If you’ve ever even thought about testing your own DNA for genealogical purposes, then you are almost guaranteed to have heard of Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. Megan is the Chief Family Historian and North American spokesperson for Ancestry.com, as well as the co-founder of Roots Television, an online channel of genealogy and history-oriented programming. Additionally, Megan is the co-author of “Trace Your Roots With DNA”, the premiere book on genetic genealogy (the other co-author, Ann Turner, will be featured later in this series).
Megan blogs about genetic genealogy and other genealogical topics at Megan’s Roots World (which I highly recommend adding to your feed reader or daily reading list). In the following interview, Megan talks about her introduction to genetic genealogy, about the field as it stands today, and about some of the possible future directions of DNA testing.
Genetic genealogy has been commercially available since 2000, and in the last 8 years many genealogists have used this new tool to learn about their ancestry. Over the course of the next two weeks, I will be sharing interviews I recently conducted with 9 individuals who have had a huge impact on the field of genetic genealogy. The list includes – in the random order that their interview will appear – Bennett Greenspan, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, Terry Barton, Alastair Greenshields, Whit Athey, Ann Turner, Katherine Hope Borges, Max Blankfeld, and Ana Oquendo PabÃ³n.
Just a quick disclaimer about the list of interviewed individuals before I begin this series. Genetic genealogy has become the valuable tool that it is due to the efforts of many people, but I was not able to interview everyone (and some were unable to commit the time to do an interview). I apologize to anyone that should be on the list but isn’t.
While conducting some online research the other day, I discovered a series of videos about genetic genealogy by Alastair Greenshields, founder of DNA Heritage. The main page contains 6 videos (shown in the list below) that are broken down into 2 to 8 chapters. Since the videos are broken up into chapters, you can can easily skip to the topics that are the most relevant to you.
- Genetic Genealogy Terminology
- Genetic Genealogy Defined
- Tracing My Genetic Heritage
- My Past
- Giving DNA
- Genetic Genealogy Results
There are many other places to find videos about genetic genealogy. Last April I wrote “Ten Videos For Genetic Genealogists“, although only 8 of them are still available. You can also watch videos about DNA here at TGG’s DNA Channel, courtesy of Roots Television. And lastly, Family Tree DNA has videos available on its website.
To give you a preview of the DNA Heritage videos, the first is embedded below:
On April 9th, 2008, I posted a quiz about genetic genealogy here on the blog. (If you haven’t taken the quiz yet, it is available here; it only requires a few minutes and might make the following analysis more clear and personally relevant). I created and posted this quiz because I thought it was a fun way to interact with my readers, and because I thought it was educational material to share with others.
As readers began to take the quiz, I realized that there was valuable information contained with the results. The following is an analysis of those results with a few preliminary conclusions. As I proceed, don’t feel bad about missing any of these questions, since this isn’t meant to be a critique of any single individual (especially since individual responses were not recorded). I merely hope to share the results as a whole in an effort to help inform and educate. The quiz was, and still is, meant to be fun.
1:25PM EST: Senator Olympia Snowe is currently on the floor of the Senate speaking about GINA (see it live on C-SPAN 2). And yes, I realize that live-blogging C-SPAN coverage is dangerously boring, but I can’t help myself!
3:00PM EST: I just received a press release from the Genetics & Public Policy Center that GINA passed the Senate 95-0:
The Senate today passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), approving by unanimous consent of 95-0 an amended version of H.R. 493, which passed the House April 25, 2007 by a vote of 420-3. The House is expected to take up the measure again quickly before sending it to President Bush to sign the measure into law.
“After a very long wait, Americans can now be confident that their genetic information cannot be used by health insurers or employers in harmful or hurtful ways,” says Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center, established at Johns Hopkins University by The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Our challenge now is to make sure that doctors and patients are aware of these new protections so that fear of discrimination never again stands in the way of a decision to take a genetic test that could save a life.”
How much do you know about genetic genealogy testing? Take The Genetic Genealogist’s quiz!
The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) has just launched a new newsletter. The first edition, March 2008, is available here. This edition discusses GINA, a DNA Success Story by Shoshone, a segment called “The Armchair Geneticist: Where Hobby Produces Science”, What’s New in ISOGG, and a Featured DNA Project.
The newsletter is well-written and has some great graphics, so be sure to subscribe to this FREE newsletter (see the bottom of the newsletter for subscription information).
I often get emails from people who are new to genetic genealogy asking questions about their newly-received DNA testing results. They are unsure about about what the results mean, how to find more information, or what to do next. I also see people ask these questions in all of the DNA forums and mailing lists that I subscribe to. Although I do my best to help the people that email me, I often wish there was more I could do.
In an attempt to assist people with the interpretation of their genetic genealogy testing results, I’ve written an eBook that takes the reader step-by-step through an analysis of their Y-DNA or mtDNA results, including estimating a haplogroup and sub-clade from testing results, finding resources to learn more about particular haplogroups, and finding haplogroup and haplotype matches, among many other topics. Here is the Table of Contents from the 28-page eBook:
With the popular African American Lives series on PBS and numerous news stories and magazine columns, Black History Month often results in increased attention to the genealogy and genetic history of African Americans. I saw a similar increased interest in genetic genealogy last February as well.
The Multiracial Roots of Americans
Diverse has an article entitled “More Americans Are Discovering Their Multiracial Roots.” The article discusses traditional genealogical research, then mentions genetic genealogy – particularly automosal testing:
“One of the more fascinating developments with the new genealogy is the extent to which DNA testing is revealing the multi-racial ancestry of Americans. While thereâ€™s some controversy about the claims of DNA testing firms as to how accurately they can match individuals to ancestors from specific communities and ethnic groups, thereâ€™s a consensus that proper testing can roughly specify a personâ€™s relative mix of his or her ancestorsâ€™ geographic origins.”
As I was reading through the GENEALOGY-DNA list from Rootsweb this morning, I came across a great question about the frequency of mutation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).
The listmember asks “I am wondering if anyone would know the odds of having a mutation between my brother and me in our mtDNA. Marker 16163 is G for one of us and A for the other…” This is a great question, and one that I’ve been asked as well.
In response, Ann Turner writes “The mutation rate hasn’t been studied in the detail I’d like to see. The largest study for the hypervariable regions was based on deep-rooting pedigrees from Iceland. They found 3 mutations out of 705 transmission events.”
The study, available here (pdf, HT: Ann Turner) was conducted through deCODE Genetics and Oxford University. They used 26 Icelandic ancestral trees to identify maternally-related individuals, and sequenced 272 mtDNA control regions representing a total of 705 transmission events. The researchers found a total of three mutations, resulting in a mutation rate of 0.0043 per generation, or 0.32/site/1 million years. A previous study (Parsons et al., 15 Nature Genetics 363 1997) found a total of 10 mutations in 327 transmission events for a frequency of 2.5/site/1 million years, and yet another study found 2 mutations in 81 transmissions for a rate of 0.75/site/1 million years (Howell et al., 59 Am J Hum Genet 501). The huge differences in these numbers suggests that much more research needs to be done, probably with a much larger dataset. If I had unlimited funds, I would also be interested to see if there are different mutation rates among haplogroups, as well as a number of other factors.