23 March 2016

Student Discount for NGS Conference

Being a full-time student could be the reason you're an Occasional Genealogist. If so, NGS is offering a significant discount to the upcoming conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. You can learn more, including how to "apply" for the discount, on the NGS Conference website at, http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/student-rate/. You can also read NGS's official blog post at, http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/are-you-a-student-get-your-ngs-conference-discount-today/. I wish they would have offered these when I was in school, I might have been able to afford to go!
18 March 2016

Simple DNA Project Tracking Form for Evernote

I was preparing to schedule this post when I saw the announcement about GEDmatch suspending FTDNA uploads. Obviously, if that is permanent, there will be some changes needed to how genealogists use DNA analysis tools but this is such new news, I'm posting this as is. I may update this form in future to deal with whatever situation exists, but there's no point in making changes until a stable situation exists.

As part of my post "Is DNA the 'Magic Bullet' for OGs," I'm providing another Evernote form for Freebie Friday. This is a super simple form (table) to keep track of a select set of test information. When I say simple, I mean simple. It does not keep track of any DNA information, just identifying information and relationships. I use this as a quick reference for test ids. I also keep a handful of other information I might want to see when deciding who to include and what analysis tool to use.

Part of the reason this is so simple is it is a table, not a spreadsheet. That means it cannot be sorted (i.e. reordered). Most of the tracking you'd want to do related to DNA, even tracking correspondence, would be better done in a spreadsheet or database. Then you can filter and sort and possibly do more, depending on your skills.

Here is how I use this form.


I enter the person's real name IF I know it. The project I initially created this for involved a core set of tests from researchers I've known since before any kind of DNA testing was available. It is also easier in correspondence to refer to an administered test by the testee's name rather than "the test you administer A000000" which just takes more time. If you need to compose an email on a mobile device, you will be glad to use a name rather than a wordy description.

Ancestry User Name

This is not JUST their AncestryDNA user name. Trees are often available on Ancestry.com even if the person tested elsewhere. I record their Ancestry.com user name but I make a note if they have not tested there.

FTDNA "name"

Family Tree DNA doesn't show you the test ids so you have to identify people by the "name" they listed. If I know their number and they don't have a GEDmatch id, I also enter it but it won't help on the FTDNA site.

GEDmatch ID

Enter their GEDmatch ID. I don't worry about their GEDmatch user name or email on this form because I only need their id to run any tools. Remember, this isn't a correspondence log or spreadsheet of results. I keep it simple so I can see info "at a glance."

For the previous three columns, I "browse" these to see where people have tested. I want to see the GEDmatch column filled in so I use this to consider who to email and ask about/suggest GEDmatch, too.


I record email addresses here sometimes. I also list the tests of children or other relatives. With children or grandchildren in particular, they can't have any DNA the parent doesn't have so I often exclude them from the initial analysis, so it doesn't look like I have a strong set of matches when it's really one immediate family. I may also include other relatives here until I decide I want to give them their own line. That's why it's called "other." Use it how your project dictates but remember, this is a simple table.


Most Recent Common Ancestor. I always list the MRCA for the project I am working on but I will also make a note if the actual MRCA is from a different branch. You may wish to list all shared ancestors, just be clear. I do include the project MRCA's child so I can see how well represented the family is.

Relationship to [focus test]

Replace [focus test] with the name of the person, otherwise this column is useless. I use the abbreviations 1C for first cousin, 2C1r for second cousin once removed, etc. I have some serious endogamy in some lines so I list all the ways the person is related. If it is multiple ways, I include the name of the child of each MRCA next to each relationship (and yes, sometimes there is one MRCA with two different relationships because they descend from two children of the MRCA). I also list the relationships if the "Other" column lists relatives' tests.

Below this form I pasted in a cousin chart from the Internet so I didn't have to look one up everytime I needed it. I'm not providing it because it isn't mine. Just Google "cousin chart" and you can copy one of the image results that works for you.

I would love to hear feedback about this form. If you are dealing with a different type of project or have a different background, this might not work. I want to know what kind of project you did or didn't find it helpful for and why. I'm providing this because DNA is so new, there aren't as many organizing "templates." Keep in mind, this is a quick reference, not a data tracking form. I don't plan to add more columns to this form, it is as wide as I can comfortably use it in Evernote. To me, that indicates anything more needs to be kept somewhere else. I do use some highlighting to alert myself to tests of interest. You can also create links to other Evernote notes, web pages, or even documents. Don't try and keep track of all your matches in one form! This is for a specific project and should be a relatively small group of matches.

You can get a copy in the Resource Library (you'll need a password but it's free to Occasional Genealogists subscribers, click here to subscribe). Remember, let me know what kind of project this worked for or didn't work for and why. You can also share your modifications (still include why) so others can learn from what worked for you.
15 March 2016

Is DNA the "Magic Bullet" for Occasional Genealogists?

This post contains affiliate links.

If you've had a genealogical DNA test done, you probably know the answer to this question.

I know questions about using DNA are almost always the first thing people ask me when they find out I'm a professional genealogist. Today's post gives you an answer aimed at Occasional Genealogists (OGs).

Right up front, the answer is "no." DNA is not a magic bullet for any type of genealogical problem or for any type of genealogist. It may work wonders for certain problems, but people seem to think it will work like a magic bullet (well, magic sledgehammer) on their brick wall.

You will not spit/swab, send off your sample, receive the results, and suddenly have a solution to all your problems. You'll be lucky if you can get a solution to one problem, and that will only happen if you've done lots of prep work.

DNA results require something to compare them to. The ethnicity results you receive compare your results to a large sample of data. In that case, you don't have to provide the comparison sample. Health information is similar (that is outside of genealogy, so I'm not going into it). Ethnicity results from DNA is a post in itself. If you're interested, start seeking out information online.
DNA results require something to compare them to.
One of the reasons you see T.V. commercials about ethnicity results (or health results) is the company compares your results to samples they provide and reports results from that analysis.

When it comes to getting results about who you inherited DNA from, the company can't tell you this. Separate analysis has to be done for every ancestor you want to identify.

To extremely over simplify it, you first identify a group of people who inherited DNA from the same source and then determine who that source is. To have ancestral analysis done, you either do it yourself or hire someone.

As an OG, the more realistic option, time-wise, is to hire someone. That being said, it's "expensive" because it's time-consuming. You will need to pay someone with specialized skills (not just any professional genealogist) to spend time doing the analysis.

If you are the type of OG who doesn't get to research very often because of access to records, as opposed to lack of time, you may have the time to do DNA analysis yourself. Everything you need is online. (Note: Traditional research has to be used with DNA analysis, but I'm considering that as separate from the DNA analysis.)

RELATED POST: Do I Need a Family Tree If I Take a DNA Test?

As an OG, you may or may not have time/money to use DNA right now. The one suggestion I would make is to consider having older relatives tested, even if you don't have time to delve into DNA today or even in the next few years.

Currently, there is no option to have hair tested (such as a lock of hair from a locket). Once the test subject is gone, you currently can not have them tested for the first time. If they have been tested already, you usually can have their sample re-tested when new types of tests (or refinements) become available.
I really wish I would have had my last two great-great aunts tested before they died. Mitochondrial DNA wasn't particularly useful for what I was working on and was the only choice. If either had been tested, I could have had the FamilyFinder test run on the sample.
Both passed away before autosomal DNA was even heard of in the general genealogical community. Mitochondrial testing was extremely expensive at the time, so I probably could not have done it even if I had had a clue about future options, though.

In contrast, autosomal testing is under $100. Family Tree DNA offers autosomal, Y, and mt tests. The same sample can be used for all (and their test is a swab, rather than a spit test, which may be easier for many people).

If you have older relatives who are willing, and you can afford the test, go ahead and have them tested now. Options like testing a lock of hair might become available---but when, and how much will it cost?

DNA for genealogy is not a magic bullet. It is an extremely powerful new tool to use as PART of your genealogical toolbox. It will take you some time to learn to use autosomal DNA, much longer than Y-DNA or mtDNA.

However, you may be able to solve a problem you have been unable to overcome with traditional methods. DNA isn't an instant solution. Once you do the necessary work, it might produce what feels like magical results when a brick wall finally crumbles.

RELATED POST: Simple DNA Project Tracking Form for Evernote
RELATED POST: Did you know you have a "digital estate" and why genealogists care
RELATED POST: Celebrate Being an Occasional Genealogist, Today!
Recommended Reading

The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic GenealogyGenetic Genealogy in Practice
09 March 2016

NGS Conference Streaming Announced

This is the same post as on my main business blog, blog.jpgenealogy.com. This is relevant to Occasional Genealogists (OGs) because it may be the best way to fit it several lectures in a condensed amount of time.

In my series "For the Genealogist Who Doesn't Know Where to Go Next," I wrote about national conferences and mentioned online access options. NGS has announced the live streaming options for their 2016 conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There are two tracks you can watch on two different days (so you can pick either or both). You get access through August 7th, so you don't have to watch live.

Both tracks look fantastic. The first is about land records and includes both mapping, records, and Google Earth. The second is titled "Methods for Success" and is more about meeting the standards for quality research. Check it out, though, it includes lectures about evidence standards but also conveying what you've done (sharing), using autosomal DNA, and ethics. If you have never attended a lecture (or read a book, not just one article) about the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), using negative evidence, or similar topics, you will really benefit from learning about these techniques. You may even find this frees your from the research plateau you've been stuck on and helps you finally progress on some of your harder problems.

This second track is the type of lecture I will attend over and over again (I will even attend some lectures repeatedly when it is literally the same lecture I have heard before). Meeting the GPS becomes more complex as your problem becomes more complex. Because of that, it's necessary to refresh your knowledge on what it really takes to solve a complex genealogical problem. It's not uncommon for the same researcher to make solving one problem too easy and solving another problem too hard. Every problem is unique, and we all have our quirks which can lead to under researching one problem and over researching another.

Attending lectures by a variety of presenters (which both tracks provide) helps you identify the skills or techniques you underutilize or misuse. For me, I underutilize writing in my personal research. I often get interrupted when working on my own genealogy and never get back to writing a conclusion. When I do write up my results (even incomplete results) it always makes a huge difference. In the "misuse" category, I tend to go more for "exhaustive research" when it is supposed to be "REASONABLY exhaustive research." Not surprisingly, if I'd write, it'd make it obvious when I've reached "reasonably" exhaustive. I also know I will misremember or forget key points due to working on one problem extensively. What I misremember or forget is influenced by the problem. That means I don't have the advantage of knowing what mistake I am probably making. A refresher lecture helps reorient my brain, so my personal quirks have as little negative effect on my research as possible.

You can get the full details of the live streaming options at the NGS Conference blog, conference.ngsgenealogy.org (click here for the live streaming info page).