Marilyn Souders is a retired registered nurse (RN), business woman, and grandmother. She is also the administrator of the Cleves Surname project at FamilyTreeDNA.
Question: Please tell me about yourself. What do you do for a living?
Answer: I stepped off the corporate wagon three years ago after the birth of my second grandson. Since then, I’ve been using my healthcare knowledge to act as a part-time consultant.
Question: What are your other hobbies and interests apart from genealogy?
Answer: My main interests are my four grandsons. I cherish each and every moment that I spend with them. I’m also working on an art project with my Uncle PJ whose wife was the famous Latin American artist, Vilma G. Holland.
Question: What brought you to genealogy?
Answer: I was born a genealogist. As a small child, I asked my immigrant grandparents endless questions regarding their family history. I created lists with names and dates as soon as I learned to write. I began serious genealogy in 1978 when I was pregnant with my first child.
Question: What is your favorite part?
Answer: I love traveling to sites where my ancestors lived to try and envision their life. It’s amazing to walk down the same streets they would have used or to see a baptismal font used by a branch of my family for centuries.
How did you become involved in genetic genealogy?
As a nurse I was curious about the validity of genetic genealogy. I had a mystery in my family and I knew genetic genealogy could possibly provide the answer.
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 should ensure the labs meet the necessary technical standards for the testing provided and ensure the privacy of the testers’ data. Other than that, the government should not be involved.
Question: Do you feel that the responsibility for consumer education lies with the testing companies, the citizen science community, or the consumer?
Answer: I think education is the responsibility of all three; however, the ultimate responsibility resides with the consumer. As an ICU nurse, I would discuss critical medical issues and tests with patients. The doctors had also discussed the same topics with the same patient. If the patient chose not to listen or learn or follow the advice it was not the fault of the doctor or nurse. Individuals need to take responsibility for themselves and learn/ask questions.
Question: What DNA tests have you taken?
Answer: I’ve tested my atDNA and my mtDNA.
Question: Have you tested your family?
Answer: I have tested my parents, my mother-in-law, my husband, my children and their spouses along with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I’ll test the grandsons when they are old enough to spit in a tube.
Question: Have your or your family’s test results ever been a surprise?
Answer: Yes. I had a second great uncle who turned out to be a half-brother to my great grandfather. This provoked some interesting family discussions.
Question: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Answer: I used genetic genealogy to find the birth mother, Agnes, of my Mother’s adopted brother. I found the birth mother’s family when my Mom’s brother, my Uncle PJ, was 80-years old. I still tear up when I think about finding Agnes after searching for her for decades. My uncle always wanted to see the face of his birth mother before he died. Genetic genealogy gave that wish to him. I’m forever grateful to his cousin who took the DNA test and contacted me when she saw his match to her data.
Question: Do you have advice for someone starting out in genealogy or genetic genealogy DNA?
Answer: You need to be ready to accept your results. Your DNA or paper research may paint a picture that you didn’t think was possible. This does not change who you are; it adds richness to your life. Embrace your new ancestors and cousins. They have been with you all along, you just didn’t know it.
Question: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
Answer: Genetic genealogy is a new science. I am very proud to be part of it. The future is limitless. I hope in the near future that every baby will tested at birth and the results will go into a secure database. When the child turns 21, they will have the right to search for family members. Perhaps the search will return results that state, “You match your maternal grandmother on this particular chromosome so this distant cousin who also matches you in the same place on that same chromosome is related to you through your maternal grandmother’s line.”
The medical side of me cannot ignore that the universal database will have medical implications. It could be used to identify John and Jane Does. As a nurse, it broke my heart when we lost patients whose identities were unknown. Someone somewhere loved this unknown person. A national database could ensure closure for the family. This database could also be used for medical research. I see this database as necessary for the future. It can do far more than help folks with their genetic genealogy hobby.