Am I ever whipped. My two live Sessions that were actually a series of three classes each took place on Friday. Yes, that means I presented 6 sessions on Friday, complete with a couple of Zoom gremlins, of course. It’s the nature of the time we live in.
RootsTech tried something new that they’ve never done before. The Zoom class sessions were restricted to 500 attendees each. RootsTech was concerned about disappointed attendees when the room was full and they couldn’t get in, so we live-streamed three of my sessions to Facebook in addition to the 500 Zoom seats.
As of this evening, 6,800 of you have viewed the Facebook video, “Associating Autosomal DNA Segments With Ancestors.” I’m stunned, and touched. Thank you, thank you. Here’s the Facebook link, and here’s the RootsTech YouTube link.
My afternoon sessions, “What Can I DO With Ancestral DNA Segments?” can be viewed here at RootsTech or here on YouTube.
I must admit, I’m really, REALLY looking forward to being together again because RootsTech without the socializing and in-person Expo Hall just isn’t the same. Still, be sure to take a virtual walk through the Expo Hall, here. There’s lots of content in the vendors” booths and it will remain available for all of 2022, until the beginning of RootsTech 2023..
Between prep for my classes and presenting, I didn’t have a lot of time to watch other sessions, but I was able to catch the FamilyTreeDNA keynote and their 2022 Product Sneak Peek. Both were quite worthwhile.
However, I just realized that FamilyTreeDNA’s special show pricing promo codes are still valid for the next two days.
Special Prices Are Still Available
Every single test that FamilyTreeDNA offers, including UPGRADES, is on sale right now by using special RootsTech promo codes. These prices are good for two more days, through March 7th, so if you want to purchase a Y DNA test, mitochondrial, or Family Finder autosomal test, or upgrade, click here to see the prices only available at RootsTech (and to you through my blog.) It’s not too late, but it will be soon.
To order, click here to sign on or place your order.
FamilyTreeDNA’s keynote was titled FamilyTreeDNA: 22 Years of Breaking Down Brick Walls.
I really enjoyed this session, in part because I’ve been a part of the genetic genealogy revolution and evolution from the beginning. Not only that, but I know every single person they interviewed for this video, and have for years. If you’ve been participating in genetic genealogy for some time, you’ll know many of these people too. For a minute, it was almost as good as visiting in person.
I’m going to share a few highlights from the session, but I’m also going to include information NOT in the video. I was one of the early project administrators, so I’ve been along for the ride for just a few months shy of 22 years.
FamilyTreeDNA was the first US company to enter the DNA testing space, the first to offer Y DNA testing, and the only one of the early companies that remains viable today. FamilyTreeDNA was the result of Bennett Greenspan’s dream – but initially, he was only dreaming small. Just like any other genealogist – he was dreaming about breaking down a brick wall which he explains in the video.
I’m so VERY grateful that Bennett had that dream, and persisted, because it means that now millions of us can do the same – and will into the future.
Bennett tells this better than anyone else, along with his partner, Max Blankfeld.
“Some people were fascinated,” Bennett said.
Yep, that’s for sure! I certainly was.
“Among the first genetic genealogists in the world.”
“Frontier of the genetic genealogy revolution.”
Indeed, we were and still are. Today’s genetic genealogy industry wouldn’t even exist were it not for FamilyTreeDNA and their early testers.
I love Max Blankfeld’s story of their first office, and you will too.
This IS the quintessential story of entrepreneurship.
In 2004, when FamilyTreeDNA was only four years old, they hosted the very first annual international project administrator’s conference. At that time, it was believed that the only people that would be interested in learning at that level and would attend a DNA conference would be project administrators who were managing surname and regional projects. How times have changed! This week at RootsTech, we probably had more people viewing DNA sessions than people that had tested altogether in 2004. I purchased kit number 30,087 on December 28, 2004, and kit 50,000 a year later on New Year’s Eve right at midnight!
In April 2005, Nat Geo partnered with FamilyTreeDNA and founded the Genographic Project which was scheduled to last for 5 years. They were hoping to attract 100,000 people who would be willing to test their DNA to discover their roots – and along with that – our human roots. The Genographic Project would run for an incredible 15 years.
In 2005 when the second Project Administrator’s conference was held at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington DC, I don’t think any of us realized the historic nature of the moment we were participating in.
I remember walking from my hotel, ironically named “Helix,” to that iconic building. I had spent my childhood reading those yellow magazines at school and dreaming of far-away places. As an adult, I had been a life-long subscriber. Never, in my wildest dreams did I imagine ever visiting Nat Geo and walking the marble Explorer’s Hall with the portraits of the founders and early explorers hanging above and keeping a watchful eye on us. We would not disappoint them.
That 100,000 participation goal was quickly reached, within weeks, and surpassed, leading us all to walk the road towards the building that housed the Explorer’s Hall, Explorers’ in Residence, and so much more.
We were all explorers, pioneers, adventurers seeking to use the DNA from our ancestors in the past to identify who they were. Using futuristic technology tools like a mirror to look backward into the dim recesses of the past.
The archaeology being unearthed and studied was no longer at the ends of the earth but within our own bodies. The final frontier. Reaching out to explore meant reaching inward, and backward in time, using the most progressive technology of the day.
Most of the administrators in attendance, all volunteers, were on a first-name basis with each other and also with Max, Bennett, and the scientists.
Here, Bennett with a member of the science team from the University of Arizona describes future research goals. Every year FamilyTreeDNA has improved its products in numerous ways.
Today, that small startup business has its own ground-breaking state-of-the-art lab. More than 10,000 DNA projects are still administered by passionate volunteer administrators who focus on what they seek – such as the history of their surname or a specific haplogroup. Their world-class lab allows FamilyTreeDNA to focus on research and science in addition to DNA processing. The lab allows constant improvement so their three types of genetic genealogy products, Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA.
Those three types of tests combine to provide genealogical insights and solutions. The more the science improves, the more solutions can and will be found.
If you watch the video, you’ll see 6 people who have solved particularly difficult and thorny problems. We are all long-time project administrators, all participate on a daily basis in this field and community – and all have an undying love for both genealogy and genetic genealogy.
You’ll recognize most of these people, including yours truly.
- I talk about my mother’s heritage, unveiled through mitochondrial DNA.
- Rob Warthen speaks about receiving a random phone call from another genealogist as his introduction to genetic genealogy. Later, he purchased a DNA test for his girlfriend, an adoptee, for Christmas and sweetened the deal by offering to “go where you’re from” for vacation. He didn’t realize why she was moved to tears – that test revealed the first piece of information she had ever known about her history. DNA changed her and Rob’s life. He eventually identified her birth parents – and went on to found both DNAAdoption.org and DNAGedcom.
- Richard Hill was adopted and began his search in his 30s, but it would be DNA that ended his search. His moving story is told in his book, Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA.
- Mags Gaulden, professional genealogist and founder of Grandma’s Genes and MitoYDNA.org tells about her 91-year-old adopted client who had given up all hope of discovering her roots. Back in the 1950s, there was literally nothing in her client’s adoption file. She was reconciled to the fact that “I would never know who I was.” Mags simply could not accept that and 2 years later, Mags found her parents’ names.
- Lara Diamond’s family was decimated during the holocaust. Lara’s family thought everyone in her grandfather’s family had been killed, but in 2013, autosomal DNA testing let her to her grandfather’s aunt who was not killed in the holocaust as everyone thought. The aunt and first cousin were living in Detroit. Lara went from almost no family to a family reunion, shown above. She says she finally met “people who look like me.”
- Katherine Borges founded ISOGG.org, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy in 2005, following the first genetic genealogy conference in late 2004 where she realized that the genealogy community desperately needed education – beginning with DNA terms. I remember her jokingly standing in the hallway saying that she understood three words, “a, and and the.” While that’s cute today, it was real at that time because DNA was a foreign language, technology, and concept to genealogy. In fact, for years we were banned from discussing the topic on RootsWeb. The consummate genetic genealogist, Katherine carries DNA kits in her purse, even to Scotland!
Bennett says that he’s excited about the future, for the next generation of molecular scientific achievements. It was Bennett that greenlit the Million Mito project. Bennett’s challenge as a genetic genealogy/business owner was to advance the science that led to products while making enough money to be able to continue advancing the science. It was a fine line, but Max and Bennett navigated those waters quite well.
Apparently, Max, Bennett, and the FamilyTreeDNA customers weren’t the only people who believe that.
In January 2021, myDNA acquired and merged with FamilyTreeDNA. Max and Bennett remain involved as board members.
Dr.Lior Rauchberger, CEO of myDNA which includes FamilyTreeDNA
Dr. Lior Rauchberger, the CEO of the merged enterprise believes in the power of genetics, including genetic genealogy, and is continuing to make investments in FamilyTreeDNA products – including new features. There have already been improvements in 2021 and in the presentation by Katy Rowe, the Product Manager for the FamilyTreeDNA products, she explains what is coming this year.
I hope you enjoyed this retrospective on the past 22 years and are looking forward to crossing new frontiers, and breaking down those brick walls, in the coming decades.
Sneak Peek at FamilyTreeDNA – New Features and Upcoming Releases
You can watch Katy Rowe’s Sneak Peek video about what’s coming, here.
Of course, while other companies need to split their focus between traditional genealogy research records and DNA, FamilyTreeDNA does not. Their only focus is genetics. They plan to make advances in every aspect of their products.
FamilyTreeDNA announced a new Help Center which you can access, here. I found lots of short videos and other helpful items. I had no idea it existed.
In 2021, customers began being able to order a combined Family Finder and myDNA test to provide insights into genealogy along with health and wellness
Wellness includes nutrition and fitness insights.
Existing customers either are or will be able to order the myDNA upgrade to their existing test. The ability to upgrade is being rolled out by groups. I haven’t had my turn yet, but when I do, I’ll test and let you know what I think. Trust me, I’m not terribly interested in how many squats I can do anymore, because I already know that number is zero, but I am very interested in nutrition and diet. I’d like to stay healthy enough to research my ancestors for a long time to come.
FamilyTreeDNA announced that over 72,000 men have taken the Big Y test which has resulted in the Y DNA tree of mankind surpassing 50,000 branches.
This is utterly amazing when you consider how far we’ve come since 2002. This also means that a very high number of men, paired with at least one other man, actually form a new branch on the Y haplotree.
The “age” of tester’s Y DNA haplogroups is now often within the 500-year range – clearly genealogical in nature. Furthermore, many leaf-tip haplogroups as defined by the Big Y SNPs are much closer than that and can differentiate between branches of a known family. The Big Y-700 is now the go-to test for Y DNA and genealogy.
Of course, all these new branches necessitate new maps and haplogroup information. These will be released shortly and will provide users with the ability to see the paths together, which is the view you see here, or track individual lines. The same is true for mitochondrial DNA as well.
Y DNA tree branch ages will be forthcoming soon too. I think this is the #1 most requested feature.
On the Mitochondrial DNA side of the house, the Million Mito project has led to a significant rewrite of the MitoTree. As you know, I’m a Million Mito team member.
Here’s Dr. Paul Maier’s branch, for example. You can see that in the current version of the Phylotree, there is one blue branch and lots of “child” branches beneath that. Of course, when we’re measuring the tree from “Eve,” the end tip leaf branches look small, but it’s there that our genealogy resides.
In the new version, yet to be released, there is much more granularity in the branches of U5a2b2a.
To put this another way, in today’s tree, haplogroup U5a2b2a is about 5,000 years old, but the newly defined branches bring the formation of Paul’s (new) haplogroup into the range of about 500 years. Similar in nature to the Y DNA tree and significantly more useful for genealogical purposes. If you have not taken a mitochondrial DNA full sequence test, please order one now. Maybe your DNA will help define a new branch on the tree plus reveal new information about your genealogy.
Stay tuned on this one. You know the Million Mito Project is near and dear to my heart.
2022 will also see much-needed improvements in the tree structure and user experience, as well as the matches pages.
There are a lot of exciting things on FamilyTreeDNA’s plate and I’m excited to see these new features and functions roll out over the next few months.
Just the Beginning
The three days of RootsTech 2022 may be over, but the content isn’t.
In fact, it’s just the beginning of being able to access valuable information at your convenience. The vendor booths will remain in the Expo Hall until RootsTech 2023, so for a full year, plus the individual instructor’s sessions will remain available for three years.
In a few days, after I take a break, I’ll publish a full list of DNA sessions, along with links for your convenience.
Thank You Shout Outs
I want to say a HUGE thank you to RootsTech for hosting the conference and making it free. I specifically want to express my gratitude to the many, many people working diligently behind the scenes during the last year, and frantically during the past three days.
Another huge thank you to the speakers and vendors whose efforts provide the content for the conference.
And special thanks to you for loving genealogy, taking your time to watch and learn, and for reading this blog.
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