Recap: I4GG



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.


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…


  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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51 Responses to Recap: I4GG

  1. Sara Gredler says:

    Glad to hear that it was a great conference, Judy. I will be on the lookout for the videos. I’m co-chair of our local genealogical society’s DNA Special Interest Group and need to keep my finger on the pulse of the DNA scene. We always have beginners at our meetings but we also have peeps that have been doing DNA stuff since it came out and/or have major brickwalls that need major analysis.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It was terrific, Sara — even if some of the sessions were way over my head!

      • CeCe Moore says:

        It was a challenge to address all of our newbies and the most advanced genetic genealogists in the world at the same time! Although the titles of the talks were somewhat of a giveaway, it is indeed a good idea to list the level of the presentation on the schedule next time.

  2. Bob Kirk says:

    Any Proceedings to be published?

  3. Kris Stewart says:

    I’m jealous! I wish I could have attended. Sounds like it was awesome!

  4. CeCe Moore says:

    Thank you so much, Judy! It was wonderful to see our communities come together for this first-time event and also to see my longtime dream of this conference come to fruition. We really appreciate your support in all ways!

    Bob, what do you mean by Proceedings?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The whole community owes you and Tim a big vote of thanks for getting this off the ground, CeCe. Can’t wait to see what 2015 brings!

      • CeCe Moore says:

        And we them for the wonderful support of this event. We didn’t know if we would have 50 people or 500, but after years of people begging for more genetic genealogy education, I certainly suspected it would be something that many would welcome.

        Good thing Tim and Rachel are so organized because the popularity of the event made their part of the job a huge one!! (i.e. – the better I did my part in promoting it, the harder it was on them! :-) )

    • Bob Kirk says:

      Kind of a conference report – see my response to Judy’s question.

  5. John Davenport says:

    After my snarky comment 4 days ago, I must ask forgiveness for impugning your enthusiasm, Judy. But yet I should point out a serious problem with Genealogic DNA: its comprehension and clear understanding by non-scientific people, those who haven’t had to work out the language before. Even if the organizers had asked the presenters to rate their information on a scale of complexity, I suspect there would still be many DNA-neophytes attending who were bewildered. It is/will be an ongoing challenge for knowledgable experts to engage all/most-comers at a level that is understandable. I hope that in the next year I will have learned these basics well enough in my Minneapolis genealogic community to come to I4GG wherever it’s held and expect to enhance my understanding, and so make the trip cost-effective.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      We certainly do, as a community, need a great deal more beginner and intermediate level education — although our leaders need a chance to advance their skills and knowledge as well. If I ran the circus at an event like this (a circumstance devoutly to be avoided, for organizer’s and attendees’ sakes alike), I would have two tracks: one aimed at beginners up to intermediates and one for intermediates to advanced.

      • Nancy Schlegel says:

        On my wish list would be one more track in-between, for those of us that are more-than-beginners but less-than-genetic-PhDs :-)

        Judy, thanks for phrasing so well, once again: still laughing at footnote #4… 8 hours later! (and probably for days to come.)

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Footnote #4 is the absolute truth!!

          • Nancy Schlegel says:

            Don’t I know, having had same experience at 1st DNA day offered at Jamboree … though never found the words to describe my experience so succinctly and visually :-)

            As I predicted, am still laughing at phrasing, a day later … and counting! Thanks again!

            And like you at this conference, I found the rest of my Jamboree DNA day a “wow”: including Dr Henry Gates & Dr Spencer Wells, breakouts by you & CeCe, Ancestry & FTdna. But without intermediate offerings, I skipped attending this year.

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            It’s not easy to find the middle ground, Nancy. I wouldn’t want to be the conference organizers who have to try!!

    • Jason Lee says:

      Genetic genealogy should be taught the same way many medical schools teach subjects like biochemistry: with Socratic, vignette-based presentations. Presenting interesting real-life cases of gradually progressing complexity would engage attendees of higher skill levels without blowing away the entry-level learners. This process can work quite well even with large groups, ~200 attendees.

      A well-planned collaborative presentation featuring cases presented by several speakers over a couple of hours could cover a lot of territory. Repeat this process several times over the course of a weekend (with Q&A between sessions) and most attendees could become prepared to do some good work.

  6. Thanks so much for this recap. Oh how I wish I could have attended.

  7. Shelley says:

    I was too chicken to go, LOL. It is an area I need some handholding! Thanks for the recap.

  8. Michael Dyer says:

    It was a great conference. I was particularly glad to see the folks from 23andMe include a slide during their second presentation that acknowledged the suggestions/comments the audience provided the day before.

    I hope that Ancestry was as receptive to the feedback they received (the audiences’ feistiness emphasized the frustration w/the lack of tools and data).

  9. Leslie Plant says:

    I had to LOL at your source #4 comment “where, I am quite certain, the presenter and I do not speak a common language.” I think I was there, too. I was frantically googling the acronyms and couldn’t even find them. But, just to reassure Shelley, who commented above, every other presentation had something to offer this DNA newbie. It was fantastic. Plus fellow attendees were willing to help and explain. I think I learned almost as much in the dining hall as I did during the presentations. The organizers kept everything on track, all the presenters were well prepared, the facility was comfortable (and affordable for the DC area). What a great experience.

  10. John D. Reid says:

    Agreed, it would be hard to imagine a better organized first conference. International, yes. I counted nine Canadians, there were likely more, and folks I met from England (or Ireland!) and Germany.
    I was surprised at how many people had taken multiple autosomal tests, the need became clear as one listened to the talks, especially the one from DNAgedcom. However, it does mean the number of people who have tested is less than you’d think.
    Judy, your comment about applauding the question is right on. That happened when questions were asked about the AncestryDNA test not being available outside the US, and the excessive cost of shipping 23andMe kits outside the US. How will people find the old country links they want if the testing companies put such barriers in place.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I couldn’t agree more about the limitation of AncestryDNA tests to the US: I have a LOT of people I’d like to see results from, who are not in the US. Fingers & toes crossed that that changes, and fast.

  11. Jim Sipe says:

    Judy, great update on the conference for those of us that were unable to attend.
    Question: was there any discussion regarding the amount of data that the DNA vendors are providing to us (excluding Ancestry)? It appears that the different spreadsheet downloads that are available to us are a filtered subset of 100% of our data. With data being so inexpensive today, why are we not able to download unfiltered data?
    Recent communications with 23andMe indicate that “Countries of Ancestry displays the top 1,000 matches that provide the most unique information. Whereas DNA Relatives will display the top 1,000 matches by their relationship with you”. Over time, if we had collected 10,000 data points, we would be missing a lot.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There was discussion of the 1000 matches limit at 23andMe, Jim, with the explanation that going beyond that limit requires substantial data processing capacity. No promises were made for a fix, but several people noted that you can exceed the 1000-match limit on DNA Relatives when you share genomes with people.

  12. John says:

    Thank you for taking your professional green laser pointer and using it during your presentation!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I actually managed to break my professional green laser pointer during that presentation, John! (No worries: new one on order.)

    • Teri says:

      I hope Judy will forgive the digression, but I am in the market for a laser pointer right now and wondered why you considered the green one so desirable? I have googled and all I can find out is that it is brighter (and more expensive). Is there a color-blindness component to this? or anything else I am not aware of? All input will be gratefully received. Thank you.

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        I think it’s mostly that it’s easier for folks to see at a distance. The red dot gets lost more easily. Has to do with the way human eyes see light.

  13. Tim Duncan says:

    Judy,To your point about DNA becoming mainstream I can say from first hand experience that is so true. The great part of that is it is happening in the UK Big Time. This summer at the Bannockburn Live events in Sterling, Scotland the Clan Donnachaidh Society had our tent and I gave DNA talks. I have never had people queue up to talk to me about DNA before. I hardly had time to sit down for two days and the amount of knowledge by the public has greatly increased over the last few years. I would say times are becoming golden for our field of research.
    Tim Duncan
    Donnachaidh DNA Project

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      That’s outstanding, Tim! Now if you can just (a) figure out how you and I are related (you match me and a number of my cousins!) and (b) find a few closer YDNA matches for my Robertson J2 line (kit 79468), I’d be one happy camper!!!

  14. Tim Duncan says:

    I am still working on that needle in the hay stack result but nothing yet! I got 12 test kits distributed in Scotland this summer to 6 Duncan and 6 Robertson men so there is hope:)

  15. Marci Bowman says:

    THANK YOU all for trying to explain to the folks at Ancestry just why chromosome matching tools are so very important. Dumbing down and shaky leaves on steroids are simply not going to provide the tools we need to use the data they are providing us. The results now lead to way too many wrong conclusions.

    With the existing trees, even as bad as many of them are, they could own Autosomal DNA with the right combination of tools. If only they could understand that.

    Congratulations on what sounds like a fabulous conference. Maybe next year.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      They really could dominate if they could just see things clear to providing better tools… Oh, well. We can only keep pushing.

    • Jason Lee says:

      “If only they could understand that.”

      To some extent, that’s precisely the problem. It’s truly horrifying to note how poorly the leadership at AncestryDNA understands genetic genealogy.

      If someone like CeCe Moore and Tim Janzen could force a few people like AncestryDNA’s Senior Product Manager and Ancestry’s Senior VP of DNA sit down and do a 40-hour week of genetic genealogy, they might finally see the fatal flaws (and potential) of their product. But I don’t think they currently understand genetic genealogy well enough to understand the complaints.

  16. Jim Lannin says:

    I really enjoyed the conference, as well as meeting you, Judy. Your presentation was made with great enthusiasm. You clearly demonstrated how the very fact that we have the DNA tool obligates us to use it (or at least consider it)in our genealogical research work.

    I personally was ready for the in-depth material, though the intense assault on my brain of so much detailed information in one hour doses combined with not enough sleep was exhausting.

    I came away feeling that the conference met my needs in a spectacular way, but maybe the people new to the field didn’t have quite enough to choose from. Perhaps parallel options for each time slot with a choice between a general and an advanced topic (labeled as such) could be implemented in the future.

    I will spend the next few months conveying what I learned to my 200 member VGS Genetic Genealogy Special Interest Group here in Central Florida. Plus, the members of The Lannin DNA Project can expect to see a great improvement in the near future.

    On the post-conference survey I said that the likelihood I would attend another IGG Conference was 100%. The organizers really hit it out of the park!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It truly was an outstanding conference, Jim, and it was good to meet you as well. With luck we’ll all have more and more opportunities to continue learning — at all levels, beginner intermediate and advanced!

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