Monday, February 6, 2017

NERGC Interview ~ Diahan Southard

The 14th biennial New England Regional Genealogical Consortium will be held in Springfield, Massachusetts from April 26-29. Visit the website for all the conference information and register before February 28 to get the early bird discount!

Several New England Geneabloggers were invited to interview some of the speakers and I have the pleasure of sharing my interview with Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard.

Following are the questions I posed and her answers:

Elizabeth Handler: What got you interested in genealogy and how long have you been doing it?

Diahan Southard: Genetics actually got me interested in genealogy. It started back in college in 1998 when I first heard the idea that we could create a database of genetics and genealogy that would help us identify how we were related to others, and help us find out where in the world we came from. That project eventually became the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF), the first of its kind.

EH: Your bio says you have spent 15 years in the genetic genealogy industry. I didn’t realize that genetic genealogy was even a “thing” in 2002. What did you do in the early years?

DS: In the early years I worked for SMGF in various capacities. I spent a good deal of time working for their for-profit arm, called Relative Genetics. I did everything from the actual lab work, to the computer analysis, to sales and marketing, to training the executive team (a bunch of business guys) on what exactly DNA had to do with genealogy.

EH: One of your sessions at NERGC is “Your DNA in Action: Real Time, Hands-On Fun” (a great title). Can you share anything about this session?

DS: I am always excited to break out of the traditional lecture mode. It is so much more fun to have hands-on, real life experiences. I find that even if you pay very close attention in a lecture and take copious notes, when you get home and look at your computer and your actual results, things just look different. So here is a chance for you to sit down with your own results and do as I am doing - and ask all of your questions along the way.

EH: Many genealogists will recognize you from Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems podcast, where you explain various DNA concepts in easy-to-understand segments (pardon the pun). When and how did you start participating in her podcasts?

DS: Isn't Lisa the best!! She and I are so similar in our style, enthusiasm and passion that when we first met at the Florida Genealogical Societies Conference in the spring of 2014 we knew we were meant to work together. That very day, when the conference was over, I sat down with Lisa and Sunny and we talked about all the fun ways we could combine our talents to create fun and easy to understand content for other genealogists. We decided right away that I would blog and podcast for her, and that I would write DNA quick sheets that she would publish. This partnership has far exceeded my expectations and I continue to learn and benefit from Lisa's knowledge and expertise. When I grow up, I want to be just like her!

EH: Have you attended NERGC in the past? What are you most looking forward to at NERGC 2017 (besides enjoying the company of hundreds of other genealogists)?

DS: I have, actually! It was many many moons ago. It was when I was working for Relative Genetics, I believe, and I came to NERGC to man a booth and talk to genealogists about this new thing called Genetic Genealogy. I just love the northeast and its natural beauty. I am excited to see real Spring, since here in Florida we kind of skip over that season.

Diahan will be teaching the following sessions at the conference:
Your DNA in Action: Real Time, Hands-On Fun (Saturday 10:00-11:00 a.m.)
Your DNA and Your Origins (Saturday 3:15 - 4:15 p.m.)

She is also teaching "Five Tips to Make Sense of Your DNA Testing" at the Pre-Conference Beginning DNA Day, which will be on Wednesday, April 26, and requires an additional registration. The conference brochure suggests that you register early for this Beginning DNA Day because seats are limited.


  1. Fascinating. Digging down into the DNA details has stymied me so her talk sounds really interesting. Thanks for this interview!

    1. The best way to learn about DNA for genealogy is to do lots of reading AND to listen to as many genetic genealogists as you can. They all describe it in slightly different ways and there's always something to learn.

      Thanks for the comment!