Monday, 2 March 2009

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2009

I spent two enjoyable days on Friday and Saturday at the "Who Do You Think You Are?" show at Olympia in London. This year's show was much smaller in scale than last year, with fewer exhibitors and less of the razzmatazz. The absence of the military vehicles, the wargaming societies and the archaeologists meant that there was more space for the traditional genealogy suppliers to display their wares, and it was easier to move around the hall and visit the stands, as can be seen in the photo below which was taken late in the day on Saturday when the crowds had subsided. A new feature of this year's show was the DNA workshop, sponsored by Family Tree DNA. There were so many interesting talks that the only way I could fit them all in was by attending on two consecutive days!The first DNA talk on Friday was given by Max Blankfeld, Vice-President of Family Tree DNA. The company was set up in April 2000, and now has the largest genetic genealogy database in the world. On 9th February the company announced that they had reached an historic milestone having received their 500,000th order for a DNA testing kit. The database is now so large that male adoptees taking a Y-DNA test apparently have a 30% to 40% chance of matching someone bearing the surname of their biological father. FTDNA also carry out the testing for The Genographic Project, a ground-breaking study which has enabled scientists to track the migratory path of mankind around the world over thousands of years. The project launched in April 2005 after 18 months of planning. It was originally conceived as a five-year project, but has been so successful that it will now continue indefinitely. For those of you in the UK, DNA kits for the Genographic Project can be purchased over the counter at the National Geographic store in Regent Street, London. Kits can also be purchased online in the UK from their online store. The Genographic Project provides an excellent introduction to DNA testing for those people who are interested in their deep ancestry but whose surname is not yet represented in a DNA project. There is an option to add your results to the FTDNA database so that you can be notified of any subsequent matches.

Dr Michael Hammer, the chief Y-DNA scientist at Family Tree DNA, gave a very interesting and visual presentation about our deep ancestral origins. Scientists have now discovered over 600 single-nucleotide polymorphisms, known as SNPs (pronounced snips), in the Y-chromosome. A SNP is a change in a base in the DNA sequence which occurs over time. These SNPs can be used to identify population groups known as haplogroups. The tree of mankind is now divided into 20 major haplogroups which are designated by letters of the alphabet from A through to T.

Dr Doron Behar, the chief mtDNA scientist at Family Tree DNA, gave an equally interesting talk on mitochondrial DNA and the female line. His enthusiasm for mtDNA was infectious, and he has persuaded me to save up my money to upgrade to the full genome sequence mtDNA test!

Katherine Borges, the Director of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), gave an informative talk about British DNA. She explained how we know Prince Philip's mitochondrial genetic signature, and warned of the limitations of autosomal testing as used for Colin Jackson on Who do you think you are? The DNA haplotypes (genetic signatures) of Prince Philip and other famous people can be found on the ISOGG website.

On Saturday I had the privilege to attend Megan Smolenyak's talk on DNA testing. Megan provided the big story of this year's WDYTYA. DNA testing has now revealed that Chris Haley, the nephew of the African-American writer Alex Haley, author of the historical novel Roots, is of Scottish ancestry. Chris met June Baff-Black, the daughter of his newly found DNA match, at WDYTYA on Saturday. The story has been widely reported elsewhere, and was also featured on the BBC news at breakfast time on Saturday. The best accounts can be found on Dick Eastman's blog, and in The Daily Telegraph.

Family Tree DNA were doing a roaring trade throughout the two days of the show that I attended. The stall always seemed to be crowded with people. There was so much interest that the supply of kits ran out and more had to be drafted in from elsewhere. I was surprised to see so many people swabbing their cheeks to provide the samples on the spot. The show went so well that FTDNA have already decided they will be back next year, and they are hoping to have a bigger area for the DNA talks.

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1 comment:

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

Thank you for sharing news of this exciting event. I haven't been to any genealogical fairs yet.
Welcome to Geneabloggers!
Evelyn in Montreal