An Interview with Helen Smith, speaker at DNADownUnder.

A few weeks ago I asked Helen to answer some DNA questions, for me, here are her answers.

Thank you, Helen.

1)       How many years have you be doing genealogy research and why did you start?

I have been researching for 32 years. I had always had an interest as my father was English but I started research in earnest to stop my mother plaintively complaining that she never knew her grandfather (due to a family split which is a whole another story!).  I found out one thing then another and was hooked!

2)      When did you first use DNA, in your research and why?

I did my first DNA test in the days when blood was required. Then did a mitochondrial test with Ancestry which while interesting did not help me much. It was not until autosomal testing started that I found DNA to be a useful genealogical tool for me personally though I had been trying to entice some Quested males to do a YDNA test for my One Name Study (offer is still open, gentlemen!)

3)       Has using DNA, helped solve any puzzles, you had or has it given you more puzzles to solve?

DNA has been a useful additional tool in my research showing matches along my researched paper trail. In more recent years it has been a very useful tool in helping adoptees and people with misattributed parentage find out about biological family and that is a very satisfying thing to do.

4)       What are the advantages in using DNA, in your genealogy journey?

DNA is another tool that should be used in conjunction with our other research techniques. It can show that our paper trail is confirmed when we find descendants. It can help when there is a lack of paper records and also in situations of the second wife situation, blended families and the times when a father is not given on a certificate.

5)     Can you see any pitfalls, to using DNA?

DNA is a great tool used wisely and with knowledge about what the different tests can and can’t do for your research. Unless you have won Lotto (and can afford to test everybody that agrees) it is important to have a targeted testing plan to help in your research. The use of DNA tests has encouraged the researching of descendants and collateral lines which is a good thing.

6)       What testing companies have you used and were your results similar or not?

 I have tested with 23andme, Ancestry, LivingDNA, FTDNA and MyHeritage for autosomal DNA and previously the Genographic project, Ancestry then FTDNA for mitochondrial DNA. My estimated ethnicity results are broadly similar between the companies but, being a science nerd, I know the ethnicity results are a work in progress dependant on the reference populations and the algorithms at each of the companies. I test to find relatives not for ethnicity. Where relatives have tested at more than one company they have been found and that of course is the thing “Which company did your cousin test at?” It really is a case of fishing in all the ponds to find family.

7)What is your favourite part of the DNA journey?

 Finding links? Graphing out the connections? Solving puzzles? I am a science nerd so love the science of it, love the detective work in solving puzzles

8)      Where do you see genealogy DNA heading?

 I see the increased integration of DNA testing into genealogical research where it will become as accepted as using a certificate or a will in in our research.  I love the fact that we are in the time when people are saying that we can find new ways of sorting information, new clustering tools and how computer programmers are getting involved as they have been doing genealogy and are integrating DNA into their research and want to visualise things better. We are in the exciting times of new tools, greater computing power being available to help in out use of DNA and the results.

9)      Have you ever had a person, in one of your talks, come up and say, ‘I think we are related.’?

 One of the joys of being a speaker is that you often use your own family for examples. I have had three occasions where someone has come up to me after they heard me speak. I have also had lovely people who remember my names of interest and send me snippets they have found for my Quested One Name Study.

10)   Anything else you would like to add?

We live in wonderful times to do family history research with computers then the internet, the increased availability of digitised records (though of course not everything is digitised and we still do need to go to archives and to other research repositories and should walk in our ancestor’s footsteps when we can.) The Internet has also made available so many learning opportunities for everyone as well as making us more connected around the world. DNA is another tool that is helping us in our research. We do live in wonderful times.

I am the convenor of the Genealogical Society of Queensland’s DNA SIG which has just celebrated its fourth birthday.

My  website and blog:  I have written two books “Death Certificates and Archaic Medical Terms” and “Google, the Genealogist’s Friend” as well as being a contributing author to the book “Brisbane Diseased: Contagions, Cures and Controversy”.


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