Last week, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings posed a genetic genealogy question on his blog. I posted a possible solution in the comments there, but I am asked this question regularly and thought I would discuss it here.
At a recent meeting that Randy attended, a woman in the audience asked the speaker:
“I don’t know who my father is. He and my mother had relations in Naples, Italy back in the 1950’s and I was born. I have no siblings. My mother did not tell me his name and there is no father’s name on my birth certificate. Can DNA research help me?”
This particular situation is exceptionally challenging. If the child had been a boy, he would have his father’s Y-DNA and a decent chance at identifying his father’s surname (and thus could perhaps further elucidate his actual identity with the combination of DNA research and traditional genealogical research). If the unknown parent had been the mother, the daughter would possess the unknown parent’s mtDNA and a remote but possible chance of finding an mtDNA match and using traditional genealogical techniques to identify the mother.
On September 5th at the 2008 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I was interviewed by Dick Eastman.Â In the interview we discuss my blog, DNA testing in general, and my free ebook, “I Have the Results of My Genetic Genealogy Test, Now What?” (which is available for download in the sidebar of the blog).
Ann Turner has been a member of the genetic genealogy community since 2000, and during that time she has made great contributions to field (as will become obvious from her interview). According to her brief biography at the Journal of Genetic Genealogy:
Ann Turner is the founder of the GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list at RootsWeb and the co-author (with Megan Smolenyak) of “Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree.” She received her undergraduate degree in biology in 1964 and her M.D. from Stanford University in 1970. In recent years, she developed software for neuropsychological testing and wrote utility programs for the PAF genealogy program. One of these utilities provided a way to split out all people in a database who were related via their mitochondrial DNA, six years before mtDNA tests were commercially available. The inspiration for this feature came from the (then) forward-looking predictions of Dr. Thomas Roderick, now associate editor of JoGG.
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:
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.
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.