CeCe Moore is one of the best known and most loved bloggers, Your Genetic Genealogist, in genetic genealogy. She is known throughout the community for her kindness and diplomacy.
I meet her first many years ago as a project member, but it was not until she stepped in to organize the annual Finland Genealogy conference one year that I heard how giving and resourceful she is. That conference’s DNA presentations were reported to be some of the best. She and Tim Janzen organized the 2014 International Genetic Genealogy conference in the D.C. area.
CeCe gives her time to many DNA projects. The most notable of these is the Global adoptee project. There she works not only to help people understand their DNA results but also to organize adoptee search angels to help with the more traditional aspects of birth parent searches.
Rebekah: Please tell me about yourself. Are you currently working or retired? What are your other hobbies or interests outside of genealogy?
CeCe: I am a full time genetic genealogy consultant working on the second season of the PBS TV show Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. My work also includes regularly interfacing with the news media with the goal of finding opportunities to feature genetic genealogy, thus increasing our field’s visibility to the general public.
Since genetic genealogy has taken over my life, I don’t have time for many other hobbies or interests, but my nine-year old son is the joy of my life. So, I try to take regular breaks from being chained to my computer to give him lots of tickles and hugs and kisses.
Rebekah: How long have you been actively involved in genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field?
CeCe: I have been fascinated by genealogy ever since a distant cousin wrote a book about our Travis ancestral line when I was about four or five. I was so excited to see my name in print with those of all of my family members. Because my earlier career didn’t allow enough free time for me to get deeply involved in genealogical research, I didn’t start researching in earnest until around 2000 when my oldest niece was getting married, and I thought it would be nice to make her a family tree (famous last words!). Of course, it still isn’t finished!
Rebekah: At what point did you decide to become involved in genetic genealogy?
CeCe: In about 2003, I became very interested in Family Tree DNA after reading something about it online in a genealogy forum, so I started following the company’s progress and learning about DNA testing for genealogy, but I didn’t feel like I had the financial ability at the time to start testing. I sure wish I had just bit the bullet and ordered a test, since I really wanted to test my grandmother then and she has since passed away. It wasn’t until a few years later that I tested my father at FTDNA to see if I could unravel the mystery surrounding my surname line and myself to try to break down the brick wall on my maternal grandmother’s Finnish ancestral line.
Rebekah: What genetic ancestry tests have you taken?
CeCe: Family Tree DNA mtFull Sequence and Family Finder, 23andMe, Geno 2.0, and AncestryDNA.
Rebekah: Have you tested family members?
CeCe: I have tested approximately 35 family members on various tests – mostly autosomal DNA, but also mtDNA and Y-DNA for targeting brick walls in the inner branches of my family tree. In early 2010, I began my Known Relative Studies, which has primarily focused on mapping the portions of DNA that I inherited from my great grandparents by testing the autosomal DNA of second cousins and third cousins from all of my ancestral lines. As a genealogist, it has been an extremely meaningful experience to be able to see specifically what I inherited from my beloved ancestors that I have spent so much time researching but was never able to meet.
Rebekah: Have you ever been surprised by your or your family’s test results?
CeCe: There haven’t been as many surprises as I expected! I’m always working on solving mysteries and unraveling complex family relationships for other people, while my own immediate family’s genetic genealogy has been somewhat uneventful. So far, all of my cousins match me as expected, confirming that all of my second great-grandparents and many of my third great grandparents on paper are indeed my genetic ancestors. Of course, this is one of the great benefits of genetic genealogy – confirming our traditional research. I have yet to disprove any of my lines, but I’m sure it will happen someday!
On the other hand, I had a tremendous discovery for my brother-in-law and my three nieces (one of whom was somewhat responsible for my immersion into genealogy as explained above). My brother-in-law was raised believing that he had Native American ancestry and was interested in testing after seeing the research I was doing for the family, so my sister ordered him a test. We were very surprised to learn that, instead of Native American ancestry, he had a fairly significant amount of African ancestry. To make a long story short, his results inspired me to research his traditional genealogy where I easily discovered that he is directly descended from Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson! Currently, my brother-in-law and his discovery are featured in the Smithsonian Museum’s Genome Exhibit. You can read more details about his story in a blog post I wrote here: http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2011/09/dna-test-spurs-surprising-discovery-of.html.
Rebekah: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
CeCe: Yes, although I have quite a few still standing! I’m sure if I had more time to work on my own research, a few of those would have already fallen.
When I first started DNA testing, we knew that my maternal grandmother’s family was supposed to have been Finnish, but we had no clues at all to the identity of her grandparents because her parents had changed their surname and cut off communication with their families when they came to America around the turn of the last century. As a result, my grandmother never knew any of her grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
Testing my mtDNA confirmed that my matrilineal line was of Finnish origin and put me in touch with DNA cousins in Finland who visited the local parishes for me and extended the Finnish branches of my family tree back many generations. Thanks to these wonderfully generous researchers, I am now in touch with a large number of my third cousins in Finland through whom I have learned much more about my Finnish family than I ever thought was possible. I just wish my grandmother were alive to see it! This isn’t a traditional success story since I wasn’t able to determine the common ancestor with my mtDNA matches, but it serves as a reminder that unexpected benefits can come from genetic genealogy!
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?
CeCe: Yes, I administer and co-administer a number of public projects (some of them quite small); including Proctor, Travis, Jefferson, Heming/Hemings, Aumack, Jeter, Huffer, Stoalabarger/Stolebarger, Unknown Fathers DNA, and the Adopted DNA Projects. I also administer several private and Finding Your Roots production account projects.
When I became more actively involved in genetic genealogy a few years ago, I discovered that some of my ancestral surnames were orphaned projects, so I took them under my wing. The discovery about my brother-in-law’s ancestry inspired me to start the Jefferson/Hemings Autosomal DNA Project, which in turn led me to take over the inactive Jefferson and Hemings FTDNA Surname Projects. Becoming heavily involved in research for those with unknown genetic roots in the last couple of years resulted in my involvement with the Adopted Project and my founding of the Unknown Fathers DNA Project.
Rebekah: Have you witnessed success stories in your projects?
CeCe: Yes, particularly in the Adopted DNA Project. We are seeing an increasing number of adoptees (and others with unknown parentage) reunited with their birth families through DNA testing. I believe that we are finally reaching a critical mass in the databases that is, in part, responsible for the large number of reunions we are currently witnessing. Another essential component to these successes is the work we have been doing to determine the most effective strategies for working with these types of cases. It took us a couple of years to perfect the methodology, but it is clear that it is working on a large scale now.
Rebekah: What advice would you give someone starting out in genealogy or personal ancestry DNA testing?
- Always interview and test the oldest generation before it is too late.
- Make sure that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type of test and that the test you choose is applicable to your goals and research question(s).
- Read, read, and read (until your eyes cross!) the genetic genealogy mailing lists and blogs so you can make the best use of your results.
- Never underestimate the potential of DNA testing for genealogy.
- Expect unexpected surprises!
- Be prepared to get nothing else done!
Rebekah: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
CeCe: Although it is difficult to imagine surpassing the excitement surrounding the world of genetic genealogy in the last year or so, I believe that the discoveries and capabilities are going to become increasingly astounding in the next few years with the innovation of our citizen scientists and favorite companies. For example, we will eventually reach a point where we can determine with much greater specificity which traits we inherited from our ancestors. In this regard, those of us who have started mapping our chromosomes will be well poised to take advantage of the many discoveries that geneticists will, undoubtedly, make in the coming years. Further, as the databases continue to grow, we will even be able to reconstruct, at least, portions of the genomes of our ancestors, especially those who have large numbers of descendants. This is one of my goals for the Jefferson/Hemings Autosomal DNA Project, and I can already see that it will, eventually, become a reality.
I also think that there will come a time in the not-too-distant future where anyone who wishes to discover and explore his or her genealogy will be able to do so through genetic genealogy and without the frustratingly difficult searches that are too often the norm now. This will hold true for those who are often currently denied this knowledge such as adoptees, foundlings, and the descendants of enslaved Americans. As a genealogist, I strongly believe that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to learn about his or her family history and heritage. The good news is that we are getting closer and closer to this being a reality. Before long, the reunion stories that seem so amazing now will become common-place and will no longer be fodder for human-interest news stories.
I can say with complete confidence that we can’t even begin to truly imagine all that the future holds for this field!