Hide and Seek at 23andMe, DNA Relatives Consent, Opt-In, Opt-Out and Close Relatives

To say that the matching policies at 23andMe are confusing is an understatement. Of course, that would imply that we could figure out what those policies are, this week, exactly.  What I have been able to discern is that there is widespread confusion about the entire topic.  This is my attempt to figure out which end is up, and who can see whom, under what circumstances.  I feel like this is a high-tech game of Hide and Seek, a game customers should not have to be playing.

hide and seek

On October 17, 2014, I received this e-mail for one of the 23andMe accounts that I manage. I did not receive it for any of the other accounts that I manage at 23andMe.

When I clicked on the “can’t miss it” red block in the e-mail, it did absolutely nothing. However, by clicking on the “view as a web page” link, clicking on the “Confirm your DNA Relatives participation” took me to the 23andMe signon screen.

I signed in, but was not taken to the account in question. When I switched to that account, this is what I saw – in essence, a second warning.

hide and seek2

I was not allowed to proceed further until I clicked on yes or no.

Of course, this begs the question of why my other accounts weren’t asked the same question. With the exception of one, they are sharing in DNA Relatives too.

It also made me wonder about the sharing with Close Relatives option.

I decided to check the DNA Relatives Option information in the Privacy/Consent settings, but there was nothing further.  You can visit your consent options by clicking on the down arrow by your name, shown on the upper right hand corner of the screen shot below, and selecting “account settings.”

hide and seek3

So, what the heck happened to the close relatives option?

It seems that 23andMe discontinued the “close relatives” opt-in or opt-out, according to their June blog article, below.

hide and seek4hide and seek5

At this point, if you had not ‘opted out’ then it was assumed that you had in effect ‘opted in’ and all of your matches including your close relatives would be shown.

But then the VOX article was published in September and the proverbial stuff hit the fan.

The day of the expected default opt-in change, based on the June announcement (above), 23and Me posted a retraction of the June article, on their community forum, below.

Dear Community,

We made a change from what we promised and I want to apologize. We promised that the roughly 350,000 customers that had not consented to see Close Relatives in our DNA Relatives feature would be automatically opted in at the end of a 30 day notification period. I understand that that was extremely exciting for many of you to have so much data potentially come your way. It was unfortunately a mistake that we promised that.

I do not think it was ever the right call to promise that we would automatically opt-in those customers. Core to our philosophy is customer choice and empowerment through data. The Close Relatives features can potentially give a customer life changing information, like the existence of an unknown sibling or the knowledge that a relative is not biologically related to them. Customers need to make their own deliberate and informed decision if they want this information. It is 23andMe’s responsibility to make sure our customers have a choice and that they understand the potential implications.

The timing of the change is unfortunate and I apologize the announcement came late on a Friday night at the end of the 30 day period. The article in Vox made me and others look into the language in the consent form and that is when I learned about the proposed changes coming to the DNA Relatives community. As 23andMe has moved from being a start up to a bigger and more mature company, I am not involved in every decision. This is a decision that should have come to my attention but it did not. We will learn from that. 23andMe is hiring a Chief Privacy Officer and that too will help us avoid these types of mistakes in the future. We are also already planning to evolve the consent process to make it simpler and more clear for customers.

Going forward, we will continue to prompt the customers that have not made a choice about Close Relatives to make a choice. We understand how important that is to you. We will do a mix of emails to these customers and pop-up prompts at login to get customers to make a choice.

I apologize again for the disappointment and for not having clearly communicated the reason for reversing course. 23andMe continues to grow and pioneer the way we think about consumers exploring their DNA. While we continue to innovate we may also err along the way. We can only promise that we will always listen to and do right by you, our customer, and will never fear having to redirect our course when it is the right thing to do.

Sincerely, Anne Wojcicki

So, now it appears that unless someone has specifically ‘opted in’ to DNA Relatives as a whole, they are automatically ‘opted out,’ a 180 degree reversal.  Of course, if you were one of those 350,000 customers who received a notification about opting out, and did nothing, so that you could be opted in at the end of the 30 days referenced above, you would be thoroughly confused because you THINK you’re now opted in.

23andMe has a habit of posting information on their Forum which members must actively check, instead of sending e-mails to their customers or posting this kind of information on their blog that is sent by subscription. One of the forum followers was kind enough to point out this recent posting detailing changes that have occurred in October and the 23andMe policy moving forward.

hide and seek6hide and seek7It’s signed, Chistine on behalf of the 23andMe Product Team

I can find nothing on the current customer pages providing any information about these decisions or the match status of DNA Relatives/Close Relatives.

Furthermore, 23andMe is now asking some, but not everyone, who are opted in for DNA Relatives if they are sure. My account that was asked tested in 2010, so was not caught in the 2014 selection option confusion.

I feel that this methodology discourages many people from participation. It infers that there is something frightening that you ‘ought to be’ concerned about – especially if you are asked about the same topic several times.

In summary, here is, I think, what we know, as of October 16, 2014.

  • Everyone will have to make a specific choice to opt-in to DNA Relatives, one way or another, after testing.  If you don’t specifically opt-in, you are opted out.  Consent to test apparently doesn’t count as consent for DNA Relatives.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014 who were opted in to DNA Relatives but out of Close Relatives will be prompted to select an opt-in with close relatives included, or an opt-out entirely.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014, who did opt-in to participate in DNA Relatives, but did not have any selection to make about “Close Relatives” will be required to confirm that they want to continue in DNA Relatives before they can proceed to see their matches. This is apparently the e-mail that I received for one of my kits. It’s still a mystery why I never received it for the others who tested even earlier and clearly before the “Close Relatives” option existed.
  • Clients between June 5, 2014 and October 16, 2014 who were automatically opted in to DNA Relatives with close relatives included will also be prompted to confirm their participation in DNA Relatives and until they do confirm that option, they will not be visible nor able to view close relatives.
  • New customers will be prompted to opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives and opt-in will no longer be the default.
  • Participation in DNA Relatives will now include close relatives and that will not be a separate option.

I’m very glad to see that everyone who opts in to DNA Relatives includes close relatives. To do it any other way is not only confusing, it’s more than a little disingenuous, especially given that someone may not realize why their close matches aren’t showing.  I had more than one client have a panic attack when their family member wasn’t showing as a match, especially when they were expecting to see a parent or sibling.  In my opinion, having to enable the “close relatives” option caused huge problems and wholly unwarranted stress.  If it’s truly gone, never to return, I’m very glad and applaud 23andMe for that decision.

The bad news is that many of the 350,000 people referred to in the September community forum posting are still anonymous, and they many not even realize it. Many probably presumed, quite logically, that because they were taking a DNA test that included matches, that they would receive matches without having to do anything further.  Furthermore, they received the 30 day notification that they would be opted in if they did nothing, so they expected to be opted in.  But they aren’t.

Currently, at 23andMe, you have to jump through more hoops to obtain your genealogy results than you did (when they were providing health information) to obtain your health results.  I hope that the message provided to people who are making the “Opt In – Opt Out” decision can be worded a little more encouragingly and present both sides of the risk/reward coin.  I would hate for their entire response to be fear based due to the tone of the selection message and the fact that they have to answer this question repeatedly – like the dreaded Alzheimer’s health question – back when 23andMe was providing health results.

Here, let me give you an example vignette:

Hi, 23andMe, I’d like to test for genealogy matches.

Great, send me $99 and you’re on the way.

Spit…mail….waiting…waiting…

Good news, your results are back.  Do you want to opt into DNA Relatives?  You know you could find out information about your family that is upsetting to you?  It could change your family relations?

Really?  Hmmm…I think I want to see.  That’s why I tested.

Another e-mail:  Are you sure, really positive that you want to remain in DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out really upsetting information.  You can see other close relatives and they can see you.

Geeze, I don’t know….maybe not…I’ll wait till I sign on next time to deal with this.

Signing on next time….

Do you want to opt-in to DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out some really disturbing and upsetting things about your family?  It could change your relationship with your family members.

After repeating this warning several times, it begins to appear like 23andMe is discouraging your participation, not informing you of risks and rewards.  There is no upside mentioned, only repeated negatively framed warnings.  Given that genealogy/ancestry is the only reason for the consumer to purchase this product right now, this approach seems a bit counter-intuitive and overkill.  In the least, the warning should be given up front, during the purchase process, and then not constantly repeated.

However, given that 23andMe is still gathering your health information and utilizing it in their medical research, even if you opt-out or don’t opt-in to DNA Relatives, assuming you haven’t opted out of medical research as well, warning you up front would discourage a sale and would prevent them from collecting your genetic data.  In essence, 23andMe doesn’t care one bit whether you opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives, but they care a whole lot about your money and your participation in medical research.

The constant changes and hoopla are confusing people and frightening some. Others are becoming too discouraged by a lack of positive genealogical results to continue.

23andMe was first in the game with consumer autosomal testing, but their ever-changing policies have become and remain confusing. They have done nothing to clarify publicly, leaving everyone uncertain and a little reluctant.

23andMe entered the genealogy marketspace, but they seem to be focused on protecting people from genealogy matches. This seems almost like a conflict of interest, or may be better stated, a Kobayashi Maru, or no-win situation. It seems that the health testing aspect is causing 23andMe to adopt such restrictive procedures that it’s making the genealogy aspect of their product increasingly restrictive and difficult.  I’m sure this is reflective of their primary goal, which is medicine, and the fact that genealogists just happened to be interested in genetics as a tool was, for them, a happy accident that provided a source for test subjects.  Genealogy is not something 23andMe is primarily interested in.  I’m sure they aren’t making things difficult intentionally, but the net effect is far from encouraging.

I’m finding that their protections are barriers and the required steps are confusing for customers and self-defeating for genealogy, and they are, unfortunately, cumulative hurdles:

  • Having to specifically opt-in to DNA Relatives, even after consenting to test when purchasing the product which includes matching
  • Having to request to communicate with other participants
  • Having to request to “share DNA”
  • Having to confirm that yes, you really did want to ‘opt in’ to DNA Relatives
  • About a 10% communication request response rate
  • Most of the 10% of the people who do respond know little, if anything, about their genealogy, nor are they terribly interested
  • Having to utilize the 23andMe corporate message system instead of communicate with your matches via e-mail
  • Match limit at 1000 people unless you are communicating with more than that number. After 1000, matches fall off your list.
  • Their terrible trees. Yes, I realize they have recently partnered with My Heritage, but as Judy Russell says, we’ll see.
  • The misleading (health and ancestry) notation in a sharing request which frightens people as to why you want their health information, causing people to decline to share
  • Constant change about who you are/aren’t seeing as matches and why
  • Confusing and conflicting opt-in, opt-out information delivered on four different platforms; e-mail, on your personal page, their blog and their community forum.  In essence, this means that almost everyone except the most dedicated 23andMe follower misses at least part of the information.

23andMe is approaching the point where the pain level of participation is at the threshold of no longer being worthwhile except for extraordinary cases like adoptions where the participant is desperate for any possible crumb.

I thought more about this situation, and I believe that the underlying problem is a fundamental disconnect in the focus of the two groups.  23andMe’s corporate focus is and always has been health related research, compilation and manipulation of genomic “big data.”   Taking a look at their recent American Association of Human Genetics papers is a good yardstick of their corporate focus.  Not one paper mentions the genealogical aspect of their business, and even the paper that does indirectly help genealogists by reducing false positive identical-by-descent segments is presented from a medical perspective.  In essence, the genealogy community is a source for DNA for 23andMe.  They aren’t focused on genealogy or interested in serving this community.  That’s neither good nor bad…it’s just the way it is.

The genealogy community, on the other hand, is frustrated by the increasingly long list of confusing hurdles at 23andMe that people who test for genealogy must navigate before they can reap any of the potential benefits of matching for genealogical purposes.  Each successive hurdle reduces the number of people who complete the course and those who make it to the end are either the died in the wool genealogists who have tested elsewhere anyway or people with little or no knowledge of their genealogy.  Worst case, people who test at 23andMe for genealogy will leave with a bad taste in their mouth and never test again because, frankly, it’s neither easy nor fun.

We don’t know exactly how many people haven’t opted-in for DNA Relatives, but we can surmise some based on their publicly released information.  In the September retraction, 23andMe said that there were 350,000 who had not opted in, or out.  We don’t know how many have actively opted out.  In their ASHG abstract, they mention that 550,000 have consented for research.  That tells us that less than half of their clients are opted in for DNA Relatives, or about 200,000 (assuming no one opted out), or perhaps less now with the recent “are you sure” messages like I received.  Given that only 10% of the people who DO actively opt-in for DNA Relatives respond to inquiries, that’s a whole lot of people not clearing the hurdles for one reason or another.  Of their entire data base of 550,000, only about 20,000 people clear the hurdles and engage, or about 3.5%. That means that there are 530,000, or more if you include the unknown number of opt-outs, who don’t clear the hurdles.

I hope 23andMe gets their cumulative act together relative to genealogy customers. You’d think with genealogy customers being their only source of corporate revenue right now (except for government grants and venture capital), that they would be bending over backwards to make the genealogy related products and processes straightforward, accessible and easy to use.  Now would be a great time for some positive changes!

Family Tree DNA Announces *Free Autosomal Transfer from 23andMe and Ancestry

dna ballOne of the major announcements this past week at the Family Tree DNA administrator’s conference was that Family Tree DNA will now be accepting, and encouraging, free data transfers from both 23andMe (V3 chip only) and Ancestry.com.

*For free, you will be able to see your top 20 matches, but if you want to contact those matches or unlock the rest of the Family Finder functionality and tools at Family Tree DNA, you’ll need to pay $39 or recruit 4 additional people to upload their files, whether they pay to join or not.  Compared to retesting at $99 or the previous transfer price of $69, this is a great value.

Yesterday, I received this notification from Family Tree DNA that was sent to all project administrators.

As Senior Director of Product Michael Gugel shared at the recent conference, for the first time ever, people that have taken an AncestryDNA™ or 23andMe© (V3) test can transfer into the FTDNA databases for free by visiting https://www.familytreedna.com/AutosomalTransfer? and following the instructions to upload their raw data file.

Within an hour or two, we provide a preview of what’s waiting if they transfer by showing the top 20 matches along with an estimate of the total number of matches in the FTDNA database.

Full functionality can be unlocked by either paying $39 or recruiting four other people to upload, thus unlocking the rest of the matches.

Here are some important points to know:

  • We only accept the 23andMe V3 chip that was used on tests sold between November 2010 and approximately November 2013. There are a couple of ways to find out what chip was used for your test other than simply the timeframe. One is size; v3 chip files are about 7.83 MB where V2 and V4 chips are smaller. If you’re tech savvy, you can unzip the file and check chromosomes: Chromosome 1 for v3 starts at 82154 (rs4477212) where v4 starts at 734462 (rs12564807)and v2 starts with position 742429 (rs3094315).
  • We do not have any plans to accept V2 or V4 chips. if you try to upload the wrong chip version, the system will tell you that the file doesn’t have sufficient data. Since neither chip contains enough of the SNPs included in Family Finder, we would have to impute too much data. Basically we’d have to make assumptions about the missing SNPs that we’re just not willing to make at this point.

Blaine Bettinger at The Genetic Genealogist wrote detailed instructions about how to do the transfer and what to expect, so take a look.

At the $39 price, or recruit 4 and it’s entirely free, this transfer becomes the best autosomal vendor value available today. I know that people are already taking advantage of this offer, because I’m seeing new people join my projects and their item purchased indicates “free transfer.”

Spending the $39 (or recruiting 4 additional participants) allows you to unlock and access the following Family Finder features:

  • Full data base matching
  • Ability to contact matches directly via e-mail
  • Ability to join projects that accept autosomal participants
  • Ability to see matches by and within projects
  • Searching for matches by surname
  • Searching for matches by ancestral surname
  • Ability to view your matches family trees
  • Ability to upload your GEDCOM file or create your family tree to facilitate surname matching
  • Utilizing the “In Common With” tool to see who you and your matches both match
  • Utilizing the Matrix to see if your matches also match each other, suggesting a common ancestor
  • Seeing results on the Chromosome browser
  • myOrigins ethnicity information

The more kits in the data base, the more matches, so don’t wait.  You can’t lose by doing the free transfer and seeing what matches might be waiting for you.

DNA Buys the Truth

true-straight

Recently, George Doe, clearly a pseudonym, a man with a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology, a professional stem cell and reproductive biologist, related his story to Julia Belluz.  Vox published the resulting article titled, “With Genetic Testing I Gave My Parents the Gift of a Divorce.”  The original rather unflattering and somewhat derisory article by Julia is here, titled Genetic Testing Brings Families Together and Sometimes Tears Them Apart.

In these articles, Dr. Doe tells us that last year, in a class he was teaching, he used the 23andMe test to demonstrate how to collect a spit sample.

In fact, he was so excited that he bought kits for his parents as well:

“I had spent many years looking at the genes of other animals — particularly mice — but I never looked at my own. Because I was so excited about it, I got two 23andMe kits for my mom and dad as gifts. It’s a lot more fun when you can incorporate your family because you can trace not just the chromosomes but individual alleles on the chromosome so you don’t just see them, but where they came from. Also, I felt I had a good handle on my family’s medical history so I was very interested in confirming any susceptibility to cancers that I heard had run in my family, like colon cancer. I wanted to know if I had a genetic risk.”

But Dr. Doe found more than he anticipated.  He found a half brother, an adoptee, sired by his father.

“When I saw that I share about 22 percent of my genome with a person, I thought, “That’s huge.” It took a bit of time to realize Thomas and I actually share the same genome with my father. This is how it happened: when you share around 25 percent genetic similarity with someone, that means that either it’s your grandfather, uncle, or half-sibling. 23andMe listed Thomas as a grandfather, which was confusing to me. I called my dad. All I had was his name, Thomas, and the fact that he’s male. I just asked my dad, “Does this name sound familiar?” He said no. He logged into his account, and Thomas wasn’t showing up at all. I was so confused. We figured out that at the very bottom of your profile, there’s a little box that says “check this box if you want to see close family members in this search program.”

Dad checked it, and Thomas’ name appeared in his list. 23andMe said dad was 50 percent related with Thomas and that he was a predicted son.”

Given Dr. Doe’s next comments, one can surmise that this child was not conceived before Dr. Does’ parents married, nor was Dr. Doe’s father a sperm donor.

“Years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that have torn my nuclear family apart. My parents divorced. No one is talking to my dad. We’re not anywhere close to being healed yet and I don’t know how long it will take to put the pieces back together.”

Correction Note:  CeCe Moore provides information that Doe’s half-brother was conceived prior to the marriage, as reported by Belluz.  However, we don’t know that the conception was outside of the time span of the relationship of the parents.  CeCe also states that “both Neil Schwartzman and I were misquoted/misrepresented in the article. Neil says that he never told her it was a negative experience for him. (Some of my quotes have been changed – with no correction noted interestingly, but there is still some misrepresentation of our conversation.) So, this does make me wonder if Ms. Belluz got Doe’s story exactly right as well. Ms. Belluz clearly had an agenda and twisted the “truth” to support it.”

At this point, I felt really bad for the Doe family, and I still do.  But Dr. Doe’s next paragraph bothered me when I first read it and it bothers me now.

Instead of laying the blame for this problem where it clearly resides, at the feet of his father, he is unhappy instead with the testing company, in this case, 23andMe.

“After this discovery was made, I went back to 23andMe and talked to them. I said, “I’m not sure all your customers realize that when they participate in your family finder program, they’re participating in what are essentially really advanced paternity tests.” People find out that their parents aren’t who they think they are. They have nearly a million people in the database. If there happens to be anyone in there you’re related to, they’ll find your match. This is a solid science.”

Dr. Doe goes onto say;

“I don’t want to say if I knew that I wouldn’t have participated. But I’m really devastated at the outcome. I wrestle with these emotions. I love my family. This is nothing I ever would have wished. My dream would be to introduce Thomas to dad, to incorporate a new family tradition, to merge families. We all get to broaden our horizons and live happily ever after. At least right now, that’s not what happened. I still hold out hope that in time we can resolve things. But I also worry that as these transitions happen there may have been some permanent emotional damage that may not be able to be undone.”

Dr. Doe goes on to say that 23andMe isn’t doing enough to protect the public from themselves, in essence.  23andMe did and does have a special box to click to indicate that you DO want to see close relatives.  Most people have no idea that this box even exists, let alone that they need to click it.  In fact, the mere fact that you have to click the box, and it’s not front and center, makes your results unreliable because you believe that you’re seeing all of your results, when you aren’t.  He even describes how this option confused his father and his father could not see his children.  His father isn’t the only one.  This option has caused more panic among families that “should” match until someone explains this hidden “Opt In” option and where they have to click.

Now, I’ve been quiet all week, mulling this situation over.  While I was mulling, 23andMe, who had previously announced that they were going to make seeing close relatives an “opt out” instead of an “opt in,” announced they had changed their mind.  Coincidence?  Doubtful.  In fact, Vox, who published the original two articles also published 23andMe’s announcement and stated that the announcement was a result of their original articles.

I find this stance personally abhorrent.  I believe that the people who test have the right to the truth – all of it – and not just if they happen to discover that all of their results are not being displayed.  They are adults.  They choose to take, or not take the test.  If you take the test, you have every right to expect you’re seeing all of your results.

Dr. Doe, of all people, has absolutely no right to complain.  He, of all people, a PhD in this field, knew exactly what he could discover.  The problem is that the truth is sometimes inconvenient and ugly, especially if you don’t expect to discover that your father cheated on your mother, or vice versa.

Dr. Doe – the problem is not that 23andMe did not protect you from yourself.  You, admittedly, clicked right through the options, believing of course, that it “couldn’t be me.” The problem is your family’s choices, perhaps then, and certainly now.

23andMe’s reversal on their policy will do nothing, absolutely nothing, to protect people like Dr. Doe from himself.  The only policy that will do that is the French policy of making DNA testing illegal to “protect the family unit.”  God forbid that we ever become that paranoid.

What 23andMe’s policy does it to continue to obscure the truth from unsuspecting testers.  Unfortunately, even if they put a big red box dead center in the screen today that says “If you don’t click here, you won’t see close relatives including sons, daughters……,” many people will never see it, because many people never sign on again after receiving their initial results.  In other words, many of their clients’ data would remain dark.  The only way to solve that problem is to do what 23andMe announced they would do and were preparing to do, to shift the option from “Opt In” to “Opt Out,” until Dr. Doe created a publicity nightmare because he couldn’t handle the results of his own test, AFTER, he intentionally and with full knowledge, clicked the “Opt In” option.

Furthermore, Dr. Doe could have discovered the same thing if he had found his father’s old journals, for example.  He could have discovered an old letter from a sweetheart.  He could have found the letter telling his father that the child would be put up for adoption.  What would he have done then?  Who would he complain to that no one protected him from himself?  The company that created the paper and the ink???  The post office because they might deliver a letter with disturbing information inside?

I don’t mean to be insensitive here, but it’s vastly unfair to make hundreds of thousands of people pay the price for Dr. Doe’s family issues.  The timing of this article with the much anticipated 23andMe change has created the perfect media storm.  Dr. Doe whined, loudly, and publicly, and 23andMe doesn’t want to create even more negative publicity.

If you think that I’m speaking from an ivory tower, or a vacuum, so to speak, I’m not.  Let me explain about infidelity and betrayal.  After my former husband’s massive stroke, when I was in my late 30s and he was in his late 40s, I found pictures of him with another female, with the sailboat that I bought him.  Yep, he was on vacation, with another woman, while I was staying home and working.  I felt terribly, horribly betrayed…not to mention gullible, stupid and naïve…oh yes, and angry.

I found those pictures a month or two after his stroke, when he was so terribly incapacitated that he couldn’t even speak, sit up, or eat, let alone answer any questions.  Really, there was nothing he could have said anyway – the pictures, multiple pictures, over multiple summers….were all the evidence I needed.  But I wanted them, I so wanted them to not be true.  But they were.  Staring back at me in living color.

The truth was ugly and painful and devastating.  But it was also freeing.  It freed me from the pain of loss of something I never had – a loving and loyal husband.  I only thought I did.  At the time it was horrifically painful.  Today, I’m incredibly grateful that I didn’t spend my entire married life with a cheating, lying scoundrel.

I also know about infidelity within a family when we discovered that my half-brother through my father was not my father’s child.  I lived through the pain of that too, and I can tell you that my brother, Dave, who wasn’t my biological brother, and I were far closer than many biological family members.

DNA does not tear families apart, people do.  Infidelity does.  Poor choices do.

My grandfather, about 1910, recently married to my grandmother, was present in his mother-in-law’s kitchen the day that a young man knocked on the back door.  His mother-in-law, Nora Kirsch Lore had recently been widowed after being married to Curtis Benjamin “CB” Lore for more than 20 years.  The young man asked for CB, by name.  Nora asked him to come inside and figured he was one of the young men who had worked for CB in his construction and racehorse business.  That’s not at all why the young man was looking for CB Lore.  CB Lore, according to the young man’s mother, was his father.  Let’s just say that it was a very awkward day in that kitchen as Nora asked the young man what year he was born.

In 1910, there was no way to prove, or disprove, this allegation.  Today, there is – DNA.  Nora too was devastated by her husband’s indiscretion, to put is softly, or outright betrayal to call it what it was.  But she was not without a hint – he had always been somewhat of a playboy.  Had she known specifically about this woman?  No, but it didn’t entirely surprise her either.  It only confirmed, or at least potentially confirmed, what she suspected happened when he traveled.  It certainly was not this young man’s fault for showing up to find his father.  Just like it isn’t DNA’s fault today.

Dr. Doe is not responsible for “outing” his father.  His father obviously made his own choices.  So did his mother.

Dr. Doe did not buy his parents a divorce, his parents did.  Pure and simple.  Their choice.  Sounds like that divorce was, perhaps, years overdue.

What Dr. Doe gave his mother was possibly the gift of truth and freedom.  Mrs. Doe obviously had the option of discussing things with her husband.  She didn’t.  Dr. Doe himself said it brought up repressed memories, and they obviously were not pleasant.  This was only a festering scab and he, unfortunately, was the one who bumped up against it and knocked it off.

I’m glad Dr. Doe is getting help.  I hope the entire family is getting help.

As I tell people, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  If you don’t want the truth, don’t DNA test.  Period.

The culprit in this story is not Dr. Doe, is not 23andMe, but is very clearly Dr. Doe’s father’s original behavior combined with current family dynamics.

Sadly, the people that are ultimately paying the price for Dr. Does’ family turmoil are the hundreds of thousands of people that now continue to have their results obscured because of 23andMe’s abrupt change of policy.

That’s not right either.

23andMe lives and dies not on genetic genealogy or on the revenue from the tests themselves, but on their customers allowing them to use their results to compile for medical studies and to sell.  If you want to make your feelings known, you can personally opt out of allowing 23andMe to utilize your results for those types of endeavors.  In other words, 23andMe will no longer be able to make money from your DNA.

Perhaps 23andMe will hear and understand that message.  Companies understand dollars.

To remove your consent for 23andMe to utilize your DNA, or to at least review the consent form, sign on and click on the down arrow beside your name.

23andme consent

Then click on “Privacy and Consent.”

23andme consent2

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to “Basic Research Consent.”  If you have given consent, this is what you will see.

23andme consent3

Click in the green box on “view/change consent.”  You will then see the consent document.

23andMe consent4

Scroll down again.  You will see that the “give consent” box, in green, has been clicked already.

23andme consent5

Underneath that box, click on the blue “click here to change your consent.”  You will then see a green and a red box with your consent options.

23andme consent6

You can see that I’ve selected “I am this person and I don’t give consent,” in the red box.  Then click on the green “Save” button.

The change takes place imediately for any future projects or initiatives, but does not affect any studies or data sales that have previously taken place.

Furthermore, e-mail 23andMe’s Human Projects Administrator at hpa@23andMe.com and tell them why.

You have a voice in this matter.  Use it.

10 Things to Do With Your DNAPrint, renamed AncestrybyDNA, Test

birdcage

Please note, AncestrybyDNA is NOT the same as the AncestryDNA test sold by Ancestry.com.  Both CeCe Moore and David Dowell have written about this in their respective blogs.

Back in 2002 (no, that is not a typo,) a new product called DNAPrint was introduced by a company then called DNAPrint Genomics.  It provided you, in percentages, your percentages of 4 ethnic groups: Indo-European, East-Asian, Native American and African.  Family Tree DNA remarketed this test for just over a year but ceased when they realized there were issues.

It was the first of its kind of test ever to be offered commercially, and version 2.0 utilized a whopping 71 ancestrally informative markers, according to the user’s guide delivered with the product.  The next version of the test, 2.5, titled AncestrybyDNA included 175 markers, and a third version, which I don’t believe was ever released, was to include just over 300 markers.

In 2002, this was a baby step in a brand new world.  We, as a community, were thrilled to be able to obtain this type of information.  And of course, we believed it was accurate, or relatively so.  However, the questions and ensuing debate started almost immediately and became very heated.

The company’s representatives indicated that East-Asian and Native American could be combined for those without a “Chinese grandpa” and that would have given me a whopping 25% Native American.  Even then, before pedigree analysis, I thought this was a little high.  My East Asian was shown as 15%, Native American at 10% and Indo-European at 75%.  For reference, my real Native results are probably in the 1-3% range.  Keep in mind that we were all babes in the woods, kind of stumbling around, learning, in 2002 and 2003.

Interestingly enough, I found the answer recently, quite by accident, to one of the burning questions about Native American ancestry that was asked repeatedly of Tony Frudakis during that timeframe, then a corporate officer of DNAPrint, and left unanswered.  In Carolyn Abraham’s book, The Juggler’s Children, which is a wonderful read, on page 55, the answer to the forever-hanging question was answered:

“When I finally reached Frudakis, that’s how he explained the confusion over our Native ancestry result – semantics.  The Florida company had pegged its markers as being Native American to appeal to the American market, he told me.  But it was accurate to consider them Central Asian markers, he said, that had been carried to different regions by those who migrated from that part of the globe long ago – into the Americas, into East Asia, South Asia and even southern Europe – finding their way into today’s Greeks, Italians and Turks.  ‘We may do ourselves a favour and change the name of this ancestry [component] in the test,’ he said, since apparently I wasn’t the only one baffled by it.”

So, now we know, straight from the horses mouth, via Carolyn.

Of course, since that time, many advances have occurred in this field.  Today, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, Ancestry.com and the Genographic Project utilize chip based technology and utilize over half a million markers to achieve ethnicity predictions.  If DNAPrint, renamed AncestybyDNA was the first baby step, today we are teenagers – trying to refine our identity.  Today’s tests, although not totally accurate, are, by far, more accurate than this first baby step.  Give us another dozen years in this industry, and they’ll be spot on!

For 2003, when I ordered mine, DNAPrint was an adventure – it was exciting – it was a first step – and we learned a lot.  Unfortunately, DNAPrint under the name AncestrybyDNA is still being sold today, currently owned by the DNA Diagnostics Center.  If you are even thinking about ordering this product, take a look first at the Yelp reviews and the Better Business Bureau complaints.

I don’t regret spending the money in 2003.  Spending money on this outdated test today would be another story entirely – a total waste.  The results are entirely irrelevant today in light of the newer and more refined technology.  Unfortunately, seldom a week goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail from someone who bought this test and are quite confused and unhappy.  The test has been marketed and remarketed by a number of companies over the years.

So, here are some suggestions about what might be appropriate to do with your DNAPrint or AncestybyDNA results if you don’t want to just throw them away:

  1. Line the bottom of the birdcage.
  2. Use to light the BBQ grill or camp fire.
  3. Use under boots in the hallway in the winter.
  4. Shred, then use as confetti.
  5. Cut into strips and use as bookmarks.
  6. Use as scratch paper.
  7. Use in the garden between rows to minimize weeds.
  8. Make into a paper airplane.
  9. Roll, along with other excess paper, into logs for the fireplace.
  10. Frame, and display along with your other antiques.

Yes, it’s really that old and outdated!

Transfer DNA Results or Retest at Family Tree DNA?

confusionThe recent announcement by Ancestry.com that they are discontinuing their Y and mtDNA products and associated data bases, combined with the opportunity to transfer your Y and autosomal Y DNA results to Family Tree DNA has raised the question of whether it’s best to transfer or retest.  Let’s look at the various options, pluses and minuses, for each product involved.  As it turns out, one size does not fit all.  In other words, it depends…

Autosomal

The cost of an autosomal test transfer to Family Tree DNA is $69 and you can transfer either Ancestry.com’s autosomal test results or 23andMe’s v3 results to Family Tree DNA for that price.

However, the cost of retesting at Family Tree DNA, utilizing the Father’s Day sale, and yes, it’s valid for females too, not just men, is just $79.

So, should you transfer existing results or retest?

  1. If you retest at Family Tree DNA, you’ll have the added benefit of having your DNA archived there, available to you for other tests in the future. Archiving is free and is part of the service.
  2. If you retest at Family Tree DNA, you don’t have to deal with downloading files from Ancestry or 23andMe and then uploading them to Family Tree DNA. If you’re not a techie, this is a benefit.
  3. Ancestry has never been known for quality, so in terms of Ancestry, for a $10 difference, I would certainly retest.
  4. At 23andMe, if you tested either early (the v2 chip) or since November/December of 2013 (the v4 chip) you have no choice but to retest, because the results aren’t compatible.

In a nutshell, for a $10 difference, my vote would be to retest, unless, of course, the person isn’t available to retest then by all means, transfer the results.

If you’re going to retest, do it now while the price is still $79.  The sale ends on 6-17-2014.

Don’t forget, the Big Y, which is a nearly full sequence of the Y chromosome, is also on sale for Father’s Day for only $595.  The newly announced SNP matching in addition to the regular marker matching promises to add a second tool to those who are trying to determine family lineages.  I suggest that someone from each of your primary family surname lines take this test.  Mutations are being found every 90-150 years so this test holds great promised in combination with regular STR (37, 67 and 111 marker) testing.

Y DNA

You can transfer your Ancestry Y DNA results to Family Tree DNA for $19, and then upgrade to the Family Tree DNA standard marker test for another $39, for a total of $58.

If you transfer Ancestry’s 33 marker results, the $58 upgrade price buys you an upgrade to the 25 marker test.  If you transfer Ancestry’s 46 marker test, the upgrade buys you a standard 37 marker test.  Both of these upgrades include DNA matching to other participants.  The $19 transfer alone, does not, just the ability to join projects.

The standard 37 marker test at Family Tree DNA today costs $169 without the transfer, so transferring is definitely the way to go on Y DNA.  You save $111.  Plus, with the upgrade, you will have the added benefit of having your DNA archived at Family Tree DNA.

For Y DNA, a transfer with the upgrade is definitely your best value.  Don’t forget to do this before Sept. 5th because the Ancestry data base disappears that day.  In fact, the sooner, the better, because some of Ancestry’s DNA data base features have already been discontinued.

Mitochondrial DNA

Ancestry’s mtDNA test results weren’t compatible with Family Tree DNA’s, so you don’t have a transfer option.  The mtDNA plus at Family Tree DNA which provides you with your haplogroup and matches in the HVR1+HVR2 regions is $59, but the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is only $199.  The full sequence test provides you with fully sequenced mitochondrial DNA results, about 10 times more locations than the HVR1+HVR2 regions, a full haplogroup designation and matching at the highest level.  It’s definitely the best value and then you’re done with mtDNA because there are no upgrades beyond the full sequence.

My recommendation would be to purchase the Full Sequence test for $199 as the best value.

The Net-Net

In short, here’s what we have:

  • Autosomal – you can retest at Family Tree DNA for $79, $10 more than the $69 transfer price, which has several benefits.
  • Y DNA – the transfer plus upgrade for $58 is your best value, saving you over $100.
  • Mitochondrial DNA – there is no transfer option, so retesting is necessary.

Click here to order.

Drunken Sailors and a Porcupine

I should have known when I heard the ship groaning in the night as it shifted from side to side.  But I knew unquestionably when I sat up in the morning and began to sway back and forth.  I remembered someone telling me once about falling out of the shower on a cruise ship.  I doubted it at the time, but as of this minute, I believe that entirely.

One crew member said that it’s always cold in these northern British Isles ports, even in summer, often wet and the water in the fall especially is “choppy.”  If this is just choppy, I’d hate to see worse.

So today, I’ve gained an appreciation for drunken sailors.  You see, they may not be drunk at all, simply seasick and staggering around trying to find and maintain their footing – or the closest bathroom.  Last night, John, the cruise director said he can always tell the drunks when it gets rough.  The people who are normally sober are all staggering around, but the drunks, they are all walking in a straight line, referred to, appropriately, as “the line of experience.”  Obviously, I simply don’t drink enough!

In any case, it’s been an exceedingly rough day at sea. I spent the morning staring out the window at the horizon trying to keep the Dramamine down.  I called the spa to cancel my “happy birthday to me” massage for today since I “wasn’t feeling well.”  When I called, they told me that acupuncture cures seasickness, right after they told me that the cancellation charge was the same amount as the original spa charge.  I had my doubts, believe me, but I was so sick and miserable I was willing to try just about anything, so off to the spa I staggered – plus I was paying for it whether I went or not – so why not try acupuncture.  I couldn’t feel much worse.

Actually, I had my husband deliver me.  The wind was blowing so hard they had the outside decks closed.  The wind is howling like an unhappy banshee in the deepest Michigan winter blizzard.  That’s on the inside, sheltered deck with the open roof that can’t be closed over the pool area.  The outside is worse and unsafe, which is why it’s closed. The spa is on the other side so you have to walk through the open roof area.  If I was going to blow away, I wanted him to be with me.  I figured two of us stood a much better chance of hanging on and well, we were much heavier together and more difficult to get aloft like giant inflatable kites.

These ships were not made for winter, in fact, they have no heaters for the rooms.  You can have A/C or “regular air” which is whatever the air temperature is, recycled.  It’s in the 50s today.  I’ve taken to sleeping in my sweatshirt and wool socks with the bathrobe thrown on top of the blankets for extra warmth and I was finally warm enough last night.  If they were selling parkas, they would make a fortune because it wouldn’t matter how much they cost.  I swear to you, I saw a crew member today wearing gloves.

Tell me why I’m doing this again???  Oh yes, it’s a DNA trip, to find my ancestor’s lands and share their experiences.  And yes, some of them were mariners.  Probably, knowing my family, the ones walking in a straight line.  Ugh.  I could have passed on this particular shared experience, but no, this had to be authentic.

So after arriving at the spa, off with most of the clothes (brrrr) and in with the acupuncture needles.  There were needles in my face, in my ears and in my hands and feet including between my eyebrows and between my toes.  As I lay there, looking like a distant relative of the porcupine family and afraid to move for fear of impaling myself, the thought crossed my mind that not only did I do this of my own choosing, but worse yet, I’m paying for the opportunity.  I tried to fall asleep, which is difficult with a bunch of needles sticking in your skin.  Basically, they poke you like a pin cushion, turn the lights off, come back in about an hour and collect money for doing so.

Now the good news is that I did and do feel better.  I’m still staggering around like a drunken sailor, or what I previously thought was a drunken sailor, but I’m not sick. By mid-afternoon, after my spa treatment, food even sounded good, so I went up to the lounge deck with floor to ceiling windows and had a snack.  Yes indeed, things are improving for the old porcupine.  But the sea is quite rough again as we have left the shelter of the Isle of Skye and other islands off Ireland and are in the open North Atlantic now.  It may be rough, but it’s still exceedingly beautiful.

rough seas

This reminded me of another time, years ago, when my kids were young and we had saved enough to take everyone salmon fishing in Lake Michigan.  We chartered a boat for the day, and we invited my Mom and (step)Dad to join us.  For my Dad, who loved to fish, this was a wonderful opportunity he had never enjoyed before – and maybe he’d catch something more interesting than catfish and bluegill in the farm pond at home.

We spent the night before in a local bed and breakfast and got up early to begin our much-anticipated adventure.  I gave everyone in the family Dramamine, everyone that was, except my mother.  She refused, saying that she didn’t get sea sick.  I encouraged her to take it anyway, but she would have none of that.

You know what happened don’t you?  She turned green as pea soup – and not only was she miserable – so were the rest of us.  It’s hard to have fun when someone is so ill.  So we went back to shore, Mom and Dad departed for home, despite our protests, and the rest of us went fishing.  We caught and froze some salmon for Dad, but it just wasn’t the same as catching those fish himself.

However, this made me wonder – is motion sickness hereditary?  I have suffered with it all of my life.  My first memories of it are riding in a car when I was quite young, pre-school.  I still suffer from this same problem.  Mine is much worse than Mom’s was.

According to 23andMe, indeed motion sickness is hereditary.

In a paper presented at the 2012 ASHG Meeting, they state that:

Roughly one in three individuals is highly susceptible to motion sickness; the remaining two-thirds of the population may experience motion sickness if the conditions are extreme.

It’s estimated that up to 70% of a person’s risk for motion sickness is due to genetics, but the genetics of motion sickness has been very poorly understood … until now.

23andMe scientist Bethann Hromatka presented results from a genetic study of nearly 37,000 customers who were surveyed about motion sickness. The analysis identified 14 genetic associations with motion sickness that fall into a few different biological categories. Three genetic variants are involved in development, including development of the eye and ear. Other variants are involved neurological processes and glucose/insulin regulation.

Aha, I knew it. I get to blame my mother, and maybe my father for this unfortunate inherited trait – but I’m guessing my Estes mariner ancestors didn’t carry it – or they wouldn’t have been mariners.  But, according to Mother, she wasn’t motion sick, she simply had “an inner ear problem.”  Uh, yea, Mom, you did.  A rose by any other name…

Now, I wonder why acupuncture helps relieve the symptoms?  The crew, who also take these treatments because they have to keep working, says that one acupuncture treatment works for days too.  Although truthfully, I don’t care why.  I’m just glad that it does.  Given that the condition is genetic, I’ll probably be blessed with it the rest of my life so it’s nice to have a tool, any tool.

During the rest of the day, we were treated to a rainbow several times.  The end of the rainbow always seemed to wind up in the restrooms on the lower decks.  Not sure what to make of that pot-o-gold.  I guess it was near the casino.  The rainbow didn’t photograph well through the glass, but you get the idea.  It was pleasant and hopeful to see after not feeling so well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our towel guy tonight has, what else…no, not acupuncture needles, although that certainly would have been appropriate.  Ginger snaps to help with seasickness, Bonine (which also costs far more on this ship than an outfit at Kohl’s) and chocolate covered strawberries – the last 3 on the ship.  Well, after all, it was my belated birthday present.  Acupuncture, ginger snaps and chocolate-covered strawberries. Who could ask for more!

Tomorrow, solid ground again.  We’re going to Urquhart Castle.  Hope you’re coming along!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finding Native American Ethnic Results in Germanic People

I’m often asked about the significance of small percentages of autosomal DNA in results.  Specifically, the small percentages are often of Native American or results that would suggest Native admixture.  One of the first questions I always ask is whether or not the individual has Germanic or eastern European admixture.

Why?

Take a look at this map of the Invasion of the Roman Empire.  See the Huns and their path?

Hun map

It’s no wonder we’re so admixed.

Here’s a map of the Hunnic empire at its peak under Attila between the years 420-469.

Hun emplire

But that wasn’t the end of the Asian invasions.  The Magyars, who settled in Hungary arrived from Asia as well, in the 800s and 900s, as shown on this map from LaSalle University.

magyar map

Since both the Hungarians and some Germanic people descend from Asian populations, as do Native Americans, albeit thousands of years apart, it’s not unrealistic to expect that, as populations, they share a genetic connection.

Therefore, when people who carry heritage from this region of the world show small amounts of Native or Asian origin, I’m not surprised.  However, for Americans, trying to sort out their Native ethnic heritage, this is most unhelpful.

Let’s take a look at the perfect example candidate.  This man is exactly half Hungarian and half German.  Let’s see what his DNA results say, relative to any Asian or Native heritage, utilizing the testing companies and the free admixture tools at www.gedmatch.com.

He has not tested at Ancestry, but at Family Tree DNA, his myOrigins report 96% European, 4% Middle Eastern.  At 23andMe in speculative view, he shows 99.7 European and .2 sub-saharan African.

Moving to the admixture tools at GedMatch, MDLP is not recommended for Asian or Native ancestry, so I have excluded that tool.

Eurogenes K13 is the most recently updated admixture tool, so let’s take a look at that one first.

Eurogenes K13

 JK Eurogenes K13 v2

Eurogenes K13 showed 7% West Asian, which makes perfect sense considering his heritage, but it might be counted as “Native” in other circumstances, although I would certainly be very skeptical about counting it as such.

However, East Asian, Siberian and Amerindian would all be amalgamated into the Native American category, for a combined percentage of 1.31.

jk eurogenes k13 chart

However, selecting the “admixture proportions by chromosome” view shows something a bit different.  The cumulative percentages, by chromosome equate to 10.10%.  Some researchers mistakenly add this amount and use that as their percentage of Native ancestry.  This is not the case, because those are the portions of 100% of each individual chromosome, and the total would need to be divided by 22 to obtain the average value across all chromosomes.  The total is irrelevant, and the average may not reflect how the developer determines the amount of admixture because chromosomes are not the same size nor carry the same number of SNPs.  Questions relative to the functional underpinnings of each tool should be addressed to the developers.

Dodecad

I understand that there is a newer version of Dodecad, but that it has not been submitted to GedMatch for inclusion, per a discussion with GedMatch.  I can’t tell which of the Dodecad versions on GedMatch is the most current, so I ran the results utilizing both v3 and 12b.

jk dodecad v3

jk dodecad v3 chart

I hope v3 is not the most current, because it does not include any Native American category or pseudocategory – although there is a smattering of Northeast Asian at .27% and Southwest Asian at 1%.

Dodecad 12b below

jk dodecad 12b

The 12b version does show .52% Siberian and 2.6% Southwest Asian, although I’m not at all sure the Southwest Asian should be included.

HarappaWorld

jk harappaworld

jk harappaworld chart

Harappaworld shows .09 Siberian, .27% American (Native American), .23% Beringian and 1.8% Southwest Asian, although I would not include Southwest Asian in the Native calculation.

In Summary

Neither Family Tree DNA nor 23andMe find Native ancestry in our German/Hungarian tester, but all 3 of the admixture tools at Gedmatch find either small amounts of Native or Asian ancestry that could certainly be interpreted as Native, such as Siberian or Beringian.

Does this mean this German/Hungarian man has Native American ancestry?  Of course not, but it does probably mean that the Native population and his ancestral populations did share some genes from the same gene pool thousands of years ago.

While you might think this is improbable, or impossible, consider for a minute that every person outside of Africa today carries some percentage of Neanderthal DNA, and all Europeans also carry Denisovan DNA.  Our DNA does indeed have staying power over the millennia, especially once an entire population or group of people is involved.  We’ve recently seen this same type of scenarios in the full genome sequencing of a 24,000 year old Siberian male skeleton.

Our German/Hungarian man carries 2.4% Neanderthal DNA according to 23andMe and 2.7% according to the Genographic Project, which also reports that he carries 3.9% Denisovan.  The European average is about 2% for Neanderthal.

The net-net of this is that minority admixture is not always what it seems to be, especially when utilizing autosomal DNA to detect small amounts of Native American admixture.  The big picture needs to be taken into consideration.  Caution is advised.

When searching for Native admixture, when possible, both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA give specific answers for specific pedigree lines relative to ancestry.  Of course, to utilize Y or mtDNA, the tester must descend from the Native ancestor either directly paternally to test the male Y chromosome, or directly matrilineally to test the mitochondrial line.  You can read about this type of testing, and how it works, in my article, Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA.  You can also read about other ways to prove Native ancestry using autosomal DNA, including how to unravel which pedigree line the Native ancestry descends from, utilizing admixture tools, in the article, “The Autosomal Me.”