Conferences, Reunions and Flavors of Family


Jim Brewster (FTDNA), Gail Riddell (New Zealand), me with Linda Magellan peeking over Jim’s shoulder at the ISOGG reception at the 2016 FTDNA conference. Photo courtesy Gail Riddell.

What do you call an event where you’ve seen the same folks for a dozen years? An event that brings people from the far corners of the earth, literally? A conference that feels far more like a family reunion.

What do you call those people?


New family.  Old family.  Family of heart.  Sisters or brothers by another mother maybe.  Friends you just haven’t met yet.  And sometimes…real, honest to blood cousins.

The 12th annual international family reunion, er, I mean International Genetic Genealogy Conference sponsored by Family Tree DNA occurred this past weekend in Houston.  I’m still on the road, typing on a tiny keyboard, and I really can’t do it justice just yet but I want to take this opportunity to send you a couple teasers and just to say how wonderful it was to see everyone again.

Sadly, some were missing.  Hopefully we’ll see them next year.  Unfortunately, a few have passed over to where genealogists get to meet all of their ancestors, so we have to cherish their memories and hope they will help out by sending us answers from their current location.

It’s hard to believe it has been a dozen years now.  The first conference was in 2004 – a one day event in Houston.  Little could we know or dream what the next decade+ would bring.

Another thing I find amazing is just how many people in this group of 230 or so people I am related to in one way or another.  All of these, bar none, were discovered via DNA testing.  Whoever would guess that in a room of 230 random people you would find several cousins? Certainly makes you wonder looking around the bus, at the people at work or in a restaurant.  How many share your ancestors?

I’m still on the road and will be for a few days, so you’ll get an article to do the conference justice when I get home.  In the mean time, I encourage you to read Jennifer Zinck’s wonderful summary articles on her blog, Ancestor Central.  Jen can type much faster than I ever could and she is able to listen at the same time too. The bad news is that there were several breakout sessions that ran concurrently and Jen can only be in one place at a time.  We have not yet defied the laws of physics.

Jen and I discovered that we have Mayflower ancestors in common, in addition to being friends – having met at this same conference years ago.  There just might be another ancestor trip in the planning stages….just saying.

Speaking of Jen, she contributed the photo below.  Many thanks, Jen.

We had a once-in-a-lifetime special event at the conference this year. Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan were presented with rather unique Lifetime Achievement Awards by the genetic genealogy community.  Max and Bennett were both very grateful, not to mention….nearly speechless, a second once-in-a-lifetime event!


Left to right: Linda Magellan, Roberta Estes (talking), Max Blankfeld, Bennett Greenspan, Nora Probasco and Katherine Borges. Photo courtesy Jennifer Zinck.

As many of you may know, I’m a quilter and yes, I made the double helix quilts.  I asked Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan and Nora Probasco to help me with the presentation process since I could not hold up 4 corners of two quilts by myself….and these ladies have attended all 12 conferences as well.  Not to mention, they are quilters – so they were glad to be co-conspirators.

We were all very honored to present these awards and want to thank Janine Cloud at FTDNA for clandestinely working us into the schedule without raising suspicion!  While that sounds easy, believe me, it wasn’t.

I will be writing an article about Max, Bennett and the awards shortly, and a separate article about the quilts themselves.

Until then, I’m still basking in the glow of two days of hugs, meals with friends, collaboration, and newly discovered information and opportunities. I encourage each of you to find a reunion or conference to attend so you can have the same wonderful experience.  There is just nothing better than family, regardless of which kind of family you have – of blood or of heart – or maybe yet-to-be-met!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

17 thoughts on “Conferences, Reunions and Flavors of Family

  1. My first FTDNA conference and the experience exceeded my expectations. I could not believe how welcoming everyone was to this newbie. In fact, it was while I was walking from one group of men to the next, looking for the Parks Surname Administrator, and asking, “Are you Ken Parks? Are you Ken Parks?” that a benevolent woman wearing a beautiful flowered dressed took me under her wing and said, “You’re looking for Ken Parks? He’s a friend of mine….I know he’s here….I saw him last night.” Then she took me by the arm and helped me look for Ken. After much searching and no finding, I finally released this angel from the search and thanked her. Then I asked, “What is your name?” And she simply replied, “Roberta”. And then I became that groupie girl of 18 that I never was…my angel was also my rock star! My screams and camera instantly came out. Thank you Roberta for all you do and your humble kindness that you extend toward all.

    • Deborah – you are very kind. You said something though that touched me deeply. You said, “You have changed my life.” Genealogy and genetic genealogy has changed all of our lives and I’m glad I could play a small part. We do have a wonderful picture together. Thank you. I look forward to seeing you and Ken both next year!

      • Thanks to the two of you, and several others, what started as a low point emotionally for me was just the therapy I needed this week. It was so good to spend time with you both and many others. Yes, the family reunion analogy rings true, and I’m sure many others feel the same way!

  2. Hey! I planned on coming, too, but it filled up before I could register. Will try again next year (yes, I’m co-admin on a couple of projects). When I do, you will be able to say your had ONE cousin in attendance who was not ID’d via DNA testing, but by old-fashioned paper research!

  3. Beautiful quilts with such appropriate designs.
    I have a technical question concerning the mother’s line DNA, and I do not know who to contact. Do you know someone at FT-DNA?
    Thanks, Rosemary

  4. Roberta, you are a lady of many talents. I don’t know how you make time for all the joys you enjoy and still say Hi to your family. God Bless.

  5. Hello, I enjoy being a part of your followers as I learn so many new things about “who I am” and who the people are that made me possible.   Is this the way I should contact you to ask a question about DNA from a relative I’ve just found?   Thank you, Carol

  6. The quilts are beautiful, outstanding, imaginative and a host of other adjectives. I marvel at how much you do.

  7. Thanks for the report. I was pleased to see our new FTDNA L1335 Project administrator, Gail Riddell, in the first photo. Your quilt is beautiful. What a great idea for an award.

  8. Roberta is one of the most decent human beings on this earth. I ‘accidentally’ found her, based on an assumption that my Mayflower Taylor family’s offspring, left VA/WV and moved to KY. I found other descendants who went through the Gap on their way to OK and TX and it was a link! With the fact I can’t cover enough compliments she deserves here, I have to add the quilts and designs show her creative side. Now I need to find a runner in that design for my dining room table.

    Proud to be a Co Admin for Roberta and her team, and we all hope that we helped her have more time for this type, for those special projects for our beloved Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld!

  9. Roberta, it was a pleasure to meet with you and David Pike again this year — it was over too soon. Enjoyed listening to yours and all of the presentations and visiting with your hubby. I too have pics of those quilts — they are exceptional and breathtakingly beautiful. Something I learn more and more each time I attend a Family Tree DNA conference – and this last one was no exception: we are ALL related!

Leave a Reply