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 ... http://youtu.be/h5CQsmu8HMA

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.

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