Thursday, July 5, 2018

An Interview With Curtis Rogers: The Man With the Idea that Sparked GEDmatch

I love writing about GEDmatch. It is one of my top favorite genealogy tool sites. I often use GEDmatch in conjunction with WikiTree and the interactive DNA Painter shared cM Relationship tools. With three sites open at the same time I can bounce back and forth between tabs to get a “bigger picture” and make notes in my GEDmatch DNA Workbook.

If you haven’t uploaded to GEDmatch this is my favorite video tutorial for doing so. CLICK HERE. In my opinion, this video by Angie Bush remains one of the best. Seven minutes into the video the instructions begin.  

Curtis Rogers fanned the spark of an idea which resulted in the bright light that now illuminates the path to find family whether using GEDmatch for traditional or genetic genealogy.

GEDmatch has tools for traditional genealogists to compare Gedcoms quickly, eliminating the eye-crossing study of trees. You can compare two Gedcoms to each other or your Gedcom to the entire database of millions and millions of surname entries. To keep you from missing someone in your line, if a match doesn’t have the same ancestor but has a different family member in their tree you can discover this by setting your own parameters. You can catch anyone with a similar name, or spouse’s name in the same geographic area within a given time frame. How awesome is that? This tool aids with Y surname project studies as well.

When autosomal DNA came along GEDmatch seemed for a long time a best-kept secret of many genealogists for comparing matches who tested at different companies. If you have heard the term “fishing in all the ponds,” dive into GEDmatch and experience ocean fishing.

When I mention “ocean fishing” Curtis Rogers does not fear the sharks as you can see in this picture -- Curtis not only works hard, he plays hard.  That’s Curtis in the front right of the image. 

I'm honored Curtis agreed to this interview so everyone can get to know this Yankee Doodle Dandy a little better. He celebrated his eightieth birthday on the 4th of July.

Please share with us a little about your life outside of GEDmatch. What do you like to do to relax and take a break?

I look forward to semi-retiring, climbing on a cruise ship and getting away from pressure for an extended period.  I say “semi-retiring” because I would go crazy if I did not have my computer and some work to do.

What is a typical workday like for you?

At least 8 hours working on GEdmatch projects and doing my “day job” work when I can. My day job is a Professional Guardian.  I need to visit and handle the affairs of my wards.

What countries have you visited that created an “I’ve been here before” feeling (if any)?

I have lived overseas, been around the world seven times, visited where my ancestors lived, but sorry to say, I have never had a deja vu feeling.  

At what age did you first get interested in genealogy?

In my teens when a distant relative wrote asking me to fill out a form about my ancestry.

Have you had any big surprises when you were studying your family history?

Not really.  It is nice to know I am distantly related to both George Washington and Winston Churchill.

Were there any major skeletons in the closet you hesitated sharing with your family? (If you have one you don’t mind sharing, please do.)

Not yet but it would not surprise me.

What changes have you experienced in genealogy since you started doing it?

When I started there was no such thing as personal computers and the internet was still 30 years away.  We did a lot more research in places such as musty county courthouses, libraries and cemeteries.

Where were you and what were you doing when you had the first “A-ha” moment for creating a program that would compare Gedcoms?

I don’t recall but it grew out of frustration for spending hours emailing back and forth to try and find common ancestors with DNA matches.  When autosomal DNA came into use for genealogy the interest in finding common ancestors increased exponentially.

How long did you discuss the idea with others before you were put in contact with John Olson?

No others.  I just asked John if he could develop an algorithm to match family trees for the Rogers Surname group I ran.  He is an absolute genius and developed a program that I knew could be beneficial to genealogy researchers.  

At what point did you decide to make GEDmatch publically available?


What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome to make GEDmatch a reality?

Lack of money and equipment.

Was expanding into tools for genetic genealogy a logical next step? Who suggested it?

I don’t recall if John developed the program on his own but if not I still give him full credit.

Please share the story about when the servers went down and the decision to monetize part of GEDmatch so you could keep servers up and running.

In the early days, our servers were in a remote location that we had difficulty accessing. Something as simple as a thunderstorm could knock them out. There were periods when we would be offline for weeks at a time.  It is amazing that many of our early users stayed with us.  I am not sure at what point we developed Tier 1.

When did you first notice GEDmatch was really becoming popular with genetic genealogists?

Probably when my wife stopped asking why I was spending so much time on this silly project.  This happened when her friends sent her emails praising GEDmatch.

Have you noticed an uptick in membership since people have been made aware that law enforcement will be using the site?

Things seem pretty much the same now as before.  Usage always is increasing and the trend has continued.

Where do you imagine genetic genealogy will be in the next ten years?

There are so many more programs we want to add to GEDmatch.  I believe even with our beta program, Genesis, we will be making a big leap forward in the usage of genetic genealogy when we get the program in its final form.

What are your wildest imaginings for genetic genealogy in the future?

Genetic genealogy will be one small aspect of personal genetics.  It will be common for people to have their genome tested.  Hopefully, they will have full control of their results, then they can choose how their data can be used.  If a doctor needs information then that part of their genome can be made available to him by the person who was tested. If the owner is interested in genealogy, They can use the appropriate part of the genome for that.  Etc for other potential uses.    

What benefits will the new Genesis tool provide?

In addition to being able to find matches with many DNA tests that are not traditional genealogical tests, we hope the data will be more sensitive.

Any best guesstimate as to when Genesis will release?

My best guesstimate was that it will be ready by last Christmas.  After that, I gave up guesstimating.

If there were something users of GEDmatch could do to thank you for this wonderful gift you and John Olson have brought to the field of genealogy, what would it be?

Continue doing what they are now doing.  GEDmatch has the most intelligent, creative, innovative, supporting group of users on the internet.  Most of all they are caring.  They care about family, about helping others (such as when having difficulty on our site), and have been there for GEDmatch with support and understanding whenever we have difficulties.  We at GEDmatch thank them.

I want to thank Curtis again for taking time from his busy schedule to share with us.

Take a moment to show your appreciation to these wonderful geniuses at GEDmatch by uploading your Gedcom (no matter how small) or link from WikiTree.

Adoptees, please note, a link from WikiTree to GEDmatch containing a personal profile page with pictures of you at different stages of your life is the perfect opportunity for your matches to reach out to you. You can post details - dates, location and the story of your search on your profile page along with a list of surnames you are coming across in your searches. You never know when a grandma may click to look and know immediately -- you are “one of hers.”

From this searching grandma, Happy Finding!

And, I’m still having a blast!

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