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Genetic genealogist offers free classes in Lewiston

LEWISTON – The growing field of genetic genealogy, which is used to trace the ancient origin of your roots using DNA, will be the topic of three free classes being taught by professional genetic genealogist Dr. Blaine Bettinger at noon Saturday in Barton Hill Hotel and Spa, 100 Center St.

Registration is required for each one-hour class. The program is a joint venture between the Lewiston Public Library, the Historical Association of Lewiston and Barton Hill Hotel and Spa.

Bettinger works as an intellectual property attorney in Syracuse and also has a doctorate in biochemistry, which he uses in his practice as an attorney researching inventions. But his science background also led him to begin researching his own genetics nearly 25 years ago. In 2007 he began one of the first blogs on the topic called “The Genetic Genealogist.”

He calls his research both a hobby and a passion to learn more about his own heredity.

“I started in middle school – when he was assigned to do a family tree for homework – researching my own genealogy and in 2003 as a grad student I saw an ad for a genetic genealogy test. It was kind of the perfect marriage between genealogy and my education in science,” said Bettinger.

As the field has grown, Bettinger has taught at local events and addressed national conferences as an expert in how to use DNA to supplement genealogy research. He has been a guest lecturer/teacher for “DNA Day” during the annual Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree. He also teaches a week-long course over the summer at the Genealogical Research Institute in Pittsburgh.

“There’s a lot of genealogists, but not as many genetic genealogists,” said Bettinger.

He said genetic genealogy can be used to reinforce research already done and to “break through the brick walls.”

“If you are doing work on a particular family in the 1800s you are going to want to check the censuses. You should also check the DNA. It’s just another piece of the puzzle,” he said. “Perhaps an even more pressing reason is because there may be a brick wall, like for adoptees (or those whose ancestors were slaves). DNA may be the only way to peer through that wall.”

He said test results won’t give you names or a family tree. However, you will get an analysis of your ethnicity and a list of genetic persons in a database that show you who you share DNA with.

“Using that information you can perhaps find that missing link,” said Bettinger.

“It’s huge,” said Bettinger, of the growing interest in genetic genealogy. He added that 2014 “was an enormous year for genetic genealogy. There’s over a million people, close to 2 to 3 million, who have done this type of testing.”

He said that as a result, the databases have grown, making it more likely that a person will be able to find someone who has matching genetic DNA markers.

“The only way we can have matching DNA is if we have a shared ancestor,” said Bettinger. “The amount of shared DNA will indicate how long ago that relationship was. If we have 50 percent of our DNA shared, that means we are very closely related, like a parent-child. If we are 25 percent it’s more of a grandparent, then half and half and so on. Up to five generations you can get a very good estimate of your relationship.”

Bettinger said only a few companies offer this type of testing and this is something he will discuss in his classes.

Classes include:

• Using your Y-DNA (paternal DNA) and mtDNA (mitochondrial, maternal DNA) to explore your ancestry, noon to 1 p.m.

• Introduction to Autosomal DNA, (which is a mix of all your ancestors,) 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

• Using Autosomal DNA: Tips and Tricks, 3 to 4 p.m.

He said his own research into his maternal lineage, which he had traced back to Honduras in the 1830s, revealed he belongs to a Native American haplogroup – a group that shares a common ancestor.

“My mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s mother was Native American and I didn’t know that prior to taking the DNA testing,” said Bettinger. “The records can only go back so far and the other thing I say is that – families lie, but DNA doesn’t. You should also be ready for surprises in your research, as well.”

To register for any or all of the classes contact Michelle A. Kratts, the director of the genealogy department at Lewiston Library, 754-4720, ext. 228 or email her at mkratts@nioga.org.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com