The ideal genetic genealogy interface creates a seamless transition between genetics technology and genealogical research findings. Most currently available tools are either DNA technology without much genealogy, or genealogy without much DNA technology. AncestryDNA is really pioneering the genetic and genealogical integration with its newest AncestryDNA product update.
The goal of genetic genealogy is to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as yet unknown ancestors. DNA was never meant to replace traditional research methods, nor has it ever claimed that ability. Rather, it is meant to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as-yet unknown ancestors.
I admit, I dream of a future technology so precise that it pinpoints the locations of ancestors and defines our exact relationships to others. While we are not there yet, many have experienced a genetic test’s power to obliterate previously-held beliefs about relationship and heritage, and create new intricate and personal relationships where before there were only blank spaces. In this sense, genetic genealogy can be viewed as a kind of police force of the genealogy world, righting wrongs and taking names. But I digress.
For now, the ideal must remain a seamless transition between genetics technology and traditional research results, so that the two so completely complement each other that we can’t see where one stops and the other begins. Yet the two worlds are often separated by a chasm of misunderstanding and just plain ignorance. Of the three testing companies, two are making mediocre efforts at best to try to help you incorporate your genetics into your genealogy. They are basically dishing out a serving of genetics, offering a vending machine of genealogy snacks and calling it a full meal.
With one exception.
AncestryDNA has put genetic and genealogical integration at the forefront of its product. They are the only company making a serious effort to integrate your genetics and your genealogy. To be successful, they need two things: tons of people and their genealogy. The more people test, the better the database becomes. Not just in terms of the matches you find, but also in terms of statistics and the power that numbers have to solve complex problems, like relatedness.
So, how do they get more people interested in genetic genealogy?
This reminds me of my early days at Relative Genetics, one of the first genetic genealogy companies. I was fresh out of college and tasked with training our CEO, CFO, QA director, and marketing director about what exactly it was that we did as a genetic genealogy company. None of these men had any experience in genetics or genealogy. In those meetings as we were trying to figure out ways to grow our company in an unknown industry, I felt like I was the constant downer to the party. As a scientist I had been trained that there are no absolutes. Whenever we talk about outcomes it is always in terms of “most likely” or “less likely” and to never, ever say “always.” So when they would get excited about an idea and propose wording for an ad campaign, I was always reining them in.
After reading a recent announcement by AncestryDNA, I feel like their marketing department had a meeting on the day their scientific advisor was out sick and without his or her corralling, they started a stampede.
Which, of course, was exactly what they wanted.
In their press release, Ancestry’s Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA said, “It is effectively a shortcut through time—you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don’t need to research records or build a family tree — AncestryDNA now transports you to the past.”
Which is exactly what people want to hear, especially non-genealogists who are curious about their past, but don’t have the tools or know-how or interest in doing the actual genealogy work.
But is it true? Is genetic genealogy a short cut through time?
“Absolutely,” says the marketing team.
“Sometimes, and that depends on factor A, and factor B and situation C and…” say the scientists.
And they are both right. The trick is to hear them both as you review these kinds of new advances in genetic genealogy.
What makes the “absolutely” true is that one of the dreams of genetic genealogy is to use the DNA of living people today to actually reconstruct the genetics of our ancestors. So that their actual DNA profile is known. Then it will be easy to identify their descendants as we will be able to see immediately what part of our DNA came from which of our ancestors. Ancestry has demonstrated their ability to do this in a large scale study of the descendants of a 19th-century American and his two successive wives.
Now, time for the “Sometimes.” This full genome reconstruction hasn’t been done yet for your grandparents, or great grandparents. Right now the best we can do is use your DNA to link you to living individuals, then rely on your traditional genealogy to help you find your common ancestor. Ancestry is trying to help you do that using their DNA circles, and now with their New Ancestor Discoveries.
Remember that to be included in a DNA circle you have to have a “ticket” to the party, meaning both your genetics and your genealogy match with at least two other people in the database and a circle is created around the host of the party, who is your common ancestor.
With New Ancestor Discoveries, we are letting those with just a genetic ticket into the party. Meaning that if you share DNA with two or more people in a DNA Circle, the host of that circle is named as an ancestor who mightbe on your pedigree chart.
Did you notice how I said “might?” That this newly discovered ancestor MIGHT be in your pedigree chart?
As an idea, New Ancestor Discoveries is VERY EXCITING, don’t you think? To be able to find out using both genetics and genealogy that a particular person living 100 years ago might just be the one who belongs in that blaring blank space on your pedigree chart? And it will be. But right now, Ancestry needs to work out some bugs, starting with a stronger acknowledgement that the ancestor listed in the Discoveries is by no means an absolute, but just a hint.
In coming posts I will share with you how I am using the New Ancestry Discoveries to discover more about my genealogy, even if it isn’t exactly in the way Ancestry intended. For now, learn more by reading my recent posts: from the left side of the Genealogy Gems home page, search on the category “DNA.”
And click here to visit my website and learn more about how I can help you navigate the exciting world of genetic genealogy.
We’ve heard from many of you that the best-selling novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, featured in our Genealogy Gems Book Club, has piqued your interest in that sad chapter in U.S. and Canadian history. So I thought I’d share this comment from Jenna Mills on our Genealogy Gems Facebook page:
“I’ve become very interested in orphan trains since I heard the interview with the author on your podcast. Fascinating and sad. I’ve since found that that over 250,000 kids are estimated to have been put on a train. 250,000!!!
The National Orphan Train Complex [a museum] is in Concordia, Kansas, so of course a visit there will be forthcoming. I’m halfway through the book and love it. What has really piqued my curiosity is that my great-grandmother adopted a boy while living in Amherst, Nebraska. The railroad doesn’t go through there anymore but did in that time period. I may be taking a trip down a rabbit hole, but this is so fascinating.”
Thanks, Jenna! We’re also aware of an orphan train museum in Louisiana and this lovely summary from an Iowa historical society about riders who landed in their little town. Recently we pinned an image of an old orphan train rider doll on Pinterest.
We invite you to follow the FREE no-commitment, no-fuss Genealogy Gems Book Club. Every quarter we feature our favorite family-history-friendly fiction and nonfiction titles AND exclusive interviews with their authors!
We often mention fantastic how-to genealogy books on the Genealogy Gems podcasts and website. Here we’ve compiled a list of these, a checklist for your own genealogy reference bookshelf.
(Our favorite pleasure reading picks, fiction and nonfiction, are onThe Genealogy Gems Book Clubwebpage.)
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State Census Records by Ann S. Lainhart. It’s got everything you need to know about U.S. censuses taken by states and territories. From this guide, you’ll learn what is available in each state (year by year, often county by county), where it is available and what’s in these records. Though it lacks current online resources for state censuses, once you know about them, you can Google them to find any online records and indexes! Find this book referenced in a blog post about state census records here.
From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes by Gena Philibert Ortega. Food is an important ingredient in every family’s history! This three-part keepsake recipe journal will help you celebrate your family recipes and record the precious memories those recipes hold. Listen to Lisa’s 2-part conversation with the author in the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 137 and 138. Watch a free video, “Food Family History,” with both of us on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.
The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil Warby Margaret E. Wagner quotes vivid first-hand accounts. You’ll read about the smells of war, from baking to bodily functions. You’ll learn about the women behind the scenes whose lives were in constant upheaval and uncertainty. Comments from hospital workers describe the mighty effects of war on the wounded. Intermingled are the stories of free blacks, those being emancipated and black women and men who supported the Union effort as soldiers, nurses and more. It’s a fascinating blend of story and picture, told in a timeline format to help family historians put their ancestors’ experiences in context. For those of us who don’t have firsthand account by our ancestors, these voices help bring to life events and experiences our relatives may have faced. Also available in for the Kindle.
Tracing Your Italian Ancestors by Mary Tedesco. This 84-page guide has two important parts. There’s a section on using U.S. records to learn essentials about your family, and then a section on researching in Italian records. Click hereto watch an interview with Mary Tedesco, a host of the popular U.S. television show Genealogy Roadshow.
Zap the Grandma Gap: Connect with Your Family by Connecting Them to Their Family History by Janet Hovorka shares tried-and-tested activities for using family history to connect with children and grandchildren. Span the generation gap with these great games and ideas! Meet the author, see more of her kid-friendly family history titles and hear her suggestions in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 162.
Recently I heard from listener Tom, who is trying to document Civil War veterans from Washington state. “I am taking pictures of their headstones,” he says. “I currently use just a spray bottle and soft brush to wash away the 100 years plus of dirt so I can better see and photograph the inscriptions. Do you have a better way to clean and photograph or maybe rub the headstones?”
I don’t recommend tombstone rubbings because each time a genealogist does that it wears the headstone down just a little bit more, causing deterioration.
However, I have a better solution for how to read a faded tombstone. I created a free video based on an article I wrote for Family buy serc medication Tree Magazine. It’s called Grave Transformations and you can watch it for free on Family Tree Magazine’s YouTube channel or just watch below. The idea is that instead of touching the headstone at all, you can simply manipulate your photographic images of it instead! Watch the video and you’ll see those faded letters come back into view. It’s pretty cool!
Did you know the Genealogy Gems You Tube Channel has over 70 free videos on a wide variety of genealogical topics? Click to go to our channel’s home page. Be sure to click the SUBSCRIBE button on the channel so that you won’t miss our new videos when they are published!