Dave Dowell is an educator, author, and genetic genealogy researcher. He has published several books including NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection. He is the administrator of the Dowell DNA Projectat FamilyTreeDNA. He also writes a blog, Dr D Digs Up Ancestors.
Question: Please tell me about yourself.
Answer: I am the only child of a Baptist minister and a grade school teacher. I have an undergraduate degree in history, a graduate degree in Latin American history, and both a masters and PhD in library science.
Question: What do you do for a living?
Answer: I officially retired at the end of 2007 after a 35-year career as an academic librarian. During that time, I chaired the ethics, the personnel, the library paraprofessional education, and the genealogy committees of the American Library Association. Previously was a special investigative officer in the USAF for four years –sort of like Leroy Jethro Gibbs except I had no Abby Sciuto and we had maybe one autopsy a year rather than one per week.
Question: What are your other hobbies and interests apart from genealogy?
Answer: Surely you jest! 😉 Earlier in life I played tennis but now enjoy most spectator sports. Four years ago we gave up our ocean view home on the California Central Coast to move to Nashville to be 2,100 miles closer to each of the four children and now eight grandsons in our blended family who all had ended up east of the Mississippi. Three of the grandsons (age 8, 5 and 21 months) live four blocks from our continuing care retirement community. The youngest grandson was DNA tested prior to his embryo being implanted into his mother’s womb to avoid a potentially fatal autosomal dominant genetic that had been discovered in his mother’s family.
Question: What brought you to genealogy?
Answer: I became interested when my 1st wife was contacted by a genealogist (working on a multivolume surname history) to get information on current living family members who were part of Arlene’s branch of the family.
Question: What is your favorite part?
Answer: Learning new things from many disciplines and helping others develop the tools that allow them to learn new things.
Question: How did you become involved in genetic genealogy?
Answer: I tested in 2004 to prove that, if either I or a longstanding Dowell research partner could just push our pedigree chart one or two generations back, we would find our common paternal ancestor. We quickly found that our common paternal ancestor probably lived more than 4,000 years ago—long before the advent of surnames like Dowell. Soon thereafter I became an administrator of the Dowell DNA project.
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: I think the government has a role in making sure that labs accurately test and report what they claim to test. That role is performed adequately by various accrediting bodies such as CAP and CLIA. I think the FDA is a little too paternalistic in its efforts to “protect” civilians from our selves but not from those in the medical profession who may be no better informed. There may be a role for the FTC to monitor some of the fanciful claims being made by some fringe players in the market place.
Question: Do you feel that the responsibility for consumer education lies with the testing companies, the citizen science community, or the consumer?
Answer: YES! Throw in the medical profession too.
Question: What DNA tests have you taken?
- yDNA to 111 markers at FTDNAmtDNA full sequence at FTDNA23andMedeCodeFamily FinderAncestry (atDNA)GENO 2.0ySeq and FTDNA for individual ySNP testing
Full Genomes (pending)
PREDICT (Vanderbilt University Medical Center testing for how one might be expected react to commonly prescribed drugs)
Question: Have you tested your family?
- My immediate and in-laws –Some more extended (1st and 2nd cousins) for both myself and my wife.Ancestors for some of my grandsons (unrelated to me)Probably a couple of dozen altogether.
Question: Have your or your family’s test results ever been a surprise?
Answer: I may have had 2 mtDNA mutations from my maternal grandmother – I am still investigating.
An alleged 1st cousin of my deceased mother-in-law who we tested for years as a male surrogate for her ancestral line turned out to be not closely related.
I discovered an unknown 81-year-old (39th) maternal first cousin who had been given up for adoption shortly after birth.
I discovered the family Bible of one of my 2nd great-grandfathers with valuable genealogical information enclosed.
The father of my wife’s maternal grandfather may not have been the one in all the documents – a recent and ongoing investigation.
Question: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Answer: It has not solved my #1 wall of the origins of my surname 6th great-grandfather. I have recreated what his 111 yDNA STR markers were even though he died in 1733. However, no one matching that profile has emerged so far.
I have sorted which Dowells in colonial Middle Atlantic states are related and which are not. Disproved a paternal connection between Dowells and Dewells in colonial Maryland the DAR notwithstanding. Disproved (at least so far) oral traditions in almost all Dowell lines that we had a close ancestral ties with McDowells.
I have also confirmed the identity of a 2nd great-grandmother and 2nd great-grandfather through two independent matches. (One of them had their family Bible, above.) Each extended my pedigree chart back multiple generations. Placed the maternal ancestress of a 6th great-grandmother back in Finland by testing a female paternal 1st cousin as my surrogate. Additional documentation is still filtering in that seems to further confirm this.
Question: Do you have advice for someone starting out in genealogy or genetic genealogy DNA?
Answer: Be sure you really want to know whatever you may discover!
It is going to be a lot of work.
You will need all the tools you can think of – including DNA and all the traditional oral and documentary sources.
It will be frustrating and fun.
Sometimes the journey will turn out to be as much of a learning experience as will arriving at your destination.
Question: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
We will move closer to personalized/precision medicine. As genomes are sequenced more completely, the lines between genetic information for family history and for medical diagnosis will blur.
At least with yDNA, SNPs may turn out to be as good as the old coats of arms in identifying specific family lines. This will require many more men being tested and tested in a targeted way.
Both genetic genealogy and precision medicine need to work through the awkwardness of handling incidental findings. Balancing right to know with individual privacy is not a one size fits all.
Medical practitioners will realize that taking “family histories” without including genetic genealogy is building a diagnosis on partial information and oral mythology.