Ophelia – A Hurricane In Ireland

If you find this a bit unbelievable, well, so do I.

I’ve learned an awful lot about hurricanes in Ireland over these past couple days, including that they aren’t generally called hurricanes. Cyclone appears to the official name, but here in Dublin, they call them “Big Winds.” As in, “the last big wind we had was in 1987,” or worse yet, if you want to feel really old, “the last big wind we had was before I was born.” It’s also called the Great Storm of 1987.

It appears that the “greatest storm ever”, which of course means in the history we are aware of, was recorded when a freak storm occurred between the nights of January 6 and 7, 1839. It was titled, “The Night of the Big Wind.” This article is a fascinating read, and although it doesn’t happen often, severe storms of hurricanes clearly do happen in Ireland. And they have likely happened in Ireland forever and maybe one in a lifetime would have been known to our ancestors.

Well, big wind, hurricane, typhoon or cyclone, a rose by any other name…and this one is named Ophelia.

In Hamlet’s tale, Ophelia, a name he appears to have made up, is a women tragically torn and who then then descends into madness.

That’s a good description, if I’ve ever heard one, for a hurricane that is going to hit Ireland – way off track…tomorrow…exactly 30 years to the day since the last “big one.”

It’s insane!

Now, of course, this would happen to me. I swear, is Michael Lacopo hiding in my suitcase? Am I related to him and don’t know it? Do we both carry a calamity gene? This kind of thing is only supposed to happen to him, and I mean, it happens regularly to him. In the genetic genealogy community, everyone asks Michael his travel arrangements before booking their own, because everyone knows what happens to Michael. I’m not kidding!

Hurricane Magnet

On the other hand, this isn’t exactly my first hurricane. I seem to attract them, somehow. In fact, I actually got married in the lull caused by the eye of hurricane Isabella, in Ohio. Yes, I said, in Ohio. And then there’s the hurricane on the Outer Banks where I waited too long to evacuate and the road was washing out as I tried to make my way to the Bonner bridge before the road was washed entirely into the sea. That was one of those trips that if you start, you don’t dare stop. And then there was the next hurricane too that sandblasted the side of my car, also on the outer banks….but never mind…I’m sure you get the drift. And suffice it to say I don’t even live anyplace near a hurricane state.

So, apparently I have some sort of hurricane magnetism…and it’s showing again. Mind you, I couldn’t even so much as muster up a rainstorm at home for weeks on end this summer.

Dublin

This trip to Dublin, I swear, has been jinxed from the beginning. I hesitate to say any more, because I don’t want to further jinx the trip, but let’s just say that this trip has been in jeopardy more than once, beginning with the fall in July that happened two days after I booked my (uncancellable) accommodations. You’ve already read about the resulting DVT.

My doctor authorized this trip, but ONLY IF I promised to fly first class, with seat room more befitting my “body type.” I do not fit well into 17 inch seats. Who over the age of about 10 does?

To say I nearly had a coronary or a stroke when I saw the price of the first class upgrade is an understatement. But by that time, it was either lose the 10 days unrefundable hotel and flight I had already booked or upgrade. Do you want to bleed this way or that way?

So, the upgrade was booked and I wrapped both legs in ace bandages for the journey, which she also made me promise. I then discovered that the only way to keep ace bandages in place was to use leggings, or in my case, long underwear given that I didn’t have any leggings.

So, I arrived at the airport looking and walking stiffly like a mummy which earned me a special “groin pat down” in security, even though I am already TSA prechecked. And lots of questions about why my legs were wrapped. I so wanted to say, “because I’m a mummy, in fact I’m a grand-mummy too,” but because I’ve heard that the TSA agents have no sense of humor whatsoever, for once in my lifetime, I kept my mouth shut and better judgement prevailed. Otherwise, I’d still be at that same airport, in some small room.

After all that, what else could possibly go wrong?

Let’s just say something did not agree with me. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to make the actual flight, given that I was apparently homesteading in the bathroom. Not only that, there were there gate changes, in different concourses (of course), with me only able to hobble.

I then received one of “those” phone calls, while camped out in the bathroom.

You know, one of the phone calls we know that is eventually inevitable but we dread intensely. Yes, a family member had passed away, unexpectedly.

So there I sat, in the airport bathroom, in jeopardy of missing a flight in a different concourse, flying into an area that was expecting a hurricane, sobbing as I received the news and trying to compose myself enough to call my family members most affected. I had by now pretty much turned into an emotional wreck.

I considered bagging the entire trip, but there was nothing to be done at home, and the trip, still uncancellable, was extremely costly. The only blessing is that my family member’s passing was swift. So, I managed to find the correct gate, at the last minute, and deposit myself on the plane. I’m not a drinker, but I had two drinks just the same, which for me is absolutely unheard of. I’m going to have to change that answer on my medical records from “no alcohol” to 2 per year.

Yesterday ended as day faded into night and then, just a very few hours later, night faded back into day after an artificially shortened night because you’re flying into the dawn.

So, as I sit here in a historical hotel in Dublin this later afternoon, the sky is darkening once again, but this time, it’s not because of night’s approach. It’s the wrath of Ophelia beginning.

I told you that I’d take you along on this trip, but this wasn’t exactly what I meant. Just the same, let’s make lemonade out of lemons!

We get to experience Dublin together and maybe we will have a great adventure!

Emerald Isle Beginnings

The day began very early, as the sunlight emerged on the horizon and the plane flew above or through some of Ophelia’s turbulence. It was strong enough to wake me up, bouncing around in the plane. Belongings were hitting the floor. The captain woke us up to tell us to fasten our seatbelts.

We passed over the turbulence that was Ophelia, who would catch up with me again in a couple days, playing our own personal cat and mouse game it seems.

When we landed in Ireland, leaving Ophelia behind in the Atlantic, the sun was bright and beautiful. You can definitely see where the nickname “Emerald Isle” originated. That sunshine was to be short-lived.

Of course, I couldn’t check into my hotel when I arrived, because the rooms weren’t quite yet ready. That’s what happens when you arrive at 9 in the morning.

My choices were to sit in the lobby and wait…and wait…and wait…or do something else. I chose to have a tea and some soda bread with black currant and raspberry jams and then take a hop-on-hop-off tour that took a total of about two and a half hours. That would hopefully give the hotel enough time to prepare a room and I would get to see something of Dublin.

By early evening, the winds, gloom and clouds of Ophelia had replaced the beautiful sunshine, but thankfully, not until after I had finished my tour.

Dublin in Under Three Hours

The first thing I learned on the tour is where the word Donnybrook came from.

Donnybrook

This church was the location between Ballsbridge and Donnybrook where the locals prayed for the souls of Donnybrook, and prayed for many of them to go away, it appears.

Our guide told us that while initially, Donnybrook was a local medieval fair, beginning in about the year 800, that over time it devolved into something that included copious amounts of drinking and various degrees of alcohol infused arguing and fighting. Hence, the genesis of the word Donnybrook.

Now, I assure you that my ancestors were involved in this, because, well, my ancestors were always involved in anything like this. I wouldn’t know what to do with a well-behaved ancestor. I would wonder how they ever got into my pedigree chart. Must surely be an NPE!

I would love, just love to visit Donnybrook fair for a day, back in the 1200s or 1300s, perhaps, with whichever of my ancestors might have been living here at the time. Oh, what fun we would have!

Doors

Dublin is also the land of doors. In Georgian neighborhoods, the only thing you are allowed to change on historical homes is the color of the door, hence, this. The guide said it also helps you find the right house when you come home late at night from the pub, or Donnybrook.

And, are you ready for this, the cheapest of these cost upwards of a million dollars, and I’m not talking about the entire row of apartments, but just one flat. And those are the cheap seats.

Markets

Sunday is the day in Dublin for art and street fairs. The fence along this public park sports the offerings of local artists and many people are walking and chatting.

Small markets appear all over the old part of the city, in nooks and crannies.

Along the River Liffey

The Irish famine shaped the people and the history of Ireland as well as the US, Canada and other diaspora regions. Due to the famine, many died, and many immigrated as well between 1840 and 1850.

This photo doesn’t do this memorial justice. Take a minute and look at this short YouTube video.

In the same video, you also get a look at Ireland’s harp bridge. This isn’t the official name, but I also discovered that in Dublin, everything has a nickname and about 90% of them are not printable here.

This bridge can also be played like a harp using fire hoses with pressurized water to vibrate the strings.

Embassy District

The American embassy.

The RDS, or Royal Dublin Society center, where Genetic Genealogy Ireland is going to be held later this week. I can hardly wait!

The Clayton Ballsbridge, my hotel, was next on the circuit.

This beautiful old building was opened as a Masonic Girl’s School in the 1880s.

The tile in the entryway is just beautiful.

Of course, I’m on the 6th floor and with Ophelia headed our way tomorrow, we’ll see just how well this building is constructed. I love old buildings though, and would much prefer to stay in a historic structure if possible.

Architecture

Put another way, the only buildings I’m not cracked up about are modern lifeless ones. I just love quaint, artistic buildings.

The Ferryman, along the river, across from what was the oldest Viking settlement known in Ireland. The descendants of those men probably have a brew in this pub today.

One of the things I dearly love about European cities is the intermingling of the old, meaning medieval, and the new. This is just a typical street scene. Lots of people walking everyplace.

Here’s another example of a beautiful old church behind the Guinness Brewery.

Guinness

Guinness, we have to talk about Guinness for a minute.

I know Guinness as a brand of beer, but in Dublin, it’s a wealthy family who happens to brew beer…the favorite beer of the Irish, it seems.

The Guinness Storehouse, which is also Ireland’s most popular tour, isn’t just a place, but a complex.

The Brewery and the Guinness Storehouse may be where I’ll be touring later this week, given that we were told that they “never close.” I hope that isn’t a dare to Ophelia.

Now, at one point, the hop-on-hop-off bus parked at a stop for a full 40 minutes. So it became the hop-off bus because if you wanted to go to the bathroom or do anything except sit there, you got off.

Now I’m not saying this was planned, but the location where the bus stopped just happened to be right in front of a pub. Like 15 feet from the door

Not just a pub, but a little hole-in-the-wall Irish pub, Madigans – the kind of place I’m just a sucker for. These places are either wonderful or terrible, with very little inbetween. I asked the tour guide where he might suggest something to do, close, for half an hour or so, and he suggested a bowl of soup in the pub.

Mnnnn, now that sounded good.

Ok, Ok, he really suggested soup and a Guinness.

Ok, well maybe he suggested he Guinness part and then muttered something about soup in a barely audible whisper at the end.

WhatEVER.

Did you know that soup in Ireland comes with soda bread? Well, actually, I think everything in Ireland comes with soda bread, from what I’ve seen.

I’m working my way up to Guinness. It’s pretty dark. So I started with a lager, Clonmel 1650. That’s good. I think I’m officially Irish now. My ancestors would be proud, even though I did ask for the smallest one possible.

And there is traditional Irish music on Thursday and Sunday evenings. Oh my. I’m not saying where I’ll be later in the week, but this is certainly a candidate.

Did I mention, that the Irish like to drink….a lot? Irish poet Brendan Breham described himself as a drinker with a writing problem. That’s about right, judging from what I saw today.

I don’t even know what to say.  No, it’s not Halloween here.

Need I say more?

So far, I’m feeling my Irish roots, but I’m not pedaling anything nor am I wearing a Viking horned hat, at least not yet. The week is still young though. No promises about tomorrow or the next day either.

The Week Ahead

What does this week hold, especially with Ophelia? I don’t know.

I do know one thing though, this trip cost far too much to not have fun…so I’m going to. Come hell or high water.  Ummm, maybe I shouldn’t have said that last part…

Someone suggested that if we can’t sightsee, we could pub crawl to get a look at the local flavor, of course. The Irish are extremely helpful like that. Seriously, they are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Perhaps because they are all mellow, or at least have that mellow gene.

Actually, that pub crawl sounds pretty interesting, especially it if includes traditional Irish music and Guinness. After all, Madigan’s pub is on the ground floor, it’s safe, safer than the 6th floor.  Yea…that’s it, all in the interest of safety. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

So, if you don’t hear from me for the rest of the week:

  • I’ve met Ophelia and she was a worthy opponent
  • I’ve fallen in love with Dublin and am busy looking for a house in the even poorer district, probably someplace in Donnybrook.
  • Ophelia was no big whoop and I’m back to sightseeing with Brian.  Who’s Brian, you ask?  Well, you’ll just have to wait to find out.
  • Make something up about what Roberta is doing.

Just thinking that option 4 might be by far the most interesting, and you guys might just have some good ideas too.

You know, I’m wondering if that howling that I’m hearing outside is ghosts, singing Irishmen who drank a bit too much, werewolves or Ophelia has come to call. It’s an unworldly sound, whatever it is.

Upcoming Speaking Events – In Person and Online – Ireland, Native Americans and More

Generally, I don’t travel to speak much, but clearly, I’ve lost my mind this fall and scheduled three back to back events. What was I thinking? I hope you can join me, in person, or online.

There are three fantastic opportunities!

Genetic Genealogy Ireland

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be both attending and presenting at Genetic Genealogy Ireland this upcoming week from October 20-22 in Dublin. I hope to meet many new friends and see where my Irish ancestors were from.

I’ll be presenting at the GGI conference on October 21 and 22, as well as participating in a roundtable on Saturday.

After the conference, Maurice Gleeson, wonderful man that he is,  puts (most of) the sessions online at YouTube on GGI’s own YouTube channel, so be sure to take a look. Past sessions are available too and all are free. It doesn’t get better than that, unless you can join in the festivities in person.

This is an incredible lineup and you won’t be sorry. When I’m not speaking, you’ll find me in the other sessions – that’s for sure.  Many of these speakers seldom appear and these are truly unique opportunities.

Family Tree University Workshop and Webinar on Native American Heritage

Can’t come to Ireland?

Have Native American ancestors, or think you might?

I’ve created a workshop duo for Family Tree University that includes both a video presentation and then on November 7th, a live webinar at 7 PM EST where we will step through working with various tools at each of the three main vendors, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry, plus GedMatch.

This series will help the novice, someone who thinks they might have family history and would like to confirm that story, or someone who knows they have Native heritage and is looking for more information.

You can sign up here for the package that includes both the pre-session webinar and the online workshop.

In the pre-session, I cover:
◾Native American history and how it affects DNA
◾Types of DNA
◾Formulating a DNA test strategy
◾Resources

In the live hour-long workshop, I’ll be reviewing the various unique tools you can use through the different DNA testing vendors, how each one can help you in order learn as much as possible about your Native ancestry and potentially find relatives. Finding relatives may be just the key to discovering more about your heritage, where your ancestor lived, or maybe even your tribe – although no DNA test alone can do that.

Are you using your DNA information to its fullest capacity?  Sign up to find out.

Family Tree DNA 13th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy

I’ll be presenting sessions in Houston, Texas at the Family Tree DNA conference November 10-12. That conference registration is now full, so if you’re a project administrator and you’ve registered, I’ll see you there.

This conference is one I’ve literally never missed! It’s always wonderful.

In the Mean Time…

Yes, I do have articles scheduled for publication during this time. I’ll try to catch anything that comes up spontaneously as well.

The great news is that the two conferences, plus my rambling around Ireland will provide great blog fodder, so be sure to stay tuned!

Who knows, maybe I’ll be visiting where your ancestors were from too.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2017

I’m super excited about visiting Dublin in less than a month. That’s right, Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2017 is fast approaching.

The 3-day conference takes place at the Royal Dublin Society October 20-22 and is being chaired and orchestrated by Dr. Maurice Gleeson. You can sign up here or pay at the door and it’s very reasonably priced at $10 Euro per day – or get a 50% discount by booking in advance here.

Actually, looking at the list of speakers, I think I’ve just about died and gone to DNA geekie Heaven.

Maurice has done an absolutely fantastic job of lining up speakers that you just can’t see anyplace else. Most aren’t normally on the “speaking circuit,” so to speak, so I really welcome this rare opportunity. Many work in specialized fields like ancient DNA or have specific focuses like the Ireland DNA project or the Iceland sequencing initiative.

I can’t wait to learn from each and every speaker. You can view the speaker profiles here.

Not only am I a genealogist, but I absolutely love science and combining technology with science to solve problems – in this case – genetics, to break down brick walls. While I’m not big on attending genealogy conferences, per se, genetics and genetic genealogy conferences make my eyes light up like Christmas tree bulbs and I hyperventilate.

Not only that, but at genetics conferences, we get to meet other genetic genealogists, geneticists, and academics and discuss all sorts of lovely things like mutation rates and segment size late into the night…in a nice Irish pub over brews. OK, so now I’m fantasizing…but maybe not. We’ll see.

My Sessions

Maurice has been gracious enough to invite me to present two sessions, which I’ve just recently finalized. After my ungraceful cobblestone dance in the Netherland in July, there was some question about my attendance, but let’s just say I have made every effort to be present – and barring something unforeseen, I’ll be there, not tap dancing, but limping a bit and trying to travel very light.

My two presentations will be:

  • Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA and How to Use Them
  • Autosomal DNA Through the Generations

Both of these are new presentations developed specially for Genetic Genealogy Ireland.

The first session looks at how to use the various tools available at Family Tree DNA, their options and utilizing the tools successfully together. Family Tree DNA provides us lots of ways to break down brick walls. I can’t say for sure right now, but there might even be a surprise in the mix. Stay tuned.

The second session utilizes 4 generations of the same family that have tested, and looks at what we can learn about inheritance. We will be discussing segments and phasing, along with the Family Phasing tool at Family Tree DNA that allows you to connect your DNA to your tree, along with that of your relatives to show you if your non-connected matches are related to you maternally or paternally. This is a fun presentation, actually built cooperatively with my teenage granddaughter who is very interested in genetics. It’s imperative that we infect the next generation, you know!

If you have a child or grandchild that might be interested, this is the perfect subject because you can test multiple generations too – and let’s face it – science is a lot more fun when it’s YOUR story.

You can read my complete speaker profile here.

Past Lectures and Social Media

Can’t attend, but want to follow along? Do you have Irish ancestors, and not just on St. Patrick’s Day? Does your DNA run a little green?

Well, you’re in luck. Genetic Genealogy Ireland has a Facebook group here.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland also has its own YouTube channel. You can view past lectures, here, for free. (Have I mentioned that Maurice, who has made this possible, is wonderful?)

And yes, I suspect strongly that this means that you’ll eventually have the opportunity to view the 2017 lectures as well, but seriously, if you can attend, please do.

Can’t Wait to Meet You

If you’re attending the conference, I can’t wait to meet you in person. Be sure to say hello. I’ll either be in the various DNA sessions or probably at the Family Tree DNA booth helping the volunteers there.

I hope to be able to blog from the conference. Depending on the wifi quality, the cost and my exhaustion level, I may have to wait until I get home, but rest assured, I’ll be sharing.

Thank You

The 3 full days of genetic genealogy lectures are sponsored by Family Tree DNA and organized by the ISOGG volunteers who will be attending and available to answer your genetic genealogy questions. Not a member of ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy)? It’s free to join, so please do.

A big thank you to Dr. Gleeson, ISOGG Education Ambassador who blogs here, Family Tree DNA and the ISOGG volunteers. This conference wouldn’t be happening without them.

Summer Hiatus and October in Dublin

Remember summer vacation when you were a kid?

Summer vacation seemed like it would last FOREVER. The endless days of sunshine and the smell of freshly cut grass with the swimming hole or beach beckoning endlessly.

As adults, we get so caught up in work and family that we forget what those summer holidays were like. I haven’t even seen my hammock in years. Where is it anyway?

I’m trying to remember those summertimes of yesteryear, and I’m giving myself a kickstarter by taking some time off.

Well, OK, it’s not really “off.” I’m preparing for three trips that are genetic genealogy related, and I’ll be writing about those in the coming months.

Plus, I’m stuck on some of my 52 Ancestors articles, waiting for information to arrive which is arriving very slowly. I think the staff from those various locations must be on vacation too.

I’ve found that I can’t prepare to travel, create presentations, complete customer reports, create a class and then travel along with maintaining my current article production schedule, so I’m taking a bit of a hiatus – in particular from my 52 Ancestors articles.

I have several regular articles already scheduled, but unfortunately, those ancestors are just going to have to wait patiently.  Maybe they’ll relinquish some of their closely guarded secrets in the mean time!  You think?

Upcoming Event – Dublin, Ireland

I do want to share with you that one of the events on my schedule is an appearance where I’ll be giving two separate presentations, at Genetic Genealogy Ireland, sponsored by Family Tree DNA, which takes place on October 20-22 in Dublin, Ireland.

Needless to say, I’m very excited.

Most of my regular readers know that I’m mostly retired from speaking and traveling, but this is one exception I’m glad to make. Of course, it helps a lot that I have McDowell ancestors whose homelands are close by, along with my McNiel line thought to have descended from the Niall of the Nine Hostages lineage, which of course means I absolutely HAVE to visit Tara.

Let’s just say that it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to convince me to speak😊

So, I hope to see you in October in Dublin! Take a look at the list of incredibly exciting speakers here. I can hardly wait and hope to meet lots of you in person!

__________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure will now appear at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

2016 Genetic Genealogy Retrospective

In past years, I’ve written a “best of” article about genetic genealogy happenings throughout the year. For several years, the genetic genealogy industry was relatively new, and there were lots of new tools being announced by the testing vendors and others as well.

This year is a bit different. I’ve noticed a leveling off – there have been very few announcements of new tools by vendors, with only a few exceptions.  I think genetic genealogy is maturing and has perhaps begun a new chapter.  Let’s take a look.

Vendors

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA leads the pack this year with their new Phased Family Matches which utilizes close relatives, up to third cousins, to assign your matches to either maternal or paternal buckets, or both if the individual is related on both sides of your tree.

Both Buckets

They are the first and remain the only vendor to offer this kind of feature.

Phased FF2

Phased Family Matching is extremely useful in terms of identifying which side of your family tree your matches are from. This tool, in addition to Family Tree DNA’s nine other autosomal tools helps identify common ancestors by showing you who is related to whom.

Family Tree DNA has also added other features such as a revamped tree with the ability to connect DNA results to family members.  DNA results connected to the tree is the foundation for the new Phased Family Matching.

The new Ancient Origins feature, released in November, was developed collaboratively with Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona Hammer Lab.

Ancient European Origins is based on the full genome sequencing work now being performed in the academic realm on ancient remains. These European results fall into three primary groups of categories based on age and culture.  Customer’s DNA is compared to the ancient remains to determine how much of the customer’s European DNA came from which group.  This exciting new feature allows us to understand more about our ancestors, long before the advent of surnames and paper or parchment records. Ancient DNA is redefining what we know, or thought we knew, about population migration.

2016-ancient-origins

You can view Dr. Hammer’s presentation given at the Family Tree DNA Conference in conjunction with the announcement of the new Ancient Origins feature here.

Family Tree DNA maintains its leadership position among the three primary vendors relative to Y DNA testing, mtDNA testing and autosomal tools.

Ancestry

In May of 2016, Ancestry changed the chip utilized by their tests, removing about 300,000 of their previous 682,000 SNPs and replacing them with medically optimized SNPs. The rather immediate effect was that due to the chip incompatibility, Ancestry V2 test files created on the new chip cannot be uploaded to Family Tree DNA, but they can be uploaded to GedMatch.  Family Tree DNA is working on a resolution to this problem.

I tested on the new Ancestry V2 chip, and while there is a difference in how much matching DNA I share with my matches as compared to the V1 chip, it’s not as pronounced as I expected. There is no need for people who tested on the earlier chip to retest.

Unfortunately, Ancestry has remained steadfast in their refusal to implement a chromosome browser, instead focusing on sales by advertising the ethnicity “self-discovery” aspect of DNA testing.

Ancestry does have the largest autosomal data base but many people tested only for ethnicity, don’t have trees or have private trees.  In my case, about half of my matches fall into that category.

Ancestry maintains its leadership position relative to DNA tree matching, known as a Shared Ancestor Hint, identifying common ancestors in the trees of people whose DNA matches.

ancestry-common-ancestors

23andMe

23andMe struggled for most of the year to meet a November 2015 deadline, which is now more than a year past, to transition its customers to the 23andMe “New Experience” which includes a new customer interface. I was finally transitioned in September 2016, and the experience has been very frustrating and extremely disappointing, and that’s putting it mildly. Some customers, specifically international customers, are still not transitioned, nor is it clear if or when they will be.

I tested on the 23andMe older V3 chip as well as their newer V4 chip. After my transition to the New Experience, I compared the results of the two tests. The new security rules incorporated into the New Experience meant that I was only able to view about 25% of my matches (400 of 1651(V3) matches or 1700 (V4) matches). 23andMe has, in essence, relegated themselves into the non-player status for genetic genealogy, except perhaps for adoptees who need to swim in every pool – but only then as a last place candidate. And those adoptees had better pray that if they have a close match, that match falls into the 25% of their matches that are useful.

In December, 23andMe began providing segment information for ethnicity segments, except the parental phasing portion does not function accurately, calling into question the overall accuracy of the 23andme ethnicity information. Ironically, up until now, while 23andMe slipped in every other area, they had been viewed at the best, meaning most accurate, in terms of ethnicity estimates.

New Kids on the Block

MyHeritage

In May of 2016, MyHeritage began encouraging people who have tested at other vendors to upload their results. I was initially very hesitant, because aside from GedMatch that has a plethora of genetic genealogy tools, I have seen no benefit to the participant to upload their DNA anyplace, other than Family Tree DNA (available for V3 23andMe and V1 Ancestry only).

Any serious genealogist is going to test at least at Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, both, and upload to GedMatch. My Heritage was “just another upload site” with no tools, not even matching initially.

However, in September, MyHeritage implemented matching, although they have had a series of what I hope are “startup issues,” with numerous invalid matches, apparently resulting from their usage of imputation.

Imputation is when a vendor infers what they think your DNA will look like in regions where other vendors test, and your vendor doesn’t. The best example would be the 300,000 or so Ancestry locations that are unique to the Ancestry V2 chip. Imputation would result in a vendor “inferring” or imputing your results for these 300,000 locations based on…well, we don’t exactly know based on what. But we do know it cannot be accurate.  It’s not your DNA.

In the midst of this, in October, 23andMe announced on their forum that they had severed a previous business relationship with MyHeritage where 23andMe allowed customers to link to MyHeritage trees in lieu of having customer trees directly on the 23andMe site.  This approach had been problematic because customers are only allowed 250 individuals in their tree for free, and anything above that requires a MyHeritage subscription.  Currently 23andMe has no tree capability.

It appears that MyHeritage refined their DNA matching routines at least somewhat, because many of the bogus matches were gone in November when they announced that their beta was complete and that they were going to sell their own autosomal DNA tests. However, matching issues have not disappeared or been entirely resolved.

While Family Tree DNA’s lab will be processing the MyHeritage autosomal tests, the results will NOT be automatically placed in the Family Tree DNA data base.

MyHeritage will be doing their own matching within their own database. There are no comparison tools, tree matching or ethnicity estimates today, but My Heritage says they will develop a chromosome browser and ethnicity estimates. However, it is NOT clear whether these will be available for free to individuals who have transferred their results into MyHeritage or if they will only be available to people who tested through MyHeritage.

2016-myheritage-matches

For the record, I have 28 matches today at MyHeritage.

2016-myheritage-second-match

I found that my second closest match at MyHeritage is also at Ancestry.

2016-myheritage-at-ancestry

At MyHeritage, they report that I match this individual on a total of 64.1 cM, across 7 segments, with the largest segment being 14.9 cM.

Ancestry reports this same match at 8.3 cM total across 1 segment, which of course means that the longest segment is also 8.3 cM.

Ancestry estimates the relationship as 5th to 8th cousin, and MyHeritage estimates it as 2nd to 4th.

While I think Ancestry’s Timber strips out too much DNA, there is clearly a HUGE difference in the reported results and the majority of this issue likely lies with the MyHeritage DNA imputation and matching routines.

I uploaded my Family Tree DNA autosomal file to MyHeritage, so MyHeritage is imputing at least 300,000 SNPs for me – almost half of the SNPs needed to match to Ancestry files.  They are probably imputing that many for my match’s file too, so that we have an equal number of SNPs for comparison.  Combined, this would mean that my match and I are comparing 382,000 actual SNPs that we both tested, and roughly 600,000 SNPs that we did not test and were imputed.  No wonder the MyHeritage numbers are so “off.”

My Heritage has a long way to go before they are a real player in this arena. However, My Heritage has potential, as they have a large subscriber base in Europe, where we desperately need additional testers – so I’m hopeful that they can attract additional genealogists that are willing to test from areas that are under-represented to date.

My Heritage got off to a bit of a rocky start by requiring users to relinquish the rights to their DNA, but then changed their terms in May, according to Judy Russell’s blog.

All vendors can change their terms at any time, in a positive or negative direction, so I would strongly encourage all individuals considering utilizing any testing company or upload service to closely read all the legal language, including Terms and Conditions and any links found in the Terms and Conditions.

Please note that MyHeritage is a subscription genealogy site, similar to Ancestry.  MyHeritage also owns Geni.com.  One site, MyHeritage, allows individual trees and the other, Geni, embraces the “one world tree” model.  For a comparison of the two, check out Judy Russell’s articles, here and here.  Geni has also embraced DNA by allowing uploads from Family Tree DNA of Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, but the benefits and possible benefits are much less clear.

If the MyHeritage story sounds like a confusing soap opera, it is.  Let’s hope that 2017 brings both clarity and improvements.

Living DNA

Living DNA is a company out of the British Isles with a new test that purports to provide you with a breakdown of your ethnicity and the locations of your ancestral lines within 21 regions in the British Isles.  Truthfully, I’m very skeptical, but open minded.

They have had my kit for several weeks now, and testing has yet to begin.  I’ll write about the results when I receive them.  So far, I don’t know of anyone who has received results.

2016-living-dna

Genos

I debated whether or not I should include Genos, because they are not a test for genealogy and are medically focused. However, I am including them because they have launched a new model for genetic testing wherein your full exome is tested, you receive the results along with information on the SNPs where mutations are found. You can then choose to be involved with research programs in the future, if you wish, or not.

That’s a vastly different model that the current approach taken by 23andMe and Ancestry where you relinquish your rights to the sale of your DNA when you sign up to test.  I like this new approach with complete transparency, allowing the customer to decide the fate of their DNA. I wrote about the Genos test and the results, here.

Third Parties

Individuals sometimes create and introduce new tools to assist genealogists with genetic genealogy and analysis.

I have covered these extensively over the years.

GedMatch, WikiTree, DNAGedcom.com and Kitty Cooper’s tools remain my favorites.

I love Kitty’s Ancestor Chromosome Mapper which maps the segments identified with your ancestors on your chromosomes. I just love seeing which ancestors’ DNA I carry on which chromosomes.  Somehow, this makes me feel closer to them.  They’re not really gone, because they still exist in me and other descendants as well.

Roberta's ancestor map2

In order to use Kitty’s tool, you’ll have to have mapped at least some of your autosomal DNA to ancestors.

The Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer written by Don Worth and available at DNAGedcom is still one of my favorite tools for quick, visual and easy to understand segment matching results.

ADSA Crumley cluster

GedMatch has offered a triangulation tool for some time now, but recently introduced a new Triangulation Groups tool.

2016-gedmatch-triangulation-groups

I have not utilized this tool extensively but it looks very interesting. Unfortunately, there is no explanation or help function available for what this tool is displaying or how to understand and interpret the results. Hopefully, that will be added soon, as I think it would be possible to misinterpret the output without educational material.

GedMatch also introduced their “Evil Twin” tool, which made me laugh when I saw the name.  Using parental phasing, you can phase your DNA to your parent or parents at GedMatch, creating kits that only have your mother’s half of your DNA, or your father’s half.  These phased kits allow you to see your matches that come from that parent, only.  However, the “Evil Twin” feature creates a kit made up of the DNA that you DIDN’T receive from that parent – so in essence it’s your other half, your evil twin – you know, that person who got blamed for everything you “didn’t do.”  In any case, this allows you to see the matches to the other half of your parent’s DNA that do not show up as your matches.

Truthfully, the Evil Twin tool is interesting, but since you have to have that parent’s DNA to phase against in the first place, it’s just as easy to look at your parent’s matches – at least for me.

Others offer unique tools that are a bit different.

DNAadoption.com offers tools, search and research techniques, especially for adoptees and those looking to identify a parent or grandparents, but perhaps even more important, they offer genetic genealogy classes including basic and introductory.

I send all adoptees in their direction, but I encourage everyone to utilize their classes.

WikiTree has continued to develop and enhance their DNA offerings.  While WikiTree is not a testing service nor do they offer autosomal data tools like Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, they do allow individuals to discover whether anyone in their ancestral line has tested their Y, mitochondrial or autosomal DNA.

Specifically, you can identify the haplogroup of any male or female ancestor if another individual from that direct lineage has tested and provided that information for that ancestor on WikiTree.  While I am generally not a fan of the “one world tree” types of implementations, I am a fan of WikiTree because of their far-sighted DNA comparisons, the fact that they actively engage their customers, they listen and they expend a significant amount of effort making sure they “get it right,” relative to DNA. Check out WikiTree’s article,  Putting DNA Results Into Action, for how to utilize their DNA Features.

2016-wikitree-peter-roberts

Thanks particularly to Chris Whitten at WikiTree and Peter Roberts for their tireless efforts.  WikiTree is the only vendor to offer the ability to discover the Y and mtDNA haplogroups of ancestors by searching trees.

All of the people creating the tools mentioned above, to the best of my knowledge, are primarily volunteers, although GedMatch does charge a small subscription service for their high end tools, including the triangulation and evil twin tools.  DNAGedcom does as well.  Wikitree generates some revenue for the site through ads on pages of non-members. DNAAdoption charges nominally for classes but they do have need-based scholarships. Kitty has a donation link on her website and all of these folks would gladly accept donations, I’m sure.  Websites and everything that goes along with them aren’t free.  Donations are a nice way to say thank you.

What Defined 2016

I have noticed two trends in the genetic genealogy industry in 2016, and they are intertwined – ethnicity and education.

First, there is an avalanche of new testers, many of whom are not genetic genealogists.

Why would one test if they weren’t a genetic genealogist?

The answer is simple…

Ethnicity.

Or more specifically, the targeted marketing of ethnicity.  Ethnicity testing looks like an easy, quick answer to a basic human question, and it sells kits.

Ethnicity

“Kim just wanted to know who she was.”

I have to tell you, these commercials absolutely make me CRINGE.

Yes, they do bring additional testers into the community, BUT carrying significantly misset expectations. If you’re wondering about WHY I would suggest that ethnicity results really cannot tell you “who you are,” check out this article about ethnicity estimates.

And yes, that’s what they are, estimates – very interesting estimates, but estimates just the same.  Estimates that provide important and valid hints and clues, but not definitive answers.

ESTIMATES.

Nothing more.

Estimates based on proprietary vendor algorithms that tend to be fairly accurate at the continental level, and not so much within continents – in particular, not terribly accurate within Europe. Not all of this can be laid a the vendor’s feet.  For example, DNA testing is illegal in France.  Not to mention, genetic genealogy and population genetics is still a new and emerging field.  We’re on the frontier, folks.

The ethnicity results one receives from the 3 major vendors (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe) and the various tools at GedMatch don’t and won’t agree – because they use different reference populations, different matching routines, etc.  Not to mention people and populations move around and have moved around.

The next thing that happens, after these people receive their results, is that we find them on the Facebook groups asking questions like, “Why doesn’t my full blooded Native American grandmother show up?” and “I just got my Ancestry results back. What do I do?”  They mean that question quite literally.

I’m not making fun of these people, or light of the situation. Their level of frustration and confusion is evident. I feel sorry for them…but the genetic genealogy community and the rest of us are left with applying ointment and Band-Aids.  Truthfully, we’re out-numbered.

Because of the expectations, people who test today don’t realize that genetic testing is a TOOL, it’s not an ANSWER. It’s only part of the story. Oh, and did I mention, ethnicity is only an ESTIMATE!!!

But an estimate isn’t what these folks are expecting. They are expecting “the answer,” their own personal answer, which is very, very unfortunate, because eventually they are either unhappy or blissfully unaware.

Many become unhappy because they perceive the results to be in error without understanding anything about the technology or what information can reasonably be delivered, or they swallow “the answer” lock stock and barrel, again, without understanding anything about the technology.

Ethnicity is fun, it isn’t “bad” but the results need to be evaluated in context with other information, such as Y and mitochondrial haplogroups, genealogical records and ethnicity results from the other major testing companies.

Fortunately, we can recruit some of the ethnicity testers to become genealogists, but that requires education and encouragement. Let’s hope that those DNA ethnicity results light the fires of curiosity and that we can fan those flames!

Education

The genetic genealogy community desperately needs educational resources, in part as a result of the avalanche of new testers – approximately 1 million a year, and that estimate may be low. Thankfully, we do have several education options – but we can always use more.  Unfortunately, the learning curve is rather steep.

My blog offers just shy of 800 articles, all key word searchable, but one has to first find the blog and want to search and learn, as opposed to being handed “the answer.”

Of course, the “Help” link is always a good place to start as are these articles, DNA Testing for Genealogy 101 and Autosomal DNA Testing 101.  These two articles should be “must reads” for everyone who has DNA tested, or wants to, for that matter.  Tips and Tricks for Contact Success is another article that is immensely helpful to people just beginning to reach out.

In order to address the need for basic understanding of autosomal DNA principles, tools and how to utilize them, I began the “Concepts” series in February 2016. To date I offer the following 15 articles about genetic genealogy concepts. To be clear, DNA testing is only the genetic part of genetic genealogy, the genealogical research part being the second half of the equation.

The Concepts Series

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical By Descent, State, Population and Chance

Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab

Concepts – Parental Phasing

Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting With Your Paternal Ancestor

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data From Family Tree DNA

Concepts – Managing Autosomal DNA Matches – Step 1 – Assigning Parental Sides

Concepts – Genetic Distance

Concepts – Relationship Predictions

Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation

Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA

Concepts – Managing Autosomal DNA Matches – Step 2 – Updating Matching Spreadsheets, Bucketed Family Finder Matches and Pileups

Concepts – Why DNA Testing the Oldest Family Members Is Critically Important

Concepts – Undocumented Adoptions Versus Untested Y Lines

My blog isn’t the only resource of course.

Kelly Wheaton provides 19 free lessons in her Beginners Guide to Genetic Genealogy.

Other blogs I highly recommend include:

Excellent books in print that should be in every genetic genealogist’s library:

And of course, the ISOGG Wiki.

Online Conference Resources

The good news and bad news is that I’m constantly seeing a genetic genealogy seminar, webinar or symposium hosted by a group someplace that is online, and often free. When I see names I recognize as being reputable, I am delighted that there is so much available to people who want to learn.

And for the record, I think that includes everyone. Even professional genetic genealogists watch these sessions, because you just never know what wonderful tidbit you’re going to pick up.  Learning, in this fast moving field, is an everyday event.

The bad news is that I can’t keep track of everything available, so I don’t mean to slight any resource.  Please feel free to post additional resources in the comments.

You would be hard pressed to find any genealogy conference, anyplace, today that didn’t include at least a few sessions about genetic genealogy. However, genetic genealogy has come of age and has its own dedicated conferences.

Dr. Maurice Gleeson, the gentleman who coordinates Genetic Genealogy Ireland films the sessions at the conference and then makes them available, for free, on YouTube. This link provides a list of the various sessions from 2016 and past years as well. Well worth your time!  A big thank you to Maurice!!!

The 19 video series from the I4GG Conference this fall is now available for $99. This series is an excellent opportunity for genetic genealogy education.

As always, I encourage project administrators to attend the Family Tree DNA International Conference on Genetic Genealogy. The sessions are not filmed, but the slides are made available after the conference, courtesy of the presenters and Family Tree DNA. You can view the presentations from 2015 and 2016 at this link.

Jennifer Zinck attended the conference and published her excellent notes here and here, if you want to read what she had to say about the sessions she attended. Thankfully, she can type much faster and more accurately than I can! Thank you so much Jennifer.

If you’d like to read about the unique lifetime achievement awards presented at the conference this year to Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, the founders of Family Tree DNA, click here. They were quite surprised!  This article also documents the history of genetic genealogy from the beginning – a walk down memory lane.

The 13th annual Family Tree DNA conference which will be held November 10-12, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency North Houston. Registration is always limited due to facility size, so mark your calendars now, watch for the announcement and be sure to register in time.

Summary

2016 has been an extremely busy year. I think my blog has had more views, more comments and by far, more questions, than ever before.

I’ve noticed that the membership in the ISOGG Facebook group, dedicated to genetic genealogy, has increased by about 50% in the past year, from roughly 8,000 members to just under 12,000. Other social media groups have been formed as well, some focused on specific aspects of genetic genealogy, such as specific surnames, adoption search, Native American or African American heritage and research.

The genetic aspect of genealogy has become “normal” today, with most genealogists not only accepting DNA testing, but embracing the various tools and what they can do for us in terms of understanding our ancestors, tracking them, and verifying that they are indeed who we think they are.

I may have to explain the three basic kinds of DNA testing and how they are used today, but no longer do I have to explain THAT DNA testing for genealogy exists and that it’s legitimate.

I hope that each of us can become an ambassador for genetic genealogy, encouraging others to test, with appropriate expectations, and helping to educate, enlighten and encourage. After all, the more people who test and are excited about the results, the better for everyone else.

Genetic genealogy is and can only be a collaborative team sport.

Here’s wishing you many new cousins and discoveries in 2017.

Happy New Year!!!

Lifetime Achievement Awards for Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld

At the 2016 Family Tree DNA 12th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy held in Houston, Texas in November, I was honored to present Lifetime Achievement Awards to both Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld from the genetic genealogy community in the form of DNA double helix quilts.

I chose quilts as awards because quilts embody the deep cross-cultural symbolism of family, of caring and of warmth. Quilts can be utilitarian, artistic, or both – hung on the wall or napped under. They descend to the next generation, just like our DNA. These unique quilts, and yes, there are two, show the easily recognizable double helix strands, but also suggest the mystery of the unknown and yet to be discovered.  Quilts seemed the perfect medium.

award-dna-quilt

I must admit, I agonized for weeks about what I was going to say, and months about the DNA quilts themselves. Ok, I had a bit of analysis paralysis having to do with the quilt design and construction, but with the deadline of the approaching conference looming months, then weeks away, I kicked into overdrive to finish the quilts.

But then, the most difficult part – what to say to and about these amazing humans. I’ve been involved in public speaking for the past 30+ years, and I’m very comfortable – except not this time. This presentation was about a subject very close to my heart – and about the men who have provided all genetic genealogists with the opportunities we have today.

Before I share what I said, I would like to thank my co-conspirators:

  • Janine Cloud
  • Katherine Borges
  • Nora Probasco
  • Linda Magellan
  • Jim Brewster

Katherine, Nora and Linda have all been to all 12 of the conferences and are fellow quilters. Linda is making labels for their quilts to affix to the back so they will never forget – although I doubt there is much possibility of that happening. Jim Brewster will sew the labels to the backs of the quilts when Linda mails the labels to Texas.

Max and Bennett are very humble men and I know they were embarrassed and amazingly enough, for those of us who are fortunate enough to know then – they were also pretty much speechless. At least for a couple minutes!

I’d like to take this opportunity to share the awards presentation with you. I’ve taken the liberty of added a few photos.

Many people don’t know Max and Bennett personally, nor do they know the history of genetic genealogy and direct to consumer DNA testing. I hope this presentation both honors Max and Bennett, and serves to educate about the humble beginnings of genetic genealogy.

I’m honored to present two Lifetime Achievement Awards today. Yes, there has been a conspiracy afoot. You have no idea how difficult it is to sneak onto a conference agenda. Thank you Janine Cloud. Additional co-conspirators are Katherine Borges, Nora Probasco and Linda Magellan, three people who have attended every conference since the beginning.

award-beginning

Left to right, Roberta Estes, Linda Magellan, Katherine Borges, Nora Probasco

Let’s talk about the beginning.

Most everyone knows the story about Bennett Greenspan’s first retirement in 1999.

Bennett tried to retire, but managed to get underfoot at home, and his wife in essence threw him out of the house. She told him she didn’t much care WHAT he did, but he had to find SOMETHING to do, SOMEPLACE ELSE.

Now, knowing that Bennett is a genealogist, I’m betting that living in Houston, he went to the Clayton Library every day and assured his wife he was busy looking for a new career. He found it alright, or maybe it found him.

Someplace, at the Clayton Library or elsewhere, Bennett was thinking about how to prove that men with a common surname were or were not descended from a common ancestral line. Were they related? Bennett knew just enough about science to know that if he could find a way to test their Y chromosomes, and they descended from a common paternal ancestor, their Y DNA should match. Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

Bennett began a search to find a scientist that could and would run that one Y DNA test for him. As it turns out, could and would were two entirely different matters. Bennett found Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona who runs the Hammer Lab that specializes in human evolutionary genetics.

Dr. Hammer could, but would he?

Bennett mentions talking to Dr. Hammer on the phone several times. Dr. Hammer mentions that Bennett camped out in his office and wouldn’t leave. However persistent Bennett was or wasn’t, in person or otherwise, we should all be incredibly grateful for his tenacity, because purely in self-defense, Dr. Hammer agreed to do the test – just that one test.

However, Dr. Hammer made a fateful throwaway comment as Bennett was on the way out the door. He said, “Someone should start a business doing this. You crazy genealogists ask me about this ALL THE TIME.

Talk about what never to say to a bored entrepreneur. That “all the time” statement echoed and rolled around in Bennett’s head. “All the time…all the time.”

Now, I don’t know exactly what happened next, but Bennett and Max were already business partners in another endeavor, and I’d bet the next conversation went something like this:

“Max – I’ve got an idea….”

Followed by a brief discussion and then:

“Bennett, are you crazy? No one will ever buy that?”

Like I said, I wasn’t there – but I’m really glad Bennett was a bit crazy – because so are the rest of us genealogists – as is proven by the size and magnitude of the genetic genealogy industry today.

The fledgling business, Family Tree DNA, was founded with Dr. Hammer’s lab doing the testing.

Fast forward a few months to July 14, 2000.

Cousin Doug Mumma, who, by the way, I didn’t know was a cousin until several years later thanks to a Family Finder test, called Family Tree DNA and talked to Bennett about Y DNA testing several Mumma men and men with similar surnames to see if they descended from a common ancestor. If Bennett was crazy wanting Y DNA testing, he is accompanied by a whole lot of other genealogists. Perhaps it’s genetic.

Bennett agreed to form a project for Doug and Doug agreed to commit to purchase 20 kits. Doug’s first kit in the Mumma Surname Project was kit M-01 and by the time he was ready to purchase project kit number 21, the M was gone from the kit designation, and he purchased kit number 72.

Fast forward another few months.

I had tested my mitochondrial DNA with Oxford Ancestors and for something like $900 discovered that I was the daughter of Jasmine, one of the seven daughters of Eve. I received a one page diagram with a gold star placed on the letter J. My fascination with the science of genetic genealogy had begun.

One of my cousins mentioned that some company in Texas was doing DNA testing on men for the Y chromosome for genealogy. I was just sure this was some kind of scam, because I figured if that could be done, Oxford Ancestors would be offering that too – and they weren’t.

I found the phone number for Family Tree DNA, called and left a message.

Later that night, about 9:30, my phone rang and it was Bennett Greenspan returning my call – the President of Family Tree DNA.

Little did I know, at that time, that the office consisted of Bennett’s cell phone.

award-bennett-cell

We talked for an hour. I explained to Bennett that I had tested for mitochondrial DNA and asked about the Y DNA testing. Bennett described what Family Tree DNA was doing with testing and projects, convincing me it was not a scam after all. While I certainly understood the genetic basis of how Y DNA testing worked, I had not seen the website, or the software, and I was concerned about explaining how matching worked on the site between different men in a project.

Bennett said something fateful, which I’m sure he’s regretting right about now. He said, “Don’t worry – I’ll help you.”

With that, I committed to purchase 5 kits and he committed to create the Estes surname project, and help me if I needed assistance. I quickly found 5 willing Estes genealogists who desperately wanted to know if they descended from a common Estes progenitor. The Estes DNA project was formed.

In mid-December 2002, I purchased kit 6656.  Kits were selling at the incredible rate of about 2000 a year!

The DNA results were amazing and full of potential for every ancestral line. I quickly became an advocate of genetic genealogy, although Rootsweb wouldn’t let us discuss DNA testing on the boards and lists, like it was some sort of pariah. DNA proved and disproved genealogy, myths and oral history – which bothered some folks immensely.

By 2004, genetic genealogy was growing and so was the interest in this field. Around the beginning of 2004, kit 17,000 was sold and twelve months later, on New Year’s Eve, kit 30,244 was sold. Participation in genetic genealogy nearly doubled in 2004 and in two years, it had quadrupled.  By now, kits were selling at just under 2000 per month.

November 2004 saw the first conference sponsored by Family Tree DNA in Houston which lasted only one day. The excitement in the community was palpable. Not only were we excited about the conference itself, and learning, but by meeting each other face to face.

award-2004-banner

award-2004

Bennett Greenspan, Bruce Walsh (obscured by Bennett), Max Blankfeld and Matt Kaplan from the University of Arizona, at the first conference. Photos from 2004 courtesy ISOGG.

In April of 2005, Family Tree DNA made the announcement that they had teamed with the National Geographic Society and the Genographic Project was launched. This liaison was the turning point that legitimized DNA testing to the rest of the world. People began to see DNA testing featured in the iconic magazine with the yellow cover and no one wondered anymore if we were just plain crazy.

In November 2005, the second Family Tree DNA Genetic Genealogy conference, which became the second annual conference, was held in Washington DC at the headquarters of the National Geographic Society.

This conference was extra exciting because of the location and the implications for genetic genealogy. We had come of age. The conference was held in the “Explorers Hall.” We were recognized as explorers too in this brave new genetic world.

award-2005

My husband and I stayed at a hotel called The Helix in Washington, within walking distance to the National Geographic building. On the morning of the conference, we left the hotel for the 5-minute walk to Nat Geo. In front of us, maybe 30 feet, were Max and Bennett, briskly walking and chatting. We continued behind them, not wanting to interrupt. In those few minutes, I remember distinctly thinking that I was literally watching history being made by the two men in front of me. Little did I know exactly how true that was and what the future held.

On New Year’s Eve, 2005, I purchased kit 50,000. Of course, I had to purchase about 10 kits to manage to get kit 50,000, right at midnight. Unbeknownst to me, the Genographic Project had sold nearly 100,000 kits. Genetic genealogy had passed silently from its infancy.

Every year since then, more history has unfolded.

Few people get the opportunity to shape the future.

Few people get the opportunity to directly affect more than a few lives – in this case, millions.

Few people get the opportunity to found not just a business, but an industry that will continue to provide information and answers long after we are nothing more than genealogical memories.

Few people get to chart the course of history.

Yes, I’m talking about Max and Bennett.

No, they don’t know anything about this.

About this time, Bennett apparently suspected not only that the awards might be for he and Max, but also realized that he had been “had.” Janine Cloud, was the person with the difficult task of making sure that Bennett and Max were in the room during this time, in addition to providing a disguised space on the agenda for these awards.

This is the look on Bennett’s face when he realized and looked at Janine.

award-bennett-gotcha

Followed by this photo.  Janine is standing behind Bennett.

award-bennett-2

Max, however, didn’t suspect, because he was busy. I can just hear Bennett, “Pssst, Max…..”

award-bennett-max

So, until now, Max probably really doesn’t know exactly what I said up to this point.

Max and Bennett not only founded the genetic genealogy industry, they have maintained a leadership position within that industry while others perished. They have an entire series of firsts attributed to them, but if I took time to list them all, we would be here all day.

What I will say is that they have created this industry with the utmost integrity and with their eye to the consumer. One example stands out.

I was standing at a conference some years ago when a man asked Bennett about backbone SNP testing. Bennett asked him which haplogroup. The man answered, then Bennett told him not to spend his money on that test for that haplogroup, because he wasn’t likely to learn anything he didn’t already know.

Being a project administrator, I was surprised at Bennett’s response. I spoke with Bennett and he said he never wanted his customers to feel like they didn’t receive value for their money. That’s not something one would expect to hear from the mouth of a businessman. But that is Bennett.

Integrity has been the guiding principle and the foundation of Family Tree DNA and remains so today.

Max and Bennett have given us what is arguably the single most valuable tool for genealogists – ever – not to mention those searching for their birth family.

Francis Crick and James Watson discovered DNA in 1953, but it would be another 47 years before Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld gave us the rosetta stone so that “the rest of us” can understand our DNA and how it’s relevant to our own lives – and those of our ancestors. That vision in 1999 and the fledgling startup company in 2000 was the cornerstone of the DTC, direct to consumer, DNA industry today.

I am honored to present Max and Bennett with special Lifetime Achievement Awards – that are – well – a bit different from any other lifetime achievement award. But then, they are unique so their awards should be as well.

I am asking Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan and Nora Probasco to help present these awards on behalf of the genetic genealogy community. All 3 have attended all of the conferences.

award-katherine

Katherine Borges closed the presentation with the following quote by Wilferd Peterson.

Walk with the Dreamers,
The Believers,
The Courageous,
The Planners,
The Doers,
The Successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground,
Let their Spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you Max and Bennett for inviting and allowing us to walk with you on this most fabulous journey. You are the wind beneath our wings.

What you can’t see in the photos is the standing ovation for Max and Bennett. People came up to me afterwards and thanked me, saying that they wanted to say those things, but couldn’t or didn’t know how.

At this point, we told Max and Bennett that they had to close their eyes. They are indeed trusting souls.

When they opened their eyes, I’m sure they didn’t know quite what to think. They were both looking to their left at first, and I think they thought there was one quilt.

award-first-sight

I do love the looks on their faces. We wanted them to be surprised and joyful, and they clearly were.

award-both-quilts

They weren’t entirely speechless, but close.

award-max

Max said something short and gracious, then handed the microphone to Bennett and said , “Here Bennett, you say something.” The crowd laughed. Max and Bennett both handled the situation with the grace and dignity we have come to expect.

award-bennett

For those who would like to see a closeup, Katherine Borges took a nice picture.

award-closeup

I will be writing a separate article about the quilts themselves.

Family Tree DNA offers lab tours on the Monday following the conference, and I was able to take a photo of Max and Bennett in the office with the quilts.  For those who don’t know, Gene by Gene is the parent company of Family Tree DNA.

I’m sure none of us, including Max and Bennett had any idea 16 years ago where this road would lead.  It has been an amazing journey – a fantastic magic carpet ride!

award-both-gene-by-gene

I want to thank everyone who contributed in any way to these awards for Bennett and Max, including everyone who has bought tests and participated in DNA testing for genetic genealogy.  Every time I thank Max, he always says, “No, thank YOU.  We wouldn’t be here without you,” meaning the testing community.  That’s Max, and I know he means it sincerely.

Not only was this a wonderful opportunity to honor the men who founded and anchor this industry and community, but also to celebrate individuals being able to participate in discovery on the forefront of the final frontier, the one within us.  What Max and Bennett have provided is an opportunity beyond measure. I could never have dreamed a dream this big. I’m eternally grateful that they did.

Thank you, Max and Bennett, for everything you have done for genetic genealogy over the past 16 years, for founding Family Tree DNA, for projects and a wide variety of products, for embracing, including and encouraging genealogists, scientists and citizen scientists, and for providing continuing opportunities to unwrap the genetic gifts left to us by our ancestors.

I have struggled to find words big enough, strong enough and deep enough.  I hope when you look at your quilts, you will simply feel our everlasting gratitude for how profoundly you have touched and irreversibly changed the lives of so many, one by one, in essence sewing many small stitches in the quilt of humanity.

Photos courtesy Jennifer Zinck, Jim Hollern, Katherine Borges, Janine Cloud, Jim Kvochick and ISOGG.

Conferences, Reunions and Flavors of Family

riddell

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?

Family.

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!

img_7231

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!