By: Katherine Borges

Birth of an Administrator

The first time I heard of using DNA to solve genealogical puzzles happened at a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting in April 2003. Quite frankly, I did not understand much of the speaker’s presentation. But I did learn that she had used FamilyTreeDNA Y-chromosome DNA testing to successfully break through her paper trail’s dead end. As soon as I arrived home, I made a proposal to my cousins to try DNA testing. We had been trying to determine whether four males with the same surname in Ninety Six, South Carolina from the 1790 US Federal Census were even related.

They Had Me at “Discount”

Three Y-chromosome tests were ordered, and our first DNA match was in October 2003. I called FamilyTreeDNA with some questions about the results. The customer service representative who answered the phone, Mark Price, asked, “Why don’t you have these kits in a surname project?” I had never heard of a surname project. He explained, “It’s when you group the results together for comparison, and you get a discount1 on future orders.” I didn’t hear anything beyond that. He had me at discount!

The Tell-Tale Star

In June of 2004, I established two more surname projects for fairly common ancestral surnames and gave DNA presentations for two lineage societies. That summer, FamilyTreeDNA announced their first International Conference on Genetic Genealogy to be held in Houston, Texas in 2004. At the time, I thought I knew quite a bit about Y-chromosomal DNA but wanted to learn more about mitochondrial DNA, so I signed up. The company sent us a questionnaire to gauge our level of knowledge. Because I had given those two presentations, I ended up with a ranking right below expert. The conference was top-notch, and as the fire hose of genetic knowledge was sprayed across the audience, it began to dawn on me just how much I didn’t know. The little green “almost expert” star on my name tag beat as a tell-tale heart for this over-ranked newbie.

Katherine Borges at the International Conference on Genetic Genealogy

Life-changing Swag

Part of our conference swag included the book “Trace Your Roots With DNA” by Ann Turner and Megan Smolenyak. I normally sleep on flights, but I voraciously devoured every word in the book on my flight home. Megan was a speaker at the conference too, and she shared how some DNA administrators had been discriminated against for posting about DNA on mailing lists and forums. This eventually even happened to me; I was banned from a mailing list for a post deemed commercial. I was in tears! How was I going to promote the project when I was banned from the list where I could share it? And thus, The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) was formed just after the conference to promote and educate the use of DNA for genealogy.

Hakuna Matata Admin

As I approach my twentieth year as a volunteer Group Project Administrator, the most important lesson I can impart to new administrators or those considering becoming administrators is not to put too much pressure on yourself.

You don’t need to know it all or even a lot to be a Group Project Administrator, you can learn as you go along. There are many resources in place to help you; FamilyTreeDNA has a Help Center and Forums, along with Customer Service Representatives. And you can also receive free help from your peers at ISOGG, either on the mailing list or in a Facebook group. My home office has a shelf full of DNA books, many from past FamilyTreeDNA conferences. There are also plenty of free educational sources on the web as well. Like the award-winning ISOGG wiki and the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, which is a free, open-source quarterly journal written by and for genetic genealogists.

Save the Date

The 2023 FamilyTreeDNA International Conference on Genetic Genealogy will be held in Houston the first weekend of November, and barring disaster, I will be there. I plan my year around this conference and have not missed one yet. That is how important it is to me as a learning tool. Not only do I learn new things there, but the company usually debuts new features and/or new products at the conference as well. Registration is usually limited to 200 in-person attendees, including administrators, co-administrators, and their guests.

A Variety of Co-Admins

Currently, I am listed as a Group Project Administrator on over twenty DNA projects at FamilyTreeDNA. Some of those projects are near and dear to my heart, and for others, I am there to support and mentor other administrators who are learning.

Nearly all of my projects have co-admins with a variety of duties. Some co-admins are there to answer emails and/or sort results, while others maintain the genealogies of participants. Some co-administrators are there to recruit testers, and others read academic research (e.g., haplogroup projects) to add to the project website. I try not to put pressure on my co-administrators; they are there to learn, and I am grateful for their time and the assistance they give to the project.

You might wonder what they get out of it. Two of my personal favorite perks are attending the conference and having access to results to corroborate paper genealogies.

Genetic Genealogist Besties

My favorite perk of being a DNA Project Administrator is the friendships that are formed. Some of the brightest people on this planet gravitate toward genetic genealogy, and there’s not enough space here to share how they’ve benefited our community.

To at least give one example, Leo Little was the first pioneer in the genetic genealogy community to research null alleles. He was my mentor before he passed away unexpectedly in 2008. Leo mentored me through the founding of my Null448 DNA Project, and just last year, I took over the 9919andMultiRecLOH project. FamilyTreeDNA named their “L” series SNPs after Leo and just recently added Leo Little’s SNP to the “Notable Persons” category in the Discover Haplogroup Report too.

If you’re interested in becoming a Group Project Administrator or co-administrator, write to, and know that help and support are only a click away.

About Katherine Borges

About Katherine Borges

Katherine Borges is the Co-Founder and Director of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), which promotes and educates about genetic genealogy to over 30,000 members in over 70 countries. She works to increase professional standards in the practice, research, and discussion of relevant issues in DNA testing, interpretation, and ethics. Katherine gives many presentations on genetic genealogy to groups across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

1Group Project discounts were offered until January 2020, when they were discontinued. However, sponsoring and funding may be available through your Group Project. Check with your administrators for more information.

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