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TGG Interview Series VII – Katherine Hope Borges

image The next interview in the TGG Interview Series with members of the Genetic Genealogy field is with Katherine Hope Borges.  Katherine is the Director of the ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogists.  In June of last year, I highlighted a video interview with Katherine done by Roots Television.

In addition to the her work with the ISOGG, Katherine recently launched DNA Fund to provide scholarships and funding for DNA testing, which can often be expensive.

In the following interview, Katherine talks about her introduction to genetic genealogy as well as the launch of DNA Fund.

TGG: How long have you been actively involved in genetic genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field?

Katherine Hope Borges: I learned about genetic genealogy in 2003 from a speaker at a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) meeting.  The speaker, a DNA Project Administrator, shared her success in using DNA for genealogy so I decided to try it.  My father tested in May 2003 and I established a DNA project in October of the same year.

TGG: You are one of the founders of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.  How did the group come about, and what are the goals of the organization?
KHB: The birth of ISOGG was a result of the 2004 International Conference on Genetic Genealogy hosted by Family Tree DNA.  Part of the credit goes to one of the conference speakers, Megan Smolenyak-Smolenyak, who mentioned how there were so many misconceptions about genetic genealogy that people were being banned from forums and lists for even talking about it.  This illustrated the lack of education on the subject and the need for a supportive network for genetic genealogists.  I held meetings in Northern and Southern California to find out if others shared this vision and those people became the Founders.

ISOGG is a dues free society with no revenue sources.  It probably sounds a little crazy to run an organization with no funding, but as a dues paying member of several lineage and genealogical societies, if I have extra spending money, I want it to go to DNA testing!  Since ISOGG is primarily an internet-based society, the costs are relatively low.  Those who share the mission of ISOGG, to promote and educate about genetic genealogy support it by answering questions on the mailing lists, compiling information on web pages, giving a speech to a local society, etc.

TGG: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?

KHB: Many times now, but what is funny is that when my father tested and compared against two others of the same surname, no one matched!  Good thing a close match came in later that year or otherwise, I might have thrown in the towel on the whole business.

The brick wall that was broken by my father’s match was whether two men with the same surname in the same county listed in the 1790 South Carolina U.S. Census were related or not.  Indeed they were and a bible record was later discovered showing the two men were brothers.

TGG: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?

KHB: Currently, genetic genealogy still seems to be used as a  “last resort”  to get through  a brick wall;  but I think that as it grows in popularity and use, that people just beginning genealogy may start by doing a DNA test.  Additionally, I think that advances in genetics research hold many amazing discoveries to come on what can be learned about our ancestral origins.

TGG: Aside from the ISOGG, what other genealogy-related projects are you involved with?

KHB: I recently launched The DNA Fund www.dnafund.org – an organization to provide scholarships and grants for DNA testing.  There is a real need for this as it can be a rather costly aspect of genealogy, but I also want it to benefit the scientific genetics community as the two are symbiotic.
I am also very involved in DAR and have formed a local society of Children of the American Revolution.  In addition, I am a Girl Scout Leader and the first badge my troop earned as Cadettes was the heritage badge!  (What else, right?  There is no “DNA badge”…yet…)
All of this leaves little time for traditional genealogy research, but I do manage a few days for that out of the year.  I attend an annual family reunion in South Carolina and always try to fit in research at either the South Carolina Archives or  the University of South Carolina.  If I have the opportunity to attend DAR Continental Congress in Washington DC, then most of my free time there is spent in the stacks of the DAR Library.

TGG: Thank you for a great interview Katherine!

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007