Category Archives: Family History

DNA Ethics

Day 2 of Unlock the Past’s DNA Down Under conference finished with a very thought-provoking Panel discussion on “what would you do” in the following situations:

  • The right to “know your identity” vs other’s “right to privacy”.
  • What should be included in “informed consent” advice when asking relatives to test?
  • You ask “a family member” to do a DNA test and they do not show up as a relative to you.
  • Someone shows up as a DNA match to you. You recognise your ancestor in common by the shared matches. This is not the person they list in their family tree.
  • If a DNA test reveals a certain health predisposition, should you tell family? Does this change if it is a medical-grade genetic test rather than a genealogy test?

All extremely important scenarios that will affect many of us who look after not just our own, but other people’s test results.

As genealogists we must strive to not only be conscientious and well informed but also to pass on due care and, importantly, take the time to explain “unforeseen results” as well as what we will “do” with our family or client DNA tests as part of informed consent.

DNA Down Under, Done Well

I have nothing but praise for the first day of the Unlock the Past 3-day DNA Down Under conference in Sydney at Castle Hill RSL.

I have never met so many exuberant and engrossed genealogists having also travelled from Queensland, Victoria, Canberra, New Zealand and even West Australia. (We eastern Australians all know that it is quicker to fly to NZ than fly to Perth!) It goes to prove that Unlock the Past know what they are doing and they do it extremely well.

I’ll have more to say about this conference later but for now the organisers need to congratulate themselves on putting together not a just an excellent program but also having chosen a terrific conference venue. The staff at Castle Hill RSL have been more than generous and helpful with everything they have undertaken.

And – as for the speakers – I truly feel for Blaine T Bettinger who spoke at 5 of the 6 sessions today and will be following up tomorrow and Saturday with 4 of the 6 sessions planned each day. I expect he won’t have a voice left by Sunday!

Photos need to be downloaded and notes need to typed-up so stay tuned.

Priceless Evidence

I am still an absolute newcomer to DNA even after several years of having done a DNA test. However, while I cannot get my head around all the new paraphernalia available there is one connection that has given me a major happy dance.

When I started my genealogy journey back in the 1970s, I concentrated all my research on my maternal grandmother’s Scottish side which was super easy. My paternal side was a complete nightmare and one that I would struggle with for many years.

Ironically, it is my paternal side that has confirmed my paper trail through DNA testing.

The problem was my earliest paternal ancestor Joseph FAIRS first appeared in New South Wales in 1843 when he married Ellen Donagher. And while I could trace his line down to me and all his descendants, I couldn’t find one link taking him backwards.

It would take 15-plus years to discover that my Joseph Fairs arrived in Australia as Joseph FARR, convict. And yes, I had skirted around this information a few times over the 15+ years but it wasn’t until Ancestry put online some additional London parish records that I was able to make the connection.

I had a record of marriage of Joseph Fairs and Ellen Donohue [sic] at Cattai Creek, New South Wales, on 23 January 1843 but I had no record of birth or arrival in Australia for Joseph Fairs except for a Ticket of Leave for one Joseph FAIR per Hoogley 1834;

Joseph Fairs died in 1868 at Tarban Creek Asylum where his records stated his Native Place was Hanwell, Middlesex. His death certificate gave an approximate year of birth of 1808 and stated that his mother was an “unknown Brantford”.

When Ancestry added several London parish registers around 2010 I was able to find a Joseph FARR born to a Martha BRANSGROVE in 1808 in Hanwell, Middlesex. From the 15-year search into the life of my progenitor in Australia, I was now comfortable with the reasoning that Joseph FARR and Joseph FAIRS were one and the same person.

At the time I accepted I would never find a document that stated they were one and the same, so I had to suffice myself with the knowledge that at times in genealogical research, close enough just has to be good enough. Like a jury, you must weigh up the evidence and reach a verdict.

However, little did I know that my Ancestry DNA test would end up having an extremely close match with a woman living in the UK.

I was aware through my research that Joseph Farr, convict, had left behind a wife and daughter in England when he was transported. Having served his 7 years in the Colony, Joseph obviously took advantage of the rule that allowed him to remarry as long as his first wife remained abroad.

In 2018 I was contacted by an obscure DNA match. But when we looked at our paper trails everything fell into place and confirmed my paper research.

My new DNA connection was descended from the only child that Joseph Farr had left behind in England. I was descended from his marriage in Australia as Joseph Fairs. 

While I thought I would never find a document stating that Joseph Farr and Joseph Fairs were one and the same I was gobsmacked that a descendant of Joseph Farr had made contact with a descendant of Joseph Fairs and confirmed we were both from the same paternal DNA.

DNA and Blaine T. Bettinger

In 2000, the first company offering multi-generational genealogy tests, direct to the consumer, was FamilyTreeDNA when they began commercially testing Y and mitochondrial DNA. They were also the first company to offer an interface for surname research studies.

In 2019, Wikipedia suggests that the major players in genealogical DNA testing [FamilyTreeDNA, 23andMe, Ancestry, My Heritage and Living DNA] have approximately 26 million DNA profiles. A figure that shows the enormity of interest in DNA genealogical research.

One of the major highlights of the recent inaugural THE Genealogy Show (Birmingham, UK) was the presentations made by the “Genetic Genealogist” – Blaine T. Bettinger.

Blaine’s presentation on The Future of [Genetic] Genealogy was amazing – holding us at times in awe, as well as in laughter – as he spoke of his 2029 interpretations to genealogical DNA testing, including:

  • DNA identified ancestors identified “based only on your DNA test results”
  • A large database, assigning segments to ancestors in a universal family tree
  • Reconstructed family trees recreated from portions of our family tree
  • Genealogical applications that will find the source of genes and traits in our ancestral faces
  • DNA test results extracted from artefacts such as stamps, envelopes, hairbrushes etc
  • New types of DNA testing

The inaugural THE Genealogy Show was a major success put together by dedicated organisers who justifiably must be pleased at how well received the show was by visitors, speakers, family history societies, professional genealogists as well as the poor suffering partners accompanying the thousands of hobby genealogists who attended.

For me, my overall highlight of the show was not just hearing Blaine speak but meeting him as well.

I am now looking forward to reacquainting myself with Blaine during 14-31 August 2019 at the DNA Downunder Roadshow being held in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney (check the website for specific dates).

Other speakers include Louise Coakley, Kerry Farmer, Michelle Patient and Helen Smithall leading Australian DNA genealogists.

Tickets are still available for all venues including the major, in-depth, 3-day event in Sydney which includes material that will only be presented in Sydney.

THE Genealogy Show, Birmingham UK 2019

In the 30+ years I have been attending worldwide genealogical conferences I don’t think I have attended a better conference than the inaugural THE Genealogy Show 2019 this week at the NEC, Birmingham, UK.

As I went from arena to arena, the vibe was constantly on the quality of the speakers and the exceptional layout of the venue.

The talks were fresh, alive, inspiring and precise from some of the most renowned speakers in the world of genealogy.

The superb Daniel Smith Ramos

I must applaud the organizers that they kept a tight and well thought out show covering topics from beginners to the advanced.

However, one of the best features of this show was the availability to approach the international speakers (obviously when not speaking) at any time throughout the event. They were all extremely accommodating to talk to total strangers just beginning their genealogy trip as well as others more advanced. 

I’d like to repeat that at all times, the professional genealogical speakers were seen talking and helping “anyone” who approached them!

Just one of the many knowledgeable stands offering genealogical goodies

The organizers must truly be happy in the knowledge that the overall numbers attending were in the thousands and that future plans can be assured of dedicated attendances by people who want a more casual and relaxed experience attending a genealogical show.

DNA Down Under Roadshow

When I had to pull out of the Unlock The Past Alaskan Inside Passage genealogy cruise last year, my biggest disappointment was missing out on Maurice Gleeson and Michelle Patient’s DNA presentations as well as the “The Genetic Genealogist” Blaine Bettinger’s preconference day in Seattle.

So, immediately I found out that UTP was doing a DNA Down Under roadshow it didn’t take long to book myself in. And the best part – the Sydney conference will be held over 3 days!

Supporting international speaker Blaine Bettinger, is a lineup of Australian DNA “Royalty” – Louise Coakley, Helen Smith, Michelle Patient, Kerry Farmer and Fiona Brooker.

The Sydney conference is being held Thursday-Saturday, 29 to 31 August at the Castle Hill RSL Club and I was able to take advantage of the Early Bird pricing of $275 (ends 30 April after which the fee will increase to $335) and includes a light lunch and morning and afternoon tea for each day.

A preliminary programme is now available and, with three streams running concurrently, it is going to be very hard deciding which presentations to attend.

This event is for everyone including those who:

  • have not done a test yet and want to know how DNA can help
  • have tested but are not sure what to do next
  • have gone further, but know there is more to learn
  • consider themselves expert, or on the way there, but who want to learn more from the very best 

Prior to Sydney, the Roadshow will also be visiting Brisbane (14 August), Perth (17 August), Adelaide (20 August), Melbourne (23 August) and Canberra (26 August) with an Early Bird price of $125.

If you have any interest in DNA then this is an absolute must attend event.

Unlock The Past Cruising – Week 2

We are now into the second week of a 15-day Unlock the Past Genealogy Cruise to Singapore and the only disappointment has been caused by the weather which has seen us unable to tender from the ship at both Airlie Beach and Cairns.

While missing the Great Barrier Reef was a tad disappointing, it is obvious that those of us travelling on this cruise that are attending the UTP conference are nowhere near as disappointed as the general tourists onboard.

Us genies are definitely having a ball!

Extra time at sea equals extra time with our wonderful speakers who have come to the fore over-and-above their original 1-on-1 Help Desks as well as both David Rencher and Dr Richard Reid providing a couple of impromptu presentations on our enforced sea days.

However, late this afternoon, we say goodbye to Darwin and begin the final five days of the conference.

To kick off the talks we have Geoff Doherty speaking on Australia’s first real war involvement – the Boer War. After dinner, David Rencher will be speaking on Irish Valuation and Tithe Records.

David Rencher talking on Out of the Ashes – Irish Genealogical Collections

To have David onboard with us is a major coup as there is nothing David doesn’t know regarding Ireland and its records – as well as the huge research repository that is the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In contrast to David’s complete genealogical wizardry, the presentations made by Dr Richard Reid have been nothing short of astonishing.

An Irishman by birth, Richard knows how to “tell” a story and has kept us all captivated. I think my favourite Richard Reid presentation must be “The Kingdom of the Ryans: An Australian settler family landscape”, although all of his World War I talks have been enthralling.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, with more than 40 years’ experience in family history research – several of which I also carried out professional research – there is always something new to learn or take away from attending a genealogical conference.

Part of our conference room – having tables to work at has been wonderful

More importantly, there is also the ability to network and help other attendees with brick walls. It’s amazing how a new pair of eyes can see what you have been missing!

When this cruise finishes in five days, I will return home and await the 17th Unlock The Past Genealogy Cruise – Adelaide to Tasmania from 11 to 19 March 2020. It will be a bitter sweet time as Alan Phillips has announced the Tasmanian cruise will be the final cruise undertaken by Unlock The Past.

Come on, all genealogists – let’s make UTP genealogy cruising go out with a bang!

Unlock The Past Cruising

I can’t say enough positive things about attending a genealogical conference — unless it also happens to include a cruise! Even so, the words wonderful, fabulous and excellent “do not” do a genealogical cruise justice.

The Australian genealogical community has been very blessed that we have Alan Phillips, of Gould Genealogy, along with his dedicated Unlock The Past team of Anthea Phillips, Alona Tester, Helen Smith and Eric and Rosemary Kopittke, who have been providing wonderful opportunities over the past eight years for genealogists — not just in Australia— but also from far places around the world to sample the fabulous world of genealogy cruising.

I admit I’m a late starter on these tours having only attended my first genealogy cruise in 2016 – New Zealand to Fremantle. And I couldn’t have asked for a better lineup of speakers which included Judy G. Russell and Paul Blake.

My second cruise with UTP should have been the 2018 trip to the Alaskan Inside Passage only to see me having to withdraw two days out from flying to Seattle to join the cruise due to an unexpected health problem.

So, it is only now, in 2019, that I am on my second cruise with UTP as we travel from Sydney to Singapore. And while it is only day four of this 15-day cruise, there is nothing that hasn’t come up to expectation from the Unlock The Past team.

To have David Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer for FamilySearch, and Dr Richard Reid, Executive Officer for the Australian War Memorial in the project to return the Unknown Soldier to the Hall of Memory at the Memorial, has been a standout coup.

However, I don’t want to appear to be discrediting the other speakers on this cruise because they continually work to further their knowledge and update their topics accordingly.

No matter how much you think you know about genealogy, when attending any conference, taking in the latest presentation from a speaker (who undoubtedly has spent hours working on or updating their talk) there is always, no matter how small, something new will be learned.

And yes, as experienced as I am, I still take away something new from every conference I have attended from subjects I am well versed in. I am more than grateful that all our genealogical speakers go that extra length to bring to enthusiasts like me the latest updates, tips and methods for anything genealogy related.

2019 – Bursting Forth

Woohoo – 2019 is turning out to be a fabulous year for all thing’s genealogy in my life.

I was pleasantly surprised in January to receive in the mail a Certificate of Merit for Outstanding Service to the Society of Australian Genealogists. What an honour and totally unexpected. The Certificate would have been handed to me personally had I been in attendance at the Christmas thank you function for the Society’s volunteers – I had planned on attending, however, at the last minute I was laid up with the flu.

I can still remember the first time I walked into the Society’s rooms at Richmond Villa in the 1970s – I was only 16 and my mother accompanied me so that she could check out “this Society” which she was convinced was some crazy “Charles Manson-like” sect that would brainwash me!

Some might say I was definitely brainwashed but I admit – I received it eagerly – turning a passing interest in genealogy into a thoroughly addicted pastime and eventual profession. Addiction doesn’t even come close to my love of genealogy and, to this day, I am still able to experience my family’s eyes glaze over when I start talking family history.

Holidays too, are another part of my genealogy addiction. There have been countless local and overseas destinations travelled to so that I could visit a cemetery, an archive or a church. I also needed to walk in my ancestor’s steps.

In just over a week I am off on the first of my genealogy travels for this year when I board the Explorer of the Seas for a 15-night cruise to Singapore as part of the latest Unlock the Past Genealogy Conference at Sea”.

The UTP crew have put together another fabulous conference itinerary taking in Irish, Scottish, English, Military, Australian and German research as well as an amazing DNA stream.

In June I head back to the United Kingdom to attend the inaugural THE Genealogy Show being held 7-8 June at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. The organisers have put together a great line-up of speakers including Judy G Russell, Blaine Bettinger, Lisa-Louise Cooke, Nathan Dylan Godwin and our very own Australian “Rock Star Genealogist” – Jill Ball. It will also be a great time to catch up with many of my genealogy mates from around the world including Pat Richley-Erickson, Ruth Blair, Sylvia Valentine, Kirsty Gray as well as another good ol Australian friend, Lilian Magill.

Of course, travelling halfway around the world to attend a 2-day event requires justification. So, I’ll also be spending a week in Glasgow where I will be found most days at the wonderful Mitchell Library. After Glasgow it’s time for family and friend catch-ups but I can guarantee there will also be a fair bit more genealogy time spent in the UK before I arrive back home.

Next on the list is a total 3-day immersion in DNA when I travel to, and stay at, Castle Hill (yes, I know that Castle Hill is still in Sydney but from my home I may as well be travelling overseas). I’ll be attending another Unlock the Past super conference – DNA Down Under – with Blaine Bettinger headlining a host of acclaimed DNA specialists including Helen Smith, Louise Coakley, Michelle Patient and Kerry Farmer.

And the final event for the year sees me travelling once again north of the Harbour to attend the 3-day NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies annual conference – Exploring the Past – being hosted by Ku-ring-ai Historical Society at Knox Grammar School, 11-13 October. Accommodation has already been sought out and will see me staying at my first AirB&B. This conference brings together many of my local cohorts in genealogy to talk, think and dissect genealogy over the 3 days. I must remember to get myself on the same table as Gail Davis from State Records and Martyn Killion and Heather Garnsey from Society of Australian Genealogists in case there is a Trivia Night organised! (Gloating here as I was on the winning table with said persons at the 2015 Port Macquarie conference.)

Additionally, on 11 May, I will be one of the many fabulous volunteers at Botany Bay Family History Society promoting our annual Heritage Fair at Gymea Tradies. This one-day event is always a huge success, and in my role as Guest Speaker Seeker, I have managed to signup Angela PhippenLet us break their bonds asunder’: Divorce in NSW, Sharn White House Histories, Jeff Madsen Google Maps and Gail Davis Grandparents in the Archives. All the talks are free to attend, and we will also be showcasing our various Interest Groups – DNA, Australian, English, Scottish, Irish, Writers, Reunion for Mac, Family Tree Maker and Legacy Computer Program.

What a great year 2019 is going to be!