Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Dr Spencer Wells to give Keynote Address

Dr Spencer Wells of the National Genographic Project is to give the Keynote Address at Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014. Dr Wells is is a leading population geneticist and director of the Genographic Project from National Geographic. 

The Genographic Project is the brainchild of Spencer Wells. First started in 2005, Dr. Wells heads a team of renowned international scientists and uses cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand the genetic roots of all humanity. 

The project has three components:
  1. To collaborate with indigenous and traditional peoples around the world in the collection and analysis of research data
  2. To involve the general public in this real-time scientific project and to learn about their own deep ancestry in the process (by purchasing the DNA Ancestry Kit, Geno 2.0)
  3. To support community-led indigenous conservation and revitalization projects
Dr Wells's own personal journey of discovery led him to enrol at the University of Texas aged only 16 years old. After graduating 3 years later, he pursued his Ph.D. at Harvard University under the tutelage of distinguished evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin. Beginning in 1994, Wells conducted postdoctoral training at Stanford University's School of Medicine with famed geneticist Luca Cavalli-Sforza, considered the "father of anthropological genetics." At Oxford University, he served as director of the Population Genetics Research Group of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford.

In 2001, he shifted his focus to communicating his scientific discovery through books and documentary films. From that was born The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, an award-winning book and documentary that aired on PBS in the U.S. and National Geographic Channel internationally. Written and presented by Wells, the film chronicled his globe-circling, DNA-gathering expeditions in 2001-02 and laid the groundwork for the Genographic Project.

Since the Genographic Project began, Wells's work has taken him to over three dozen countries, including Chad, Tajikistan, Morocco, Papua New Guinea, and French Polynesia, and he recently published his second book, Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project. 

Dr Wells will present an overview of the Genographic Project and the latest developments in his research. Not to be missed!

Dr Spencer Wells describes how DNA is helping to map human migrations out of Africa, going back over 200,000 years, and how a simple cheek swab can reveal amazing information about your deep ancestry and ethnic makeup.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

I4GG's First International Conference on Genetic Genealogy (Aug 15-17)

The last few days have seen an excellent turnout at the first International Conference organised by the Institute for Genetic Genealogy in Washington. This was the first international conference of its kind and a Big Thank You has to go to the far-sighted Tim Janzen and CeCe Moore for organising this fabulous event. 

Over 400 people attended this event, the first of its kind, and what struck a lot of us on the first day was the high level of discussion and debate that occurred amongst the audience both during and after the lectures (in the Question and Answer sessions). Whilst there were beginners there, and the conference certainly catered for them admirably, the majority of the attendees were intermediate to advanced in terms of their knowledge and experience of genetic genealogy. This allowed more high level debate than one sees at general public events and it was a nice and necessary change. So much was learnt from the Q&A sessions after each lecture.

The incredible team from the Maine Gaeltacht Project - they are sending volunteers to swab people from the Galway Gaeltacht area and have over 250 people in their project - this is probably the largest group of native Irish to be tested from the Galway area.
I was particularly enthused, excited and motivated by the sharing of information, experience, and knowledge - this was peer-to-peer discussion at a level never previously seen in the Genetic Genealogy Community. Judging by the deluge of positive comments on Facebook, the conference has left a sizeable impact on all who attended. One is left with the sense that there has been a major evolutionary advance in the field of Genetic Genealogy over the weekend, and we are connected now as a community in a way that few would have anticipated last week!

If you missed it this year, you have to go next year.

The agenda had topics on every aspect of genetic genealogy and there was truly something for everyone. If anything, the conference was too short and 3 days was not enough time to see everyone, socialise, network, and share thoughts and ideas. I was talking so much I almost missed my plane!

Jim Barlett gave an excellent presentation about organising your autosomal matches into Triangulated Groups and using spreadsheets to keep track of what you've done.
Shannon Christmas gave a wonderful talk, peppered with his own inimitable humour, about DNA in African American family tree research, which, like Irish research, is plagued by Brick Walls in the mid-1800's.
The Commercial Companies were well represented. Here we have Joanna Mountain and Christine Moschella from 23andme - both fielded challenging questions from an enthusiastic audience and gave excellent responses.
Dr Spencer Wells of the National Genographic Project gave a very motivating key note speech about human migrations. The great news for us in Ireland is that he will be coming to Dublin in October to speak at Genetic Genealogy Ireland!
The presentations and accompanying handouts will be available online in the near future from the Institute for Genetic Genealogy website. My presentation on the challenges faced when using autosomal DNA in Irish family tree research is now available on YouTube here ...

This discusses a lot of the challenges that I (and many other Irish folk) have encountered in the use of autosomal DNA to break through those Brick Walls in our own family tree, many of which are of general applicability. Various solutions are proposed to help overcome these challenges:
  • Close matches are few
  • People don't share their trees
  • Most matches are distant (and further back than expected)
  • Many people doing Irish Ancestral Research hit a Brick Wall at 1800-1850
  • When is a match not a match?
  • Chromosome Mapping and the importance of inference
  • "Lost in Spreadsheets"
  • the need for "enrichment strategies" to boost the numbers in Triangulated Groups
A lot of people were interested in attending Genetic Genealogy Ireland in Dublin and hopefully we will have a large US contingent. I had a fabulous dinner with some of the DNAadoption community who have done some incredible work helping adoptees reunite with their birth families. In the last year they have used DNA to reconnect 125 individuals. Hopefully one of them will be coming over to Ireland to share their unique experience with us.

Marian Rogers and Karin Corbeil of DNAadoption - successfully reconnecting adoptees with their birth families.

This was a good time to be a Genetic Genealogist.

No ... a great time.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Speakers announced for GGI2014

The genetic genealogy community is well represented at this year’s Genetic Genealogy Ireland. The good news is that this year every possible speaker slot has been used up and the packed lecture schedule promises to be both informative and exhilarating. 

Returning speakers include some very familiar names:
  • Katherine Borges (US), director of ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy
  • Gerard Corcoran (IRL), ISOGG Ireland regional representative
  • Debbie Kennett (UK), author, blogger, project administrator, & Honorary Clinical Research Associate at University College London 
  • Cynthia Wells (US), project administrator, Assistant Director of the Reedy Creek Family History Centre
  • Tyrone Bowes (IRL), director of IrishOrigenes
  • Maurice Gleeson (IRL), project administrator and coordinator of Genetic Genealogy Ireland

New speakers from our genetic genealogy community include:

In addition there will be at least five academic speakers to complete the full presentation schedule, which will be announced in several weeks. All in all, the line up of international speakers promises to make this a very engaging conference with topics of wide appeal to the general Irish public and indeed to anyone with Irish ancestry. Like last year, many of the DNA Lectures will be recorded and can be viewed for free on the Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube Channel. You can expect exciting revelations, the latest scientific discoveries, and genealogy news “hot off the press”.

The DNA Lectures are run in conjunction with Back to Our Past (BTOP), Ireland’s national genealogical exhibition, and there will be something for everyone at the event, whether you are an advanced genetic genealogist or only just starting out with your family tree research. 
  • A host of genealogical companies display their products & services and offer hands-on demonstrations and free use of their websites and software programmes. 
  • There are two sets of traditional genealogy lectures that nicely compliment the DNA Lectures and provide excellent practical information about researching your Irish genealogy. 
  • Last year saw the introduction of free consultation sessions with professional genealogists from APGI (Association of Professional Genealogists of Ireland) so expert individual advice is on hand to help with your specific queries and questions.
  • In addition, BTOP is a great place to socialise, make new friends, and network with genealogy colleagues – there is no better way to spur on your own research. 
  • There will be a special Social Programme for ISOGG members, and this will be announced in a subsequent post.
  • And DNA testing will be available at the FamilyTreeDNA stand with free DNA tests available for some lucky people - check out the Free DNA Tests page on the ISOGG wiki to see if you qualify.

And if you needed another reason to come to this year’s event, Dublin is a great place to consult primary sources, many of which are not available outside of Dublin. All the main repositories are not that far from each other, making it easy to access them:

What would you like to visit?

There is no better time to give your Irish genealogical research a real boost, and no better place than Back to Our Past in Dublin this October. 

See you there!

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Return of Genetic Genealogy Ireland (17-19 Oct 2014, Dublin)

Following its successful launch event in Dublin last year, Genetic Genealogy Ireland returns for a second year of DNA Lectures at the Back to Our Past event in Dublin, once again kindly sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by volunteers from ISOGG.

Last year's event was a great success and videos of many of the presentations have been viewed on the dedicated GGI YouTube Channel by almost 9000 people for about 100,000 minutes (that's over 67 days). So this 3-day event has already left quite a legacy.

This year in Dublin we have two commemorations of intense historical significance - the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, and the start of World War 1 in 1914. Both these historic events are reflected in the lecture schedule for the event, which promises to make this an occasion to remember.

Now is the time to make your arrangements for coming to this year's event and below you will find all the information you need to plan your travel and accomodation.

In a nutshell …

Location: the RDS (Royal Dublin Society), Merrion Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4

Event: Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014 – a series of DNA Lectures, held in conjunction with Back to Our Past, Ireland’s only national genealogical exhibition.

Date: 17th – 19th October 2014 (Friday to Sunday)

Times: 11.30 – 19.00 each day (12.30-19.00 on Friday; last lecture starts at 17.30)

Admission Fee: 10 euro (about £8, $13.50) per day, but 30% discount if booked in advance at, so 21 euro (£17, $28) for all three days. This gives you access to EVERYTHING including the DNA Lectures. No other genealogical exhibition offers you so much for so little. The only real costs involved are getting there and staying there.

The Venue

The RDS (Royal Dublin Society) is Ireland's premier exhibition venue. Founded in 1731, the RDS hosts the famous Dublin Horse Show each year and its Exhibition Centre is equivalent to London's Olympia (where Who Do You Think You Are? Live is hosted each year). It is surrounded by parks, restaurants and affordable accommodation, from Bed & Breakfasts to reasonably-priced hotels. The venue is 15 minutes from Dublin's historic city centre, 5 minutes from Lansdowne Road Football Stadium, and is easily accessible by public transport (both bus and DART). Click here for a link to the RDS on Google Maps.

Back to Our Past – general info

This is the fifth year of Back to Our Past. It is run in association with the Over-50’s Show and the Coin & Stamp Fair. Attendance was 20,000 people in 2012. The exhibition consists of a multitude of stands/booths publicising the activities of organisations and businesses associated with genealogy and family tree research. The BTOP website is at

There are also several series of lectures, dealing with both traditional genealogy and genetic genealogy. Last years lecture schedule is still available on the website and will give you an idea of both the traditional genealogical programme …

- and the DNA Lectures ...

This year’s traditional genealogy programme should be available 4-6 weeks prior to the event and we will notify you of this in due course.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014 – the DNA Lectures 

The DNA lecture schedule will include a panel of international speakers from Ireland, the UK, the US, and Europe. Provisional topics for the lecture schedule include the following:
  • The basics of DNA testing 
  • DNA and Ancient Genealogies (including Brian Boru) 
  • DNA & the fallen soldiers of World War I 
  • Regional Irish DNA signatures (including Connaught, Ulster, & Leinster) 
  • Norman DNA 
  • Irish-Caribbean DNA 
  • The People of the British Isles Project 
  • Using DNA to help adoptees find their biological family 
  • Working with autosomal DNA 
  • Plague and other ancient pandemics 
  • Next Generation Sequencing and the future of genetic genealogy 

The final schedule should be available in August and will be posted on this GGI website. The lectures will run from 11.30 to 18.30 each day (12.30 to 18.30 on Friday). The last lecture of the day starts at 17.30. Thus there will be 7 lectures each day (6 on Friday), 20 lectures in total.

Accomodation & Travel

A variety of Bed & Breakfast and hotel accomodation is close by. Click the links below to explore further. Last year, several US colleagues stayed in the Glenogra Bed & Breakfast which is a 4 minute walk to the venue. Two deluxe hotels are almost opposite the Glenogra, namely the Four Seasons Hotel and Bewley’s Hotel. The more reasonably priced Sandymount Hotel (formerly the Mount Herbert Hotel) is also quite close.

- Bed & Breakfasts

- Reasonably-Priced Hotels

There is plenty to do and see in and around Dublin, and many things are very centrally located so you can see a lot of things on foot. There is a host of activities surrounding the millennial anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 and these can be found here -

The First World War claimed the lives of over 49,000 Irish soldiers and their contribution is remembered at the War Memorial Gardens. A variety of events related to the centenary commemoration are ongoing in Dublin throughout the year. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

What do UK & Irish customers look like?

A Comparison of DNA testing at WDYTYA2014 and GGI2013

FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) is the only one of the major DNA testing companies to sponsor major genealogy events and exhibitions. Such events usually involve a set of sponsored DNA Lectures as well as an FTDNA stand offering DNA tests at discounted rates to the general public. Two recent events sponsored by FTDNA (and organised by ISOGG*) were Who Do You Think You Are in London (20-22 Feb 2014) and Genetic Genealogy Ireland at Back to Our Past in Dublin (18-20 Oct 2013). Below is a comparison of some of the statistics from the two events.

Customers underwent a triage system before they took the test - an ISOGG* volunteer would explain the three main types of DNA test and help the customer decide which one might be best to address their specific situation and any particular Brick Walls they were facing in their research.

Altogether, customers bought 485 kits at WDYTYA2014 and ordered 550 tests. At GGI2013, 99 kits were bought and 113 tests ordered. At both events, the autosomal DNA test (atDNA, Family Finder) proved to be the most popular, followed by Y-DNA in second place and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in third.
*ISOGG, International Society of Genetic Genealogy

There were important differences between the two events which warrant cautious interpretation of the data. This was the 6th year of FTDNA's presence at WDYTYA but only their first at BTOP so the Irish audience were possibly less aware of FTDNA and genetic testing than the UK audience. In addition, the Y-DNA-12 and mtDNAplus (HVR1+2) tests ($49 each at the show) were not widely advertised at the Dublin event but were at the London one.

Further breakdown of the WDYTYA data reveals that the most popular mtDNA test was the basic mtDNAplus test (HVR1+2, 23% out of 29%), with only 6% ordering the mitochondrial full genome sequence (mt FGS). Y-DNA tests were more evenly split between Y-DNA-12 (13%) and Y-DNA-37 (17%).

A total of 36% of customers bought the most basic tests (Y-DNA-12 and mtDNAplus), suggesting that about one third of all customers are simply dipping their toe in the genetic water (and are reluctant to take an immediate plunge into the gene pool). Further analysis confirms that 36% of females and 37% of males ordered a single basic test and none other (or only ordered the two basic tests and none other: 4 males). 

Family Finder was the most popular of the DNA tests ordered by women at both events, particularly in Dublin, accounting for 84% of all female tests. The number of takers for the basic mtDNAplus test (HVR1+2) might have been bigger in Dublin had it been advertised as widely as it was at the London event. However, the data suggest that for women the Family Finder test was seen as a more useful and relevant test for standard family tree research in both the UK and Ireland.

For men, Y-DNA was the most popular test accounting for almost two-thirds of all tests ordered by men. At WDYTYA, the Y-DNA-37 marker test was the most popular (34%) followed by the Y-DNA-12 (28%). At both events, Family Finder proved more popular than mtDNA among men, accounting for about a quarter of tests ordered.

Multiple tests were ordered by 11% of women and 22% of men, almost double the amount. This probably reflects the greater choice that men have in terms of the type of tests on offer.

More women than men bought kits in the UK (55% compared to 45%), possibly reflecting the female preponderance among genealogists. The reverse was true in Ireland with 61% of kits being bought by men, possibly suggesting that in Ireland at least, behind every good man there is a woman with a knife in his back ("You will buy that DNA test, dear").

And lastly, although the Dublin event was a National event, most of the people who ordered kits were from Dublin and surrounding counties. This points to a possible need for "DNA outreach work" to areas that are more remote from the event location in order to ensure a more even coverage of the country. The same is probably true for the London event, and there is probably a need for greater regional coverage. The advent of WDYTYA Scotland in August of this year would be an excellent venue for DNA testing, but other regional events should also be identified, both in the UK and in Ireland.

These results raise several important points for discussion.
The popularity of the basic tests suggests that a lot of people are simply curious, may not understand all the nuances of DNA, and simply want to dip their toe in the water. The fact that this group of customers accounts for about one third of the total group emphasises the fact that there will always be an ongoing and continuous need for basic education of "newbies" regarding genetic genealogy and how to interpret and use their results. Following the WDYTYA event, we designed a "new and improved" welcome email for new FTDNA customers which contains instructions and suggestions on what to do while waiting for your results and has links to a variety of different resources.
The popularity of the Y-DNA-12 test may be surprising and somewhat frustrating to some genetic genealogists who may contend that you can't learn anything from a 12-marker test. However, from the experience of my Irish Caribbean project, it is certainly very helpful for determining whether the direct male line goes back to an African man or a European man. This would also be useful information for African American customers.
In addition, in rare cases 12 markers may be sufficient to match individuals, especially where rare marker values are present, or a combination of unusual markers. Group B in the Wheaton DNA project is a good example of this. The first 5 markers can be used as the basis for a match.
Furthermore, customers know that the Y-DNA-12 is an "introductory" test and they can always upgrade later. And convincing someone to upgrade a test is probably easier to do than trying to sell them a 37-marker test from the very start. 
The preponderance of autosomal DNA testing (40-50% of tests taken) suggests that people at these events are more interested in breaking down the Brick Walls in their family trees than discovering their deep ancestry. These results are in keeping with the poll conducted on this website (and previously reported here) with currently 69% of respondents choosing atDNA as the most relevant test for them. This raises the questions: is there sufficient support for these people when it comes to helping them interpret their results? What kind of support with atDNA do these people need?
Y-DNA projects are common and have a Project Admin to help guide project members, but atDNA projects are rare and there is thus a relative lack of supportive Admins. In short, with Y-DNA you get support, with atDNA you largely go it alone. Some Y-DNA projects are beginning to allow Family Finder testers to join the project, but do Project Admins (more used to dealing with Y-DNA) feel comfortable advising their members about the use and interpretation of atDNA? Is there a need to up-skill Project Admins in the use of atDNA? Given the popularity of the atDNA test, it is perhaps no surprise that the most watched video of the DNA Lectures at both WDYTYA and BTOP specifically addresses the interpretation of atDNA results.
Despite these outstanding questions, there is little doubt that DNA testing is growing in popularity and the education and support of new customers will be a continuing need for some time to come.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

DNA Lectures at WDYTYA2014

This year's Who Do You Think You Are was a great success. 

There were huge crowds lining up to be DNA tested and FTDNA ran out of kits on the last day. Over 500 people were tested making this the most popular year for DNA testing yet.

The DNA Lectures went down very well and the line-up of Academics and Citizen Scientists covered a rich array of topics, far broader than previous years. The good news is that many of these presentations were recorded and are slowly becoming available on the dedicated YouTube channel "DNA Lectures - Who Do You Think You Are 2014"

The full schedule of DNA Lectures is available here and below. Just click on the image for the larger version.

You can read Debbie Kennett's blog about the recent WDYTYA show here and Emily Aulicino's blog here.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Who Do You Think You Are 2014

Who Do You Think You Are 2014 is due to take place at Olympia in London on Feb 20-22. This year's DNA Workshop presentations promise to be the best yet. 

Sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA and organised by ISOGG, the lecture schedule includes something for the beginner, the intermediate and the advanced genetic genealogist. The full schedule for all 3 days of lectures can be found here -

Beginners will be particularly interested in the introductory lectures on DNA and how it can help your family tree research. Autosomal DNA and it's application to genealogy is discussed in bespoke lectures on each of the 3 days. Specific lectures will discuss DNA projects in England, Scotland and Wales.

Among the academic speakers, Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum draws on recent study findings to illustrate how Continental Europe and the British Isles were populated. Jean Manco picks up this theme and explores how the genetic makeup of Europe changed after the fall of the Roman Empire. Moving forward in time, the plague that wiped out 50% of Europe's population is the theme of Kirsten Bos' presentation on The Black Death and the discoveries she made from the remains of plague victims found in Smithfield, East London. 

Andy Grierson reveals how the advent of commercial DNA testing has helped unleash the power of "Citizen Science" and in the process has led to some astounding discoveries. 

The use of DNA to help identify the remains of soldiers found on the Western Front is the subject of a fascinating presentation by Andy Robertshaw, complimenting the focus of this year's event on the 100 year anniversary of the start of The Great War.

If you're in London in February, make sure you don't miss this event.