The November, 2016 General Meeting featured three presentations on DNA and Genetic Genealogy by Diahan Southard. For the third in our series of blog interviews, Dana Leeds asked Diahan about how she got started in both genealogy and genetic genealogy, her view on how the field of genetic genealogy will be changing in the near future, and more.
We hope you enjoy learning more about our presenter.
What got you started in genealogy?
DNA is actually what got me started in genealogy.
How did you get interested in DNA?
It all started in college when I worked for the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, one of the first efforts to combine genetics and genealogy. That project grew into a business that I worked for until I went out on my own.
What is one of the most common questions you receive regarding DNA?
One of the most common comments I get is about how the ethnicity estimates are off, or that they are interesting, or that they didn’t learn much. While those ethnicity estimates are fun, the real excitement is in the match list. So I spend a lot of time trying to help people understand that idea.
Has DNA helped you break through any of your own brick walls?
Certainly! It has helped me identify my mom’s biological family!
Can you tell us about one of your most interesting DNA cases?
Just last week I met with a man who wasn’t sure his paternal grandfather was really his paternal grandfather. There weren’t any immediate clues in his YDNA, but he had three third cousins that were very revealing. As it turns out, it looks like his great grandmother’s claim that his father’s father was Dr. Davis might actually have been the case!
Since DNA is a tool that works alongside traditional genealogy research, how do you further your own skills?
I am honestly not very good at this part. There are only so many hours in the day, and I still have three kids at home, so I don’t get much time to do my own learning and research. I do like to watch the Legacy webinars when I see one I am interested in, because I can do that on my own time. I am also really excited about my fellow colleagues and the books they publish. Right now I am knee deep in Blaine Bettinger’s The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. It is wonderful! There is always more to learn.
What current changes are happening in the field of genetic genealogy?
Currently we see an almost full acceptance of genetics as part of the genealogy endeavor. Nearly everyone, inside and outside of genealogy circles, has heard of using DNA for genealogy. This is HUGE! The databases have reached a tipping point of sorts, meaning that now there are enough people tested that most people with European heritage will find value in the experience.
What changes do you think the field of genetic genealogy will experience over the next few years or decade?
We are seeing an influx of companies taking advantage of the raw genetic data produced by our three main testing companies and this will grow exponentially over the next several years. Since everyone has access to their raw data (as they should), anyone can create a product around analyzing that data in new ways. That, combined with the increase in database size as more and more people adopt this technology, will bring an amazing amount of new tools and information to help us with our research and our health.
We will also see an increase in individuals tested outside of the United States. This will serve to both increase the database diversity, and provide an overall better testing experience for everyone as companies analyze the new data and are better able to make ethnicity as well as cousin match decisions based on better math that comes from a more diverse sample size.
For those who want to learn more about DNA and how it can help them with their research, can you recommend at least one resource?
Blaine’s book, that I just mentioned, is a great read! If you want to read it online for free, go to www.isogg.org/wiki. There are pages and pages of information there. If you are looking for something more bite-sized, I do sell genetic genealogy quick sheets. I have compiled only the essential information about each test type and each testing company into four page easy reference guides.
How can people get in touch with you if they want to hire you for a consultation?
Email is best. guide@yourDNAguide.com