Genealogy Research in the 21st Century Part 4: Learning to Use DNA and Standards
Before 2000, DNA was not a source genealogists had access to. Now there are over 29 million people in DNA testing databases. This is an enormous change. Like other sources available to genealogists before the advent of advanced technology, we still need to analyze these sources carefully, understand the context, and create research plans. Genealogy standards guide us in our efforts.
Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS gave the lecture, “The Advance of Research Habits over Recent Decades—And the Downside” at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) in January. The lecture was part of the “Meeting Standards with DNA – Research Strategies” course coordinated by Karen Stanbary. This is part four in my four part series include about the lecture.
Part 4: Learning to Use DNA and Standards
Learning to Use DNA and Standards
I originally heard this lecture at SLIG. I listened again to the PlaybackNow NGS recording from the 2019 National Genealogical Society Conference (he gave the same lecture there).  I noticed that in the SLIG lecture, Jones included a little more about the development of Genealogy Standards and the use of DNA evidence over the years. He said that DNA is the only thing that was not available to researchers in the pre-1980s era. All the same sources existed before then, but were not indexed or not online. We now have many DNA testers in the database, making the use of DNA evidence possible. In my opinion, the availability of this new source makes it even more important that we learn the lessons of the pre-1980s researchers to analyze each record, make research plans, and collaborate.
Jones talked about the development of standards for genealogists over time, leading up to our current edition of Genealogy Standards (2019) that includes seven standards about using DNA evidence. The development of Genealogy Standards began in 1990 when BCG trustees began discussing standards for genealogical research and conclusions. They began codifying years of the common understandings of best practices and published The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual in 2000.
Around that same time, when DNA entered the scene in 2000 at Family Tree DNA, genealogists started learning that many familial relationships were not genetic or “bloodline” relationships as previously thought. Misattributed parentage is now a common consideration in genetic genealogy. The process of determining where our genealogical family tree diverges from our genetic family tree is a new research avenue many genealogists are pursuing.
In 2014, the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) published their 50th anniversary edition of the standards manual, Genealogy Standards. I purchased my copy in 2015 and read he standards in awe of the high standard of competence outlined for genealogists. I began my genealogy education to meet the standards in my personal research. After five years of intense practice and education, I finally feel like I am implementing the standards every day.
After the publication of Genealogy Standards in 2014, the field of genetic genealogy progressed significantly. We now understand more about limitations of DNA evidence. In 2019, BCG published their second edition of Genealogy Standards, which included new standards about using DNA evidence.
When Dr. Jones first began using autosomal DNA, the databases were small. He had matches only on his father’s side – all from the South. His mother’s side was half Irish and half New Englanders. He started to wonder if his mother was adopted, since he had no matches to anyone on her side. Now the DNA databases are larger. Jones said that we are now at the tipping point in the AncestryDNA database allowing us to find more relatives. By 2019, 29 million had their autosomal DNA in online databases. It’s incredible to think that there are 16 million people in the AncestryDNA database alone. 
Understanding the history of genealogy research habits, the standards, and DNA evidence helped me see the big picture. Genetic genealogy is still a new field. The DNA standards help us apply years of collective learning about best practices in genealogy to the new field of genetic genealogy. Though we have a new source to consider, it’s still important to make research plans and do reasonably exhaustive research. The introductory paragraph to the “Using DNA Evidence” section of Genealogy Standards says,
“Like other types of evidence, DNA evidence is not always available, relevant, or usable for a specific problem, is not used alone, and involves planning analyzing, drawing conclusions, and reporting. ” 
In our SLIG class, we discussed how we can implement research strategies to help us meet the DNA standards. Starting the week with Dr. Jones’ lecture about the advance of research habits (and the downside) helped us consider our own research habits. How can we better apply the lessons that pre-1980s genealogists learned? How can we plan our research instead of doing random search-and-click hunting? How can we improve our correspondence and collaboration with DNA matches and other researchers? Overall, I learned to slow down, be more curious, analyze more, and reach out to others more.genealo
I wrote more about this SLIG course here: Strategies to Meet Standards with DNA Evidence – Compelling SLIG Course
————– Jean Andrews, CG®, “Thomas W. Jones, CG®, CG®, PhD – The Advance of Research Habits over Recent Decades—And the Downside,” 7 September 2019, Board for Certification of Genealogists (https://bcgcertification.org/jones-advance-research-habits/ : accessed 18 March 2020). Purchase the audio recording with PlayBackNow NGS.  Leah Larkin, “Autosomal DNA Database Growth,” 17 January 2020, The DNA Geek (https://thednageek.com/autosomal-dna-database-growth/ : accessed 19 March 2020).  Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Ancestry.com, 2019) 29.