Speaking to Genealogy Groups About DNA

>> Thursday, July 2, 2015

I love speaking to genealogy groups about DNA. We communicate every day with people who know quite a bit about DNA. When you speak to a genealogy group, you get all degrees of knowledge involved.

Unless the particular Genealogy Group has been heavily involved in DNA discussions, you will get quite a few people who kind of know what DNA is but not really. The attitude is "I heard you can use DNA in genealogical research".

My answer is, you sure can. It is a miracle what you can find out. But then I have to add that the 3 major testing vendors, whom you must use, make it seem like if you test, they will give you a paper with all your ancestors on it.

That of course, is not even close to the truth although we have had 2 people open their results during the course of one of our classes and find a birth parent match right then and there. That is exciting for them and the rest of us who have spent many hours on these types of searches go off and sulk, why not me? Of course those of us in the Search business actually celebrate every find even though it is not the first one.

We originally formed our group, DNAadoption, which you can join through yahoogroups, because adoptees had no clue how to use their results to search. Karin Corbeil and I published a methodology for working with Autosomal Results. We published lots of how-to pages and references and started the http://Dnaadoption.com web site. We came to the conclusion that the dozen of us or so with growing experience in this field could not help everyone, so we moved into educating people who were getting their results. We were very surprised when our students turned out to be genealogists trying to break down brick wall or wanting to find other relatives. So even though it says Adoptees, it is really for anyone trying to use DNA to work with their genealogy.

So when we talk to genealogy group, usually they want to know how this works. Not in great detail of course, but we can explain that we turn matches into ancestors partly through triangulation. It turns out that you as the tester have overlapping DNA segments and are a blood relative to everyone of your matches. For adoptees this is a big moment, a real relative! For most others , it is more like - "I am related to ALL of these people? This will be impossible to figure out". So when talking to a group, you need to consider both of these extremes.

We have tools to organize your matches into overlapping sets of  DNA segments and to identify who is In Common With whom. (ICW). Plug the words "blood related to whom" in there instead of ICW. I use this example to explain this. Your maternal great grandmother is probably not blood related to your paternal great grandfather. However, your maternal aunts are blood related to your maternal great grandmother. We can restate that - your maternal aunts are ICW with your maternal great grandmother, and your maternal great grandmother is not ICW with your paternal grandfather.

In order to look for common ancestors to add to your family tree, you need people who have overlapping DNA segments who are blood related (ICW) with each other. You also need people who have information about a family tree. It turns out that these people that meet these conditions, have family trees that intersect with each other at some point and that these intersections are their common Ancestor. Better yet, they are your common ancestors too! This is called triangulation. To make it as easy as possible (well not easy exactly) choose matches with as long a segments as possible. The longer the better. You will never be able to get all your family trees to match though. You won't need to either.

So we describe this process to our genealogy group and some people get it, some do not.

Then comes what everybody wants to hear, real live cases. The adoptee whose birthday had been changed by two months and that you still found. The woman who when casually testing DNA for fun found out that her father was not her birth father or that she and her sister were only half sisters. We can cite older people who discovered that they were adopted only when in their sixties and who are desperate to find out who they really are before they die. Then there is the person with a rare disease which is discovered because getting a health history saved her live. You will also present cases of serious genealogists who are able to move past a long standing brick wall. The stories are many.We caution to use fictitious names for stories though. Nobody wants to be outed in that manner!

The excitement builds over your presentation, there is always that husband over in the corner who got dragged to the meeting and who is nodding off and that you cannot take your eyes off, - will he fall out of his chair?, but in general there is lots of excitement. Plan somewhere that you can continue to answer personal questions after the library closes because you will probably be there that long.

Speaking to genealogy groups is a good way to spread the word and to increase everyone's enthusiasm for the subject including yours. I think every time I have spoken, I have either found someone for a person in the audience, or given enough pointers and encouragement that a person was found by someone else.

If that isn't enough incentive, what is?

If you are a genealogy group and would like to have someone speak contact me through the comments here and we will find someone for you. If you need genealogical help with DNA, consider taking one of our classes. They are listed on our web site on the Classes tab. If you need help finding something check our website references. Give back!


Jody Lutter July 4, 2015 at 9:34 PM  

DNA presentations are great because so many are curious, but do not know which test to buy or what to do with the results.

Diane Harman-Hoog July 4, 2015 at 9:38 PM  

I received a comment from Jody Lutter that "DNA presentations are great because so many are curious, but do not know which test to buy or what to do with the results". I thoroughly agree Judy, and it is not easy to take the results and solve the puzzle!
The best we can do is to educate people that it is possible and that help exists.

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