

Don’t Forget about Mitochondrial DNA Either

I believe that mitochondrial DNA the most underutilized DNA tool that we have, often because how to use mitochondrial DNA, and what it can tell you, is poorly understood. I wrote about this in an article titled, Mitochondrial, The Maligned DNA.

Given that I work with mitochondrial DNA daily when I’m preparing client’s Personalized DNA Reports (orderable from your personal page at Family Tree DNA or directly from my website), I know just how useful mitochondrial can be and see those examples regularly. Unfortunately, because these are client reports, I can’t write about them publicly.

CeCe Moore, however, isn’t constrained by this problem, because one of the ways she contributes to genetic genealogy is by working with the television community, in particular Genealogy Roadshow and the PBS series, Finding Your Roots. Now, I must admit, I was very surprised to see CeCe scheduled to speak about mitochondrial DNA, because the area of expertise where she is best known is autosomal DNA, especially in conjunction with adoptee research.

cece moore

cece mtdna

During the research for the production of these shows, CeCe has utilized mitochondrial DNA with multiple celebrities to provide information such as the ethnic identification of the ancestor who provided the mitochondrial DNA as Native American.

Autosomal DNA testing has a broad but shallow reach, across all of your lines, but just back a few generations.  Both Y and mitochondrial DNA have a very deep reach, but only on one specific line, which makes them excellent for identifying a common ancestor on that line, as well as the ethnicity of that individual.

I have seen other cases, where researchers connected the dots between people where no paper trail existed, but a relationship between women was suspected.

CeCe mentioned that currently there are only 44,000 full sequence results in the Family Tree DNA data base and and 185K total HVR1, HVR2 and full sequence tests. Y has half a million.  We need to increase the data base, which, of course increases matches and makes everyone happier.  If you haven’t tested your mitochondrial DNA to the full sequence level, this would be a great time!

There are several lessons on how to utilize mitochondrial DNA at this ISOGG link.

I’m very hopeful that CeCe’s presentation will be made available as I think her examples are quite powerful and will serve to inspire people.  Actually, since CeCe is in the “movie business,” perhaps a short video clip could be made available on the FTDNA website for anyone who hasn’t tested their mitochondrial DNA so they can see an example of why they should!

myOrigins

I would be fibbing to you if I told you I am happy with myOrigins. I don’t feel that it is as sensitive as other methods for picking up minority admixture, in particular, Native American, especially in small amounts.  Unfortunately, those small amounts are exactly what many people are looking for.

If someone has a great-great-great-great grandparent that is Native, they carry about 1%, more or less, of the Native ancestor’s DNA today. A 4X great grandparent puts their birth year in the range of 1800-1825 – or just before the Trail of Tears.  People whose colonial American families intermarried with Native families did so, generally, before the Trail of Tears.  By that time, many tribes were already culturally extinct and those east of the Mississippi that weren’t extinct were fighting for their lives, both literally and figuratively.

We really need the ability to develop the most sensitive testing to report even the smallest amounts of Native DNA and map those segments to our chromosomes so that we can determine who, and what line in our family, was Native.

I know that Family Tree DNA is looking to improve their products, and I provided this feedback to them. Many people test autosomally only for their ethnicity results and I surely would love to have those people’s results available as matches in the FTDNA data base.

Razib Khan has been working with Family Tree DNA on their myOrigins product and spoke about how the myOrigins data is obtained.

razib kahn

my origins pieces

Given that all humans are related, one way or another, far enough back in time, myOrigins has to be able to differentiate between groups that may not be terribly different. Furthermore, even groups that appear different today may not have been historically.  His own family, from India, has no oral history of coming from the East, but the genetic data clearly indicates that they did, along with a larger group, about 1000 years ago.  This may well be a result of the adage that history is written by the victors, or maybe whatever happened was simply too long ago or unremarkable to be recorded.

Razib mentioned that depending on the cluster and the reference samples, that these clusters and groups that we see on our myOrigins maps can range from 1000-10,000 years in age.

relatedness of clusters

The good news is that genetics is blind to any preconceived notions. The bad news is that the software has to fit your results to the best population, even though it may not be directly a fit.  Hopefully, as we have more and better reference populations, the results will improve as well.

my origin components

pca chart

Razib showed a PCA (principal components analysis) graph, above. These graphs chart reference populations in different quadrants.  Where the different populations overlap is where they share common historic ancestors.  As you can see, on this graph with these reference populations, there is a lot of overlap in some cases, and none in others.

Your personal results would then be plotted on top of the reference populations. The graph below shows me, as the white “target” on a PCA graph created by Doug McDonald.

my pca chart

The Changing Landscape

A topic discussed privately among the group, and primarily among the bloggers, is the changing landscape of genetic genealogy over the past year or so.  In many ways I think the bloggers are the canaries in the mine.

One thing that clearly happened is that the proverbial tipping point occurred, and we’re past it. DNA someplace along the line became mainstream.  Today, DNA is a household word.  At gatherings, at least someone has tested, and most people have heard about DNA testing for genealogy or at least consumer based DNA testing.

The good news in all of this is that more and more people are testing. The bad news is that they are typically less informed and are often impulse purchasers.  This gives us the opportunity for many more matches and to work with new people.  It also means there is a steep learning curve and those new testers often know little about their genealogy.  Those of us in the “public eye,” so to speak, have seen an exponential spike in questions and communications in the past several months.  Unfortunately, many of the new people don’t even attempt to help themselves before asking questions.

Sometimes opportunity comes with work clothes – for them and us both.

I was talking with Spencer about this at the reception and he told me I was stealing his presentation.  He didn’t seem too upset by this:)

spencer and me

I had to laugh, because this falls clearly into the “be careful what you wish for, you may get it” category. The Genographic project through National Geographic is clearly, very clearly, a critical component of the tipping point, and this was reflected in Spencer’s presentation.  Although I covered quite a bit of Spencer’s presentation in my day 2 summary, I want to close with Spencer here.  I also want to say that if you ever have the opportunity to hear Spencer speak, please do yourself the favor and be sure to take that opportunity.  Not only is he brilliant, he’s interesting, likeable and very approachable.  Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve know him now for 9 years!  I’ve never thought to have my picture taken with Spencer before, but this time, one of my friends did me the favor.

I have to admit, I love talking to Spencer, and listening to him. He is the adventurer through whom we all live vicariously.  In the photo below, Spencer along with his crew, drove from London to Mongolia.  Not sure why he is standing on the top of the Land Rover, but I’m sure he will tell us in his upcoming book about that journey,

spencer on roof

I’m warning you all now, if I win the lottery, I’m going on the world tour that he hosts with National Geographic, and of course, you’ll all be coming with me via the blog!

Spencer talked about the consumer genomics market and where we are today.

spencer genomics

Spencer mentioned that genetic genealogy was a cottage industry originally. It was, and it was even smaller than that, if possible.  It actually was started by Bennett and his cell phone.  I managed to snap a picture of Bennett this weekend on the stage looking at his cell, and I thought to myself, “this is how it all started 14 years ago.”  Just look where we are today.  Thank you Michael Hammer for telling Bennett that you received “lots of phone calls from crazy genealogists like you.”

bennett first office

So, where exactly are we today?  In 2013, the industry crossed the millionth kit line.  The second millionth kit was sold in early summer 2014 and the third million will be sold in 2015.  No wonder we feel like a tidal wave has hit.  It has.

Why now?

DNA has become part of national consciousness.  Businesses advertise that “it’s in our DNA.”  People are now comfortable sharing via social media like facebook and twitter.  What DNA can do and show you, the secrets it can unlock is spreading by word of mouth.  Spencer termed this the “viral spread threshold” and we’ve crossed that invisible line in the sand.  He terms 2013 as the year of infection and based on my blog postings, subscriptions, hits, reach and the number of e-mails I receive, I would completely agree.  Hold on tight for the ride!

Spencer talked about predictions for near term future and said a 5 year plan is impossible and that an 18 month plan is more realistic. He predicts that we will continue to see exponential growth over the next several years.  He feels that genetic genealogy testing will be primary driver of growth because medical or health testing is subject to the clinical utility trap being experienced currently by 23andMe.  The Big 4 testing companies control 99% of consumer market in US (Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and National Geographic.)

Spencer sees a huge international market potential that is not currently being tapped. I do agree with him, but many in European countries are hesitant, and in some places, like France, DNA testing that might expose paternity is illegal.  When Europeans see DNA testing as a genealogical tool, he feels they will become more interested.  Most Europeans know where their ancestral village is, or they think they do, so it doesn’t have the draw for them that it does for some of us.

Ancestry testing (aka genetic genealogy as opposed to health testing) is now a mature industry with 100% growth rate.

Spencer also mentioned that while the Genographic data base is not open access, that affiliate researchers can send Nat Geo a proposal and thereby gain research access to the data base if their proposal is approved. This extends to citizen scientists as well.

spencer near term

Michael Hammer

You’ll notice that Michael Hammer’s presentation, “Ancient and Modern DNA Update, How Many Ancestral Populations for Europe,” is missing from this wrapup. It was absolutely outstanding, and fascinating, which is why I’m writing a separate article about his presentation in conjunction with some additional information.  So, stay tuned.

Testing, More Testing

It’s becoming quite obvious that the people who are doing the best with genetic genealogy are the ones who are testing the most family members, both close and distant. That provides them with a solid foundation for comparison and better ways to “drop matches” into the right ancestor box.  For example, if someone matches you and your mother’s sister, Aunt Margaret, especially if your mother is not available to test, that’s a very important hint that your match is likely from your mother’s line.

So, in essence, while initially we would advise people to test the oldest person in a generational line, now we’ve moved to the “test everyone” mentality.  Instead of a survey, now we need a census.  The exception might be that the “child” does not necessarily need to be tested because both parents have tested.  However, having said that, I would perhaps not make that child’s test a priority, but I would eventually test that child anyway.  Why?  Because that’s how we learn.  Let me give you an example.

I was sitting at lunch with David Pike. were discussing autosomal DNA generational transmission and inheritance.  He pulled out his iPad, passed it to me, and showed me a chromosome (not the X) that has been passed entirely intact from one generation to the next.  Had the child not been tested, we would never have known that.  Now, of course, if you’ll remember the 50% rule, by statistical prediction, the child should get half of the mother’s chromosome and half of the father’s, but that’s not how it worked.  So, because we don’t know what we don’t know, I’m now testing everyone I can find and convince in my family.  Unfortunately, my family is small.

Full genome testing is in the future, but we’re not ready yet. Several presenters mentioned full genome testing in some context.  Here’s the bottom line.  It’s not truly full genome testing today, only 95-96%.  The technology isn’t there yet, and we’re still learning.  In a couple of years, we will have the entire genome available for testing, and over time, the prices will fall.  Keep in mind that most of our genome is identical to that of all humans, and the autosomal tests today have been developed in order to measure what is different and therefore useful genealogially.  I don’t expect big breakthroughs due to full genome testing for genetic genealogy, although I could be wrong.  You can, however, count me in, because I’m a DNA junkie.  When the full genome test is below $1000, when we have comparison tools and when the coverage won’t necessitate doing a second or upgrade test a few years later, I’ll be there.

Thank you

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to Max Blankfeld and Bennett Grenspan, founders of Family Tree DNA, shown with me in the photo below, for hosting and subsidizing the administrator’s conference – now for a decade. I look forward to seeing them, and all of the other attendees, next year.

I anticipate that this next decade will see many new discoveries resulting in tools that make our genealogy walls fall.  I can’t help but wonder what the article I’ll be writing on the 20th anniversary looking back at nearly a quarter century of genetic genealogy will say!

roberta, max and bennett

16 thoughts on “Tenth Annual Family Tree DNA Conference Wrapup

  1. Wow! I can hardly breathe I’m so excited reading your long, detailed and so-informative post, Roberta. Thank you so much for taking the time to share the excitement and details. It sounds as if, once again, it was a phenomenal experience. The ‘tipping point’ indeed. Thanks again for writing so eloquently. I appreciate this so much. I now have 7 tabs open to read. (catches breath!)

  2. “Don’t Forget About Y Genealogy Research”

    “It’s very easy for us to get excited about the research and discovery aspect of DNA – and the new SNPs and extending haplotrees back in time as far as possible, but sometimes I get concerned that we are forgetting about the reason we began doing genetic genealogy in the first place.

    Robert Baber’s presentation discussed the process of how to reconstruct a tree utilizing both genealogy and DNA results. It’s important to remember that the reason most of our participants test is to find their ancestors, not, primarily, to participate in the scientific process.”
    ————————————————————-

    I agree.
    I might just be a little uninformed, but finding new SNPs seems to be just for academics and curiosity. How is finding new SNPs helpful to filling in Family trees (Genealogy)? Haplogroup SNPs are cool, but is there too much focus on them?

    Weren’t haplogroups discovered trying to find genetic-Adam? “the new SNPs and extending haplotrees back in time as far as possible”. Don’t new SNPs extend haplotrees closer in time?

    • Hi Adam. A SNP is a SNP is a SNP. The only difference is where they fit on the tree, which tells us whether they are old or new. The newer ones can be in a genealogically relevant timeframe. The older ones tens of thousands of years ago. So until we discover them and place them on the tree, we don’t know what they are telling us. The way to discover them is Big Y testing.

  3. Incredible; it’s as if I was there. Thank you. Can I quote you on the SNP panels to my haplogroup project administrators? I want to be sure if anyone missed the conference, they would be aware of what FTDNA is planning.

  4. Pingback: 2014 Top Genetic Genealogy Happenings – A Baker’s Dozen +1 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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