The name Whit Athey is undoubtedly very familiar to many genetic genealogists. Whit’s Haplogroup Predictor, used to predict an individual’s paternal haplogroup based on DNA test results, is one of the most valuable online (and FREE) tools for genetic genealogists.
Among Whit’s many contributions to the field, he is also the Editor (and frequent contributor) of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy. From his biosketch:
“Whit Athey is a retired physicist whose working career was primarily at the Food and Drug Administration where he was the chief of one of the medical device labs. He received his doctorate in physics and biochemistry at Tufts University, and undergraduate (engineering) and masters (math) degrees at Auburn University. For several years during the 1980s, he also taught one course each semester in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Maryland. Besides his interest in genetic genealogy, he is an amateur astronomer and has his own small observatory near his home in Brookeville, MD.”
Today’s interview is with Alastair Greenshields, founder of the genetic genealogy testing company DNA Heritage. Alastair is also the founder of Ybase, a Y-DNA database. I recently wrote about a helpful and informative video series by Alastair for DNA newbies (see “New Videos for Genetic Genealogists“).
In today’s interview, I ask Alastair about his introduction to genetic genealogy, some of the ethical issues raised by the recent launches of personal genomics companies, and about the future of genetic genealogy.
TGG: How long have you been involved in genetic genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field? Have you undergone genetic genealogy testing yourself? Were you surprised with the results? Did the results help you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery? You founded DNA Heritage in 2003. What led you to create the company? Can you also tell us a little bit about Ybase?
Terry Barton is co-founder of WorldFamilies.net (along with Richard Barton), a website devoted to helping genealogists host Surname, Geographic, or Haplogroup Projects and learn more about genetic genealogy. When I began the Bettinger Surname DNA Project, Terry helped me through the entire process of setting up the site. From the WorldFamilies website:
“Terry is co-founder of WorldFamilies.net, President of the Barton Historical Society (BHS) and Co-Leader of the 193 member Barton DNA Project. He is the â€œLine Leaderâ€ for the Thomas (1,2,3) Barton family of Stafford Co VA and for the David Barton married Ruth Oldham family. He has made a number of presentations about using DNA in Genealogy, the Barton DNA project and his great-grandparent’s “Barton House” and has written many articles for the BHS Newsletters and website.”
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).