2015-01-15 10.37.57I bet you thought I fell down that rabbit hole in the SLIG Beginning DNA class and would never find my way back out, right? 

It took me a while, but I AM back! It was like when you walk into a dark room and you kind of fumble around until you find the light switch. If there’s already someone in the room, and they know where the switch is, and they give you some instructions, it’s much easier to find, right?

That’s how I felt in day three of the beginning DNA class. Up until this point, we’d been taught a lot of theory, but on day three it all came together.

CeCe Moore taught the Wednesday morning block of classes. Moore is well-known for her work in Genetic Genealogy. You may have seen her on “CBS This Morning,” or  “20/20,” or have read a quote by her in the “Wall Street Journal,” or the “Washington Post.” She’s worked as a consultant for the PBS show, “Finding Your roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,” and the “Genealogy Roadshow.” Her blog is Your Genetic Genealogist. 

Moore counseled us that if we want to discover the best matches to our DNA, we need to “fish in all three ponds,” namely AncestryDNA, 23andMe, AND FamilyTreeDNA (see the link in the right column). She said that if we only test with one company, we might “miss a key match sitting in one of those databases.”

Since we’d already learned about X-DNA, Y-DNA, and micochondrial DNA, Moore jumped into autosomal DNA. Autosomal DNA sits in chromosomes numbered 1-22. On each chromosome, we get one part from our mother, one from our father.

You can use autosomal DNA for clues to help break through your brick walls, such as:

  • Glean clues from dead ends in your research
  • Find maiden names
  • Push back African American lines
  • Help those adopted find their ancestry

Moore walked us through how to access our DNA matches, download them into a spreadsheet, and then how to manipulate and interpret the data. It was really great to see how she works with the data. Step-by-step instructions were included in the syllabus, so we could sit back and really watch everything on the screen, rather than have our nose in our books, frantically taking notes.

As I watched her presentation, that’s when it happened. I found the light switch and turned it on! I finally understood this new language and how to use it.

In the afternoon, Blaine Bettinger, PhD, lectured on the ethical issues involved in Genetic Genealogy and discussed the need for standards. To identify genetic genealogy standards, an ad hoc committee was formed. After much discussion, they compiled the first draft, and released it for public feedback. Seventy-five people submitted comments, then the ad hoc committee wrote a final draft which was publicly announced last Saturday at the First Annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, Genealogy Colloquium. These standards are addressed to the genealogists, not the companies.

The Genetic Genealogy Standards are available to viewing through Bettinger’s Genetic Genealogist website. Bettinger expounded on the standards concerning gathering DNA such as company offerings, raw data, DNA storage, terms of service, privacy, access by third parties, sharing results, scholarship, health information, and designating a beneficiary.

There are also standards for interpretation of test results: unexpected results, different types of tests, Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, limitations of Y-DNA testing, limitations of ethnicity analysis, interpretation of DNA test results, DNA as part of genealogical proof, and citing DNA test results.

He talked about how to “beg for spit.” He recommended we educate, engage, and expedite.  Educate the potential DNA tester by sharing your relationship with them, what you need, why you need it, and that it will not be used for medical testing. To engage a potential tester, Bettinger recommended we send a screen shot of the chromosome where you think there is a match, say the results may show their ethnicity, but don’t over promise. “Draw them into the mystery,” and tell them they can help you solve the mystery. You may create a short story on Treelines.com that you can email the tester and engage them in the family story. Link to your online tree so others can access it. To expedite it, you need to pay for the test.

Next, Bettinger put us to work on a Family History Project with a family tree, siblings, half-siblings, 1st cousins, 2nd cousins,…6th cousins, etc. We were to calculate the relationship between people, even down to 2nd cousins twice removed! Then we needed to calculate the approximate percentages of DNA those two may share.  We discussed our answers and received correction or clarification as needed.

It sounds really technical and complicated, but I got it!!!

Day Four, Thursday, we focused on ethnicity and more autosomal DNA, of which “phasing” is a way to determine what you got from your mother and what you got from your father. We worked through more exercises in the Family History Project, then went over our answers.

That’s what I love about the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy classes. We get high quality instruction, a chance to ask questions and have them answered, and a time to work through exercises to apply the things we learned.

CeCe Moore showed us some case studies where she helped others find their families, whether they were fatherless, a foundling, or adopted or brick walls.  It’s amazing how much good she’s been able to do with DNA putting families back together.

Day Five, Friday, we learned about the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) and educational opportunities to continue our learning. At the conclusion of our class, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, handed out our completion certificates.

Thank you Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., and CeCe Moore! We couldn’t have asked for better instructors!

Because of this class, I’m not walking in the dark any more. I feel ready to use DNA in my research and to augment my paper trail proof. 

So what did other students think about the class?

Things clicked for Renee Capels from Lakewood, California. She said, “It’s everything I was hoping for and more.” She explained that before this course, when she looked at the data, she didn’t know how to interpret it.  Now she knows what to do with the DNA matches.

Skip Duett of Syracuse, New York, UpstateNYRoots.com, said, “The exercises were particularly valuable. The interaction with nationally recognized experts valuable. Their passion of genetic genealogy shined though.”

Hopefully, after reading these blog posts, you feel empowered that you, too, can learn how to use genetic genealogy in your research. 

See also, “Delving Into DNA: SLIG Day One,” and “I Fell Down the Rabbit Hole: SLIG Day Two.”