Monday, August 25, 2014

The More We Get Together, The Happier We'll Be

Have you been to a family reunion or important wedding this summer and perhaps shared folklore of distinguishing features of your ancestors and health information? Worldwide, there is a huge thirst for names of ancestors and many of us are interested in filling in quenching it and filling in those family trees. Yet sometimes even after names have been filled in on the charts, mysteries of personality quirks and health issues remain, and require interest in pursuing them further. Genetic genealogy is a way to fill in many of gaping holes, and changing the ways families enlarge conjectures they hold of their family heritage.

The first meeting of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) happened last weekend in beautiful Chevy Chase, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. 

ISOGG logo
From nearby National Geographic Society, Spencer Wells gave the keynote address with a video illustrating the history of the Human Genome Project. Dr. Wells had written a paper with Oleg Balanovsky, Head of the Research Center for Medical Genetics at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences in Moscow, and Dr. Balanovsky then described Russian efforts to trace human migrations and languages.

Genetic genealogist CeCe Moore gave an entertaining talk about her own family history in genetic detail, about how hard it is to get people to donate their spit in a humorous way, and tips on how to carry out the necessary detective work with genetic information when the paper trail goes cold and results in research brick walls.

Representatives from companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry.com, and a few others associated with the new field of genetic genealogy gave talks and explained how to research ancestors. It was a fascinating gathering, and I was privileged to attend this inaugural meeting of an entirely new discipline made possibly by the internet and advances in DNA technology.

Apart from the standard genealogical bread and butter advice to have family reunions and share information, genealogists can confirm (and sometimes) deny family relationships. Sometimes, the results can actually cause people to deny they have half-siblings they didn't know they had. CeCe Moore gave proof of this and described in detail how she discovered the Heming family relationship with the former American President Thomas Jefferson.

To find out more about health risks, inherited conditions, drug responses and distinguishing traits, 23andMe stands head and shoulders over other data providers. 

Once you have data, you can do a lot with it, and the most fascinating sites for me now are Promethease and SNPedia which I described here. I'm fascinated by any health information I can get that concern my children and ancestors. That's my primary motivation for researching my own ancestry further.

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