Saturday, July 26, 2014

GRIP 2014: Leading with DNA

The nationwide moveable village of genealogists appeared in the form of the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh at La Roche College in suburban Pittsburgh on Sunday the 20th and disassembled Friday the 25th. In between, friendships were renewed, projects discussed, books were bought, business cards were exchanged, genealogy TV was watched, sleep was in short supply, and a lot of teaching and learning happened in six courses.

This third annual session of the institute arguably places GRIP in a leadership position among genealogy institutes, as it offered the first ever full five-day course on genetic genealogy, coordinated by Debbie Parker Wayne, with top-notch faculty CeCe Moore and Blaine Bettinger. (Who knew that three collaborating instructors could be so good in such different ways?)

The trio taught 73 students in two sections and were generously applauded by the students at the final session. The course lived up to its title of "Practical Genetic Genealogy," based on biology but focusing on multiple genealogical applications, and will be offered twice at GRIP in 2015. (Note: in January the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy will include a similar course as well as the first-ever advanced DNA course.)

I took the course as a comparative newcomer to the subject, and I am now astonished to recall  discussions (not very long ago) about whether there was really enough information to fill a five-day course on the subject of DNA! Clearly there has been enough information for quite a while. Now, if anything, there is too much material to pack into one week, especially when one tries to include the exercises and workshops that newcomers need to sharpen their understanding and skills.

Six years ago DNA was still an optional side order in genealogy, useful at most in researching only the direct male and female lines -- a small fraction of our ancestry. With increased computing power, technological innovations, and deeper understanding of autosomal DNA, it is now no longer a side order but part of the main course. Moore demonstrated the power last January, at the Professional Management Conference of the Association of Professional Genealogists. (For instance, by comparing the DNA of second cousins, genealogists can often identify specific segments as the "genetic signature" of the cousins' shared great-grandparents.) That taste drew many researchers to GRIP this summer

As Wayne said in the concluding session at GRIP, there was a time when genealogists complained about having to learn to use computers; now they're indispensable.

I expect that similarly, and in an equally short time, knowing and applying DNA evidence will be as commonplace and integral to proving our conclusions as computers have become, and as property and probate records have long been. For individual genealogists and genealogy educators alike, there is no alternative to keeping up.

Photo credit: GRIP Facebook page with permission

Harold Henderson, "GRIP 2014: Leading with DNA," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 July 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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