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FTDNA’s 13th International Genetic Genealogy Conf Day 3 - Sun, 12 Nov 2017

#FTDNA2017 - First up, another breakfast sponsored by FTDNA. This was followed at 8 a.m. by an ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) chapter meeting, my first. It was led by Katherine Bodger, the Director and co-founder of the society. ISOGG was founded in 2005 after the first Family Tree DNA Conference. The ISOGG wiki is a vast resource of DNA information related to genetic genealogy to which Debbie Kennett adds most of the content, but it is open to anyone for editing once they are approved for an account. Leah Larkin is the editor of the JOGG (Journal of Genetic Genealogy). Derrell Oakley Teat is retiring from being the ISOGG European FTDNA Coordinator and received an award.

At 9 a.m., Matt Dexter presented his own story: “Finding His Father – An Adoptee’s DNA Experience”. Matt knew almost nothing about his parents. It took him 7 years. In 2009, he met his mother. Through extensive DNA testing and learning how to do it, he finally discovered and met his father in 2016 and found several siblings. It was quite a story.

Matt Dexter

At 10:15 a.m., Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, who claims she is a genealogist who just happens to be a lawyer, and not the other way around, presented: “After the Courthouse Burns: Rekindling Family History through DNA”. Judy explained how she solved a genealogical puzzle with DNA in a period when the genealogy records had been lost and no longer exist.

Max with Judy Russell

At 11:15 am, Michael Davila, the director of Product Development for Family Tree DNA gave the 2017 Product Update. He said: “A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.” He talked about some of the challenges the company faced, and went over some of the current projects. Caleb Davis followed Michael and gave information about new things with Big Y.

Bennett with Michael Davila

By now, it was very apparent that Family Tree DNA has refined their Conference after 13 years so that all the little details were just right. Of all the conferences and talks I’ve ever been to, this is the first one that left pads of papers and pens on the tables at each seat so that questions could be written for the speaker. At the end of the talk, FTDNA staff would collect the questions and give them to the speaker. The speaker would read the questions and give answers quickly and efficiently. So much better than people randomly jumping up, no one can hear them, and spouting off something not as well though out as written words would be. Staff was at the back of each room throughout the conference, listening, learning, assisting and enjoying. It was such a pleasure.

At the buffet lunch, I sat with Judy Russell. This is the 4th conference we’ve been at together in 20 months. I always thank Judy for imploring me to get my 94 year old uncle DNA tested last year and getting me into this DNA thing which has since sucked up all the free time I hoped to have after I retired.

There was a set of breakout sessions at 1:15 pm. I chose to hear Roberta Estes once again, who talked about “Autosomal DNA through the Generations”. Roberta showed a 4 generation chromosome browser chart with her mother, herself, her son and granddaughters. Roberta’s mother died 5 years before Family Finder became available. But a sample was at FTDNA and they were still able to use it when the Family Finder test came out. One thing surprised me. Roberta asked the audience how many people had half-siblings. I couldn’t believe that a third of the people put up their hands. Roberta calls half-siblings: “God’s gift to genealogists.”

Roberta Estes

At 2:30, Elliot Greenspan, the head of IT at FTDNA, gave the Year in Review, and then the plans for Future Development. The latter includes new hardware, new technology, faster updates, and new hires.

Elliot Greenspan

Brent Manning, the Lab Manager, then gave us a very interesting update about the lab. FTDNA launched in 2000. In 2006 they opened their Genomics Research Center. In 2008, Hurricane Ike destroyed the lab and the building had to be reconstructed. They built an impenetrable fortress that worked to make it unscathed through Hurricane Harvey this year. Their lab is now 9,000 square feet taking up the entire 8th floor of their building and 50 people now work in the lab. They have been installing all sorts of new equipment and robots. The Automated Sample Sorter (to remain acronymless) was so large, they needed to remove the 8th floor window and rent a 70 ton crane to get it up there. This all means expanded capacity, throughput and ability to store millions of samples, all the while eliminating everything that can be automated. Brent summarized by saying “the future is freaking awesome, completely mindblowing” and it can’t get much  better than that.

Brent Manning

Max and Bennett closed the conference with a Q&A period, using all the questions handed in over the past two days that hadn’t been answered yet.They covered anything and everything. My notes:  The Illumina chip switch will happen in 5 to 6 months, but Illumina made some concessions to FTDNA and mods will make for better backwards compatibility and better matching. All the new equipment and efficiencies likely will soon improve time to get results down to as little as 2 to 4 weeks. A full genome takes the same time to run as 800 Big Y tests, so full genomes are not in FTDNA’s current plans. Will FTDNA/Gene-by-Gene ever go public? “Never!!”, said Bennett.

Max and Bennett answering Questions

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  1. FTDNA\'s 13th International Genetic Genealogy Conference and the FTDNA sale - Cruwys news - Debbie Kennett : Mon, 20 Nov 2017
    Conference reports from Louis Kessler. Louis Kessler is a first-time conference attendee. He provides an interesting perspective and has also shared a selection of photographs.

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