This year we had a record number of DNA visitors from overseas. I was very pleased to be reunited again with my DNA friends from America: Emily Aulicino, Katherine Borges, Candy Campise, Linda Magellan, Derrell Oakley Teat, Craig Trout, George Valko and Cynthia Wells, all of whom very kindly gave up their free time to help to promote DNA testing by helping out on the ISOGG and FTDNA stands. This year I was delighted to make the acquaintance of five new DNA visitors from the US: Dick Kenyon, Charles Moore, Nora Probasco, Barbara Rae-Venter and Jennifer Zinck. I was particularly honoured to have the opportunity to get to know Charles Moore, who is held in high regard in the world of genetic genealogy. Charles is one of the content experts for the ISOGG Y-SNP tree and is renowned for his work on the haplogroup R1b-U106 project. U106 is the subclade to which my dad belongs, so Charles's work is of particular interest to me. Charles is a wizard with spreadsheets and has the ability to spot patterns in Y-STR markers in order to predict the most downstream subclade. Project members can then order individual SNPs à la carte from Family Tree DNA rather than ordering a more expensive Geno 2.0 test. ISOGG in England was represented by project administrators John and Ann Blair, Sue Curd, Maurice Gleeson and Brian Swann. Chris Pomery, Family Tree DNA's representative in England, was also attending the show and helping out on the FTDNA stand.
I managed to have a very quick chat with Gail Riddell from New Zealand, who runs the New Zealand DNA Project, and project administrator Susan Hedeen from America. I briefly said hello to Carolyn Dyess Bales, one of my friends in the US from the Guild of One-Name Studies, who was attending WDYTYA with her cousin Cammie Dyess Mercer. This was her first trip outside the US, and she had to buy a passport especially for the trip! Another Guild member, Elizabeth Kipp from Canada, was attending with her husband Ed, but in the rush I never managed to meet up with her.
DNA testing has been very much in the news in the last few weeks with the worldwide publicity generated by Richard III. Most conveniently the BBC put out a two-part documentary entitled Meet the Izzards on the Wednesday and Thursday before WDYTYA in which the comedian Eddie Izzard traced the migration of his ancestors out of Africa and into Europe. The combination of Richard III and Meet the Izzards generated a huge amount of interest in DNA testing at this year's WDYTYA and we were all rushed off our feet for the entire three days. Family Tree DNA brought more than double the usual number of kits and sold a record number of tests this year. Some of the tests were on sale at a special show price. The 12-marker Y-DNA test was on sale for just £30. The headline price helped to draw in lots of visitors to the stand but most people chose to opt instead for the 37-marker test at the special show price of £85, though I understand that quite a few 12-marker kits were sold on the Sunday. I would have liked to have taken some photos of the ISOGG and FTDNA stands with all the crowds but I was busy non-stop throughout the show and hardly had the chance to take any photos. I only had a break when I sat down to listen to some of the talks. The FTDNA stand had two large tables with five chairs arranged in front of the stand where people could sit down, place their orders and get swabbed. Those five chairs were occupied almost continuously throughout the three days. There were still people turning up to be tested after the show had officially ended each day. Nora Probasco and I were operating a triage system by talking to the people who were waiting and making sure they understood what the tests were all about and establishing whether or not they wished to place an order. This meant that by the time they got to sit down at the tables they were ready to be swabbed. At some times it got so busy that people had to be taken to the nearby cafe area to place their orders and get the swabbing done.
Max Blankfeld, Family Tree DNA's Vice President of Marketing and Operations, was on his own this year as Bennett Greenspan, the President and CEO of FTDNA, was unable to attend. Max was very grateful for the assistance from all the volunteer project administrators who helped out on the stand. It would have been impossible for FTDNA to attend the show without the help of all the many volunteers who so freely gave of their time.
I was presenting a talk in the DNA workshop at WDYTYA this year for the first time. The subject of my presentation was "DNA for beginners: the different tests". All the seats were taken for my talk on each of the three days and there were people standing four or five deep at the back of the workshop area trying to listen in.
Maggie who had attended my talk and then wrote up her experiences in a blog post. I was very pleased to learn that mine was the "most illuminating" of all the presentations she had attended. Most of the talks on Friday and Saturday were similarly packed out with people having to stand at the back, but Sunday was much quieter.
On Friday night the DNA project administrators got together for an enjoyable meal at Pizza Express.
On Saturday I arrived extra early, taking full advantage of my ISOGG exhibitor's pass which allowed me to get into Olympia before the doors opened to the public, to ensure that I got a ticket for Turi King's talk on Richard III. I was not disappointed. She gave a very interesting and entertaining talk. The original aim of the project was to locate the church of the Greyfriars. No one had ever expected to find Richard III and Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist from the University of Leicester, had famously promised to eat his hat if Richard III were found. The team held him to his word but fortunately for him had a special hat-shaped cake made up specially for him to eat! Turi King explained the painstaking process of testing ancient DNA specimens. The samples have to be tested independently in two separate labs. She did some of the ancient DNA testing in the lab of Professor Michael Hofreiter at the University of York. She then replicated the tests in the lab of Patricia Balaresque at the Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse. This of course meant a trip across the Channel and Turi described how she had to negotiate customs with Richard III's tooth, terrified that customs would want to open up the package for inspection, thus contaminating the sample and making the whole process worthless. The return journey was even more nail-biting as in order to extract the DNA the tooth had to be ground down into a fine white powder which was guaranteed to raise alarm bells with customs officers! Fortunately she got through customs unscathed, helped by official letters from the University of Leicester. The results of the ancient DNA analysis were only received on the weekend before the press conference. Turi described the moment that the results came through and she saw that there was a match. She went silent for a minute and then did a little dance around the lab!
Henry Somerset, the 5th Duke of Beaufort, who should share the same Y-DNA signature as Richard III. Turi King is not able to release the details of the Y-chromosome haplogroup of the Beaufort lineage at present. The University has an agreement with Nature and it is planned to publish two papers back to back. Full details of the DNA analysis and the haplogroups will then be given. According to the terms of the agreement the papers have to be submitted to Nature within the next year, though they will of course still have to go through the usual peer-review process.
After Turi King's talk I rushed back to the DNA area to catch the presentation by Bruce Winney on the People of the British Isles Project. The project has now collected 4,300 samples from people in the British Isles with four grandparents born in the same rural county. The researchers have genotyped 2,800 of these samples across 600,000 SNP markers. Strong regional variations have been found with, for example, the people of Devon and Cornwall, forming distinct clusters. The samples have also been compared with samples from Europe in order to identify the source of the structure seen in the UK.
On Saturday I was briefly able to say hello to my friend Princess Maria Sviatopolk-Mirski though she unfortunately arrived at the stand during one of our busiest spells. I was also very pleased to have the opportunity to meet Andrew Millard, a friend from the Guild of One-Name Studies. I had a brief chat withAndy Grierson from Sheffield University, one of the citizen scientists who published an important paper on the phylogeny of haplogroup R1b1a2 based on detailed analysis of public datasets such as the 1000 Genomes Project. He is now working on another interesting collaborative project which will no doubt be the subject of a new paper in due course.
On Saturday night I attended the dinner at Pizza Express organised by the Association of Professional Genealogists. It was good to catch up again with Rosemary Morgan. I was finally able to meet Kirsty Wilkinson who I had known for some time on Twitter but had never actually met face to face. I also briefly chatted with Bruce Durie who I had met over twenty years ago in another life at a pharmaceutical conference in Montreux in Switzerland. By an extraordinary twist of fate we now both share the same publisher in the form of the History Press. Then it was time for the long train ride home and a few snatched hours of sleep before another long day at Olympia on Sunday.
- Who Do You Think You Are? Live Day 3: Alistair Moffat on how DNA is rewriting British history
- Who Do You Think You Are? Live Day 3 Part 2: The new ancient root of the Y-tree
© 2013 Debbie Kennett