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<2008 November>

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# Thursday, 13 November 2008
Genetic Genealogy Companies Under Fire
Posted by Diane

Genetic genealogy testing companies aren't doing enough to make sure you understand the limitations and implications of DNA testing, says the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG).

The organization, whose 8,000 members include geneticists, scholars, genetic counselors, nurses and others, today issued a statement with recommendations for the genetic genealogy industry.

It was prompted by the rising popularity of genetic genealogy. According to the ASHG, a half-million Americans will spend $100 to $1,000 per test this year.

ASHG faults tests designed to determine ethnic ancestry, rather than the Y-DNA tests that estimate whether you’re related to someone. "Rarely can definitive conclusions about ancestry be made beyond the assessment of whether putative close relatives are or are not related," reports the statement.

That's because such tests compare the genetic contribution from a tiny slice of your family tree against a reference database that uses DNA samples from modern-day individuals to represent populations that existed eons ago. A lot of population shifting and combination has happened since then.

No standards exist for statistical analysis and how results are reported to you, says the statement. "Perhaps the most important aspect of reporting confidence in ancestry determinations is to accurately convey the level of uncertainty in the interpretations and to convey the real meaning of that uncertainty."

As genetic ancestry testing expands to cover inherited medical conditions, ASHG is concerned patients may misconstrue the results of these often-inconclusive tests when making medical decisions.

The organization joins a growing chorus. States such as California and New York have come down on genome profiling companies including 23andMe and DNA Traits for providing medical testing without involving individuals’ doctors.

A year ago, the New York Times doubted the accuracy of ethnic DNA tests after its reporter received varied and conflicting test results from five companies. Bert Ely, a geneticist who helped start the African-American DNA Roots Project with high hopes in 2000, shared his findings that most African-Americans have genetic similarities to numerous ethnic groups in Africa—making it impossible to match African-Americans with a single group.

An article in the Oct. 19, 2007, Science magazine cited these problems:
  • Limited information in companies’ reference databases might lead them to draw the wrong conclusions. (Today’s ASHG statement said these databases “reflect a woefully incomplete sampling of human genetic diversity.”)
  • Some companies’ databases are proprietary, making it hard to verify customers’ test results.
  • Tests trace a small percentage of a person’s ancestors and can’t pinpoint where they lived, or the specific ethnic group they might’ve belonged to.
The ASGH ancestry testing recommendations include the following:
  • The genetic genealogy industry should make a greater effort to clarify the limitations of ancestry testing. Consumers must understand more about ancestry testing.
  • Additional research is needed to further understand the extent to which the accuracy of test results is affected by the makeup of existing human DNA databases, geographical patterns of human diversity, chromosomal marker selection and statistical methods. 
  • Guidelines should be developed to facilitate explanation and counseling for ancestry testing.
  • Scientists analyzing genetic ancestry test results should take into account the historical, sociopolitical and cultural contexts under which human genetics evolved.
  • Mechanisms for greater accountability of the ancestry testing industry should be explored.
Part of the problem may lie in the complex science involved. The explanations are difficult for laypeople to understand (I'm a layperson, and I'll admit it); but in simplifying them for marketing materials and test reports, DNA companies may downplay the tests' limitations.

Do you have a handle on what genetic genealogy testing is all about? Click Comments and tell us about your DNA testing experiences. For information on how DNA can (and can't) aid your genealogy research, see our DNA toolkit.

Genealogy Industry | Genetic Genealogy
Thursday, 13 November 2008 09:36:49 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Canadian Censuses To Be Digitized and Indexed
Posted by Diane

The subscription site (a Canadian records-focused sister site to and FamilySearch are partnering to digitize and index’s Canadian census records.

They’ll be available to subscribers in 2009, and the indexes will be free to the public on the FamilySearch Web site. The images will be free at FamilySearch Family History Centers.

Canadian national censuses were taken every 10 years starting in 1871; earlier censuses cover various areas of Canada. Under the agreement, FamilySearch will provide with images and indexes for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1916 censuses. will provide FamilySearch with indexes for the 1891 and 1901 censuses.

This partnership should ease Canadian roots research a bit. Only the 1901, 1906 and 1911 censuses, as well as part of an 1851 census, are indexed by name. To find your ancestor in other censuses, you need to know his or her district and subdistrict—which could change between censuses.

The Web site Automated Genealogy is coordinating a volunteer indexing project for the 1901, 1906 and 1911 censuses; search the growing database free. If you find an ancestor’s name and district information, look for him listed in the free census images on the Library and Archives Canada Web site.

Library and Archives Canada recently announced a digitization partnership with No specifics were available about which records are up for indexing. | Canadian roots | FamilySearch
Tuesday, 11 November 2008 10:42:46 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Jewish Group Says Mormons Are Still Baptizing Holocaust Victims
Posted by Diane

The controversy over Mormons’ practice of posthumously baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims is in the news again.

The Associated Press reported on yesterday’s American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors (AGHS) press conference. The organization claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hasn’t enforced a 1995 agreement to permit its members to submit for posthumous baptism by proxy (often described as “temple work”) names of only those Holocaust victims who are direct relatives.

Posthumous baptisms by proxy are central to Mormons' faith because the practice allows families to be reunited in the afterlife. They see the baptisms as an offer that the deceased individual can refuse; many Jews view the practice as disrespectful to those who were killed for their religious beliefs.

A researcher the AGHS hired reported finding several thousand names in the LDS church’s genealogy databases, some submitted as recently as July.

The church removed Jews’ names after the 1995 agreement, but told the Associated Press that since then a few well-meaning members have “acted outside of policy.”

In a written response to the press conference, the LDS church claims AGHS refuses to provide the names of the Holocaust survivors found in the database or respond to LDS proposals stemming from a Nov. 3 meeting of both organizations.

New FamilySearch, the online family tree tracking program slowly being released to church members (it'll eventually be publicly available), should help resolve the problem by discouraging mass submissions, and separating names intended for baptism from those submitted for genealogical purposes.

Read the full article on CNN.

Here's the LDS church's response.

AGHS also has links to news coverage of the press conference.

FamilySearch | Jewish roots
Tuesday, 11 November 2008 08:46:26 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [7]
# Friday, 07 November 2008
The Other Insider Inside the National Archives
Posted by Diane

If you’ll be lucky enough to visit the National Archives and Records Administration facilities in Washington, DC or College Park, Md. (Archives I and Archives II, respectively) in the foreseeable future, get ready for the trip by perusing that other Insider’s blog posts about his recent journey there.

The anonymous Ancestry Insider goes over where to eat, how to get around the area, the archives’ record-pulling rules, getting a researcher ID card and more.

(Just between you and me, I think the Ancestry Insider's ID looks a little fishy.)

Libraries and Archives
Friday, 07 November 2008 17:17:07 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
101 Best Sites: Grassroots Genealogy and English Records Catalog
Posted by Diane

I threw two darts at the 101 Best Web Sites article in my September 2008 Family Tree Magazine—here are the two sites we’re highlighting this week:
  • RootsWeb: This venerable volunteer-run site now resides in’s domain, but don’t worry—it’s still free. It shares some visual elements with and the page URLs have ancestry in them, but it has kept its friendly feel and remains an ideal jumping-off point for new researchers. Besides a great Getting-Started guide, you’ll find a ton of mailing lists, message boards, family tree files (in the WorldConnect Project) and more.
  • Access to Archives: Called A2A for short, this catalog describes historical records in 416 English and Welsh repositories, including local record offices and libraries, universities, museums, and national and special institutions.
See the rest of our best Web sites picks on

Free Databases | Genealogy Web Sites | International Genealogy
Friday, 07 November 2008 16:21:04 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 06 November 2008
Remembering Canadian Veterans, Re-Watching The War
Posted by Diane

We’re coming up on Veterans Day (in the United States) and Remembrance Day (in Canada), and our contributing editor Rick Crume told me about a neat remembrance of the 68,000 Canadians killed in World War I.

Nights through Nov. 11, those names will be projected onto the National War Memorial in Ottawa and buildings elsewhere Canada, and onto the side of Canada House in London's Trafalgar Square.

At the 1918 Vigil site, you can search for names of Canadians killed in the Great War to learn the person’s service number, rank, regiment, death date and the when the name will be displayed.

Also marking Veterans Day, many PBS stations are re-airing Ken Burns’ WWII documentary The War. It had me riveted to the sofa last year when it first aired.

Click here to search for broadcasts on your PBS station. You can get more veterans’ stories on the Veterans History Project's special Web site Experiencing War. (I got a chance to talk with Ken Burns recently, and I’ll share some of the conversation in a later post.)

For more on military records, see the Genealogy Insider military records category and the online toolkit.

Canadian roots | Military records | Social History
Thursday, 06 November 2008 08:18:09 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 04 November 2008
Counting Your Ancestor's Vote
Posted by Diane

After you've exercised your right to vote today, see if you can find your ancestors’ political leanings in voting registration records.

On her blog, Kimberley Powell recommends some resources—including the California Voter Registration Index and a free index for Cleveland, Ohio, in 1907.

At Cincinnati's downtown library, I  once found a 1970s voter registration book listing my grandma. Check with your ancestor's county board of elections, local library or historical society for information on old voter registration records in the area.

And you can learn how your ancestor voted (not his favorite candidate, but whether he tossed a ballota into a bucket, dropped a color-coded paper ticket into a box or pulled a lever) in this article on

Me, I’ll try to get a little work done between checking exit poll results on CNN.

Free Databases | Research Tips | Social History
Tuesday, 04 November 2008 11:00:39 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 31 October 2008
101 Best Sites: Show-Me Records and African-American Roots
Posted by Diane

Here are this week's highlights from our 101 Best Web sites for researching your family history. As always, you can click right through to all the 101 picks from
  • Missouri Digital Heritage Initiative: I was super-excited about this Web site when it debuted this spring, and I still am. It’s a one-stop shop for digitized historical records, abstracts and indexes from the state archives and other repositories throughout Missouri. If a record you need isn’t digitized, go to the Local Records Inventory Database to find out where to write for county-level records.
  • AfriGeneas: We’ve named this African-American genealogy resource a top site several years over for its wealth of how-to tips and message boards, census records, slave data, an index of 50,168 surnames and a collection of 16,338 death records.

Genealogy Web Sites
Friday, 31 October 2008 15:45:27 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Happy Halloween From Family Tree Magazine!
Posted by Diane

We're all ready for trick-or-treating.

Have you answered our Forum poll about your favorite Halloween traditions? You'll find it in the Back Fence Forum.

Genealogy fun
Friday, 31 October 2008 07:37:09 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, 30 October 2008
New Podcast Helps You Start Your Ancestor Search
Posted by Diane

Having a tough time getting the genealogy ball rolling? Need some family history motivation?

Tune into a new podcast from Lisa Louise Cooke and Personal Life Media Network called Family History: Genealogy Made Easy. The tips are geared to beginners, with success-story interviews that'll also inspire more-experienced researchers.  

“My hope is that this podcast will reach out to non-genealogists and show them that discovering their family history is possible," Cooke says. "Getting started is the hardest part.”

Learn more and listen to the first episode here

You can get an audio player from Cooke’s Genealogy Gems News Blog. Just click the Get! button on the player and add it to your Facebook page, iGoogle page—wherever. It plays not only the new show, but also Cooke's Genealogy Gems Podcast, our Family Tree Magazine Podcast, the Family History Expos Podcast and Digital Photography Life (advice on making the most of your digital camera).

You also can subscribe to Genealogy Made Easy through iTunes.

Genealogy Web Sites | Research Tips
Thursday, 30 October 2008 07:41:34 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]