Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A DNA test connected two distant cousins — and filled out a family history that slavery erased

Jean Kapenda always hoped to help African Americans to find their African roots. That dream came true in a very personal way.

Kapenda, a criminal justice professor at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, has been interested in genealogy and ancestry for a long time. A few years ago, he did a swab and sent it to a genetic testing site.

After getting the results, Kapenda, who is originally from Democratic Republic of Congo, has been able to trace hundreds of relatives in the Americas, most of them the descendents of people enslaved and sent on ships across the ocean.

“It’s as if I was lost and somebody found me,” Kapenda said, describing what it feels like to find members of his family.

This year marks 400 years since the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies in the Americas. Kapenda and his relatives share the painful history of slavery, and he says meeting an African ancestor is a remarkable life experience.

"It's been 400 years, so the most important thing is to find an African who shares DNA with you, somebody who was born in Africa, somebody who's got his roots in Africa and just being connected to that person means a lot, that you share a common ancestor who was taken to the Americas 400 years ago, 300 years ago, maybe 250 years ago," Kapenda said.

One of those remarkable moments happened at The World studio in Boston last Friday. Kapenda met his fourth cousin, Aiyana Lakes, in person for the first time. Kapenda and Lakes share a set of fourth great-grandparents.

Lakes, who is a graduate student at Fisher College in Boston, wanted to explore her ancestry and also did a DNA test to find out where she was from. She also chose to be notified whenever someone’s DNA matched hers. This is how Kapenda was able to reach Lakes and begin building a relationship.

“Our history doesn't begin and end with slavery,” Lakes said. “Our first conversations had nothing to do with slavery. It had everything to do with, ‘Your tribe is full of strength in riches, and slavery was just a blip in the radar.’ I wish that we as African Americans and scholars would teach you more of the power that comes out of Africa versus just the slave trade.”

Lakes says she was looking for a way to connect with more African Americans when she took the DNA test.

“For me it was, well, what type of American am I and why do I have to identify as one type of American because I don't really know where I'm from?” she said. “If you ask me, I'm from Boston because I don't have another language. We have our own traditions that we've kind of made for ourselves, but I can't say my family's from Puerto Rico, my family's from Cuba. I can't say that. So, I took the DNA test to kind of see exactly where I was from to maybe do some research to find out what are some of my traditions, what are some of my dishes. And that's why it was so great when my cousin reached out.”

Lakes brought her son, Terrian, and her mother, Audray Spencer, to The World studio to meet Kapenda, who was able to fill in some of the information Lakes was looking for.

“So, now my little cousin, my little nephew Terrian, has an uncle,” Kapenda said. “I am your uncle and I'm a Lunda, a Lunda from the Congo. So, whenever they ask you where you're from you would say, ‘I am from the Congo, I'm in Lunda and my uncle Jean Kapenda is a Lunda.’”

The Lunda tribe founded an empire in the 16th century and reached the height of its power in the 1850s. It stretched from what is now Democratic Republic of Congo, northeastern Angola and northwestern Zambia.

Spencer says she saw this as an important moment for her grandson.

“I feel good to know now that my grandson will be able to actually say a tribe that he — that means me, too — am connected to. And I can actually say, ‘I'm from Lunda tribe’ while I have been told so many times, “You have no country.””

Lakes says she hopes to one day visit Africa.

“That was my ultimate goal is to find a way to get back to Africa,” Lakes said. “But when I first started it I didn't know that I would have actual family there. So, now it's time to start saving up the pennies because I really want my son to know where he's from and not feel like he doesn't have a connection to his ancestors or to his roots or anything. When you grow up and people are continually asking you, ‘What are you?’ because you don't look like one particular race,  it kind of weighs on you.”

Friday, March 27, 2020

Ancestry now offers FREE Access to Millions of Historical Records and Images from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The following is an extract from an article by Ancestry CEO Margo Georgiadis describing the company’s actions to support our community during this time of uncertainty during the CoronaVirus pandemic. The article was published in the Ancestry Blog at https://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/:

Ancestry has collaborated with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration to offer temporary free access to millions of historical records and images from the federal government. And we will continue providing free online tutorials and video courses to help people get started with family tree building.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Home DNA tests reveal more than we bargained for

You may not be one of the more than 30 million people who have spat into a tube and shipped off their saliva or a cheek swab using one of those at-home DNA testing kits sold by companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry, but soon that won’t matter.

We are moving towards a time when the decision to know or ignore your genetic data will no longer be yours alone, according to Libby Copeland, author of “The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are.”

“You don’t have the choice anymore increasingly, of whether or not you opt in or not,” explained Copeland. “You are opted in by dint of the fact that people have made this decision for you. They bought [the kit] as a Christmas gift for their sister, and their sister tested. And that sister is your aunt, and that’s it.”

We are only just beginning to grapple with the consequences of the commercialization of our genes through home genetic testing. There was an inkling of where things were headed back in the spring of 2018 when authorities in Sacramento County announced that they had arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, the man they believed to be the infamous Golden State Killer. The police were able to track down DeAngelo and identify him because of DNA data uploaded to a free online genealogy service by one of his distant relatives.

Since DeAngelo’s arrest, investigators around the country have used similar techniques to solve more cold cases — techniques that have privacy experts worried. There is a lot that you can find out about a person from their genetic information. Leading genetic testing companies do have measures in place to protect their users’ identities, but there are many open questions about who will own, have access to, or be able to control our genetic data in the years to come, according to Copeland. Could that genetic information eventually be shared or sold to a third party, or could it be hacked and made public?

There are also implications for the world of private health insurance because DNA results can include sensitive details about potential medical risks. Copeland said it is not difficult to imagine a time when your health insurer finds out that you or a family member has obtained the results of a home genetic test and demands that you share that information with them.

“If you don’t give them [it], that could be considered fraud. And if you do give them [it], that could potentially impact certain types of insurance,” she explained. “It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s something that people worry about.”

There is federal legislation in place to protect people against genetic discrimination, but it has some loopholes, which is a concern for legal and privacy scholars, according to Copeland.

The Pentagon is worried too. Last year it warned service members about the risks of using commercial genetic tests, including potentially negative consequences for their careers and the security of the military.

Despite the objections of privacy experts, nobody seems to be in a hurry to regulate the wild west of commercial genetic testing at either the state or federal level, and customers are not overly concerned either, said Copeland.

“The average consumer doesn’t seem to be clamoring to be finding out less or to be more protected from their information,” she explained. 

It is early days though — and, since it is not unusual for laws to lag behind advances in technology, nobody quite knows what the future might hold when it comes to big data and the unanticipated consequences of genetic genealogy.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Free and unlimited access!

Notice from Daniel Horowitz from MyHeritage
I’m happy to share that we’re giving everyone FREE and unlimited access to MyHeritage In Color™ from March 23 to April 23, so that people everywhere can join in the fun of colorizing their black and white photos. Ordinarily only 10 photos can be colorized by users who do not have a Complete plan, but now, you can colorize as many photos as you’d like for free.
Colorizing photos is the perfect activity for anyone who is isolated at home. We invite everyone to pull out their family photo albums, colorize their photos, and start reminiscing. Over the coming month, anyone who shares their colorized photos on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with the hashtag #ColorBeatsCoronavirusBlues and tags @MyHeritage will enter a weekly draw. Each week we’ll select one lucky winner who will receive a free MyHeritage Complete subscription!
Please share the news on your social channels and with your audience so they can make the most of this opportunity and colorize their photos.
I also invite you to join me this Tuesday March 24 at 1:00 pm EST for a 30-minute session on how to work with this incredible feature. Feel free to register here and prepare your questions in advance.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Notice to Members

Please be informed the Southern California Genealogical Society Library in Burbank is closing for the remainder of March 2020 and the entire month of April 2020.

Our next scheduled meeting in Burbank is May 2, 2020.  We will watch the situation closely.

Hispanic Tuesday's scheduled for March 17, 2020 and April 21, 2020 are cancelled.  Hispanic Thursday South Bay  will be close for March and April and Hispanic Research and Indigenous Mexico Consultations in West Los Angeles are on hold until June. Notification on the return of Hispanic Research Days will be announce when it is safe and when our host reopens their doors.

Be Calm and Stay Safe.


Lenny Trujillo, President
GSHA Southern California Chapter.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Which is the Best Genealogy Site? Ancestry.com vs. FamilySearch.org: Learn the Power of Using Both!

Which is the better genealogy website, Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org?  In this Genealogy TV episode, I’ve got five examples demonstrating the power of using FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com together to amplify your family history search results. To watch the video hit here Don't forget to skip the ad!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Update on Panes.INFO

marzo 2020
¡La obra se sigue!
Hemos recibido nuevos registros transcritos (censos y registros militares) gracias una vez más a los esfuerzos de Silvia. Estas investigaciones incluyen los pueblos de Jimenez, Pilar de Conchas, San Buenaventura, Carrizal, Coyane, y Nonoava todos en la area de Chihuahua.
Los que tienen antepasados en Sonora y Alta California deben conseguir "El Esquer Family Genealogy" por Stella Cardosa que se puede encontrar en Amazon.com. Es una obra excelente y muy informativa y sería una gran adicción a su biblioteca genealógica.
Los que tienen antepasados de Cuba deben ver El Archivo Digital de la Sociedad de Esclavos que está disponible en la Universidad de Vanderbilt. Se han digitalizado algunos registros Católicos de Cuba.

March 2020
The work is moving right along!
We have received more transcribed records (census and military) thanks again to the continuing efforts of Sylvia. This research includes the towns of Jimenez, Pilar de Conchas, San Buenaventura, Carrizal, Coyane, and Nonoava all in the area of Chihuahua.
Those of you who have ancestors in Sonora and Alta California need to get a copy of "El Esquer Family Genealogy" by Stella Cardosa which can be found at Amazon.com. It is an excellent work and very informative and would make a great addition to your genealogy library.
Those of you who have ancestors from Cuba should check out the Digital Archive of the Society of Slaves. It is available at the Vanderbilt University where they have digitized some of the Catholic records of Cuba.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Police told a mother her DNA would identify a dead relative. They arrested her son instead.

'They lied to us': Mom says police deceived her to get her DNA and charge her son with murder
A murder case raises the question: Is it OK for police to lie to get an innocent person's DNA?

VALDOSTA, Ga. — On an October morning in 2018, Eleanor Holmes and her husband left home to run an errand and found two men inside their front gate. They introduced themselves as detectives from Orlando, Florida, and said they needed the couple’s help.

Standing in the driveway, the casually dressed detectives said they were trying to identify someone who’d been found dead many years earlier, the Holmeses recalled. They were looking for the person’s relatives, and were using DNA and genealogical records to stitch together a family tree that they hoped would lead them to a name. Friendly and businesslike, they said they’d already got DNA samples from Eleanor Holmes’ sister and an aunt. And now they wanted hers.

Holmes already knew about the detectives’ visit to her sister. It worried her that someone in her family had died without anyone knowing about it. She had relatives in Orlando, including a niece whom she hadn’t heard from in more than a decade. So she agreed.

“I just did it because that was the only thing on my mind, my niece. That was it, bottom line,” Holmes said in a recent interview.

The detectives, still standing in the driveway, swabbed Holmes’ cheek and put the sample in a container. They thanked her, gave her a business card and drove away.

She thought nothing of it until a few days later, when she got a frantic phone call from the girlfriend of one of her sons, Benjamin Holmes Jr. Orlando police had just arrested him for allegedly fatally shooting a college student, Christine Franke, in her Florida home in 2001. They’d used DNA and genealogical records to tie him to the crime.

In that panicked moment, it dawned on Holmes that the detectives hadn’t told her the truth. They’d used her DNA to help build a case against her son.

“When they arrested him, I knew they were lying,” Holmes said. “They lied to us.”

Police have said that the arrest of Benjamin Holmes Jr., 39, shows their commitment “to do everything we can to solve crimes.” Franke’s family says the arrest has given them long-needed answers about her death and allowed them to stop wondering if the killer was still out there, free to prey on others.

Benjamin Holmes Jr. and his parents, though, say he is innocent. He has pleaded not guilty, and his trial, scheduled for June, may be the first to explore how police conduct investigations using genetic genealogy, a largely unregulated technology that has exploded in popularity in recent years.

Holmes and her husband, who are both in their mid-70s, aren’t the only ones in their family who feel misled by police. In the months before taking her DNA, Orlando detectives visited more than a dozen of her relatives in Florida and Georgia. Several said they were told a similar story before agreeing to provide DNA samples.

“It was just deception, not only to me but all my other family members, because they know what they were looking for when they took the DNA,” Holmes said. “They weren't looking for someone in our family that had been killed, or that was dead. They were looking totally to find out whether or not our DNA coincided with Benjamin's. That's what they were looking for.”

A new tool for a cold case
For 17 years, Orlando police detectives had tried to figure out who killed Franke. Although the case had gone cold, each did what they could with the available technology and manpower. But every lead, every potential clue found at the scene, left them, and Franke’s family, without answers.

“I thought they’d never catch him,” Franke’s mother, Tina, 70, said.

Early in the morning of Oct. 21, 2001, after working a double shift, Franke returned home to an empty apartment; her girlfriend was out of town. Later that day, after the girlfriend was unable to reach her, she called a neighbor, who found Franke dead just inside the apartment door.

She’d been shot once in the head, and her wallet, containing no cash, had been discarded on the floor, according to court documents. Her clothing had been partially removed, and investigators found semen on her body. Police surmised that she had resisted the killer’s attempts to rob and rape her.

Police took a sample of the semen and submitted it to the state crime lab, which developed a profile and entered it into a national criminal database. There was no match. They took DNA from dozens of people ─ potential suspects, as well as friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances and witnesses ─ and compared their profiles to the DNA found at the scene. Again, no hits.

An evidence marker at the scene of Christine Franke's shooting death.Orlando Police Department
They tried other forensic methods ─ lifting fingerprints from the apartment, entering a shell casing into a national firearms database ─ and found nothing. Years passed with no progress.

That changed in April 2018, when California authorities announced that they’d used a groundbreaking technique to identify a man they said was the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who’d terrorized the state in the 1970s and the 1980s. Law enforcement officials said they’d solved the case by entering crime-scene DNA into an online database called GEDmatch, where people shared profiles purchased from direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe.

Orlando Detective Michael Fields, who inherited the Franke case from a retired colleague in 2012, decided to try the same tactic. He reached out to a Virginia company, Parabon NanoLabs, which had just started helping law enforcement identify unknown suspects by using genealogy websites to find their relatives and build family trees. The researchers, led by Parabon’s top genealogist, CeCe Moore, found two cousins of the suspected killer in GEDmatch and traced their common ancestors to a husband and wife who lived in Valdosta in the first half of the 1900s.

The Valdosta couple had an extremely large family, producing a sprawling family tree. Navigating that thicket left Fields and the researchers at dead ends, unable to go further without getting DNA from more people in the family.

Testing the limits of DNA collection
Asking innocent people to voluntarily provide their DNA — known as “target testing” — is an unseen but essential, and thorny, component of investigative genetic genealogy. While police are seeking straightforward information about family ties, the process can also reveal secrets, including out-of-wedlock births and adoptions, ethics and privacy experts say. Subjects may not fully understand how their DNA profiles will be used.

While American courts have ruled that police are allowed to mislead people to obtain evidence, there’s a debate within law enforcement over how honest police should be in seeking DNA from people who aren’t suspected of a crime.

Investigator Matt Denlinger works cold cases for the Cedar Rapids Police Department in Iowa. He used target testing to help solve the 1979 murder of a teenage girl. He says the truth, without including many details, usually works.

“You just go up and tell them what you’re doing. No sleight of hand,” he said. “Most people are happy to help. They know they’re not involved. People get excited to help solve a mystery, if you phrase it that way.”

To read more of the article hit here

Thursday, March 5, 2020

What is a First Cousin Once Removed?

In real life, family is family and cousins are cousins. But, in genealogy (and especially in genetic genealogy), it is important to understand exactly how you are related to someone. Correct understanding of the difference between a first cousin, a first cousin once removed, and a second cousin can make the difference in your genealogy research and in your interpretation of your AncestryDNA. Join Crista Cowan for a quick look at how to understand it and keep it all straight. To view this hit here

Monday, March 2, 2020

Consumer DNA testing is a bust: Here's how Ancestry and 23andMe can survive

CNBC asked genetics experts to weigh in on why the consumer DNA market has stalled. And how 23andMe, Ancestry and others can continue to scale their businesses in light of that.

.23andMe and Ancestry have laid off employees because of a slowdown with the consumer DNA testing market.

.Here’s why that happened, according to genetics experts.

It’s not all bad news. Both companies have an opportunity to shift their business models away from wellness and ancestry and into the medical sector.

In January, Silicon Valley-based 23andMe laid off 100 employees, about 14% of its workforce. A month later, Ancestry, which has offices in Utah and San Francisco, also cut 100 jobs, representing about 6% of its staff.

The major reason for the downsizing? Simply put, consumers aren’t buying as many at-home DNA tests as they used to.

The first sign came in the summer, when Illumina, maker of the DNA sequencing machines that are used by Ancestry and 23andMe, acknowledged in an earnings call to investors that the category had hit a lull. CEO Francis DeSouza didn’t share an explanation for that, but noted that Illumina was taking a “cautious view” of the opportunity in the near term. Orasure, maker of the spit tubes used by consumer DNA testing companies, has also seen its stock take a hit.

At that time, some smaller companies were already feeling the impact. Helix, a start-up that spun out of Illumina to build an “app store” model for DNA tests, cut staff in May. The company revealed to Bloomberg that it was shifting its focus away from consumers to population health, meaning it would work with health industry partners. A few months later, Veritas Genetics — another company focused on consumers that sold more expensive but more detailed whole genome sequencing tests — shuttered its U.S. operations.

So what happened? There hasn’t yet been a detailed study to understand the shift in consumer thinking around these tests. But CNBC spoke with some of the leading genetics experts and doctors, who shared a few theories.

Privacy: Facebook fears and the Golden State Killer
Dawn Barry, a former Illumina executive with a start-up in the space called LunaDNA, blames a few factors, especially privacy concerns.

Consumers have seen a slew of reports in the past few years about how companies are using their personal data for targeted advertising, without their knowledge, and might be feeling particularly sensitive about their health information.

Anne Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe, has previously referred to these concerns as the “Facebook effect.” In her view, consumers are increasingly freaked out about stories they’re reading in the media about privacy, mostly about Facebook and other technology companies, and are reacting by feeling anxious about getting DNA tests.

Companies like 23andMe do make money off this information. Her company does ask for consent from users and it has publicly explained its revenue model, but a big part of its business involves its relationships with pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline. 23andMe also has a therapeutics arm, where it is hoping to leverage its database of millions of people’s DNA to develop new drugs.

Making matters worse for these companies, suggests Barry, is the Golden State Killer case. Law enforcement honed in on a suspect after running DNA from a decades-old crime scene through a free online database, where anyone can upload their genetic information.

A suspect was found through a distant relative who might have paid for a test via Ancestry or 23andMe, and then uploaded it into the database.

The case raised all sorts of complicated questions about whether genetic information is fundamentally different than other types of data because it implicates family members and not just individuals.

A ‘tapped’ market
Other experts suspect that consumer DNA testing companies might have run out of early adopters. The theory goes that there’s about 20 million or 30 million consumers who are naturally interested in learning more about their family background, and it’s not that challenging or expensive to sell tests to them. At this point, many of these people have already been sold to, and there’s no reason for them to buy a second test. Ancestry has sold about 14 million tests, and 23andMe has sold some 9 million.

But many people are wary about learning information they might not want to know — like the father who raised them isn’t their biological father — or that they have a risk for a genetic disease that they can’t take a pill to prevent.

There’s likely a larger consumer segment that’s interested, but still wary about these tests. They might not believe that the information is valuable enough to warrant the price tag. The cheapest tests sell for $99, and they’ll cover ancestry and some health risks but lack truly actionable health information, like whether an individual might respond poorly to a drug based on their genetic makeup.

“The ancestry market is a finite market,” said David Mittelman, CEO of Othram, a genomics start-up and a molecular physicist. A decade or so in, “these companies are beginning to tap out the market.”

Mittelman notes that customer acquisition costs, including ad dollars these companies need to spend on sites like Facebook, will increase over time.

“I think the companies know this,” he said. “The investment in health shows that they are working to appeal to a broader market.”

What’s noteworthy about the recent round of layoffs is that Ancestry kept all of its employees at its Ancestry Health business. And 23andMe is still highly focused on its drug development business. That suggests that both companies are indeed hinging their future on developing powerful health applications.

‘Slowdown isn’t a stoppage’
In light of that, some geneticists are optimistic about their future.

“First of all, a slowdown isn’t a stoppage,” said Dr. Robert Green, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. “Our research is finding that genetics is about to take its rightful place in medical care for the world.”

As Green explains, it’s been a challenge for doctors to understand how genetics can inform their patient care. Many haven’t had the education about genetics to understand how to talk about it with their patients or recommend tests that might be beneficial. But that’s starting to change.

For instance, 23andMe is starting to roll out new tests that can identify people’s risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, called polygenic risk scores. These results could be used by doctors to help steer their patients toward making healthier lifestyle choices to help them avoid getting the disease.

And for these companies, which already have genetic databases of millions of people, they might not need to keep spending ample marketing dollars to acquire new customers. Instead, they could focus on developing new insights from their existing databases. if they succeed at that, they can forge partnerships to the medical industry.

As Mittelman puts it, there’s no need to “force people down an ancestry funnel.”

Green agrees, saying companies like 23andMe and Ancestry might double down on more expensive but more detailed sequencing tests that provide a lot more relevant health information. 23andMe has dabbled with those kinds of tests but has been reluctant to roll out higher-priced tests while its main focus has been growth.

“The direct-to-consumer phenomenon will give way to a more of a proper integration of genomics into the day-to-day care of patients,” said Green. “What we’re seeing is a course correction, and consumers are waking up to the potential limitations of a $99 test.”