Monday, August 26, 2013

Kelly Wheaton's Beginners' Guide to Genetic Genealogy

Genetic genealogist Kelly Wheaton has been hard at work on a beginner's guide to genetic genealogy for the last couple of weeks. She was inspired to share her extensive knowledge by a thread on the ISOGG DNA Newbie mailing list asking (begging!) for easier to understand resources. Since my readers are always clamoring for more educational resources as well, I am very happy to be able to introduce it to you all.

Kelly doesn't draw a lot of attention to herself, but she has been a long-time contributor to the DNA Newbie list and a frequent poster on the 23andMe forums. She has always generously shared her knowledge through these forums and on her website. I consider her to be a very valuable asset to our community. I'm sure you will agree after reading her new guide.

Kelly Wheaton
The guide has received unanimously good reviews from those of us who have read it. One of the nice things about it is that it breaks the instruction into easily digestible pieces, by keeping each lesson short and concise. There are thirteen lessons so far and Kelly says that she will continue to add to it. As she was writing, Kelly had the foresight to share it with "newbies" to receive feedback and make sure that it is understandable for the beginner. This has resulted in a very easy-to-understand resource. Kelly is continuing to accept suggestions for improvements and additions.

You can find this wonderful guide here. Thank you Kelly for all of your hard work and valuable contributions to our community.

Debbie Kennett has just created a page on the ISOGG Wiki with links to beginners' guides here. Right now it only has Kelly's guide and my series for Please add to it if you find basic resources which are helpful to you and, while you are there, look around. The Wiki is a great resource in itself!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Autosomal DNA: A Revelation for African Americans Searching for their Roots

Lately, I have been having great success with autosomal DNA for African American genealogy research. This has been especially true at AncestryDNA with the plethora of trees attached to the DNA matches and the ease of identifying and analyzing patterns with the new search filters and Jeff Snavely's great tool. What was once a dream for African Americans searching for their roots prior to Emancipation is finally becoming a reality. 

Last week I came across a very meaningful example of this and wanted to share it with you. Over at the 23andMe forum, there is a 14 part thread (must be logged in to access) started by genetic genealogist extraordinaire Kelly Wheaton discussing AncestryDNA. Kelly asked the following question of the participants:

"Did AncestryDNA prove to be genealogical helpful? Would you recommend it to others in spite of its shortcomings?" 

One of the responses was so beautifully written and powerful that I wanted to share it with you. With permission, it follows:

"I’ve thought long and hard about this question. For me, AncestryDNA restored my lost heritage and helped me complete an important journey I began many years ago.

For years beginning in the mid 1960s I was the only African American male in my school in central Michigan.  It was difficult and on more than one occasion I endured being called the “N” word, but in the 5th grade I had an exceptional white teacher who cared more about teaching than anything else. She took an interest in me that no other teacher had. I remember her excitedly telling me something about my score on some intelligence test and that she moved me into advanced classes. Years later, I earned a bachelors degree from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor at the age of 19 and eventually became one of the youngest lawyers in my state.

Anyway, one of the assignments that this teacher gave the class was to go home and find out why our ancestors had come to America. I had never thought about that one, but I was later disappointed to hear my parents tell me that we were just “American Negroes” and we came here as slaves. The depiction of slaves in my school books from which they were teaching mainly white, northern children was that slaves were badly clothed, unkempt people with smiling, but dumb expressions on their faces. Supposedly they were slaves because they liked the hot sun and weren’t good for much else. What a horrible and false image to put in a book for children! And how many people still believe that image because that’s what they were taught in school?

When I returned to class the teacher asked each of us what we’d learned. My sense of embarrassment and inferiority deepened. Some kids had ancestors from wonderful sounding places like Ireland and France. Some had ancestors who came on the Mayflower. Others had ancestors who fought for independence. I had no countries of origin of which to boast, only negative, stereotypical images taught to us in our school books.

My parents were concerned. A few years later in the early 1970s or late 60s, my step dad saw an article in the newspaper that a man named Alex Haley was coming to speak on tracing your family tree. The epic Roots had not been completed and most people would not have recognized Haley’s name. I went to hear him and learned much. I followed his advice for years afterward and learned of my courageous slave ancestors who escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad and who helped free others. I also learned of my mother’s grandfather who was born a slave but became a newspaper publisher and one of the first black lawyers in his state. And there were many others who clearly debunked the monstrous lies behind the negative images of slaves they taught me and the largely white student body in my school.

But even with what Haley taught me, there were many, many brick walls. I couldn’t discover where in Africa my ancestors came from or when. Then came AncestryDNA. First it revealed to me that my ancestry was almost equally divided between Europe and West Africa. It told me of ancestral origins in Benin or Cameroon. Other services also identified Senegal. But AncestryDNA also revealed the family connection between my slave ancestors and those who enslaved them. It brought me full circle back to the fifth grade in revealing ancestors in my past just like the other kids boasted of all those years ago. It led me to my ancestors from England, Ireland, France and other places. There was a Mayflower passenger. There were ancestors I shared in common with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even President Obama.

So, in answer to your question, is AncestryDNA worth it? Absolutely! For me, it's a life changer and one of the most important things I've ever experienced. 

--- Charles Holman

Charles with his cousins Lynne Goransson and her daughter Dr. Leslie Goransson
Charles met his previously unknown cousins Lynne Goransson and her daughter Dr. Leslie Goransson through They are related through a slaveholding ancestor.