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.
Last week the genetic genealogy community lost one of its treasured members, Leo W. Little.
Leo’s passing was announced on the GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list on Sunday evening. Since then, many members of that mailing list, the ISOGG Yahoo Group, and the DNA- ANTHROGENEALOGY Yahoo Group have expressed their sympathy to Leo’s family and expressed their admiration for his work and contributions to the field of genetic genealogy.
Leo was the administrator of at least two DNA Projects, including the null439 DNA Project, and the Little DNA Project. The null439 group was begun by Leo after he helped characterize the “Little SNP” in 2002, a SNP that is also called “L1″ or “S26″. In 2005 Leo posted an email to the GENEALOGY-DNA that explained the discovery of the SNP, which defines the R1b1b2a1c Haplogroup in the new 2008 ISOGG Y-DNA Haplogroup Tree (previously known as R1b1c9a). The L1 SNP causes the primers used by Family Tree DNA to analyze Y-STR repeats at DYS439 to fail to anneal, and thus no result is recorded for that locus (i.e., it is “null”). The result is recorded as a default 12 with a blue asterisk. Here is Leo’s description from the null439 page:
The Genetic Genealogist has been accepted to 9rules in the latest round of submissions! I’m honored to be accepted since 9rules is a collection of some of the best blogs around, and I hope that I can live up to the challenge. 9rules has a ‘technology’ community, but not a ‘science’ community; think there’s any chance they’ll start one? More news to come.
And don’t forget that starting next Tuesday I’m starting a great nine-part series of interviews with some of the biggest names in the field of genetic genealogy!
Portfolio presents an interesting four-part series by David Ewing Duncan about personal genomics. But before I go on, it is important to realize that this series focuses on personal genomics – analysis of SNPs or sequencing throughout the genome – rather than the much narrower field of genetic genealogy. Although there are some ethical concerns surrounding genetic genealogy, they are not specifically addressed in the series.
Portfolio’s public relations coordinator circulated a summary of the series (I wish I had a PR coordinator!):
In Portfolio.com columnist David Ewing Duncanâ€™s four-part series, â€œYou 2.0,â€ he assess and compares three major websites recently launched that test a personâ€™s DNA for risk-factors for everything from Alzheimerâ€™s Disease and heart attack to drug addiction, an ability to taste bitterness, and ancestry. Is this information ready for prime time? Can it really predict a healthy personâ€™s medical future? Duncan has been tested by 23andme, deCodeme, and Navigenics, and reports on his sometime contradictory and confusing, sometimes funny, and occasionally enlightening results gleaned from these controversial sites that are attempting to bring genetics directly to the people.
For new readers of The Genetic Genealogist, 23andMe is a personal genomics company that offers a service to examine more than 600,000 SNPs throughout an individual’s genome. The information is then used to analyze ancestry (using Y-DNA and mtDNA) and to estimate propensity for disease. For much more info about 23andMe and similar companies, look under “Personal Genomics” on my Featured Articles page.
Today, 23andMe announced on their blog – The Spittoon – the winner of the company’s first ‘Win Your Genome Contest’. The contest was to describe Lilly Mendel, a publicly available but anonymous profile at 23andMe – based upon her genetic information alone. The winner was Mike Cariaso, who previously created a program that analyzes 23andMe SNP data using the growing SNPedia database.
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:
To the readers coming from yesterday’s article by George C. Morgan in The Ancestry Weekly Journal, welcome to The Genetic Genealogist! The eBook that George mentioned – I Have the Results of My Genetic Genealogy Test, Now What? – is available by simply clicking “Download Now” in the right sidebar.
If you are interested in reading more about genetic genealogy and personal genomics, visit my Featured Articles page for all of my favorite and most popular articles. And please subscribe to my feed to stay up-to-date on the latest in genetic genealogy news and information.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be featuring an interview series with some of the biggest names in genetic genealogy, so stay tuned!