I have just returned from the 5th Annual International Genetic Genealogy Conference in Houston, which is sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA. There were about 200 attendees (the number each year is limited by the size of the venue). It is amazing to be in the midst of this many researchers who are so passionate about their genealogy and so focused on learning how to become better surname project administrators. While most were from the USA, there were a handful from other countries – and the passion certainly doesn’t vary by accent! Some of my favorite times at this meeting were with friends from other countries. I also spent some time before the conference with my parents (who live nearby) – and, as always – we talked about family research, heirlooms, and what we know (and don’t know) about our past.
As we work to learn more about our past, we should also be thinking about how to preserve what we know – and already have. Our assets include the stories, traditions and legends passed down from our elders. (Do you have all of yours written down? I don’t!) We also have genealogies, research notes, photos, heirlooms and various and assorted other special treasures. Have we made an inventory of them? Have we made sure that each will survive for the next generation to use, to hold, to touch, to wonder at? And – have we figured out who will care for them during the next generation – and, is that “someone” just as passionate about our past as we are?
One of the discussions at this conference was about how much more we may learn though the use of DNA testing as science progresses over time. I think it is very clear that we are only scratching the surface – and that there is still very much more to learn. We already know that one part of our past is carried by our living relatives – in their DNA. Each man carries his father’s father’s … father’s paternal yDNA. Everyone carries his or her mother’s mother’s … mother’s maternal mtDNA. And now, the researchers are talking about “blocks” of autosomal DNA – which apparently pass down from an ancestor intact – and which may be used to unlock even more of the story of our ancestry. (Traditionally, we think of autosomal DNA as being a blending of our father’s and mother’s DNA – which greatly dilutes its use for genealogy.) I don’t understand this latest possibility enough yet to explain it - but that’s not the point of this message. The point is that new advances continue to emerge and we need to widen our thinking to make provisions for scientific advances we can’t yet imagine. Each time that we arrange a DNA test of one of our relatives with a company who preserves that DNA for future testing, we are preserving our past for a future time when we (or our successors) may be able to do testing we can’t even imagine today. So – while you are thinking about all of the knowledge and treasures you have found from your past – and how to preserve them for the future – don’t neglect your living relatives! Some of them (actually – many of them) uniquely carry knowledge of your ancestry!
So – as you are working on your ancestry – keep in mind those who will come after you. Make sure that you are preserving the past for them. New tools and newly found information may allow them to interpret your collection of information (even the scraps you don’t now understand) in ways that will give them more answers than you can see today.