Monday, April 1, 2013

DNA Monday: Listening to the Expert

On Saturday I went to a seminar by Ce Ce Moore sponsored by the Chula Vista Genealogical Society here in southern California, and a big "Thanks" to them for doing this. It was fabulous. If you ever have the chance to see this delightful and ever so friendly and generous speaker, please do! She persevered through the end of the flu and a bothersome cough as well as technical difficulties, and did it with grace and aplomb. And I learned a lot. So here are some of my take-aways, in no particular order. Just know that if I wrote for a week about the information she shared, it would only be scratching the surface.

I liked the big picture that Ce Ce gave us along with the many detailed explanations of the how and why of DNA testing. The one really big picture statement that struck a deep chord was that my mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, has been handed down from mother to daughter over tens of thousands of years. I basically knew this, but given the occasion of the seminar, thought about it and could imagine that unbroken line of women handing me pieces of the puzzle of me. As Ce Ce said, this DNA is the tangible evidence of these ancestors living inside me. I like that!

I was particularly struck by how purposefully the Y-DNA of males and the mtDNA of females is handed down in a highly orderly manner and how that contrasts with the disorderly way the autosomal DNA - or atDNA - is just, at least to my eyes, gathered up like random laundry, thrown in a basket, and handed off to the younger generation. Nature has a sense of humor it seems, and each of us is a crazy quilt of autosomal DNA.

So nature must be having a hearty laugh at me trying to figure out which ancestor the various chunks of autosomal chromosomes came from, which is a mighty hard task, and I did not know that until this seminar. I just thought it was me not "getting it". The bulk of what we are is due to autosomal DNA so there's a lot to sort out. Sounds like a wildly random plan to me but then I'm over here trying to understand it and not over there trying to design an organic system with hybrid vigor where random changes in chromosomal segments work best.

The most illuminating aspect of Ce Ce's presentation for me and where I am in the learning curve is her advice on how to proceed once you get some DNA matches. I had wondered about a "best practices" way of going forward once you get matches and want to contact the other person. Ce Ce suggested sharing two items: surnames and locations. I did try to share the surnames but including the locations for each surname would add important depth to the process of finding the commonality. Because our American families are usually travelers, I'm willing to try a list that includes each surname followed by the locations where they moved and the order in which they did so.

Most importantly, Ce Ce encouraged us to be patient. She said that we might want to think of this as a very long-range project just now beginning. This whole area is young and just getting started. More matches are down the road a short ways, and many more after that. Think of this as the frontier. It's exciting and fun and perhaps some fine excellent day I'll actually find a cousin match out there and we'll look at our chromosomal segments and see that little chunk of orange on number two and know that we got it from the same ancestor oh so many years ago. Now that would be worth the effort!

Dad, Francis Patrick "Pat" Kelly (1916 - 2007)
Easter, 1941.

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  1. My hubby just surprised me by purchasing kits for the both of us. I like how you said this a frontier experiment that will likely take a while to grow. Thank you for that perspective. I'll keep you posted.

    A side note... I didn't understand that women could be tested. Now I know and understand this point and this is really cool. My grandmother was adopted and I know N-O-T-H-I-N-G about her birth line. It will be interesting to see what we can find.