Will I see you at Jamboree?

Next Thursday is DNA day at the Southern California Genealogy Society’s Jamboree in Burbank, one of my favorite events. I particularly love the outdoor bar restaurant between the hotel and the conference center. Usually the weather is perfect for spending the evening there with friends. If you have been wanting to buy me a glass of wine, here’s your chance!

Thursday also has a series of free events all day long, including a DNA round table at 5:00 pm with a number of DNA experts at tables. You can come to mine to ask questions about 3rd party DNA tools.

The speakers for the paid DNA day sessions on Thursday, besides myself, include Blaine Bettinger, Leah Larkin, Paul Woodbury, Emily Aulicino, Tim Jantzen, Shannon Christmas, David Nicholson, Daniel Horowitz, Schelly Talalay Dardashti, Diahan Southard, Barbara Rae-Venter, David Dowell, and many more. My sessions are “DNA Segment Triangulation” and Using DNA and GWorks for Unknown Parentage Cases.” Click here for the full schedule.

If you can’t get there, you can sign up for live streaming at http://genealogyjamboree.com/live-streaming-2018/ – sadly it is not free this year, but very inexpensive. In previous years you could buy recordings of many of the sessions, hopefully that will happen this year too.

The main genealogy sessions start Friday morning, but there is at least one DNA related session at every time slot including an “Ask the DNA Experts” at 5pm (and yes I am one of them). Saturday also has plenty of DNA sessions.
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Why did my Ancestors Come to America?

My mother arriving in America in 1935

My mother was born in Munich to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother so I know perfectly well why they moved to Boston in 1935. He was “retired” in the early 1930s, from his professorship at the University of Freiburg Faculty of Medicine for being jewish. However he still had an extensive private medical practice and would have stayed in Germany had my Oma not insisted that they leave. Thankfully my Opa was a prominent scientist and had many offers from different universities around the world. Happily for my existence, my Oma chose Boston over Ankara.

But why did my Norwegian ancestors come to this country? I recently started reading a book, Between Rocks and Hard Places (love that title!) by Ann Urness Gesme that answers some of those questions and describes life in Norway in the 1800s in much detail. So I wanted to share this find with all of you other Norwegian Americans and Norwegians. Many of you may have already read the wonderful article Peace, Potatoes and Pox which summarizes the reasons for the population explosion in Norway such that there were too many people on too little land, the main impetus behind emigration. He wrote that article after reading Norway to America A History of the Migration by Ingrid Semmingsen, a detailed and carefully researched book. [n.b. these book titles include my affiliate links]

My paternal grandfather was born in Kristiansand, Norway’s southernmost city, and came here when he was six years old with his family. He later married the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, one from near Drammen and the other from Etne, Hordaland. This gives me the pleasure of three different places in Norway to research for my family history.

I am fortunate to have the letters that grandfather wrote to my Dad during WWII which include a description of leaving Kristiansand in 1884: “… my grandfather brought us out in a row boat to the steamer lying out in the harbor all ready to leave for America” and “What America was I did not know, but I had imbibed enough of family talk to realize it was a land of plenty and an interesting place to go to.” Followed by a description of the crossing: “Well the Atlantic was rough and wild at times during July 1884 and our boat rolled and pitched in the heavy seas. I was tremendously impressed by the huge waves, which seemed like mountains to me.”

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How to find a killer using DNA and genealogy

It was only a matter of time before the methodologies and technologies that have been developed to break genealogical brick walls and find unknown birth parents were used to identify victims and criminals. The use of DNA and genealogy to solve the horrific Golden State killer case has been sensationalized in the media for several days now. I even got a few calls from reporters as a DNA and GEDmatch expert. Also, just two weeks ago an unknown murder victim from 30 years ago, found in Florida, was finally identified from a DNA cousin match on a genealogy site.

Some of my friends and cousins are worried about the possible invasion of their DNA test privacy. Most just want to understand how this can be done, so I will try to explain that in this post. At the end of this post I will include links to other genetic genealogy blog posts that have wrestled with the issues raised.

You share about 98.5% of your DNA with this fellow

Although I have sympathy with the concerns of people who fear false identification using DNA techniques, this is not my fear. The methodology used gets to a pool of possibles whose actual DNA is then collected and compared. I have confidence in that technology. My fear is that my cousins will stop testing their DNA to help my family projects or stop uploading their tests to my favorite tools site, GEDmatch, where the DNA test results from different companies can be compared.

Click here for an article at the LA Times which went into more of the technical details of the Golden State killer case for us genetic genealogists and here for a lengthy video interview with investigator Paul Holes on how it was done.

Let me start my article by reminding all of you that every human’s DNA is about 99% the same as every other human and about 98.5% the same as a chimpanzee. The companies who test your personal genome only test a small sample of that differing 1%. To put it in numbers, our genomes have about 3 billion base pairs and the tests cover about 700,000 of those, which comes out to about .02% of your genome. Not enough to clone you or worry about, in my opinion.

Next let me remind you that uploading your DNA results from Ancestry or 23andme or wherever you tested to GEDmatch does not expose even that little bit of your DNA to the public. What happens is that your “DNA cousins” will match long sections of your data, called segments, and they can see which locations on which chromosome(s) are the same between the two of you. Therefore they know what your actual DNA code is only on those pieces they share with you. When they match you in the GEDmatch database, they can see your email address, name or pseudonym, and your kit number. With that kit number they can see what color your eyes are, what ethnicities various calculators give, and who else you match. If you have connected a family tree to your DNA they can also see the non-living people in your tree. But they have to match your DNA significantly to see any of that! Click here for an article I wrote addressing privacy worries at GEDmatch

So how do you get from there to a killer?
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DNA Day: last chance for sale prices

To celebrate DNA Day, April 25, all the companies which sell personal genome testing kits are having the best sales ever seen. These mainly end at midnight on the 25th. Click here for my page discussing the pluses and minuses of testing with each company.

My quick recommendations are:

  • Test at the largest database, Ancestry.com DNA, if you are interested in genealogy and are from an English speaking country.
  • Test at 23andme if you want the health results and like the nitty gritty segment details.
  • Test older family members and privacy worriers at Family Tree DNA (the cheek swab is easier than spitting, plus they keep the sample and do not sell any results).
  • Europeans or children of recent immigrants may prefer MyHeritage or Family Tree DNA

But what is DNA day and who deems it a day to celebrate? It is the day in 1953 when “James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and colleagues published papers in the journal Nature on the structure of DNA” [source wikipedia]

My husband remembers his text books from the 1970s on molecular biology which claimed DNA could never be sequenced. I recently saved his 1970 second edition of Watson’s Molecular Biology of the Gene (now in its 7th edition as of 2013) above from our give-to-charity box.

On April 25, 2003 the human genome project declared success; Fifty years to the day after the Crick, Watson, et al article appeared. Do you think the choice of day was deliberate? And here we are 15 years later where the price of sequencing the small part of your genome which can be different from other humans is only about $50. Amazing!

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MyHeritage DNA Matching: Excellent Enhancements

MyHeritage has kept its promises: tree matching, pedigree display, a place for notes, and best of all, a chromosome browser. Plus the cousin matching is finally quite good, at least for your closer cousins, and includes some triangulation.

A very nice new feature is the Ethnicities Map, a menu item under DNA, which gives you the common groups for any modern day country you select. Since a question I commonly receive from family members is “Why doesn’t my known German ancestry show up?”, it is great to be able to show them this map:

A picture says it better than telling them that in the DNA, northern Germans look Scandinavian, southern Germans look Italian, eastern Germans look East European, and western Germans look French. My maternal ancestors lived at the crossroads of Europe!

Uploading your results from another DNA testing company is still free at MyHeritage and you get many of the DNA features. Personally I have just a data subscription and a small tree (there is a 250 person limit for unpaid members). In a few weeks I will create an account for a cousin and see if this works as well as it is supposed to for completely free members.

After the recent change, the segment details for my matches to my close family are very similar to what I see on GEDmatch and 23andme, same chromosomes, similar sizes, slightly different boundaries. This is a wonderful improvement!

Since my ancestors are all fairly recent immigrants from Norway and Germany, I was hoping for some international matches when I uploaded my DNA results to MyHeritage last year. In practice, as usual, there were no Germans (testing is not popular there), but plenty of Norwegian cousins that I already knew about, plus a few new distant ones.

However, I did recently get a new close cousin match (1C2R-2C1R), Melissa from New Jersey. I will use her match to investigate the new improved DNA matching.
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