Al Aburto is a member of the genetic genealogy community and a group project administrator. He became involved in genetic genealogy in 2005. He is retired and lives with his wife in Southern California. Apart from genealogy, they are involved in charitable services to their community.
Rebekah: Please tell me about yourself. Are you currently working or retired? What are your other hobbies or interests outside of genealogy?
Al: I’m a retired engineer, MS degree in physics from the University of California (1971 I think). I’m in my early 70’s. I worked on the test and evaluation of underwater acoustic systems. I worked for the US Navy for 26 years but 4 years in the US Air Force was counted toward my 30 years. I was in the US Air Force before Vietnam. I was in boot camp, and I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I got out just as Vietnam was getting hot. At UCR (University of California at Riverside), I remember some flag burning incidents.
I retired in 1999 from the US Navy civil service in San Diego (where I worked and I currently live), then I worked 5 years part time for a US Navy contractor, then in 2005 I retired completely. I had a wonderful career with the US Navy!
My wife (Carol), we been married 38 years, and I volunteer at a local hospital (Kaiser Permanente) and we also deliver Meals On Wheels & – two very rewarding activities! I also like hiking, and I hike in our local foothills, mostly Mission Trails Regional Park, 2 to 3 hours 3 times a week. Also, I’m diabetic so I ride a stationary bike 16 miles a day, which helps greatly keeping my glucose levels below 100 mg/dL. I guess I’m an exercise nut.
Rebekah: How long have you been actively involved in genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field?
Al: I became interested in genealogy probably in the early 1990’s. Working for the US Navy, I traveled a lot, and I was curious about my own surname and it’s origins, so I checked everywhere for Aburto’s in telephone directories where ever I was. Aburto was very rare then but now, wow, they seem to be everywhere! Then I found the Mormon Family History centers had a lot of information for people with ancestry from Mexico, and I spent many hours looking through their microfilm records. With their help, I found my great and great-great grandfathers – My great-great-great grandfather had a different surname (Mora) and that is where my search efforts came to a screeching halt – I made it past that roadblock with genetics – I figure a detailed genetic tree is almost as valuable as a genealogy tree…
Rebekah: At what point did you decide to become involved in genetic genealogy?
Al: Genetic genealogy started in 2005 when I first tested 12 markers with FTDNA. They said I was J2, but I had good matches with many that were J1. I researched my 12 markers quite a bit through scientific published papers. It was then that I became interested in estimating haplogroup from Y-STR haplotypes. I wrote computer programs to help me do that.
A lot of my free time I spend on genetic genealogy and mostly, my J-L24-Y-DNA Project. I found I was L25+ after testing with 23andMe in 2008, I think. Previously, all I had to go on was that I was DYS450=9 and DYS445=10, so I searched widely for others being DYS450=9 and DYS445=10 and also DYS445=6. It was a very exciting moment when I checked my 23andMe results file and found I was L25+! I maintain my own database (about 5000 J2 haplotypes now), so I can find matches for people and place them in clusters of similar haplotypes. I’m constantly looking for new J2 and J-L25 data. I keep busy!
Rebekah: What genetic ancestry tests have you taken?
Al: I have taken the 23andMe test and of course FamilyFinder and Geno 2.0. Early on, I tested with different companies because I wanted to make sure my results were good. I found differences though and there begins my early interest in learning why and how one company called DYS439 17 and another 12!
Rebekah: Have you tested family members?
Al: I have tested many family members (except my parents – who had passed away previously), first with autosomal STRs to see if I could work out the ancestral STR alleles. I worked out most of them I think for the 15 standard autosomal STRs. I have (had) 7 sisters and 4 brothers. Two sisters and one brother have passed away. I tested most of them for mtDNA, as I was interested in my mother’s lineage which is mtDNA C1c. In doing the full mtDNA genome test, I found I had a heteroplasmy for the SNP defining C1c, so I became interested in heteroplasmy, and I ended up doing the mtDNA full genome test on most of my siblings and one niece. They all have heteroplasmies too but at different locations except for my niece as she is pure C1c. My aunt (passed away now) I tested FamilyFinder as well as some cousins and myself. What was interesting were our matches with others that were Jewish. There is no question with me now that our ancient ancestors in Spain were Jewish. I’m not currently Jewish – as my aunt told me “it is ancient history now” (she was a deeply religious Catholic person). I have great respect for my ancient heritage and ancestors – in a sense they are me.
Rebekah: Have you ever been surprised by your or your family’s test results?
Al: Yes! When my Full Genome Corp (FGC) results came in, I found that I had 118 (so far as anyone knew) personal SNPs! How could that be I wondered! It seems my own branch of the Y-tree is very very thin and quite ancient! The SNPs are scattered throughout my Y-chromosome, so it was not a one event kind of thing where I’d get a bunch of SNPs all at once. My personal lineage must go back about 9000 years or so. Also recently, very recently (3 of my WTY personal SNPs on Geno 2.0 have helped!), I’m finding paternal ancestors that share some of those SNPs.
Probably the most exciting moment was back in late 2007, I think, when I got my 23andMe results (they tested about 2000 Y-SNPs) and I found L25 in my own results! I was flabbergasted. It had been there who knows how many thousands of years waiting to be revealed.
Rebekah: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Al: Only in the sense that I’m starting to build a genetic tree of my many personal SNPs. In the far future, I’m hoping others will follow and continue adding new genetic twigs and history to the tree. Eventually, we’ll connect genetically to paternal relatives in Mexico, Spain, and further east to our beginnings in the Middle East.
Rebekah: Are you involved as a group project administrator? If so, what made you decide to become involved? What projects do you administer or co-administer?
Al: Yes, I’m the administrator of the J-L24-Y-DNA and Aburto projects at FTDNA. I started the J-L24-Y-DNA project in early 2009 because I wanted to find and bring together others that were also L24 and L25. We have over 400 members now.
Rebekah: Have you witnessed success stories in your projects?
Al: Little genetic ones every time we discover a new branch of our genetic tree. Five years ago we knew of only 3 J-L24 SNPs, but now our genetic tree has hundreds! We have made tremendous progress over the years.
Rebekah: What advice would you give someone starting out in genealogy or personal ancestry DNA testing?
Al: Never give up. Persistence and learning will win the day.
Rebekah: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
Al: It is the key to unlocking ones ancestry. We need to achieve low cost full genome testing so that many world wide can get involved.