Day 3 at RootsTech was characterized by meeting lots of people, talking to several vendors and a party. Plus, I finally got to attend a session. Yes, really!
Ok, confession, I offered to help the presenter in order to garner a seat in the room. It was well worth a small amount of effort on my part to be able to see Bennett Greenspan, CEO and founder of Family Tree DNA present on The DNA of the Jewish People.
For those who don’t know, Bennett and his partner Max Blankfeld are the founding fathers of the direct to consumer genetic industry with the birth of Family Tree DNA 18 years ago.
I love Bennett’s DNA tie!
Even though Family Tree DNA hosts the annual conference for project administrators, Bennett has never presented at his own conference. I’ve heard him present once before, and he’s one of two speakers whose sessions I’d attend if they were talking about making mud pies. (Judy Russell is the other one.)
Bennett certainly didn’t let the audience down.
He began by telling folks how, just before his bar mitzva, his grandmother passed away. At the cemetery, his mother took his hand and walked him around, introducing him to the graves and family members buried there. Bennett didn’t realize how many relatives they had in Kansas.
Later that day, as family members arrived at the house to console the family, Bennett walked from person to person interviewing them about their memories of the “old country.” Bennett said, in their thick old-world accents, they told him about various family members, providing a link back in time.
Bennett then drew his first pedigree chart. I’m just amazed that he still HAS this chart. Thankfully, someone saved it. Little did he know how prophetic this would be or what staying power it would have. Nor could he have ever dreamt that his genealogy addiction was destined to someday change the world for all genealogists.
Indeed, Bennett was hooked at a very young age.
After Bennett sold his photographic supply company about 20 years ago, he became “too helpful” at home, offering to reorganize his wife’s pantry, and let’s just say that he got sent to his room. However, it just happens that in the room were his boxes of genealogy and well…history was about to be written.
In 1996 and 1997, Bennett had read two academic studies written about Y DNA in men. The first study was about the Jewish Cohen lineage, and the second was about the Jefferson males and Sally Hemmings.
Bennett’s Jewish family was torn apart by WWII and those who survived were scattered to the winds. This history makes genealogy particularly difficult for Jewish people, both the record destruction in Europe and the fact that the family remnants are so widely scattered and often lost to each other.
In Bennett’s case, he found a Nitz family in Argentina that claimed to be from the same village as his maternal grandmother’s Nitz family, and he wanted to verify that it was the same family by Y DNA testing – just like the Cohen study and the Jefferson/Hemmings case.
Bennett called Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona who was one of the authors on the Cohen paper, and whose lab had processed the samples. Dr. Hammer told Bennett that they only did academic processing, not for consumers. Bennett asked Dr. Hammer where he could turn to write a check and get an answer, but Dr. Hammer informed Bennett that such a company or location didn’t exist. Little did Dr. Hammer know that Bennett was an entrepreneur whose wife had banished him to timeout, in essence because he “retired” too young and was bored and underfoot.
Here’s what happened next!
I love to hear Bennett tell this story.
As a result, Family Tree DNA was born.
Bennett’s question about his Nitz line was indeed answered by a perfect Y DNA match. Indeed, it was the same family line!
Bennett then proceeded to search for Greenspan males, but that answer didn’t arrive for more than another decade. Bennett tested a lot of Greenspans, but it wasn’t until he met a Mr. Green at a conference that he found a match.
Jewish men fall into specific haplogroups or clusters, sometimes referred to as clans, on the Y DNA phylotree. The same is true for mtDNA, but that wasn’t the topic of his presentation.
Therefore, by testing a male, you can tell by his haplogroup and his matches whether or not he is Jewish.
The Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews are very similar in their haplogroup breakdown and distribution, as are the rest of the non-Jewish residents of the Middle East.
They do, after all, originally descend from the same ancestors.
You can see the difference in the haplogroup spread between the people with Middle Eastern heritage, above, and the Ukraine, below.
These slides refute the theory that the Russian Khazars converted to Judaism en masse and subsequently migrated to eastern Europe. If this were the case, the DNA of the Ashkenazi Jews would be split much more closely along Ukrainian lines than Middle Eastern lines, and you can see for yourself which pie chart the Ashkenazi population more closely resembles.
The real message here is that thanks to DNA testing, we know that the sons of the Levant are far more alike than different – and that the Ashkenazi Jews are indeed from the Middle East and not from Russia.
Bennett’s family is from Eastern Europe, so the last thing he expected to discover was that his family was actually a displaced Sephardic line – but alas, through DNA matching and following the path of the DNA, that’s exactly what Bennett discovered.
As Bennett said, it rocked his world. No oral history reflected the 1492 expulsion of his family from Spain. This information gave him a new lens into the fate of his family when the Jews were displaced from Spain, penniless, their property confiscated, and leaving hurriedly to avoid death.
Bennett may never know their names, but he knows where they traveled on their long, perilous journey of over 2000 years from the Levant to Spain, then to Eastern Europe and finally into Argentina and the States.
I’ve summarized Bennett’s presentation significantly, but Bennett’s family history, revealed by Y DNA is a powerful story of family reunification.
Meet and Greet
In the Starbucks in the hotel, my 7th cousin, Laurel, found me and we talked about our common genealogy in Wilkes County, NC – the Sarah Rash (1748-1829) and Robert Shepherd (1739-1817) lines. If these are your lines too, please give a shout out.
I discovered that Laurel is going to be returning to Wilkes County for additional research, and she discovered that I know the location of the now-bulldozed-into-the-creek cemetery. Yes, we’re going to exchange information.
We’ve actually chatted a few times over the past few days and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.
On to the conference.
By day 3, I’ve finally developed a sense, at least somewhat, of the lay of the land. RootsTech is massive and the convention center is laid out anything but intuitively.
I walked by the theater in Lisa Louise Cooke’s genealogy Gems booth and caught a sentence where the presenter was explaining about cluster research, also known as FAN – friends and neighbors. In essence, people traveled in packs and you’ll tend to find them together. I wanted to agree vehemently, but did so silently and was very glad to see others listening attentively.
On down the aisle, I spotted an ad for DNA charts. As irritating as I find the ethnicity estimates, I must admit, these are really attractive.
However, I then spied the wall chart.
How fun is this? A gift maybe? How about adding the haplogroup for each person on the chart? So many possibilities. I can see a wall…
Speaking of walls, Living DNA created a “photo booth” in their booth, and David Nicholson, one of the Living DNA Founders and I hammed it up a bit. It’s always nice to meet the people who own and run the various companies. David and I have spoken and skyped previously, but never managed to be in the same place at the same time until now.
Most of the DNA vendors had long lines throughout the conference. That’s the good news, because no matter where you’ve tested, you’ll be getting new matches soon.
I stood in line to purchase a Living DNA kit for a friend, so I eaves-dropped anonymously.
Living DNA indicates that they provide a “3 in one” test, meaning autosomal ethnicity estimates (no matching yet, but anticipated this year), a mitochondrial haplogroup for your direct matrilineal line, and if you are a male, a Y DNA haplogroup for your paternal line.
For the sake of clarity, men receive 3, but women receive a “2 in one” since they have no Y chromosome.
I’m still hoping to be able to connect and have a few minutes to sit down and discuss Living DNA development for 2018. Hopefully maybe tomorrow.
By now everyone should know that I find the full Y and mitochondrial DNA test, which provides you with actual test results and matching for those lines, extremely beneficial. I want to be very clear that knowing your Y and mtDNA haplogroup is very interesting and can be useful, but it’s not the same thing as receiving the actual results which can provide you with a significant history, along with matching.
Y and mitochondrial DNA is not an alternative to autosomal DNA testing, but these types of DNA tests supplement and enhance each other.
Of the major vendors, Family Tree DNA is the only vendor who offers that level of testing and has a data base for Y and mitochondrial DNA matching.
I’m so grateful that Family Tree DNA continues to offer these tests, although the autosomal market clearly outstrips the Y and mtDNA market. At trade shows, I think offering multiple types of tests is actually a detriment to Family Tree DNA, because they have to take time to educate their customers as to the different types of DNA that can be tested, ask about their goals, and then advise as to the appropriate test for the customer’s specific situation.
Above, in the Family Tree DNA booth, Bennett Greenspan is explaining the various types of tests to a potential customer.
Ran into Tom MacEntee again. It’s too bad he blends into the background and is so shy. Wait till you see what he’s wearing at the party later in the evening. OK, OK, I’ll shown you now.
Tom looks stunning in his tiara, doesn’t he!
Now, in the gratitude department – meet Dave Robison.
Dave introduced himself to me by saying something like, “You don’t know me, but you were such an inspiration to me when I was just getting started.” I was kind of taken aback, but then he continued by saying that he was somewhat doubtful of where he was “going,” so to speak, and that he had e-mailed me and I had answered him. From that, he decided that if I could do this, so could he, and lo and behold, he has, in spades.
Dave is now a professional genealogist who also donates a great deal of his time to several genealogical organizations. Please check out Dave’s story here.
Part of Dave’s trip to Salt Lake was to visit the Family History Library to perform some client work. On Saturday, I escaped to the library as well. (Don’t worry, you’re going along.) As luck would have it, we both found ourselves having lunch at the closest restaurant. Of course, we broke bread (or ate salad actually) together and had a lovely, lovely meal. I can’t wait to see Dave again.
Dave’s introduction moved me greatly. So often, we really never know the extent of the difference a kind word at the right time and place may make to someone.
I’m very grateful for Dave telling me, because it’s all too easy to be grouchy and tired when answering the 235th e-mail of the day.
I’m so pleased to have a new friend too.
Wandering on down the aisle, my eye was drawn to a ring that looked like it might be a helix. Could it be?
I do sometimes think I’m married to DNA.
Whoever thought you’d see the day when helix jewelry was available in a bead booth?
With earrings to match.
If you’re interested, I’m sure The Bead Farm would gladly ship.
Anyone watch Relative Race? BYU TV describes this show as, “With their own DNA as a roadmap, and $25,000 on the line, four couples must race coast-to-coast and discover a different relative every day.”
The season premier is March 4th!
Do they actually drive these brightly colored cars in the series? Obviously, I’ve never watched. Clue me in, someone…
Next, I had an amazing surprise.
Last summer, when Jim and I were in Europe chasing my ancestors across the continent, we met a lovely couple on the same journey. We enjoyed several meals together, parting ways and promising to keep in touch, with the best of intentions. However, life just got in the way, until today.
I looked up, and there stood my friend, Lisa Hunt. Of course, entirely out of context, I recognized her but for a moment, was somewhat confused. It’s a very long way from the Rhine River to Salt Lake City.
As it turns out, Lisa was at the conference hoping to meet up with a new cousin and stumbled across me! No, I’m not the cousin.
If you have a tree at Family Search, and you register for the conference, the app will search your tree and the trees of other attendees and tell you how many cousins you have at RootsTech, who they are and how you are related – with the idea that you can find each other. What fun!
And yes, Lisa did find her cousin!
One of the booths I noticed was the Society of Mayflower Descendants.
As luck would have it, Jim Brewster who presented at RootsTech (and works for Family Tree DNA) is my cousin through the William Brewster line. For those who don’t know, William Brewster is one of the Mayflower passengers. Ironically, I applied last week to join this society, right after I documented my line in order to join the Mayflower DNA Project at Family Tree DNA. Do you have any Mayflower ancestors?
I came to RootsTech with a list of vendors that I absolutely wanted to see and meet. Pierre Cloutier who wrote Charting Companion was one of those people. I’ve used this product for years to produce great charts and reports. It works with almost any genealogy software!
Here, Pierre’s explaining the McGuire Method to a visitor. I wasn’t quite sure how he could have implemented this methodology, so he kindly explained it to me. Charting companion now includes special mtDNA lineages displayed on charts, X chromosome inheritance as well as the new McGuire methodology.
If you’re trying to figure out where a DNA tester places in a group of other testers, the McGuire Method will be helpful, and Pierre has automated this methodology. Thank you, Pierre!
Apparently, the MyHeritage After-Party has become a RootsTech tradition, even though this is only the third year.
I found more photos online of the party than of any other single conference related event last year, and maybe more than all vendors and sessions combined.
Who says genealogists are boring people?
Yes, indeed, the party this year was themed. Fortunately, you didn’t have to dress the part to attend, but many did. I also discovered, albeit too late, that Salt Lake City has a costume rental where you can rent and return. I’ll file that one away for future use! I wonder what they have in “DNA.”
The best part of this party was networking with others. I’ll introduce you to a few people you may know from their blogs and online presence.
Leah LePerle Larkin, who blogs as The DNA Geek, and I are cousins several times over through our Acadian lines. One day, when we have a breather, maybe we’ll actually figure out exactly how many times we’re related. Acadian lines are like that.
We’ve known each other online for years now, and finally had a chance to sit down at a table and actually talk. No, not at the party, earlier.
From left to right, front row, Angie Bush, genetic genealogist with ProGenealogists, Leah LaPerle Larkin, me. Rear, left to right, Rob Warthen and Richard Weiss with DNAadoption and DNAGedcom and Jony Perle of DNAPainter fame, peeking over the top.
Upon arrival, supplies were provided at a craft table to create hats and headbands. When you’re late, you get to celebrate your Native heritage by sticking some feathers in your hair. That was fine with me. However, my headband was too tight, so I dispensed with the headband and instead, liberated an orange feather centerpiece to use as a “parasol.” Hey, be creative and go big or stay home.
To be clear, Richard had not sprouted an orange bird on this head – that’s my parasol in my hand positioned on his shoulder.
Richard is a far more talented dancer than I am, but I had loads of fun anyway! This is one place where, thankfully, you don’t have to be good to have fun.
Jessica Taylor with Legacy Tree Genealogists, at left, with unknown people at right and a special friend. I’m sure there’s a story, I just don’t happen to know what it is!
Line dancing, disco lights and costumes.
A huge thank you to our host, Gilad Japhet, CEO and founder of MyHeritage.
Tomorrow, you’re going with me to visit the Family History Library! Never been there? Neither have I!
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
- Family Tree DNA
- MyHeritage DNA only
- MyHeritage DNA plus Health
- MyHeritage FREE DNA file upload
- 23andMe Ancestry
- 23andMe Ancestry Plus Health
- Legacy Tree Genealogists for genealogy research