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DNA Day a smashing success

If anybody ever tries to tell the organizers of a major genealogy event that there aren’t enough people interested in genetic genealogy to warrant a high number of special sessions on the subject, The Legal Genealogist has three words:

Jamboree DNA Day.

Co-sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society and the International Society of Genetic Genealogy as a prequel to the SCGS 2013 Jamboree, yesterday’s first-of-its-kind event was a stunning success.

More than 300 people from all over the world — seriously, there are attendees from Australia, China and more — came together in Burbank, California, for presentations ranging from basic introductions to using DNA testing in genealogy to finding the families of adoptees to using high-tech third party tools to understand the results.

To put it mildly, it was wonderful.

Dr. Spencer Wells, head of the National Geographic Geno 2.0 project, was the keynote speaker, focusing on what he called his “biggest surprise” as head of the Genographic Project: the number of people who sought to join the Project to contribute to scientific knowledge and the growing role of citizen scientists in advancing genetic genealogy.

Wells pointed out that citizen scientists were not a new phenomenon — that men like Charles Darwin and Benjamin Franklin could be counted in those ranks, and that the first major crowdsourcing was the 1900 Christmas Bird Count organized by the Audubon Society.

“What changed everything,” he said, “was the web.” It made it possible for so many people to get involved. “As a result,” Wells emphasized, “we have all become researchers and enablers of research.”

After Wells’ keynote address, attendees broke out into individual sessions on “Chromosome Mapping for Genealogical Purposes” (by Tim Janzen, M.D.), “Genetic Tools: What They are and When to Use Them” (by Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA), and “The ABCs of DNA” (by me).

The luncheon speaker was Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. of “Faces of America” and “Finding Your Roots” who delighted the crowd with a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening review of his own genetic genealogical journeys. And he got an extra round of applause when he said there will be a next season for “Finding Your Roots.”

Afternoon sessions included “Finding Family with DNA Testing: An Adoptee Success Story” (Richard Hill); “DNA and Family History: Getting the Most out of 23andme’s Genealogy Features” (Joanna Mountain, PhD, of 23andMe); “Using Third-Party Tools to Analyze Your Autosomal DNA Results” (Blaine Bettinger, JD); “Genetic Genealogy: Beginner Basics” (Emily D. Aulicino); “Autosomal DNA Testing for the Genealogist” (CeCe Moore); “Mitochondrial DNA: Tools and Techniques to Go Beyond Basics” (Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL); “Famous DNA” (Katherine Hope Borges); “An Inside Look at AncestryDNA” (Ken Chahine, PhD, JD, of AncestryDNA); and “The Changing Y-DNA Haplotree and Its Impact” (Alice M. Fairhurst and David Reynolds).

Sessions were standing room only right through the end of the day, and attendees were pleased to learn that three of the speakers — CeCe Moore, Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne will team up to coordinate a week-long course on genetic genealogy at the 2014 Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.

National conferences… are you paying attention?

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