Jul 26, 2009

An Interview With Emily Aulicino - Genetic Genealogist

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Emily Aulicino is a recently retired teacher who has researched her family’s genealogy for over 37 years, traveling nationally and internationally for that purpose. She is the administrator of seven surname email lists on Roots Web, three genetic genealogy email lists on Yahoo, and another on Yahoo which helps genealogists and non-genealogists write their own family and personal memories. She teaches a class on Genetic Genealogy at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon (Portland) which is open to the public. Her blogs include:-

Americymru: You're a "genetic genealogist", what is that?

Emily: Genetic genealogy is the use of DNA testing to aid traditional genealogy research. It is the most accurate tool a genealogist has. Any genealogist who uses DNA for their research is a genetic genealogist.

Americymru: What got you into genealogy and into genetic genealogy in particular?

Emily: In the very early 1970s I started researching my family's heritage, although I actually began filling out a family pedigree chart in 1954 as a child. About 2004 a person whom I felt could be related to my Ogan surname wrote me about DNA testing. We hadn't proved we were genealogy cousins through the typical paper trail, so I started the Ogan DNA Project and asked my Ogan relative to test, also. The test results indicated we are cousins. From that point, I used genetic testing whenever I could and now have 12 DNA projects. Some are for surnames, some for locations and some are for genealogical societies.

Americymru: Have you tested your own family DNA? Had you done or seen your family tree before that and did the test results provide any surprises or clarify what you already knew?

Emily: In November 2005 I attended the Family Tree DNA International DNA Conference held, at that time, in Washington DC (usually held in Houston, Texas). When my husband picked me up from the airport upon my return, I informed him that I finally knew what I wanted for Christmas...HIS DNA. We both decided to test at that point.

As far as surprises go, in my direct family there have been some "scary" moments. Someone from my Trent line tested, and he kept matching people with the surnames Burgess and Childress. This can indicate there is a name change for some reason (by choice, adoption, or illegitimacy). We are still working on this problem, but are feeling a bit better that we are still Trents. However, the others that match indicate that there was something going on in the past.

Another was my Ogan line. I thought I had found a new living cousin, but when tested his surname isn't Ogan, but Abbott. We later found his grandmother had a previous marriage and that his grandfather was just "given" his step-father's surname.

In my Williams line (one of them...I have five!), the oldest son and thought-to-be-brother of my ancestor proved not to be related. Many genealogical records call them brothers, but they weren't biologically.

Americymru: Why would people want to do this? For what sort of reasons have people sought your services?

Emily: There are many reasons why people should test their genealogy with DNA, but here are a few of the major ones.

a. It can prove or disprove the accuracy of your paper trail as there are many errors in old records and no matter how careful we are in our research, our ancestors did not tell us everything. I can state modern day cases of "adoptions" with no paper trail. Imagine how often that was done hundreds of years ago. Even in the caveman days, the neighbors took in the orphaned children.

b. DNA testing can also help genealogists find other genealogists who are distant cousins. Together they can work to find their common ancestor and often break through their brick walls.

c. Adoptees have even found relatives.

d. Another major reason is money. I have spent many hundreds of dollars researching a line that through DNA I discovered was not my line. The circumstantial evidence was very, very strong and would have been accepted by certified genealogists prior to the availability of DNA testing. The price of a DNA test is small compared to the money and time I have wasted going down the wrong path. Most genealogists feel their research is correct; however, given that the man-made records are not always accurate, one can never be sure unless you do a DNA test. Still there are other genealogists who trace their lines back to the famous and do not want to lose that status. I, on the other hand, wish to seek the truth of the matter.

The more that information on Genetic Genealogy is available to the public, the more they see its value in proving their family lineage, in connecting them with cousins they never knew they had, and in helping them through their brick walls when the paper trail stops for them. I have had people who were adopted trying to find family; people who wish to know if their cousins or those of their surname are related; people who wish to determine if they have Native American or African ancestry; people wishing to determine if a brother or sister is a full biological sibling. The list goes on.

Various groups (genealogy societies, cultural societies, lineage societies, etc.) have asked me to speak about DNA testing. Individuals email me daily with questions. I help everyone decide what test works best for them as well as what their results means.

Americymru: Has DNA testing changed the world of genealogy research? How important or beneficial do you think these sort of tests might be to creating a family tree?

Emily: DNA testing has definitely changed genealogy research. With the use of DNA a person's genealogy can be more accurate. Although not every genealogist understands how DNA testing can help them, thousands of people are tested in any given month and more and more are learning about it daily. I have personally given presentations to over 2,000 people, mostly in the Northwest, but I have spoken to international groups as well. When people realize its benefits, they are interested in testing.

It has been said by a friend that in twenty years people will test their DNA before they start their genealogy. There is a lot of wisdom in this as we see more and more new genealogists take what they find on the Internet as accurate. It is currently believed that nearly 5% of those tested are not who they think they are. That is, there was some sort of name change in the past. This fact along with the understanding of how it can be used to break through a brick wall is most helpful to researchers.

The International Society of Genetic Genealogy has compiled many examples of how DNA testing has been useful to others, and those stories can be found at www.isogg.org under the link SUCCESS STORIES.

Americymru: What is the process of genetic testing?

Emily: I always ask people to determine their reason for testing first. It can be for curiosity, for determining if two lines are related, to see if you are related to any others of the same surname, or to help with your genealogy research within a certain time frame. I stress that DNA testing without doing your genealogy is only for determining what twig on the world family tree you are and others you match, but otherwise it is not of much use. DNA testing does not replace genealogy research, but adds to it and verifies it.

Next, I explain to people how testing can and cannot help them so they clearly understand what benefit there is and what questions cannot be answered by testing. For example, if you test and match someone, the test will not give you the name, place or time when a common ancestor lived. I want them to know which lines can be accurately tested and how to test the other lines of their pedigree chart. I want everyone to understand how DNA testing works.

Then based upon their goals, I help them decide which test best fits their needs.

I continue helping by answering their questions after they test. Anyone can email or call me with any question..

Americymru: What sort of information can you get from genetic testing and how can is be used to support family history research?

Emily: You actually get a bunch of numbers which appear meaningless until you understand how testing works. When you test, your set of numbers (your haplotype or DNA signature) is compared against the company's database for any matches. When those matches occur you can contact that other person and compare lineages. Together you can work on finding your common ancestor. With good luck you may find a person who knows more about your lineage than you. This can help you through your brick wall.

As I previously stated, it can prove or disprove your lineage. It can prove or disprove a famous or infamous ancestor as well. Currently, I am waiting for the test result of a cousin of outlaw Bill Doolin of Oklahoma who rode with the Daltons and Youngers as well as having his own gang. Half my family said were are related; the other half said no. I just want to prove it one way or another and not have false stories traveling around. I will know in mid-August if this person matches my Doolin line.

When you do not match others with the same surname it can signal a possibility that the surname you carry isn't your biological surname. There could have been a name change at some point in your heritage. Often, with further testing of other distant cousins, this can be discovered and the time frame narrowed as to when this could have happened.

Americymru: You offer your support to genealogy societies, how can genetic genealogy benefit these groups and their members?

Emily: I operate two (soon three) DNA projects with genealogy societies. The Family Tree DNA company offers societies the opportunity to create a DNA project and get a percentage of the sales for new testers in their project. This doesn't alter the cost of the person testing. Anyone can join these projects and be members of other types of projects as well. There is no additional cost to joining a project. These types of society DNA projects are set up so anyone can test and get the reduced project price. (Do not go online and order from the main page of a company as the better ones offer reduced prices for participating in a project.)

Americymru: What is your relationship to the Genealogical Forum of Oregon and what is that? What does the Genealogical Forum of Oregon offer the public?

Emily: The Genealogical Forum of Oregon (GFO) is the local genealogical society for Portland Oregon and the surrounding region. I am a member and run their DNA project. I also teach DNA classes there every other month. These are free to the public.

The society conducts yearly seminars with wonderful guest speakers, has the largest collection of genealogy books in the state and offers many free or inexpensive classes to help everyone. The first Monday each month is free for non-members to visit. Otherwise, you pay a small fee unless you are a member.

Americymru: You teach writing family and personal memories, what is this and why would people want to do this?

Emily: I'm actually a history major and retired teacher. I feel that not only is life stranger than fiction, but that the stories that individuals have are much more important than what is written in the history books. We, the people, made the history and our history is more accurate than those published by the victors.

Just ask yourself...would you like to have found a diary, journal, or even some letters from your gr-gr-gr grandparent? Some have and all of us would. We'd love to know what they knew about the family. So...where is yours? Have you written yours for our gr-gr-gr-grandchildren? You should no matter how sparse; no matter your spelling or grammar quality. I'd love to have some hand-scribbled, misspelled, confusing story from my ancestors rather than nothing.

Writing your family stories and childhood memories lets your descendants know and understand these times and your life. We live in very exciting times and what we know of our family will be most interesting to them as their lives will be so very different. Compare what you do and what you have to what your great-great grandmother once experienced. It's amazing...and all that will be lost without you recording what you know.

Many will say: but I don't know much; I don't remember my childhood. This can change with the use of my booklet which stimulates your memory. By joining a local writing class you will also find you can recall more stories. I teach two in the area and there are others who do the same although our techniques may vary. A class will definitely help you recall your past, and it's a wonderful exchange of memories. My booklet also gives you ideas on how to write the memories very easily, even if you do not feel you have much time. A few sentences or a paragraph on a topic is better than nothing. Besides, none of us have the time to write all we know.

Americymru: Any final message for the members and readers of Americymru?

Emily: We are the result of our heritage as well as what choices we have made in life. Choose to celebrate your heritage by learning about your ancestors, by exposing yourself to your cultural traditions, by sharing all this with others, and by leaving a legacy of family stories and genealogy for your descendants. Let them know how proud you are of your heritage.

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