Monday, November 28, 2011

RootsMagic 5.0 Released

Today RootsMagic announced the release of version 5.0 of its popular genealogy program for Windows PCs.

For new customers the full version of this powerful program is $29. Current customers can upgrade for $19. A trial version is available for free download. I will be downloading the new version as soon as I finish this blog post. This has been my genealogy program of choice starting with its ancestor, FamilyOrigins. Click on the picture above or this link for details about this new version.

This would make a nice gift for those on your holiday list.

Friday, November 18, 2011

David Dowell's Adding DNA Testing Presentation

Linked below is a very nice review of my presentation on genetic genealogy a week ago in the Chicago area:

David Dowell's Adding DNA Testing Presentation - Chicago Genealogy |

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Many Genes Associated With More Than One Disease

Grace Rattue reported on Monday in Medical News Today,

"According to investigators at the University of Edinburgh, individuals who carry specific genes, including some accountable for Parkinson's disease, some cancers and heart disease, may be at risk of developing other health problems. Although researchers have long suspected that different diseases are genetically associated, to date there has been insufficient systematic evidence to prove it. The study is published online in the American Journal of Human Genetics."

In that article the investigators state, 

"Showing that genes are linked to more than one disease is very important. We have shown that this is a common finding and not just an exception. Anyone who goes for genetic testing should be aware that in future, any information they receive about individual genes could have wider implications than they or the clinician immediately realize. They could also influence the risk of other conditions, so being aware of these wider effects is important."

For more information on this phenomena read Many Genes Associated With More Than One Disease.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FTDNA Announces a Holiday Sale on DNA Test Kits

FTDNA yesterday announced its anticipated holiday sale. Note that it may be necessary to join a surname or geographic project (free), to qualify for the sale prices.

Dear Project Administrator,
As we approach the holiday season, we feel having one BIG promotion for a sufficient amount of time best supports our volunteer Administrators, in their effort to recruit new members. Current members will also benefit by having simultaneously reduced prices for upgrades.
Effective immediately this promotion will end on December 31, 2011.
We hope that this will give a big boost to your projects! 
New Kits

Current Group Price
Y-DNA 37
Y-DNA 67
SuperDNA (Y-DNA67 and FMS)
Family Finder
Family Finder + mtPlus
Family Finder + FMS
Family Finder+ Y-DNA37
Comprehensive (FF + FMS + Y-67)


12-25 Marker
12-37 Marker
12-67 Marker
25-37 Marker
25-67 Marker
37-67 Marker
Family Finder
You are welcome to share this information with the members of your groups.

As always, we appreciate your continued support.
Family Tree DNA

If you are not sure which test you should order, ask Dr. D. It really depends on what genealogical question you are attempting to answer. After you have defined your research question, then you can make a more intelligent decision about which test to order and which family member(s) should do the cheek swabbing. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

$1,000 Genome in Two Hours by 2012, Says CEO of Ion Torrent

If Jonathan Rothberg is to be believed, we have not seen anything yet. Earlier this month he claimed the mythical “$1,000 genome” will be here next year. He made that claim at MIT’s Emerging Technology conference:  $1,000 Genome in Two Hours by 2012, Says CEO of Ion Torrent - Technology Review.

This claim has the potential to firmly establish personalized genomic medicine within the next two decades. If we can retool medical practitioners as rapidly as we can explore our genomes, we will be seeing amazing things. It will also add great power for those of us who use DNA testing as one of our tools to explore our family histories.

These amazing breakthroughs in science and medicine will make it even more imperative that we as a society develop appropriate legal and ethical norms for defining ownership, control and privacy that should be given to the vast amount of personal information that will be made available.

Right to Own our Own Bodies

One of the most important human rights issues of the 21st century may be the right to have access to information contained in our own bodies. We are generally acknowledged to own any ideas we express that can be recorded in tangible form (copyright). However, we do not seem to have clear rights of ownership to more tangible products of our bodies. Body pieces that are removed during medical procedures, information gained during medical testing and information contained in our DNA, seem to fall into a category of information from which some paternalistically believe they must protect us.

After four decades as a librarian I have the professional ethic that information is power and that my role as a professional is to help clients find the information they need to make informed decisions about all aspects of their lives. This is a somewhat different paradigm than the prevailing one in the medical arena between physicians and their patients.

Scientists and physicians want to use health information for their own purposes but many are reluctant to share it with the donors of that information. Many researchers are afraid that we might object to their use of this data which they believe they can exploit for the benefit of society. Physicians don’t appreciate the value of their patients having information on medical issues if the physicians do not have the knowledge to “fix” the problems. Both of these positions are short-sighted and paternalistic.

I had been developing my own opinion on these topics over the last few years as I pondered my own chances of developing Alzheimer’s. My mother was afflicted by late onset dementia which may have been a form of Alzheimer’s. The prevailing view of the medical community seems to be that since they cannot successfully reverse or arrest such a disease, there is no benefit in me finding out whether or not I might have an elevated risk of developing it. In fact, they believe that such knowledge would unduly raise my anxiety level and lead to depression. A few recent studies suggest that any such anxiety and depression would be short lived and that those who do not test positive for increased risk will receive a positive attitude adjustment from the results.

Even if the medical community is not yet equipped to successfully treat me for such diseases, I can use such diagnostic knowledge to make informed decisions about my life and the environment in which I wish to live it. For example, if I believe myself to be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s, I may wish to choose to live in an extended care retirement community of my own choosing rather to inflict the burden of such a choice on my children with the potential guilt this may afflict on them.

With those concerns in mind, I have been tested for one gene marker that is thought to be associated with Alzheimer’s. I fully understand that this is only one indicator and that by itself it does not control my fate. I was relieved to find that on the basis of this one indicator, my likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s is only about 3% while that of the general population is about 7%. At the same time my wife tested along with me and discovered that she is at an increased risk of about 14% even she has no family history of Alzheimer’s. Her result does not seal her fate. She still has, based on this one indicator, only a one in seven chance of developing this disease. However, based on this knowledge, we can make decisions about our lives that have little to do with the ability or inability of the medical profession to “fix” Alzheimer’s.

Individual citizens need to have complete access to any medical test conducted on them and to be able to control information coming from within their bodies. For those of you who may have an interest in some of the ethical issues involved, I would recommend the thought provoking book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot about which I will have more to say in a future blog post. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Spittoon » Support Your Right to Access Your Clinical Lab Results

The issue of who controls the right to your DNA code and the rest of the information from within your body has the potential to be the most important civil rights issue of the 21st century. You have a chance to express your opinion on this important issue -- part of which is discussed in the linked blog post from 23andMe. Although 23andMe has a vested financial interest in this issue, I believe that your interests are best served by you controlling who has access to the information stored in your body. You certainly cannot control that information if you cannot get access to it. Read the post: The Spittoon » Support Your Right to Access Your Clinical Lab Results.

1940 US Census

Genealogist are getting increasingly impatient for the release of the 1940 Census on April 2, 2012. I am chairing a group that will be presenting a program, "Mining the Gold in the 1940 US Census", at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Anaheim at the end of June. That will be just two months after the release of the census images by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) but before the availability of name indexes for every state. Joel Weintraub will be the principal speaker on that program. Joel is perhaps best known to genealogists as the partner with Steve Morse in a wide array of 1-Step search engines. Weintraub has been working for over a year with a dedicated group of volunteers to provide an enumeration district approach to census information that will provide access to the information in this census before the name indexes are available and will supplement the search processes even after name indexes are provided. A panel from the NARA,, FamilySearch, HeritageQuest and will supplement Dr. Weintraub's presentation. For more on the 1-Step approach to this census see my earlier post.

Today Dick Eastman posted a link to a historical 10 minute video about that census for those of you who want to gear up to take full advantage of the treasures of the 1940 Census.

DNA Tests on Sale for Holidays

This past weekend I attended FTDNA's 7th International Conference for Group Administrators in Houston. This was the first time I have been able to participate in this conference. It brought together 180 volunteer coordinators of various DNA projects. Most of these projects are surname projects. However, some of them are based on haplogroups or on geographic region of origin. It was a very exciting and stimulating two days.

Speakers included geneticists including Spencer Wells who gave an update on the Genographic Project, Michael Hammer who updated the status of efforts to study ancient (including Neanderthal) DNA and Thomas Krahn who gave a status report on his Walk Through the Y Project. Project coordinators, a legal expert and others at the forefront of the application of this dynamic science to the advancement of family history research also made reports. 

As many of you know, genetics is a young and volatile branch of the life sciences. Alice Fairhurst, coordinator of the Y-DNA Haplogroup Tree Project of the International Society of Genetic Genealogists, reported that the number of new subbranches of the Y-chromosome tree that have been recognized in 2011 are already four times the number identified in 2006 and may approach or surpass the number of such new discoveries of five years ago by a factor of five by the time the year is over. It is increasingly difficult for any one individual to begin to keep up with all the new discoveries coming out of labs around the world.

At the end of the conference Bennett Greenspan, founder of FTDNA, disclosed that FTDNA would be announcing a new sale on DNA tests later this week. That sale should extend until the holidays. Depending on how this sale structured This would be a great opportunity to extend one's tests to reach a greater precision or to involve additional family members in DNA testing. What would be a better gift for the family member who has everything? Your whole family could benefit from the results. Stay tuned for more details on this sale and for other information coming out of this conference.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ABC-CLIO Blog: Genetic Genealogy

ABC-CLIO Blog: Genetic Genealogy: You've likely heard of DNA tests for paternity lawsuits, crime scene investigation, and even medical conditions; but did you know genetic te...