Category: Guest Blogger

DNA and the Next Generation: Part II

Click here to read Part I in this series about DNA and the Next Generation. 

Genetic genealogy will play an increasingly important role in the future of family history. In fact, it has become so prevalent that we can no longer ignore DNA testing as a valuable resource for family history research. The Genealogical Proof Standard, a set of standards for crafting proof arguments, suggests that a conclusion can only be proven if reasonably exhaustive research has been performed. DNA testing is now considered to be a common element of reasonably exhaustive research.1


In order to understand the importance of genetic genealogy for this generation and the next generation of genealogists, we have to explore some fundamental questions about the nature of the field. Who researches their genealogy? Why? How? Who will be researching their genealogy in the future? What role does genetic genealogy currently play? What role will it play in the future?

In an open market, we might expect that supply of genealogical research services would be indicative of demand. A review of the largest registry of professional genealogists with the Association of Professional Genealogists shows that, by far, the most popular region for genealogical research is the United States. In regards to foreign research, within the APG registry there are twenty-two countries with more than twenty registered professionals offering research services. Seventeen of these countries were the top source populations for immigration to the United States between 1900 and 1910. Of the five remaining countries, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel also have strong histories of immigration, and the Netherlands and Spain both had major diasporas and long histories of emigration. Viewing this correlation from the other direction, all source populations that contributed more than 1% of the foreign born population of the United States between 1900 and 1910 are currently among the highest demand areas for research services according to the survey of the APG registry.

Through this observation, we hypothesize that genealogical interest is most often born of a displacement and disconnect from an individual’s cultural roots. Immigrants themselves often maintain connections to their native land. Children and sometimes grandchildren of an immigrant likewise benefit from these connections. However, by the third and fourth generations, descendants of an immigrant may not know the immigrant themselves, may not have connections with their distant family, and in their absence may have increased interest in discovering their cultural roots and heritage. Accordingly, interest in genealogy often increases about one hundred years after migration. Since the history of the United States has included frequent and constant internal migration, this constant displacement maintains a healthy culture of American genealogical investigation.

In observing this trend, we propose that growing fields of genealogical research specialty in the coming years will include Finland, Greece, Former Yugoslavia, Lithuania and Romania, since these regions experienced peak emigration to the United States approximately one hundred years ago. Similarly, in twenty years, demand will increase for research in China and Japan. In the next fifty years, demand will increase for research services in Portugal, Cuba, India, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. In addition to these new areas, demand for research in Mexico will also continue to increase.


However, these trends only take into account immigration patterns in the United States. Other major international migration trends will accentuate demand for the countries listed above as well as increase research demand in South America, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Whereas current areas of high research demand typically have good record preservation and accessibility, some areas of future research demand have suffered serious record loss and poor record preservation. Therefore, genetic genealogy will be an essential component of these research fields – compensating in genetic data for a lack of historical records. With projected expansion in these research areas, we should work now to preserve historical records and collect the genetic information that will make future research endeavors successful.

Currently, most people involved in the field of genetic genealogy fit into one of five categories: adoption, unknown paternity, recent brick walls, specific questions, and general interest. Though general interest is sometimes driven by a gradual loss of cultural connectedness, for many other participants in genetic genealogy, their displacement and disconnect from their roots is often much closer than those engaged in traditional research. As a result, many genetic genealogists are searching for answers to questions within the last thirty to sixty years. In the United States, adoption reached its peak in the late 1960s, meaning that even now, there is a huge demand for adoption research which in turn has led to increased demand for genetic genealogy research. Current statistics on mixed families, single-parent households, divorce, sperm and egg donation, and teenage pregnancies all suggest that in future genealogical research, the prevalence of recent brick walls will only increase.

In the future of family history, we can fully expect that brick walls due to lack of records, or recent disconnect due to different family dynamics, will only increase demand for DNA testing. As a result, genetic genealogy is the ideal tool for the future of family history.

1 Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas W. Jones, “Editor’s Corner,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 102, No. 3 (Sep. 2014).


Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D., is an intellectual property attorney by day and a genetic genealogist by night. He is the author of the long-running blog The Genetic Genealogist, and frequently gives presentations and webinars to educate others about the use of DNA to explore their ancestry.


Paul Woodbury is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University where he studied genetics and family history. Currently he works for Legacy Tree Genealogists as a client researcher with specialties in French, Spanish, Italian, Scandinavian, and genetic genealogy. He frequently presents on these and other research topics at family history conferences.


DNA and the Next Generation

Genetic genealogy has become an essential tool for genealogists. With more than two million people tested to date, genealogists use DNA evidence every day to confirm research, study ancient roots, and break through brick walls.


In addition to breaking brick walls, genetic genealogy is also breaking social barriers. DNA testing engages both genealogists and non-genealogists of all ages, young and old. It shows us with scientific certainty just how closely related we all are, regardless of our age, location, history, ethnicity, or creed. Genealogists interested in engaging a younger generation can exploit this powerful aspect of DNA.

There are many reasons to encourage the next generation to investigate DNA testing. First and foremost, it is a great way to get younger test-takers interested in genealogy. With a bit of elbow grease, the results of a DNA test reveal the random tendrils through time that physically connect us to our ancestors and family history. Indeed, another reason to investigate DNA testing is simply because it is an essential source of evidence for genealogical research.

Younger test-takers often benefit more from the results of testing more than older generations. DNA is taught in biology class from a young age, and students have extensive experience with computers, so there is a minimal learning curve. Additionally, younger test-takers typically have more living ancestors (parents, grandparents, maybe even great-grandparents) and older relatives they can test in order to reveal even more information about their family history.

Educators who recognize the engaging power of genetic genealogy can use DNA testing in the classroom to explore topics in history, biology, and social studies. As early as 2007, for example, the National Genographic Project donated 750 kits to students in Chicago Public High Schools and 250 kits to sister schools in England. The students used the results of the Y-DNA and mtDNA testing to study human migratory patterns and to discover just how related they all are. “It’s like I’m related to everyone I know,” said one of the students. There is great untapped potential to use genetic genealogy testing to educate and engage students.

To understand the motivations and genealogical interests of younger test-takers, we created a short survey for test-takers who had taken their first DNA test prior to the age of thirty. The survey asked questions about why they took a genetic genealogy test, how they were introduced to DNA testing, what result of the testing was the most interesting, and how DNA testing affected their interest in genealogy, among other questions.

The results of the survey provide important insight to genealogists. For example, 56% of young test-takers took a genetic genealogy test to learn about their ethnicity and general ancestry, compared to 19% who took the test to answer a specific genealogical question, 11% to learn about their health, and 6% because of adoption or unknown paternity (the remaining 8% having some other reason for testing). In some ways, the results are not surprising. Ethnicity results have been the focal point of much of the recent advertising by genetic genealogy testing companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, likely the result of marketing research that recognized the public’s interest in those types of results, and almost half of respondents were introduced to genetic genealogy through an advertisement. However, of those who originally tested in order to learn more about their ethnicity, almost half reported being more interested in another aspect of their actual results. Although ethnicity brings test-takers in the door, genealogists can subsequently maintain interest by introducing tested individuals to other pertinent aspects of family history.

Another very important result was obtained in response to the question about whether the test-taker’s interest in genealogy increased, decreased, or stayed the same after they took a DNA test. Although 38% reported that it stayed the same, 62% reported that their interest in genealogy increased after DNA testing. And just as important, not a single respondent reported a decrease in interest. The results suggest that DNA testing offers genealogists an unparalleled opportunity to increase interest in genealogy among younger test-takers.

Whether in the classroom or with a grandchild, DNA testing offers genealogists a unique opportunity to engage younger test-takers. With genetic genealogy becoming increasingly ubiquitous, these opportunities will abound. Hopefully we will recognize and embrace this chance to engage the next generation.


Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D., is an intellectual property attorney by day and a genetic genealogist by night. He is the author of the long-running blog The Genetic Genealogist, and frequently gives presentations and webinars to educate others about the use of DNA to explore their ancestry.


Paul Woodbury is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University where he studied genetics and family history. Currently he works for Legacy Tree Genealogists as a client researcher with specialties in French, Spanish, Italian, Scandinavian, and genetic genealogy. He frequently presents on these and other research topics at family history conferences.


5 Interview Techniques to Take Your Family History to the Next Level

You probably already know that conducting an interview with a family member can help to paint a more complete picture of your family history. What you may not know is some of the techniques that the pros use to make sure that the interview is productive and results in a useful addition to available historical records. Here are my top five suggestions to help you make the most of your interview:

5 Interview Techniques

1. Preparation is key. It can be tempting, especially if the interviewee is someone you know well, to simply show up and chat over cookies. While that can be lovely, if you want a fruitful interview, it helps to be a little more formal in your technique. By preparing questions in advance and researching the places, time periods, and events that that person may have experienced, you in essence create a roadmap to follow. It also allows you to try to constrain the time of your interview and to decide if you might need more than one session. The ideal length for an interview is between forty-five minutes and an hour and a half.

2. Think of yourself as a tour guide. A tour guide wants visitors to enjoy their experience, lingering at a specific point of interest and discovering hidden treasures they may not have seen before. But the other important aspect of guiding a tour is knowing how to keep your group on track. Just like a tour guide, you do not want to interrupt or cut short a discussion that may reveal something important or unexpected. However, all interviews will get off track without some mild steering from the interviewer. The easiest way to do this in most cases is to wait for a breaking point and say something like, “That is very interesting. I would love to talk more about that a little later. Do you mind if we talk about ______ for a moment first?” Usually, a question like that will draw your subject back onto the path.

3. Work chronologically at the beginning. For every interview I begin asking questions chronologically. Typically, memories from our youth are strongest in our mind because when they occurred there was less information competing for a coveted spot in our long-term memory. By beginning with memories that are more vivid, it allows the interviewee to get excited about the experience and feel a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment at being able to answer questions in a complete and informative way. It is also important to be flexible to changing this as your interview goes on. If a question provides a natural transition to another topic that you want to cover, you may want to move out of chronology to cover it.

4. Learn to recognize nervousness. I have interviewed people who have spouted off two decades worth of history before I have even managed to get my recorder out of my bag, and others who sit silently for several minutes after each question. Both behaviors are signs of nervousness. If you notice one of these, it is a good idea to adapt your technique or ask about something that will get them more relaxed. In most cases, people love talking about their children, their childhood, and especially their pets, and when they are enjoying their memories they will often forget you are even there.

5. Know when something is not working. One of my first interviews was with a woman who was well over one hundred years old and who struggled to answer questions. On my way out of our first session, I noticed that in her foyer was a wall adorned with beautiful oil paintings from her travels. For our next session, I switched gears and asked her about various pictures in her home, showing them to her and having her respond. Suddenly, I was getting more information than ever before. Since then, I have used this technique in all of my interviews to some degree. Senses can call to mind powerful memories that have been buried. Don’t be afraid to bring up smells and tastes in addition to using visual aids.

Now it’s your turn! Go forth, interview someone, and share your tips, experiences, and stories in the comments below.

Tara Cajacob

Tara Cajacob is part of the NextGen Genealogy Network’s Leadership Team and the owner and historical research consultant at The Historium, LLC, where she conducts oral history interviews and historical research at repositories throughout the Chicagoland area.


Teaching Young Children About History Through Travel

Over spring break, my husband and I took our two children, ages four and seven, to visit Washington, D.C. While there, we saw many school groups also visiting the historical sites and museums. For the most part, the groups consisted of teenagers, teachers, and parents. Some of the kids were genuinely interested in the monuments and museums, but many others were obviously bored, constantly looking at their phones, and wondering when they’d be done. For a lot of these kids, this trip came too late in their educations. Kids need to experience historical places at early ages.

Why travel to historical places with young children? Young children are naturally curious and they ask questions without hesitation. Because young children learn best through utilizing all of their senses, experiencing historical places first hand is an important way to develop their basic cognitive understandings of history. Children will come to enjoy learning about history if it is taught by combining interesting stories with real places.

Child enjoying historical monument

Kids need to experience historical places at early ages to gain a full appreciation of their significance.

How young should you start taking your child to historical places? Believe it or not, the toddler years are a great time to begin. Vocabulary development during this period is explosive, and it is a time when children are learning about the world around them by associating spoken words with tangible objects. When my son was two years old, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida and Ft. Pulaski National Monument in Georgia. During both visits, we told our son we were in a fort, which was a new word for him. Better still, he was able to associate that word with a real place in real-life dimensions. A fort was not just a blanket-covered table to play under or some toy; a fort is huge, and made of stone or brick, which he was able to physically touch. A fort has room for lots of people and supplies inside and special spaces and windows made just for large cannons – another new word he was able to associate with real-life objects.

As children grow into preschool and elementary ages, the vocabulary associated with historical places can be built upon with stories. Visiting historical places makes the stories of history come alive for kids. For example, we visited Ford’s Theater while in Washington, D.C. While in the theater, we told our kids the story of President Lincoln’s assassination (another new word for them). We could literally show them where the “bad guy” came into the Presidential Box, shot Abraham Lincoln, and jumped from the balcony onto the stage. We told the kids he broke his leg when he fell, but still got away. Our daughter remarked, “He must have hopped,” which showed me that she was actually picturing it happening! These days, so many historical sites have character actors who young children just love to interact with, and who are able to make learning about the history of a place enjoyable and engaging for all ages. So, don’t hesitate to travel to historical places with young children – they will enjoy it more than you think!

Emily Kowalski SchroederEmily Kowalski Schroeder is the author of the blog Growing Little Leaves, which is dedicated to sharing ways to educate young children about family history. Learn more at