28 December 2011

Review: Debbie Kennett's DNA and Social Networking: A Guide to Genealogy in the Twenty-first Century

Book review:

Debbie Kennett, DNA and Social Networking: A Guide to Genealogy in the Twenty-first Century (Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press, 2011).

I highly recommend this book to all of my genealogy friends. This book will be available in print in the U.S. next spring. It is available now from History Press, Amazon UK (allow several weeks for U.S. delivery), and in a Kindle edition which is what I read. (My first reading of a Kindle book on my husband's Kindle 3. Because the Kindle edition does not include page numbers, the review below will refer to chapters only.)

Disclosure: I have not met Debbie Kennett in person although we have corresponded electronically a few times. I have learned from her postings on DNA mail lists we both subscribe to. I will refer to her formally using her surname "Kennett" so there will be no confusion over our shared given name. I like this book because it confirms many of the statements and opinions I express during presentations on using DNA for genealogical purposes. It's always nice to have recognized experts in the field support your opinions.

The most-used books on genetic genealogy were published over five years ago. During that time great advancements have been made in our knowledge of DNA. Those five year old books rarely even mention autosomal DNA (atDNA) testing, much less discuss how to use it. There are a lot of articles, websites, and blogs that discuss autosomal DNA and the advancements in Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), but no book I have seen has compiled current information into one print publication. Debbie Kennett's book fills that need for beginners and provides many links to additional information for more advanced genetic genealogists.

Combining DNA and social networking topics in one book may seem odd, but social networking sites have become a must-use tool for active genealogists. The social networking section of this book covers the basics of social media and gives tips on finding and approaching potential family members for the purpose of DNA testing or genealogy connections. For the non-techie genealogist, this book is a great introduction not only to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, but also covers blogs, Wikis, and other electronic means of communication. Even if you don't plan to use social media, this book will help you understand what is meant when others discuss these tools.

I consider myself fairly knowledgeable both on DNA and technology. I learned some things about both subjects as I read this book. While there is an understandable slight bias for the UK in the websites listed, most of this book will be indispensable to American and other genealogists as well. Major U.S. sites are covered as well as UK and Irish sites.

The foreword is by Chris Pomeroy who is the author of DNA and Family History (2004) and Family History in the Genes (2007), articles, podcasts, and blog posts, all linked from his DNA and Family History website. In the foreword Chris states:
Genetic testing increasingly looks set to become an integral part of everyday genealogical research in the years ahead. A decade ago, a DNA test was seen as something exotic and tangential to the main work of the genealogist, which was visiting archives and transcribing the data in them. Today it's possible to run a parallel DNA project and to use the DNA results to confirm we have identified the correct people within each line and tree.
In an easy to read and understand manner, Kennett leads the genealogist through the steps necessary to use DNA results to confirm our paper trail. She has been involved with genetic genealogy since 2006 when many genealogists did not yet know DNA could be used for genealogical purposes. Enough background is given to help the reader understand the current state of genealogical testing and how far we have come in a decade of genetic genealogy. Kennett divides the book into two sections that help the lay person understand the science of DNA for family history and the technical tools genealogists use today.

Section one describes "The Genetic Genealogy Revolution" with chapters:
  1. The basic principles — covering the basics of DNA testing of all types, the limitations of using DNA, how to determine who to test, how to choose a testing company, and the mechanics of taking a DNA sample.
  2. Surnames and the paternal line — covering Y-DNA tests and surname projects including a section on the possible reasons a mismatch may be seen when a DNA match was expected, geographical projects, adoptions, recommendations on how many markers to test, how to understand the test results using both tools from the testing companies and tools genetic genealogists have made freely available online, and public Y-DNA databases.
  3. Before surnames: haplogroups and deep ancestry — covering the DNA tests and results that tell you about your ancestors before a genealogical timeframe, tens of thousands of years ago. Some of the tests described here may not help today with genealogy, but the information being discovered could contribute more than we realize to both genealogy and an understanding of the history of humans. Each researcher should understand these tests so she knows how the results can be used and the limitations.
  4. The maternal line: mitochondrial DNA tests — covering how to use mtDNA for genealogical purposes, mtDNA projects, understanding your test results, deep ancestry of the maternal line, and public mtDNA databases.
  5. Cousins reunited: autosomal DNA tests [my favorite section] — covering atDNA which can be used to research all of our ancestral lines, not just the paternal and maternal lines on our pedigree charts. This is one of the first books on how to use the atDNA test results for genealogy. Kennett also covers the X-chromosome in this section with simple charts showing the ancestors from whom a male and female child might have inherited an X chromosome. This understanding of DNA inheritance patterns is critical to using DNA results for genealogical purposes. Kennett uses examples from both companies that have been offering atDNA tests for some years: 23andMe and Family Tree DNA. She also explains the process each company uses to allow contact between DNA matches.
  6. Setting up and running a DNA project — covering information a DNA project manager needs to know about starting, marketing, and managing a project.

Section two describes "The Social Networking Revolution" with intro and chapters:

Introduction — covering interesting statistics on the use of social media and subjects that should be considered by users of these tools.
  1. Traditional genealogical networking methods — covering family history societies, mail lists, message boards, forums, and other tools most genealogists have probably used. The section on mail list etiquette should be periodically reviewed by all computer users to remind us of good e-manners and how to get the best responses to our queries.
  2. Genealogy social networking web sites — covering the history and pros and cons of Genes Reunited, several online tree building sites, GenealogyWise, and Lost Cousins.
  3. General social networking web sites — covering the history and pros and cons of non-genealogical networking sites such as Friends Reunited, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Bebo, and Google+.
  4. Blogs — covering what a blog is, how to find one, RSS feeds to make blog reading easier, and writing your own blog. There is a long, useful list of interesting blogs and blog tools.
  5. Wikis — covering how wikis work, Wikipedia, genealogy wikis, the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG) Wiki, family tree wikis, and research wikis. Even tech-savvy genealogists may find a few links never before clicked on.
  6. Multimedia — covering photographic and video sites, podcasts, webcasts, and webinars.
  7. Collaborative tools — covering tools a genealogist can use for research and when communicating with other researchers.
End matter includes a glossary and bibliography and appendixes:
  1. DNA websites — listing MANY links to sites to help a person understand genetic genealogy.
  2. Testing companies — listing the DNA testing companies with brief descriptions.
  3. DNA projects — listing several types of DNA projects.
  4. Surname resources — listing links for surname resources.

Other reviews of this book can be found at:

CeCe Moore, "Debbie Kennett's 'DNA and Social Networking: A Guide to Genealogy in the 21st Century', article, 8 November 2011 Your Genetic Genealogist blog (http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2011/11/debbie-kennetts-dna-and-social.html : accessed 28 November 2011).

Emily Aulicino, "DNA and Social Networking by Debbie Kennett," article, 9 November 2011, dna - genealem's genetic genealogy blog (http://genealem-geneticgenealogy.blogspot.com/ : accessed 28 November 2011).

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

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