28    Nov 20072 comments

DNA: Family Tree DNA conference

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DNA is the latest tool for researchers trying to connect and learn about their ancestral roots. Genetic genealogy can confirm relationships for which the paper trail has disappeared, and it can also help researchers to avoid wild goose chases.

Family Tree DNA is the designated DNA-testing company for the five-year Genographic Project, led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells. Since the NGS/IBM project, the company has processed more than 200,000 Genographic Project DNA tests.

In 2006, I attended Family Tree DNA's 3rd International Conference on Genetic Genealogy and was amazed at the high level of knowledge and passion represented by the attendees, who are mainly lay administrators of surname and geographical projects, as well as the scientists whose presentations clarified normally difficult topics.

The annual meeting is aimed at administrators of Family Tree DNA projects from the US and Europe, who were the first to look at the full mtDNA (female DNA) sequences comparative database, which will, according to the company, make it possible for genealogists to make significant comparisons between individuals who share recent history.

Founded in April 2000, it was the first company to develop the commercial application of DNA testing for genealogical purposes. Today, its continually growing database exceeds 160,000 individual test records for Y-DNA (male) and mtDNA (female).

Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the 2007 meeting, but I was happy to receive the post-event update, which included several major announcements:

- Launch of the first comparative database for Full Mitochondria Sequences.

- Introduction of MyMaps, the first personalized interactive genetic mapping system in the world.

- The A Walk Through the Y Chromosome test that allows participants to map genetic relationships through the male-inherited Y Chromosome.

Leading experts presented topics related to research, applications and challenges, and included:

- Dr. John M. Butler, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- Dr. Michael Hammer, renowned geneticist; director, Genomic Analysis and Technology Core facility at the University of Arizona
- Dr. Theodore G. Schurr, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania
- Dr. David Soria of National Geographic
- Family Tree DNA Founder-President Bennett Greenspan

The company is the pioneer in the field of genetic genealogy and offers cutting-edge innovation connecting genetic testing science and genetic genealogy with computer technology.

Founder/president Bennett Greenspan unveiled MyMaps, an innovative genetic mapping system enabling individuals who don’t know where their European ancestors came from, to identify possible specific geographical origins. It is applicable to all of the company Y-DNA and mtDNA tests.

Dr. Butler - project leader of the NIST Human Identity DNA Measurements Group - addressed the challenge of the need for standardization in reporting genetic genealogical DNA results.

Dr. Hammer - Family Tree DNA's chief scientist - previewed highlights from his upcoming paper on the new phylogenetic tree (YCC or Y Chromosome Consortium).

Native American populations research was addressed by Dr. Schurr, while Dr. Soria presented an update on the National Geographic Genographic Project collection of genetic samples, results analysis and papers on modern humans' genetic roots and human migratory history.

Dr. Thomas Krahn - Family Tree DNA's Genomics Research Center director - presented A Walk thru the Y Chromosome and detailed a test to sequence vast sections of the Y chromosome.

There is a wealth of information at the website; click here.

Have you participated in the National Geographic Genome Project? Are you interested in setting up a surname or geographic project?

I look forward to reading your comments and questions.

28    Nov 20070 comments

Footnote.com: Create your own projects

Click to go to footnote.com

I've met the people at Footnote.com at several conferences, and they are continually bringing new resources online.

To learn about new resources as they are added, go to Footnote.com and sign up for Footnote's alert service.

The site has now announced that researchers can create their own projects online at the site.

Each time, I've searched the site, I've discovered fascinating records which focus on individuals who served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars as well as my 20th century Eastern European immigrant ancestors. Some 20 million original documents are now available and about 2 million are added each month.

In addition to saving the documents you find, visitors can now also upload original images and documents to share with others interested in the same names or locations, thus aiding collaboration among more researchers, who may each have a piece of a larger puzzle.

There are tools to make your original uploaded items searchable to other researchers. The only limit to this great idea is your own creativity and Footnote's resources - which increase daily.

If you'd like to learn more about this resource, you can read about it here.

If you've checked out Footnote, set up a project or have comments or questions, I look forward to hearing from you.

28    Nov 20070 comments

Chicago: A new resource helps researchers

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Do you have ancestors who lived in Chicago, Illinois?

If so, the Newberry Library has a new resource to make research easier.

Click to go to newberry.org

Opened in 1887, The Newberry Library, a renowned humanities research and reference institution,houses a world-class collection of books, manuscripts, maps, music, and other printed materials related to the history and culture of Western Europe and the Americas and spanning many centuries. Holdings include medieval manuscripts and early maps, as well as extensive genealogical resources. Among its collections are some 1.5 million books, 5 million manuscript pages and 500,000 historic maps.

A new interactive, map based site has been announced to help family history researchers and Chicago historians. ChicagoAncestors.org was developed by the staff of the library's Local and Family History department.

According to the library, the online map makes searching and sharing historical information easier.

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"There is a huge amount of local historical information about Chicago in books and on the Internet," said Jack Simpson, co-director of the project and curator of local and family history at the Newberry Library. "We're trying to help researchers find that data by allowing them to search by proximity of a particular address or intersection."

A look at the site shows that data includes everything from historicchurch locations, neighborhood bibliographies and historic homicides, as well as many Internet resource links, including historical photos of the city.

Visitors can research the history of a Chicago address and identify relevant Library ersources, as well as educational institutions and houses of worship. You might learn where your great-grandfather went to school, or what church or synagogue your ancestors attended.

Researchers can also create a saved profile, and share their research and knowledge with relatives and other researchers of the same neighborhoods or names. And, by registering, users can add comments to points on the map or even map their own historical and genealogical information, such as tracing the various places your ancestors lived and worked in the city.

Ginger Frere, project co-director and reference librarian, says that "researchers are now contributing their own information about schools, churches and other institutions."

Interest in maps and online mapping is growing among researchers as an example of how technology is providing new tools.

I wish I had Chicago-based ancestors so it would help in my own research. Perhaps the success of the Newberry website will encourage other institutions in other cities to create similar projects.

In fact, the website's technical design was created by the Chicago Technology Cooperative, which built it on open-source software, thereby "creating a template for use by other communities for local historical mapping."

The Newberry collections are often the focus of exhibits, music and theater programs, as well as classes, lectures and other activities. If you live in or will be visiting the Chicago area, do spend some time there. See the website for address and calendar of events.

Have you visited the Newberry Library and used their resources?

Let me know - I look forward to reading your comments and questions.

28    Nov 20073 comments

Preserve, protect and share your history

Szaje Fink, c1918

All of us have old photographs and documents relevant to our search for family history.

Unfortunately, many new researchers (and some experienced ones, as well) store these in boxes or file cabinets located in basements, garages, attics or elsewhere. This exposes the valuable resources to temperature changes, humidity or worse.

If some catastrophe occurred, what would happen to your family history? A simple broken water pipe in a basement can destroy an entire family legacy. What about the aftermath of a major fire, hurricane or earthquake?

The important thing to do is copy or scan materials, place them on CDs or DVDs, keep them on an secure online site, and also distribute copies to relatives around the world. Make sure to upload your photographs to your MyHeritage family site to keep them safe and also to provide family members access to these unique images and documents.

Several companies are now offering scanning services to preserve documents, photographs, videos and slides. Items can include old 16mm film, 35mm slides in glass or cardboard frames, deteriorating papers and all those things we keep in albums or shoeboxes.

World Vital Records decided to offer what it calls its family legacy-preservation service after learning that 91 percent of survey respondents expressed concern about digitizing and preserving family photos, videos and documents, while 50 percent said they were interested in uploading items to a secure site to share with selected family members.

Don't let procrastination take over. We are still talking about putting our 16mm wedding film onto DVD, and I'm not a new researcher, although procrastination is my middle name. It is the only copy and, if lost, couldn't be replaced. However, when we digitize it, it can be stored securely and distributed to family, thereby protecting and preserving the information.

Another case in point involves a cousin in New Orleans who had an old reel-to-reel taped interview with my great-grandmother who died in 1963. I had asked for a copy for years but there was never a simple way to copy or share it. Guess what happened to that during Hurricane Katrina? It is lost forever.

Many experts say that videotapes have a life of 7-15 years, while DVDs have a life of 100-150 years. Film and photos, no matter the quality of storage, will eventually fade, discolor or become brittle.

I guess the only problem will be whether people a century from now will have the proper equipment to play today's DVDs. After all, who today still has an 8-track player?

Researchers can always scan items at home and copy to DVD if they feel comfortable doing that, while scanning services offer various packages for different prices.

The most important thing - whether one uses a professional service or scans resources at home - is to make copies of unique family images and documents to preserve them and also to distribute to others.

What have you done to protect and preserve your family documents? I look forward to reading your comments.

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