i4GG 2017 (Institute for Genetic Genealogy) conference in San Diego was my second i4GG conference, and it did not disappoint! My very first DNA conference was the 2016 i4GG conference, and a lot has changed in a year. One of the strengths of this year’s i4GG conference is that the speakers gave entirely new presentations. They did not repeat material for the most part, except for some basic things that needed to be reviewed or covered for first-time attendees. Those were presented with new slides and new talking points, from what I experienced.
I didn’t take many photos, mostly because we were asked not to photograph speaker’s slides. The photos here from the conference are courtesy of J. Paul Hawthorne. The conference videos will be available to purchase around February 2018, and I highly recommend you get them and watch them, if you want to learn a lot about using DNA.
Saturday morning Keynote: CeCe Moore
In 2009, to be considered an expert in genetic genealogy, you had to know all about Y-DNA, and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and the ins and outs of FamilyTreeDNA, the company that offers those tests for purchase to the general public.
Now, in 2017, to be considered an expert in genetic genealogy, you need to know all about using and interpreting autosomal DNA (atDNA), the type of test you get from ancestry.com, 23andMe, MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and/or LivingDNA. You need to know how to navigate results at all those companies, plus at GEDmatch.com, which is not a testing company, but a free third-party tool.
I personally know little about Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA tests, but fortunately for me, it’s 2017, not 2009, and I know quite a bit about autosomal DNA and what to do with results from all the main companies. Phew!
Credentials for genetic genealogists: There are none, at this time. As a community, we need to determine what these will look like and who will issue these. Someone with APG (Association of Professional Genealogists) certification is not always an expert in DNA. Search angels and others with extensive genetic genealogy experience are not necessarily certified genealogists.
One of the key concepts of genetic genealogy is how to identify matches on a DNA match list with limited information.
Another key concept is that DNA testing is revealing family secrets. “There is a very good chance of finding something surprising in your tests and other’s tests,” so we need to give people a heads up before they test. Of course, we still want everyone to test (when they’re ready to test), but they need to be prepared for secrets to be unlocked.
CeCe and many other genetic genealogists and unknown parentage experts strongly believe family secrets are not healthy, and that knowing the truth is very healing. DNA testing is leading to forgiveness and healing.
Specialized genetic counseling or adoption therapy is something to look into for birth moms, adoptees and other family members who take DNA tests. WatershedDNA.com is a specialized counseling firm in Virginia that CeCe recommends. Check out the resources page, which has a Find a Genetic Counselor link to find someone in your state or province (If in USA or Canada), but be sure they specialize in the area you need (adoption counseling, or whatever it may be): https://www.watersheddna.com/resources/
Sadly, CeCe says she sees cases of incest almost every day, whether siblings, father and daughter and even mother and son. Fortunately, I haven’t seen one yet with the people I’ve helped.
CeCe thinks it best if people work their own case, so they find out about their family history as they go. So that is something I need to consider. Instead of building people’s trees for them, how can I work side by side with them more? I have done that with some people. I’ve gone to their houses, or they’ve come to my house if I’ve known them awhile, or we have met at the library. It’s not as convenient for me as working in my pajamas by myself at midnight (or let me be honest, in my pajamas at noon, sometimes…), but if that is what is best, I am for it.
CeCe said that genetic genealogy is rewriting history, changing the future and changing society and crossing color lines, and that we should be very proud that we are genetic genealogists.
The following are the other presentations I attended Saturday morning.
The Limitations of Cousin Matching by Blaine Bettinger
Blaine is skilled at data mining, and doing experiments to see what rises to the top as significant.
He demonstrated that a large percentage (59%) of his matches who share less than 7 centiMorgans (cM) with him, are not shared with either of his parents. They are potentially false matches, what he calls The Danger Zone. (I hope you can hear that old Kenny Loggins song used in Top Gun movie in your head,“Highway to the Danger Zone”!).
About 27% of his matches who share 7-10 cM with him do not also match one of his parents – what he calls The Caution Zone. He strongly suggests we focus on matches with whom we share at least 10 cM of DNA, what he calls The Safe Zone.
He talked us through phasing, which is something you can do on GEDmatch.com tools when you have one or both parents who have tested. Phasing determines the parental source of a SNP (pronounced “snip”).
SNP definition from Genetic Genealogy in Practice by Blaine and Debbie Parker Wayne: The base pair found at one rung of the DNA ladder; a base pair can vary from one person to another.
What can you do with a phased kit? Significantly reduce the number of false matches, for one thing.
If you do not have parents alive to test or willing to test, but you have a child, you can try pseudo-phasing, by using My Evil Twin tool at GEDmatch.1. It is part of Tier 1, an optional upgrade, with $10/month charge to use Tier 1 tools.
Create a phased kit with 50% of DNA you gave child from their test results (the new kit will be given a unique kit number from their regular kit), and create a My Evil Twin kit that will have the other 50% you didn’t give your child, which will also have a different kit number.
There will be some errors with pseudo-phasing, because it glosses over or doesn’t account for recombination. Pseudo-phasing will reduce the number of potentially false matches, though.
The trend is not to focus so much on chromosome segment data, because we have many more high matches now than in past years when the databases were much smaller.
You can find Blaine’s blog at thegeneticgenealogist.com
Tips and Tricks from the Genetic Genealogy Trenches by Carol Isbister Rolnick
This was the most useful class to me of the weekend, as I learned some new tricks I will be using when helping people with unknown parentage build their family trees. I can’t share some of the best tricks here, as then the tricks would not work as well if they were out there in the general public. But message me if you need to know.
On Ancestry, if they have a tree on their profile page, click full tree to look at the NAME of the full tree – it can be different than the name in their public tree list or unattached tree list and can give important clues to their surname.
Google search tips for finding a match:
- User name + genealogy
- User names + genealogy
- User name + known surnames
- Surnames + obituary (or obit) Maybe only a mortuary ran the obituary
Tips for finding someone from a profile photo:
- Google their profile image if no name (Works about 10% of the time)
- You must use Chrome browser, or maybe Firefox (not Safari)
- Right click on image
- Choose image address
- And/or choose “Pages that include matching images”
Use the green messaging button from Ancestry’s DNA page for your match. This feature has been fixed by Ancestry, and the match should get an email. There’s no need to message them from the orange button on their profile page now.
Tips on messages:
- Try to determine who they are before messaging.
- Be specific in your subject line.
- Balance your message between underwhelming and overwhelming.
- Ask specific questions. (Examples: Do you know how you are connected to _____? Can you share the names of your paternal grandparents? Do you know who your aunts married? Can you kindly share your private tree? Can you speak on Saturday?)
- Offer to help them. (Example: If you don’t have a tree, I am happy to share mine. If you don’t have a tree, I can help you get started. All I need are your four grandparents’ names, and I can build back from there.)
- Include alternate contact information (Your phone number and email address.)
- Follow up if you don’t hear back. People get busy, and sometimes mean to respond but don’t get to it.
To solve 15-20% of her cases, a phone call was needed.
Examples of how to ask, especially someone who is very busy with work and family: “Do you mind, could I have just 15 minutes of your time to talk to you about your tree? When is a good time for you?”
Your attitude and voice when calling are key! Best results come from being as mild-mannered and non-assertive as possible.
Do NOT ask them right off the bat about living people, as people are worried about possible scams and identity theft and privacy. They are more willing to talk about dead people.
Use the word “mystery” when you call. Many people would like to help solve a mystery. Make it sound fun and intriguing. Do not call it a scandal, or mention the words adoption or adopted.
If your call goes to voicemail, always leave a message and your cell phone number. Half the time, people are just screening their calls to avoid telemarketers. More people than you would think, especially the older generation, still have an answering machine on a landline.
Do NOT use these tips when calling suspected birth parents or siblings. There’s a different approach for that, not covered in this presentation. Also, usually the adoptee or unknown parentage person should make those calls.
Do NOT use these tips when calling about misattributed parentage (when someone who is believed to be a parent turns out not to be a parent) for the same reasons as above.
Charting your matches to visualize them. Carol uses and really loves Scapple. Mac App store: $14.99
- Double click on screen to make a box. Put in name and year of birth only.
- Put amount of DNA shared in box if known.
- Possible relationship under the box.
GenealogyBank subscription service is good for finding obituaries, so it’s worth a try if newspapers.com and Google are not pulling it up. Remember, sometimes there is no obituary.
Carol can be reached at rolnickresearch.com
Lunch break: I ate lunch with Heather Goebel, another Arizona attendee (she lives part-time in the San Diego area), and met two new people. Heather and one of the women have Newfoundland, Canadian ancestry, so I got to hear a little about that. Newfoundland is another endogamous population, meaning there was a small pool of potential spouses or mates, if you will, and so the people tended to marry closer cousins, and tend to be more related to each other than they would be otherwise. It throws off the DNA matching numbers, as the centiMorgan number of your match can be higher than the actual relationship.
I went to the following presentations Saturday afternoon, and will share highlights for these and the presentations I went to Sunday in other posts later this week.
Creating and Utilizing Genetic Networks by CeCe Moore
Power Tools for the Genetic Genealogist by Angie Bush, Ancestry ProGenealogists
Science the Heck Out of Your DNA: Using Hypothesis and Probability to Solve Genealogical Questions by Leah Larkin