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.
Yesterday, RootsTelevision.com celebrated its two-year birthday.Â RootsTelevision was created by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and Marcy Brown in 2006, and currently contains programs in 25 different channels!Â You can read more about the site and about its creation at Megan’s Roots World.
You might remember that a few weeks ago I was interviewed by Dick Eastman for RootsTelevision.com, which was a terrific experience.Â And don’t forget, you can stay up-to-date on RootsTelevision.com’s DNA Channel right here at The Genetic Genealogist!
This Friday, September 5th, I’ll be attending the FGS meeting in Philadelphia.Â I’m excited because this is my first big genealogy meeting (after 20 years of genealogy!), and because I get to sit and watch some great presenters discuss genetic genealogy.Â The program is here.
I hope to meet some other genealogy bloggers, if any of you are planning to attend!
I’ve decided to join the 2008 Genea-Blogger Group Games (see here for more info).Â I’m a little late, but the organizers have decided to allow entrants until tonight at 9:00pm PDT.Â The Opening Ceremonies were held on Friday.Â I’m hoping to put a genetic genealogy twist on my entries, if possible, to highlight how genetics can augment traditional genealogical research.
The categories I plan to participate in are:
- Back Up Your Data!
- A. Prepare a comprehensive backup plan for your digital research files and a security plan for your hard copies and photos
- C. Backup all your data using a flash drive, an external drive, CDs, DVDs, or an online resource
- E. All your data is backed up digitally and secured physically and you can recover from any disaster while losing only one month or less worth of research
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.”