Thursday 12 March 2020

Thank you, Belfast !

A great time was had by all at GGI2020 Belfast (Feb 14-15). It's always great to see old friends and make new ones and this year's event certainly did not disappoint on that score - the good food and superior company at dinner each night is always a high point of the event. This was the third time that Genetic Genealogy Ireland (GGI) was run in Belfast (as part of the Back to Our Past event). And no sooner was it all over than everyone jumped on a plane to RootsTech! So now that all that is over, here is a brief recap of the Belfast weekend in photos.

Back to Our Past runs in Belfast in February & Dublin in October

The ICC at the Waterfront Hall is an excellent venue and it was a pleasure to return there for the second year in a row. The iconic TV programme Game of Thrones was filmed in Belfast. This lovely stained glass window has been erected outside the Waterfront Hall and we passed it each day on the way to the conference. Which characters from the TV show do you recognise?

(click to enlarge)

The FTDNA stand stretched for a good 30 feet and as it was at the entrance to the event, we captured quite a few punters on their way in. As always, the power behind the FTDNA stand was our very own Dee (Derrell Oakley Teat). This is her 10th Back to Our Past event in Ireland and she runs the stand like a well-oiled machine.

The FamilyTreeDNA stand drew a lot of attention and enquiries

Joining Dee at various times during the day was Mike Sager (Mr Big Y) and a host of ISOGG volunteers including James Irvine (pictured), Cathal McElgunn, Candy Jones, Linda Horton, Andy Hochreiter, and many more. The folks at the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS) stand also lent a hand from time to time.

The FTDNA stand with posters, list of free DNA tests for surname projects,
and the DNA Lecture schedule on the TV screen

The FTDNA stand saw a steady stream of customers, especially on the second day of the event. Sales included at least 4 Big Y tests, which were offered at a very attractive discount by FTDNA (who were the only DNA company advertising at the event so they had a captive audience).

Martin McDowell helping a customer with the NIFHS stand in the background.

Everyone who tested at the FTDNA stand was automatically entered into the North of Ireland DNA Project (unless they requested otherwise). Project membership is fast-approaching the 5000 members milestone and the Society works very hard to recruit local people for DNA testing. They run regular Introductory Courses on DNA and have two regular DNA Special Interest Groups. If you have ancestry from the North of Ireland, you need to join this project - you are highly likely to find DNA cousins among its membership. Transfers from other companies are especially welcome.

Speakers featured above are Martin Hayden, Andrew Kane, Peter McWilliam, Cathal McElgunn,
Jonny Perl, Donna Rutherford, Martin McDowell & Paddy Waldron (photo: Gerard Corcoran)

Admission to the event was free and there was very good attendance at both the DNA Lectures (organised by my good self) and the traditional genealogy lectures (organised by Martin McDowell of NIFHS). A Big Thank You has to go to the speakers, ISOGG volunteers, and of course our sponsors, FamilyTreeDNA for their continuing support - this is a team effort and everybody's contribution goes towards making this event a great success.

Mike Sager discusses the incredible growth of the Tree of Mankind,
thanks in large part to the Big Y test from FTDNA (photo: Gerard Corcoran)

We were delighted that FTDNA were able to spare Mike Sager and loaned him to the community for a few days. Mike gave an inspiring talk on the Tree of Mankind, informed by his unique insights as the Big Y guru. He is the one man in the World who knows more about the Tree of Mankind than anybody else - he builds new branches every day! The size of Haplogroup R is truly astounding, accounting for about 50% of all known branches in the Y-Hapolotree. And this is just present-day branches - think of all the other branches that have gone extinct over the passage of the last 250,000 years. Mike highlighted this consideration when he spoke of the huge distance between the early branches of the Tree: A-L1090 is a SNP Block of 432 SNPs, and A-L1088 is a SNP Block of 2674 SNPs - this is greater than the distance between that latter branch and the most downstream branch today. The potential number of extinct branches is mind-boggling - we only see the survivors.

Martin Hayden discusses the power of X DNA

We also had 6 new speakers at this year's GGI. It was great to see this new talent emerge and many of the new speakers were from the North of Ireland so there was a distinct local flavour to the proceedings. A full list of the talks can be found in this blog post here and biographical sketches of each of the speakers can be found on our Speaker Profiles page. We also had Expert Panel Discussions on both days and the second one turned into a very interesting exploration of DNA and adoption searching in Ireland, which raised some very interesting ethical considerations.

Each presentation was recorded live and these videos will be available over the course of the next several weeks. Some speakers have opted to have the video of their presentation hosted on the GGI YouTube Channel where they can be viewed for free. There are three videos from 2019 there already and 6 more (from 2020) will be added over the course of the next few weeks. Further information on the new arrangements for accessing GGI videos can be found here.

The GGI YouTube Channel

The rest of the recorded presentations are going up on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website where there is a new special section for Genetic Genealogy Ireland. You will find most of the videos from the 2019 GGI events there now - they were uploaded just before GGI2020 Belfast. Legacy Family Tree Webinars is a subscription service and the monies raised help the speakers to cover their travel expenses. But at $50 per year, it is a very cost-effective way of gaining access to their entire library of educational videos - it would cost a lot more to attend a single conference. Full details of how to access the videos are included here.

Some videos are hosted on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website

The day after conference is a traditional time for rest and relaxation. This started with a morning tour of Queens University Belfast and a stroll through the Botanic Gardens and the fabulous Palm House Conservatory. We were all glad of a bit of tropical heat which contrasted nicely with the crisp chill of the Belfast morning.

The Glasshouse (photo: Donna Rutherford)

GGI2020 coincided with the Northern Ireland Science Festival and the group attended two lectures in the impressive Whitla Hall at Queens University Belfast. Adam Rutherford gave a very thought-provoking talk on genetics and racism, and Prof Alice Roberts took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of her BBC TV series The Incredible Human Journey, charting the journey of Man out of Africa and into the rest of the World.

Adam Rutherford - on stage at Whitla Hall (photo: Donna Rutherford)

And then, before you knew it, it was all done. Gallileo adequately captures how everyone felt when the day drew to a close - it's always sad to say goodbye to friends and colleagues. Who else will listen eagerly to us spouting off about genealogy?

I've no one to talk to about DNA ...

If you'd like to be part of the fun, the next GGI event is on in Dublin in October. However, the usual dates have been moved forward by 1 day to 17-18 Oct (Saturday & Sunday, not Friday). And we will have a special ISOGG Day Out on the Monday (Oct 19th). The following weekend (starting on Sunday) is the MyHeritage annual conference which this year is in Tel Aviv (25-26 Oct), and 2 weeks after that is the FTDNA Annual Conference in Houston (13-15 Nov).

I'm sure I'll see you at one of them!

Maurice Gleeson
March 2020