What If You Die?

coffinWell, it’s not exactly a what-if question, it’s a given.  You’re going to.  The only real question is when, and will you be prepared?

By prepared, I’m not talking about your will, I’m talking about your DNA.

The unspeakable happened this past weekend.  A long time researcher and close friend, Aleda, died, rather unexpectedly.  She has been chronically ill for some time, but not critically.  On Saturday, she read my blog and worked with her research group on the Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer.  Then, in the afternoon, she said she didn’t feel well and got into her chair to take a nap.  Nothing unusual about that.  Aleda didn’t feel well a lot, but she persevered anyway, always helping and guiding her research group.  But this time was different.  Aleda was gone.

Her research group is wandering around like a group of lost souls.  It’s like someone shot a hole through the middle of all of us.  This isn’t a large well organized group with an official structure, but a small group of closely and not so closely related researchers trying to figure out their DNA and genealogy connections.

If you are a significant contributor, you will be sorely missed.  If you are reading this, and have had your DNA tested, you are one of the contributors.

The research group members are already asking, “What next?  How do we access the DNA records of the people Aleda had tested?”  Good question.  Let’s talk about preparing for the inevitable.

Aleda had given the kit passwords to a friend, who is now so upset she can’t find them.  As the project administrator of one of the projects that includes one of Aleda’s family member’s kits, I can see some of the information.


I can see that Aleda set up a special DNA e-mail address which I’m presuming she used for all of the kits.  Unfortunately, there is no alternate e-mail address.

When Family Tree DNA, and virtually all the companies, do a password reset, they send the password information to the e-mail address on file.

Does anyone, other than Aleda, have the password to that e-mail account?

Project administrators cannot change primary e-mail addresses.  Only the kit owner can do that.

If you change your password to your e-mail account, you’ll need to remember to provide the new password to your trusted other as well.


If you share your password with someone, that’s fine, but if they can’t find it, or if you change it and don’t tell them, that won’t be helpful.  You might want to add their e-mail as an alternate.  You might want to provide this information to multiple people, just in case your chosen person predeceases you, or some other unfortunate situation exists, like a fire, system crash or losing the passwords.

At 23andMe, to download a raw data file, a password isn’t enough.  You also have to know the answer to the secret question.

Beneficiary Information

Family Tree DNA goes one step further and provides people with a beneficiary form for situations just like this.

Unfortunately, Aleda’s family member’s form is blank, and she protected his information by changing the setting to prevent project administrators from completing this form.

beneficiary form

Covering all the Bases

Don’t forget about 3rd party sites like GedMatch where you may also be registered.

What to do?

1. Family Tree DNA is the only company to provide the option of beneficiary information.  Take advantage of this and complete the form.  It’s only 3 lines – name, phone and e-mail of your beneficiary.  You can find it under the “My Account” tab on the blue/black bar at the top of your personal page.

beneficiary dropdown

2. Add an alternate e-mail address.

3. Provide password and e-mail password information to a trusted other, and maybe a few trusted others.

4. Remember to notify password holders when you change passwords to either e-mail or DNA kits.

5. If you are a project administrator, try your best to find a co-administrator and share information, such as genealogy provided by participants.

6. Provide a notification list for your family that includes important genealogy and DNA contacts, including Family Tree DNA if you are a project administrator.  Many times I’ve received an e-mail from someone’s account with their name as the subject.  I’ve learned to cringe when I see them, because I know what’s coming…but at least the family has taken the trouble to notify those of us who communicate electronically with that person instead of leaving us to wonder forever what happened.

7. Preparing for the inevitable doesn’t just apply to DNA testing, but to all aspects of online life.  Think about Facebook, for example.  My brother died 2 years ago, today, and no one has his password.  We post to his page from time to time, but like a ghost ship, his Facebook account will sail off into the indefinite captainless future.



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14 thoughts on “What If You Die?

  1. Maybe this should be included in the will. I have my son listed on my account and plan to do an autosomal on him also. When I get the results I plan to share the logon information with him.

  2. Your subject is of great importance, your advice is priceless, and your presentation is – I need words here – well formed, touching, and sensitive. Thank you.

  3. Great advice and well worth the time (for all of us) in providing this. Yes, I have some connections to those families as well (not sure where just yet). Another good tip is to use a password vault to store all your passwords and it is on the cloud. One place to access everything, keep a copy on your computer, your smart phone (if you are out), external storage, email a list to others and print out a copy of all your passwords to keep with your important papers. It will also generate secure passwords and many other features. I use one called Last Pass but there are several and they are free for the basic version which has been adequate for me.

  4. I am in the same boat. I found out my Great Uncle tested his Y-DNA at FTDNA before he died and I would love to do an autosomal test on his stored sample because my grandmother (his sister) also passed away. Unfortunately, the email address he had on file is now long gone. His partner would be fine with me doing additional testing but she has no idea how to log into the account.

  5. Yet anothere post, full of excellent and timely advice and information. Thank you for all the effort you put into these posts, Roberta.

  6. Thank you for a thought provoking post.

    I had a wake-up moment a few months ago. I had a fairly long cM match on both FTDNA and GedMatch. When I tried to contact him about his research, his email address came back as no longer working. He seemed to be an excellent potential source, so I tried to find a more current email. He had an uncommon surname and I found a genealogy family Website for that name. I wrote them, asking if they would please forward my message, if they knew him, and had a more current email address. I received a note back from his brother saying the man died in September and no one had the passwords to his files. Unless a relative or friend cares enough to find his passwords, sort out his research, and somehow share it, all his work is gone.

  7. Wow!! Roberta, this is a great post. Thought provoking as well. I will follow your suggestions. Well written & very helpful post!

  8. I keep a list of user names and passwords pass words in my safe deposit box at the bank. My husband and daughter’s names are on the account and they don’t need the will to access the box. This is a good place to keep information on your genealogy accounts.

  9. Many good points! Sorry for the loss of your friend.and “CO-Searcher” . I have thought about
    the foreverness of the net. My sis passed away 12 years ago and I still will run across her posts on a board or someone else will ask me excitedly if I’ve seen this information..it’s the family I ‘ve posted about.. Last time it happened was on my birthday. Made me teary but I look at it as her way of saying “Hi– HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” I wish the companies would be a bit more understanding and at least let us apply a forwarding contact number or email on posts like that….or a return email that says “This person is unavailable…please contact——– regarding this matter. HUGS! I don’t know if we are actually connected but Estes keeps appearing in associated familys now and then or other names you’ve mentioned on the Gap site. I bet at the very least we are cousins of cousins!

  10. Pingback: DNAeXplain Archives – General Information Articles | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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