DNA testing for genealogy has become an important component of reasonably exhaustive research. Many people are testing their DNA, but many do not understand how to wring all the useful information from those results and apply them to identify the relationships between a DNA tester and his DNA matches.
At the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) 2017, Anna Hopkins-Arnold joined an advanced group of genetic genealogists attending a hands-on course “DNA Bootcamp: Practical Application” to learn about the latest research techniques for interpreting and analyzing autosomal DNA results to solve tough real-world genealogy research problems.
SLIG classes vary in level. Some intermediate genealogists who want to take their research to the next level. Some help high intermediate and advanced genealogists learn more about specific methods or geographic regions. Several classes train experienced and professional genealogists in advanced techniques for tough practical problem-solving.
“DNA Bootcamp” was one of the advanced classes. For admission, students were required show they had previously attended a week-long institute level fundamental DNA class or had equivalent preparation and experience. I recognized several students from other advanced genealogical institutes (both FGI and Gen-Fed).
Our instructors included genetic genealogists CeCe Moore, Karen Stanbary, Paul Woodbury, and Angie Bush. CeCe Moore, known both as a “Rock Star” genealogist for 2015 and 2016 and as the genetic genealogy consultant for Henry Louis Gates’ PBS show “Finding Your Roots” also gave the keynote lecture for the SLIG 2017 Plenary Session, Monday evening.
My SLIG roommate’s “Virginia Research” class, Barbara Vines Little, gave the keynote for our Friday graduation banquet. We were both fortunate to have interesting and honored instructors.
Most students in my class were already members of CeCe’s DNA Detectives group, many had attended her previous programs, many were professional genealogists and at least two SLIG instructors teaching other courses attended some of our lectures.
We also included a cross section of people interested in using DNA for genealogy including those solving brick wall problems, adoptees, birth mothers, and members of endogamous populations including both descendants of island communities and Jewish genealogists.
Unfortunately, the fast-paced, hands-on boot camp style course was not for everyone. I was sad to see a few students drop out as the week progressed. This is extremely unusual for SLIG courses. However, students who were less interested in the intricacies of the different DNA tools succumbed to the lure of research opportunities at the nearby Family History Library.
Library Research Opportunities:
As if a week of intensive instruction was not enough, SLIG also provided shuttles to and from the Family History Library so attendees could do research in the evenings and offered the opportunity to take special classes at the library at the SLIG Library Night, Wednesday evening.
- I registered for Baerbel Johnson’s class on “German Online Research” and discovered a new record for one of my more elusive German ancestors.
- I was also lucky to find extra space in Joan E. Healey’s “American Indian Research” class where I connected with other students researching Native American and American Indian ancestry or connected people including Indian Traders and Indian Agents.
My SLIG roommate and I planned a research day on the Saturday after SLIG so that we could apply all the lessons we had just learned at SLIG.
Course Content & Homework:
Since our course was “DNA Bootcamp: Practical Applications”, it included lots of hands-on practical work with both our own DNA results and family trees and with results used for class case studies. We worked on one case study that lasted most of the week and worked on other hands-on projects and another case study as the week progressed. We needed to spend evening time working on homework.
Genetic Genealogy Code of Ethics
We discussed the Genetic Genealogy Code of Ethics and how it applied to our case study work that week, to asking people to test, and managing DNA tests. This is especially relevant as Ancestry DNA has now begun to require a separate account for each DNA test. We discussed why to post public trees attached to our DNA results and what those trees should include, but also why to make “mirror trees” private and unsearchable.
Who to Test? Which Test to Use?
Our instructors shared their expertise and had us practice deciding which tests to use, who to test, and in what order to use a limited research budget to efficiently solve different genealogy cases.
Matches: what to say and when
We discussed when and how to approach DNA matches under various circumstances, and how to proceed without approaching the matches at all.
Applying the Genealogical Proof Standard to DNA
Karen Stanbary discussed how to apply the Genealogical Proof Standard to a DNA research project, and when to use a “quick and dirty” tree to test a hypothesis. Obviously, once the hypothesis is proven, we need to spruce up that tree, adding any citations and footnotes that were left out and making sure the genealogy and the DNA results line up correctly.
Continuing Need for Traditional Genealogy Research
One thing is clear. Using DNA results for genealogy research does NOT reduce the amount of traditional genealogy research involved. In fact, it can increase that research, because you end up researching the trees of your matches to find the connection. But, DNA can help guide you to the right line, so you can be sure you are researching a connection that is real and not “barking up the wrong tree”.
Company & Third Party Analysis Tools
We learned tips to efficiently use the different comparison and analysis tools from each of the “big three” autosomal DNA testing companies: 23andMe, Ancestry.com/DNA, and Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). We learned how to compare results from each of the three companies, even though they compute the amount of shared DNA differently.
Third party research tools provide the opportunity to compare results from different testing companies add another level of analysis. We learned to compare and analyze DNA results using several different third party tools including GEDmatch, Genome Mate Pro, and GWorks. While working on our case studies we had to create mirror trees for matches and use various DNA tools to help us build those trees backward and forward in time to solve the genealogical problems.
Attending a live institute offers the opportunity to network with others in your field. I met genetic genealogists from across and even outside the US and have made arrangements to join forces with some of them working on tough DNA problems.
Contact me for more information on using DNA for your Genealogy Research or interpreting your results. I also offer private coaching or group classes on using DNA for Genealogy. – Anna Hopkins-Arnold
Bio: Rootfinders Genealogy Research’s professional genetic genealogist, Anna Hopkins-Arnold, PhD. (Biology) has used DNA tests for genetic genealogy since 2008. In addition to the advanced institute course reviewed here, she has followed this rapidly evolving field, read the relevant books and journal articles, and attended many hours of training on using DNA to guide genealogy research.
If you have a question for Anna call 970-946-4876 or type it in the form below. She will reply by email. Putleave your phone number in the question box if you prefer a reply by phone.
©Anna Hopkins-Arnold – 2017 – text and photo all rights reserved