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, worked with her research group on the Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer and ordered Emily’s book. 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.
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.
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.
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.