Jennifer Zinck is a traditional genealogist, mother, wife, and most recently a member of the genetic genealogy community. Between parenting activities, she consults and works on her Ancestors Central blog. Jennifer lives in New England as did her ancestors before her.
Rebekah: Please tell me about yourself. Are you currently working or retired? What are your other hobbies or interests outside of genealogy?
Jennifer: I am the mom of four great kids, ranging from a first grader to a high school senior. They keep me very busy! When I am not chasing children, I devote as much time as possible to genealogy. While I still do some traditional genealogy client work, much of my work is now genetic genealogy related. I keep busy writing custom reports for individuals who have DNA tested themselves or loved ones. I love helping people to find answers to their questions by utilizing the knowledge harnessed from their cells. I also enjoy sharing my passion for both genealogy and DNA through lecture and workshop presentations.
My other interests include photography, travel, and socializing with friends. I’m not sure those can be classified as “outside” of genealogy.
Rebekah: How long have you been actively involved in genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field?
Jennifer: I became interested in genealogy in 2002 when my oldest son needed to make a family tree. My mother-in-law showed me her online genealogy database subscription, and I was instantly hooked.
I spent thousands of hours learning and doing. While I completed my graduate degree, I worked on genealogy in between semesters. I made the commitment to genealogy as a career in 2009.
Rebekah: At what point did you decide to become involved in genetic genealogy?
Jennifer: Autosomal DNA pulled me in. Prior to that, I had heard about DNA testing and found it fascinating but had never personally participated.
Rebekah: What genetic ancestry tests have you taken?
Jennifer: I have taken the Family Tree DNA Family Finder test, as well as other autosomal DNA tests. I have also taken a full sequence mitochondrial test and the National Geographic Geno 2.0 test.
Rebekah: Have you tested family members?
Jennifer: Lots! I tested a family member before I tested myself. I utilize traditional genealogy to locate descendants of target ancestors.
Rebekah: Have you ever been surprised by your or your family’s test results?
Jennifer: I have three cases of “NPEs,” or non-parental events, in my extended family test results. In one case, I was able to determine that the grandmother was likely pregnant before getting married. In another, I am currently doing additional testing to narrow down the NPE event. The third was the most shocking to me. I was still trying to reconcile the situation in my mind when the tester asked me, “Can my test show that my father is not my biological father?” The answer is most definitely yes when other family members have tested for comparison.
Just last week, something really neat happened. I have known for a few years that my maternal fourth cousin had been best friends with my paternal first cousin 1x removed. I found this to be ironic but that’s par for the course in genealogy. I have also known for a few years that the fourth cousin’s mom shares a piece of DNA with me that I do not share with my mother but I had put that information to the back of my mind. Well, imagine my surprise when that maternal fourth cousin’s mom matched that first cousin 1x removed and another paternal kit in the same spot! Best friends for life actually share common ancestors, probably somewhere in the last five or so generations in Ireland. Talk about small world!
Rebekah: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Jennifer: My biggest DNA brick wall had been finding a sample of Y-DNA for my father’s line. My father died several years ago. I had no known siblings other than one full sister. My father did not have any brothers. My father’s father had one brother, but his sons did not respond to messages left for them.
I found one very cooperative volunteer by following two more generations up the tree and then back down. Sadly, he and I did not match on Family Finder and his Y-DNA had no match to the expected surname.
Each week, I typically lamented my lack of male line DNA no less than two or three times. On January 15, 2014, I had the usual thoughts about how to find a person to test. Would I ever find someone? How can this be fair?
Then I received an email. My father had a son! I chatted with him that night and then the next morning,
I drove to his house, test kit in hand. He asked me, “Are you really going to do that?” He didn’t have a clue that I had been wishing for him like nothing else in the world. I knew just looking at him that he had to be my father’s son. If he wasn’t my brother, as my grandmother used to say, I’d eat my shirt.
I called from my newly-found brother’s kitchen and spoke with Jeremy at Family Tree DNA. I asked him to activate the kit for Family Finder and Y-DNA 67. My brother swabbed so hard he drew blood, just like I did when I did mine. (That is really not necessary or suggested, by the way!) I mailed the kit the next day and about a month later, his Family Finder kit results showed that he matched me and my sister perfectly as half-brother.
For my birthday, his Y-DNA 37 marker results arrived. They match the expected surname! He’s grouped in his surname project and awaiting the next panel results. I couldn’t be more excited!
Rebekah: Are you involved as a group project administrator? If so, what made you decide to become involved? What projects do you administrate or co-administrate?
Jennifer: I use private projects for autosomal DNA. I became an administrator out of necessity. I needed a way to manage and compare test kits. I am a project administrator for Zinck, a small surname project.
Rebekah: Have you witnessed success stories in your projects?
Jennifer: Absolutely! My descendant studies have been wonderful for confirming relationships and finding new cousins.
Rebekah: What advice would you give someone starting out in genealogy or personal ancestry DNA testing?
Jennifer: Test the oldest person in your family first. Family Tree DNA stores samples for twenty-five years.
Rebekah: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
Jennifer: Great things! I am excited to watch as more and more people test and piece together the DNA puzzle of our ancestors.