So, something’s been waking up inside of me at RootsTech and today I decided to feed the beast and learn more. On Day 3 of RootsTech, I attended two more DNA classes, both a bit more remedial, to get a solid DNA foundation.
I haven’t studied Genetics since 9th-grade Biology, and that was a long time ago. What I’ve noticed from talking to other attendees as we discuss DNA is it would be easy to either make someone glossy-eyed with technical jargon overload or oversimplify the science to the point of saying “you spit in a tube and then a miracle occurs and you have people matches and ethnicity reports.”
All the lectures I’ve attended have been amazing–some more technical than others–but I’ve walked away from each lecture with a better understanding of the science and the opportunities. And that’s no small feat for a technical topic. So bravo speakers!
Two Terrific DNA Classes (grab the handouts)
I attended We Are Family! A Look at our Genetic Homelands, by Diahan Southard of Your DNA Guide. Diahan is a popular presenter and did a great job explaining some of the benefits and limitations of ethnicity reports in autosomal DNA tests (they’re not completely worthless). She also gave a nice background on how companies create these reports from the data and the struggles they face in an ever-improving science. Her handout has some basic, foundational principles if you’re interested in DNA testing. I’ll blog about DNA more in the future, but a few basic takeaways from her lecture are:
- Your DNA has a place and a time
- SNPs (the parts of your DNA they study in these tests) come in two types:
- recent snips (SNPs) are used to connect you to relatives
- older snips (SNPs) are used to connect you to a location a long, long, long time ago
- Which company best suits your needs (for an autosomal DNA test)? (My Input-I think she was saying if you have one of these specific needs, this is the test for you, but each test offers much, much more than the thing they specialize in and most people have broader needs and should do much more research)
- British Isles, General Europe- Family Tree DNA
- Migrations – Ancestry DNA
- French and German / Sardinian vs. Italian – 23andMe
- Jewish / Sardinian vs Italian – MyHeritageDNA
- UK – LivingDNA
I attended Finding the Right DNA Test for You, by Jim Brewster of FamilyTree DNA. Jim was another amazing presenter and he nailed the answers to some questions I brought. His handout is thorough so be sure to download it. He covered a TON of helpful material. His answer to the oft-asked “What’s the best test for me?” was first an analogy. You walk into a hardware store and ask, “What’s the best tool for me?” The clerk doesn’t just sell you his favorite hammer. He asks, “What are you trying to do?” If you need to drive a nail into a board, he may point you to the “best” hammer. But if you need to cut the board a certain way, he may direct you to the appropriate saw. Then, Jim’s answer to the question “What’s the best test for me?” was,
If you need to:
- Trace your direct Father (paternal) line – take a Y DNA test
- Trace your direct Mother (maternal) line – take a mtDNA test (mitochondrial DNA test)
- Find someone or something in between – take an autosomal DNA test
He also explained the benefits of having each of these tests and the strategies for using test results to narrow down which side of your family any given match is from. (Too much to blog about here.)
I loved so much about Jim’s presentation, but the best part was he presented in an amazingly impartial way, which is difficult because he works for an awesome testing company, FamilyTree DNA.
I’m out of time to post my whole Q&A with him, but before the lecture started I brought up the questions I hear, like “Why does my ethnicity report say I have 0% British Isles DNA when my genealogy records show I have at least 50%?” and “Why does Company A’s ethnicity report say *insert ethnicity percentages* and Company B’s says something completely different?” If those are your burning questions, there’s a good answer, both Diahan and Jim addressed the issue, and it’s not Company A or B’s incompetence.
Know that as more data comes in and the science is refined, companies update your ethnicity reports so check back regularly to see your percentages change. (That’s a partial answer but the explanation is much more involved so I’ll share it another day.)
Best in your research!!!