Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Month Abroad - Part Two - GRIP

This is the second in my series of blogs on my recent four weeks in the US. Part One is here.

Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh
Two years ago, I participated in the inaugural course in Practical Genetic Genealogy at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP). The knowledge and the friendships from that week helped propel me along the path I have chosen in genetic genealogy.

This year, they offered Advanced Genetic Genealogy in their July session. This is the way GRIP describes the course:
If you believe that you are ready to graduate from the basics of genetic genealogy and take the next step in genetic genealogy education, then this is the course for you. Be prepared for a fast-paced learning experience intended for the genealogist who has experience applying DNA testing to family history research and has a strong foundational understanding of genetic genealogy concepts.We will demonstrate and discuss methods used by expert genetic genealogists to get the most out of DNA results, utilizing all four types of DNA, in conjunction with documentary evidence to advance knowledge of an individual’s family tree. Genetic genealogy’s application to unknown parentage search will also be examined and resources explored for when unexpected results are encountered.  We will end each day with a discussion session to enhance and reinforce the day’s coursework.Upon completion of this course, students will have gained insight into how to take their own genetic genealogy research to the next level and what it takes to assist others in this pursuit.
Nearly all the instruction was from CeCe Moore and Blaine Bettinger, who also taught two years ago. This is the curriculum.
One hundred forty pages of syllabus for this rich program
As I did two years ago, I stayed with Aunt Betty and Uncle Ken in Squirrel Hill rather than in the LaRoche College dormitory and rented a car for the twenty minute morning drive and the thirty minute afternoon return trip. Each day after morning services, I picked up a donut and a bagel at the kosher Dunkin Donuts to get me through the day.

The audio visual equipment in the room we were assigned was excellent, with everything shown on two large screens in the front of the room and a screen in the back to enable the  instructor to see it while facing the class. We were in four rows of stadium seating, with plugs for our computers on the table and adequate WiFi. The ratio of women to men was less overwhelming than last time. There were several people I knew, from the earlier course and from other places. The class list had forty-nine names, but it didn't feel like an overly large group. Only one or two aside from me expressed any special interest in Jewish DNA.

As before, I helped myself to a front row seat.

The course itself was outstanding and after more than one session, I (and others) said "this session was worth the entire price of admission." Of course this was helped by the fact that I am better equipped to handle the more advanced material than I was two years ago.

Among the stand-out sessions were Blaine on "Advanced Applications foir Third Party Tools" and CeCe on Ethnicity and Admixture, Unknown Parentage and Triangulation. The former included a really nice presentation of Kathy Johnston's Visual Phasing which identifies grandparents' segments based on three sibling-grandchildren. I had never seen this before. It is really very clever.

Both the unknown parentage session and those on admixture led to Jewish issues and CeCe showed herself to be much more knowledgeable and much more comfortable with the Jewish DNA than she had been two years ago. I told her that I was proud of her for her progress. She thanked me publicly for not giving her a hard time and for staying awake. (The latter was a problem last time.)

There was alot of emphasis on things specific to Ancestry and 23 & Me, and since I work with neither (though I tested with 23 & Me) I was quite unfamiliar with the material. I made a decision then that when in Seattle I would go to the Ancestry booth, give them some spit.- then put up the bare bones of a tree. I am pleased to report that I followed through on that. Even if I do not need it for my own research, I really need to know how this works as part of being a professional.

I still have to do something about 23 & Me which I have been ignoring because I find it user-unfriendly to say the least.

Although I am still skeptical about the whole notion of the companies' ethnicity analyses, I saw how CeCe uses them to help identify unknown parents. I was intrigued by the 23 & Me ethnicity results which are by chromosome, rather than just an aggregate blob. I would like to see FTDNA do something like that. I seem to have picked up on what CeCe was doing, as I was quite on the ball in the session on case studies. Of course, I do not use this much in real life, so I am not sure how to keep sharp on that analysis.

The attitude of Ancestry's "we'll do the work for you so you don't need to see the data" policy was analyzed under the harshest of lights. Good things were said about triangulation in that and other contexts.

There was a lot of discussion during Blaine's session on "Ethical and Legal Considerations." Judy Russell was a participant in the course so she had what to say on the subject. (Judy and I crossed swords more than a few times, but it was all in a friendly way. I think.)

Debbie Parker Wayne did one session - on "Reporting and Citing DNA results." It started off very dry with alot of reading from the slides, but it picked up and  ended up being quite useful.

Two students who are geneticists - Brianne Kirkpatrick and Beth Balkite - gave a session on "The Intersection of Genetic Genealogy and Genetic Counseling"  which gave us a different perspective on the whole topic.

Many of the participants in the course already work at a high level so student participation in the discussions was both interesting and useful. I think I held my own in that department.

If I had to boil it down to one sentence, I'd say that the course was way beyond my expectations, which were high to begin with.

I also enjoyed the general GRIP experience even though I was not a visitor to the cafeteria and did not stay for the evening programs. I wish I could say I look forward to doing this again as Elissa Scalise Powell and Debbie Deal put together a fine week of programming, but the non-DNA topics are pretty irrelevant for me and I don't see another DNA course in the near future.

There was one evening program in which I participated - the one on Wednesday when I gave a presentation "Lessons in Jewish DNA - One Man's Successes and What He Learned on the Journey." It was well attended and well received. A few people bought my book and a few others who had bought it online gave it to me to sign.

Triangulation: Jim Bartlett
While we are are on the subject of triangulation, which I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, let me mention that during the week after GRIP I spent a wonderful day with Jim Bartlett the segmentologist.

What got the ball rolling on that was a bloggers party at the home of Pat Richley-Erickson (aka Dear Myrtle) after RootsTech. Lara Diamond introduced me to Carol Petranek, the Co-Director of the Washington DC Family History Center. Carol said that it would be nice if I could speak at one of their Saturday programs, which of course I cannot. But since I knew then that I'd be in Baltimore on the twenty-fourth of July, I offered her the twenty-fifth. One thing led to another and I ended up with an invitation to speak that evening at the Fairfax (Virginia) Genealogical Society, with Jim Bartlett as my host.

I already knew that he liked my book and I have had a tremendous respect for his engineer's approach to DNA analysis, particularly triangulation. We went on for many hours and he showed me exactly how he does his analysis. It is still difficult for me to dive into this at that level both because of the Jewish issues and because I am doing a single-surname project, not just my own personal genealogy. This means I'd have to build an Excel analysis with additional dimensions.

I felt as though I had known Jim well, perhaps in a previous life. He and his wife Olivia were gracious hosts - as were all the people I stayed with during my trip. Actually, Jim and I met at the home of one of my wife's cousins and the three of us had a pleasant time together.

Jim is also known by the email address "gedmatch3" so I decided to run the Lazarus-Endogamy talk I had prepared for Seattle by him to see what he thought. He was the only person to see it before the actual presentation.

Jim and I on TV
Tuesday, after my Fairfax presentation, Jim and I were back in Fairfax for two interviews on Sidney Sacks' local TV show, Tracing Your Family Roots. In one Jim and Sidney's wife Arline interviewed me about my book and the other was more of a three way discussion, though officially Arline was interviewing both of us. I was not at my smoothest.

After they are shown locally, they will be available on line. I'll post links when I have them.

Part Three is here. Part Four is here. And finally, Part Five is here.

1 comment:

  1. I was one of those in the GRIP class who was really inspired by the introduction to Kathy Johnston's Visual Phasing. Not only was it new to me, but I'm struggling with a puzzle in my wife's family right now that this should be able to help. However, so far I have not made much progress. Maybe too many crossovers on chromosome 9 with my wife and her two siblings.

    Israel, you have summarized the week well.