In October 2008, I reviewed an article by Dr. Alondra Nelson in the journal Social Studies of Science entitled â€œBio Science: Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestryâ€ (Social Studies of Science 2008 38: 759-783).Â The article was about the complex interpretation of the results of genetic genealogy testing by African-Americans and black British.Â Dr. Nelson is Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia University in NY.
On Friday, an article by Dr. Nelson appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Henry Louis Gates’s Extended Family,” which is an introduction and review of the current PBS documentary miniseries Faces of America. Regarding the genetic testing aspect of the show, Nelson writes:
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a searchable database created from the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File, which contains the name and social security number of deceased persons reported to the Social Security Administration since roughly 1962.Â In addition to being used by genealogists, the Death Master File and SSDI are used by financial firms and government agencies for various reasons such as preventing identity fraud.
A Genealogy Meme Using the SSDI
Michael Neill at RootDig has two posts â€“ â€œHave You Searched for All Your Ancestors in the SSDI?â€ and â€œMy in-laws in the SSDIâ€ â€“ that list his and his wifeâ€™s ancestors in the SSDI.Â Michael has 7 ancestors, while his wife has 6.
The Evansville Courier & Press has a great article â€“ â€œAt 97, life is worth a big fuss: Six generations gathered at matriach’s birthday partyâ€ â€“ which contains a picture of six generations of the Moore Family of Indiana.Â The picture shows a newborn and 5 generations of her ancestors; her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great-grandmother!Â It is truly amazing and I highly recommend clicking over to the article to see it.
My Mother’s Mother’s Mother’s Father’s Mother (whew!)
The picture led me to wonder who was my motherâ€™s motherâ€™s motherâ€™s fatherâ€™s mother (following the same lineage in the articleâ€™s picture), and whether I ever met her.Â After consulting my family tree software (maybe I could have done it from memory, but I thought Iâ€™d save some time!), I discovered that her name was Jemima Cooper.Â I never had the opportunity to meet Jemima because she died 53 years before my birth.Â She would be 118 years old today.
An article in the United Arab Emirate newspaper The National (wikipedia) does a terrific job of highlighting recent research from Family Tree DNA.Â The story – â€œDNA could illuminate Islamâ€™s lineageâ€ â€“ discusses research that has attempted to elucidate the Y-DNA signature of Mohammed.Â Although Mohammed did not have a son, he had a daughter who married her paternal second cousin, thus passing to Mohammedâ€™s grandchildren the same Y-DNA.Â From the article:
â€œFor almost 1,600 years, the title Sharif, Sayyed, or Habib has been bestowed on Muslims who have been able to trace their roots back to the Prophet Mohammed through intricate family trees, oral histories and genealogical records. But now an American DNA lab says it may have identified the DNA signature of descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, and perhaps the prospect of a direct, more accurate means of confirming or identifying such a connection.â€
This has been a great week for The Genetic Genealogist, and I just wanted to send out my gratitude.
First, TGG was included by Chris Dunham of The Genealogue in his list â€œ10 Genealogy Blogs Worth Readingâ€ at Blogs.com!Â Iâ€™m truly honored to be listed among the other great bloggers in the article.Â (Like Chris, I was recently asked to create a Top 10 list which I believe will be posted soon, but my list focuses more on genetic genealogy and personal genomics blogs).
And second, TGG was listed as #9 on the ProGenealogists list of The Top 25 Genealogy Blogs of 2009!Â The rankings were based on â€œoverall content, Technorati rating, and industry experience.â€Â It is an honor to be included among this group of incredible bloggers.Â Be sure to visit the website to check out the other blogs on the list.
In my genealogical research, I have sometimes found myself missing the trees by focusing on the forest. I think it happens to many genealogists – we get caught up in the research, the dates, the places, and we forget that there was so much more to people than their vital statistics.
This can happen to genetic genealogists as well. The connection between the results of a DNA test and the individuals in our tree can be easy to forget and difficult to visualize. Take the results of an mtDNA test, for example. The results are obtained from a tiny piece of DNA that has traveled thousands of years (and often thousands of miles) through hundreds of individuals to end up in your cheek cells and on the tip of a swab. Everyone’s mtDNA is the product of an amazingly rich story that has largely been lost to history.
Iâ€™ve been working on a presentation regarding the future of genetic genealogy, and one aspect of that future is the ability to trace DNA (SNPs, mutations, haplogroups, etcâ€¦) through recent history as the result of combining extensive genomic sequencing with massive family tree information.Â Although the ability to do this will have many uses (both for genealogy and for personalized medicine), it will also raise a number of privacy issues, as a recent paper suggests.
A New Privacy Study
In â€œInferential Genotyping of Y Chromosomes in Latter-Day Saints Founders and Comparison to Utah Samples in the HapMap Project,â€ author Jane Gitschier uses a combination of FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org) and Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (http://www.smgf.org/) to elucidate the Y-chromosome signature of two founders of the LDS Church.Â Gitschier then used that information to determine whether anyone who contributed DNA to the HapMap project was related to these individuals via the Y-chromosome (none appeared to be).Â However, Gitschier was able to predict the surname of many of the HapMap participants using these databases.
As announced by Mark Tucker at ThinkGenealogy and Shelly Talalay Dardashti at Tracing the Tribe, CEO of FamilyLink.com Paul Allen tweeted the following yesterday:
â€œStarting job description for â€˜chief genealogy officerâ€™ who will help manage GenSeek–directory of all the world’s genealogy sources.â€
You can learn more about GenSeek â€“ a comprehensive genealogy website including the Family History Catalog 2.0 â€“ at â€œWhat is this GenSeek of which you Speak?â€ from ThinkGenealogy.
This is an interesting development and suggests that innovative developments in genealogy are continuing and that they can be profitable (for instance, see Geni.comâ€™s latest round of VC).Â In the past few months, FamilyLink.com, Inc. has hired a new a new president (Steve Nickle), vice president (Jim Erickson), and chief technology officer (Allan Carroll).
I donâ€™t often post pure genealogy on this blog, but I thought I would take a break from genetic genealogy and join in on the Genea-Bloggers Weekly Genealogy Blogging Prompt, which was:Â â€œUpload your favorite picture and talk about it on your blog. Answer the who/what/when/where/why of the subject matter and explain why it is your favorite.â€
Although it is nearly impossible to pick a single favorite from my extensive photo collection, I chose the following photo as one of my favorites:
People (L to R): Frank Bettinger (my great-grandfather), Angeline Taylor Bettinger (my great-great-great-grandmother born in 1815!), Ward Bettinger (my great-great-uncle), Melissa Albro Bettinger (my great-great-grandmother), Edgar Bettinger (my great-great-grandfather), and George Bettinger (my first cousin three times removed).Â Unfortunately, I never met anyone in this photo, although Iâ€™ve heard a great deal about them.
I recently wrote about using genetic genealogy to potentially identify a male’s unknown surname. Although I had in mind using DNA to find an adopted male’s biological surname, the method has numerous other applications. For instance, it can be used in an attempt to identify the surname of a male who has forgotten his biological surname.
A Mystery Man
Just before 7 a.m. on August 31, 2004, an adult male was found lying next to a dumpster behind a Burger King in Richmond Hill, Georgia. He was naked, beaten, sunburned, and covered in bites from fire ants. Benjaman Kyle, as he has decided to call himself (note the BK connection), eventually recovered from his physical ailments but was unable to remember anything about himself or his past. To this day, he cannot remember anything, although he claims to have vague memories or affiliations for certain things. For example, he appears to have some background knowledge of restaurant equipment and design. Surprisingly, he does not match any known missing person report, and no one has come forward with knowledge of his identity, despite considerable media coverage. For more background information about Benjaman Kyle, see “A Real Live Nobody” in SavannahNow.