05 March 2009

Who Do You Think You Are? Conference 2009: Building Bridges

Many American genealogists cannot seem to bridge the gap between their family and their ancestors from the British Isles. We may know our family is from Ireland or Scotland, but to know the exact location is not often obtainable through our family folklore or our research.

This last week we may have begun closing that gap and building a strong bridge back to the motherland. We all find that preverbial brick wall sooner or later, and we all know that DNA testing can help break through those walls. However, without people testing their DNA in the various parts of the UK, many Americans may never find their roots across the pond. With the advent of Family Tree DNA attending the Who Do You Think You Are? Conference and with the overwhelming interest in their presentations as well as the number of tests sold, we may have just witnessed the strongest pipeline yet to linking both sides of the pond.

Building bridges was what this conference was for me.

Many bloggers have already posted information regarding the conference and some of those who attended WDYTYA are listed below. I do not wish to repeat their stories, but to give you my experiences and perspective. I was most pleased to actually meet some of the people with whom I have been corresponding and who are leaders in our field. To share a meal with them and to enjoy each others company was a pleasure. I thank all of you for what you bring to the genealogy and genetic genealogy table. Each of us has much to give and by doing so you enrich the lives of many.

Maureen Taylor, Photo Detective: http://blog.familytreemagazine.com/photodetectiveblog/?p_PageAlias=photodetective

Dick Eastman:

The third annual Who Do You Think You Are? Conference at the Olympia Center in the Kensington area of London ran from February 27th to March 1st and provided, for the first time, Genetic Genealogy venues. This genealogical fair is the largest in the UK, and no doubt in the world. It is a by-product of the British interest in the BBC show by the same name. While showcasing a celebrity’s lineage, this TV program provides a wonderful view of British history. Being in London, I had the opportunity to see an episode and was delighted when the Thompson line was followed to early Virginia although my particular line landed in Massachusetts. Creating these connections between the countries and providing a historical view-point for the general public can only increase the interest in genealogy as well as genetic genealogy. Building bridges is the key.

Although the use of DNA testing for the genealogical research has only been mentioned in a few previous episodes, we may see more of its use in the American version, due to air this spring on the public broadcasting station, as executive producer Lisa Kudrow of the cast of Friends, has not only been tested by Family Tree DNA, but will be featured in the series along with other famous American actors.

Like several American genealogists, I made the trek to London this last week to participate in the first attempt to build a bridge between the two cultures in the field of Genetic Genealogy. Family Tree DNA brought Max Blankfeld, FTDNA Vice-president; Dr. Doron Behar, mtDNA specialist and an internationally known population geneticist; and Dr. Michael Hammer, geneticist, who runs the testing lab at the University of Arizona for FTDNA. Each of these plus genetic genealogy author Chris Pomery, ISOGG director Katherine Borges, and ISOGG coordinator for England and Wales, Brian Swann gave presentations on various aspects of genetic genealogy. The FTDNA booth was constantly a buzz explaining the benefits of using DNA for genealogy as well as taking many samples for testing. Although not an employee of Family Tree DNA, but an administrator of eleven DNA projects with them and an ISOGG regional coordinator and speaker, I volunteered to assist for the first two conference days as they were swamped. It was a delight meeting so many wonderful people and to have the opportunity to share my knowledge of genetic genealogy with them.

One of my proudest moments was to test Peter Beauclerk-Dewar, author of Royal Bastards: Illegitimate Children of the British Royal Family. Quite by accident, I had wanted to purchase his book earlier, but the store had sold out. When Mr. Beauclerk-Dewar pulled a copy of his book from a bag, I asked him where he had gotten it. His reply that he wrote it was a delight. After DNA testing he went home (just around the corner) to get me a copy. He graciously signed it to me personally and actually sold a few more copies to my traveling companions. Mr. Beaucler-Dewar told me that he had used Family Tree DNA to test some of the people in his book to prove their lineage to royal families, but now he was testing himself! More bridges being built.

Aside from the FTDNA booth and their speakers, over 200 genealogical groups from all over the UK participated. Representatives from various national archives, the National Library of Wales, genealogical groups, family associations, and much more attended. The traveler that I know made the longest journey was ISOGG member David Palmer who lives in Hong Kong. Dr. Doron Behar, previously mentioned, lives in Israel, so there could have been others who came great distances besides those of us in America.

I was delighted to meet Pauline Prynne of Photographs Retouched by Prynne (http://www.retouchedbyprynne.co.uk/) who stayed at the same hotel as I and my friends. We had a delightful time getting to know her at breakfast each morning. Her booth showed some wonderfully restored photos so be sure to check her webpage.

Irish Roots Magazine (http://www.irishrootsmedia.com/) discussed with me their interest in doing an article about the Ireland DNA Project I help administer at Family Tree DNA. It would be delightful to have their support though an article as it may lead to more interest in DNA testing as many Americans cannot locate the birthplace of their Irish ancestors and testing may be the only help. Building more bridges.

I’m also pleased to know that the National Library in Wales is planning to make many of their records available online. Recently, a survey allowed people to choose areas of interest as the library welcomes readers’ views on its exciting plans to make as much as possible of its Welsh collections available online. For any of you with Welsh ancestry, you might visit the following link to take the survey: www.scotinform.co.uk/Onlinesurveys/NLW/3/English/theatreofmemory3.htm?id=O2E79

I was very pleased to visit the Scottish National Archives booth (http://www.nas.gov.uk/) and to find another generation for my Storrier family through their site. I will be checking this resource further as I just know there must be more information.

For those of you who did not make it to London this last week, I urge you to visit the vendors list (http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.co.uk/component/option,com_exhibitors/Itemid,29/) and click on the WebPages of the sites that interest you. As Americans we may not know all that is available to us, and this opportunity is possibly the bridge that we need.

Remember: Build Bridges.

Emily Aulicino
©Aulicino, 5 Mar 2009


Randy Seaver said...

Hi Emily,

A very nicve report of your "fun" and "work" in London. I can tell that you had a great time. Isn't it fun to meet notables in the genealogy arena?

You didn't mention Megan Smolenyak at all - did you talk to her at all? I really enjoyed the RootsTV video today about Haley and Baff.

Thanks for sharing...how's the jet lag?

Cheers -- Randy

Genealem said...

Yes, Randy, Megan and I had dinner with many others you may know. She is a delight. I will be writing more on all this. Thank you for the compliment.