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18 March 2018

Putting the Gene in Genealogy

Blaine Bettinger with CGS past president Linda Okazaki in Berkeley, March 3

On March 3, CGS hosted “A Day with the Genetic Genealogist,” a daylong seminar with Blaine Bettinger at the David Brower Center in Berkeley. The sold-out event addressed “Getting the Most Out of Your AncestryDNA Matches,” gave an overview of Y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal DNA, and looked at new third-party tools for genealogical DNA analysis. Bettinger also led a smaller seminar at CGS the previous day, where he examined in detail such topics as the need for ethics and standards in DNA testing, a “genealogical proof standard” for genetics, and how to interpret non-European DNA evidence.

Blaine Bettinger was first bitten by the genealogy bug in middle school, when a family history assignment sparked a fascination that would continue through his life. He was a graduate student at SUNY Upstate Medical University, studying molecular biology and biochemistry, when the first affordable direct-to-consumer tests for ancestral DNA came on the market. “This was combining my two loves, microbiology and genealogy,” he remembers. Soon he had discovered his passion. After grad school, he decided to pursue a law degree, reckoning that “would allow me to pursue my love of science and reading and writing, without being at the bench every day. So I went right from grad school to law school, and it's been a terrific career.” In 2007, he launched a website, The Genetic Genealogist, one of the earliest blogs on the topic. 

Self-described as “an intellectual property attorney by day and a DNA specialist by night,” Dr. Bettinger soon became one of the go-to authorities on ancestral DNA.  He’s been interviewed and quoted by national publications such as NewsweekNew Scientist, and Wired. He’s also gained something like rock-star status in the genealogical community for his entertaining presentations, which are both informative and lucid enough for the layperson.

While limited population samples currently hinder the study of ancestral DNA, especially for those of non-European heritage, Bettinger anticipates great leaps and bounds in DNA analysis in the near future. “The way the databases are growing, it’s just incredible,” he says. He’s enthusiastic about the development of such tools as DNAPainter, GEDMatch, and the Chrome extension MedBetter, which make it easier to understand and compare DNA results. In April 2018 he plans to launch a new “DNA Central” project to help subscribers keep abreast of the latest developments in genetic genealogy.

You can learn more about Bettinger’s work at his website,

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