08 November 2006

DNA Conference: using DNA to track family

It was a long trip, and I arrived in Houston very late on a rainy night, followed by a gloriously sunny day in the “cradle of genetic genealogy,” as Family Tree DNA president and founder Bennett Greenspan calls the city.

FTDNA was the first company in the world to offer DNA testing to the genealogical community, and its research is at the cutting edge of technology.

The annual conference is aimed at those who administrate DNA projects that use FTDNA -- for single surnames, or for regional or geographic groupings. While some of the nearly 4,000 projects have only a few participants, others have hundreds.

Among the statistics presented by FTDNA that show the surge in this field:

* Some 220,000 DNA swab kits have been processed (including Family Tree DNA and the National Geographic-IBM Project aka Genographic).

* In 2000, the company sent out about 10 kits a month; today they send from 6,000-12,000 kits per month.

* The combined databases for Y-DNA (male) and mtDNA (female) is 116,000; some 4,000 new records are added each month.

* There are 3,642 surname and project groups and the average number of members in each group has increased from 15 to 20 per group, and some have hundreds of participants.

* Y-Search, a public database to which individuals can upload their results, has 34,000 records.

Greenspan's comments began "Like you, I'm a genealogist," adding that participants last year wanted more genealogy and less science, and that's what they've tried to do this year.

Greenspan says that he often discovers matches between people with different surnames. Some of these people then researched where and how the names changed. In one example, a woman took in her sister's child, and the name change was forgotten over history. "We are now finding the ability to unravel historical mysteries.”

As hundreds of people arrived for the intensive two-day Third International Conference on Genetic Genealogy, it was good to see people I knew as well as those whose names I recognized from various discussion groups.

Among the attendees were Elise Friedman, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland. She’s the administrator of three DNA projects: the Palevsky and Lifshitz families and the Belarussian Jewish Polesie DNA Study.

Herb Huebscher of New York was at the conference for a study - Wirth-NiGloss - he’s been running which indicates that a group of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews have Sephardic roots. Huebscher presented his fascinating study at last August’s International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in New York.

It was also nice to meet Marcia and Howard Kaplan of San Francisco’s South Bay area.

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