Learn DNA in a Group: SIGs

Kathie Knoll

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Have you considered learning DNA in a genealogy society DNA special interest group? Here are tips and inspiration for anyone who may want to join a DNA SIG—or even start one.

Meet Susan from Florida, USA. She volunteers in a DNA SIG, or special interest group, within a genealogy society. What their DNA SIG is doing is inspiring—and it’s helping their local society thrive! So we wanted to share it with you. But first, here’s how Susan found her way there.

Getting Started in Genealogy

“My journey into genealogy started with Alzheimer’s,” she says. “Yep, the disease that steals your memory and your loved ones. I was blessed to be the primary caregiver for my mom during the last two years of her life and realized, as I made index cards and posters to help her remember her family members, that I was the oldest child and had the most memories of our grandparents and great-grandparents and I needed to record them.”  A cousin got her started in genealogy by sharing her tree with her.


After her mother passed away, Susan joined the Pinellas Genealogy Society. “It is an amazing club that offers over 200 different free classes on genealogy every year!” exclaims Susan. “At that time, there was nothing on DNA. A few years later, I asked the President of the club, ‘What is this DNA stuff all about?’ and he sat me down and drew pictures to explain genetic inheritance in the most basic terms.”

Susan was hooked. “I started taking courses on-line and immediately asked and was granted permission to start a DNA Interest Group where we could teach and learn from each other,” she recalls. She led a DNA SIG of about 20 people for about six months until another volunteer offered to help expand her efforts.

“Between the two of us, we created ‘DNA DAY’ on the 4th Tuesday of every month (except December),” Susan says. “We offered a DNA Basics class in the morning and had the Interest Group in the afternoon. We soon had 50 people coming monthly. Diahan Southard came and spoke to the society as a whole and we got even more new members.”

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“Soon, our interest group mailing list exceeded 150! Now, we’ve developed 3 different ‘basics’ classes that we rotate through each month, and added a monthly discussion group that takes the Advanced Genetic Genealogy book [edited by Debbie Parker Wayne] one chapter at a time. It’s still over my head, but I’m learning and at age 71, that’s important!!”

“Since March (and COVID) we’ve had to hold our meetings on Zoom, instead of meeting in person,” Susan continues. But she’s seen some positive results from meeting virtually. “Now, our snowbirds who migrated north for the summer are able to keep involved and we’ve met many new friends from California, Colorado and other states who are joining us for one of our sessions. Even after 4 years, we’re not experts, we are still just friends learning together…and having fun!”

Continuing DNA Education

In addition to leading the Pinellas Genealogy Society special interest sessions, doing her own genealogy and helping society members learn Zoom technology, Susan just completed a Your DNA Guide Academy workshop.

“I can’t wait for the [society] meeting this month when I can tell them about the amazing 5-week DNA Skills Workshop I participated in with Diahan,” she wrote to us. “They will be so impressed with how she helped me use DNA evidence to support the identification of my great-great-grandfather. I was [also] able to use DNA to disprove the long-rumored family stories of my great-grandmother’s heritage. The skills Diahan taught [me have] made all the difference!

Editor’s note: Susan will share her discoveries in an upcoming article. Meanwhile, back to the SIG….

Tips for a Successful DNA SIG

Susan offers a few tips for being successful in a DNA special interest group, whether you’re participating or running it.

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  • Consistency: They meet on a regular schedule, separate from the society’s regular meetings to keep up their learning.
  • Beginners-and-beyond resources: They attract and train new members with their 3 “basics” classes, and then offer more advanced learners the chance to dive in deeper.
  • Expert DNA speakers. Diahan’s presentation to the entire society attracted new members who were interested in DNA testing, but who hadn’t necessarily wanted to learn about genealogy.
  • Pace yourselves and enjoy the group. Some individuals might learn more quickly than others, but keep the pace of the whole group realistic (such as a book chapter at a time). That allows all to participate and enjoy themselves.
  • Harness technology. Virtual meetings allow attendees to participate from any location. Even if meetings eventually return to in-person, for the coming months, DNA SIGs that meet virtually can have a huge impact well beyond their local boundaries.
  • Don’t stop learning. Continuing to build your own skills and sharpen your tools in your toolkit is an important part of being a mentor. Susan plans to share her knowledge of new skills built in the Your DNA Guide Academy workshop with her fellow society members.

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your DNA story and the wonderful tips for genealogical societies wanting to incorporate DNA into their curriculum of learning opportunities. You are a great DNA ambassador and inspiration to many!

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