DNA

Reflecting on Family Tree Live UK by Katy Barbier-Greenland

Family Tree Live UK was a fantastic family history conference held at the beautiful Alexandra Palace in London at the end of April 2019. It brought together a mix of professional genealogists and people interested in their own family history, as well as some researchers.

My talk ‘Inheriting the unexpected: dealing with unforeseen family secret discoveries arising from genealogical research’ was in the final timeslot on day one of the event, and one of my favourite parts was actually speaking with people afterwards. Due to the personal nature of my topic I think it struck a chord with some of those in the audience, and it was a privilege to hear their stories on the day. It was also fantastic to meet many of the wonderful genealogists from the lively family history community on Twitter. I placed some of the recommendations coming out of my talk on the Outcomes page of this website, so please check them out and let me know what you think.

My highlight in terms of talks was Dr Larissa Allwork and Dr Nigel Hunt’s talk on ‘Shell shock stories and beyond: trauma and the First World War’ that explored the impacts of shellshock on people and society, with a focus on WWI. Larissa is a public historian with expertise in a number of areas including the ways in which states and societies deal with difficult, provocative and traumatic histories. This talk arises from some of the work Larissa and Nigel have been doing via the ‘trauma’ stream of a major collaboration between universities in the UK called The Centre for Hidden Histories: Community, Commemoration and the First World War, shining a light on shellshock stories at the intersection of psychiatry and history. Really interesting and important work and I was lucky to have a great chat with Larissa throughout the day.

Another highlight was a talk called ‘To DNA or not to DNA - that is the question’ by Katherine Borges, the cofounder and director of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). Katherine discussed the ways in which different DNA tests work and invited us to reflect on whether they are always the answer. A third talk I unfortunately missed, although I have seen Dr Penny Walters speak before: she gave a talk on the ethics of DNA testing and I have no doubt it would have been fascinating, as all her talks are.

Presenting at the upcoming ESA conference on Family Secrecy in the Information Age by Katy Barbier-Greenland

I’m so excited to be presenting at the upcoming European Sociological Association conference! The conference is going to be the gathering for sociologists of all types and disciplines and is called ‘Europe and Beyond: Boundaries, Barriers and Belonging’. It will be held in Manchester, UK from 20 – 23 August 2019.

My paper is part of the 'Simmel and beyond' session for researchers whose work grapples with Simmel’s theories on the 100th anniversary of his death. The paper will be delivered in conjunction with one of my supervisors, A/Prof Deb Dempsey. Here’s the abstract:

Family Secrecy in the Information Age: A Re-Examination of Simmel’s ‘The Sociology of Secrecy and Secret Societies’

Discovering an unexpected major family secret typically has significant, ongoing personal and psychological consequences for those involved. Reproductive family secrets, such as those associated with conception and birth, are arguably more difficult to keep in an information age. People are now able to access their family history and biogenetic information in unprecedented ways due to factors including more open policy and legislative trends regarding donors and donation in reproduction, and enhanced opportunities to identify and connect with family members online. Further, sales of DNA home testing kits are expected to reach 100 million by 2021, and family history searches are the second most popular use of the Internet

This talk is based on stories from an empirical research project entitled 'Family Secrets, Secret Families'. Secrets discovered by participants included adoption, donor conception, hidden or secret children, and mis-assigned parentage. In the talk, we reflect on Simmel’s essay 'The sociology of secrecy and of secret societies' and assess its contemporary relevance for how knowledge, power, truth, silence, disclosure, and trust play out in families with reproductive secrets. We argue that Simmels’ insights continue to offer a valuable framework for understanding the power and function of knowledge and information management in family life in the era of the Internet and home DNA testing.

The impacts of family secrets: interviewed for the Boston Globe by Katy Barbier-Greenland

Beth Teitell is a features writer at the Boston Globe, commentator on public radio’s Marketplace, and a published author who writes at the intersection of technology, culture, sport and society, so it was my pleasure to talk with Beth today for a story she’s doing for the Globe on the impacts of family secret discoveries. The story will be out fairly soon I think so very excited to share that once it’s out in the world!

On a vaguely (only VERY vaguely) related note, I travelled to Boston and spent a couple of weeks there in 2013 to interview staff at Harvard and MIT about research ethics and attend an ethics conference, so I have some wonderful memories of Boston - such a beautiful, grand city and the Boston Globe is a left-centre leaning daily publication founded in 1872.

DNA, genealogy and the Double Helix History project by Katy Barbier-Greenland

I recently participated in a focus group discussion on the ways in which DNA has impacted on family history work at the Nederlandse Genealogische Vereniging, which is the Dutch Genealogical Society. Prof Jerome de Groot ran the group whilst visiting from University of Manchester, UK, as part of his world tour collecting data for the Double Helix History project. The Double Helix History project explores how people ‘get’ and understand their history and themselves, and there’s a lot more to come from this project.

The afternoon was a fascinating discussion with the Netherland’s best genealogy experts: technical, interesting and insightful! Lovely to catch up again with genealogy expert John Boeren who runs Antecedentia and to talk all things family history, DNA and identity with Jerome.

Interview with The Atlantic by Katy Barbier-Greenland

I spent some time this afternoon being interviewed by the wonderful Sarah Zhang, a Washington DC based journalist who works at The Atlantic, an independent and left-leaning publication that's over 150 years old. Sarah has undertaken research and reported on the impacts of DNA testing in multiple settings, including forensics and family secrets, for example in her recent article entitled The Secret Facebook Groups for Shocking DNA Tests. It's a great read! 

It was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on my research process, think broadly about some of the impacts of family secret discoveries on people's lives (including my own)...and I can't wait for Sarah's next article on DNA!