Last week I participated in a conference call with members of the show, including Senior Story Editor and Producer Leslie Asako Gladsjo and Chief Genealogist Johni Cerny. Also on the call, although only able to participate for a few minutes, was Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Here are some interesting tidbits about Finding Your Roots – and genealogy in general – that I learned from the conversation:
Gates believes that genetic genealogy is deconstructing the notion of race; never has FTDNA or 23andMe returned an African American’s testing results and reported 100% African, for example. In other words, science is demonstrating that things are much more complicated than we would have guessed without the benefit of DNA.
All guests on Finding Your Roots used both 23andMe and FTDNA for DNA testing – all African Americans participating in the series also used African Ancestry. While the guests receive all their results, we may not always see them.
Many are still wary of genetic genealogy; many potential guests even turned down the series largely because of the DNA testing involved.
Gladsjo and Cerny noted that DNA is just another tool for the genealogist; sometimes the guests’ DNA results were very interesting, and sometimes they were “pretty boring.”
I hope you’ll be tuning in tomorrow to see Finding Your Roots. I have a feeling that this is going to be a fascinating series.
PRI’s The World, a weekday radio news magazine, has a new piece by producer Carol Zall entitled “Roots 2.0: Using DNA to Trace My Ancestry.” The piece makes for a great introduction to genetic genealogy. I especially like the 35-year-old interview between the young Carol and her grandmother, as well as Carol’s interpretation of her results.
I spoke with Carol a few months about this piece, and she included a few quotes from the interview in the article. Also included is a 2-minute soundbite of our conversation:
As I noted in a recent blog post (see “WDYTYA Reveals More Information About Ancestry.com’s New Autosomal DNA Testing“), autosomal DNA testing was featured in the recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are with actor Blair Underwood. After revealing Mr. Underwood’s biogeographical estimates (74% African American and 26% European), they revealed a genetic cousin found in the Ancestry.com’s database:
The service identified a distant cousin (somewhere around the 10th cousin range) who lived in Cameroon (an Eric Sonjowoh). Mr. Sonjowoh was already in the Ancestry.com database, which is why they were able to compare him to Mr. Underwood. According to Eric, someone approached him in 2005 and asked him for his DNA because African Americans were trying to trace their family back to Cameroon. I’m not sure what database the DNA was in, but it shows that Ancestry.com has pre-populated its database with at least some samples from other public and/or proprietary data sources.
[Update (2/24/12): Some genealogy forums are reporting that callers to Ancestry.com are being told that the autosomal DNA test will publicly launch in approximately 1 month (late March or early April).]
Tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featured African-American actor Blair Underwood. For those not familiar with Who Do You Think You Are, the 1-hour program examines the genealogy of a celebrity, typically focusing on one or two of their most interesting families.
This episode was of particular interest to me because it featured Ancestry.com’s new autosomal DNA testing service, which I’ve written about before (see “Ancestry.com’s Autosomal DNA Product – An Update”). While there wasn’t too much new information about the DNA product in this episode, it was an interesting sneak peek at the service.
In an interview with Business Insider, Anne Wojcicki reported that the company is creating a marketing team. Indeed, I’ve seen at least one marketing position (VP of Marketing) offered by 23andMe in several locations over the past 2 weeks (see here and here, for example). It looks like it would be a very interesting and fun position.
The article also notes that as of October 2011, the 23andMe database officially had 125,000 subscribers.
As I’ve stated many, many times in the past, the future of genetic genealogy is combining test results with both family trees and paper records.
Today, MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA announced a partnership that will bring that future one step closer to reality. MyHeritage will offer a full line of tests (13 in total) through FTDNA, including these basic introductory tests (with discounts – not shown below – for MyHeritage subscribers):
Y-DNA12 (12 Y-STR markers) – $99
mtDNA (HVR1 region) – $99
Family Finder (autosomal test) – $298
The FAQ page for the tests is here (and I note that although they currently do not allow import of test results from other providers, they plan to in the future). I wonder if existing FTDNA test-takers can import their results?
Given MyHeritage’s worldwide reach and enormous membership (62 million members around the world!), it will be interesting to see whether this new partnership expands genetic genealogy testing in other parts of the world, which have been slow to try this technology.
Researchers have recently discovered that Napoleon Bonaparte’s Y-DNA belongs to haplogroup E1b1b1c1* (M34+).
Dominique Vivant Denon was the director-general of French museums under Napoleon. Denon made a reliquary (a container for relics) that included the beard of Henry IV, a tooth from Voltair, and a lock of Bonaparte’s hair. [1. B. Foulon, ed., Dominique-Vivant Denon: L’oeil de Napoléon, exh. cat., Paris: Musée du Louvre (Paris, 2000), 480.] The “Vivant-Denon reliquary” is currently deposited in the Bertrand Museum of Châteauroux, and contains in the “right lateral compartment” a lock of Napoleon’s hair (two of which were used for mtDNA analysis. [2. Lucotte, et al. (2011) Haplogroup of the Y Chromosome of Napoleon the First. J. Mol. Biol. Research, 1:12-19.] Also in the reliquary is three beard hairs belonging to Napoleon.
This morning’s Keynote at Rootstech 2012, was from Ancestry.com and was entitled “Making the Most of Technology to Further the Family History Industry.” Although I was unable to attend Rootstech in person this year, I was able to view the keynote online.
During the panel discussion, we heard from Ken Chahine (LinkedIn profile), the Senior Vice President and General Manager, DNA at Ancestry.com. From his profile at Ancestry.com:
Ken Chahine has served as Senior Vice President and General Manager for Ancestry DNA, LLC since 2011. Prior to joining us he held several positions, including as Chief Executive Officer of Avigen, a biotechnology company, in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Utah, and at Parke-Davis Pharmaceuticals (currently Pfizer). Mr. Chahine also teaches a course focused on new venture development, intellectual property, and licensing at the University of Utah’s College of Law. He earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Michigan, a J.D. from the University of Utah College of Law, and a B.A. in Chemistry from Florida State University.
The genetic genealogy world is abuzz following a recent report in news outlets around the world (including CNN, Seattle PI, Daily Mail, etc) that investigators have used public genetic genealogy DNA databases for leads in a 20-year-old cold case.
In December 1991, 16-year-old Sarah Yarborough was tragically murdered in Federal Way, Washington. Despite an extensive investigation, no suspect has ever been named. Investigators have sketches of a man they believe might have been involved, but there is no name to put to the pictures.
Investigators did find some important evidence however: DNA left at the scene, possibly by Yarborough’s attacker.
Late last year, investigators gave the DNA profile (apparently the Y-DNA profile) to California-based forensic consultant Colleen Fitzpatrick (who I’ve written about before here on TGG). Fitzpatrick, it appears, compared the Y-DNA profile to publicly-available Y-DNA databases, such as Ysearch, in an attempt to identify a potential match for the profile. After identifying potential matches, Fitzpatrick could then potentially identify the surname of the Y-DNA’s donor. For example, if all Bettingers have a particular Y-DNA profile and a sample Y-DNA profile closely matches that particular Y-DNA profile, then it is likely that the parties are either closely or distantly related (on a scale of 10s or 1000s of years), and they could potentially have the same surname.