Adam Brown is a community leader, genealogist, and genetic genealogist. One of the early members of the Jewish genetic genealogy community, he is the administrator of the Avotaynu DNA project and many others. When he isn’t busy with genealogy and civic work, he takes part in scientific discovery projects like his recent trip to the Arctic.
Question: Please tell me about yourself. What do you do for a living?
Answer: I am a lawyer by training, and I have developed multifamily real estate most of my career.
Question: What are your other hobbies and interests apart from genealogy?
Answer: I am active in community affairs as a member of various panels and commissions for the management of the city in which I live. I have also been active in cancer research in Israel and am a board member of local schools.
Question: You recently went to the Antarctic. What did you do on the trip, and have you been before?
Answer: This is my third expedition to that part of the world. The first two seasons I worked as a Communications expert at a field camp near the South Pole. During the most recent expedition, we traveled 5,800 miles by sea to and from a remote uninhabited volcanic Island in the southern Indian Ocean. My job was to deploy oceanographic buoys on behalf of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and to run Shortwave radio propagation experiments.
Question: What brought you to genealogy? What is your favorite part?
Answer: As the youngest of my cousins, I became –starting with childhood– the repository of photographs and archival material of my family. I was close to my grandparents, and I took careful notes of my conversations with them starting at age 6. I also often traveled with my father to visit his family in Indianapolis and Denver. On those occasions, he would tell me of his relationships in great detail.
Question: How did you become involved with Geni?
Answer: I have managed a large family tree database for over 30 years. In 2007, I read an article about the new Geni online family tree and realized the enormous potential it held for collaborative genealogy. Two years later, I was asked to become a volunteer Curator of Geni’s World Family Tree which now includes over 100 million profiles and several million active participants.
Question: How did you become involved in genetic genealogy?
Answer: I became involved almost as soon as the first papers were published by Karl Skorecki and Mike Hammer. I contacted Bennett when he opened his shop and became kit #132 over 15 years ago.
Question: What DNA projects do you administer?
Answer: I administer the AvotaynuDNA Project, with over 3,000 members, and several smaller haplogroup and geographic projects.
At the moment we are running an academic study of the Y chromosomes of Jewish Sephardim worldwide. The first phase includes 50 documented direct male descendants of the Sephardi community that left Portugal after 1497 and went to Amsterdam, London, Hamburg, the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States.
Question: The need for consumer genetic testing standards has been a topic for years now. To what extent do you think government regulation is needed?
Answer: None whatsoever. Genetic genealogy is a hobby. We are not trying a court case.
Question: Do you feel that the responsibility for consumer education lies with the testing companies, the citizen science community, or the consumer?
Answer: All three.
Question: What DNA tests have you taken?
Answer: Y, mtDNA, FF, Big Y, and equivalent tests at 23andMe and Ancestry for comparison purposes.
Question: Have you tested your family?
Answer: I have tested several dozen people in my family over fifteen years.
Question: Have your or your family’s test results ever been a surprise?
Answer: Constantly, but in a good way. For example, three of my children’s great-great grandfathers were Cohanim, but all from a subclade that represents only 2% of Cohanim. And all three branches came from entirely different communities.
Question: Do you mean that three of your children’s 2nd great grandfathers belong to the same minor Cohanim paternal lineage?
Answer: Yes. There is a small subclade known as J2b2e (only 2% of all known priestly Cohanim) that has an unusual repeat of 8 at position DYS455. Virtually all members of this tiny clade are aware of their heritage as Cohanim, notwithstanding that the MRCA of the clade is nearly 1000 years before present. It is an amazing testament to the power of oral tradition.
Question: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Answer: Yes, we have been able to find relatives across our family tree, and in one instance we reunited a half dozen branches of a family that had settled all over the world, thinking all the other branches had perished in the Shoah.
Question: Do you have advice for someone starting out in genealogy or genetic genealogy DNA?
Answer: Get tested for Y37 and Family Finder. Join the Avotaynu DNA Project
Question: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
Answer: Next Generation Sequencing will allow the development of Family Trees that reach down into genealogical time and connect written or documented genealogies to the ancient past.