A Modern Trend
My family tree and the stories that connect it have been “work in progress” for the last 40 years. It now comprises of more than 65,000 people. The paper trails that exist are essentially complete. However, I am finding that these decades of investigations have only been necessary preparatory steps for the move into the citizen science of genetic genealogy.
Having such a large family tree enables me to quickly find the paper connection to most genetic cousins but also highlights those areas of mystery when there is no trail. One day, DNA may answer all those questions too.
For the last two years I have been untangling the twists in my own DNA and helping others who match me to do the same. For cousins, I do this on a voluntary basis and try to educate as I go. Genetic genealogy is still new and not widely understood, despite the proliferation of testing to find your ancestral roots.
Collaboration with DNA Matches is Essential
Collaboration is the first of “Seven C’s” I use when working with others on mutual DNA projects. The full “Seven C’s” will be discussed in a future blog post. A willingness to collaborate is essential, otherwise there is no advancement beyond knowing that you match and not how and why you match. Small matches also have to be verified as likely to be genuine and not coincidential.
Having tested, most have some preliminary results and don’t know what to do next. The testing companies rarely provide guidance and approaches can be viewed with suspicion due to lack of understanding. As a result, it is a struggle to get genetic matches to even respond to messages and requests. For example, a lot more can be learned for free, simply by sharing results on the GEDmatch platform.
Over 99% of people approached on all three main testing sites (Ancestry, FTDNA & MyHeritage) do not respond to enquiries. Most have insufficient knowledge to understand what to do next, are perhaps only interested in their ethnicity or are dormant accounts. DNA are three letters that often spell “scary” and for some it can be understandably hard to get beyond that. In reality, it is not too difficult to pick up. There are some excellent beginners information around in blogs and at isogg.org, including the dispersal of many myths surrounding what can or cannot be learned from a DNA tested specfically designed for genealogy.
DNA Testing is Getting Serious
DNA testing kits for ethnicity have been sold for fun, but there is a much serious side to having done a DNA test. Ethics are still being discussed. The conclusion so far is that there is no right or wrong. The French Government, for example, still bans DNA testing for genealogical purposes, keeping that matter under state control. French citizens, it appears, do not have the right to their own personal DNA information. This is particular frustrating for those of us who have close French branches and would like to genetically prove it. However, it hasn’t stopped some French citizens obtaining kits through neighbouring EU states, as match lists attest.
Elsewhere, testing continues where it is recognised (certainly by the testing companies themselves and those DNA result-sharing platforms) that the sample is owned by the person who provided it, but can be managed by others with informed consent. Viewed as an indiviuals property, a DNA sample and the results have to be considered as such when considering legacy issues.
Your DNA Result is Your Legacy
No-one likes to discuss what happens when you are gone, but most of us take precautions through estate planning – making a Will, having life insurance, making our wishes known to friends and family, or taking out a funeral plan. Some legal professionals, who are also genealogist & involved in genetic genealogy, are beginning to recognise that DNA has to be included in estate planning to protect the legacy. As a tester, you may wish to have your results available to your descendants. Having done some research into this, I will be discussing how to preserve your DNA legacy in another post.
Mark Grace, Resident Genealogist