The Encyclopedia of mtDNA Origins began as an idea of what the average person sought in their mtDNA results.

In 2011 and early 2012, I was working with National Geographic to produce the research and text for the Geno 2.0 launch. It was a seemingly endless flurry of activity.

Any Old Kind Of Day
And it was just an any old kind of day
The kind that comes and slips away
The kind that fills up easy my life’s time
The night brought any old kind of dark
I heard the ticking of my heart
Then why’m I thinking something’s left behind?

— Harry Chapin

The project took place across three moves and four homes: Virginia, Northern California, Kentucky, and finally Texas. I wrote over 400 pages of text. Much of what we talked about going into the project was completed. Some had to be set aside. Then it was complete.

The product is the excellent Genographic Project website. But my inner voice said no. This is not the end. This is not even a full beginning.

When it was done, I paused my life to relax a bit. Life moved onward.

Then nine months ago, in a conversation with a friend, he told me that I needed to finish something. What? I am a ruthless perfectionist. I do not leave things unfinished. Ha!

What questions do normal folk ask about their mtDNA results and their haplogroup?

  • What is its age?
  • What is its parent?
  • What is its origin?
  • How is it defined?
  • Does it have branches under it?
  • Where is it found today?
  • What populations have been tested?
  • What has been written about it?
  • How can I help?
  • Where do I go from here?

But wait… It has been over three years since I worked on mtDNA haplogroup H. Three years since the publication of the paper that launched the new RSRS reference sequence. Three years since I knew in my heart that it would never be enough to cover research on a few hundred mtDNA subclades when there are thousands. When I understood that personal discovery and citizen science needed to move forward together with transparency of methods.

Other things happened… I was granted researcher access to the National Geographic database — As Dr. Miguel Vilar calls it the DAR. I reduced my workload to 50%.

I took a deep breath, and I remembered.

I looked at the haplogroup pages at Wikipedia like the one for mtDNA haplogroup H. I thought on what works and what does not. I began bouncing ideas off of friends.

Encyclopedia of mtDNA Origins - Mockup 1

Encyclopedia of mtDNA Origins – Mockup 1

As a user with mtDNA results I would like…

  1. Breadcrumb links showing the path from the RSRS founder lineage to my end branch on the maternal tree.
  2. A sidebar with links to other areas of interest.
  3. The name of my end branch on the tree.
  4. Background information on my branch.
  5. A summary of important facts about my branch: Age, Origin, Defining mutations, Parent, and Children.
  6. To know how the named branch is defined in the current Phylotree build and has been in past ones.
  7. Maternal Origin information from Geno 2.0 tested samples.
  8. Results and origin information from Genbank samples.
  9. Journal Articles that mention the branch.
  10. Additional resources for understanding my results and taking part in new discovery.

With that much figured out, the logistics of building something onto my WordPress based blog/website was the next concern. The current build, 17, has over 5,000 named branches. With increasing testing and citizen science participation, I expect that number doubling in the next year or so. An avenue for rapid growth was essential.

I already use the Avada theme for flexibility in page layouts. For the mtDNA branch pages, I needed something to handle creation of custom post types (how WordPress designates a type of webpage) and custom fields (how WordPress designates fields that appear on every page of a type. After playing with a few options, I discovered Pods.

Pods is a framework for creating custom post types and custom fields. Most importantly though it lets you create templates so that the same information is automatically presented the same way on every page for a set post type. I paused to read and learn.

To be continued…