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DNA in DC

Wow.

That’s all The Legal Genealogist can say.

It’s all any of us who were fortunate enough to attend the first Institute for Genetic Genealogy, held this past weekend in the Washington, D.C., area, can say.

Wow.

I4GGFrom rank “what is this DNA stuff” beginner through to high level “I can (and do) teach this stuff” expert, this was truly a conference with something for everybody — and it ran as smoothly and as well as any first-time conference could possibly hope to run.

The Institute for Genetic Genealogy — brainchild of Tim Janzen and CeCe Moore — opened Friday with registration and three overview sessions on the testing companies. Attendees got a chance to take a look at information from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA in general, with some good general background information being offered.

There weren’t any surprises in that general info — except perhaps the depth of the genetic genealogy community’s unhappiness with AncestryDNA and its decisions (a) not to provide segment data to its customers and (b) to discontinue YDNA and mitochondrial DNA testing and to discontinue even providing links to results of those tests taken at Ancestry. Let’s just say that the unhappiness was abundantly clear during AncestryDNA’s presentation.1

The real meat of the conference began on Saturday morning, and — with the exception of the keynote by Dr. Spencer Wells of National Geographic’s Genographic Project — every single time slot presented a major crisis of conscience: do I attend this session or that session?2

Fortunately, the conference organizers did their best to videotape every session and, the technical glitches that are inevitable in a conference of this size notwithstanding, most of us will be able to catch at least some or all of the sessions down the road.

So here are my personal takeaways from the conference3:

1. DNA has to be considered as mainstream in genealogy now. There were almost as many Board-certified genealogists in attendance at this conference as there were Ph.D. scientists, including four members of the Board of Trustees of the Board for Certification of Genealogists (Board President Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL; Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL; Michael Grant Hait, Jr., CG, and somebody named Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL). Both co-editors of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly were there, along with at least one NGS board member. The head of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society was there. I could go on and on… but the bottom line is: DNA has arrived, completely.

2. DNA has the capacity to bring a younger tech-savvy crowd to the genealogical table. While there were the usual greybeards in attendance (yours truly having to count herself among them), there was also a large contingent of younger folks — and that includes the conference organizers. This is a Very Good Thing for genealogy.

3. There is a real need for education in the tools and techniques of integrating DNA into our genealogical research, starting from the beginner level and going through to the advanced level.

4. Having said that, we still have many many more beginners than we do advanced folks. And we need to carefully distinguish the very advanced presentations to ensure that we don’t scare the pants off those who aren’t working at that level.4

5. Having many chances to hear about DNA tools and techniques from many different people is a real help. It may be that the way one person explains something works for me better than the way another person explains it.

Bottom line: wow.

Great job by the organizers and the presenters… and boy do we need more of this…


SOURCES

  1. When the audience applauds a question, rather than the answer, you know you’re in trouble…
  2. The one that really got to me was that I wanted to attend Dr. David Pike’s presentation about his phasing tools. It was, however, scheduled at the same time as mine…
  3. Your mileage may vary, and I’m sure other attendees would have different overall impressions
  4. I sat in on at least two sessions where, I am quite certain, the presenter and I do not speak a common language.
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