Tag: Genealogy

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.


Faces of NextGen: Meet Jana Greenhalgh

Jana Greenhalgh, 33, Utah

What five words would you use to describe yourself? Mother, genealogist, busy, busy, busy.

Why genealogy? My grandfather inspired me as a teenager. He introduced me to genealogical research, and that led me to a BA degree in Genealogy at Brigham Young University. Genealogy makes me happy, and I’m especially happy when I’m teaching it to others or involving my six kids in my research!

What’s the coolest discovery you’ve made? Not long ago, our family discovered a beautiful old photograph of one of our ancestors. We’ve studied and admired her for years but had no idea what she looked like. A distant cousin had the photo in their possession and had recently posted it online.

What are you working on this week? A movie script with my kids. We’re using censuses and other records to tell the story of their great-grandfather.

What’s the number one secret to your success in genealogy? Enthusiasm.

What superpower would you want to help you uncover your family history? I’d like to be able to research all night long while the baby sleeps (without feeling the effects of sleeplessness the next morning).

What are we most likely to find you doing when you’re not researching family history? Laundry, dishes, carpools, kid-homework, and maybe gardening or knitting.

Anything else you’d like to share? My kids would be ecstatic if you’d check out our movies at The Genealogy Kids YouTube Channel and our blog. More views means more motivation for these kiddos! They especially like “likes,” comments, and subscribers.

The NextGen Genealogy Network is made up of young genealogists with diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences. Faces of NextGen will showcase a different member of our community each month. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming feature, simply complete our questionnaire and submit a selfie.


Education Hangout: Reuse and Recycle

You don’t always have to wait for inspiration to strike to begin writing. Consider reusing and recycling your old material – whether blog posts, research papers, newsletter articles, or even presentations – to create something new! Shannon Combs Bennett of the NextGen Genealogy Network’s Leadership Team shares practical ideas for expanding your audience and bringing new life to your “old stuff” in the July Education Hangout.


Don’t forget to bookmark our YouTube Channel and listen in for fantastic, friendly advice on a variety of topics relevant to the young genealogist!


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.