RootsTech 2017, DNA and New Cousins!

Along with 20,000 of my “closest friends,” I spent three days at the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah February 12-14. This is my fourth year attending, and I continue to be dazzled at the variety of sessions and topics offered. With the surge of interest in Greek genealogy, I attended sessions on Italian and French ancestry to learn tips for teaching ethnicity research.

Both presenters did not discuss U.S. collections but focused exclusively on the records available online and on-site in their countries. Their lectures covered:

1. the types of records found in civil and ecclesiastical collections and the date range of those collections

2. the vital importance of understanding the geographic boundaries and the country’s history to ascertain which government had control of the records at varying times;

3. the structure of other repositories (e.g., libraries, archives) and the resources found in each.

These classes were of significant value to me as I prepare for two Greek genealogy conferences this year (New York City in April; Salt Lake City in September).

At a vendor’s booth, I was thrilled to find issues of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors and Tracing Your Eastern European Ancestors. Both of these are filled with “how-to” tips such as visiting ancestral villages, strategies for successful research, locating online resources. These articles will be of tremendous help in structuring classes for Greek researchers.

Italian Genealogy

I also attended several sessions on DNA and Genetic Genealogy. This field has become a hot topic in the past two years, as more people learn how to connect with others who descend from a common ancestor. Although I have taken both an autosumnal (or Family Finder) test and a mitochondrial test, I have not followed up on contacting “matches” as my time has been spent on analyzing records I got in Sparta last summer.

But that has now dramatically changed! Thanks to an Ancestry DNA autosumnal test, I can introduce you to my new cousins, Aidin (Dini) Malaj and his sister, Disola!

Melanie and Dini Malaj, me, Disola and Auston Horst.

Melanie and Dini Malaj, me, Disola and Auston Horst.

Dini and Disola were born in Albania and came to the U.S. to study. Here, they married and are now living close together in Utah while their parents remain in their village in Albania. But Dini and Disola were not the first in their family to come to America. Their grandfather, Bexhet Mala, emigrated and lived for several years in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he worked in the mills. He returned to Albania to fight in the Balkan Wars (if I remember correctly), married and remained in his country.

Interestingly, Dini’s father has been collecting the family history predominantly through oral tradition, as many records in Albania have been destroyed over the years (sometimes by Greeks — ouch!) Now Dini has picked up this mantle and is using DNA and other contemporary resources to expand his family lines. And, happily — that extension has led to me!

It is both thrilling and paradigm-shaking to look into the eyes of newly-found cousins and to comprehend that, as different as we are, we share a common ancestor. I am Greek; my parents and grandparents are Greek; I have walked the paths in my grandparents’ villages and I know from whence they came. I have read about various migrations of Albanians into Greece and I have seen the ethnicity breakdown of my DNA test so this new dimension of my family history should not come as a surprise. But it does!

Ethnicity map

I thought I knew who I was, but my visit with Dini and Disola and a second, more critical look at my ethnicity map has awakened me to many more new and exciting ancestral possibilities!

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