Full or Half Siblings?

Many people are receiving unexpected sibling matches. Everyday on social media, “surprises” are being reported so often that they are no longer surprising – unless of course you’re the people directly involved and then it’s very personal, life-altering and you’re in shock. Staring at a computer screen in stunned disbelief.

Conversely, sometimes that surprise involves people we already know, love and believe to be full siblings – but autosomal DNA testing casts doubt.

If your sibling doesn’t match at all, download your DNA files and upload to another company to verify. This step can be done quickly.

Often people will retest, from scratch, with another company just for the peace of mind of confirming that a sample didn’t get swapped. If a sample was swapped, then another unknown person will match you at the sibling level, because they would be the one with your sibling’s kit. It’s extremely rare, but it has happened.

If the two siblings aren’t biologically related at all, we need to consider that one or both might have been adopted, but if the siblings do match but are predicted as half siblings, the cold fingers of panic wrap themselves around your heart because the ramifications are immediately obvious.

Your full sibling might not be your full sibling. But how can you tell? For sure? Especially when minutes seem like an eternity and your thoughts are riveted on finding the answer.

This article focuses on two tools to resolve the question of half versus full siblingship, plus a third safeguard.

Half Siblings Versus Step-Siblings

For purposes of clarification, a half sibling is a sibling you share only one parent with, while a step-sibling is your step-parent’s child from a relationship with someone other than your parent. Your step-parent marries your parent but is not your parent. You are not genetically related to your step-siblings unless your parent is related to your step-parent.

Parental Testing

Ideally two people who would like to know if they are full or half siblings would have both parents, or both “assumed” parents to compare their results with. However, life is seldom ideal and parents aren’t always available. Not to mention that parents in a situation where there was some doubt might be reluctant to test.

Furthermore, you may elect NOT to have your parents test if your test with your sibling casts doubt on the biological connections within your family. Think long and hard before exposing family secrets that may devastate people and potentially destroy existing relationships. However, this article is about the science of confirming full versus half siblings, not the ethics of what to do with that information. Let your conscience be your guide, because there is no “undo” button.

Ranges Aren’t Perfect

The good news is that autosomal DNA testing gives us the ability to tell full from half-siblings by comparing the siblings to each other, without any parent’s involvement.

Before we have this discussion, let me be very clear that we are NOT talking about using these tools to attempt to discern a relationship between two more distant unknown people. This is only for people who know, or think they know or suspect themselves to be either full or half siblings.

Why?

Because the ranges of the amount of DNA found in people sharing close family relationships varies and can overlap. In other words, different degrees of relationships can be expected to share the same amounts of DNA. Furthermore, except for parents with whom you share exactly 50% of your autosomal DNA (except males don’t share their father’s X chromosome), there is no hard and fast amount of DNA that you share with any relative. It varies and sometimes rather dramatically.

The first few lines of this Relationship Chart, from the 2016 article Concepts – Relationship Predictions, shows both first and second degree relationships (far right column).

Sibling shared cM chart 2016.png

You can see that first degree relations can be parent/child, or full siblings. Second degree relationships can be half siblings, grandparents, aunt/uncle or niece/nephew.

Today’s article is not about how to discern an unknown relation with someone, but how to determine ONLY if two people are half or full siblings to each other. In other words, we’re only trying to discern between rows two and three, above.

As more data was submitted to Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project, the ranges changed as we continued to learn. Blaine’s 2017 results were combined into a useful visual tool at DNAPainter, showing various relationships.

Sibling shared cM DNAPainter.png

Note that in the 2017 version of the Shared cM Project, the high end of the half sibling range of 2312 overlaps with the low end of the full sibling range of 2209 – and that’s before we consider that the people involved might actually be statistical outliers. Outliers, by their very definition are rare, but they do occur. I have seen them, but not often. Blaine wrote about outliers here and here.

Full or Half Siblings?

So, how to we tell the difference, genetically, between full and half siblings?

There are two parts to this equation, plus an optional third safeguard:

  1. Total number of shared cM (centiMorgans)
  2. Fully Identical Regions (FIR) versus Half Identical Regions (HIR)

You can generally get a good idea just from the first part of the equation, but if there is any question, I prefer to download the results to GedMatch so I can confirm using the second part of the equation too.

The answer to this question is NOT something you want to be wrong about.

Total Number of Shared cM

Each child inherits half of each parent’s DNA, but not the same half. Therefore, full siblings will share approximately 50% of the same DNA, and half siblings will share approximately 25% when compared to each other.

You can see the differences on these charts where percentages are converted into cM (centiMorgans) and on the 2017 combined chart here.

I’ve summarized full and half siblings’ shared cMs of DNA from the 2017 chart, below.

Relationship Average Shared cM Range of Shared cM
Half Siblings 1,783 1,317 – 2,312
Full Siblings 2,629 2,209 – 3,394

Fully Identical and Half Identical Regions

Part of the DNA that full siblings inherit will be the exact same DNA from Mom and Dad, meaning that the siblings will match at the same location on their DNA on both Mom’s strand of DNA and Dad’s strand of DNA. These sections are called Fully Identical Regions, or FIR.

Half siblings won’t fully match, except for very small slivers where the nucleotides just happen to be the same (identical by chance) and that will only be for very short segments.

Half siblings will match each other, but only one parent’s side, called Half Identical Regions or HIR.

Roughly, we expect to see about 25% of the DNA of full siblings be fully identical, which means roughly half of their shared DNA is inherited identically from both parents.

Understanding the Concept of Half Identical Versus Fully Identical

To help understand this concept, every person has two strands of DNA, one from each parent. Think of two sides of a street but with the same addresses on both sides. A segment can “live” from 100-150 Main Street, er, I mean chromosome 1 – but you can’t tell just from the address if it’s on Mom’s side of the street or Dad’s.

However, when you match other people, you’ll be able to differentiate which side is which based on family members from that line and who you match in common with your sibling. This an example of why it’s so important to have close family members test.

Any one segment on either strand being compared between between full siblings can:

  • Not match at all, meaning the siblings inherited different DNA from both parents at this location
  • Match on one strand but not the other, meaning the siblings inherited the same DNA from one parent, but different DNA from the other. (Half identical.)
  • Match identically on both, meaning the siblings inherited exactly the same DNA in that location from both parents. (Fully identical.)

I created this chart to show this concept visually, reflecting the random “heads and tails” combination of DNA segments by comparing 4 sets of full siblings with one another.

Sibling full vs half 8 siblings arrows

This chart illustrates the concept of matching where siblings share:

  • No DNA on this segment (red arrow for child 1 and 2, for example)
  • Half identical regions (HIR) where siblings share the DNA from one parent OR the other (green arrow for child 1 and 2, for example, where the siblings share brown from mother)
  • Fully identical regions (FIR) where they share the same segment from BOTH parents so their DNA matches exactly on both strands (black boxed regions)

If a region isn’t either half or fully identical, it means the siblings don’t match on that piece of DNA at all. That’s to be expected in roughly 50% of the time for full siblings, and 75% of the time for half siblings. That’s no problem, unless the siblings don’t match at all, and that’s entirely different, of course.

Let’s look at how the various vendors address half versus full siblings and what tools we have to determine which is which.

Ancestry

Ancestry predicts a relationship range and provides the amount of shared DNA, but offers no tools for customers to differentiate between half versus full siblings. Ancestry has no chromosome browser to facilitate viewing DNA matches but shared matches can sometimes be useful, especially if other close family members have tested.

Sibling Ancestry.png

Update 4-4-2019 – I was contacted by a colleague who works for an Ancestry company, who provided this information: Ancestry is using “Close Family” to designate avuncular, grandparent/grandchild and half-sibling relationships. If you see “Immediate Family “the relationship is a full sibling.

Customers are not able to view the results for ourselves, but according to my colleague, Ancestry is using FIRs and HIRs behind the scenes to make this designation. The Ancestry Matching White Paper is here, dating from 2016.

If Ancestry changes their current labeling in the future, this may not longer be exactly accurate. Hopefully new labeling would provide more clarity. The good news is that you can verify for yourself at GedMatch.

A big thank you to my colleague!

MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides estimated relationships, a chromosome browser and the amount of shared DNA along with triangulation but no specific tool to determine whether another tester is a full or half sibling. One clue can be if one of the siblings has a proven second cousin or closer match that is absent for the other sibling, meaning the siblings and the second cousin (or closer) do not all match with each other.

Sibling MyHeritage.png

Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, you can see the amount of shared DNA. They also they predict a relationship range, include a chromosome browser, in common matching and family phasing, also called bucketing which sorts your matches into maternal and paternal sides. They offer additional Y DNA testing which can be extremely useful for males.

Sibling FamilyTreeDNA.png

If the two siblings in question are male, a Y DNA test will shed light on the question of whether or not they share the same father (unless the two fathers are half brothers or otherwise closely related on the direct paternal line).

Sibling advanced matches.png

FamilyTreeDNA provides Advanced Matching tools that facilitate combined matching between Y and autosomal DNA.

Sibling bucketing both.png

FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder maternal/paternal bucketing tool is helpful because full siblings should be assigned to “both” parents, shown in purple, not just one parent, assuming any third cousins or closer have tested on both sides, or at least on the side in question.

As you can see, on the test above, the tester matches her sister at a level that could be either a high half sibling match, or a low full sibling match. In this case, it’s a full sibling, not only because both parents tested and she matched, but because even before her parents tested, she was already bucketed to both sides based on cousins who had tested on both the maternal and paternal sides of the family.

GedMatch

GedMatch, an upload site, shows the amount of shared DNA as well. Select the One-to-One matching and the “Graph and Position” option, letting the rest of the settings default.

Sibling GedMatch menu.png

GedMatch doesn’t provide predicted relationship ranges as such, but instead estimates the number of generations to the most recent common ancestor – in this case, the parents.

Sibling GedMatch total.png

However, GedMatch does offer an important feature through their chromosome browser that shows fully identical regions.

To illustrate, first, I’m showing two kits below that are known to be full siblings.

The green areas are FIR or Fully Identical Regions which are easy to spot because of the bright green coloring. Yellow indicate half identical matching regions and red means there is no match.

Sibling GedMatch legend.png

Please note that this legend varies slightly between the legacy GedMatch and GedMatch Genesis, but yellow, green, purple and red thankfully remain the same. The blue base indicates an entire region that matches, while the grey indicates an entire region not considered a match..

Sibling GedMatch FIR.png

Fully identical green regions (FIR) above are easy to differentiate when compared with half siblings who share only half identical regions (HIR).

The second example, below, shows two half-siblings that share one parent.

Sibling GedMatch HIR.png

As you can see, there are slivers of green where the nucleotides that both parents contributed to the respective children just happen to be the same for a very short distance on each chromosome. Compared to the full sibling chart, the green looks very different.

The half-sibling small green segments are fully identical by chance or by population, but not identical by descent which would mean the segments are identical because the individuals share both parents. These two people don’t share both parents.

The fully identical regions for full siblings are much more pronounced, in addition to full siblings generally sharing more total DNA.

GedMatch is the easiest and most useful site to work with for determining half versus full siblings by comparing HIR/FIR. I wrote instructions for downloading your DNA from each of the testing vendors at the links below:

Twins

Fraternal twins are the same as regular siblings. They share the same space for 9 months but are genetically siblings. Identical twins, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to tell apart genetically, and for all intents and purposes cannot be distinguished in this type of testing.

Sibling GedMatch identical twin.png

Here’s the same chart for identical twins.

23andMe

23andMe also provides relationship estimates, along with the amount of shared DNA, a chromosome browser that includes triangulation (although they don’t call it that) and a tool to identify full versus half identical regions. 23andMe does not support trees, a critical tool for genealogists.

Unfortunately, 23andMe has become the “last” company that people use for genealogy. Most of their testers seem to be seeking health information today.

If you just happen to have already tested at 23andMe with your siblings, great, because you can use these tools. If you have not tested at 23andMe, simply upload your results from any vendor to GedMatch.

At 23andMe, under the Ancestry, then DNA Relatives tabs, click on your sibling’s match to view genetic information, assuming you both have opted into matching. If you don’t match your sibling, PLEASE be sure you BOTH have completely opted in for matching. I can’t tell you how many panic stricken siblings I’ve coached who weren’t both opted in to matching. If you’re experiencing difficulty, don’t panic. Simply download both people’s files to GedMatch for an easier comparison. You can find 23andMe download instructions here.

Sibling 23andMe HIR.png

Scrolling down, you can see the options for both half and completely identical segments on your chromosomes as compared to your match. Above,  my child matches me completely on half identical regions. This makes perfect sense, of course, because my father and my child’s father are not the same person and are not related.

Conversely, this next match is my identical twin whom I match completely identically on all segments.

Sibling 23andMe FIR.png

Confession – I don’t have an identical twin. This is actually my V3 test compared with my V4 test, but these two tests are in essence identical twin tests.

Unusual Circumstances

The combination of these two tools, DNA matching and half versus fully identical regions generally provides a relatively conclusive answer as to whether two individuals are half or full siblings. Note the words generally and relatively.

There are circumstances that aren’t as clear cut, such as when the father of the second child is a brother or other close relative of the first child’s father – assuming that both children share the same mother. These people are sometimes called three quarters siblings or niblings.

In other situations, the parents are related, sometimes closely, complicating the genetics.

These cases tend to be quite messy and should be unraveled with the help of a professional. I recommend www.dnaadoption.com (free unknown parent search specialists) or Legacy Tree Genealogists (professional genealogists.)

The Final SafeGuard – Just in Case

A third check, should any doubt remain about full versus half siblings, would be to find a relative that is a second cousin or closer on the presumed mother’s side and one on the presumed father’s side, and compare autosomal results of both relatives to both siblings.

There has never been a documented case of second cousins or closer NOT matching each other. I’m unclear about second cousins once removed, or half second cousins, but about 10% of third cousins don’t match. To date, second cousins (or closer) who didn’t match, didn’t match because they weren’t really biological second cousins.

If the two children are full siblings meaning the biological children of both the presumed parents, both siblings will match the 2nd cousin or closer on the mother’s side AND the 2nd cousin or closer on the father’s side as well. If they are not full siblings, one will match only on the second cousin on the common parent’s side.

You can see in the example below that Child 1 and Child 2, full siblings, match both Hezekiah (green), a second cousin from the father’s side, as well as Susan (pink), a second cousin from the mother’s side.

Sibling both sides matching.png

If one of the two children only matches one cousin, and not the other, then the person who doesn’t match the cousin from the father’s side, for example, is not related to the father – although depending on the distance of the relationship, I would seek an additional cousin to test through a different child – just in case.

You can see in the example below that Child 2 matches both Hezekiah (green) and Susan (pink), but Child 1 only matches Susan (pink), from the mother’s side, meaning that Child 1 does not descend from John, so isn’t the child of the Presumed Father (green).
Sibling both sides not matching.png

If neither child matches Hezekiah, that’s a different story. You need to consider the possibility of one of the following:

  • Neither child is the child of the Presumed Father, and could potentially be fathered by different men
  • A break occurred in the genetic line someplace between John and Hezekiah or between John and the Presumed Father.

In other words, the only way this safeguard works as a final check is if at least ONE of the children matches both presumed parents’ lines with a second cousin or closer.

And yes, these types of “biological lineage disruptions” do occur and much more frequently that first believed.

In the End

You may not need this safeguard check when the first and second methodologies, separately or together, are relatively conclusive. Sometimes these decisions about half versus full siblings incorporate non-genetic situational information, but be careful about tainting your scientific information with confirmation bias – meaning unintentionally skewing the information to produce the result that you might desperately want.

When I’m working with a question as emotionally loaded as trying to determine whether people are half or full siblings, I want every extra check and safeguard available – and you will too. I utilize every tool at my disposal so that I don’t inadvertently draw the wrong conclusion.

I want to make sure I’ve looked under every possible rock for evidence. I try to disprove as much as I try to prove. The question of full versus half siblingship is one of the most common topics of the Quick Consults that I offer. Even when people think they know the answer, it’s not uncommon to ask an expert to take a look to confirm. It’s a very emotional topic and sometimes we are just too close to the subject to be rational and objective.

Regardless of the genetic outcome, I hope that you’ll remember that your siblings are your siblings, your parents are your parents (genetic or otherwise) and love is love – regardless of biology. Please don’t lose the compassionate, human aspect of genealogy in the fervor of the hunt.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

 

Family Tree Magazine and Family Tree University Files Bankruptcy

Earlier today, after I said the words, “what the heck else can go wrong,” apparently the Universe took that as a challenge.

I opened the mail and inside was a bankruptcy notification that F&W Media had filed bankruptcy. While you probably won’t recognize that name, you will recognize Family Tree Magazine and Family Tree University with their online classes, conferences and huge, huge bookstore. Here’s the link, but this is NOT an affiliate link, just so you know. To be very clear, I’m not recommending that you purchase anything. (Please note that these companies, in spite of similar-sounding names are NOT in any way affiliated with Family Tree DNA.)

If you look at who is teaching at the Family Tree University upcoming Virtual Conference this weekend, you’ll see names you recognize. If you look at the bookstore, it’s a who’s who of authors within our community. It’s also heavily weighted towards genetic genealogy.

Those people aren’t being paid. Not now, and maybe never.

Bankruptcy Notification

This is the lovely howdy-do that I and every other instructor with unpaid classes and most (if not all) authors received in the mail today.

F&W Media bankruptcy 1.jpg

You can click to enlarge.F&M media bankruptcy 2.jpg

What Does This Mean?

This notification means that F&W Media applied in court about a week ago for protection FROM their creditors. The court was provided with a list of creditors 542 pages in length, with 30 names per page, for a whopping total of 16,260 people or companies that they owe money.

Almost all of those people you see on their website are creditors meaning we have sent them an invoice for recent services, such as the upcoming conference, or they owe us money and haven’t paid it. In some cases, a LOT of money.

While I’m angry, I’m “only owed” hundreds of dollars as compared to others who are owed thousands.

In the case of the Virtual Conference scheduled this upcoming weekend, my sessions were due to be delivered to F&M media on February 15th. I did and subsequently sent them an invoice on February 19th for those sessions. Instead of a check, I received this bankruptcy notification. Actually, that’s probably a good thing, because some of the checks they did send to people bounced, causing the recipients overdraft fees and additional headaches, especially if they wrote checks themselves on the deposited funds.

However, Family Tree University is continuing to present the conference this weekend utilizing the work of the people who will probably never receive payment.

How Does Bankruptcy Work?

I’m not a lawyer, but I have been a creditor in two prior bankruptcies. Obviously, bankruptcy is filed when the company has no possibility of paying their bills, so they seek protection from their creditors under the law and direction of how to distribute the money they do have among those creditors.

After the bankruptcy suit is filed, any debt before the filing is now within the bankruptcy court meaning managed by the court. The company may be able to continue business, starting over debt-free, in essence from that day forward. The court decides.

Whether, as a contractor who just got jilted, you want to continue to work for them and believe that the company can and will pay you for future work is another matter. To say that the trust has been eroded would be the understatement of the year.

In this bankruptcy filing, the book division may be sold off, which may provide future relief for the authors. I say “future relief,” meaning that they may be paid for the books sold in the future. Whether they are paid anything at all for the amount of money they are currently owed for royalties or for the books already sold is up to the judge.

To have a PRAYER of collecting anything, the creditors (meaning me and the others) must file additional paperwork with the court in Delaware by June 7th.

Then, the court will decide what debts are legitimate and will divide the assets of the company among the approved creditors. Creditors with secured debts are paid in full first.

In personal debt, a secured debt means that the debt is secured by something tangible, like your house or car. If you don’t pay the bill, that item can be sold to liquidate the debt.

Credit cards are examples of unsecured debt which is one reason why the interest rates are so much higher. So is the risk to the creditor of not being paid.

In corporate debt, tangible assets could be land, buildings or things like a book division that has residual value and is not losing money.

Next, the unsecured debt is paid in the order that the judge deems fit.

Here’s what I know for sure – in the two cases I previously was involved with as a creditor, I jumped through a lot of hoops and received absolutely not one red cent. Zero, zip, zilch. Nada.

In one case, the final disposition took years and I was owed more than $10,000, depending on how you count – meaning whether or not you include interest from when the debt was originally incurred. If you count from the beginning when the debt was incurred to the miserable end, that total approached $20,000, with interest included.

Poorly Handled

This situation was very poorly handled by F&W Media. They clearly knew there were having huge issues, yet they proceeded, signing contracts they clearly knew they could not honor, taking advantage of the giving spirit of the genealogical community. That’s bad faith, pure and simple.

The leaders of this community already contribute a lot. What we are paid for each session is almost a token amount, but many of us provide these and other similar sessions as a way of giving back to the community in a medium that can reach the highest number of people. That’s in addition to contributing things like this blog that is free for everyone.

Every professional that I can think of does similar things utilizing different technologies and contributes in many ways.

Shock Waves

This bankruptcy, in part because of the massive scale and the thousands of dollars owed to some people just before tax time has sent shock waves through the professional levels of the genealogical community.

No one can afford to take a “pay check” hit of, in some cases, thousands of dollars.

We feel betrayed, and at the same time, we feel sorry for the employees we’ve worked with for years. Most of them are gone now too, without a peep or a goodbye, before we knew. I hope they land on their collective feet and I certainly want to believe they had no direct knowledge that F&W was taking advantage of us.

At least they qualify for unemployment. We don’t.

We Need to Have a Discussion

After the shock of this situation wears off, after we’ve had a chance to deal with the ramifications, and after tax season when we’re all insane, especially those who were counting on those funds owed to pay their corporate taxes, we, the community, need to have a discussion about education and payment of professionals for their services.

While I understand that we all would like for everything to be free – it isn’t. Education isn’t free and neither is continuing education required for us to stay on top of what’s happening in this industry. Every. Single. Day.

Those of us who work professionally in this field incur the costs of incorporation, a CPA to help with our corporate taxes and filings, sometimes lawyers, the cost of computer equipment, software, subscriptions, blogs, websites, servers, ISPs, travel and education. We also don’t have paid vacation, sick time, insurance or any other benefits, AND we pay all of our social security contribution (including the 7% paid by employers) as well as required federal and state unemployment tax, which we, as business owners, can never collect.

If you think, “what fun to go to conferences,” let me just say that I paid about $2500 to attend RootsTech which meant that I substituted RootsTech for paid client work for roughly a week. It was not an unpaid vacation. I attended 2 classes, 2 keynotes plus one that I left early, and 2 lunches. I went to the FHL for parts of 2 days, so about a day in total for my own research. That’s it.

What was I doing the rest of the time for those 7 days? Contributing one way or another. Unpaid. Gratis. Including the class where I prepared the session and substituted for another speaker who became ill. That’s what genealogists do for each other.

Here’s a surprise. At least one speaker got to attend NO sessions at all. Not a single one.

This isn’t a pity party, it’s the reality that people never see behind owning a business. The last thing we need is to be unpaid, especially when others are making money as a result of those very efforts that we’re not being paid for. That’s adding insult to injury.

Consider that it takes approximately 2 to 3 DAYS, minimally, to produce a quality one-hour webinar or presentation. The pay from F&W Media was equal to approximately 1.5 HOURS of privately billed client work, so you’ll understand the outrage that we’re not even going to be paid that amount now AND the virtual conference that customers are paying to attend that includes our unpaid material is still going forward this coming weekend.

And just saying, this might not be a good time to say, “But you get to work for yourself,” either. 😊

All of the professionals that I know personally want to teach and provide services, but we want to be fairly compensated and paid. Perhaps contracts in this industry need to read differently and contain clauses that specifically address this type of situation. Maybe contracts need to contain clauses that state that the material can’t be utilized until it’s paid for and address bankruptcy specifically – and perhaps we all need to require that verbiage be included in every contract we sign.

I’m not sure how to address the issues of royalties and book sales, but I do know that we have a lot of bright people in this community and we can collectively figure out a way to protect ourselves from something like this happening again.

Once burned, twice shy.

What Can You Do?

Genealogical education, in particular for genetic genealogy, is absolutely crucial.

I hope you’ll support the authors and educators who give us so much by purchasing their books, webinars, subscriptions, products and services that they sell through OTHER outlets and avenues. If you’re buying anything, click through their (our) affiliate links. I won’t cost you anything and it provides a little something to them.

For blogs especially, affiliate links keep the lights on and the free articles coming.

If you’re purchasing a book, the author may well sell the book personally or can tell you the most advantageous methodology for purchasing. Check their website or drop them a line.

I know they won’t ask on behalf of themselves, so I am. The F&W bankruptcy is hurting a lot of people right now.

Thank you for your support as we struggle through this.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

RootsTech 2019: The Conference Experience

I hope you’ll come along with me as we experience RootsTech 2019 together.

I’ll be writing a companion piece to this about the vendor’s announcements and new tools, but this article is meant to allow you to virtually enjoy a bit of the ambience of the conference itself.

Night and Day

I have to start out by saying that I was extremely skeptical that the RootsTech powers-that-be would truly listen and take the attendees suggestions from 2018 to heart – and I’m very, very glad to say that my skepticism was unwarranted. The 2019 RootsTech conference was amazing. Night and day difference from last year – with this year being the day😊

And no, in case you’re wondering, I am not and was not a RootsTech Ambassador. Ambassadors receive free passes in exchange for promoting the conference in a positive light. By now, you know that I say what needs to be said, so I’m not (ahem) Ambassador material.

RootsTech is unlike any other conference I’ve ever attended. My expectation last year was that I’d go from session to session and visit with people in-between, at meals and in the evenings. That’s what other conferences are like. Understandably, I was extremely upset when the venue was too big to get from session to session, the sessions were too full, etc. etc. No need to rehash that now.

The reality of RootsTech is that there are many, many sessions to choose from at any one time, yet many people actually don’t attend sessions and instead choose to visit or walk the massive expo hall engaging with the various vendors.

Any vendor who is anyone in the genealogy world is here. I actually wasn’t able to visit with many. Too many people and booths and just not enough hours in the day. Plus, everytime I go anyplace I wind up talking to someone – so I almost never get to where I was going! I think my ancestors immigrated haphazardly in the same manner😊

“Yes, I know we declared that we were going to Minnesota, but let’s stop in Indiana for a break.” 100 years later…

For me, the very best part of RootsTech was catching up with friends, meeting new people, hearing their stories and receiving suggestions about help on my own brick walls.

This year I purchased the Ultimate Pass, which assured me of getting into the sessions I wanted. I must admit, that was a relief for me, but the long lines of yesteryear were gone for everyone, not just Ultimate Pass holders. The only badge scanning that occurred was for the paid labs so they could verify that the attendees were registered and that took only a second.

My evaluation of RootsTech 2019 is that is was a smashing success.

Thank you RootsTech, Steve Rockwood and the amazing RootsTech crew for listening, resolving to and making the needed changes, and for a job well done! I mean that sincerely.

I also want to say an especially big thank you to the amazing RootsTech team – both paid and volunteer. The “ASK” folks in the turquoise shirts were extremely friendly, helpful and were everyplace. You didn’t even need to ask. Just look a mite bewildered and they were right there.

One big difference is that RootsTech this year expanded to take over the entire Salt Palace Convention Center. The rooms for each session were much larger, overflow rooms existed, and the crowds weren’t packed into small spaces. Even with a large number of attendees, the experience was never uncomfortable. Badges were mailed, check-in for goody bags provided by MyHeritage was a breeze and conference life was good.

DNA Clothes

I didn’t really mean to start this tradition, but most traditions aren’t begun intentionally. I made DNA clothing, wearing something different every day.

Wednesday’s vest is our “genetic family tree.”

2019 genetic family tree front

2019 genetic family tree back.jpg

Wednesday

Sessions began on Wednesday during the day, but the vendor expo hall didn’t open until Wednesday evening at 6.

I attended Amy Johnson Crow’s class, “Social Media Tools for Your Genealogy Business.”

2019 social media tools

For those of you who might not know, Amy Johnson Crow initiated the “52 Weeks of Ancestors” series several years ago which is why my (nearly) weekly article about my ancestors includes the words, “52 Ancestors #xxx.” The fact that my 52 Ancestors stories will number 230 with the next article speaks to how inspirational I find Amy.

2019 Amy Johnson Crow

It was wonderful to meet Amy in person.

RootsTech Selfie Culture

I need to take a minute to explain about the selfie culture at RootsTech. There is almost always someone to take a photo for you, but the act of taking selfies together is part of the RootsTech culture. It’s fun, marks experiences together and creates memories. In other words, it’s not just the picture but the act of taking the selfie.

Strolling

I took a stroll to see what was going on.

The vendors were still setting up in the hall, and I noticed this lovely family.

2019 booth setup

Genealogy, even conferences, is truly a family affair.

2019 connect belong web

The belong-connect board is beginning to look like a spider web.

2019 lab

The labs are very popular. Daniel Horowitz with MyHeritage is teaching about how to verify your MyHeritage DNA matches.

Keynote by Steve Rockwood

The opening keynote was given by Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch.

2019 Rockwood keynote

This venue is absolutely huge. I took this about half way inside.

2019 Edge Effect

Throughout the evening, the a capella group, Edge Effect performed, and they were amazing!!!

2019 edge effect video

Each of the group members was given DNA tests sponsored by one of the vendors at the conference and their ethnicity results were revealed on videos.

2019 Rockwood

Steve Rockwood followed. Most CEO’s strong suites aren’t public speaking, but Steve is engaging and entertaining.

Of course, the theme of the conference is “connect belong,” so as you might expect, so was his speech.

Michael B. Moore with the International African American Museum Center for Family History traced his family via DNA and returned to Africa. Upon his return, the chief’s wife asked him, “are you my son,” to which he answered, “yes.” The chief and his wife adopted Michael into their family, thereby welcoming him home.

2019 Michael Moore homecoming

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Why can’t everyone be that inclusive?

This emotional story of discovery and homecoming was followed by the announcement of a 2-million-dollar donation to the International African American Museum Center for Family History by Elder David Bednar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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The Museum representatives on stage with David Bednar.

I’m extremely pleased to see the focus on reunification of families. It was also stated that the Church would be involved with other museums in the same way, to encourage that family history be incorporated into history. As I mentioned to Steve Rockwood later, I hope they include DNA, and not just autosomal DNA, but Y and mitochondrial as well. All three types of DNA are critically important to genealogy and finding family no matter who you are.

2019 King

Martin Luther King III then addressed the audience about his father’s dream…the end of racism and discrimination.

I fervently hope that bringing people and families together will help heal the wounds of slavery, Jim Crow America and perhaps even the divisions we see today.

I was thrilled to hear Mr. King speak and only wish history had been kinder. Dr. King’s life was cut much too short and we are left to wonder what he might have achieved had it not been for racial intolerance that led to cold-blooded murder.

The Edge Effect returned again with a particularly appropriate rendition of a beautiful song.

The Expo Hall

After the opening session, FamilyTreeDNA was kind enough to host the DNAexplain blog meetup in their new presentation center.

I gave two short presentations, one titled, “Taking Sides – Family Finder Maternal and Paternal Bucketing” and the second, “Family Finder Search Tips.”

I wasn’t able to grab any photos since I was presenting, but fortunately, Marie Cappart did and shared. Thanks Marie!

2019 ftdna booth presentation

FamilyTreeDNA hosted several sessions throughout the conference, given by staff and other guest speakers as well.

Meeting With Steve Rockwood and Crew

The long day wasn’t over quite yet. Steve Rockwood had been meeting with a focus group to which I was invited from 7-8. I respectfully declined, stating that I was already committed in the FamilyTreeDNA booth with the DNAexplain meetup.

Steve graciously agreed to wait along with much of his staff that had been up since 4 AM. That’s commitment!

I arrived just as the focus group was finishing, but Steve and the RootsTech team had indeed graciously been waiting and were quite welcoming.

Given my criticism after last year’s RootsTech, my reception was surprisingly warm. I expected something entirely different.

About 15 people from the RootsTech team were present.

I was extremely impressed with the professionalism and the fact that they acknowledged that they missed the mark last year and make a commitment at that time to make a course correction.

They remediated every single point.

They also asked for suggestions and feedback and made changes during the conference this year to accommodate those suggestions immediately when possible.

For example, they originally ended the livestreamed sessions when the presenter finished the presentation, but after complains that the people watching wanted to see the Q&A, they extended those sessions to include Q&A.

I must say, kudos to the team and thank you Steve!

I’m not saying that I’ll be back next year, but I’m saying that I’d certainly consider returning.

Thursday

One of the wonderful aspects of the conference is seeing old friends.

2019-Blaine-1.jpg

Blaine Bettinger and I have been passing like ships in the night for the past couple of years. We go way, way back to his first FTDNA conference – before either of us were blogging – before he had a family – when he was still in college.

It was so good to see Blaine and to actually have some time to talk, albeit not enough, of course. Genealogists could talk forever.

2019-ask.jpg

The RootsTech volunteers were wearing the turquoise “ASK” shirts. This gentleman sews. He noticed my vest and twice we had a chance to compare notes. I’m always so pleased to meet men that sew or quilt.

2019 MyHeritage booth

Ran Snir presenting in the MyHeritage booth. Many of the larger vendors have a presentation center.

2019 King Henry

Hey look, I found King Henry in the WikiTree booth! If you want to see if you’re related to King Henry, you can make that happen at WikiTree, assuming accurate trees of course.

2019 WikiTree

Peter Roberts, my good friend and WikiTree angel for taking me under his wing long ago and getting my tree set up!

Peter provided me with a wonderful tip which I’ll be sharing with you in a blog article soon!

While I was in the WikiTree booth, I asked Mags Gaulden, who writes at Grandmas Genes to take a photo of today’s DNA vest.

2019-helix-vest.jpg

This one’s a little different – a rather op art helix.

2019 helix vest back

I really struggled with this vest and wasn’t nearly as happy as with Wednesday’s genetic family tree vest.

2019-Mags.jpg

Here, Mags and I are sporting our matching helix necklaces! We always have so much fun together and I’m looking forward to seeing Mags again at the FamilyTreeDNA conference at the end of March in Houston.

I had intended to attend the Ancestry lunch, but what I expected and what happened were two different things. I discovered that the Ancestry lunch wasn’t the CEO or product managers with insights or even new product announcements, but that the Ancestry speaker was Henry Louis Gates. I’ve seen Dr. Gates before and my intention was to see what Ancestry had planned for the future. At least I made this discovery before the lunch and not after I had arrived when it would have been awkward to leave.

Instead, I had lunch with a friend and spent the time catching up.

By the end of the day, my every single body part ached, and I was extremely grateful that the hotel I was staying in was across the street and for the heating pad in my suitcase.

Unfortunately, I missed the Living DNA Roundtable dinner, but the thought of walking another few blocks and back was just more than my back could handle. Plus, Friday was the tough day and I HAD to be able to function.

Friday

Friday was the long hard day, beginning at 7AM with the MyHeritage breakfast for MyHeritage Friends, a group of influencers who MyHeritage interfaces with, providing product announcements and such.

One of the benefits of MyHeritage is their international reach, meaning not only Israel, but Europe and Scandinavia. They are doing amazing things in multiple languages, including closed captioning and ASL at their conferences.

Of course, MyHeritage is also promoting the second MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam September 6-8th which is going to be amazing!

2019 MyHeritage breakfast

Our table at the MyHeritage breakfast.

After breakfast, on to the expo hall.

2019 familytreedna booth

Walk tall, test your DNA at FamilyTreeDNA and carry a big stick.

I had been looking forward to the “Google for Genealogists: Maps, Satellite and Earth” class with Lianne Kruger.

2019 Lianne Kruger

I have to tell you, Lianne has the patience of a saint. Lab classes are difficult to teach, even with room assistants.

I learned a great deal and I can’t wait to apply what I learned, mapping for my blog and also planning trips from ancestor location to ancestor location.

The next thing on the agenda was a tech check of my computer equipment in the room where I would be presenting at 3.

Everything went well and fingers crossed that it would in the afternoon as well.

Saroo Brierley

Each day at RootsTech includes a General Session or keynote that is sponsored by one of the vendors.

MyHeritage sponsored Saroo Brierley and Geoff Rasmussen began with announcing their new Genetic Affairs integration.

2019 Saroo Brierley

That quickly moved to how Saroo Brierley had lost his way as a young child in a train station in India and had eventually been adopted by an Australian couple. Saroo always wondered what happened to his family in India and set out to find them, using the few memories he had from childhood.

2019 Saroo triumph

Not only did Saroo locate his family, they were reunited and in his words, he now has two families.

2019 Saroo book

Saroo wrote a book about his moving miracle story.

MyHeritage then announced the continuation of the DNAQuest project by adding another 5000 free kits for adoptees, in particular those who might not be able to otherwise afford testing.

2019 DNAQuest

If you know someone who could benefit, applications will be accepted at www.dnaquest.org until April 30, 2019.

MyHeritage Lunch

Of the lunches I attended, the MyHeritage lunch was by far the most beneficial.

2019 Gilad Japhet

Gilad Japhet, the CEO and founder of MyHeritage spoke and shared another recovered piece of his own fascinating family history. Gilad recently discovered a missing family photo that he remembered from his childhood.

Gilad’s grandfather immigrated to Israel from Poland in 1920. A year later, the family in Poland took a photo of family members gathered to send to Gilad’s grandfather. He surely must have been feeling at least somewhat homesick by that time.

Gilad’s grandfather kept this photo on the wall of his home, and when he passed away, the photo got packed up and disappeared. Just a few weeks ago, Gilad found the photo safe and sound with an unsuspecting relative.

2019 Gilad family

This is the only photo in existence of many of these people today. The individuals circled in orange perished two decades later in the holocaust.

Can you see that the little boy is holding a photo?

2019 Gilad boy photo

That photo is Gilad’s grandfather, taken before he immigrated. The little boy is holding the photo to show that even though Gilad’s grandfather was physically gone, to Israel, he is still with them. If Gilad’s grandfather hadn’t gone to Israel, Gilad would not be here today.

No wonder Gilad’s grandfather cherished this photo his entire life.

Gilad shared other details as well, such as:

  • MyHeritage has now photographed, transcribed and translated all of the cemeteries in Israel, a 5-year project including over 2 million photos of 1.5 million stones in 638 cemeteries. These records are now available on MyHeritage and BillionGraves. Israel is the first country to reach this monumental achievement. I don’t know of any similar initiative in any other country.
  • Of course, my ancestors didn’t originate in Israel, except perhaps for one that we are still researching in the Netherlands – so I’m very pleased about the fact that MyHeritage has reached out successfully to the European community for DNA testing. Gilad noted that most of their DNA sales today are in Europe, with their data base size being approximately 2.5 million, with 2 million of those being original tests and half a million being transfers. If you haven’t yet transferred, please do by clicking here.
  • Gilad mentioned that he had hoped to announce the completion of the stamp and envelope DNA extraction project, but it’s still in process.
  • Gilad said that soon MyHeritage will provide a feature to reconstruct the DNA of family members based on the DNA of other family members tested. I can hardly wait. I’ve dreamed of this feature for years and I have a list, believe me.

Gilad then shared with the attendees the details of the new feature announcements at RootsTech.

Theory of Family Relativity

2019 Theory of Family Relativity

The Theory of Family Relativity is explaining DNA matches using family trees and historical records. This super new feature was rolled out during RootsTech. I’m not going to provide examples and details here, because I’ll be writing separately shortly. I want to emphasize, as did Gilad, that these theories are just that, theories and NEED TO BE VERIFIED!

In fact, you may have more than one theory for any connection based on DNA matching, trees and records, and you can verify or dismiss the theories. This is an incredible tool. The first three I quickly reviewed were all accurate. One person had three separate theories, and of course, only one of those three could be accurate under the circumstances, but I immediately knew which one was the right path based on my already proven genealogy.

2019 theory 1

2019 theory 2

2019 theory 3

2019 theory 4

2019 theory 5

Gilad spent some time explaining the Big Tree. The most important aspect to realize is that the “Big Tree” is not constructed and stored indefinitely. The Big Tree is created “as needed” so it’s never stale. It’s not an old tree, and every branch and logical step is documented so you can view the logic for the theory path selected.

I can’t even begin to explain how critical this is for researchers.

There is no “trust me” or actually, “trust other people’s trees” at MyHeritage.

2019 theory 6

Here’s one last example building upon various relationships and records!

2019 theory 7

If you want to try this for yourself (please do) you can filter your matches by those that have Theories.

Warning – you may not do anything else for days, including sleep! I looked around in the presentation and you could see people signing on and trying this while Gilad was speaking. If I hadn’t been sitting right in front, I would probably have been doing the same thing.

2019 theory 8

If you’re wondering how Theories of Family Relativity differs from Ancestry’s ThruLines, here are some of Gilad’s observations.

2019 theory 9

Genetic Affairs Integrated Autoclustering

2019 autoclustering

Gilad announced Autoclusters – an integrated version of Evert-Jan Blom’s Genetic Affairs clustering software for MyHeritage users, used within and integrated into the MyHeritage product.

The great news is that the science team has improved the clustering software to cluster Jewish people successfully.

2019 autoclustering 3

The graphic on the left is a Jewish autocluster at Genetic Affairs, and at right, the same person clustered at MyHeritage. Big difference.

2019 autoclustering 4

Autoclustering can be accessed from the new Tools page. The resulting autocluster file will be sent to you via e-mail. In the days since this announcement, there has been a substantial backlog so expect to wait for several hours or even a day. This tool is exceptionally popular because of the power of clustering matches.

2019 autoclustering 6

In essence, if you can recognize the known relationships of some cluster members, then you pretty much know that the rest of the group is related through the same ancestral path.

However, in your tree pedigree “above” the ancestral couple identified, the people in a cluster may well diverge. For example, I have a cluster that I can track to my great-grandparents, but I know that some of those people descend from her ancestors and some from his ancestors. Clusters represent the MRCA or most recent common ancestor, not the most distant common ancestor of the cluster members

2019 autoclustering cost

Gilad described the various cost options. In essence if you tested at MyHeritage, uploaded before December 16, 2018 or if you are a subscriber, these tools are free for you. Initially, I was skeptical about how useful a MyHeritage subscription would be for me, but this past year, my subscription has proven indispensable – and now even more so with the fact that Theories of Family Relativity combines actual records with DNA and trees!

2019 autocluster summary

DNA Everyplace

After lunch, I couldn’t sit any longer, so I walked part of the expo hall. One booth that attracted me like a moth to a flame was CelebrateDNA.

2019 Celebrate DNA

Yes, I ordered 3 t-shirts.

2019 DNAbasics

New at RootsTech this year is the DNA Basics Learning Center – not sponsored by a vendor but by RootsTech itself. They had a presentation area and various DNA presenters rotated in and out throughout the day. Furthermore, the Learning Center was staffed with knowledgeable volunteers.

I remember the days when every single genealogy society wanted a basic DNA lecture! Today, most societies have people to mentor others in DNA.

Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA Booth

I spent the early afternoon, before my own presentation with Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA booth. One of the FamilyTreeDNA giveaways was an individual session with Kenyatta for 3 lucky winners. I served as honorary photographer as well as DNA consultant.

2019 Kenyatta giveaway1

It was fun listening to the brick walls that these lucky winners brought to Kenyatta.

2019 Kenyatta giveaway2

This gentleman is Native American and his family history is sooo interesting.

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Kenyatta’s book, The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy, was recently released and I can’t wait to actually have a chance to take a look.

After Kenyatta’s meetups, it was time for my own session.

My Session – Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA to Solve Genealogical Puzzles

2019 black helix vest

I have a confession to make. I had a terrible case of nerves about my session. I’m used to speaking in general – it wasn’t that.

My jitters arose from a combination of the fact that I had to create not one, not two, but three sessions with about a week’s notice. If these sessions had been “intro to DNA,” I could have done them blindfolded and from memory – but the topic had been selected by the original presenter – and I had to work around that.

I needed case studies, and I didn’t have time to remember and then obtain permission for other people’s stories – so they had to come from my own family. Thankfully, I have done a lot of work, so I had fodder to work with. I was SOOOO grateful for those 52 Ancestor stories!

On top of that, the session had to fit exactly into the time slot, and this was the first time presenting this particular presentation. Getting the timing down pat means lots of practice and tweaking.

RootsTech encourages their speakers to dress professionally, of course, so I took a business suit along with me. However, every person I spoke with in the days before my session encouraged me to ditch the suit and wear my DNA clothes which have become somewhat of a signature item. Who knew that I had a “personal brand?”😊

I dressed in the morning in my black DNA vest and red leggings. But wow, is this bright!

Perhaps I should have opted for a black shirt and leggings, but that seemed too dull. Maybe the suit after all??? I went back and forth and back and forth.

Needless to say, this was the first time I’ve presented in something this bright and unconventional at a national conference.

I made my last tweak to my presentation about half an hour before the session, AND, I hoped fervently that the humor I planned went off as planned. Some of my jokes were a bit subtle and others, less so.

Humor is particularly difficult and requires impeccable timing.

Nerves, timing and humor sometimes don’t work well together. That made me even more nervous!

2019 ballroom b

In case you wonder what these rooms look like empty. They sort of run from sea to sea. The lights are so bright on the speaker that they generally can’t see much of the audience after the house lights are dimmed in these types of venues, except for the first row or two directly in front of the stage.

I should have given my cell to someone to snap some candid photos, but since I had a professional photographer, I didn’t see the need to do that. The professional photos won’t be ready for a few days.

I included my brother Dave’s story as an example of integrating Y and autosomal DNA results, thinking I could get through it dry-eyed. I did in practice, but not so much in the session. My voice cracked and let’s say that there is no graceful way to hide that – and if you try to sneak a little nose wipe the mic picks it up as something that sounds entirely different. I’ll just claim that was part of the planned humor – right?

The attendees are asked to provide feedback on the sessions, so I’ll be interested to see what worked and what didn’t. Since I was a last-minute speaker covering for someone else, I wasn’t able to provide a handout in time to be included for attendees, so I’ll make up for that by writing blog articles in the weeks to come. I hope everyone subscribed! To help make up for no handout, I gave everyone who attended a DNAexplain ribbon!

2019 DNAexplain ribbon

After my session, I was pleased to meet people back in the FamilyTreeDNA booth to answer any remaining questions. The ballrooms are too large to take questions from the floor.

By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted,

Saturday

Friday was my very long super-tough day, so by Saturday, for me, the conference had begun to wind down. That wasn’t true for everyone though, because Saturday is the busiest day.

RootsTech opens the doors for free for members of the LDS Church and specifically encourages children with the hope of infecting them with the genealogy bug early. Roughly 30,000 people attend.

In that vein, there are lots of interesting family-friendly activities for everyone.

For example, Jason Hewlett who had been emceeing all week told a story about his young daughter who shocked him by announcing that her favorite artist was Lady Gaga. Jason says that sometimes he “rewrites” songs in a more child-appropriate way for his daughters and proceeded to demonstrate.

Respite in the Speaker’s Lounge

I had originally planned to attend a couple of classes, but I was physically and emotionally drained. I escaped to the speaker’s lounge for a respite.

RootsTech provides a speaker’s lounge so those of us who are speaking, and therefore generally available for questions throughout the conference can find for some peace and quiet, to prepare for sessions or sometimes for interviews. The background noise makes recording interviews difficult elsewhere.

2019 white helix vest

Yes, the black DNA vest is reversible to this white one. Trust me, I’ll never do that again. Reversible=engineering challenge!

Jake Shimabukuro – Ukulele Master

Saturday’s main event was sponsored by 23andMe who opened by encouraging everyone to test and told the story of a woman who discovered that she, her mother and sister have the BRCA1 gene that may signal a propensity to breast cancer, especially in Ashkenazi Jewish women. Please note that there are multiple genetic factors and genes that contribute to some types of breast cancer, so if you DON’T have this mutation, that does NOT mean you should rest easy if breast cancer is a particular concern. 23andMe only tests for a limited number of breast cancer genetic indicators. Talk to your physician who may order medical genetic testing.

2019 Jake

Jake Shimabukuro, a very talented young ukulele player, was up next.

2019 Jake 2

Here’s a very short clip just to give you an idea.

After Saturday’s general session, I discovered hula dancers in the main hallway that I enjoyed immensely.

I know you can’t see their clothing very well in the video, so here’s a cropped photo. It was snowing outside. I’d think they were freezing to death.

2019 dancers

While I was watching the dancers, I noticed a gentleman filming over my shoulder. I turned around to see if I was in his way. The dancers ended about that time, and the man filming, Jarrett Ross and I began chatting. That’s the RootsTech way.

Jarrett is a videographer who can be seen at his GeneaVlogger YouTube channel here.

As luck would have it, I was on my way to find the face painting, and Jarrett wanted to video face-painting. Voila! Match made in Heaven.

2019-Denise.jpg

Here’s Denise Cole who owns Painted Party, the artist who created my wonderful double helix face painting last year. She hit a home run this year too.

2019 face helix

You can count on the fact that I’ll be looking for her if I attend next year!

2019 Jarrett Ross

Jarrett and I with the finished product in our obligatory RootsTech selfie!

Instead of going to the 23andMe lunch, Jarrett and I hung out in the hallway where he interviewed me and we ate snacks. I’m actually glad I spent the time getting to know Jarrett and learning about Jewish genealogy in the Netherlands. 23andMe didn’t make any product announcements or provide insights, so the only thing I missed was mediocre food.

Jarrett will be posting the videos of several RootsTech interviews, including mine, on his YouTube channel soon.

2019 sushi burrito

I did eventually have to try a Sushi Burrito though and it was pretty good, consisting or all of the typical sushi fixings inside a nori wrapper wrapped like a burrito.

2019 connect belong end

Back to the entrance on the last day, the yarn on the connect-belong board is almost solid.

The conference ended mid-afternoon, but my flight wasn’t scheduled until Sunday mid-day.

2019 last dinner

My last evening in Salt Lake City was spent having a nice leisurely dinner decompressing with Blaine Bettinger and Angie Bush (left). In the lobby, we found Michelle Patient from Australia who I had never met before in person.

Often at conferences, people are unable to connect for more than a few minutes. I hadn’t seen Blaine and Angie in years, let alone long enough to sit down and actually visit. The perfect ending to a wonderful conference.

In Summary

I know this article has been long, but I hope for those who weren’t able to attend RootsTech in person that this conveys a bit of the feel of the actual experience. I hope everyone took advantage of viewing the livestreamed sessions. The general sessions and the dozen or so free livestreamed sessions will be available here.

RootsTech has the ambiance of a very large family reunion. My goal in sharing the photos and in essence “taking you along” is to provide the RootsTech experience through the eyes of an attendee.

RootsTech has made a concerted effort to remediate the issues present in 2018 and they have done an excellent job. I have a few suggestions, but no complaints.

It’s not an inexpensive trip between the airfare, hotel and food, so I don’t know if I will return, but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for RootsTech 2020.

My take away was something we discussed on Saturday evening at dinner. At one time not so long ago in history, we had “internet” classes, but now the internet is ubiquitous. DNA and genealogy is becoming the same way. It’s no longer separate and different, but part of an integrated genealogical whole.

Please join me in the next couple days when I’ll be reviewing the new DNA feature announcements by both Ancestry and MyHeritage.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little mini-tour of RootsTech 2019.

Journey to RootsTech 2019 – The Family History Library and Meeting Myrt

Every genealogist knows about the legendary Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It’s genealogy Mecca.

You know, the place with the “key.”

2019 key

What key, you ask? That key – the one that means this:

2019 images

How to break a genealogist’s heart.

Create the Plan

Thankfully, my friend Jen told me how to make a research plan for the Family History Library (FHL) by using the Search Catalog feature.

2019 catalog

By selecting the desired location, you can then view all of the library holdings. I divide my list into books and online work, because to view those films, you simply so and sign on to a computer in the FHL or an affiliate library near you. Unfortunately, I have no affiliate library near me.

I went prepared with a list of locations, book numbers and films.

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Here’s the obligatory “arrival selfie.”

Bright Shiny Beads

I was behaving, truly I was when someone noticed me sitting at a table researching. After introductions, I discovered that the group of ill-behaved people clustered around a glass room was a bunch of bloggers.

Of course, I knew immediately I had found my peeps, so I immediately went over and introduced myself to the rest of the group.

My friend, Daniel Horowitz from MyHeritage arrived about the same time and about this time, Mr. Myrt asked us if we’d like to be interviewed on Mondays with Myrt.

Of COURSE we would.

Except, I was wearing a grey t-shirt. Never fear though, because I had my ever-present DNA-bling.

2019 Myrt production

Monday’s With Myrt was being produced inside the room with those mountains in the distance again, and the waiting room was effectively outside where excited bloggers had to be reminded more than once to hush. I don’t want to say the best part was waiting, but it was amazing to meet these wonderful people in person after seeing their online presence for, in some cases, years.

Sprinkled in were new bloggers too, so everyone was helping everyone else and it was kind of a blogger love-in.

The Ribbons

I suddenly realized that this was the PERFECT opportunity to break out my new ribbons.

Last year, I had no idea about conference ribbons, but at RootsTech, and I understand at other conferences as well, attended collect ribbons on their badges. Ribbons are a hot item. When I discovered that I was presenting, I wanted to have something for the attendees.

I discovered that you can indeed order and receive ribbons in 7 days.

So…..drum roll….the unveiling of my new DNAexplain ribbons!

2019 DNAexplain ribbon

I proceeded to give a ribbon to everyone in close proximity that couldn’t escape, and Daniel Horowitz took a selfie to commemorate the event.  Thanks so much Daniel for posting on Twitter and giving me permission to use!

2019 blogger photo

Daniel Tweeted: Some of my #geneafriends @RobertaJEstes giving her first ribbons to @CarolPetranek @histfamilles @ancestorfinder1  #genealogy #Rootstech

That’s the amazing Mr. Myrt in the black hat.

Mondays With Myrt

A few minutes later, I was seated with Myrt.

2019 me with Myrt

Now, I have a confession to make, but don’t tell Myrt, OK?

I’m not a “conference person,” nor do I follow a lot of genealogy blogs. (It’s OK to hiss at me.)

I knew about Mondays with Myrt, and I knew the person online named Pat-Richley Erickson, but not well. I knew she was a genealogist and a quilter, but I did not know she was Myrt. Her name isn’t Myrt, or Myrtle, so I never connected the dots. I’m sure there’s a good story in here someplace, but Myrt, or Pat, will have to tell you herself. Actually, she tells you a bit about herself here on her YouTube Channel.

So, imagine my surprise when I looked inside the production booth to see Pat. Where was Myrt. I figured Pat must be being interviewed too.

2019 Myrt production 2

Myrt livestreams her Monday interview sessions through her blog.  You can view them here. She has an amazing following. One follower, Tierra Cotton-Kellow even managed to tune in on a plane on her way to Salt Lake.

If you can’t watch the entire video, I’m at 2:15 in Monday’s session. Here’s the session on YouTube.

Lunch

When you receive a lunch invitation to join a group of bloggers, you quickly abandon your research plans and head out to eat at the LDS Office Building a couple blocks away.

The most direct path is through Temple Square, so I was excited to see the sights.

2019-temple.jpg

The blogger group ate at the cafeteria in the LDS business building.

2019 blogger lunch

Photo by Cheryl Hudson Passey

Lunch with with Pat Richley-Erickson, Laura Wilkinson Hedgecock, Gordon Erickson, Graham A. Walter, Audrey Collins, John Boeren, Roberta Estes, Christine Woodcock,Jenny Hawen, Jan Brandt Roger Moffat and Lisa Moffat.

To include Cheryl, Roger took a picture of Cheryl taking a picture.

2019 Cheryl

Note Cheryl’s GeneaBlogger beads given by Myrt. I’m now a proud bead-wearing member of the tribe too.

While sitting at lunch, Lisa Moffit (white sweater at right) and I discovered that she and I are actually cousins through our Acadian lines. How much fun is that!!!

I was so grateful to be included in the impromptu blogger lunch.

2019-Temple-fountain.jpg

On the way back, I snagged a few more photos.

2019 Temple road

Not that the Mormon Church here is influential, but the road goes UNDER Temple square.

2019 Temple walk

I did manage to go back to the library and research for most of the afternoon, but it was digging in a dry well.

No matter where I looked, no ancestors. I know a whole lot of records that they aren’t in, and I suppose that’s negative evidence. However, I know the Lentz family, and probably the Reuhl (Ruhle) family were in the Shippenberg area of Cumberland County, PA which borders on Franklin County. I perused all records for both counties today, in the hopes of discovering who they were indentured to, or anything about their missing 14 years or so.

I’m presuming that the by-then-elderly Ruhle couple, Fredericka Ruhle Lentz’s parents died either in route or in Pennsylvania. There is no sign of them in Ohio in the 1830s. Unfortunately, there’s also no sign of them in Pennsylvania either.

Frustrated with them, I moved to another brick wall line with no luck there either.

Fortunately, I had made dinner arrangements with another genetic genealogist and his wife and enjoyed spending the evening with them immensely.

Tuesday Has to Be Better

Tuesday was a great people day, but an awful research day.

I had a difficult time getting motivated to research on Tuesday, so instead I decided to walk over to the conference center and pick up my badge.

2019 Rootstech sign

Early badge pickup is available today and now the Salt Shaker says RootsTech.

Conference Coming to Life

The conference theme, just guessing now, is “Connect Belong.”

2019 conference entrance

This interesting display greeted me.

2019 Carol

Another genealogist, Carol Whitaker from Oregon, also picking up a badge was stringing yard between the pegs, so of course I had to ask her what she was doing.

Attendees will be connected their traits and locations and of course, belonging. What a great idea. I’ll take another photo or two of the board later in the week.

2019 me connect

Of course, you know that I immediately noticed all of the genetic traits.

Does anyone know what’s on the dress I’m wearing?

I was very pleased to meet Danielle too. Those with the Ultimate Passes are assigned to a hostess who has already proven to be a Godsend.

2019 Danielle

Danielle is amazing, but I don’t know what she did to deserve being saddled with me😊

2019-empty-hall.jpg

The RootsTech halls are empty now, but they won’t be for long.

She took me to see the room where I’m speaking and let’s just say it’s cavernous! I hope I have enough ribbons!

2019 carpet art

This amazing piece of art made from carpet scraps adorns the conference center just inside the door. Looks like a quilt to me, of course.

By this time, I had managed to usurp most of the morning, and ran into someone who invited me for lunch again. You’re going to think the only thing I did was eat!

That’s not at all true – I also drank coffee at Starbucks and admired the beautiful art that graces many open spaces in Salt Lake City.

Art

2019 helix art

Yes, DNA is everyplace, including free standing art that is reminiscent of a room divider.

2019 petrified wood

Slices of petrified wood.

2019 Amethyst flowers

Amethyst flowers.

2019 Amethyst bush

Good thing these aren’t for sale.

2019 birds

Seagull statue outside of Nordstroms.

2019 Chocolate Factory

The Chocolate Factory. What, you think the Chocolate Factory isn’t art?

Pshaw. You obviously haven’t gone inside yet!

2019 Chocolate Factory inside

More Research

When it became evident that I absolutely could NOT kill anymore time, I went back to the FHL with the intention of reviewing at least most of the images records that I can’t access without being in the library.

However, I immediately say Tierra Cotton-Kellow who writes at Pressing My Way and is also a professional photographer. Why knew? The great news – she’s my photographer for this event and still has some slots open for a few fortunate others.

2019 Tierra Cotton-Kellow

Right after I found Tierra, Nathan Murphy found me.

Nathan did me a huge, huge favor some years ago and discovered one of my ancestors in England. Bless his heart, Nathan shared! I could never have found this record otherwise, because Nathan stumbled across it.

Never mind that he was a convict being deported😊

No, no, not Nathan, my ancestor!

I did eventually return to research, but apparently this is not the trip for me to make any headway whatsoever. It’s a good thing that I enjoyed meeting new friends and reuniting with old, because the research was entirely nonproductive.

There’s so much to look forward to for the rest of the week, starting tomorrow.

Wednesday is the DNAexplain Blog Meetup

I’m excited to greet everyone in the FamilyTreeDNA booth for the DNAexplain meetup tomorrow after the opening keynote. The vendor expo hall opens at 6 PM and stays open until 8. The first free mini-session begins in the booth at 6:15.

  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:15 – Family Tree DNA booth #1107 – Family Finder Search Tips – Quick tips for how to perform surname and ancestral searches successfully!
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:45 – Family Tree DNA giveaway drawing
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:45 – DNAexplain Blog meetup in the Family Tree DNA booth presentation center
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 7:15 – Family Tree DNA booth – Family Finder Bucketing – Connecting your matches to your tree so that Family Tree DNA can assign your matches to your maternal or paternal side – even without having your parents tested!
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 7:45 – Family Tree DNA giveaway drawing

Come see me, say hello, get a brand spanking new DNAexplain ribbon and enjoy the free sessions! Gotta run! See you there!

RootsTech 2019 – I’m Speaking and DNAexplain Meetup!

“May you live in interesting times.”

That Chinese proverb that no one is sure whether is a blessing or a curse.

I’m pleased to announce that I’m speaking at RootsTech, quite by accident😊

RootsTech 2019 speaker badge

Fate, synchronicity, call it what you will.

If you’re chuckling, so am I.

I’ll be presenting a total of 3 sessions – one regular RootsTech session and 2 minis plus a DNAexplain blog follower (that’s YOU) meetup.

Schedule at a Glance

Here’s a quick overview schedule, including 2 giveaways, with details following below:

  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:15 – Family Tree DNA booth #1107 – Family Finder Search Tips – Quick tips for how to perform surname and ancestral searches successfully!
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:45 – Family Tree DNA giveaway drawing
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:45 – DNAexplain Blog meetup in the Family Tree DNA booth presentation center
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 7:15 – Family Tree DNA booth – Family Finder Bucketing – Connecting your matches to your tree so that Family Tree DNA can assign your matches to your maternal or paternal side – even without having your parents tested!
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 7:45 – Family Tree DNA giveaway drawing
  • Friday, March 1, Ballroom B – 3 PM – Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA Testing to Solve Genealogical Puzzles

DNAexplain Blog Follower Meetup – Wednesday Evening –  6:15

The DNAexplain blog follower meetup which includes 2 free mini-sessions (and two giveaways) will be Wednesday evening from 6:15-7:45, right after the expo hall opens, in the Family Tree DNA booth, #1017, boxed in red on the map below. It looks like if you walk between LivingDNA and 23andMe, you’ll run smack dab into the Family Tree DNA booth.

Family Tree DNA has a new booth this year with a presentation center right in the booth, so we will be the first to use the new facility.

Rootstech 2019 Expo floor

I’ll be in the booth from 6-8 PM and have prepared special two mini-sessions for my blog followers and anyone else who would like to attend.

You don’t have to stay for the whole time of course!

Please stop by and say hello. I’d love to see you.

Thank you to Family Tree DNA for graciously allowing us to meet in their new presentation center.

Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA Testing to Solve Genealogical Puzzles – Friday – 3 PM – Ballroom B

Jim Brewster was originally presenting the session, “Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA Testing to Solve Genealogical Puzzles” at 3 PM on Friday.

Unfortunately, Jim is unable to attend and late last week – yes – as in 4 or 5 days ago, I agreed to present this session.

Now, the good news is that I’ve been working with Y and mitochondrial DNA 19 years, long enough to have some really good examples to include. You’ll laugh, I promise, and maybe even shed a tear or two. DNA and families are anything but boring!

Rootstech 2019 Roberta Estes session

Please, come and see the presentation at 3 on Friday afternoon in Ballroom B, on the map below.

Rootstech 2019 Ballroom B location

I promise you’ll be entertained and learn something too!

For those who can’t attend, several sessions are going to be LiveStreamed, 12 recorded and available later for free, and 18 more will be available with the purchase of a Virtual Pass. My session is not being recorded, so you’ll have to come and see it live!

LiveStream Schedule

Several people have asked about the LiveStream schedule, which you can find here. I believe this is also the link to view the LiveStreamed sessions.

An additional 12 sessions will be recorded and available for free viewing later.

  • Blending Family History and Technology with the Art of Storytelling
  • Descendancy Research: Another Pathway to Genealogy
  • Making Memories of You
  • New York Research Essentials
  • You Can Do DNA
  • How to Write Your Life Story in Five Pages or Less
  • Heirloom, Documentation or Junk: What to Keep or Toss
  • S.O.S. (Save Our Stuff): Stories and Heirlooms
  • Families Discovering Family History Together
  • Writing and Publishing a Family History: Ten Steps
  • Artificial Intelligence in Photo Management (and How It Can Boost Metadata)
  • Breaking through Brick Walls in Scottish Research

Virtual Pass Classes

A Virtual Pass is available for $129 (or $79 if you have already registered for RootsTech) which entitles you to the following recorded sessions as well.

  • Chromosome Mapping for Absolute Beginners—Jonny Perl
  • Must-Use U.S. Records at Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, findmypast, and MyHeritage—Sunny Morton
  • A Deep Dive into Understanding Your DNA Results—Blaine Bettinger, Angie Bush, Jonny Perl
  • The Surname Is Key: History of Surnames and Conducting Surname Research in Germany—Dirk Weissleder
  • One Touch Genealogy Research: Handle a Record Once—Thomas MacEntee
  • You Need Both! Uniting DNA and Traditional Research—Angie Bush and D. Joshua Taylor
  • Chromosome Mapping Tips and Techniques—Blaine Bettinger
  • Deeper Analysis: Techniques for Successful Problem-Solving—Elissa Scalise Powell
  • The Magic of German Church Records—Katherine Schober
  • My Ancestors Are from Germany, and I Don’t Speak German—Tamra Stansfield
  • When Details Disagree: 8 Ways to Resolve Conflicts—D. Joshua Taylor
  • 20 Hacks for Interviewing Almost Anyone, and Getting a Good Story—Joanna Liddell and Karen Morgan
  • Going Dutch: Finding Families in Online Records of the Netherlands—Daniel Jones
  • Beyond the Mists of Time: Sources for British Medieval and Early Modern Genealogy—Nick Barratt
  • The Combined Power of DNA, Records, and Family Trees—Jen Baldwin, David Nicholson, Diahan Southard
  • The Genealogist’s Google Search Methodology—Lisa Louise Cooke
  • Jewish Genealogy: How to Start, Where to Look, What’s Available—Lara Diamond
  • Slave Traders, Speculators, and the Domestic Slave Trade—Kenyatta Berry

Your Imbedded Reporter😊

I bought an Ultimate Pass this year, which means I’ll be able to have up-front seating which facilitates good photos for blog articles. I have also arranged to attend many of the vendor lunches and several of the vendor sessions so that I’ll be able to report back to you about new announcements and what’s coming, of course with a focus on DNA.

I hope to publish articles daily while I’m there, although I’m not promising given the hectic nature of my ever-evolving schedule. Rest assured I’ll let be writing as soon as I can. My ability to publish is sometimes constrained by poor Wi-Fi which makes it impossible to upload photos and articles.

My regular article publication schedule will be disrupted while I’m gone, so those ancestors will just have to wait!

For me, the best part of RootsTech last year was meeting people in person. I look forward to seeing you there, so please come to the meetup Wednesday evening or my regular session Friday at 3 and be sure to say hi.

I’m easy to recognize – l’ll be wearing something “DNA.”

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

MyHeritage LIVE 2019 in Amsterdam Announced

MyHeritage LIVE 2019

I’ve been keeping this secret and I’ve been about to burst!

Today MyHeritage announced their second MyHeritage LIVE Conference, to be held this year in Amsterdam, September 6-8.

Last year’s conference in Oslo was amazing, and this year’s will be too – plus – Amsterdam is a super cool and fun city. Canals, history, genealogy, museums, jewelry (the diamond capital of the world,) amazing food and did I mention…genealogy. It’s impossible to NOT have fun in Amsterdam so plan to stay a few extra days!

I love Amsterdam, but then again, I have Dutch ancestry on both sides of my family. So, yes, I’ll be there. I can’t miss this one! I hear my ancestors calling.

Brass Tacks

Ok, down to brass tacks.

Conference tickets include:

  • Lectures
  • Workshops
  • Lunches on Saturday and Sunday
  • Friday night drink reception
  • MyHeritage party on Saturday night

Editorial comment – MyHeritage knows how to throw a party. Seriously!

The list of speakers other than Gilad Japhet, MyHeritage Founder and CEO, who is an amazing, inspirational speaker, hasn’t been announced yet. In Oslo the speakers included MyHeritage staff and industry recognized experts on both genealogy and DNA.

One of the features many people enjoyed was the hands-on workshops.

From my perspective, one of the best things about the conference was getting to meet,  talk to and exchange information with other people from around the world.

Registration

Early-bird ticket pricing at 150 Euro or about $170 US is in effect until July 31st, but seats are limited and they may sell out. Amsterdam is a major European airline hub, so very easy to reach.

MyHeritage LIVE 2019 tickets

You can register for MyHeritage LIVE now at this link.

Preparation

If you are planning to attend, be sure to either purchase a DNA test at MyHeritage, or transfer your test to MyHeritage if you’ve already tested elsewhere.

Many of the DNA sessions and workshops feature or include genetic genealogy information and if you have DNA test results at MyHeritage, it’s much easier to understand what the speakers or workshop leaders are discussing.

Counting Down!

Look, the countdown timer on the MyHeritage LIVE site is already running!

MyHeritage LIVE 2019 countdown timer

Will I see you in Amsterdam?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

RootsTech 2019 in Salt Lake City

Last year, Rootstech 2018 was an unholy mess. I wrote about that experience here, making several positive suggestions for improvements. I’m sure the Rootstech staff was quite unhappy with me, but that’s OK, because it looks like they’ve implemented several changes that may, just may, make for an improved experience in 2019. Fingers firmly crossed!

I wasn’t planning to attend Rootstech 2019, but I’ve changed my mind, in large part because I really enjoyed meeting the people and vendors – and if you’re a technology person, Rootstech really is the conference to attend.

Plus, well, you know, that library just a block down the street has a powerful addictive draw for genealogists. Genealogy crack.

In essence, I’m attending so that I can report back to you on the latest innovations, products and features you might not otherwise know about. If you can’t attend, you can get the skinny from me – and if you can and do attend, I really hope to meet you.

Hint – I’ll be wearing genealogy and DNA garb. I’m in the process of creating new things right now, but no unveiling in advance.

I may be making cameo appearances from time to time and I’ll write closer to the conference about a possible meetup again this year.

Hopeful

I’m hopeful for an improved conference experience, but I’m still not convinced that Rootstech can handle thousands of people wanting to attend sessions in rooms that can’t handle thousands of people. They may plan better or have spillover or livestream rooms. I may actually choose to watch some sessions electronically.

Changes Rootstech has made include:

  • Mailing conference badges, so no hours-long registration lines (glory halleluiah)
  • Badge scanning at the session doors has been either reduced or removed – that part is unclear – we’ll see

For those who can’t or don’t choose to attend, you have more options:

Livestreams of Keynotes

Rootstech 2019 keynotes.png

Free Streaming of Many Sessions

Rootstech 2019 Livestream schedule

Several DNA sessions are included, and some sessions not livestreamed are being recorded for later playback.

You can view the schedule here.

Virtual Pass

If you want to see additional sessions not included in the free offering above, you can purchase a virtual pass for another 18 sessions.

Rootstech 2019 Virtual Pass

If you aren’t attending, you can purchase a virtual pass for $129, or if you are attending, you can add it for $79 and free yourself up to attend sessions not offered either free or virtually. Here’s a list of what’s included with the Virtual Pass.

You can purchase a virtual pass here.

Attending

It’s not too late. You can still register, but it’s too late to receive your pass in the mail – so you will need to stand in line. The good news is that the lines will be much shorter because many people will be receiving their passes in the mail.

The conference hotels and accommodations close by are full. However, there are still many hotels that are reasonably priced a little further out. I’m staying half a mile away, got a great rate, and will walk if it’s warm or Uber for less than $5 (including tip) if it’s not. A $10 Uber bill is still far less than staying at one of the more expensive hotels.

Really, all I care about is a clean room, reasonable bed, WIFI (really important,) a fridge in my room and hopefully, breakfast. I’m not going to be in my room much anyway.

Clarification

To be clear, I am not recommending Rootstech – I’m giving it another shot. I enjoy the social interaction with other genealogists, met some awesome people last year, and I look forward to being your embedded reporter.

Just so you know, I didn’t apply to be, nor am I a Rootstech Ambassador, so no free ticket, no access to the media center, no access to celebs for interviews or any other Ambassador perks. I’ll be walking around just like everyone else. I’m therefore also not beholden to promote or write positive articles about RootsTech and the promoters.

I’m sure there will be no shortage of fun things to do, old friends to see again and new people to meet. I can’t wait to find out what’s in store this year. Adventures await!

Free MyHeritage LIVE 2018 Webinars Are Online

MyHeritage LIVE 2018 webinars

For everyone that has been waiting for the MyHeritage LIVE 2018 webinars, they are available free at Legacy Family Tree Webinars, here.

One really nice thing MyHeritage did was to include the actual speaker’s slides on the left side of the screen, with the speaker shown to the right. This means that you’re going to be able to see the slides better than many people attending the conference.

I spy several that I need to watch – like learning more about the MyHeritage Mobile App, Newspaper Research strategies and how to more effectively use SuperSearch.

I mostly attended the DNA sessions, so I need to watch the genealogy ones online.

I do have a recommendation for you though.

Gilad Japhet’s keynote was incredible. So inspirational, powerful and moving – in a way that all genealogists can relate to. Riveting is the word that comes to mind. You could have heard a pin drop.

The great thing is that Gilad is making the changes happen in how records are searched and indexed at MyHeritage that will benefit his own research – and ours too, right along with his. Not to mention leading edge genetic technology like extracting DNA from envelopes and stamps. The jury is still out on this, so stay tuned.

Happy Holidays to You

You can give yourself an early (free) holiday present by setting time aside to watch these information-filled sessions.

There are a total of 18 free sessions from the conference and another 27 free classes about how to use MyHeritage for a total of 45.

Make yourself a list of the sessions you’d like to watch and watch one a day – sort of a genealogical version of the 45 days of Christmas😊

Of course, genealogy research works much better if it includes DNA testing.

Upload Your DNA

Don’t forget that DNA uploads and tools are free at MyHeritage until December 1, but after that there will be a cost for their advanced tools. Anyone who tests there or uploads before December 1 will be grandfathered in for free. That’s just 2 more days so don’t wait!

Click here to upload your DNA for free.

I wrote step-by-step instructions here for downloading your DNA from other sites and uploading to MyHeritage.

Test Your DNA

If you haven’t tested your DNA, order a test now by clicking here while the holidays sales are in full force.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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

MyHeritage LIVE Conference Day 2 – The Science Behind DNA Matching    

The MyHeritage LIVE Oslo conference is but a fond memory now, and I would count it as a resounding success.

Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is the scientific aspect and because the content is very focused on a topic I enjoy without being the size and complexity of Rootstech. The smaller, more intimate venue also provides access to the “right” people as well as the ability to meet other attendees and not be overwhelmed by the sheer size.

Here are some stats:

  • 401 registered guests
  • 28 countries represented including distant places like Australia and South America
  • More than 20 speakers plus the hands-on workshops where specialist teams worked with students
  • 38 sessions and workshops, plus the party
  • 60,000 livestream participants, in spite of the time differences around the world

I was blown away by the number of livestream attendees.

I don’t know what criteria Gilad Japhet will be using to determine “success” but I can’t imagine this conference being judged as anything but.

Let’s take a look at the second day. I spent part of the time talking to people and drifting in and out of the rear of several sessions for a few minutes. I meant to visit some of the workshops, but there was just too much good, distracting content elsewhere.

I began Sunday in Mike Mansfield’s presentation about SuperSearch. Yes, I really did attend a few sessions not about DNA, but my favorite was the session on Improved DNA Matching.

Improved DNA Matching

I’m sure it won’t surprise any of my readers that my favorite presentations were about the actual science of genetic genealogy.

Consumers don’t really need to understand the science behind autosomal results to reap the benefits, but the underlying science is part of what I love – and it’s important for me to understand the underpinnings to be able to unravel the fine points of what the resulting matches are and are not revealing. Misinterpretation of DNA results leading to faulty conclusions is a real issue in genetic genealogy today. Consequently, I feel that anyone working with other people’s results and providing advice really needs to understand how the science and technology together works.

Dr. Daphna Weissglas-Volkov, a population geneticist by training, although she clearly functions far beyond that scope today, gave a very interesting presentation about how MyHeritage handles (their greatly improved) DNA Matching. I’m hitting the high points here, but I would strongly encourage you to watch the video of this session when they are made available online.

In addition to Dr. Weissglas-Volkov’s slides, I’ve added some additional explanations and examples in various places. You can easily tell that the slides are hers and the graphics that aren’t MyHeritage slides are mine.

Dr. Weissglas-Volkov began the session by introducing the MyHeritage science team and then explaining terminology to set the stage.

A match is when two people match each other on a fairly long piece of DNA. Of course, “fairly long” is defined differently by each vendor.

Your genetic map (of your chromosomes) is comprised of the DNA you inherit from different ancestors by the process of recombination when DNA is transferred from the parents to the child. A centiMorgan is the relatively likelihood that a recombination will occur in a single generation. On average, 36 recombinations occur in each generation, meaning that the DNA is divided on any chromosome. However, women, for reasons unknown have about 1.5 times as many recombinations as men.

You can’t see that when looking at an example of a person compared to their parents, of course, because each individual is a full match to each parent, but you can see this visually when comparing a grandchild to their maternal grandmother and their paternal grandmother on a chromosome browser.

The above illustration is the same female grandchild compared to her maternal grandmother, at left, and her paternal grandmother at right. Therefore the number of crossovers at left is through a female child (her mother), and the number at right is through a male child (her father.)

# of Crossovers
Through female child – left 57
Through male child – right 22

There are more segments at left, through the mother, and the segments are generally shorter, because they have been divided into more pieces.

At right, fewer and larger segments through the father.

Keep in mind that because you have a strand of DNA from each parent, with exactly the same “street addresses,” that what is produced by DNA sequencing are two columns of data – but your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA is intermixed.

The information in the two columns can’t be identified as Mom’s or Dad’s DNA or strand at this point.

That interspersed raw data is called a genotype. A haplotype is when Mom’s and Dad’s DNA can be reassembled into “sides” so you can attribute the two letters at each address to either Mom or Dad.

Here’s a quick example.

The goal, of course, is to figure out how to reassemble your DNA into Mom’s side and Dad’s side so that we know that someone matching you is actually matching on all As (Mom) or all Gs (Dad,) in this example, and not a false match that zigzags back and forth between Mom and Dad.

The best way to accomplish that goal of course is trio phasing, when the child and both parents are available, so by comparing the child’s DNA with the parents you can assign the two strands of the child’s DNA.

Unfortunately, few people have both or even one parent available in order to actual divide their DNA into “sides,” so the next best avenue is statistical phasing. I’ve called this academic phasing in the past, as compared to parental phasing which MyHeritage refers to as trio phasing.

There’s a huge amount of confusion about phasing, with few people understanding there are two distinct types.

Statistical phasing is a type of machine learning where a large number of reference populations are studied. Since we know that DNA travels together in blocks when inherited, statistical phasing learns which DNA travels with which buddy DNA – and creates probabilities. Your DNA is then compared to these models and your DNA is reshuffled in order to assemble your DNA into two groups – one representing your Mom’s DNA and one representing your Dad’s DNA, according to statistical probability.

Looking at your genotype, if we know that As group together at those 6 addresses in my example 95% of the time, then we know that the most likely scenario to create a haplotype is that all of the As came from one parent and all of the Gs from the other parent – although without additional information, there is no way to yet assign the maternal and paternal identifier. At this point, we only know parent 1 and parent 2.

In order to train the computers (machine learning) to properly statistically phase testers’ results, MyHeritage uses known relationships of people to teach the machines. In other words, their reference panels of proven haplotypes grows all of the time as parent/child trios test.

Dr. Weissglas-Volkev then moved on to imputation.

When sequencing DNA, not every location reads accurately, so the missing values can be imputed, or “put back” using imputation.

Initially imputation was a hot mess. Not just for MyHeritage, but for all vendors, imputation having been forced upon them (and therefore us) by Illumina’s change to the GSA chip.

However, machine learning means that imputation models improve constantly, and matching using imputation is greatly improved at MyHeritage today.

Imputation can do more than just fill in blanks left by sequencing read errors.

The benefit of imputation to the genetic genealogy community is that vendors using disparate chips has forced vendors that want to allow uploads to utilize imputation to create a global template that incorporates all of the locations from each vendor, then impute the values they don’t actually test for themselves to complete the full template for each person.

In the example below, you can see that no vendor tests all available locations, but when imputation extends the sequences of all testers to the full 1-500 locations, the results can easily be compared to every other tester because every tester now has values in locations 1-500, regardless of which vendor/chip was utilized in their actual testing.

Therefore, using imputation, MyHeritage is able to match between quite disparate chips, such as the traditional Illumina chips (OmniExpress), the custom Ancestry chip and the new GSA chip utilized by 23andMe and LivingDNA.

So, how are matches determined?

Matching

First your DNA and that of another person are scanned for nearly identical seed sequences.

A minimum segment length of 6cM must be identified for further match processing to occur. Anything below 6cM is discarded at this point.

The match is then further evaluated to see if the seed match is of a high enough quality that it should be perfected and should count as a match. Other segments continue to be evaluated as well. If the total matching segment(s) is 8 total cM or greater, it’s considered a valid match. MyHeritage has taken the position that they would rather give you a few accidental false matches than to miss good matches. I appreciate that position.

Window cleaning is how they refer to the process of removing pileup regions known to occur in the human genome. This is NOT the same as Ancestry’s routine that removes areas they determine to be “too matchy” for you individually.

The difference is that in humans, for example, there is a segment of chromosome 6 where, for some reason, almost all humans match. Matching across that segment is not informative for genetic genealogy, so that region along with several others similar in nature are removed. At Ancestry, those genome-wide pileup segments are removed, along with other regions where Ancestry decides that you personally have too many matches. The problem is that for me, these “too matchy” segments are many of my Acadian matches. Acadians are endogamous, so lots of them match each other because as a small intermarried population, they share a great deal of the same DNA. However, to me, because I have one great-grandfather that’s Acadian, that “too matchy” information IS valuable although I understand that it wouldn’t be for someone that is 100% Acadian or Jewish.

In situations such as Ashkenazi Jewish matching, which is highly endogamous, MyHeritage uses a higher matching threshold. Otherwise every Ashkenazi person would match every other Ashkenazi person because they all descend from a small founder population, and for genealogy, that’s not useful.

The last step in processing matches is to establish the confidence level that the match is accurately predicted at the correct level – meaning the relationship range based on the amount of matching DNA and other criteria.

For example, does this match cluster with other proven matches of the same known relationship level?

From several confidence ascertainment steps, a confidence score is assigned to the predicted relationship.

Of course, you as a customer see none of this background processing, just the fact that you do match, the size of the match and the confidence score. That’s what genealogists need!

Matching Versus Triangulation Thresholds

Confusion exists about matching thresholds versus triangulation thresholds.

While any single segment must be over 6 cM in length for the matching process to begin, the actual match threshold at MyHeritage is a total of 8 cM.

I took a look at my lowest match at MyHeritage.

I have two segments, one 6.1 cM segment, and one 6 cM segment that match. It would appear that if I only had one 6 cM segment, it would not show as a match because I didn’t have the minimum 8 cM total.

Triangulation Threshold

However, after you pass that matching criteria and move on to triangulation with a matching individual, you have the option of selecting the triangulation threshold, which is not the same thing as the match threshold. The match threshold does not change, but you can change the triangulation threshold from 2 cM to 8 cM and selections in-between.

In the example below, I’m comparing myself against two known relatives.

You won’t be shown any matches below the 6 cM individual segment threshold, BUT you can view triangulated segments of different sizes. This is because matching segments often don’t line up exactly and the triangulated overlap between several individuals may be very small, but may still be useful information.

Flying your mouse over the location in the bubble, which is the triangulated segment, tells you the size of the triangulated portion. If you selected the 2 cM triangulation, you would see smaller triangulated portions of matches.

Closing Session

The conference was closed by Aaron Godfrey, a super-nice MyHeritage employee from the UK. The closing session is worth watching on the recorded livestream when it becomes available, in part because there are feel good moments.

However, the piece of information I was looking for was whether there will be a MyHeritage LIVE conference in 2019, and if so, where.

I asked Gilad afterwards and he said that they will be evaluating the feedback from attendees and others when making that decision.

So, if you attended or joined the livestream sessions and found value, please let MyHeritage know so that they can factor your feedback onto their decision. If there are topics you’d like to see as sessions, I’m sure they’d love to hear about that too. Me, I’m always voting for more DNA😊

I hope to hear about MyHeritage LIVE 2019, and I’m voting for any of the following locations:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Israel
  • Germany
  • Switzerland

What do you think?

MyHeritage LIVE 2018 Day 1 Photos, Details and Party

The MyHeritage parties are legendary. That in and of itself is a bit ironic, because Gilad Japhet, the founder and CEO is a rather reserved man. The words Gilad and party just don’t seem to fit together, but he certainly knows how to host an awesome party.

Know what? Genealogists will take time away from records to party, dress up and dance too. We aren’t serious all the time!

The article I wrote yesterday about the DNA announcements was quite hurried.

Now, it’s 4:30 AM, I’m terribly jet lagged so unexplainably awake, and since I can’t sleep, I’m writing this article to catch you up on Day 1 of the conference. Of course, this means that by about noon, I’ll be dying for a nap. You’ll have to watch my live panel discussion at 3:30 PM Oslo time today to see if you can tell I’m running on about 4 hours of sleep. (Don’t forget in the US some places changed to Daylight Savings time overnight.) Here’s the link to my article with the livestream link and the time zone calculator.

Day One in More Detail

MHLive Gilad opening crowd

Here’s Gilad just before he opened the conference. Everyone was excited. Don’t you love his shoes?

Before I go any further, I want to thank Gilad for the conference invitation and access to him and the team to be able to take these awesome photos and for the information provided.

Now, if you haven’t already done so, please go and read the day 1 announcement article, here.

I’d like to clarify a couple points and expand on that article.

I had dinner last night with Ran Snir, DNA Product Manager, along with fellow colleague Diahan Southard, and we discussed the new upcoming DNA related features. I’d like to clarify some terminology surrounding anticipated features.

Painting – The term “painting” was used yesterday, and in the context of what MyHeritage is doing, it does NOT mean the same thing as DNAPainter painting. I’ve written several articles about how I use DNAPainter, but the introductory article is here.

DNAPainter paints your own chromosomes only, identifying the segments of your ancestors. This is not what MyHeritage meant by painting. MyHeritage is referring to reconstructing your ancestors’ DNA.

Reconstructing Ancestral DNA – When MyHeritage referred to painting yesterday, they meant that several descendants’ DNA segments that they carry identically by descent (IBD) will be combined and “stitched together” to “create” a partial genome of that ancestor. No, they didn’t say exactly how this would be done, and no, they did not discuss how it would be managed. In other words, who controls the profile of the ancestor – and mitigates disputes about what segments should be, and should not be attributed to that ancestor.

For me, this raised several questions, but we’ll have to wait until the new feature is released to see how MyHeritage will deal with the inherent issues of:

  • Your most distant autosomal ancestor is actually a couple because you can’t yet divide the DNA into husband and wife.
  • The trees of the descendants need to be complete and accurate.
  • People descending from the same child of the ancestor will also carry the DNA of the wives in each generation, so they need to be compared to people descended from other children of the ancestor to ascertain that the DNA is of the ancestor – not of wives in downstream generations.
  • People tend to marry cousins, siblings, etc., especially when living in the same area. DNA from another line may be unknowingly introduced into two different children’s lines, appearing that the resulting segment comes from the ancestor (or ancestral couple) when in fact, it doesn’t.

These are challenges, not barriers, so let’s continue with Gilad’s presentation.

Extracting DNA from Old Envelopes and Stamps

In the next slides, Gilad discusses extracting DNA from old stamps and envelope seals – the goal being that the resulting file can be uploaded to MyHeritage so that your deceased relative’s DNA can be resurrected through the DNA held in the envelope stamp and seal – which they hopefully licked. This is something we’ve dreamed of (and attempted) since the beginning of DNA testing for genealogy. Apparently Gilad dreamed of it too, because several of his own items are being processed right now.

Gilad provided some examples of other types of stamps and seals that might contain the saliva of our ancestors. Think outside of the box, or in this case, outside of the envelope. No, hair and other items were not discussed. There was a sidebar discussion but at this point, only envelopes and stamps are being utilized.

Theory of Family Relativity

The last session of the day was presented by Maya Lerner, the VP of Product where she discussed, among other things, their new Theory of Family Relativity.

I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. I opted not to bring by larger camera to reduce travel weight, using my cell phone instead. I regret that choice.

The Theory of Family Relativity, currently under development will combine the DNA estimates of where a person is likely to fit into a tree with actual records from the MH database to show the most likely placement of a DNA match.

Today, when we have a match, based on the amount of shared DNA, MyHeritage estimates and illustrates the relationship position that this person holds in our tree, but does not show us on our actual tree itself where this person might fit. That’s up for us as genealogists to figure out.

As I understand the new feature, the relationship distance, shown above, will be combined with records such as phased DNA, census, birth, death, logical criteria (women don’t bear children at age 7 or 70) and other records which would exclude some relationships in our actual tree, while providing evidence for others.

New Features

Aside from the DNA announcements, MyHeritage is also introducing a lot of new non-DNA related features.

City Directories – For example, they are digitizing and indexing city directories. The great thing is that they aren’t just indexing names, but also addresses. As a genealogist, Gilad has personally discovered the usefulness of being able to search for an address in immigration records to view everyone, even with misspelled names, who claimed they were joining family at that specific address. It’s another clue.

European Newspapers – in multiple languages. Digitizing and indexing.

Other New Content – Czeck census, German registration records, Brazil records,

There are so many awesome new features coming, what should you be doing to prepare now?

What You Should Be Doing NOW

  • If you’ve tested elsewhere, upload your DNA raw data file to MyHeritage. The upload is FREE and so are all of the features, but ONLY until Dec. 1st. After that, there will be a fee associated with some advanced features. So upload your file and those of your family members (with permission of course) now. I wrote instructions about how to upload to MyHeritage here, to and from Family Tree DNA here, and from Ancestry here.
  • If you haven’t tested elsewhere, purchase a kit, or two. The more of your relatives such as parents, siblings (if your parents are gone,) aunts, uncles, cousins that you can test, the more information that can be learned about your genealogy and connections to others. Give DNA kits for the holidays. Take them to family reunions. Thanksgiving is coming. Kits are on sale right now for an amazing $49 each. Click here to purchase.
  • Be thinking about envelopes and stamps that your deceased family members have licked. Who else in your family, that you might be seeing over the holidays might have these types of items? The technology for extracting DNA from these prized genetic heirlooms may finally be ripe. We’re waiting for early samples submitted to see how successful this technology will be.

Party Time!!!

Ok, I know you’ve been patiently waiting for the party pictures.

MyHeritage is sponsoring the EuroVision Song Contest, so we were the lucky beneficiaries.

Two entertainments groups were featured. The first was a Norwegian folk group. The music was awesome, haunting and ethereal. Like nothing I’ve heard before. They actually make some of these sounds with their cheeks.

The second group was a contemporary band and they were amazing too. Did you know that genealogists love to dance? Must be in the genes!

For those of you wondering, yes, I really do have a halo, but it slips from time to time😊 Here’s living proof!

Thanks Gilad, for a great party to celebrate the MyHeritage wonderful new features😊

How exciting to be on the leading edge.

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