Dr. Ann Turner is an active educator and advocate for the genetic genealogy community. She co-authored one of the first guides to genetic genealogy testing, “Trace Your Roots with DNA,” and founded the Genealogy-DNA mailing list on Rootsweb. She has used DNA testing to explore both her family’s ancestry and medical genetics. She is also part of the editorial board for the Journal of Genetic Genealogy that will resume publication later this year.
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.” I practiced medicine for some years, then switched to computer programming. My free time is devoted almost entirely to genetic genealogy, but I do enjoy mystery stories and outdoor activities.
Question: What brought you to genealogy? What is your favorite part?
Answer: A relative on my mother’s side sent me a pedigree chart, and so did a relative on my father’s side. I compared the results and discovered that both sides had an ancestor who came to America in the same year (1635). I thought it would be a curious fact if they both came on the same ship. I was surprised to learn that there are passenger lists and I found that indeed they were on the same ship (the Abigail). One line went north into Vermont, the other line south to Connecticut. Three hundred years later both lines ended up in Iowa, where my parents met and married.
Question: How did you become involved in genetic genealogy?
Answer: I have long had a general interest in genetics. My first introduction to genetic genealogy was a prescient article published by Thomas Roderick in American Ancestors in 1992 about the potential of mtDNA to trace maternal lines. It took another eight years before mtDNA testing became available to the general consumer, but I spent the time research my mtDNA relatives to find a candidate for testing with me, a descendant of a woman born in 1794. We did indeed match! Since then, I have been able to confirm full sequence matches back to 1640.
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?
I am philosophically opposed to government regulation, even though I grit my teeth sometimes when I see the way some products are advertised. The ultimate responsibility lies with the consumer, but the testing companies and the citizen science community (e.g. the ISOGG Wiki) can and do provide much educational material.
Question: What DNA tests have you taken?
Answer: I started with mtDNA and tested male relatives for the Y chromosome. For many years, we were limited to those two categories. It was a revelation when autosomal testing came along. I have also done a whole exome test through a pilot project at 23andMe.
Question: Have you tested your family?
Answer: Yes. In addition to testing collateral relatives to cover more of my ancestral lines, I tested many cousins with the specific goal of tracing a mutation responsible for the hearing impairment that runs in my family. It ultimately turned out to be in a gene not even known to be involved in the sense of hearing. See this 23andMe blog post. (http://blog.23andme.com/23andme-customer-stories/citizen-scientist/)
Question: Have your or your family’s test results ever been a surprise?
Answer: Each new test reveals something new, but I haven’t encountered anything that contradicts what I thought I knew.
Question: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Answer: Yes. My great-grandfather was orphaned at a young age and did not even know how his surname was spelled. The name he used even sounded somewhat different. But I had a hypothesis about what it might be and located male line relatives to check it out. It turned out to be on target.
Question: Do you have advice for someone starting out in genealogy or genetic genealogy DNA?
Answer: The field is developing so rapidly that specific advice might be obsolete before the reader has a chance to act on it. The
Question: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
Answer: Whole genome sequencing is on the horizon. The next question will be how to handle all that data! I envision a method that begins with traditional methods using segment matches based on chip results (i.e. common variants). Then the next step would be to drill down within the segment to see which parties also share rare variants.