Sunday, May 25, 2014

Upcoming Events and Why I Have Been Too Busy to Blog

I'm sorry that I haven't had time to blog much lately, but I wanted to share a few of my activities with readers of YGG, so you will know that I have not deserted you. I am presently working as a genetic genealogy consultant and educator more than full time. Here are some of the things that are going on with me that you might be interested in:

23andMe Google+ Hangout Video
On Thursday, I participated in a Google+ Hangout with 23andMe. It begins with my presentation, a very basic 30 minute walk-through of the 23andMe Ancestry features, followed by a 30 minute question/answer discussion with Ancestry Product Manager, Laurie Kahn, Christine Moschella from Customer Care and me. You can watch the video below, but I recommend viewing it directly on YouTube (by clicking the YouTube logo at the bottom right of the screen) and watching it full screen to see the details on my slides. This video was intended for beginners, but the later discussion may be of interest to others.  (I should probably thank CJ Swenson of 23andMe for bearing with my schedule limitations while trying to get this on the calendar for several months!)


World Science Festival in NYC - May 29
This upcoming week I will be participating in the World Science Festival in New York City as part of an exciting panel discussion entitled "It's All Relatives: The Science of Your Family Tree" with Genomic Scientist Catherine Ball of AncestryDNA, Geneticist/Anthropologist Mark D. Shriver, Geneticist/Anthropologist Brenna Henn and moderated by Broadcast Journalist Randall Pinkston. The event will be hosted by Louise Mirrer, CEO and President of the New-York Historical Society.

Researching the farthest branches of your family tree is now faster, cheaper, more accessible and more accurate than ever before. Today you can find distant living relatives, learn how you are related to important historical figures or discover how your ancestors participated in major movements in human history.  And, using advanced technologies to analyze face structure and skin pigmentation, evolutionary geneticists can determine what your ancestors actually looked like.  Join a conversation among leading researchers about how gains in computational power, together with technological innovations, are allowing scientists to come ever closer to understanding how we are all connected.

"It's All Relatives" will be held at the New-York Historical Society on Thursday, May 29th at 6:00 pm. Further information can be found and tickets purchased here.

Harper's Magazine June Issue
The lead story in this month's Harper's Magazine is "America's Ancestry Craze: Making Sense of America's Family Tree Obsession" by Maud Newton. It includes some details of my work excerpted from extensive discussions with the very talented author (and genealogist) last year. Maud will be following up with a book published by Random House to further investigate this subject that is near and dear to many of our hearts.  The magazine can be found at select newsstands and is available to subscribers online.

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr - Season Two
We are finally close to wrapping up the interviews for season two of the PBS series "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr."  The season will begin to air Tuesday, September 23 and will include interviews with Ben Affleck, Sally Field, Derek Jeter, Deepak Chopra, Tina Fey, Valerie Jarrett, Carole King, Tony Kushner, Ken Burns, Angela Bassett, Alan Dershowitz, Ming Tsai, Aaron Sanchez, Tom Colicchio, Rebecca Lobo, Nas Jones, Billie Jean King, Stephen King, Courtney Vance and several others. This has been a huge undertaking for me since I am the only genetic genealogist working on the show and I analyze the results of all of the guests across three companies (AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA). This upcoming month will be my year anniversary working with Professor Gates on the show and his personal genetic genealogy. It sure went by fast (even though I didn't get much sleep)!

Dr. Gates and I, last year's SCGS DNA Day

SCGS Jamboree and DNA Day
SCGS Jamboree is fast approaching where I will be giving three presentations and participating in one panel discussion. My first presentation on Thursday June 5th at 10:00 am will be live streamed, "Real Life Cases from the Desk of a DNA Genealogy Detective". There will be many genetic genealogists presenting both on Thursday and throughout the rest of the conference weekend. Here is my schedule:

DNA Thursday 
TH003 - Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. "Real World Stories from the Desk of a DNA Detective." DNA testing is revealing unexpected surprises in the trees of many genealogists, involving both immediate and more distant ancestors. These surprises often lead to fascinating stories that could never have been unearthed without DNA and this new-found knowledge has taught us that our family trees on paper may not always be the same as our true genetic genealogy. After learning of its potential to reveal and unravel complex family relationships, many are flocking to DNA testing to solve their own family mysteries. Actual cases from the presenter’s own files will be shared.

TH017 - Thursday 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. "Autosomal DNA: Discovering Your Ancestors in You." As genealogists, we have all invested a significant amount of time and effort searching for information about our ancestors. Rapidly advancing genetic technologies have now made it possible to discover more about our ancestors and in ways we never could have imagined. CeCe will demonstrate the methods that the experts use to get the most out of their results, including chromosome mapping and applications for adoption and African American genealogy. Examples from CeCe's research will be shared to demonstrate the potential for using autosomal DNA to discover more about our ancestors.

Jamboree Weekend
FR019  - Friday 4:00pm - 5:00pm. "Why Should I Take a DNA Test?" This is an introductory presentation for genealogists interested in venturing into DNA testing. It will cover the basics of the three types of DNA testing used for genealogy: Y-DNA, mtDNA and autosomal DNA as well as the pros and cons of the major companies offering services to the genealogy community. Come learn about the potential of DNA testing for opening doors and breaking down brick walls in your genealogy!

SA049  - Saturday 5:00pm - 6:00 pm.  ISOGG Panel: "Ask the Experts about DNA and Genealogy." This presentation is sponsored by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). Where are we now? What is the current "state of the art" in relation to each of the major DNA tests? What test tells the percentage of inheritance from different areas of the world? What new tools and utilities will be developed by independent developers? What does the future hold for genetic genealogy? These questions and more will be answered by the experts. Alice Fairhurst, Moderator with panelists: Blaine Bettinger PhD JD, Katherine Borges, Dr. Maurice Gleeson and CeCe Moore. (90 minutes)

GRIPitt "Practical Genetic Genealogy" Course
I am also preparing for the upcoming Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh course in July where I will be teaching with Blaine Bettinger, PhD, JD and Debbie Parker-Wayne, CG (course coordinator). The course sold out mere minutes after registration opened, so the GRIPitt administrators arranged for a second classroom. This will double our teaching load, but will allow many more people to benefit from this intensive, week-long education. Due to its popularity, we will be offering this course again in 2015 (twice).

Institute for Genetic Genealogy Conference
Tim Janzen and I are very happy with how planning is moving along for the I4GG conference. The conference will be held August 15-17 in Washington D.C. and is intended for a wide audience. We will have presentations geared for the beginner all the way through to the advanced genetic genealogist. I have heard quite a few people remark that they aren't advanced enough to attend, so I want to emphasize that everyone is welcome no matter what experience level they have with genetic genealogy. In addition to the more basic presentations like mine "The Four Types of DNA Used in Genetic Genealogy" (title subject to change), there will be workshops presented by both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA on Friday (AncestryDNA has also been invited to host a workshop). These workshops will undoubtedly be of great benefit to the less experienced attendees. I will be posting more updates about this conference in the next day or so.

SLIG Genetic Genealogy Courses
Angie Bush and I will be co-coordinating the "Advanced DNA Analysis Techniques" course for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in January and I will also be teaching in the "Getting Started with Genetic Genealogy" course coordinated by Debbie Parker Wayne, CG. The advanced course has several prerequisites since it is intended for the intermediate to advanced genetic genealogist, but the "Getting Started" course is open to any level.   

Registration for both opens on June 14th at 9:00am (Mountain Time).

Working on Various Unknown Parentage Cases
I continue to work on several unknown parentage cases, such as the one involving Paul Fronczak (and others that remain private) with my team(s). These types of cases take a tremendous amount of time and effort, but are well worth it in the long run. 

I hope to have the opportunity to catch up with many of you soon!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

AncestryDNA at the National Genealogical Society Conference - A Report from Angie Bush

My colleague and friend, Angie Bush, is attending the National Genealogical Society's conference in Richmond, Virginia this week. She has kindly agreed to fill my readers in on any interesting DNA news from NGS. Her report on the AncestryDNA presentation given by Kenny Freestone follows.

I attended the AncestryDNA presentation by Senior Product Manager, Kenny Freestone, in hopes of learning what new and exciting features Ancestry has on the horizon for genetic genealogists. There was not much new information presented, but there were a few things that I thought might be worth mentioning:

1. In response to questions about AncestryDNA's plans for adding a chromosome browser or segment data, Kenny repeated that Ancestry is working on something that would give their customers access to that type of data, but that it would be something different than what current chromosome browsers offer. No date was provided for launch or when such a feature might appear. He did admit that at this point the tools that Ancestry has for triangulating data are quite lacking. This tells me that they recognize that there is a need for these features. I can only hope that when these new tools are finally released that they really are as good as what they are claimed to be. I found it very interesting that he used a slide showing how he inherited DNA from a set of third great-grandparents and that he illustrated chromosomes, but that Ancestry provides their customers no way to view this type of information.

2. In a somewhat related slide, Kenny showed several of his lines that had been "confirmed" by DNA shaky leaf hints. He said that this was "independent" evidence that his tree was correct. As readers of this blog know, unfortunately you cannot always say that is the case. As a serious genealogist and scientist, I continue to find the lack of segment data to be a problem. In both disciplines it is imperative that data be able to be reviewed. On the genealogy side of Ancestry's site, they do provide the actual images or data in many instances. When viewing any educational video by Ancestry, there is always encouragement to look at the actual image, as it contains so much more information than the transcription. I just cannot understand why this same level of access to the underlying data is kept hidden on the DNA side of their site. 

3. Kenny was asked a question by someone who has Jewish background regarding why there are so many matches at a high level and yet no common ancestor is discovered. Genetic genealogists who have worked with endogamous populations know this can a difficult problem. Kenny did say that they are actively working on this issue, but have not yet come up with a solution.

4. I have long wanted to understand the cut-off levels for how AncestryDNA is predicting matches. For example, if AncestryDNA predicts that you are a 1st - 2nd cousin to a match, then how much total DNA do you share with that person and how many segments do you share? 23andMe and FTDNA have always provided this information. Kenny flashed the following slide, which may be helpful in determining the parameters they are using for predictions:

200 megabases for 2nd cousins

150 megabases for 3rd cousins
100 megabases for 4th cousins
30 megabases for 5th cousins
20 megabases for 6th cousins
10 megabases for those further out

This slide raised a question as to whether or not AncestryDNA is using centimorgans or megabases in their matching algorithms. Kenny clarified that they are using a combination. They switched to using centimorgans in November - December 2013. If you tested recently, then your matches are in centimorgans. If it was prior to that date, then your matches are in megabases.

5. Kenny told us that the communication/contact rate between DNA customers was twice that the communication rate between regular customers.

6. An audience member asked if Ancestry stored the sample for future/other tests. Kenny didn't directly answer this and said that as the science improves that they will just apply those improvements to the current test. He did say that the only thing better than their test was a full genome sequence, and for that a new sample would need to be submitted.

7. I appreciated the fact that Kenny emphasized that the ethnicity information is an ESTIMATE. It is important that we all remember that the science that each company uses to give us our admixture is still in it's infancy and that each company uses different reference populations to do so. It behooves all of us to take this information with a grain of salt no matter which company we test with.

8. Kenny did a great job answering several questions from audience members regarding Y-DNA and mtDNA testing that were completely unrelated to the product that AncestryDNA offers. Attendees even had specific questions about surname and haplogroup projects. This highlighted the need for those of us in the genetic genealogy community to reach out to the genealogists and help them to understand the power of DNA. Things we take for granted such as the three types of tests and the companies that offer these tests can be confusing. If DNA is to be effectively used as a genealogical research tool or record, there is a significant amount of education that will need to be done.

9. Lastly, after the presentation, Kenny showed me that Ancestry has a new "spit kit." The return box and packaging are much more compact now and the kit itself is a bit different. I asked if there were plans to offer some type of assisted collection kit or "cheek swab" as the spit kit can be difficult for older individuals. He said that they recognized this was a need and that Ancestry probably would do something to address it, but that he couldn't confirm anything.

The new AncestryDNA Kit - Packaging
AncestryDNA Kit Contents
AncestryDNA Compact Return Mailer

Thanks to Angie for this AncestryDNA/NGS update!