Friday, March 30, 2012

Presidential Bioethics Panel Seeks Input on Sequencing-related Issues

At the February meeting, the [Presidential Bioethics] commission decided that the central questions it wants to address are those related to how to best balance the interests of individuals and society as they relate to data privacy and access.
(GenomeWeb Daily News)
Now is the time for all good citizens to come to the aid of their genomes! Here is your chance to share you opinion BEFORE public policy has totally solidified. Access to the vast array of information within your genome is at stake.
Should you control it?
Should the government control it? 
Should the medical and research community control it? 
Should private enterprise control it?
Presidential Bioethics Panel Seeks Input on Sequencing-related Issues | GenomeWeb Daily News | Sequencing | GenomeWeb

Let your thoughts be heard at this critical juncture. Public comments are due by May 25.

Contact the Commission:
     1425 New York Avenue, NW
     Suite C-100
     Washington, DC 20005
     (202) 233-3960, phone
     (202) 233-3990, fax

About the Commission
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (the Commission) is an advisory panel of the nation’s leaders in medicine, science, ethics, religion, law, and engineering. The Commission advises the President on bioethical issues arising from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology. The Commission seeks to identify and promote policies and practices that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in a socially and ethically responsible manner.

Complete 1940 Census records go public, open window on history

Are you ready to extend your research on Monday? Here is a little background:

Complete 1940 Census records go public, open window on history –

Click on the 1940 US Census link just below to review previous posts about this big event for family history researchers.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

1940 US Census Records Are Almost Here!

1940 Census Records

Countdown to the release of the 1940 Census,
April 2, 2012!

In case you haven't been paying attention, the images of the 1940 US Census enumerations will be released to the public in less than a week. Genealogists have been eagerly anticipating this day for a long time--at least since the 1930 Census was released a decade ago. For the first time these records are being released as digital images. There will be no microfilm version. The time clock above is counting down the seconds. But you may still be wondering how you can make use of them to help your research.

The US Archives (NARA) is busy creating tools to assist us. You will profit from exploring them:

1940 Census Records:

Earlier posts in the blog have pointed to other efforts to make your searching more productive as soon as possible. To go back and review them, use the search box in the upper left corner of this post.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Your Genetic Genealogist: "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr." - DNA in The First Two Episodes

CeCe Moore blogged in depth about the first two episodes Henry Louis Gates' new series about finding roots which appeared last night on public television. I saw the first episode last night and will watch the second today. If you share my interest in genealogy and the application of DNA findings to amplify family history research, you should enjoy this series on public television. 

Your Genetic Genealogist: "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr." - DNA in The First Two Episodes:

You will also find the preview from The Genetic Genealogist to be both interesting and provocative. Blaine Bettinger's excellent blog is easily confused with CeCe's Your Genetic Genealogist. Both these blogs help us all try to keep up with new developments in the rapidly developing expanding field of genetic genealogy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Genealogy, Genetics & Ethics" in Burbank Saturday

I will be speaking next Saturday in Burbank, California and signing copies of my book, Crash Course in Genealogy. If you are going to be in that area, I'd love to see you in person.

The Southern California Genealogical Society DNA Interest Group
and the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (
           Southern California Genealogical Society
417 Irving Drive, Burbank, CA 91504
(818) 843-7247

DNA Interest Group Meetings – 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.  

Sat,  March 31, 2012 –  Genetics, Genealogy, and Ethics
Presenter: David Dowell, Ph.D, Genealogist and Research Librarian
  • 10:00-10:30         Answering questions about DNA testing.
  • 10:30-12:00         Bioethicists concerns versus the public’s right to know.
  • 12:00-1:00            Lunch
  • 1:00-2:00              Individualized help.
$5.00 donation is suggested for attendance. Individualized help will be available after the formal presentation for those who want to order DNA tests or who have received DNA results and need help managing their personal page or interpreting their results. A drawing will be held for a $30 discount certificate for ordering a DNA test. Brown bag or join us for pizza for an additional $5.00.

For additional information contact Kathy Johnston at or phone (310) 213-1207.

Following the regular meeting from 2:00-4:00 p.m., those who are Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) Project Administrators or Project Co-administrators are invited to remain to discuss how they are managing group projects.  The Roundtable format allows people to share expertise and create solutions to issues.

Future Meetings of the DNA Interest Group, which meets each 5th Saturday, will feature:
Sat., June 30, 2012 – Alice Fairhurst, Understanding Deep Clade Testing
Sat., Sept. 29, 2012 – Douglas Neslund, An Adoptee’s Quest

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Another Ana-Baptist Ancestress???

I finally have an exact, full segment, mitochondrial DNA match---at all 16,569 locations along my mitochondria! That may not be a big deal to some people. To me it was. I have been waiting about three years for it. 

My first cousin whom I recruited to test for my paternal grandmother's mtDNA had four matches right away and has had another match more recently. Through those matches I discovered that I had a Finnish ancestress who migrated to New Sweden (now Delaware) about 300 years ago.

My son has 27 matches among the H4a1a1 group. My daughter-in-law's father has 40 and counting among the K1a1b1a grouping that seems to account for about 1 in 5 Ashkenazi. I was feeling left out. Although several other H13a1a1 (FTDNA) or H13a1a1a (23andMe) haplogroup members seemed to have been tested, FTDNA continued to report no exact match for me---until this week.

I was not alone, no exact matches had shown up for my wife or for my father-in-law either. Then I was notified that I had not one match but two. As it turns out the two were essentially one. I matched a mother and her son who would be expected to carry identical mitochondrial DNA. However, that match is turning out to be significant genealogically speaking.

I have long known from documentary research that I have a line of ascent that goes back to Ana-Baptist nonconformists who were in Switzerland prior to 1600. Relying on the research of others I have been able to identify 4 8th-great-grandparents who were part of this sect. My mitochondrial match was from Switzerland. My earliest confirmed direct maternal line ancestor was my great-great-grand mother Mary Ann (SHOVER) GROVE who married into the line that descended from the Ana-Baptist nonconformists. 

From my newly found distant cousin, 
If I had to make a wild guess, I'd say that decedents of our common ancestress had moved to the States due to religious persecution. My great-grandmother was a very religious person. She and her husband must have originally come from baptist families who had publicly abdicated their faith generations before but secretly kept on with their beliefs. They kept a 400 hundred year old "Froschauer" bible in their trunk. This bible was forbidden in Berne after the reformation for a long time and only baptists kept on using it. This particular bible had all the verses of the new testament marked in red ink, which suggests that it was used for more than just bible reading at home. I got this piece of information from a book about the farm on which my great-grandmother and her husband had lived on, written by Hand Schmocker.
Then two days later:
I have just hung up the phone with the administration of citizenship in the town, Langnau im Emmenthal, where my great grandmother, Rosalie Gerber, was born in 1871. (Her husband's ancestors I can easily trace back to 1652: the actual family tree already exists, published in the book I mentioned yesterday). I made an appointment at the citizen office for April 30th to study all the possible registers there starting of with my great grandma and then going back. I assume that this will consequently lead me to other towns where more looking up will be necessary. I talked to my aunt on the phone and she will accompany me since she knows much better how to read the so called "Kurrentschrift" in which all the registers around here  before the 20th century were  written in.

Thanks for your fascinating information about your ancestors. The anabaptist movement started in Zurich beginning of the 16th century. But the first anabaptists also already appeared  in 1525 in Bern. The ancestors you described all carry surnames which are not indigenous to the area my great grandmother is from. However my great grandmother carries a typically Bernese surname indigenous to the Emmenthal. So there is a story there to trace.
People moved in all directions once the persecution started. Quite a few moved from the Zurich area towards the mountains (Emmenthal, Berner Oberland), hence so many still live around here where we live (our neighbors in front are "neo-anabaptists"). But there is no knowing in which direction (to or from the mountains) our common ancestress or her offspring have moved.

I will try to find out more. Well, wish me luck on my endeavor.
This is turning out to be a DNA match that was well worth the wait. For now my hypothesis is that the ancestors of both Mary Ann (SHOVER) GROVE and her husband Samuel GROVE, Jr. were part of the Ana-Baptist clan in Switzerland 400 years ago. I know that Samuel's ancestors had fled/migrated to the Baden area (now Germany) by 300 years ago and were in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania a generation later. Samuel's line subsequently spent two generations in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia before moving to Licking County, OH where Samuel was born in 1818 and where he married Mary Ann in 1840. 

Mary was apparently born in Pennsylvania about 1822. I don't know if her family knew Samuel's family before each migrated to Licking County. However, it is beginning to look like this colony of Ana-Baptists may have been very close knit. Was it chance or clan taboo that led them to marry someone within the group? In any case the gene pool may not have been as wide as one might think. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Genetics provide cancer insight

Today's Tennessean carries an interesting article about medical screening through DNA testing:
In the article
Dr. Joann Boughman, executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics in Bethesda, Md., said genetic counselors can provide context and help with decision-making.
"It’s important for individuals to know their family medical history, which may require some detective work to gather, Boughman said.
“It’s an engagement process, and it isn’t always rapid, and it can be very uncomfortable,” she said. But “once you start talking to your family in a reasonable way about this and explain, ‘Everybody is at risk for something; let’s figure out if, as a group, we’re at risk for something special,’ that people will start to open up.”
Dr. Boughman advocates having your results sent to your physician for help in interpretation and context. If this is going to work, more physicians are going to have to become much more conversant in genomic medicine.

You may also wish to consult: 
Whatever you to do be proactive and take charge of your medical treatment planning. Your medical providers may or may not be prepared to do so on your behalf. Hopefully, you can be equal partners in deciding what is best for you and your family.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Publishers try to adjust to e-reader surge

There is a revolution going on in the way we read. Publishers are struggling to adjust their business plans survive this tsunami rush to digital formats. Print newspapers and newsweeklies are fighting for their very existence. Traditional print book publishers and their authors often have conflicting interests about which formats to release their works. I am currently considering what I want the contract for my next book to specify about e-formats. 

All of us are readers and readers have very diverse interests. Today's Nashville Tennessean has the following lead article in its business section:

Publishers try to adjust to e-reader surge | The Tennessean |

Do you use an e-reader? Why or why not?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

NOVA | Cracking Your Genetic Code

Are you ready for the era of personalized, genomic based medicine? Watch Nova on PBS on Wednesday, March 28th. You can view a short preview now:

NOVA | Cracking Your Genetic Code

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Ancestry Interactive Image Viewer -- Beta

When the images of the 1940 US Census are released in about three weeks Ancestry will be locked in a race with a consortium including FamilySearch and to be the first to provide all name indexes to those images. To maintain market share, Ancestry has committed to an effort to enhance the viewing experience for its customer base. Today I stumbled into the beta version of a new version of an interactive document viewer that is the first visual result of Ancestry's upgrade efforts. A beta version is now being tested on images from the 1930 US Census as shown in the screen shot below:

Those of you with Ancestry memberships will want to check out 1930 census images to learn more about this new viewer. Some of the documentation about this new interactive viewer can be seen below: 

You can explore the above Navigation features plus additional ones by going to this link and expanding each of the nine "+" symbols. Then you may be even more excited about the release of the 1940 US Census images on April 2nd.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Relative Finder to Family Finder

My wife Denise has had her autosomal DNA tested at both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). Her father, Bill, was tested at FTDNA only. My sister-in-law, Michele has only been tested at 23andMe. Although sisters would be expected to share about 50% of their DNA, Denise and Michele only share a little less than 45%. Denise is shown by Relative Finder to have 798 potential cousins. Michele has 13.5% more matches there. 

Autosomal Matches
23andMe Relative Finder
FTDNA Family Finder
Bill (father) deceased
not tested
Denise (daughter)
Michele (daughter)
* Tested only at 23and me but results transferred to FTDNA

Recently when Family Tree DNA began offering those with Relative Finder results an opportunity to upload them into its Family Finder database, Michele's results were moved there. Neither sister was shown to have nearly as many potential cousins as had been the case with Relative Finder. However, again Michele was shown to have considerably more potential cousins in the database than her sister Denise. Their father had almost as many as Michele but not quite. 

From this I conclude that the conversion of Michele's results from one lab to the other worked efficiently and an expected number of cousins were identified in the second database. Only 10 matches were shared by all three family members--not counting their matches with each other. Denise and Bill, separately and together, accounted for a total of 146 unique matches. The transfer of Michele's results added an additional 46 unique matches.

As would be expected the amount of DNA shared by Bill with each daughter was roughly the same--3,381.34 cM for Denise and 3,370.78 for Michele. The daughters shared 2,251.64 cM with each other. This is slightly less than expected. 

Obviously from the results above, Relative Finder provides more potential matches than Family Finder. However, unlike with Family Finder, Relative Finder matches must be contacted in a "blind" process that places priority on protecting the privacy of customers. Many of these individuals are reluctant to engage in contact because their focus is only on the health results. Therefore, they are more difficult to contact to explore possible cousin-hood.

Overall I was pleased with the ease and apparent accuracy with which Michele's data migrated from Relative Finder to Family Finder. Transferring her results added 46 addition unique distant cousins to the Family Finder matches we can investigate to expand the family tree. Apparently FTDNA plans to expand this option as other companies (e.g. Ancestry) enter the field. 
"This option is available for men or women who have Relative Finder results from a third party company that used the Illumina OmniExpress Plus Genotyping BeadChip (this includes tests performed by 23andMe)." However, the placement of this offering in a section of its website entitled "Transfer Relative Finder" indicates this is the only third party results currently being accepted. At this time Ancestry is not offering that service to the public but is inviting potential customers to sign up to be notified when it becomes available. The competition is about to heat up.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Where Should I Have My Autosomal DNA Tested?

How does one pick out a lab to test one’s autosomal DNA for genealogical purposes? For the last two years the two preeminent testing labs for autosomal testing for family historians have been Family Tree DNA (FTDNA)  and 23andMe. FTDNA also offers Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests. 23andMe also tests for markers which influence certain health conditions. Ancestry’s approaching entry into autosomal DNA testing offers us a good time to reflect on what each of them have to offer.

When a grandson was born in summer 2010, my first task when I arrived at the curb by the hospital was to receive a vial of his blood to rush to FedEx so that it could be overnighted to a lab for a DNA test. It was a test for a specific gene which is associated with a heritable condition present in my daughter-in-law’s family which according to the NIH, “causes a disruption of the heart's normal rhythm…. If untreated, the irregular heartbeats can cause fainting (syncope), seizures, difficulty breathing, or sudden death.” Fortunately, my new grandson did not test positive for the variant.

The test of a small portion of my grandson’s autosomal DNA was not a test for genealogical purposes; and it was not conducted by a lab that offers consumers DNA testing for family history purposes. However, it highlighted for me a significant difference in focus between DNA testing for medical conditions and DNA testing for genealogical exploration.

Bennett Greenspan and his colleagues at FTDNA have long understood that DNA testing for genealogical purposes was not about the specific results that came out of the lab. Rather it was about the comparisons that could be made with others who were potential relatives. Therefore FTDNA has long emphasized the creation of databases which allow comparisons to be made with others who have tested and in encouraging projects into which those tested could be homogeneously grouped by surname, haplotype or geographic origin.  FTDNA offers opportunities for additional matching by hosting two databases, ySearch and mitoSearch, which allow free cross comparison of Y-chromosome and mitochondrial matching no matter which lab conducted the test. FTDNA has offered long offered accessible customer service—both through its staff and through its system of volunteer project coordinators. FTDNA has also enriched its databases by offering reduced rates to encourage those who had tested at other companies but were interested in adding their data to FTDNA in order to be able to compare their personal results with others in a large database.

23andMe blurs the line between testing for health information and for genealogy. The company was launched in part to create a large database of those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Sergi Brin, co-founder of Google, is the spouse of Anne Wojcicki co-founder of 23andMe; and he has announced that he is genetically predisposed to get Parkinson’s. After 23andMe had its own “Netflix moment” a couple of months ago and upset many genealogy clients. Wojcicki stepped up to the plate and seemed to respond to many of the concerns of the genetic genealogy community. It would appear that the previous troubling announcement grew out of a business plan and mindset which worked well for those who tested to explore potential health conditions based in their genomes. For them, once the absolute values of various genes were documented, being part of a large database was thought to have diminishing appeal. However, for genetic genealogists, the absolute values found at various locations had little value unless they could be matched against a database—and hopefully a very large database. Such varying interests appear to have led 23andMe to have a different world view and business plan than that of FTDNA. Hopefully, Anne will continue to listen, and we will see a somewhat different business plan emerge during 2012 that values continued access to a large and growing database of customer results. Now back to my original question.

Ancestry has long offered Y-chromosome DNA tests. While I love Ancestry’s database offerings, I have not been enamored with their DNA service. They have not approached the level of post-testing support which has been the hallmark of FTDNA. As a result I have had mixed feelings about the signals coming out of Provo that Ancestry was gearing up to offer autosomal DNA tests. I now wonder if the autosomal market will be further splintered. Consumers generally benefit from competition in the marketplace. In many ways the competition between 23andMe and FTDNA has been beneficial to customers of both. However, as I have already said redundantly in this post, being able to compare results with the largest number of other individuals is extremely important for genetic genealogists. Only very recently have we been able to move 23andMe results into the FTDNA autosomal database and make comparisons. I’ll have more to say about this in another post very soon.

As you select a lab to test the autosomal portion of your (or of your relatives’) genome to further your family history research, keep in mind that an essential part of your benefit is gained by the ability to compare the results—both now and in the future—with the largest possible database of others interested in genealogy. With that caveat in mind, I welcome Ancestry’s entrance into this segment of the genetic genealogy market. You can follow this development on CeCe Moore’s blog.