Carol Vass is a genealogist and project administrator. Outside of genealogy, she is a mother and worked in personnel and art advocacy. Carol and her husband Sam were two of my first friends in the genetic genealogy community. They were invaluable for both knowledge and kindness. Though Sam is gone, Carol continues to help others with genealogy and DNA results in her work as a project administrator.
Question: Please tell me about yourself. What do you do for a living? What are your other hobbies and interests apart from genealogy?
Answer: I am retired, but as a young woman, I worked in the personnel department of The Boeing Company in New Orleans and Cape Canaveral, Florida. After I married and had children, I stayed home for many years, but went back to work in the early 1990s, working for a children’s art center and a Seattle Art Consultant.
Question: What brought you to genealogy? What is your favorite part?
Answer: My husband accepted an early retirement offer from Boeing in July 1995, the month my mother died in New Orleans. I had brought home a long ‘history’ of my maternal grandfather’s family, written by his oldest brothers in 1942 – the year I was born. When my husband retired, he bought a genealogy program for his computer – almost as a toy. I started filling in what I knew of my ancestors thinking I knew everything about them, since I had granddaddy’s history, but it soon became clear that I had just scratched the surface. The most enjoyable part of genealogy — to me — has always been formulating a ‘theory’ as to who is related to who and then carrying out the research to prove or disprove that theory. DNA testing has proven to be a fantastic tool in genealogy, but I still like to do the basic genealogy research before testing a theory with DNA. I often feel that my maternal grandfather and his brother are sitting on my shoulders in amazement at everything I’ve been able to discover.
Question: How did you become involved in genetic genealogy?
Answer: My husband and I became aware of Y-DNA testing in 2003. I think the first y-DNA and mtDNA tests were offered a few years before 2003, but that is the first year my husband and I became aware of how to use DNA testing as an additional tool for genealogical research.
Question: Why did you decide to be a project administrator?
Answer: I stepped in when the first co-administrator of the BERRY project resigned in 2004. I had initially wanted to be involved with the BERRY project when it first started, but Sam had been diagnosed with kidney cancer and his kidney was removed in March 2003. I have always been a volunteer in most aspects of my life, so it seemed natural to volunteer for DNA projects.
Question: What projects do you manage? Please tell me a little about each one.
Answer: I am a co-administrator of the ALEXANDER and BERRY surname projects. I was also the sole coordinator for the DILLON surname project, but when my husband went into home hospice care in January 2015 and I had a heart attack in May 2015, I transferred the DILLON project to Terry Barton’s World Families Network. I hope to get back to it in the near future.
The ALEXANDER and BERRY projects are actually quite similar. Each has ‘about’ 300 participants. Each one is a somewhat common English and/or Scotch-Irish surname. Y-DNA testing has revealed quite a few surprising connections between groups of the surname in various parts of America in the Colonial era. And, of course, Y-DNA has also shown which groups of the surname were not related – much to the surprise of MANY researchers!! Roger Alexander, the coordinator of the ALEXANDER project, always says, “No one has more fun than we do.”
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? Do you feel that the responsibility for consumer education lies with the testing companies, the citizen science community, or the consumer?
Answer: I think the testing companies, the citizen scientists and project administrators have a responsibility to NOT oversell what basic tests can and can’t reveal. But, I also find myself thinking that the consumer bears a huge responsibility for knowing at least the broad outlines of what DNA testing can and can’t do before they order a test.
Question: What DNA tests have you taken?
Answer: I personally have only done an Autosomal DNA test at 23andMe with results transferred to FTDNA when they began offering autosomal testing.
Question: Have you tested your family?
Answer: I have tested my brother – a full sibling — for every possible level of Y-DNA testing, including Big Y. Additionally, he has had the full sequence mtDNA test offered by FTDNA. My brother has also had an Autosomal test at FTDNA.
Question: Have your or your family’s test results ever been a surprise?
Answer: No. I have researched all four of my grandparents as far back as I can take them and there have been no true surprises, except perhaps that my DILLON ancestors were really DuLon from Alsace instead of Irish DILLONs. Hardly qualifies as a shocking development.
Question: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Answer: I am still unable to identify the maiden name of my mtDNA ancestor. I know her first name was Violet and that she was born circa 1790 in Kershaw District, SC. There is speculation that her maiden name was CALLEY (or some variation of that surname), but there is not one piece of documentation that identifies what her maiden name could have been. Her husband’s surname was SMITH, which only makes matters worse.
Question: Do you have advice for someone starting out in genealogy or genetic genealogy DNA?
Answer: Make sure to identify the source of every scrap of information!! Even though I have been doing this since 1995, I still sometimes forget to cite a source when I find a new piece of information.
Question: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy and adoptee testing?
Answer: My sense is that the focus of genetic genealogy is shifting from Y-DNA and mtDNA to autosomal DNA testing. While I have had autosomal DNA testing done on my brother and myself, the shrinking of new Y-DNA and mtDNA results is going to be a real loss in the future.[/fusion_text]