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!