Sunday, April 10, 2011

New England Regional Genealogical Conference - Day Three

Well, the party's over, I guess. Now we get to go home and use all the new things we learned! Last night was an interesting mix of genealogists and young women who were competing in dance contests. The Sheraton was hopping! There was dancing in the halls, in the elevators and in the restaurants. (And probably dancing, dancing in the streets...)

The first session I took yesterday was entitled "Where Did They Go, Following the Paths of New Englanders Who Left New England", taught by Mary Ann Boyle, PhD. CG. I was expecting a lecture on migration patterns from New England to New York, Ohio, Michigan and beyond, but the lecture was actually about Mary Ann's experience as a private investigator and genealogist, finding people, (mostly alive). Mary sprinkled the lecture with tips on how to do the type of research she does, and gave us a few helpful websites to use. Mary's sense of humor was evident in the lecture, and because of this, the lecture was quite enjoyable, although not what I was hoping to learn.

The next two sessions, "Using Collateral Lines to Build Your Family Tree", by Janis P. Duffy, and "Where is Great Grandma Hiding? Finding the Forgotten Females", by Sandra MacLean Clunnes, CG., were both case studies. Both lecturers discussed how they broke through their specific brick walls, gave advice for searching whole families, neighborhoods and associates and to look out for errors perpetuated through early transcription mistakes. "Using Collateral Lines" focused on a family that settled in Massachusetts from Ireland, and included a lot of information about researching in Ireland, while "Where is Great Grandma Hiding?" focused on an earlier New England family.

I had more time today to speak with many of the vendors in the Exhibit Hall. Had an informative discussion with Bruce about RootsMagic and the differences between version 3 and 4. One of our concerns, in the middle of two large book projects, is migrating over customized facts. In using version 3 we found that we wanted descriptors on some of the pre-installed facts. Since they were considered primary facts, we couldn't change them, so we created new ones to suit our needs. Now I am concerned that there will be a lot of data cleanup if we move our database from version 3 to 4, as these customized facts don't exist in 4. Bruce said that RootsMagic can probably write some SQL code to migrate our facts. Has anyone been through this? If so, please e-mail me!

The last session I attended was entitled "How Autosomal DNA Testing is Changing Genealogy", by Blaine Bettinger, PhD. Blaine lives and works in my neck of the woods (Syracuse, NY), and I have had a chance to meet him and pick his brains about DNA in the past. He's a wealth of knowledge, and a great guy. I especially appreciate his ability to explain complex scientific theories and methods in language that non scientists can understand!

Blaine gave a brief overview of the types of DNA testing that have become available and targeted towards the genealogy crowd over the last ten or more years, and focused on the relatively new Autosomal DNA test. My boss, Bill Pomeroy, had taken the test recently and I've been having a tough time understanding the results and matches he's been getting. Blaine explained that when DNA is passed from parent to child, it contains a random sampling of the DNA of the parents. A sampling - NOT ALL THE DNA FROM THE PARENTS! The DNA passed on to the child stays relatively intact within the first 5 generations, but after that, it's anyone's guess which of the older generations' DNA will be passed on to the child. As Blaine explains it, "not all of your Great Great Grandparents DNA is handed down to you, and there is no way to tell who has fallen off your (genetic) tree." Thus you have a Genealogical Tree (the research you've done that identifies your forebears), and a Genetic Tree, which will contain some of the DNA from people in your Genealogical Tree, but not all of it.

Blaine and I also had a chance to have a brief discussion before the class, where I explained that some of the matches Bill is getting appear to be way farther back in his Genealogical Tree than 5 generations. Blaine noted that he had found this also, and that this could be based on the randomness of the DNA that gets passed down. Apparently some DNA is luckier than others, (or maybe just more persistant)?

So, is Autosomal testing a wise investment at this time? Sure, if you understand that it's not going to replace dilegent research into your Genealogical Tree. Can it help you find cousins, and break through brick walls? Sure, but a lot of that has to do with how many people take the test - more participants mean more potential results. So get out that cheek swabs!

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