by Carolyn L. Barkley
Today at the conference began with more exciting news about the future of genealogy. One of the morning’s keynote speakers was Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of Ancestry.com. I thought it was pretty exciting when he announced that the Ancestry community now serves 2.7 million subscribers and that the site provides access to 45 million family trees, representing four billion people. However, he wasn’t finished – over the next five years, Ancestry will commit $100 million in new digitized and indexed content. But – he still wasn’t finished! He announced a collaborative three-year probate record project between Ancestry.com and FamilySearch which will create a national database of wills, letters of administration and other probate documents covering the years 1800-1930! This exciting project will exponentially improve access to a very significant category of records, a project that just five years ago would not have been possible to achieve. Exciting news indeed!
One of my morning lectures proved to be one of the best lectures that I’ve attended since I arrived for the conference: Autosomal DNA for Genealogists, presented by Diahan Southard of Genetic Genealogy Consultant. I am the Barclay Surname Project administrator (FamilyTreeDNA). As such, I often get questions from project members about the various tests available and what the results mean. After reading various articles on the topic, I felt that I could adequately explain basic Y and mtDNA testing, but the addition of autosomal testing to the mix taxed my descriptive abilities. This perceived deficiency has been exacerbated by the emergence of additional testing options (DNAAncestry, 23 and Me, and Geno2.0). In a nutshell, while the Y and mtDNA tests are limited to either a male or female direct lineage in your family tree, the autosomal (atDNA) can provide information on anyone in your tree with excellent accuracy to about the fifth-generation level. Unlike Y and mtDNA testing, atDNA tests cannot be linked to a specific ancestor due to the diverse combinations of DNA that are passed throughout a family pedigree. Obviously my statements here are dramatically simplified and provide just a quick glimpse of the possibilities. I did, however, leave the lecture, believing that I had a much better understanding of the basics of autosomal DNA in addition to a glimpse into the different strengths of the four major testing companies. I recommend that you visit the Genetic Genealogy Consultant site and consider purchasing the two interactive CDs that are available: Introduction to Genetic Genealogy and Introduction to Autosomal DNA. The first CD guides “… beginners through the basics of DNA and family history …” and the second introduces “… the topic of autosomal DNA testing focusing on the major players in the field.” These CDs can be used as personal interactive tutorials or, best of all, may be used “as presentations to friends or family history groups.”
The exhibit hall is the hub of any conference and this year’s RootsTech exhibit area is one of the liveliest of any conference, genealogical or otherwise, that I have ever attended. Huge in space, it offers a demonstration theater with twenty-minute product presentations offered from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. If you want an introduction to a specific technology, the demo theater is the place to be, not only because of the useful information you will receive, but also because it has home theater-style seating that offers such comfort that I found myself staying for several demonstrations in a row – no uncomfortable meeting room chairs here! Topics today included a look at a wonderful Swedish source, ArkivDigital (which has digital images of quite an excellent quality, including a collection of Swedish prison mug shots from the 1850s and 1860s that are simply wonderful); Irish family tree research, Mocavo, using Ancestry.com’s Mobile App, a storyteller, and much more. A conference exhibit hall is the best place to see new products (the best new product I learned about today was Evidentia, an citation-based analysis software package to compliment your standard tree-style software, but it looks so good that I am saving my report for a blog article later this spring), learn how to use new technology, talk with the experts, purchase all kinds of genealogy-related items, charge your mobile device, enter giveaways, and snag great freebies. This particular exhibit hall offers many extras that make the conference experience very informative and enjoyable.
Salt Lake City – with a few more flurries this morning – has been exciting today as well, with the second round of the ACC basketball championship played last night (how about that upset of New Mexico by Harvard!) with the third round scheduled for Saturday. College and university bands playing outside the EnergySolutions Arena have created a festive atmosphere. The Family History Library is staying open until 10:00 this evening for conference attendees and is even serving pizza! Even better, we can get up tomorrow and enjoy another exciting day!